"Hey, Blair, hold up, man!"
Blair turned at the summons and waited till Josh Daniels caught up to him.
"Blair, listen, I was wondering if you could do me a favour," Josh asked, his voice tense and his face flushed."Depends what it is, Josh," Blair replied easily. "If its to take your class tomorrow, though, I gotta say no. Jims expecting me to do his paperwork at the PD." He gave a heartfelt inward shudder at the words. Correcting Jims reports had been known to take up an entire day and wasnt one of Blairs favourite ways to spend his time.
"Nah, I got it covered, Blair. Um look " Josh examined the ground at his feet closely, his hands clenching and unclenching at his sides. Finally, he looked up and sighed. "Listen, Blair, could you loan me some money?" He put up a silencing hand as Blair opened his mouth to speak. "Its only 500 bucks, man, and its just till next week, but I really need it. You know I wouldnt ask if there was some other way I could do it."
"Ah, I dont know, Josh. Thats about all the money Ive got right now, and some of that is to pay rent. Jim was really great about letting me stay at the loft free of charge when I first moved in but that was over a month ago, and I told him Id start paying my way more, you know?" Blair replied. "Whats it for?"
"I was an idiot, man. I borrowed some money off this loan shark called Tony Finelli to pay my last terms tuition. My dad wont pay it for me. He says when he was at college, he worked to pay his own way through school. Besides, hes not exactly happy Im studying Anthropology instead being a Business major, like he wanted me to do. Anyway, long story short, the loans past due, and because I didnt get that grant I was counting on, I cant pay him back yet. Its my birthday next week, and my mom said shes gonna send me five hundred bucks then; but Finellis a real headcase, and he wont wait. Said if I dont pay up by tomorrow morning, hell send his goons around to teach me a lesson." Josh looked at Blair appealingly, his eyes huge in his pale face. "I dont know who else to ask, man."
"Josh, you have to go to the cops about Finelli. I can talk to Jim -"
"No! No way, man. Ill end up going swimming off the pier fitted out with a pair of concrete boots, if I do that. Just forget it, Sandburg. If you dont want to lend me the money, thats okay. But dont you mention a word of this to anyone else, all right? Especially not your pet cop," Josh said harshly.
Blair raised his hands. "Okay, I wont. Look, Josh, if I could give you the cash I would, man, you know that -"
"Yeah, I know," Josh replied, his tone resigned. "Dont sweat it, Blair. Ill keep asking around. Maybe I can get my mom to wire me the money early or something."
"Yeah, thats a good idea. Why dont you call her? I gotta run, Josh. Call me and let me know how it goes, okay?" Blair patted his friends back and walked away to his car. He turned around as he reached it.
Josh was still standing where Blair had left him, his eyes riveted on the ground, one shoe idly scuffing the grass. Sighing heavily, feeling like a heel, Blair unlocked the car and climbed in. He started up the engine and drove slowly out of the parking lot, mentally kicking himself for not being able to do more to help.
"Chief, its for you." Jim held the phone receiver out to Blair and moved past him over to the kitchen.
"Blair? Its me."
The voice was husky and somewhat distorted, and Blair frowned as he tried to make out the words. "Whos this?" he asked finally.
"Its Josh. Blair, listen, Im hurt, man. I didnt know who else to call "
"Josh?" Blair turned and looked over to the kitchen.
Jim was cutting up vegetables for dinner, but he glanced up and gave an inquiring look in Blairs direction. "Everything okay?" he mouthed.
Blair nodded quickly, then turned so his back was to Jim again. "Josh, was it Finelli?" he asked, as quietly as he could without arousing Jims suspicions.
"Yeah. He said if I dont have the money tomorrow, hell come back and finish the job."
"Shit, Josh. Hang on a minute." Blair turned back to face Jim. "Ah, Jim, dont make dinner for me, okay? Josh needs some help with a paper. I forgot I promised Id help him with it," he said, obfuscating furiously.
"Tonight?" Jim asked. "Cant it wait, Chief?"
Blair shook his head firmly. "Sorry, man. Josh has covered for me a few times when Ive been working with you. I cant let him down. Itll be fine. Ill go help him out, and Josh and I can get some dinner later."
Jim shrugged. "Your call, Sandburg. You do realize youll be missing out on the famous Ellison chicken stirfry, though?"
Blair smiled, trying for lightheartedness. "Yeah. Save me some, okay? Ill have it tomorrow. Itll be even better then." He turned again and spoke quietly into the phone. "Josh, you at the dorm?" he asked. Getting an affirmative answer, he went on, "Im on my way. Sit tight. Ill be there in twenty."
Smiling casually at Jim, he walked over to the coat-rack and pulled down his jacket, then bent and grabbed his backpack from the floor beneath the hooks. "Sorry about this, man, but I might need Josh to help me out again one day, if I get sick or something."
"Yeah, I know, Chief. The way your luck runs, thats more than likely." Jim threw him a grin. "Go on, get out of here. Dont stay up all night though. Even you need to sleep occasionally.""Yes, mother," Blair replied. He took off out the door and flew down the stairs to his car, patting his back pocket as he went to ensure he had his wallet. Hed have to stop at an ATM on the way to draw out the money.
Blair stopped at the ATM on the way to the dorm and withdrew the money to give to Josh. It wouldnt leave him completely without cash, but hed have to be a little more frugal for a few days till Joshs mom came through with a check, and hed have to find a way to delay the rent he was supposed to pay Jim. He stopped halfway up the staircase while he considered that problem.
Jim had been more than generous since Blair had moved in with him. The original agreed-upon week had simply come and gone, and the only mention Jim had made of it, had been to ask Blair if he could afford to pay some rent once he was back on his feet financially. Blair had grinned over at the detective, feeling warmth curling around his heart at the offhand invitation and had agreed enthusiastically. Hed been dreading moving out of the loft. He knew hed be able to find somewhere else to live eventually, but just in that short week, hed begun to look on Jims home as his, and it gave him a sense of something that went further than gratitude that Jim would want him to stay. Theyd worked out an agreement for Blair to pay $500 per month. That amount would cover rent as well as utilities, and Blair had assured Jim that he could afford it. Jim had told him to wait till the first of the following month to begin paying it; so, in the meantime, Blair had begun putting aside what money he could afford from his stipend and the earnings he received for tutoring and writing articles. By the time the first payment was almost due, Blair had been pleasantly surprised to discover he had the $500 plus an extra fifty saved up. Heading up the stairs again, Blair sighed. Hed have to come up with one of his famous obfuscations if Jim asked for the rent before Josh paid him back.
At the top of the stairs he turned right and walked quickly up to Joshs door. He knocked and got pained permission to enter; so he opened the door and walked inside, stopping in shock at the sight of his friend.
Josh was sprawled on his back on the bed, one arm wrapped around obviously painful ribs. His face was a mess, both eyes blackened and swollen; dried blood caked on his lips and chin.
"Shit!" Blair raced forward, dropping to a crouch at the side of the bed. He reached out and gingerly turned Joshs head to face him. "Jesus, Josh, we have got to get you to a hospital!"
"No way! Fuck!" Josh surged up off the bed, cursing as his face paled with the pain of the movement, his fingers clutching more tightly at his ribcage. Blair pushed him gently back, then rose and went over to the small sink in the corner of the room. He dampened a cloth with water and brought it back, then began cleaning the blood from the injured mans face. "You could have internal injuries, man," he said, concern evident in his voice.
Josh shook his head slightly and gave a sardonic smile. "They were careful," he whispered. "They didnt want to hurt me too badly, or they wouldnt get their money. This is just a warning of what to expect each day I dont pay up."
"But your ribs " Blair lifted Joshs shirt and winced at the fist-sized bruises covering his chest and abdomen.
"Just bruised," Josh replied, squirming under Blairs probing fingers. "Im a football player, remember? I know busted ribs when I feel them. Blair, look, I cant go to the hospital or even the campus clinic. Theyll ask questions You didnt say anything to the cop, did you?" He gave Blair a piercing look of inquiry, obviously relieved when Blair shook his head. "Good. Im sorry, man, I just didnt know who else I could trust."Blair stood up and placed the washcloth on the bedside table, then reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, withdrawing the money hed taken from the ATM. He held it out to Josh. "Here. Pay Finelli off, then, as soon as your mom sends that check, sign it over to me."
Josh smiled shakily up at him. "Thanks, Blair. I promise youll get it back in a few days."
Blair nodded and reached down to pat the other mans shoulder carefully. "Yeah, I know, Josh. Im just gonna have to tap-dance around Jim for a few days, thats all. Itll be cool, man. Just promise meno more loans from sharks like Finelli. You need cash, you come and ask me. I might not be able to always float you a loan, but I can always help you come up with some sort of solution."
Josh nodded as he took the money from Blairs outstretched hand. "No more loan sharks, Blair. Ive learned my lesson, believe me."
"Glad to hear it." Blair grinned at his friend, swallowing down his worry that Jim would find out what hed done. "Lets make you a little more presentable. We dont want you scaring any little old ladies when you go to pay Finelli."
The loft was in darkness when Blair finally opened the door and let himself in. He crept in quietly, not wanting to wake Jim, and jumped as a voice spoke to him from the dark confines of the living room.
"Didnt think youd be this late home, Chief."
"Jesus, Jim, you about took ten years off my life doing that." Blair turned and squinted at his partner through the gloom, blinking and covering his eyes with one hand as the light was flicked on.
"Sorry," Jim murmured. "So whats going on?" he asked.
Blair shrugged as he pulled off his jacket and hung it up, then deposited his backpack on the floor below the coathooks again. "Nothing. Josh and I just got talking. I didnt realize it was so late. Sorry, Jim. I should have called, I know but"
"Youre an adult, Sandburg. You dont have to explain. Sorry I startled you." Jims voice sounded dismissive, and Blair flinched a little at the coolness it conveyed.
"No, I should have kept watch on the time and called when I knew I was going to be later than I thought," he said, his tone conciliatory.
"Dont sweat it, Sandburg. I was a little worried, thats all. Guess Im still not quite used to having a roomie," Jim replied casually as he headed towards the stairs.
Blair breathed a sub-vocal sigh of relief at Jims lack of curiosity as he continued on into his own room. "Well, Ill see you in the morning, man. Im exhausted. Goodnight."
"Goodnight, Blair," Jim said. "Ah, by the way, I hate to bring it up, but day after tomorrows the first of the month. You have some rent money?" he asked, turning around on the bottom step to look at Blair. "If you havent got it to spare, Ill work it out, but I know you said the other day, you had almost all of it, and Ill be paying the utilities then so if youve got it -"
Blair groaned inwardly. Joshs mom wasnt sending the check till the day after that. "No problem, Jim," he said. "Ill get it out the bank tomorrow and give it to you tomorrow night, okay?"
"You sure?" Jim asked. "If you dont have it all "
Blair nodded his head so vigorously, he felt it might topple from his suddenly stiff neck. "Ill have it, Jim. Ill see you in the morning." He turned and made his way quickly to his room as Jim started up the stairs to his own bed again. Shit, he thought to himself as he slumped down on his bed. Lets see you get yourself out of this one, oh Great Obfuscator.
He pillowed his head on his folded arms and tried to think clearly. He had two options. Onehe could go and tell Jim that he was sorry but he didnt have the money after all. That was what he should do, he knew. Guilt made his stomach clench painfully as he realized that hed lied to Jim, ever since Josh had called. If he came clean now, Jim would want to know why hed lied at all. Ellison was a generous man, Blair knew that. Hell, hed proven that with the number of times hed insisted on buying dinner for the two of them even before Blair had moved in, and then hed let Blair stay on, long after the week was up. Jim would say he understood Blair wanting to loan his friend money. Then, hed ask what Josh needed the money for, and, as Josh had begged Blair not to say anything about Finelli, hed have to lie to Jim anyway.
Blair groaned then rolled to his stomach, burying his head in the pillow. Okay, second option. He pushed himself up and off the bed, walked over to the dresser and opened the top drawer, pulling out a small velvet covered box. Sitting back down again, he opened the box and lifted out the elaborately etched gold pocket watch that rested inside.
It had belonged to Naomis grandfather and had been the one thing he had escaped with after the war in Europe. Jakob Sandburg had been in Auschwitz and had been barely alive when the camp was liberated. When hed been arrested, hed given the watch to a friend who had kept it for him all that time. When the friend had found out Jakob was alive, he had returned the watch to him, and Jakob had brought it with him when he emigrated to America. It had been passed on to Naomis father and, when he died, as Naomi had no brothers, was given to her. Shed insisted Blair keep it the last time hed seen her, a week or so before hed met up with Jim and jumped aboard the rollercoaster that was their life together.
Blair ran his fingers over the surface of the watch and lifted the lid. It was in perfect condition, still running. Blair wound it every day. He swallowed dryly as he thought about what he was going to do.
There was a pawnshop near the campus. He reassured himself that it would only be out of his possession for a few days. As soon as the money came through from Joshs mom, hed redeem it, and neither Jim nor Naomi would be any the wiser.
He hoped his grandfather would understand he was doing it to help a friend, just as Jakobs friend had helped him. That thought eased his mind somewhat, and he undressed and climbed into bed where he tossed and turned until dawn. Then he got up, showered and dressed, and put the pocket watch in his jacket pocket.
Hed call in at the pawnshop on his lunchbreak, he decided.~o0o~ Blair was out of the loft early the next morning, courtesy of his troubled night. He fumbled his way through his lectures and office hours, then went to help Jim at the PD.
Jim glanced up as Blair entered the bullpen and made his way over to the desk, almost falling into the extra chair Jim kept there now, for him. "Forgive me for being blunt, Chief, but you look like ten miles of bad road."
Blair slapped away the hand that was trying to reach for his forehead. "Yeah, I feel like it too, man. Jim, knock it off," he said grumpily as Jim tried to gauge his temperature again. "Im not sick. I just didnt sleep much last night."
"Tell me about it, Chief. You think I got much sleep listening to you torturing the mattress all night?"
"Sorry," Blair muttered apologetically. "Maybe I was overtired or something."
Jim cast an appraising eye over him, and Blair stoically endured the examination. "What do you need me to do?" he asked.
"Paper work," they both said at the same time and Jim reached out and thwapped Blair lightly on the head. "Smartass," he said with a grin.
Blair was about to power up the computer when he became aware of a shadow looming over him. He looked up into Simon Banks serious face. "Whats up, Simon?"Banks directed his response to Jim. "Weve got a DB in an alley off Simmons, Jim. I need you to cover it. Take Sandburg with you."
"What?" Blair gaped in response. "You want Jim to take me to a crime scene?" His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Whats the rest, Simon?"
Banks looked down at Blair, and there was a hint of sadness in the tall mans gaze. "The victim had your business card in his hand, Sandburg," he said quietly. "Figured it might be someone you know. Im sorry."
"Who " Blair stopped, swallowed, tried again. "Do they know who it is?" he managed to get out at last.Banks shook his head. "The guys wallets missing. You think you can handle it, kid? Well need an ID, if you can provide one."
Blair nodded firmly. He stood up and looked at Jim, seeing the empathy there. "Lets go, Jim."
"Keep me informed," Simon said as they left the room.~o0o~
"Oh my God! Josh!" Blair stumbled to his knees at his friends side. Joshs face was white and still beneath the old and new bruises. His head was bent unnaturally to one side, and there was a pool of blood beneath it.
Dan Wolf looked up at Jim. "Looks like he was beaten up and fell and hit his head on the corner of the dumpster there. Blair, you know him?" the coroner asked.Blair nodded, his mind almost numb with shock, his belly cramping painfully. "His names Josh Williams. Hes a TA at Rainier." He pushed himself to his feet and looked dazedly at Jim. "He was my friend."
Jim stepped forward and moved Blair away from the body, sitting him down against the alley wall. He took off his jacket and covered Blairs shoulders with it, noting the trembling in the young mans frame and the pallor of his face. Blairs skin was icy to his touch. "Stay here for a minute, Chief. Ill be back."
"It was Finelli," Blair muttered. "Why did they kill him? He had the money to pay them."
Jim crouched down so he could look into Blairs eyes. "What do you know about this, Blair?"
"Josh borrowed money off a loan shark to pay his tuition. He couldnt pay it back at first, so Finelli had him beaten up. Then Josh got the money and was going to pay him today -" Blair looked over at Joshs body and bit down on his lip. "Why did they kill him if he had the money?"
Jim placed a firm hand on his guides shoulder. "I dont know yet, Blair. Maybe they wanted interest on the late payment. But Im gonna find out. Stay here till I get back. Ive gotta check the scene out."
"I should go with you," Blair said, struggling to rise to his feet.
Jim held him down gently but firmly. "Im just going to be a few feet away, Chief. Ill be fine. Youve had a nasty shock. I want you to sit here till I get back, okay? Then you can answer some questions for me."
"Okay," Blair agreed, his voice almost non-existent, his eyes still focussed on the body of his friend.
Jim stood and walked back to the crime scene.
"Any ideas yet, Dan?" he asked, stopping next to the coroner.
Dan nodded. "Looks like he got beaten up more than once in the past couple of days. This time, they went too far. Knocked the kid out and he fell and hit his head on the corner of the dumpster. Its too soon to say for sure, but Im guessing Ill find a fractured skull at autopsy."
"Whether they intended to kill him or not, its still murder in my book," Jim said grimly.
"Detective, can you give me a hand with this?"
Jim walked across to the dumpster that one of the Crime Scene Investigators was holding open with a gloved hand. "Whats up, Jeff? he asked.
"I want to check inside the dumpster, but the lids too heavy, and its pushed too close against the wall for the lid to stay up on its own. Dont want to cut my fingers off," the man said with a grim smile.Jim pulled a pair of gloves from his jacket pocket and slipped them on, then held the cover up while the CSI checked the interior of the almost empty bin.
"Not much to find in there," Jeff observed. "I guess if the perp intended to dump anything in here, he probably looked inside and saw how empty it was and decided to take any evidence with him and get rid of it somewhere else."
Jim nodded agreement, then focussed his sight in on a small patch of red almost hidden beneath the handle of the bin. "Grab your dusting gear, Jeff," he said tightly. "Looks like weve got a partial print here."
"What?" Jeff peered closely at where Ellisons other hand was pointing. "You sure?" He pulled a torch from his back pocket and shone it on the area, then bent close and squinted at it. "Oh yeah, I got it. How the hell did you see that, Detective?""I eat a lot of carrots," Jim replied with a quick grin. "Get it back to the lab ASAP, Jeff, okay?"
"You got it, Detective."
Jim waited till the print was lifted, then, spotting a uniformed cop standing at the mouth of the alley, called him over and asked him to help with clearing out the bin. After taking a last careful look around the scene, he made his way back to his partner.
Blair still sat half-slumped against the alley wall, his head downcast, chin resting on his chest. He looked up when Jim crouched next to him though, his eyes red-rimmed and damp with tears, his face still leached of colour.
Jim patted his shoulder reassuringly. "How you doing, buddy? Think you can tell me what you know about this?"
Blair looked past him, to where Joshs body was being lifted, wrapped in a body bag, onto a gurney and nodded slowly.
"Okay, lets get you up and back to the precinct." Jim levered Blair to his feet, keeping a steadying arm around him then ushered him back to the truck.~o0o~
Blair gazed around, feeling somewhat dazed. He didnt remember anything of the ride back to the station. It was as if one minute, hed been sitting in that dirty alleyway, watching Joshs body being zipped inside black plastic, and the next, he was sitting at Jims desk, a cup of steaming tea in front of him with Jim opposite, waiting patiently for him to talk.
He picked up the cup and sipped at the tea, then put it down and gathered the fragments of his memories together, knowing that he had to be coherent. It was all he could do for Josh now. He swallowed down a sob that threatened to push past his lips and clenched his fingers tightly, welcoming the sharp pain as his fingernails bit into his palm and distracted him from the overwhelming emotion he was afraid he couldnt control.
"Ready?" Jim asked, his voice so soft that Blair almost lost it again, and curled his fingers more viciously into his hands.
"Josh stopped me the day before yesterday as I was leaving the University and asked me for a loan," he began.
"How much?" Jim asked.
Blair cast his eyes down at his legs and murmured, "$500."
"Okay," Jim replied evenly. "Go on."
"Um I said I didnt have it. Well, I said I did have it, but I needed it for rent to pay you. I told him youd let me stay with you past the one week we'd agreed on, and I needed to pay you, and I couldnt help him out." Blair stopped abruptly, knowing he was babbling but unable to curb his tongue. He picked up the tea again and sipped it, put it back down with a shaky hand and went on. "The next night he called the loft. You were there." He looked over at Jim, whose face showed no sign that he was about to catch Blair in his lies. "He said Finellis people had beaten him up. I took the money out of my bank account and went over there."
Blair gulped air as he remembered how Josh had looked that night, how bruised his face and abdomen had been, how grateful he was to Blair for helping him.
"Easy, Chief, take it slow." Jims warm hand was on his neck and Blair looked around, surprised. Jim was sitting next to him now and Blair couldnt remember seeing him move.
"So, I gave Josh the money, and I cleaned him up. Told him he couldnt go out on the street looking the way he did "
"Why didnt Josh call the cops, report Finelli?" Jim asked.
Blair shrugged. "I dont know. I told him to. I told him Id talk to you about it, but he was really definite that nobody could find out. He said Finelli would have him killed." He turned his head and looked at Jim. "His familys pretty well known where he comes from. He let his dad down by taking anthropology instead of a business management course, and his father wouldnt help him with his tuition. Josh worked round the clock to stay in school, but he knew his father didnt approve and wouldnt help him out. But, I guess no matter how that made him feel, he didnt want them to know that he was having trouble getting by. He did ask his mom for the money but she was having it rough herself since she and his dad got divorced. She was sending him a check, but it would have got here too late. So I"
"You helped him out." Jim finished the sentence for him, and Blair looked away again. "I wish youd told me about it, Chief," Jim said.
"I couldnt. I promised Josh," Blair replied, his hands still clenched tightly into fists, still trying to push back the anger and the pain at Joshs senseless death.
He saw Jims hand cover his own and uncurl his fingers, then pass gently over the blood-red arcs in his palm where his fingernails had dug in.
"Dont hurt yourself over this, Blair," Jim said whisper-soft. "You were trying to help a friend. None of this is your fault."
Blair nodded wordlessly, knowing that if he spoke, his guilt and pain for Josh would rise up and choke him.
The phone on Jims desk rang, and Jim scooped it up, answered and listened for a minute before replacing the receiver. "That was Forensics. They got a match on that partial print we found at the scene. Tommy Georgiou. Hes one of Finellis heavies. Wait here a minute while I go talk to Simon. Ill be right back."
"Okay." Blair watched as Jim walked over and knocked on the captains door.
A few minutes later, Jim walked out of the office and back to his desk. "Listen, Chief, Im going out with Rafe and Brown to pick up Georgiou. You wait here"
"What? No way! Im coming with you!" Blair was on his feet before hed finished speaking.
Jim shook his head. "Ill be with Rafe and Brown. Ill be fine. We already know where the guys staying -"
Blair shook his head firmly. "I want to see this through for Josh," he said, staring Jim down.
Jim huffed out an impatient-sounding breath, then walked past him and pulled Blairs jacket along with his own down from the coat stand. "Simon will have my hide if something goes wrong. Youre too emotionally involved in this, Chief."
"Nothing will go wrong," Blair replied, knowing hed already won the argument. "Ill stay in the truck."
"Damn straight you will," Jim muttered as they left the bullpen.~o0o~
Jim shot a firm look over at Blair as he pulled the truck up in front of the house where Tommy Georgious girlfriend lived. Word was that Tommy was there, holed up.
Jim opened his mouth to speak, and Blair stopped him with an upraised hand. "Im staying right here," he said. "I just want to see the bastard caught, thats all, Jim. Im not planning any heroics here, okay?"
Jim nodded tersely. "Fair enough," he replied as he checked his weapon and climbed out of the vehicle, striding over to meet up with Rafe and Brown on the sidewalk.
Blair watched them confer for a minute or two, then walk towards the house. He saw Jim stand off to one side, Rafe heading around the back, and Brown stepping up to the door to knock.
After only a couple of seconds, the door was opened, and a tall dark-haired woman stood in the doorway. Blair could hear her emphatic voice declaring that she hadnt seen Tommy; then she looked over her shoulder, turned back to Jim and Brown and opened the door wide, obviously telling them to enter.
Blair sat up straight in his seat, his heart pounding. Please dont let it be a trap, he prayed wordlessly.
Suddenly there was a shot that seemed to come from the back of the house, and then a dark figure came barrelling along the driveway and straight toward the truck.Blair squinted, trying to make out the fleeing figure, though he knew with dreadful certainty that it had to be Georgiou. He reached over to drivers side door and flipped down the lock, then spun to lock his own. As his finger hit the button, the door was wrenched open, and a hand grasped his arm roughly and pulled him out to land on his knees on the pavement. He could hear shouts of "Freeze! Cascade PD!" as he struggled to regain his feet, and then there was a thumping pain at the side of his forehead, and he watched the ground moving up to meet him, as if in slow motion as he fell forward. The side of his head hit the sidewalk hard and darkness impinged on his vision. He could hear sounds of a struggle right next to him and he closed his eyes, feeling nausea rise and burn the back of his throat.
"Sandburg!" Jims voice sounded worried, and Blair pushed his unwilling eyelids open, finding himself on his back with Jim looking down at him, concern evident on his face.
"You get him?" he asked, his words sounding blurred to his own ears. His head ached mightily, and he could feel warm wetness trickling down his neck.
Jim shot him a relieved-looking grin. "Yeah, we got him, Junior. Lets get you up and well get you taken care of, all right?"
Blair nodded cautiously, feeling as if someone was playing a bass drum inside his head. He was levered slowly to his feet and he held on tightly to Jims arm as the world swirled and dipped around him. His knees buckled momentarily, and Jim grasped him around the waist with his free arm, stopping his descent back to the sidewalk.
"You need an ambulance?" Jim sounded worried again, and Blair forced himself to speak past the nausea threatening to overtake him.
"No. Im just a little dizzy. Give me a minute," he assured his partner.
"Take as long as you need." Jims voice rumbled soothingly against Blairs ear, and he relaxed back against the broad chest, taking deep breaths until he felt he could climb back into the truck.
He grinned a little, once he was seated inside the cab again, at the way Jim fussed over him, making sure his seatbelt was buckled and giving him a wad of tissues from the glove compartment to hold against the gash on his head.
Then Jim was in the drivers seat and pulling out into the street while Blair rested his head back, feeling quiet satisfaction that Joshs killer had been caught. There was justice in that. It wouldnt take away the pain and grief for Joshs family and friends, Blair included, but it might help to ease the heartache a little.~o0o~
Blair stumbled a little drunkenly across the threshold of the loft, feeling Jims hand in the small of his back, keeping him more or less upright.It had been a long, depressing and exhausting couple of days. The gash on the side of his head sported six sutures and throbbed subtly in time with his heartbeat. His headache had receded to migraine proportions after the doctor in the ER had pronounced him slightly concussed and had given him some mild painkillers. His stomach had ceased its roiling though and that gave him cause to think that perhaps he was going to survive after all.
Jim snagged his elbow and helped him off with his jacket, hanging it on the hook next to the door, and Blair gave him a smile laced with equal measures of tiredness and gratitude. Then, he made his slightly wobbly way over to the couch and slumped down gratefully onto the cushions.
"You okay for a few minutes?" Jim asked. "Im just gonna go " He gestured to the bathroom. Blair waved him on. "Im fine, man. Just need to sit for a while."
Jim gave him a searching look, then nodded. "Okay, Ill just be in there -"
"Im fine, Jim," Blair assured him. He grinned fondly at Jims retreating back and wriggled a little to get comfortable.
It took perhaps two seconds for him to realize something was missing. Pulling himself achingly to his feet, he patted his jean pockets again. Shit! It had to be here! Spying his jacket, he walked over and pulled it down, turning the pockets inside out, a mounting sense of despair overtaking him.
Suddenly, there was a hand on his shoulder, pulling him around. He looked up into Jims face, his teeth clenching down hard on his bottom lip, swallowing down the sorrow he felt for losing something so important to him.
"Looking for this, Chief?"
Blair looked down and saw Jims hand outstretched, his grandfathers pocket watch resting on the palm. He flicked his gaze back up, seeing the kindness in Jims eyes, and swiped his hand across his burning eyes. "I thought Id lost it," he murmured.
Jim shook his head, then placed the watch in Blairs hand, closing his fingers around it firmly. "They took it out of your pocket at the hospital when they took you for x-rays, Chief. You were still a little groggy at the time, so I guess you dont remember. The nurse gave it to me to look after." He ushered Blair back over to the couch and sat him back down, then sat across from him on the coffee table. "I thought you told me you never carry it because youve always been afraid youd lose it."
Blair looked into Jims face. There was no judgement there - just a desire for an honest accounting. He nodded. It was time for total honesty between them. So he told his friend everything.
When hed finished, Jim bent forward and pulled him into a hug. Then he leaned back and fixed Blair with a stern look. "Next time, you come to me, Chief. You got that?" He waited till Blair nodded then went on. "Youre a good friend, Blair. Josh was lucky to have you in his life." He stood and walked into the kitchen and began searching through the fridge for something for dinner. Pulling out the makings for sandwiches, he smiled across at Blair. "So am I," he said.