For Debbie Tripp. Thanks so much for your contribution to Moonridge and especially for your support of my writing. You're a terrific friend.
"Simon, what the hell drugs have they got you on?" Jim looked across at his captain and immediately regretted his outburst when he saw the haunted look in Simon's eyes. "Look," he said, more softly this time, "I'm sorry, but there's no way the doctors are going to let you out of here to go traipsing across the countryside so soon after getting shot."
"Then I'll sign myself out AMA," Simon replied flatly. He sighed and leaned his head back against his pillow. "Peggy was important to me. She died because she was trying to do the right thing for the people of that town. I want to go to her memorial service and I'll get there any way I can."
Jim shook his head. "You know I'd go with you in a heartbeat, Simon, but with you out of action, guess who's acting Captain?" He tried a grin on but noticed it didn't go over all that well with the patient.
"I'll call Daryl."
"Come on, Simon, Daryl can't drive you that far. Can you imagine what Joan would say?" Jim asked, not unkindly.
"I'd rather not," Simon said, an almost-smile on his face. "Okay, what about Joel?"
"He's got the flu."
Simon rolled his head back and looked at the newest member of his team. "Should have known you'd know who's on the sick list, Sandburg. We should've nicknamed you Mother Teresa." He shook his head. "Come on, Jim, think, there must be someone who can go with me."
"I could," Blair said. "Semester's over. Jim's managing his senses better. I've got nothing but time on my hands. I'm all yours, Captain."
Simon groaned then looked across at Blair's eager face. He nodded. "Yeah, all right. Thanks," he said grudgingly. "But there's no way we're going in that sardine can you call a car and no way you're driving mine. I'll rent one. At least that way, the insurance is included in the price."
Blair shot Jim a hurt look. "What have you been telling him? Doesn't he know you've totalled more cars just in the time I've known you than I've had hot dinners?"
Jim stood up and crossed to the door. "Let's go, Chief. Simon's gonna need his rest if he's getting out of here tomorrow." He shook his head as he ushered Blair ahead of him through the door. "A Simon-Blair road trip," he muttered. "Who'd a' thunk?"
Blair let out a low whistle as he approached the car Simon had hired. "Nice," he said.
Simon looked around from the wheelchair Blair was pushing. "We've got a fair bit of distance to travel. I figured an Explorer would be more comfortable and handle the roads better."
"You won't get any complaints from me," Blair said. He stopped the wheelchair next to the passenger side of the car and set the brakes. "You going to be able to climb up into the seat?" he asked worriedly. Simon was a big guy, taller than Jim by at least a couple of inches and just as muscular.
"Just give me a hand to get up and then I can grab the handle inside the door there and hoist myself up," Simon replied.
"Mom used to call it a Jesus bar," Blair remarked apropos of nothing as he moved in front of Simon and helped haul him up till he was standing precariously on one foot, his heavily bandaged other leg bent gingerly at the knee.
Together, they managed the awkward maneuver, Blair only needing to give Simon a helping hand from behind to get the big man settled more or less comfortably in the passenger seat.
Blair climbed up behind the wheel and slid the key into the ignition. He ran a hand lovingly over the immaculate dash and grinned over at the Captain. "This is going to be so cool," he said.
"No fancy stuff," Banks warned. "You're just here to get me where I need to go and get me home in one piece, all right?"
Blair nodded his agreement, checked the mirrors carefully then pulled the car out of the hospital parking lot and onto the street.
"Jesus bar?" Simon asked after a moment. "What the heck's a Jesus bar?"
Blair indicated the handle above Simon's head. "Mom used to tell me it was there so when I got scared with the way she drove, I could grab onto it and yell, "Jesus!" at the top of my lungs and it would remind her to slow down."
Simon shook his head. "Why am I not surprised to hear that your mother is as whacked as you, Sandburg?"
"Nah, you'd love her," Blair replied. "Everyone does." He glanced over at Simon and saw he'd already fallen asleep, his head resting against the window, soft snores making themselves heard. "Sleep well, Simon," he murmured.
The memorial service had been as nice and as awful as ceremonies such as that usually were, Blair reflected as he pulled the car away from the kerb in front of Peggy's childhood church and turned it in the direction of Cascade. He glanced over at Simon, who was sitting stiff and distant in the passenger seat. "You okay?" he asked.
Simon nodded, his eyes firmly fixed on the road in front of them.
"Peggy's mom was nice," Blair remarked. "I'm sorry about what her dad said though-"
"He was right to blame me," Simon said shortly. He leaned back in the seat and ran a hand over his face. "I should have protected her. She came to me for help and I couldn't even stop her being killed " His voice trailed off and he closed his eyes.
"There was nothing you could have done, Simon," Blair said quietly. "You were knocked out and then you were almost killed yourself. It wasn't your fault-"
"Just forget it, Sandburg," Simon replied, his voice sounding bone weary. "You wouldn't understand."
"Try me," Blair said, his tone still soft and even. "We've got a lot of miles to cover before we get home. Jim says I'm a good listener, when I'm not babbling." He shot a quick grin across at Simon and was pleased to see the older man pull himself up in the seat and open his eyes to look back at him.
"Inter-racial romances weren't exactly greeted with open arms when Peggy and I fell in love," Simon began. "Peggy's mom accepted it. She knew I was pretty serious about school and that I had plans to join the force. Peggy's dad wasn't happy though. He tried to stop us seeing each other, but Peggy was pretty stubborn about what she wanted." A smile crossed his face. "And luckily for me, I was who she wanted. Eventually, her dad backed off but he warned me that if I ever caused her to be hurt " He sighed, rubbing a hand along his injured leg. "And she didn't just end up hurt when she was with me, she ended up dead."
"But not because of you," Blair said firmly. "At least you helped to expose what was going on in that town, made her death mean something. Peggy wanted the truth to come out and because of you, and your belief in her, it did."
"I guess." Simon rested his head back again and slanted his eyes across to look at Blair. "Jim was right," he said.
"You're a good listener," Simon replied. "Now let's see how good a driver you are. I really just want to get home now."
"Your wish is my command, mon Capitan," Blair said in the worst accent he could dredge up. "Just call me Speedy Gonzales, senor."
Simon covered his eyes with his hand and groaned. "In one piece, Sandburg, please, and without the lousy accent, okay?"
"Dammit! I don't believe this!"
"What's wrong? You want me to try it again?" Simon called from behind the steering wheel.
Blair walked around and leaned on the edge of the driver's door. "Don't think it'll help," he said. "My uncle always told me if a car won't start, it's gotta be fuel or spark. We've got plenty of fuel but no spark. I've checked the plugs and they look okay, but the oil looks like it's got water mixed in."
"Shit!" Simon replied. "Cracked head."
Blair nodded. "That'd be my guess."
"This car was supposedly checked out in A-1 mechanical condition," Simon grumbled. "I'll be asking for a full refund on this."
"You've got roadside assistance in the rental package, right?" Blair asked hopefully.
"Of course." Simon grinned suddenly. "Why didn't I think of that?"
"Probably because you're tired and in pain," Blair remarked casually, pulling the pack of pain pills out of his pocket. He waved them in front of Simon. "Take a couple. You haven't had any for more than five hours."
Simon reached for them grudgingly, then leaned across the seat to snag his water bottle.
He looked exhausted, Blair realized, his eyes heavy-lidded as if he'd had no sleep in days, though he'd slept fitfully on and off ever since they'd left Peggy's memorial service.
"You're worse than a mother hen," Simon grouched, but he swallowed the tablets down willingly enough.
"I learned it from Jim," Blair replied. "Talk about mother hens. You ain't seen nothing till you've been looked after by a Sentinel in full Blessed Protector overdrive."
"Yeah, well, he has reason, Sandburg. You're an accident waiting to happen."
Blair looked pointedly down at Simon's thigh, the bandage just visible beneath his chinos. "I'm not the one with a hole in his leg," he said.
"Point taken. Let's get this show on the road." Simon pulled his cell phone from his pocket and thumbed it on.
Blair wandered back around to fiddle with the motor again while Simon made the call. He checked the battery terminal again, knowing it was useless but feeling the need to do something. After a couple of minutes, he heard Simon stop talking and walked back to the driver's side window again. "Any luck?" he asked.
"They put me through to a mechanic in the next town. He's going to come tow us back to his garage and lend us a car to get back to Cascade. The rental company will come get this one as soon as it's fixed." Simon sighed impatiently. "Damn, all I wanted to do was get home. Now we're gonna be stuck out here in the sticks for God knows how long."
Blair patted his shoulder. "Feel like stretching your legs a little? I know you don't feel up to walking around but there's a blanket in the trunk and we could sit over there under the trees, get some fresh air. We've still got some food left from that lunch we picked up, bottled water " He shrugged and waited.
"Yeah, all right," Simon replied somewhat grudgingly. "Beats sitting here. My leg is starting to feel cramped up."
"Cool! Wait till I get the blanket spread out then I'll come back and help you over there-"
"I can walk, Sandburg. Been doing it for years," Simon said, his voice snapping out peevishly.
"Sure, man, whatever." Blair shrugged off the Captain's irritability and went around to the trunk. He pulled the blanket and the box containing the leftovers from their lunch out and went across to the trees that bordered the road. He spread the blanket out on a relatively smooth stretch of grass and put down the lunch, looking up as he heard the car door slam and watched Simon make his laborious way across the road.
Suddenly, Simon appeared to stumble and Blair was on his feet and at his side in seconds, his arm going around the big man's waist, almost falling to his own knees as he fought to bear his weight. "Hey, man, you okay?" he asked, once he managed to get them both back on an even keel.
Simon nodded, sweat beading his forehead, his face looking grey with pain. "Sorry, kid, guess you were right. I really need to stop being so pigheaded about this."
"Forget it," Blair said easily as he inched forward toward their rest spot. "I don't think I could handle what you've been through the past week or so."
Simon's big hand squeezed his shoulder gently as they reached their destination. "You would, Sandburg. Just like I have to."
"Maybe." Blair managed to get Simon seated on the blanket and then stood and stretched. "I'm starting to think I need to build some muscle if I'm going to keep hanging around with you and Jim."
"Are you?" At Blair's inquiring look, Simon continued, "Going to keep hanging around?"
Blair flopped down to the ground and bent his knees up, resting his arms on them. "Why wouldn't I?"
Simon snagged a bottle of water and drank from it before answering. "I'm thinking that when you met up with Jim, you didn't realize just what you'd signed up for. Lash, for a start. Jumping out of a plane over a jungle to look for me and Daryl "
Blair grabbed the bottle from Simon's hand and swigged down a gulp of liquid. He capped it then placed it on the ground at his feet. "Part of the job description for a Guide who's Sentinel happens to be a cop," he replied casually.
"That's what Brackett called me and Jim sort of latched onto it. Said it covered what I do as well as anything else."
"He's different since you came along, you know that, don't you?"
Blair nodded. "So I've been told. Mind you, there are times when I don't think the old Jim Ellison is buried too deep." He grinned at Simon and reached into the lunch box then handed Simon half a sandwich and bit into the other half himself.
"Believe me, Jim at his worst these days is nothing like he was pre-Sandburg," Simon said. "I didn't want to accept you, you know?"
"Understandable." Blair shrugged. He gestured at his hair. "I'm not exactly the poster child for partner to one of Cascade's finest."
Simon finished his sandwich and then relaxed onto his back, groaning as he stretched his injured leg out. He closed his eyes. "You do okay, Sandburg," he said. "Wake me when our ride comes, okay?"
Blair laughed softly then foraged through the lunchbox for the saltines he knew were in there. He rested back on his elbows, enjoying the cool shade of the overhanging canopy of tree branches as he ate, keeping a watchful eye on his sleeping charge. He was glad he'd done this. The trip had shown him a whole new facet to Simon's persona, one he was glad to get to know. Eventually his own weariness caught up with him and he curled over on his side and let sleep come.
"Hey, you the guys needing a ride back into town?"
The shout woke Blair suddenly from the deep sleep he'd fallen into and he jerked awake, sitting up and brushing his hair back from his face. "Yep, that's us." He bent and shook Simon's shoulder, keeping his hand there until he was sure the Captain was awake. "Our ride's here, Simon."
Simon groaned as he tried to sit up, accepting Blair's help with a willingness that spoke of his pain.
The man crossed the road to them and helped Blair get Simon on his feet. "You all right?" he asked, looking concerned as the big man wavered for a moment.
Simon shook his head as if to drive away the remnants of his sleep, then nodded. "Yeah, thanks. It's good of you to come out here."
"No problem. All part of the service. I'm Bill Davis, by the way." He shook hands with Blair and Simon as they introduced themselves. "Why don't you two grab what you need from that rental heap of crap and get yourself settled in the truck while I load her onto the towhook?"
"Thanks, Bill." Blair kept his hand firmly under Simon's elbow as they made their way back across the road.
He settled the Captain in the middle of the front seat of the truck then went to the Explorer and grabbed all their belongings, tossing the bags into the back of the truck. "You need a pain pill before we go?" he asked Simon quietly as he climbed up into the seat next to him.
"I'll be okay a while longer," Simon replied. "I'll take one before we leave town, just to make you happy, okay, Sandburg?"
Blair nodded. "Good."
"Why is it you're so keen to keep pushing those things on me when I know for a fact that you won't even take a cold tablet when you're sick?" Simon asked. "Jim told me about that natural shit you tried to get him to take when he had the flu."
Blair grinned. "That's different. There's plenty of stuff you can take for a cold or the flu that don't contain chemicals. But, if I ever get shot, God forbid, you can bet your life I'll be yelling for the good drugs. In fact, did you know that if you take Echinacea at the first sign of a cold, you can prevent most of the symptoms from appearing. And then there's yarrow root. Now that's a multifaceted natural remedy "
Simon closed his eyes, leaned his head back and let Blair drone on.
"Oh man, I don't believe it." Blair grinned delightedly across at Simon. "Jim is so going to love this."
Simon shook his head as he laid a hand on the door of the vehicle that would be taking them back to Cascade. It was a dead ringer for Jim's truck, the one he lovingly called Sweetheart. He turned to Bill Davis. "You sure this thing will make it back to Cascade?" he asked dubiously.
"Hey, I'm a mechanic," the man replied, sounding indignant. "Sweetheart here has been treated like a baby her whole life. Only the best oil for my gal." He patted the truck's fender lovingly.
"Sweetheart?" Blair mouthed disbelievingly at Simon, who just shrugged, shook Davis by the hand and climbed stiffly into the passenger side of the truck.
Blair gave the mechanic a wave then got behind the wheel, turning the key and listening as the vehicle purred to life. "What is it with guys giving their trucks names like Sweetheart, anyway?" he asked rhetorically.
"That sardine can of yours doesn't have a name?" Simon asked as he half-turned in his seat to look at Blair.
"Nah, I've never been one for naming stuff," Blair replied, pulling out of the service station and onto the highway. "I have enough trouble keeping my dates' names straight."
Simon laughed and shook his head then sat up straighter and reached across to pat Blair's shoulder. "I really appreciate you doing this for me, Sandburg," he said soberly. "It was important to me, to be there for her."
Blair nodded. "I know that. I'm glad I was able to help."
"You're a good friend, Blair," Simon added. Then he hunched back down in his seat and made himself comfortable for the rest of the ride home.