Spoilers for Vow of Silence. Dues for sentinelangst. Thanks to Hephaistos for beta reading! All mistakes are definitely mine.
An Eye for an Eye
"Hey, Jim! How's the conference going?" Blair held the cordless between his ear and shoulder as he grabbed a beer from the refrigerator.
"Like every other conference." Jim sounded tired. "Boring."
"Ah, well, I'm sorry I can't be there."
"Sure you are, Chief."
"I'm sure. So, how're...things?"
"You really mean, 'How's the loft?' C'mon, man, you gotta be more subtle than--"
The line went dead suddenly. "What the...?" Blair grabbed the phone and held it in front of his face, glaring at the dialpad. Quickly, he hit the REDIAL button.
"Holiday Inn. How may I help you?"
"Room 302, please."
"One moment, please." The line rang, then Jim answered.
"What the hell happened?"
"You got me. Phone problems, I guess. Anyway, the loft's fine. Clean as a... well, whatever is really clean, man. Spotless. In fact, I cleaned the bathroom this morning. So, what time do you think you'll be home tomorrow?" He waited a second, but Jim didn't answer. "Jim? You there man?"
"Great." Blair glared at the phone again, then hung up. This time the line hadn't exactly disconnected. It had just gone blank. Nada. Nothing. He redialed.
"Holiday Inn. How may I help you?"
"Room 302 please."
The line rang again. "What the hell's going on, Sandburg?"
Blair winced. "Hell if I know. I don't know if it's on your end or my--"
"Damnit!" Blair redialed.
"Holiday Inn. How may I--"
"Room 302, please."
"Uh.... Okay, sir. Room 302."
The line rang.
"Chief, this is getting ridiculous. The first three long distance minutes are the most expensive. If it happens again, don't call back. I'll call you."
"All right, so anyway..." A knock interrupted him. He kept talking as he headed for the door. "...I had a big party last night. Hope you don't mind. A couple of kids slept in your bed. They had wild, passionate sex."
Blair looked through the peephole and saw a guy in a UPS uniform. "Don't worry, though. I changed the sheets." He unlocked the chain and opened the door. "And, oh yeah, about the small fire we had in the kitchen, you can hardly see the--"
A hand yanked the phone from him at the same time that a fist slammed into his face. He reeled backward, bright dots dancing across his vision, and hit the floor hard, pain bursting in the back of his head.
"Too bad. You got 'disconnected.'"
Blair blinked up at the figure towering over him.
"Paulie Branca says 'hi.'"
Blair scuttled backward, still dizzy from the blow. Who the hell was...? Oh yeah. The mob boss who had wanted Brother Marcus dead.
The UPS imposter lunged forward, straddling him and trapping Blair's arms. "This is payback for Johnnie. You knocked him out of a window. Broke his ankle and --"
The phone rang. Blair's eyes searched longingly for the cordless, but he didn't see it, and he couldn't localize the ringing. It seemed to echo through his skull.
"--fractured the fourth vertebrae in his back."
Blair swallowed and looked at the guy. "H-He was trying to kill us, man. C'mon. I have a right to defend myself, don't I?"
The man smiled down at him. "Sure, but all you had to do was give us Kazcinski. Instead, you nearly killed one of our own. We don't let things like that slide. It damages our reputation. We gotta pay you back."
Jim's slightly hollowed voice echoed from the answering machine's speakers. "Chief? C'mon, I said I'd call you right back."
The UPS man talked over Jim. "An eye for an eye...."
"Where are you? Sandburg... Pick up."
"A tooth for a tooth."
Blair closed his eyes and screamed at the top of his lungs. "Help! Somebody--"
A hand clamped over his mouth. "Shut the fuck up, kid, or it'll be worse on ya."
Blair opened his eyes just in time to see a white cloth come down toward his face. A light odor sent his head spinning and his stomach churning.
"This is just to make my job a bit easier," the assailant informed him. "Try not to throw up, will ya?"
Blair was sure he was floating. He felt himself rising upward, then realized he was looking at the man's butt.
More floating. The room spun. He felt something hard beneath him, and realized he was no longer being carried. In fact, he was sitting on one of the kitchen chairs. The intruder shoved a soft ball of cottony material into Blair's mouth, then secured it with a gag that he tied into a knot at the back of Blair's skull.
The phone rang again. Again, the answering machine picked up, and Jim's voice floated through the loft.
"Chief? Are you there?" Jim sounded concerned. "C'mon, pick up the phone."
Blair struggled just to keep his head up and push down the rising nausea. Throwing up with a gag in his mouth would be extremely unpleasant.
"Well, I guess you're in the bathroom or something," Jim continued. "Bye. See you tomorrow."
Blair's heart dropped to his stomach as he listened to the call disconnect. He blinked at the figure in front of him. The man smiled down at him, a police baton held in his right hand. He smacked the end of the baton into his left palm and took a step closer to Blair.
"I think maybe we oughta start with the ankle."
Jim hung up the phone, a worried crease in his forehead. His gut churned, telling him something was wrong. First, the weird phone troubles. Then, no answer from the loft when he knew Blair was home.
Quickly, he dialed Simon Banks' office phone. It rang twice before the captain answered.
"Banks. Major Crime."
"Simon, it's Jim. Something's wrong at the loft. Can you send a unit over to check on Sandburg? I was talking to him and the line kept disconnecting. I called back and got the answering machine."
"Jim, it's probably nothing..."
"Maybe, but I've got a bad feeling, sir. Please. It won't hurt to check."
A sigh. "Okay. I'll inform dispatch."
Blair closed his eyes. He knew what was coming. The guy had brought a toolbag with him, though Blair hadn't actually seen it until the man had brought it close to the chair. He'd reached inside, and pulled out a device Blair had grown all too familiar with in his anthropological studies of ancient cultures. The older versions had been made of wood, of course. The modern versions were often made of metal, just like the ones fastened above his ankles now. The twelve-inch bar separating the ankle cuffs held his legs apart, putting him in the perfect position for....
He swallowed, tugging at the bindings that held his arms to the back of the chair. He took a deep breath, then opened his eyes to look at his captor. The man didn't look old -- barely past thirty, in fact. His eyes were ink black, and a small, perpetual smile touched his lips.
Blair tried to talk around the gag, but all he managed were muffled, indecipherable noises that sounded vaguely like they might be words.
The man knelt in front of him, a mallet gripped tightly in his right hand. "Now, if you don't squirm, I figure I can make it a clean break. Be real easy to fix."
Blair's eyes widened, tracking the mallet as it rose in the air, poised for a strike. His chest seized, and he couldn't breath. He clenched his eyes tight and tried to prepare himself.
The phone rang again. The machine answered. Jim's voice once more filled the loft. "Hey, Chief. You there? Pick up. Sandburg... Okay, fine, so you're not out of the bathroom yet. How big is your bladder, anyway?"
The call ended, bathing the room in silence. Blair cracked one eye open to stare at the mallet, still poised in the air.
"Okay, on the count of three, kid. Do us both a favor and try not to scream. I doubt anyone would hear ya with the gag and all, but if someone interrupts, I'll have to kill them, ya know. Won't be pretty." He swung the mallet.
Blair felt the impact through his entire body and heard the quick, sharp snap of bone. He screamed more from the sheer physical shock of the blow than from actual pain, but after a couple of seconds, the pain hit him full force. He fell forward against his bonds, gritting his teeth as he tried to breathe through the agony. The room was spinning all around him, and bile touched his throat, but he knew he couldn't give in to the nausea, not with the gag. If he threw up now, he'd likely choke on his own vomit.
He thought he heard someone knocking...and yelling. Deep voices. The mobster cursed, then moved behind Blair, away from the front door.
"POLICE! Open up now!"
Blair opened his eyes, put all his strength in to his upper body, and flung himself backward toward the man, crashing into him and bringing him to the floor. Blair screamed against the gag as the crash jarred his ankle, then screamed again as his captor wiggled roughly out from beneath the chair, again aggravating Blair's ankle.
The intruder pushed at the chair, toppling it and Blair off of him. He sprang to his feet, grabbed a fistful of Blair's hair, and yanked hard, pulling Blair back upright. "Shit! If I botch this job..."
He never finished the sentence. The door burst inward, splintering the frame, revealing a flash of blue as the officer took refuge behind the wall.
A second later, the back door burst inward, and this time blue uniforms rushed into the apartment from both doors, their guns drawn.
"Drop it now!" the officer by the front door yelled.
"Do it!" the rear man emphasized, his gun held steady in his hands.
The mobster smiled, then slowly lowered his gun to the floor. Blair blinked through the haze of pain and dizziness. When, exactly, had the guy pulled a gun?
"No problem. Don't shoot, guys." The mobster rose slowly to his feet, hands in the air. The officers rushed him, one spinning him around and slapping cuffs on his wrists while mechanically reading him his rights.
Oh thank you thank you thank you. Blair tried not to squirm as the second officer approached him, immediately going behind the chair to untie the bindings.
Once his hands were free, Blair rubbed his wrists briefly, then yanked off the gag and pulled the cotton ball from his mouth, flinging them both to the floor. His ankle felt hot. On fire. A deep throbbing pain. The room did another sommersault, and he felt himself toppling sideways.
Hands grabbed him, easing him to the floor. "You okay, Mr. Sandburg?"
Blair blinked at the guy. He looked vaguely familiar. "Uh, yeah," he gasped. "How... Did Jim Ellison call it in?"
The officer smiled. "Yeah, Detective Ellison called Captain Banks who sent it to Dispatch. We were right around the corner when the call came in." He threw a dark look at the UPS imposter. "Looks like we got here just in time, too. I'm officer William Daniels, by the way."
"Actually, f-five minutes earlier," Blair closed his eyes and curled into a ball, "would've been nice."
Daniels looked down at the ankle cuffs. His eyes went wide. "Oh shit. Brent, did you find a key on that guy?" Daniels reached for his radio without waiting for a response and requested an ambulance.
Brent, who now had the mobster face-down on the floor, looked up and nodded. "Yep." He tossed a set of keys to Daniels.
Snatching them out of the air, Daniels sifted through the keys, his brow creasing. "Uh..." His eyes darted back and forth between the cuffs and the keys. "It's not here. These are just car keys and house keys. Nothing small enough to fit the lock on the cuffs."
"Oh darn," the mobster muttered, his right cheek pressed against the floor, that perpetual smile still on his lips. "I guess I left that in the car. See? Once I break the bone, it ain't a big priority getting the cuffs off. Those things don't cost all that much. Just part of the job. Leaves a good impression, too, when they take photos for evidence. You got stuff like that floating around police files, it tends to make people wary of crossing us. Ya know?"
"Jesus," a deep voice breathed from the doorway.
"Simon, thank God." Blair opened his eyes and looked up at the tall, dark figure. "Thank you, thank you. You too, guys." He let his gaze sweep across the two officers. "Oh man." He closed his eyes tight again as the nausea threatened to overwhelm him. "P-Please, someone get these things off me."
A heavy hand came down gently on his arm. "Take it easy, Blair," Simon's soft voice soothed. "Hang on a second. We'll get them off... Daniels, go find this joker's car and get those keys. Take him down with you so he can show you EXACTLY where they are."
"You know I ain't gonna be in lock-up for long. Bail'll be posted as soon as ya book me."
"Daniels, get him out of here, NOW."
"Yes, sir. Come on, smartass."
Blair opened his eyes to see Simon towering over him. "Thank you, Simon."
A soft smile touched the captain's lips. "You thanked me already, Sandburg. Twice, I believe." His smile faded, and his eyes crinkled with concern as they slid to Blair's ankle. "How's the pain?"
"Hurts like hell." Blair managed a smile and closed his eyes again. Keeping them open took too much effort, and the room kept moving, making his stomach very unhappy.
A hand slid beneath Blair's head, lifting it slightly for a moment, then lowering it onto something soft. "Just hang on, son."
Jim drove at a proper, careful speed the entire way from Seattle to Cascade. When his hotel room phone had rang, he knew it would be Simon, and he knew it would be bad news, but at least it hadn't been really bad news. Blair was going to be okay. His ankle had been snapped in two by a mobster wielding a mallet, but the break was clean and straight and would heal nicely. That's what Simon had said. The doctor had given Blair a dose of pain killers and put a cast on his ankle.
So, there was no need to rush, even though he felt like he was traveling at a turtle's pace. He eyed the clock. The drive from Seattle to Cascade wasn't that long, but today it seemed to be taking forever.
He drove into the lot for Cascade General and found a parking space several rows away from the entrance. Turning off the truck's engine, he remained in his seat a few seconds, taking several deep breaths, trying not to imagine what had been happening to Blair while he had been leaving messages on the answering machine.
Fucking bastards. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. That's what Blair had told Simon was the motive for the assault. Retribution.
He'd show them some goddamned retribution.
Taking another calming breath, he opened the door and slid out of the truck, then locked up and took off at a controlled pace toward the front entrance. He knew his way to the emergency room and took a right at the corner. He scanned the waiting room for Simon, but saw only an old woman, a middle-aged couple, and a kid on the floor scribbling in a coloring book.
Walking up to the nurse behind the counter, he flashed his badge. "Excuse me, miss. Is Blair Sandburg checked in here? He came in with a broken ankle?"
She nodded. "Yes, I remember him." Her fingers flew over the keyboard as her eyes scanned the monitor. "He should be finished soon." She gestured to the row of seats against the far wall of the waiting room. "Have a seat, please."
"Actually, I believe Captain Banks of the Cascade P.D. is in with Mr. Sandburg. I'm Detective Ellison. This is a police matter, and I need to speak with my captain and Mr. Sandburg, if you don't mind."
"Oh." She pursed her lips and studied his badge. "Yes, I've seen you here before, haven't I?"
He quirked a shallow smile. "Maybe once or twice."
"He's right through those doors." She pointed to a set of double doors at the edge of the waiting room.
"Thank you." He tucked his badge back in his jacket pocket and hurried through the doors, emerging into a corridor cluttered with gurneys and fast-paced hospital staff dressed in either blue scrubs, white uniforms, or slacks and white lab jackets.
Tilting his head, he listened, immediately locating Simon's voice in one of the rooms a few feet ahead. He increased his pace, then made a sharp right into the room. Simon was seated on a chair in the corner of the room. Blair was laying flat on an exam table, a blue-clad man standing over him and inspecting the thin cast around Blair's ankle.
"Fortunately, you have very little muscle or tendon damage. The bone should stay in place nicely, but you'll have to come back in two days for us to do another X-ray just to make sure. If everything looks good then, we'll replace this cast with a permanent one. In the meantime, don't walk around at all. Complete bed rest, and keep the leg propped up whether you're sitting or in bed. Got it?"
"Umm-huh," Blair answered, the response barely recognizable as speech.
"Jim!" Simon rose from his seat, apparently just noticing Jim's arrival. "Glad you're here. As you can see," he flung a hand toward Blair, "the kid's going to be fine. A little doped up at the moment, but otherwise okay."
Jim nodded curtly. "Hello, sir, and thanks for following up on my hunch."
Simon took a deep breath. "By now I should know that your hunches are better than most people's facts."
Jim managed a shallow, fleeting smile in response to the comment and walked up to Blair, ignoring the doctor who seemed content to scribble on the chart attached to his clipboard. "Hey, Chief, how're you doing?"
Blair grinned up at him, his eyelids resting at half-mast. "Greeat, man. Howuuz the conf'rnce?"
"Like I told you before. Boring. How's the leg?"
Blair crinkled his forehead. "Whuleg?"
Jim leaned forward and spoke very slowly. "Your ankle, Einstein."
"Oh." Blair pursed his lips and gazed bleary-eyed at his cast. "Got broken."
Jim sighed. "I see that."
"Itches." Blair scratched at his thigh, apparently unaware that that area was several inches away from his ankle.
Blair propped himself up on his elbows, his face growing somber. "It was the mob, man."
"I know, Chief."
"They didn't finish the jjjooob."
Jim's stomach twisted. "Don't you worry about that, Chief. Let me and Simon take care of that."
Blair shook his head. "Whoa." He blinked, then dropped back flat to the exam table and closed his eyes. "The mob neverrr forgets, Jimmm."
The doctor interrupted their conversation. "Okay, Mr. Sandburg. You're good to go. I'll have a nurse bring in a wheelchair and we'll take you to your car."
The captain leaned against the edge of the bed as the doctor hurried out of the room. "Blair said the guy was there to break his ankle and back," Simon winced, "in retaliation for their guy Blair punched out of the window at the monestary. The fall broke the guy's ankle and fractured the fourth vertebrae in his back."
Jim pursed his lips, his jaw tight. "And where is the perp now?"
"In lock-up. Hasn't yet made bail, but considering who his employer is, I'm sure he'll be out by tomorrow.
A loud crash of metal clanged in the hallway, and Jim's hand twitched toward his gun before he realized the disturbance wasn't a threat. Someone had obviously just dropped a tray or something.
"Okay, Chief, let's--" He frowned when he realized the bed was empty. "Blair?" He leaned over the bed to look at the other side, and, sure enough, he found his semi-delirious partner laying face-first on the floor with his arms covering his head.
His lips twitched upward in a smile. "It's okay, Sandburg. Someone in the hall just dropped something. That's all."
Blair lowered his arms and peeked at Jim. "You suuurre, man?"
"Positive." Casting an amused glance at Simon, who didn't seem amused at all, Jim felt his own mirth fade. He scooted around the bed and crouched next to Sandburg. "Come on, Junior. Let's get you home." Grabbing Blair's elbow, he carefully helped Blair to his feet.
Remembering the doctor's advice, Jim steered Blair to the nearby chair and pushed him gently down. "Sit. Hold on a moment." He hurried and grabbed the chair Simon had occupied, then dragged it over to Blair and propped the broken ankle on the seat. "No more stunts, Chief." He patted Blair's leg. "From now on, let me worry about the bad guys. You know they won't get anywhere near you while I'm around." He tapped his right earlobe and put forth what he hoped was a reasurring grin. "Radar's up and running."
Jim realized he was talking in vain. Blair's chin rested on his chest, his hair cascading around his face, as he snored softly.
A low sigh issued from Simon, and Jim turned to face his captain. "What's wrong, sir?"
Simon shook his head. "He's right, you know. I don't think Sardella's boss -- that's our perp's name by the way, John Sardella -- anyway, I don't think they're going to be happy with just a broken ankle. They'll see it as a failure, and you know the mob doesn't like swallowing failure."
Jim crossed his arms, going rigid. "Yeah, I know." He glanced back at his sleeping partner. "I imagine Sardella's employer isn't going to be too happy with his failure personally, either."
"Probably not." A hint of suspicion colored Simon's voice. "What are you thinking, Jim?"
Jim looked back at his captain. "Maybe we can fake it. Convince the doctor to make it seem like Blair's got a fractured vertebrae that's healing, then talk to Sardella and see if he'll go along with it. After all, if he can convince his boss he pulled the job off, they'll be much happier than if they hear he botched it."
Simon nodded. "Maybe. Of course, we have to make it pretty foolproof. If the mob finds out about the lie, they'll put a bullet in Sardella's head, and the guy knows that. So I doubt he'll be eager to lie if there's any chance of getting caught."
"I know. Let's see how we can work it out."
It was nearly two in the morning before Jim rolled Blair into the loft. Given the temporary nature of his cast, the doctors had sent Sandburg home with a wheelchair so that he wouldn't have to hobble on his feet to go to the bathroom. Blair sat sound asleep, slouched in the seat of the chair. He'd barely stirred when Jim had transferred him from the truck to the chair, then fell promptly back asleep again.
Jim parked the chair near the couch, then closed the door, though it didn't catch because the frame was splintered. He dragged a kitchen chair to the door and propped it beneath the handle. Tomorrow he'd have to call the contractor...again. His doors seemed to get kicked in on a semi-regular basis. He eyed the back door and noticed that it was also hanging slightly open. He positioned another chair beneath its handle, then moved back to his sleeping partner and relieased a tired, relieved sigh.
Their plan seemed to work. The doctor had agreed to go with the deception, given the nature of the men after Blair, and sent him home with a thick, prominent back brace that was visible as a bulky shape beneath his shirt.
Sardella had seemed eager to accept the deal. His employer, as it turned out, wasn't incredibly eager to go tit-for-tat with Sandburg. Apparently, even mobsters understood self defense, but they had an image to protect. A broken ankle and a fractured vertebrae, even if it wasn't quite as severe as the one their man had sustained, was enough to satiate their desire for public retribution.
And, of course, Sardella was more than happy to be able to report success to his boss. Apparently, he was more afraid of his employer than of the justice system.
Jim snorted his disgust. Sometimes he hated having to work within the confines of the law. The law of the jungle often appealed to him much more than the laws written by high society politicians.
Jim grabbed the handles of the wheelchair and pushed Blair into his room. Moving to the bed, Jim folded the covers down, then leaned toward the wheelchair and wrapped his arms around Blair's waist. He hoisted the young man out of the chair, transferring him smoothly to the mattress.
Blair stirred, rolling onto his side, his feet dangling over the edge of the bed. Jim carefully grabbed Blair's legs and lifted them to the mattress, then nudged Blair onto his back. Jim grabbed the extra pillow from the top of the bed and slid it beneath Blair's injured foot. Gently removing the young man's sneaker, he brought the blankets up to cover Blair completely. He stood and studied his handiwork for a moment, allowing himself a moment of regret. He hadn't been there to stop the guy from hurting Blair.
But Paul Branca was going to learn all about retribution. He'd thought he was dealing with a normal cop and an easy-mark civilian, not a Sentinel and his partner. Not someone who could track him from a mile's distance. Jim would be the man's shadow, and the guy would never even realize it until the sirens closed around him and his men.
Branca was going down hard.
Blair stirred again, his forehead creasing, probably from pain, and he shifted beneath the covers, releasing a small moan.
Jim sank into the wheelchair, his senses on alert, maintaining watch. Even with the deal he'd made with Sardella, he wasn't about to lower his guard. This time he was there, and he'd be damned if anybody was getting past him.
Blair squirmed again, the crease in his brow growing more pronounced.
"It's okay, Chief." Jim slipped the wheel locks into place. "I'm right here."
The lines in Blair's forehead faded, and he shifted once more beneath the covers before settling into a peaceful slumber.