SYMBIOSIS

By

ANNIE

EMAIL: Annie

Disclaimer: Jim and Blair don’t belong to me… yet. However, I have it on good authority that because I’ve 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. Didn’t get any money for writing this, more’s the pity. If Petfly wants to sue, they’ll 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."

 

~o0o~

"Jim, ‘zat you?"

Ellison looked across at the bedside clock, which read 2 a.m. and groaned. He’d had the grand total of an hour’s sleep. To say he was pissed would be putting it mildly. "Sandburg? What’s up? I thought you went to a party or something," he muttered into the phone.

"I did. Look, man I’m 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. He’d 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. "You’re 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. Don’t think so anyway. Think I only had two beers. Maybe I had three? Anyway, there was a fight an’ now I don’t feel good and I’m in jail. I’m 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 there’d been a fight, it would be just Sandburg’s luck to end up in the middle of it, inadvertently or otherwise.

"Don’t 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, I’m on my way. I’ll be there in ten." Jim hung up. Now he was sure Blair was drunk. He wouldn’t be the first guy to have too much to drink and then forget how much he’d really had. But if he’d 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.

~oOo~

Jim glanced across at his partner lying slumped against the window of the truck. He’d 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 Blair’s he’d really paid attention to. After being almost overcome by the stench in the sewers he’d had to traverse when the Sunrise Patriots had taken over the PD, he’d 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 Ellison’s sense of smell dialed down to one. The kid had either drank a lot more than he was letting on, or he’d 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 Blair’s 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 partner’s 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 Blair’s heartbeat when he’d 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 wasn’t Sandburg’s 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, he’d 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 he’d been in when Jim had picked him up at the police station.

"Thanks, Jim," Blair murmured, as soon they were inside the apartment.

"It’s alright, Chief. Just let’s try not to have a repeat of this too often, okay. I mean, I don’t mind you spending a night here, especially when we’ve been working on my senses and it’s late, but I’d 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 wasn’t 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 you’re okay? You still don’t look too good," Jim said, fixing his partner with a searching gaze. He pushed his hearing up, homing in on Blair’s 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.

"I’m okay. My stomach hurts a bit. Did I throw up? Oh, jeez, Jim, tell me I didn’t 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, I’m sure I’ll be fine to go home. If you could just lend me some cab fare… I’ll pay you back next week…" Blair stammered out, his cheeks reddening.

"Forget it, kid. You’re 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, that’d be good. But I can make it, Jim. You’ve done enough tonight. Why don’t you go back to bed? I’ll 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 you’ve 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 you’re my new partner, but let’s 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 didn’t think you were interested. I mean, what’s to tell? I was born to a single mom, never knew my father, went to university at sixteen and that’s basically where I’ve been ever since. End of story." Blair’s 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 partner’s arm.

"I’m fine. Just pulled some muscles or something. The sergeant at the lockup checked me out. He’s got first aid training and he said I was just a bit bruised. It’s 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 you’d take it a little more seriously." He put up a hand as Blair turned toward him. "Don’t get me wrong. You’ve helped me out a lot already and I know University students like to party on but if you’re gonna help me out at the station you’re 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. Don’t take it personally. It’s just that when you asked me to be your lab rat I didn’t 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 wasn’t like that. We went to the bar just for a couple of drinks. Jack, my friend, he’s 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 hour’s 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 can’t, teach’," Jim immediately bit down on his tongue as the words emerged. Shit, he wasn’t even sure he’d got the quote right and he sure as hell didn’t 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 Sandburg’s eyes onto the countertop. *Nice one, Ellison. Why don’t you just punch the kid in the guts while you’re at it? * "Ah, dammit, Blair, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. It’s been a really long day and I’m wired, you know. I don’t do so well on not enough sleep, not that I’ve ever been particularly known for my tact, at the best of times," Jim said wryly, reaching a hand out to clasp Blair’s shoulder. "I’m really sorry, Chief."

"It’s okay," Blair whispered, scrubbing his hands across his damp cheeks. "It’s my fault, anyway, for getting you out of bed." He kept his head turned firmly away from the sentinel’s intense scrutiny. "Look, Jim, I’m really tired and I think I just want to sleep. My stomach’s really hurting, still. Can we talk about this tomorrow? I really appreciate what you did tonight. I’ll get out of your hair first thing in the morning, I promise."

"It’s 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. I’ll 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 Jim’s 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 Blair’s shoulders. Then he went to the closet and came back with another blanket, placing it over his partner’s body. He straightened up and began to move away, then stopped, as he saw Blair’s shoulders move convulsively. "Hey, Sandburg, I didn’t mean any of that stuff…"

"Just leave me alone, Jim, please. Go to bed. It’s 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 Blair’s shoulder awkwardly, then went up to bed, turning off all but one light. He didn’t 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.

~oOo~

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 partner’s 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 what’s 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 Blair’s tee shirt up, hissing at the bruising he found just under Sandburg’s ribs.

"It’s alright, buddy. Just try to breathe through it. I’m gonna call an ambulance, Blair. I’ll be right back," Jim said, turning away to grab the phone.

"No!" The word was puffed out between agonized breaths, Blair’s hand reaching to snag the detective’s arm. "Can’t go… no insurance."

Jim spun back and cupped Blair’s cheek in his hand, forcing his friend to look at him. "Listen to me, Blair. You’re going to the hospital, insurance or no insurance. You just hang in there and let me take care of you, okay, Chief?"

Blair’s blue eyes stared dully into Jim’s, tears of pain leaking steadily down his cheeks. Then he nodded weakly and released his grip on Ellison’s 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 Blair’s side, the anthropologist was unconscious. Jim flopped down, his legs suddenly weak. Reaching out, he began to stroke soothingly up and down Blair’s arm, not sure whether he was trying to comfort his friend or himself.

~OoO~

"Detective Ellison? I’m Dr. Carter. I performed the surgery on your friend."

Jim started at the touch on his shoulder. Damn, he’d been so focused on extending his hearing into the cubicle where Blair had been taken, that he’d almost zoned. He had the ironic thought that if Sandburg had been with him, it probably wouldn’t have happened. Something about the younger man grounded him, kept his senses more in control, in a way Jim hadn’t 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 didn’t help matters." The doctor winced in empathy. "We’ve repaired the damage and he’s being given a transfusion as we speak. He’ll be settled in a room in about a half-hour. If you want to wait, you can see him then. He’ll be pretty groggy, more out of it than anything but…"

"That’s fine, doctor. I need to see him. Thank you, for everything you’ve done," Jim said, quietly, shaking the doctor’s hand.

"All part of the service, Detective. A nurse will come and get you and take you to Mr. Sandburg’s 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 Sandburg’s 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 he’d made no calls since Blair had been brought in.

"He’s your partner, isn’t 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 I’m notified whenever any of my men end up here. So, how’s he really doing, Jim?"

"He had an internal hemorrhage but they patched it up and they’re giving him some blood. He’ll be okay, sir," Jim replied. He shouldn’t have been surprised by Simon’s 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. I’m 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 don’t 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 can’t believe some of the shit I threw at him."

"It’s understandable, isn’t it? I mean, you haven’t known him that long. It’s 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.

"It’s new but it’s not, Simon. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s as though he’s always been here. Somehow, I know now that part of this sentinel thing is protecting Blair, that I have to, because I’m not meant to do this alone. I don’t know that I would have got out of bed to haul Jack home because I thought he’d tied one on. With Blair, I didn’t like it, but I did it automatically. Almost as though it was a given that I would. But that’s not what’s bothering me. The thing is, up to now I’ve 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 it’s more than that. It’s meant to be give and take, a symbiotic relationship. And let’s face it, Simon, up till now Blair’s been giving a whole lot more than he’s 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 he’d only known a few months had to definitely be a new experience for the man.

"Yeah, he has, Jim. You’re right about that. Look, I don’t pretend to understand any of this stuff about you being a sentinel but I do know one thing for sure. You’re 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 Sandburg’s the one who deserves the credit for it. But, cut yourself some slack here, too, Jim. You’d 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 doesn’t seem like the type to hold a grudge." Banks glanced up as a nurse called Ellison’s name from the doorway. "Go see your partner, Detective. Tell him we’re 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.

~oOo~

Jim eased himself into a chair at Blair’s bedside, his eyes cataloguing all the assaults upon his friend’s body. Blair looked pale, his skin cool to the touch of Jim’s 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 Sandburg’s hand with his own, surprised when he saw his partner’s 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?" Blair’s voice was faint and seemed filled with pain. "Sorry."

"I’m here, Chief. You’ve got nothing to apologize for. I’m the one who’s sorry, Blair. Listen to me, partner, you rest up and then when you’re out of here we’ll 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 you’re my friend. We’re gonna be okay. If you still want to work with me, that is… I’ll understand if you don’t…" Jim said, hesitantly, his hand keeping up its rhythmic caress.

"Jim? Shut up. I want to work with you. Told you, didn’t I? You’re my Holy Grail, man?" Blair smiled groggily at the sentinel. "We’ll sort it out. Now get out of here, will you? I need my sleep, and I seem to remember you have a whole night’s 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 he’s 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. It’s fine, man. Really." Blair turned his hand around so he was grasping Jim’s fingers in his own and gave them a weak squeeze. "You’re going to need the rest. While I’m here I plan on thinking up lots of tests to put you through when I get out."

Jim stood up, leaning forward to ruffle Blair’s 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 Blair’s eyes drifted closed and extended his hearing once more, picking up the steady beat of his friend’s heart. "Get some sleep, Blair. Something tells me that the future for you and me isn’t going to be easy, but I have the feeling we’re going to make it through, together. And just in case I forget to say it the next time… thank you, for everything."

END

 

November 13th, 2003