Disclaimer: Jim and Blair dont belong to me yet. However, I have it on good authority that because Ive been good all year, I can expect to find them under my Christmas tree <weg>. I could probably be enticed to share them in return for lots of lovely fanfic to read. Didnt get any money for writing this, mores the pity. If Petfly wants to sue, theyll have to accept Incacha, my tree eating Rhodesian Ridgeback in lieu of cash.
Category: Drama; h/c; angst
Rating: PG for a few naughty words.
Spoilers: Brief mentions of "Switchman" and "Siege".
Set after "Siege" but before "The Debt."
"Jim, zat you?"
Ellison looked across at the bedside clock, which read 2 a.m. and groaned. Hed had the grand total of an hours sleep. To say he was pissed would be putting it mildly. "Sandburg? Whats up? I thought you went to a party or something," he muttered into the phone.
"I did. Look, man Im really sorry. Can you come get me? We ended up at a bar near campus but there was a fight and well I sort of got arrested," the blurred voice at the other end continued.
"Sort of arrested? What the hell does that mean, Chief? Are you drunk?" Jim tried not to make the question sound too accusatory. It was more rhetorical than anything else. Of course the kid was drunk. Hed gone to a party, wound up at a bar and somehow got himself arrested. Jim had more trouble believing that his peace loving friend had been involved in a bar fight, than that he might have imbibed a little too freely at a party. "Youre gonna owe me big time for this one, Sandburg. No tests for at least a month, you got it?" Jim was already up and pulling on his clothes as he spoke.
"M not drunk, Jim. Dont think so anyway. Think I only had two beers. Maybe I had three? Anyway, there was a fight an now I dont feel good and Im in jail. Im sorry, Jim. They said I could call someone to pick me up seeing I was only sort of in the fight, like by accident. I am so sorry, man," Blair replied, apologetically.
"Enough with the apologies, already, Chief. You hurt?" Jim asked, suddenly concerned. If thered been a fight, it would be just Sandburgs luck to end up in the middle of it, inadvertently or otherwise.
"Dont think so, jus don feel good. Think I ate something bad for lunch or somethin. Maybe it was that third beer. You comin, Jim?" Blair muttered, his voice becoming more slurred by the second.
"Yeah, Im on my way. Ill be there in ten." Jim hung up. Now he was sure Blair was drunk. He wouldnt be the first guy to have too much to drink and then forget how much hed really had. But if hed been in a fight Jim sighed as he grabbed his keys and headed for the elevator. Sometimes, a trip through the Sandburg Zone, even at this early stage of their friendship, made dealing with some of the psychos he met in his line of work look like a cakewalk. He had the distinct feeling it would only get worse.
Jim glanced across at his partner lying slumped against the window of the truck. Hed managed to dial down his sense of smell before he got Sandburg into the vehicle, grateful for the fact that this was one exercise of Blairs hed really paid attention to. After being almost overcome by the stench in the sewers hed had to traverse when the Sunrise Patriots had taken over the PD, hed agreed cheerfully when his guide had suggested ways he could control this particular sense. Blair had been surprised but pleased when Jim had not only agreed to do the exercises at the time but continued to practice them daily for a few days afterwards, till he knew instinctively what to do.
Now, he was doubly thankful. Blair smelt like a brewery, even with Ellisons sense of smell dialed down to one. The kid had either drank a lot more than he was letting on, or hed taken a swim in a barrel of the stuff. His hair clung to his sweat-sheened face in dank ringlets, his shirt was damp and the pocket of his jeans had been partly torn off. There was a small cut above Blairs eyebrow that had been taped with a butterfly Band-Aid by the sergeant at the lockup. The gash was small and had barely bled. Jim had held up his middle finger to test his partners vision at the jail and received a small explosion of laughter in response, so there was obviously no problem with his eyesight.
Jim had tuned into Blairs heartbeat when hed picked him up and found it higher than usual but by then the kid was "explaining" a mile a minute and only stopped long enough to throw up in the gutter next to the truck. Jim was fairly sure the rapid beat could be attributed to both those things. Now, his partner was snoring gently, sleeping the sleep of the innocent or intoxicated, drooling a little down the pane of glass he was pressed up against.
Jim decided that something would have to be said. Granted, the kid had helped him out a lot with his senses and with his cases, but he wasnt Sandburgs nanny, for crying out loud. The guy was old enough not to get into these sort of scrapes, or old enough to know that if he did, hed damn well better have a way to get himself out of them. Jim had no problem with being there for Blair on the job. It was part of the tradeoff. After all, he needed Blair, so it made good sense to protect him from the loony tunes who came their way. But, on their downtime, Sandburg was on his own, especially if the trouble was self-inflicted and the bogeyman was booze and over-exuberant friends.
The trip from the street to the loft was achieved relatively smoothly, the cold night air serving the purpose of waking Blair up and rendering him almost sober by comparison with the condition hed been in when Jim had picked him up at the police station.
"Thanks, Jim," Blair murmured, as soon they were inside the apartment.
"Its alright, Chief. Just lets try not to have a repeat of this too often, okay. I mean, I dont mind you spending a night here, especially when weve been working on my senses and its late, but Id really like to get more than one hour of sleep before I have to go trawling around picking you up from some dive," Jim responded, knowing he sounded snarky but too tired to care.
"It wasnt a dive, Jim. It was the PD," Blair said, quietly, moving over to slump down onto the couch, a wince of pain crossing his features as he sat.
"Whatever. Look, you sure youre okay? You still dont look too good," Jim said, fixing his partner with a searching gaze. He pushed his hearing up, homing in on Blairs heartbeat. It was still faster than normal and the kid looked like hell but Jim figured that was the price Blair would have to pay for a night on the tiles, and the payback in the morning would be a bitch, which gave Jim a perverse twinge of vengeful pleasure.
"Im okay. My stomach hurts a bit. Did I throw up? Oh, jeez, Jim, tell me I didnt puke in your truck, man," Blair said, blue eyes wide, one arm clutching his abdomen.
"No, you hit the gutter, Chief. Good thing, too, or I might have just tied you onto the roof and brought you back that way."
"I am so sorry, Jim. Look, Im sure Ill be fine to go home. If you could just lend me some cab fare Ill pay you back next week " Blair stammered out, his cheeks reddening.
"Forget it, kid. Youre here now. Might as well stay the night. You can crash on the couch. You want some of that weird tea you brought over here last time?" Jim asked, going to the kitchen and turning on the kettle as he spoke.
"Yeah, thatd be good. But I can make it, Jim. Youve done enough tonight. Why dont you go back to bed? Ill be quiet," Blair replied, shoving himself tiredly to his feet and moving to stand next to Jim at the bench.
"Okay. But first we need to have a little talk, Sandburg. You know, I appreciate all the help youve given me at the PD and with my senses but I think we have to draw a line here, somewhere. I know I told Taggert youre my new partner, but lets face it, kid, we barely know each other. I mean, if anything, you know a hell of a lot more about me than I know about you," Jim began, trying to ignore the way Sandburg stiffened at the words.
"You want to know anything about me, Jim, you only have to ask. I just didnt think you were interested. I mean, whats to tell? I was born to a single mom, never knew my father, went to university at sixteen and thats basically where Ive been ever since. End of story." Blairs voice was a monotone as he searched for mugs and teabags, not looking at Ellison. He stretched to open the cupboard above his head, gasping and grabbing his stomach as he did so.
"Hey, Chief, you okay there? Maybe we should take a trip to the ER just in case," Ellison said, grabbing his partners arm.
"Im fine. Just pulled some muscles or something. The sergeant at the lockup checked me out. Hes got first aid training and he said I was just a bit bruised. Its fine, Jim, really. So, what else did you want to talk about?" Blair asked, straightening up, but keeping a firm grip on the edge of the bench until his head stopped spinning.
Jim took a deep breath, deciding that now was as good a time as any to sort out the details of their working relationship. "Look, Sandburg, I just figured that when you signed on to help me that youd take it a little more seriously." He put up a hand as Blair turned toward him. "Dont get me wrong. Youve helped me out a lot already and I know University students like to party on but if youre gonna help me out at the station youre going to have to can the nightlife a little, understand?"
Blair turned away, fiddling with the teabags, his eyes downcast, one hand rubbing absently over his ribs.
"Aah, come on, kid. Dont take it personally. Its just that when you asked me to be your lab rat I didnt know the job description was gonna include being your late night pick up service when you got yourself in deep water. What the hell were you thinking getting into a fight, anyway? I never picked you as exactly the physical type, you know?" Jim pressed, feeling like a heel, but getting a strange sense of satisfaction out of letting his anger seep to the surface. He justified what he was saying by telling himself the ground rules had to be laid down, now.
"It wasnt like that. We went to the bar just for a couple of drinks. Jack, my friend, hes Vietnamese and these neo-Nazi type guys decided to give him a hard time about being here in the States. They threw him up against a wall. I just went to help him up and they tossed me out of the way so they could get to him. Luckily for us, there were a couple of cops walking past at the time," Blair explained, reaching past Jim to grab a tissue and mopping perspiration from his face. "Things were a little heated so they arrested all of us, but Sergeant Anderson in booking recognized me and let me call you."
"Uh huh, well, just try to keep in mind that one of us actually has to work for a living, Chief, okay? And I need more than an hours sleep a night to do that. Can we at least get an agreement on that?" Jim asked.
"I work too, Jim," Blair said, almost under his breath.
"Yeah, sure you do, kid. But, you know what they say. Those who can, do; those who cant, teach," Jim immediately bit down on his tongue as the words emerged. Shit, he wasnt even sure hed got the quote right and he sure as hell didnt mean it the way it came out. He was just trying to inject a little humor into a tense situation. He watched in shock as he saw drops of moisture fall from Sandburgs eyes onto the countertop. *Nice one, Ellison. Why dont you just punch the kid in the guts while youre at it? * "Ah, dammit, Blair, I didnt mean that the way it sounded. Its been a really long day and Im wired, you know. I dont do so well on not enough sleep, not that Ive ever been particularly known for my tact, at the best of times," Jim said wryly, reaching a hand out to clasp Blairs shoulder. "Im really sorry, Chief."
"Its okay," Blair whispered, scrubbing his hands across his damp cheeks. "Its my fault, anyway, for getting you out of bed." He kept his head turned firmly away from the sentinels intense scrutiny. "Look, Jim, Im really tired and I think I just want to sleep. My stomachs really hurting, still. Can we talk about this tomorrow? I really appreciate what you did tonight. Ill get out of your hair first thing in the morning, I promise."
"Its fine, Sandburg. You want some Tylenol or something?" Jim asked, attempting to turn the younger man towards him, wanting desperately to somehow make it right again between them.
"No, I just really need to lie down. Ill be fine." Blair turned off the kettle and moved over to the couch, toeing off his shoes and sat down. He slipped down against the arm of the sofa, pulling a cushion under his head, then turned onto his side away from Jims watchful eyes. "Go to bed, Jim, please. I feel bad enough about all this, as it is."
Jim walked over and grabbed the afghan off the back of the couch and tucked it around Blairs shoulders. Then he went to the closet and came back with another blanket, placing it over his partners body. He straightened up and began to move away, then stopped, as he saw Blairs shoulders move convulsively. "Hey, Sandburg, I didnt mean any of that stuff "
"Just leave me alone, Jim, please. Go to bed. Its late," Blair husked out, his head burrowed deep into the cushion, his arms wrapped around his middle, as if trying to hold all the hurt inside.
Jim patted Blairs shoulder awkwardly, then went up to bed, turning off all but one light. He didnt want Blair to wake disoriented during the night and do himself further injury. He undressed and threw himself onto his bed, tossing and turning, castigating himself for his harshness, for an hour or more, before he finally slept.
At first, Jim thought he was dreaming but he quickly realized the groans he heard were coming from downstairs. He pulled his robe on as he ran down the stairs, jolting to a stop on the bottom step.
Blair lay on the floor just outside the bathroom door. He was curled in on himself in a fetal position, whimpering, his hands clutching spasmodically at his stomach.
"God, Blair," Jim murmured, kneeling at his partners side. He attempted to roll Sandburg over but the young man cried out in pain at the movement and Jim pushed him back gently over onto his side. "Easy, Chief. Can you tell me whats wrong?" he asked, softly, brushing errant strands of hair back from the sweat soaked face.
"Hurts stomach really hurts. Sorry," Blair moaned, writhing backwards and forwards.
Jim pulled Blairs tee shirt up, hissing at the bruising he found just under Sandburgs ribs.
"Its alright, buddy. Just try to breathe through it. Im gonna call an ambulance, Blair. Ill be right back," Jim said, turning away to grab the phone.
"No!" The word was puffed out between agonized breaths, Blairs hand reaching to snag the detectives arm. "Cant go no insurance."
Jim spun back and cupped Blairs cheek in his hand, forcing his friend to look at him. "Listen to me, Blair. Youre going to the hospital, insurance or no insurance. You just hang in there and let me take care of you, okay, Chief?"
Blairs blue eyes stared dully into Jims, tears of pain leaking steadily down his cheeks. Then he nodded weakly and released his grip on Ellisons arm, turning onto his side again, his fingers white tipped where they wrapped around his ribs.
By the time Jim had made the call and returned to Blairs side, the anthropologist was unconscious. Jim flopped down, his legs suddenly weak. Reaching out, he began to stroke soothingly up and down Blairs arm, not sure whether he was trying to comfort his friend or himself.
"Detective Ellison? Im Dr. Carter. I performed the surgery on your friend."
Jim started at the touch on his shoulder. Damn, hed been so focused on extending his hearing into the cubicle where Blair had been taken, that hed almost zoned. He had the ironic thought that if Sandburg had been with him, it probably wouldnt have happened. Something about the younger man grounded him, kept his senses more in control, in a way Jim hadnt begun to understand.
"Mr. Sandburg is going to be fine. He had a small laceration to his hepatic vein, probably caused when he was thrown during the fight. Impacting with a table didnt help matters." The doctor winced in empathy. "Weve repaired the damage and hes being given a transfusion as we speak. Hell be settled in a room in about a half-hour. If you want to wait, you can see him then. Hell be pretty groggy, more out of it than anything but "
"Thats fine, doctor. I need to see him. Thank you, for everything youve done," Jim said, quietly, shaking the doctors hand.
"All part of the service, Detective. A nurse will come and get you and take you to Mr. Sandburgs room as soon as possible." The doctor nodded a goodbye and left, leaving Jim to sink back down into the chair.
The cop rested his head forward on his hands and breathed a huge sigh of relief.
"From what I heard, I take it Sandburgs going to be okay," said the familiar voice at his shoulder.
Jim glanced up, seeing his captain standing next to him. "Simon, how did you find out he was here? he asked, puzzled, knowing hed made no calls since Blair had been brought in.
"Hes your partner, isnt he?" Banks asked. He waited as Jim gave a small nod of agreement then continued, "That makes him one of my men. I have a standing arrangement with the triage nurses in ER that Im notified whenever any of my men end up here. So, hows he really doing, Jim?"
"He had an internal hemorrhage but they patched it up and theyre giving him some blood. Hell be okay, sir," Jim replied. He shouldnt have been surprised by Simons words. Banks had developed a soft spot for Sandburg ever since the anthropologist and Banks son had been held hostage together by Garrett Kincaid, leader of the Sunrise Patriots. He did his best to hide it under a gruff exterior but Jim knew the captain believed that Blair had helped to save his son.
"Good. Im glad, Jim. Want to tell me what the hell happened?" Banks asked.
"I screwed up, Simon," Jim said, so softly Banks had to strain to hear him. Ellison related what had happened during the night.
"And this is your fault, how?" Banks asked, settling himself into the chair across from Jim.
"I dont know," Jim answered, raking his fingers through his hair. "I picked the kid up and I sensed there was more wrong with him than what he was letting on, but, instead of paying attention to what my instincts were telling me I ripped him a new one for getting me out of bed. Dammit, Simon, I cant believe some of the shit I threw at him."
"Its understandable, isnt it? I mean, you havent known him that long. Its not like when you and Jack were partners. You and Jack had built up a relationship over time. This thing with Sandburg is pretty new, Jim," Banks replied.
"Its new but its not, Simon. I dont know how to explain it. Its as though hes always been here. Somehow, I know now that part of this sentinel thing is protecting Blair, that I have to, because Im not meant to do this alone. I dont know that I would have got out of bed to haul Jack home because I thought hed tied one on. With Blair, I didnt like it, but I did it automatically. Almost as though it was a given that I would. But thats not whats bothering me. The thing is, up to now Ive thought of this whole deal with Sandburg as a tradeoff. You know, he helps me with my senses and my cases and in return he gets to study me for his dissertation. But now I know its more than that. Its meant to be give and take, a symbiotic relationship. And lets face it, Simon, up till now Blairs been giving a whole lot more than hes been getting, not just to me, to the PD as well." Jim looked up at Banks, hoping the captain would understand at least a little of what he was saying. Then again, Jim Ellison talking at this length about his feelings for a kid hed only known a few months had to definitely be a new experience for the man.
"Yeah, he has, Jim. Youre right about that. Look, I dont pretend to understand any of this stuff about you being a sentinel but I do know one thing for sure. Youre a different man than the one who walked into my office a while back, during the Switchman case, telling me he needed time off because he thought he was going crazy. And, whether I like it or not, I have to admit that Sandburgs the one who deserves the credit for it. But, cut yourself some slack here, too, Jim. Youd worked on your own for so long before the kid came along that maybe you just need to ease yourself back into having a partner again. Anyway, Blair doesnt seem like the type to hold a grudge." Banks glanced up as a nurse called Ellisons name from the doorway. "Go see your partner, Detective. Tell him were pulling for him, okay?" With that, the captain hauled himself up out of the chair and headed for the doors, his fingers already searching for the ever-present cigar he kept in his jacket pocket.
Jim eased himself into a chair at Blairs bedside, his eyes cataloguing all the assaults upon his friends body. Blair looked pale, his skin cool to the touch of Jims hand on his forehead. There was an IV dripping blood into one arm, a bandage stretched partway across his abdomen, electrodes attached to his chest monitoring his vital signs.
Jim reached out tentatively and covered Sandburgs hand with his own, surprised when he saw his partners eyes open and fix somewhat blearily on his face. "Hey, buddy, how you doing?" he asked, unconsciously patting the hand he held in his own.
"Jim?" Blairs voice was faint and seemed filled with pain. "Sorry."
"Im here, Chief. Youve got nothing to apologize for. Im the one whos sorry, Blair. Listen to me, partner, you rest up and then when youre out of here well sit down and make it right, okay? Blair, I need to tell you how important you are to me. Not just for what you do for me, but because youre my friend. Were gonna be okay. If you still want to work with me, that is Ill understand if you dont " Jim said, hesitantly, his hand keeping up its rhythmic caress.
"Jim? Shut up. I want to work with you. Told you, didnt I? Youre my Holy Grail, man?" Blair smiled groggily at the sentinel. "Well sort it out. Now get out of here, will you? I need my sleep, and I seem to remember you have a whole nights worth to catch up on."
"You sure, Chief? I can stay for a while, if you want. Oh yeah, Simon was here. He said to hurry up and get well. I think hes gonna miss you," Jim said with a grin, his heart lighter than it had been all night.
Blair snorted. "Right, sure he will. Hey, Jim, go home. Its fine, man. Really." Blair turned his hand around so he was grasping Jims fingers in his own and gave them a weak squeeze. "Youre going to need the rest. While Im here I plan on thinking up lots of tests to put you through when I get out."
Jim stood up, leaning forward to ruffle Blairs hair with his hand. He headed for the door, then turned and smiled. "Not for a month, Chief. That was the payoff for me hauling your sorry butt out of the lockup, remember?" He watched as Blairs eyes drifted closed and extended his hearing once more, picking up the steady beat of his friends heart. "Get some sleep, Blair. Something tells me that the future for you and me isnt going to be easy, but I have the feeling were going to make it through, together. And just in case I forget to say it the next time thank you, for everything."
November 13th, 2003