EVOLUTION OF FRIENDSHIP part 3
"Of Past and Present Friends"
DISCLAIMER: Not mine, not anybody's as far as I can tell (poor guys). Anyway, no money paid for this, no copyright infringement intended
Thanks to Lyn for betaing this, as always, and for giving me a place to hang my imagination. Thanks, sis. You're the best.
This is the third part in the series "Evolution of Friendship". It's a mini sequel of sorts to "The Killers". This story is a stand-alone fic. It is not necessary to have read the previous two parts to understand this one.
WARNINGS: Spoilers for "The Killers", small ones for "Switchman" and "Siege". Nothing else except that I got bitten by the h/c plot bunny <g>.
Blair watched Jim approach a small dark-haired woman and take her hand. Danny's mother, Blair surmised. Jim bent and kissed her cheek then turned and scanned the distance as if he was searching for something or someone as he walked away. Realizing his partner was looking for him, Blair raised a hand and started down the incline to meet him.
His partner. It still sounded so strange and yet right. It was why Blair was here at Danny's funeral, but keeping watch away from the mourners. Danny was a part of Jim's past, Blair, a part of his present, and hopefully his future.
"Thanks for being here, Chief," Jim said as they met.
"Thanks for wanting me to be here," Blair replied, one hand reaching out to clasp the Sentinel's shoulder.
Jim turned and looked once more at the grave behind him then he headed for the truck, his long-legged strides causing Blair to run to keep up.
They barely spoke on the way home. Blair almost expected Jim to ask him to the loft for dinner but instead Jim turned toward the warehouse district, depositing Blair outside his own place. He asked Blair when he was free to do some work on his senses and when Blair suggested the next night, agreed and then took off, his tires leaving rubber in his wake.
Blair opened the door to his living quarters and turned on the lights, hating the thought of Jim going home alone to an empty house. He turned the kettle on to heat water for tea, ruminating over the fact that perhaps, that's what Jim needed. Not everyone needed to talk things through the way Blair did. Jim had been a loner when Blair met him. Perhaps he preferred to do his grieving in private.
Jim pushed open the door to his apartment, grateful for the twilight darkness that greeted him. He didn't bother to turn on any lights. His head ached distantly and the dim shadows of the loft felt soothing after his long drive home. He'd stopped for an hour or more at the place where Danny had died, remembering the sullen youngster who'd come into his life and heart. Over time, Danny's demeanour had changed and Jim had felt proud of his part in it. He'd never felt more proud than when Danny announced his intention to become a cop like his "big brother". Now his pride tasted like ashes in his mouth.
He walked to the fridge, though he wasn't in the least hungry. He'd subsisted on coffee and sandwiches and his need to see Juno dead or behind bars, since Danny had been killed. He should've been starving, he knew, but he wasn't, so he reached in and grabbed a beer and walked out onto the balcony. He smiled suddenly as he thought about what Sandburg would say about his liquid meal if he knew.
Leaning with his arms on the balcony railing, he thought about his past and present friends. Danny and Blair. Both so alike in the way they bounced through life, taking the falls in their stride. Jim remembered Blair standing up to Kincaid, leader of the Sunrise Patriots, and helping Jim when his senses went haywire when the bomb the Switchman had placed on the tour bus went off. And then Blair had almost been killed the night Danny died. After shooting Danny, Juno had aimed for the truck and only Jim's shouted warning had saved Blair from a bullet in the head.
Feeling an overwhelming weariness, despite the early hour, Jim went inside and tossed his beer bottle into the bin then walked tiredly upstairs to bed.
Jim turned toward Sandburg as he heard the distant roar of a motorcycle heading in their direction. "Someone's coming," he said, waiting until the bike had come to a halt next to the truck before climbing out.
He and Danny did their usual schtick before pulling each other into a hug. Danny told Jim everything he'd found out about a mobster called O'Toole taking over another waterfront trucking firm then mounted his bike again and rode away.
As Jim turned back to the truck, something caught his eye from one of the dark buildings overshadowing their meeting place. His eyes zoomed in and picked up the light of a laser sight. Jim turned back and screamed a warning to Danny as the red light blossomed on Danny's back but he was too late. He watched in horror as the bike spun out, his friend's body flying across the blacktop. Running into the open, he grabbed Danny's limp body by the arms and pulled him into cover then he stretched his sight out again and saw the gunman, the man he thought he recognized as Tommy Juno, turn and aim directly at the truck.
Jim shouted to Blair to get down just as the window shattered from the impact of the bullet. There was a sudden bloom of red on the windscreen and then Blair was falling. Jim raced for the car, unconcerned for his own safety. Pulling open the door, he saw Blair's body sprawled over the seat, his eyes half open and glazed.
Jim reached a trembling hand toward his partner's neck and pushed his hearing out toward him, desperate for any evidence of Blair's survival. But no heartbeat thrummed beneath his fingers and his hearing heard nothing but his own desperate pleas for Blair to be okay.
"No!" Jim surged up in the bed, waking himself with his agonized shout. He sucked in gasping breaths as he looked around and realized he was at home, in bed.
A dream! It had just been a dream. Blair was safe. He wasn't dead, like Danny.
Jim pushed himself up from the bed and took the stairs two at a time as his gut roiled. He reached the bathroom barely in time, falling to his knees in front of the toilet and retching over and over, long after there was anything left in his stomach to bring up. Once he was sure he wouldn't throw up again, he stood and rinsed his mouth out. Knowing he wouldn't sleep again tonight, he made for the couch in the living room, falling down onto it and covering his chilled body with the afghan he kept folded over the back.
In the dark, he thought back over the past few weeks. Sandburg had come so close to being killed three times already. Was it fair for him to be placed in so much danger just because Jim couldn't get a handle on his senses? Jim finally admitted to himself that the other thought that nagged at him was what he would do if Blair suddenly wasn't there to help him. He was nowhere near close to controlling this shit. Sandburg held the key. But that wasn't all of it. In spite of himself, despite all the walls he'd put up since he came back from Peru, Blair was beginning to breach his defences, crawling in under the razor wire Jim had put around his heart and beginning to make a place for himself in the cop's life. Not just as the person who knew more about his senses than he did, but as a friend. Friends had been rare enough Jim's whole life, thanks to his prickly personality. Jim didn't think he could risk losing any more and he had the feeling that losing Sandburg would be more than he could bear.
Blair pulled his backpack higher on his shoulder as he made his way towards the bus stop. The bus would take him within four blocks of the loft. The Volvo had refused to start and Blair wished he'd asked Jim to pick him up but the detective had looked so tired after Danny's funeral, that Blair didn't have the heart to ask him for any favors. He was two minutes from the stop, just passing an alleyway when an arm snaked out and wrapped itself around his neck.
Struggling and kicking against the pressure around his throat, Blair felt himself dragged back into the mouth of the alley, behind the dumpster that stood at its entrance.
"Give me your wallet, man." The words wafted through the air on breath that stunk of alcohol.
Blair pulled frantically at the arm that was threatening to cut off his air supply. "Let me breathe, man, and I'll give you anything you want," he managed to choke out.
Suddenly he found himself released and spun around so his back was up against the cold bricks of the alley wall. He waited, gasping for breath. His captor had a ski mask pulled down over his face and a wicked looking knife in his hand.
"Hand it over, geek," the man said, extending the knife just far enough to prick into Blair's chest.
"Okay, okay, just chill out. You want money, you can have everything I've got. Just move the knife, all right?" Blair tried to keep his voice calm. No sense in aggravating his potential killer, he decided. He pulled his wallet from his pocket and passed it over.
"Five bucks! That's it?" The thief's voice was incredulous.
"Hey, man, you see where we are? You really think I'd be living here if I had money. You should try the West side of town " Blair began, then grunted as a fist thumped into his stomach. He whooped, trying to get his breath and bent forward, curling around the pain in his gut. As he did, he felt a knee come up and connect hard with the side of his head.
His attacker stepped back and watched as Blair crumpled to the ground, a trickle of blood trailing down his face.
Blair fought against the fog clouding his vision and tried to stay conscious. Groaning, he made it to hands and knees and stayed there, shaking his head slightly and panting shallowly. "Why'd you hit me?" he managed to grind out. "Gave you my money." He looked up just in time to see the man take a step back and bring his foot up in a swinging kick.
Blair tried desperately to roll away but his head injury and the pain in his belly slowed his reflexes. The boot connected with his ribs and Blair went down in a heap again. This time he let the darkness in.
"Fuckin' cop," his assailant growled, spitting on the ground next to Blair's head. He pulled Blair's ID from the wallet and threw it down on top of the unconscious observer. Putting the wallet in his own pocket, he took off up the alley at a dead run.
Jim paced back and forth across the floor of his living room. *Dammit, Sandburg should've been here an hour ago.* He walked through to the kitchen and checked the time . 5-30p.m. He moved back to the living room and picked up the phone then slammed it down as he remembered Blair telling him there was no phone at the warehouse. He didn't have a cell phone, either. Jim decided he'd have to rectify that soon, if the kid was gonna keep working with him. *If.* He swallowed hard and slumped down onto the sofa as fragments of his dream the night before came back to him. He couldn't remember it all, but one thing stood out clearly. Blair had been dead, shot by Juno, just like Danny. He leaned forward and rested his head on his hands.
He tried to make sense of the feeling that had been gnawing away at him ever since the dream had woken him up. Fear? No, more a sense of uneasiness. As if something was about to happen. Something bad. To Blair. Maybe he should cut the kid loose, now, before anything else could threaten him, hurt him, maybe even kill him. Like it had Danny. Jim hadn't thought anything could rival the pain he'd felt at Danny's death, but something told him it would be even worse if it had been Blair who died.
Shoving himself to his feet, he checked the time again. 6 p.m. Decision made, he headed for the phone and dialed, trying to keep his voice steady as he heard Simon answer.
"Simon, it's Jim. Look, Blair was supposed to have been here over an hour and a half ago. I don't suppose he's turned up at the station. Maybe he thought I meant for him to meet me there."
"Nope, Jim. Haven't seen him," Simon replied. "Aah, he probably forgot. Got busy chatting up some pretty co-ed. He'll turn up tomorrow and promise not to let it happen again. You know, students, Jim."
"No, not really, sir. But I do know Blair. He wouldn't do that. This thing is too important to him. Besides, if he wasn't coming he'd have called by now," Jim said. The chill in his voice and the fact he'd suddenly called the captain, sir, let Simon know that he wasn't happy with his superior's take on his partner.
"Okay, Jim. Settle down. I didn't mean it to sound like I was dissing the kid," Banks apologized.
"Dissing?" Even Jim had to smile at that.
"I know. Seems like Daryl has a new buzzword every time I talk to him these days. Half the time, I don't have a clue what he's saying to me." Simon laughed, glad to hear Jim's tone lighten. "So, Jim, what do you want me to do? You want me to put an APB out on Sandburg or something?" Simon was joking, but something made him wonder if that's exactly what Jim wanted him to do. Damn, how had Sandburg got under Jim's skin so quickly. The captain was beginning to see a whole new side to his detective ever since Sandburg had walked into their lives. Banks hadn't been sure how to take it at first, but now he decided he liked it. Jim was becoming more and more human with every day the kid was around.
"No, of course not, Simon." Jim's voice broke through Simon's thoughts. "It hasn't been 24 hours yet. I just thought he might have turned up there, that's all."
"Can't you call him? How do you get hold of him when you need to other times?" Simon asked.
"He doesn't have a phone at home and he doesn't own a cell. I'm thinking of getting him one. I usually don't have to find him. He finds me," Jim replied.
"Well, what about his place?" Simon suggested. "Maybe the kid's sick and if he doesn't have a phone there "
"Shit! Why didn't I think of that? I'll talk to you later, Simon."
"Let me know if the kid's okay, Jim," Simon said, still smiling to himself as he hung up the phone.
Within a minute, Jim was in his truck, heading for Mission Street.
Less than 20 minutes later Jim was outside Blair's dilapidated warehouse. He took a deep breath, consciously relaxing. He'd feel like an idiot if Simon had been right and Blair had just gotten busy and forgotten. He pressed the buzzer and waited for Blair to answer.
Impatiently Jim counted to ten before depressing the button again. He thought about opening up his hearing and sending it exploring into Blair's living space, but immediately dismissed the idea. If he zoned and Sandburg wasn't home to bring him out of it, he'd look like a giant doorstop standing out here for hours, staring at nothing. Not a sight guaranteed to instil trust in the police with the locals.
Finally, he stabbed the button three more times.
"Yeah?" The voice was scratchy but there was no doubt it was Blair's.
"It's Ellison. Let me in, will ya?"
"Oh, right, okay."
The door clicked and Jim walked in, eyeing his dim surroundings with distaste. Empty boxes were lined up along walls that may have once been white but were now an indefinable shade of gray. God, this was where the kid lived? Jim shivered, realizing that the temperature inside was at least 5 degrees colder than outside. Seeing a door opening ahead of him, he moved toward it.
Blair moved back from the door as Jim walked in. The room was large with stacks of books and papers piled indiscriminately around. He noticed that the kitchen and living room were all in one area. A ratty couch separated the cooking space from the rest of the room. A small television and video perched precariously on a wooden packing crate. The lighting here was as poor as in the entryway.
"What happened, Sandburg? I thought you were coming over tonight," Jim asked, trying not to sound accusing.
"I'm sorry, man. I must have fallen asleep or something. I was gonna call you when I woke up " Blair's voice trailed off as he grunted and grabbed his ribs.
Jim walked closer, automatically extending his senses as he did so. There was no smell of alcohol emanating from the young man but there was a faint scent of something coppery. Casting his mind back to when the Sunrise Patriots had taken over the PD, Jim immediately made the connection. Blood!
"I smell blood, Chief. What's going on? Did you cut yourself?" He moved toward Blair, puzzled. Reaching his partner, he put out a hand and snagged the young man's arm, pulling him forward so he could check him out properly.
Blair moaned and grabbed hold of his ribs more firmly.
"Sandburg?" Jim asked, really worried now. Turning back to the light switch he flicked it on and turned quickly back to Blair, in time to see the observer flinch and attempt to cover his eyes. As he turned his head Jim saw the dried trail of blood down the side of his face. "Shit, Blair, what the hell happened?"
"Got mugged," Blair said quietly, as if even the sound of his own voice made his head hurt. He moved over and fell down onto the couch, groaning as the movement jolted his body.
"Why didn't you call me? When did it happen?" Kneeling in front of Blair, Jim bit down on his tongue. The questions could wait for now. First he had to get Blair to the ER to be checked out. "Come on, Chief, let's get you to the hospital." He held his hand up to forestall the expected argument. Lifting his partner's t - shirt, he winced at the bruising on his abdomen and the imprint of a boot on his ribs. There was a small cut at the top of his chest, just below the notch of his sternum. Jim didn't think it would need stitches. He grasped Blair's chin in his hand and turned his head gently to the side, his other hand lifting to part the dark curls, now matted with blood. Just above Blair's ear there was nasty looking lump, badly discolored by bruising and the gash that bisected it. The wound was still seeping a small amount of blood. Turning Blair's face back towards his own, Jim looked into his partner's eyes. They were full of pain and red rimmed as if he'd been crying. The pupils looked equal and appeared to be reacting normally to the light, but Jim had no intentions of taking chances with his friend this time around. Hauling the smaller man carefully to his feet, he headed out the door, supporting Blair all the way.
It wasn't till they were both in the truck, Blair sitting curled in on himself, as if protecting his abused body, that Jim realized with a shock, that Blair hadn't demurred at all. Looking over quickly, he could see the faint sheen of sweat that covered Sandburg's forehead. His eyes looked bruised now, the lids closed. His breathing was shallow and cautiously Jim reached out, searching for his heartbeat. It was rapid, but strong. The Sentinel released the breath he'd been unaware of holding and turned his attention back to the road.
They waited for an hour in the ER before Blair was taken through to a cubicle. After about 20 minutes, a doctor came out to tell Jim they were taking his partner to x - ray and he'd could see him when he got back. Jim settled down to wait again. Thirty minutes later a nurse was ushering Jim through the curtain of the cubicle Blair was in.
"Hey, Chief," Jim said as he entered the small room. "How's it going?" He looked Blair over carefully. The wound on his head had been cleaned and the gash stitched. There was a transparent plastic dressing over it and Jim could see where his friend's curly hair had been shaved for an inch or so around the cut. Blair was dressed in a hospital gown, the pallor of his face almost matching those of the sheets beneath him. Although the room was warm, Blair shivered slightly, minute tremors shuddering through his body, causing him wince from time to time. As Jim entered, he opened his eyes. Jim thought he looked more tired and dispirited than the cop had ever seen him look.
"Hi, Jim," he said, smiling faintly. "I'm okay. Just cuts and bruises. Look, do me a favor, will you? They want to keep me here overnight. Back me up about getting out of here now, will you?" His voice was almost pleading, and Jim grinned as he was given the full puppy dog routine, big eyes and all.
"Sorry, no can do, partner. You're staying here tonight."
"What? Jim, I can't. Listen," Blair's voice dropped to a whisper, "I told you last time. I don't have insurance and that guy took the last five bucks I had, man. I can't afford this."
"Okay, so I'll cover it and you can pay me back a little at a time whenever you've got it to spare," Jim said, in a voice that brooked no argument.
"I can't let you do that again, man. I already owe you from when I got winged by Kincaid's goons." Blair was in full on begging mode now.
"So, you'll pay me sometime. Look, Chief, I have to go to work early tomorrow and you said yourself there's no one to keep an eye on you. You've got a nasty knock on the head and badly bruised ribs. You need to be here. That's it, Chief. We either do this my way or I'll tell Simon to pull your observer credentials for a while."
"You wouldn't," Blair said quietly, "Would you?"
"Take a look at this face, buddy. What do you think? Wanna call me on it?" Jim said, keeping his face as granite like as possible and trying to stifle the laugh he could feel building. Blair looked like a kid who'd just lost his best friend.
"Dammit!" Blair threw himself back down onto the pillows with a little more force than he'd obviously intended and a yelp of pain pushed past his lips.
"Blair, listen to me. I've already lost a friend this week. I don't want to lose another one." Jim sat on the edge of the bed and reached out hesitantly to place his hand on top of Blair's.
"You mean that, don't you?" Blair said, looking Jim squarely in the eyes. "About us being friends, I mean."
"Yeah, I do, Chief. Look, they're gonna come take you to a room in a minute and I gotta go fill out some paperwork then I'll come up and make sure you're settled before I leave." Jim returned the look, then stood up, patting Blair's hand a final time. "Let me know if you want me to pick up anything for you when I come to get you tomorrow, okay?"
Blair nodded. "You don't have to pick me up, though. I could walk or get a friend to come get me," he offered quickly.
"A friend is coming to get you, Chief. This one." Jim patted his chest as he spoke and noticed that Blair's color was picking up a little and he seemed to have stopped shivering. "Blair, God forbid something like this ever happens again, but if it does, I want you to promise me you'll call me. I think I'll pick up a cell phone tomorrow or something." He placed one hand on top of Blair's head and tipped it back so Blair was looking up at him. "No argument, Sandburg," he interrupted as Blair started to speak. "It'll help me too, if I can get hold of you more easily. Now get some rest while you're waiting for the orderlies." He turned and walked towards the curtain but turned to look at Blair again as he heard him speak.
"I'm glad we're friends, Jim," Blair said quietly. "I don't think I could have found a better one."
"Likewise, Chief." Jim pushed through the curtain and headed for the desk, smiling to himself. It was true. He couldn't have picked a better one either.
April 6th 2004