PROTECTIVE INSTINCTS

DISCLAIMER: Not mine. No infringement intended…yada, yada, yada.

Betaed by Lyn. Thanks, sis.

Archive: No, thank you.

Feedback: Annie

Category: h/c; smarm.

Rating: PG

Notes: I read Carole’s message on the list, asking for more themefics for November. This is what she wanted:

I'm looking for nice, warm cozy stories that express the friendship between Jim and Blair. Since h/c smarm stories are my favorite, low- key "h" (injury, sickness, fatigue) would be great, with either of the guys as the recipient of the "c". Bonus points if the story takes place entirely (or mostly) within the loft (centering around hearth and home).

and this is what my muse dropkicked my way. Hope it meets the criteria, Carole. Do I get the bonus points -it takes place almost entirely in the loft or at least in the same building as the loft, although the ‘h’ factor is slightly higher than low-key.

 

~oo00oo~

Blair scurried forward to grab the back of the stroller that was threatening to tip over under the weight of the bags hooked to its handles. "Hey, you look like you need a hand, here, Tate," he said, smiling at the harassed looking young woman, who was trying to unlock the door to apartment 207 while jiggling a crying baby on her hip.

"Oh thanks, Blair. Saffron’s really tired and I figured it was easier to pick her up than have her start screaming the place down. I’ve only been here a few weeks and I’ve already had complaints from a couple of the neighbors about her disturbing their sleep. She’s teething," the young mother explained apologetically, "and she always seems more unsettled after she comes home from her visits with her dad." Tate finally managed to shove the door open with her hip, the child now writhing against her in an obvious attempt to get down, her voice becoming a steady screech as the tantrum picked up speed.

Blair pushed the stroller through and balanced it against the wall. He reached out his arms to the crying baby. "Hey, Saffron," he crooned. "How you doing, sweetheart? Want to come to me for a little while and give your mommy a break?" He gave a triumphant grin as the little girl held out her arms to him. He took her, bouncing her gently on his hip, looking at the tired woman in front of him, while the baby tugged on his hair and poked small fingers through the hoops of his earrings.

Tate began to unload the groceries from the bags and take them out to the kitchen. Blair followed her, noticing that she was limping slightly.

"Hey, Tate, are you okay? Did you hurt your leg or something?" he asked.

"Oh, it’s nothing, Blair, really. Aaron always says I’m clumsy. I must have knocked my hip or something." She reached up to the cupboard above her head, and Blair gasped as the sleeve of her shirt fell back, revealing an enormous purple and black bruise that seemed to cover most of her upper arm.

"God, Tate, what the hell happened?" Blair looked his neighbor over more closely, noticing now a small necklace of finger marks encircling her throat. "Did Aaron do this to you?" he asked, horrified. He’d only seen Tate’s estranged husband once, but in the weeks since the woman had moved in, he and Jim had heard the shouted threats and arguments that accompanied the guy’s weekend appointments to pick up his daughter for visitation.

Tate sighed, reaching out to take Saffron from him, rocking the child absently in her arms until the baby’s eyelids drooped and she fell asleep. She went into the bedroom and put her in the crib, then rejoined Blair in the kitchen.

"It’s not what you think, Blair. It’s mostly my fault. He’s always so angry when he comes to get Saffron. You know, he lost his job and then I left him and I know I shouldn’t say things to him but he calls me names and says he’s going to hurt me if I don’t go back to him. I should just ignore it when he’s like that but this time I was so tired I wasn’t thinking straight and I screamed back at him and said I’d never go back. I pushed him too far, Blair. That’s the only reason he did it," Tate said, softly, tears beginning to trickle down her cheeks.

"God, Tate, no one deserves to be treated like that. You should have called me. You know Jim’s a cop, right?"

Tate nodded.

"I gave you our number, didn’t I?"

Again the hesitant nod.

"Then why didn’t you call? He can’t be allowed to do this, Tate. What if he hurts Saffron?"

At his words, Tate began to sob in earnest.

"Hey, hey, it’s okay. We’ll work something out for you. I’ll speak to Jim…" Blair moved to sit next to the girl, pulling her into his side and rubbing her back.

"No, please don’t tell Detective Ellison. I don’t want Aaron arrested. It’ll just make things worse. Please! Promise you won’t say anything."

"Okay, I won’t say anything yet. But if it happens again, I’ll have to. We’re friends, now, Tate, and I don’t like people hurting my friends. Do you need to see a doctor?’ Blair asked, turning the girl to face him.

"No, I’m fine, really."

Blair studied her carefully, wishing, not for the first time, that he had Jim’s sentinel senses so he could be sure she wasn’t lying about her condition. "Alright, but if you start to feel sick or anything, you call me, okay? Hey, you want Jim and me to baby-sit Saffron for you one night this week? Didn’t you tell me that guy from the store asked you out?" He smiled as he saw Tate blush.

"Warren? Yeah, but I told him I couldn’t… well, I didn’t want to ask Aaron to have Saffron. He’d be so jealous if he knew I was seeing someone…" Her voice trailed off again.

"Well, now you don’t have ask him. Come on, Jim would love it." He laughed at the skeptical look on Tate’s face, knowing that the big cop could sometimes appear cold and imposing to people who didn’t know him the way Blair did. "Really. Jim does the badass cop routine but it’s all a big act. He’s a marshmallow when it comes to babies and damsels in distress. Why don’t you say yes the next time that Warren asks you? He seems like a really nice guy."

Blair decided he’d make a trip to the store on his way to the PD in the morning and drop a not so subtle hint to Warren about how interested Tate really was in going out with him. He gave himself a mental pat on the back as he stood up and walked towards the door. His mom would love this… Blair the matchmaker. He only hoped Jim would be as amused when he told his roommate what he’d just volunteered them for.

He turned at the door, holding it ajar. "You sure you’re gonna be okay?" he asked.

"Yes, I will be now. Thank you for everything, Blair." Impulsively Tate stood up and crossed over to him, her arms going around his shoulders in a hug, as she kissed him shyly on the cheek.

"Hey, you’re welcome," Blair replied, feeling his cheeks heat in surprised pleasure. "Bye. Better get going. It’s my turn to cook. Jim’ll already have his finger on the speed dial for Wonderburger and I’m so not in the mood for ‘heart attack in a bag’ again this week."

He waited till he heard Tate place the chain across the door and turn the deadlock behind him before he headed for the elevator. He punched the button, considering the fact that it was only one floor and he should probably just take the stairs. He turned toward the stairwell just as something immensely hard and painful hit him in the back, sending him careening into the closed door of the elevator. He had no time to put out his hands to save himself and his head smacked into the metal with a resounding crack. The sound seemed to echo inside his skull, and he felt himself slide down to his knees, noticing somewhat dazedly that he could actually see stars prickling across his vision.

A hand snaked down and grabbed his collar, hauling him to his feet and spinning him around. He gazed blearily at the shapes in front of him, wishing whoever it was would stand still long enough to morph into one person instead of the two he was currently seeing.

"Listen, you little creep, you stay away from my wife and kid, got it?" the man leaned forward, (there * was * only one of him, Blair noted with relief), his face only inches from Blair’s.

"Aaron? Look, I was just helping Tate take the groceries inside, that’s all," Blair husked out, one arm reaching behind his back to massage the bruise he could already feel forming.

"Yeah, right. Tate’s a whore. She’ll sleep with anyone. Thing is, though, she’s my whore, you got it?"

Blair looked up, concentrating on locking his knees so he didn’t slip back down to the floor again. His back throbbed, keeping up a steady rhythm with the pounding that had begun in his head. The stars were gone, replaced by dimness at the edges of his peripheral vision. He felt something warm trickling down his face and touched it with his fingers, seeing they were covered with blood when he looked at them.

His assailant was at least three inches taller and fifteen pounds heavier than he was and Blair didn’t fancy his chances against the guy in his current condition. Talk had always been more his forte, anyway, so he concentrated on keeping his voice low and non-threatening, not unlike the tone he used to bring Jim out of a zone. "Look, man, like I said I was just helping her with her groceries, all right. Now, how about you take your hands off me and calm down. I live right upstairs and my roommate’s waiting for me. He’s probably gonna come looking for me, any minute, and I gotta warn you, Aaron, he’s a really tough dude. He’s also a cop."

Aaron released him so suddenly his head snapped back and hit the elevator door again. "You a cop, too?" he asked, snarling. "Where do you work, Narcotics?"

Blair shook his head, wincing at the pain the movement caused. "No, man, but I do work with them. Look, nothing’s going on between Tate and me. She’s just a neighbor but you should seriously think about getting some counseling or something. If you really care about Saffron, you need to get some help. No kid needs to see the stuff you’ve been doing to her mom."

Aaron made Blair regret the words as soon as he spoke them. "You saying I’m a bad father? Screw you, creep!" Aaron pulled back his fist and then sunk it deep into Blair’s belly, hauling the smaller man up again and hitting him twice more. Then he let him go, watching him fall to the floor. "Stay away from them, you hear me? They’re mine!"

Blair curled into a ball, arms wrapped around the fire in his gut and fought for breath as the man turned and took off down the stairs just as the elevator finally arrived. He pulled himself shakily to his feet and managed to stumble inside, hitting the button for the third floor, almost falling out when it reached its destination. He made it to the door of the loft, numb fingers reaching for the handle, then felt it jerked out of his grasp as it opened and he saw Jim standing there.

"About time, Chief…" Jim began, his words stumbling to a sudden halt as his mind registered the condition of his guide. "Blair? What the hell…"

"Sorry…" Blair managed to whisper, then his knees gave up the battle to keep him upright and he felt Jim grab him around the waist. His head slumped forward and then he was in Ellison’s arms and being carried over to the couch.

Jim lowered his partner carefully to the couch, trying to keep his head and neck straight. Until he had some idea of what had brought Blair home in this condition, he didn’t want to risk aggravating any injuries. He saw that Blair was conscious, the blue eyes dull with pain and somewhat unfocused. "Lie still, buddy. Don’t talk yet. Let me see what we’ve got here, first, okay?" Jim said, reassuringly. He turned Blair’s head gently to the side, wincing at the cut that was still seeping blood slowly. The edges of the wound were puffy and red causing it to gape open but he didn’t think it would need stitches. Running his hands down Blair’s neck and shoulders to his chest, he extended his sense of touch to check for fractured or cracked bones. He unbuttoned his friend’s shirt, and gasped as his fingers felt the deep bruising under the skin. No fractures, thank God, but the contusions alone would be painful for days.

Blair still hadn’t moved or spoken, remaining quiescent under the Sentinel’s hands, the only sign that he was awake were his eyes fixed on Jim trustingly, and an occasional grimace when Jim ventured too close to a particularly painful spot.

"Shit, Blair, some of these bruises are going to be really bad. You hurt anywhere else?"

"He punched me in the back. Hurt like hell for a while, but it’s not too bad, now," Blair said in a pained voice.

Jim rolled him cautiously to one side, so he was facing the back of the couch and probed with his fingers. More bruising. He could feel the heat in the tissues already as the blood pooled beneath Blair’s skin.

"Chief, this one’s awfully close to your kidney. I think we should take you to the ER. Did you pass out at all?" Jim asked.

Blair rolled back over stiffly and shook his head. "No, just dazed me a bit. Feel better now I’m home. I don’t need to go to the hospital, Jim. You can patch me up, man. You know how much I hate being in there." He put on his best pleading puppy dog face.

"I don’t know about this, Blair." Jim sighed, then shook his head as he capitulated. "All right, Chief, for now, but the first sign of any symptoms of concussion or if you start passing blood, we’re going." He fixed Sandburg with a steely glare, the one specially designed to make hardened perps tremble in their shoes and spill their guts. He bit back an answering smile at Blair’s smug smile of satisfaction, the younger man knowing when he’d got his way. "What are you smiling at, Sandburg?" he asked gruffly.

"Nothing, man. Well, just the fact that even after all this time, you still think I’m gonna fall for the look?" Blair replied, still smiling despite his obvious pain. "Hey, give me a hand up here, will ya, Jim?"

Jim reached down and got an arm around his partner’s back, raising him to a sitting position. "That look’s been known to make grown men cry, Chief. So, how come it doesn’t work on you?"

"Know you too well, Ellison. Steel on the outside, pure mush underneath."

"Okay, let’s get you into the bathroom and clean up that cut. Then you can soak in the tub for a while, while you tell me who you pissed off enough for them to want to use you as a punching bag," Jim said, easing Blair to his feet. He didn’t miss the hiss of pain from between his partner’s clenched lips, or the way he swayed into Jim’s side as he stood up. "You okay there, buddy? I can still take you to the hospital…"

Blair shook his head determinedly. "Let’s just do it, Jim," he whispered.

"You’re one stubborn guy, you know that," Jim said as he maneuvered them both in an awkward shuffle into the bathroom, where he pushed Blair down onto the toilet seat.

"Yeah, I know," Blair said from between clenched teeth, "That’s one of the things you love about me, isn’t it, big guy?"

Jim just chuckled and pulled out the first aid supplies. He made short work of the gash on Blair’s head, cleaning it with disinfectant and water, muttering, "Suck it up, tough guy," when Blair tried to pull his chin out of his restraining grasp. He dabbed on antiseptic cream and pulled the edges of the cut together with several butterfly strips. Then he turned to the bath and started filling it with water, making sure it was warm enough to sooth the abused muscles but not hot enough to burn. He moved back to Blair and eased off his shirt then pulled him up so he could strip his jeans and boxers off. Then he helped him over to the bath and held both arms firmly as Blair climbed in and eased back into the water, a sigh of relief puffing past his lips.

Jim sat down on the edge of the bath. "Okay, shoot, Blair. What happened?"

"You know Tate, downstairs?" He waited for Jim’s confirming nod then went on. "Seems her yobbo of an ex has been beating her up when he comes to pick up Saffron on the weekends..."

"Yobbo, Chief? You been taking Aussie lessons from Connor?" Jim asked. "Sorry," he said as Blair gave him an annoyed look. "Go on."

"Long story short, I helped her get her stroller and groceries inside when I came home. That’s when I saw what that bastard’s been doing to her. She’s got bruises on her neck and her arms and she was limping. She’s too scared to press charges, thinks it’s her fault, anyway. Can you believe that, man?" Blair shook his head in puzzlement. "As I was leaving, Aaron was outside and he put two and two together and came up with five. So he hit me."

"Why would he think that you and Tate were involved, Sandburg?" Jim asked.

"I don’t know. Oh man, when I was leaving she gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek to say thank you." Blair smacked his hand into his forehead as comprehension dawned, momentarily forgetting the cut there. "Ow! Jim, I swear to you, there is nothing going on between us. She’s interested in Warren at the grocery store and she’s got a baby. I would never fool around with someone with a kid unless I was pretty sure it would turn out to be serious." He looked at Jim, sincerity shining out of his deep blue eyes.

"Hey, I know that, Chief," Jim responded mildly.

"You do? I mean, there was a time when you wouldn’t have. You know, the ‘table leg’ dig and all…"

"Well, that was when I didn’t know any better, Blair. When I hadn’t taken the time to really get to know you properly at all. Five years is a long time, buddy. I figure I’ve finally got a pretty good handle on what makes my best friend tick." Jim smiled warmly at his partner.

"Wow!" Blair said, smiling back self-consciously. "I’d never really figured you for the sensitive new age type of guy. Guess I was wrong, huh?"

"You were the one who said I was a mush ball, Sandburg. I think you know me pretty well."

The words were said lightly but there was a depth of feeling behind them that Blair didn’t hear from the big cop very often. The rarity of these moments made them all the more precious to Blair and more than made up for the times when Ellison hid the softer side of his nature away and let his hard nosed cop persona take over. They’d come a long way in five years. Difficulties between them that once had almost torn them apart now were dealt with by putting their friendship and the bond between them as Sentinel and Guide first. They still bickered and teased, but there was too much invested in the relationship now for either of them to risk doing anything that would destroy something that had become so important to them both.

Blair closed his eyes, feeling the worst of the throbbing ease.

"Don’t you go to sleep in there, Chief. Hauling wet guides out of the bath tub isn’t in the Sentinel mandate," Jim quipped. "Look, you okay in here for a minute? I’m going to call the PD, put an APB out on this guy. If he thinks he got away with doing this to you, God only knows what sort of punishment he’s likely to inflict on his wife and kid if he comes back. What’s his name again?"

"Aaron Harris. He’s about your height, weighs maybe 190 pounds, shaved head, tattoo of a teardrop under his right eye," Blair replied, waving Jim toward the living room.

"Sounds like a sweetheart," Jim said sarcastically, walking out but making sure he left the door open behind him.

Blair could hear him talking on the phone, and then a few minutes later he was back, a pair of Blair’s sweats and a shirt over his arm.

"Let’s get you out of there before you turn into a prune," Jim said, carefully helping Blair up and out of the bath. He held tight to Blair’s arm until a wave of dizziness passed, then dried him off and helped him dress. "Couch or bed, Chief?" he asked.

"Couch," Blair said decisively.

"I’ll hustle up some dinner in a minute, then you’re gonna take some Tylenol and get some sleep. Uh uh," Ellison said, holding up an admonishing finger, "No arguments. I can still haul you off to the ER, Sandburg. As it is, it’s me who’s gonna have to wake you every couple of hours tonight."

"Oh man, Jim, I’m sorry. I don’t want you to have to sit up all night keeping an eye on me… "

"Shut up, Sandburg. You’ve done the same for me enough times," Jim said, patting his shoulder.

Blair nodded, knowing when to give in and allowed his partner to lead him over to the couch. He tolerated Jim’s fussing with cushions and blanket for a while, then grabbed his arm. "Hey big guy, quit it, will ya? Food, remember?"

"Slave driver," Jim grumbled good-naturedly, as he headed for the kitchen.

~oOo~

"So tell me again, how I let you get me into this, Sandburg," Jim said.

Blair looked across from his seat on the couch, stifling a grin at the sight of the Sentinel sitting cross-legged on the floor, his arms full of a squirming Saffron. *Ouch, that’s gotta hurt * he thought as the baby bopped Jim on the head with her rattle. "Um, Jim, you might want to dial your senses down a little, there," he warned. "I told you, this is Tate’s first big date with Warren and I promised her we’d baby-sit. Come on, man, it’s only for one night and next week Tate’s moving in with her mom for a while till all the court business with her ex is over and done with. He’ll probably get some jail time for assaulting me, anyway, especially now Tate’s decided to file charges as well, so this is the perfect chance for her and Warren to see if there’s any chemistry there, you know." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively at Jim.

"Oh, considering the other warrants Mr. Harris already had outstanding on him for drug possession I think he’ll be looking at about a year’s vacation courtesy of the Washington judicial system," Jim said, smiling. He sniffed, "God, Sandburg, what is that smell?"

"Man, I told you to dial everything down. I think Saffron needs a diaper change," Blair replied, laughing.

"What? Oh no way, Chief. This was your idea, not mine," Ellison growled.

"I would, Jim, but my ribs are still really sore," Blair said in what he hoped was his most pitiful tone, "Anyway," he continued as Saffron whapped the cop again, this time across his ear, "she likes you, Jim. Saffron doesn’t share her toys with just anyone, you know."

Jim grumbled under his breath as he got to his feet, holding the baby gingerly at arms- length. "Fine, Chief, but this means I get to have Wonderburger twice next week, okay? And before you say anything, I’m dialing my sense of smell down to zero for the next ten minutes. No arguments," he warned, holding up a hand as he headed into Blair’s room to collect the diapers.

~oOo~

Jim shuddered slightly as he looked around the apartment. Every surface seemed to be covered in baby paraphernalia of some sort. He moved around packing up Saffron’s things, wanting to have everything ready when her mother arrived to collect her. He’d never admit it to Sandburg, but, in spite of the mess, he’d enjoyed having the baby around. He liked kids, always had. He’d just never really decided whether he wanted any of his own.

Hearing a sound from where Blair lay bundled up on the floor next to the couch, he stepped over to him and looked down. Saffron smiled up at him from where she lay ensconced securely in Blair’s arms, her hands tangled in his curls. Blair slept on, apparently oblivious to the tugs on his hair.

Jim bent and scooped the baby into his arms, careful not to wake his partner. He sat down with her on his lap, turning her so he could look into her face.

"Do you know how lucky we both are to have Blair for a friend?" he asked, quietly.

The baby patted his face gently and laughed and Jim had no doubt that she knew.

The End

25th November, 2003