Cover by Ankaree
Art by LilyK, Romanse, Lyn, Lisa
The syrup bottle fell with a dull thud to the floor. 'Thank goodness for plastic bottles,' Jim mused. Wiggling the fingers of his right hand, he bent over to pick up the wayward bottle from its location on the floor. He stood back up, walked over to the dining table and gently placed the elusive bottle down on it. His nose sensed that the pancakes cooking were ready to be turned, so he quickly returned to the kitchen and flipped over the hotcakes.
Smiling, he looked up to the bedroom. Blair had been through so much these past few months. He'd helped to fight the entity that had tried to force Jim to take his own life. On top of that, he'd had to cope with having visions while they were working on the Jester case. Now though, they had the weekend off to just be themselves. Not detectives or Sentinel and Guide; just to be Jim and Blair; nothing else mattered this weekend. Even their captain had been warned that if he called them in this weekend, hell had better be frozen over.
Looking back at the griddle, Jim grabbed a spatula to lift and remove the breakfast pancakes and transfer them from the hot pan to the waiting serving plate. Squeezing hard to in order to feel the handle in his hand, he slid the utensil under the waiting hotcake. A shiver of electricity seemed to flow from his knuckles to his elbow, as he did so. His sense of touch dialed too far up, he closed his eyes to regain control of the sudden spike in that sense. His dial was at nine so he slowly pulled it back to four. He took a deep breath, exhaled, opened his eyes and noticed that the pancake he had tried to remove from the griddle, now lay on the floor next to the spatula. 'This is just not my day', he thought. Again flexing his fingers, he bent over and picked up the spatula and the ruined pancake. He threw away the pancake and placed the spatula in the sink to be washed. Quickly grabbing another spatula from the drawer, he managed to remove the remaining hotcakes and placed them on the serving dish, without dropping any more. Then he turned the heat off under the griddle, moved the pan and placed the teakettle on the burner.
Jim walked over to the stairs, "Blair," he called. "Breakfast time, sleepy head." Jim climbed the steps two at a time to see drowsy blue eyes staring back at him from the bed.
"Mmm, smells good, Jim. Guess it's an eat first, shower later kind of day, huh?" Blair pushed the blankets off, swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat up on the edge.
Jim loved the smell of Blair when he first woke up. It meant home and sanctuary to him. He couldn't explain it; he only knew that he felt loved and wanted whenever the scent wafted into his senses. He sat down next to his still muzzy-looking lover, running his fingers through the curly hair.
"Yeah, the pancakes are hot now. You can shower after you eat or-"
"Um, Jim, you hoping for some action while the pancakes go cold?" Blair asked
Jim followed the pointing finger and saw that he'd forgotten to button his pants and the zipper had come partly undone when he'd sat down.
He stood up and fumbled with the button, cursing under his breath as his fingers all seemed to turn to thumbs and the previously simple action defeated him.
Blair reached over and did it up for him deftly.
"I could have managed that myself, Sandburg," Jim couldn't help snapping. "I've been doing up my own pants for years."
"I thought you liked me playing with your zipper," Blair said with a small smile, hurt shadowing his eyes briefly.
Jim grinned back, pushing his frustration away. He pulled Blair up into his arms and hugged him hard. "Only when you're undoing it, Chief. Come on, let's eat."
Blair hugged him back, just as hard.
The weekend seemed way too short for them. Soon it was Monday and they were back at the office. No sooner had they walked into the bullpen than they heard Simon Banks bellow, "Ellison, Sandburg! My office, now!"
"Man, what crawled under his skin? We just walked in and we were off this weekend, so it can't be something we did!" Blair asked in a stage whisper.
"Well, if we stay on this side of the door much longer, it will be for something we just did. Get a move on, Sandburg!" Ellison said as he placed his hand on his partner's back to encourage him to move forward.
Blair turned around and thumped Jim's arm lightly. "I was just joking around, man! No need to push! I'm moving, I'm moving!"
Catching up to his partner, Sandburg and Ellison entered the captain's office. "You roared, sir," Jim remarked a little sarcastically.
"Yes, Detective, I did. I hope you both had a good weekend because you are both now assigned to bodyguard-"
"Wait a second, sir," Jim interrupted. "I thought Blair and I were only going to be assigned high-profile cases from now on. Blair's a trained profiler as well as a detective and the deal we made with the Commissioner was that-"
"Jim, I need you cover the Regional Mayor's Association meeting. Normally, I wouldn't be asking you to do this but the Mayor has received some very disturbing threats. He is taking them seriously and therefore, so are we. I was hoping that perhaps there might be some aspects of the threats that might give Blair some sort of profile of who might be involved. The RMA will be at Cascade Marriott tomorrow at 10:00am. I need you two to go over to the hotel, review the convention center, meeting rooms, staff...you know the drill. Check it all out and then secure it for the meeting tomorrow. We don't want anything to happen except for the mayors in attendance to get a few soundbites and for Cascade to look like a nice, safe place to visit. Sandburg, these are the notes the Mayor's received. Look them over on the way. See if you can come up with anything, will you?"
"Sure, Simon, we can do that," Blair replied quickly. He understood Jim's objection but he could see why the Captain thought they were the right team for this job.
"Yeah." Ellison nodded. "Okay, we can do that. Once secured, we'll hang around to keep it that way," the experienced detective continued. "The only thing happening there will be all the hot air that will be released when the politicians start to talk!" He glanced at his partner and saw the support evident in the blue gaze. Blair always understood him, even when he didn't quite understand himself.
"Knew you would see it my way, Ellison." Simon looked at the two men, frowning slightly. "So, why are you still here?"
"Leaving now, Captain," Blair assured him quickly as he pushed his partner in front of him out of the office. Blair continued to encourage his partner's forward movement until they reached the elevators. "Hey, look at this way. We get to spend the night in a hotel at the expense of the department." Blair waggled his eyebrows at Jim.
Bending his head forward, smiling, Jim reflected, "Yeah, there is that, although a bed would have been nice too!"
"Details, man, details."
Blair waited till they were in the truck before broaching the subject that had been bothering him all weekend. "Jim, are you having a problem with your sense of touch?"
Jim cut a quick sideways glance at him. "What makes you ask that?"
"Well, you seemed to have a problem with the button on your pants, you seemed to have no idea that you were shoving me on the way into Simon's office, and you dropped two glasses yesterday, one after another-"
"Oh, come on, Chief. You've never dropped a glass?" Jim kept his eyes on the road but Blair could see his hands clench tightly around the steering wheel.
"Of course, I have. Look, I thought we were a partnership here, man. Not just at work or at home but on the Sentinel deal. You tell me if you're having problems with your senses and I do my best to find an answer," Blair said reasonably.
"Not everything is about my senses," Jim said calmly back.
"What does that mean?" Blair asked. "Hey, we've got plenty of time to get to the hotel. Pull over for a minute, okay? It's too difficult to talk about this while you're driving."
Jim sighed audibly but did as his partner suggested and stopped the truck at the curb a few hundred feet further down the road.
Blair turned slightly in his seat to face him. "What's going on?" he asked, the worry evident in his voice.
"My hands feel weird," Jim replied, taking the objects in question from the wheel and holding them out in front of him. He stared at them as if hoping he could somehow see through the skin, down into the very flesh of them and find the problem.
"Define weird. You mean like after Danny died?"
"No, this is different. I don't think it's got anything to do with my senses. I think it's purely a physical problem."
"Well, you need a to see a doctor about it then, man." Blair's concern had obviously ratcheted up a notch or two with Jim's answer.
"It's not that bad, Chief. Just some weird skin sensations, that's all." Jim smiled across at his partner. "And you say I'm a mother hen."
"What sort of sensations, Jim?" Blair pressed, concern in his eyes.
Jim shrugged nonchalantly. "You know, numbness, tingling - sort of like your fingers are stuck in an electrical socket, weakness at times-"
"Jim, as soon as we're through with this case, you're seeing a doctor." Blair cut his lover a determined look. "No arguments. Okay? Sentinel problems, I feel I've got some chance of solving, but if this was me having these problems, you know you'd have carted me off to the hospital as soon as you knew about it."
"We'll see. We better get moving, Chief."
"Yeah, all right, but consider this conversation postponed, not shelved, okay?" Blair said firmly.
Jim nodded and pulled back onto the roadway.
"Here we are, Chief. Ready for a fun filled day of security planning and profiling?" Jim asked with barely veiled sarcasm as the hotel's parking garage came into view. He drove into the parking structure then pulled into the first available space.
"Yeah, Jim, I am so ready to set this all up. How many days is this conference? I'm pumped, man." Blair played along with the Sentinel. 'Two can play this game, Ellison. We will talk about this later tonight. You need to let me in on what is happening with you,' he mused silently.
The two men exited the truck and entered the spacious lobby of the hotel. Marble floors reflected the lights from the crystal chandeliers overhead.
Ellison stopped in the middle of the impressive lobby. From the tilt of his head, Blair knew Jim was taking a sense inventory of the area. He unobtrusively placed his hand on the Sentinel's back.
A young woman approached the duo. Clearing her throat, she asked, "Do you gentlemen need any assistance?"
Blair turned his head to the woman but left his hand on Jim's back. Flashing his patented 100-megawatt grin, the young man replied, "Hey. No, we're here checking the place out... for security-"
"I think I must ask you to leave now before I call the police," she interrupted.
Just as she started to walk toward the registration desk, Blair called out to her.
"Whoa, hold on a minute. We're police."
She stopped and put her hands on her hips, with her left hip slightly pushed to the side, as if daring the young man to continue. She looked Blair over from the tip of his scuffed shoes to his layered shirts and loosely curled long hair and then stared straight into his eyes. "Really?" she said, her scepticism apparent.
Not willing to rile the hotel employee any further, his grin still firmly gracing his face, Blair nodded slowly. "Yes, really. I'm Detective Sandburg and this," he tapped Jim on the shoulder, causing the detective to turn and face the young woman, "is my partner, Detective Ellison." He pulled out his badge and showed it to the woman. "We've been assigned to check the hotel meeting rooms that will be used for the RMA Conference tomorrow. Could you point us in the direction of the hotel sales manager in charge of this event? I think the Mayor's expecting to meet with us at some stage too."
She extended her hand. "Hello. My name is Elizabeth Mueller. I'm the hotel sales manager running the RMA Conference."
"Mueller?" Blair asked as he took her hand. He shot a startled sideways glance at Jim as an image took shape in his head. He released her hand quickly and watched as she shook hands with Jim. "Oh my God, I remember you now. You're Danny's sister. You probably don't remember me. Danny and I were at Rainier together. I was so sorry to hear what happened. I wanted to go the funeral but I was in the hospital-"
"Yes, I think I remember Danny mentioning you, Detective Sandburg." Elizabeth looked at him, her dark eyes sad.
"Excuse us for a minute, would you, Ms. Mueller?" Blair said as he pulled his partner toward a large potted plant in the corner of the room.
With his back to the baffled woman, Jim asked, "What's going on, Chief?"
"She's hiding something, Jim. When she started to shake my hand, I got some kind of vision. She was cutting letters out of a newspaper and sticking them onto a page of paper." Blair looked at Jim, willing the Sentinel to take him seriously. "I think she's our perp. Listen, Danny Mueller drowned in the Bay Of Aberdeen flooding. There was a big outcry at the time that the mayor should have done more to help the victims. From what I remember Danny and Elizabeth were pretty close."
Jim nodded. "I'll take your word for it, Chief. These visions of yours haven't steered us wrong before. But let's be cool about it. We don't want to tip her off."
"Yeah, well, there's also the point that we need a bit more evidence than just the fact that I 'saw' something and that she's naturally pretty cut up over her brother's death. A lot of people were pretty pissed off with the mayor at the time it happened," Blair said. "I can't see that holding up in court. Okay, let's call in some back up and have this place thoroughly checked out, just in case. Then, let's have someone run a background check on her. That should - Jim, what is it?" Blair noticed the Sentinel tilt his head again.
"Her heartbeat just spiked. I think she's gonna run," Jim whispered to his partner. He walked back across to the woman, Blair following.
"Ms. Mueller, my partner and I would like to ask you a few questions. You seem a little nervous. Is something wrong?" Jim asked casually.
"Not at all, Detective. Why should something be wrong? I was just surprised by seeing someone Danny knew, that's all."
Jim glanced across at Blair. As he did so, Blair saw the woman lunge forward, her hands going out to shove hard against the Sentinel's chest. Jim stumbled, jolting against Blair and almost knocking him off his feet. As he grabbed for Jim's arm and regained his balance, Blair saw her spin and run from the foyer.
Jim immediately took off after her while Blair grabbed his cell phone. He requested backup as he chased after his partner.
He could not see either his partner or Mueller as he turned the corner where the other two had disappeared. He moved up against the wall and peered cautiously around it, listening for movement. Just as he was about to move, he felt something jab into his shoulder. He turned and saw Elizabeth Mueller, a gun held steadily in both hands.
He could hear sirens in the distance and puffed out a small, relieved breath.
"I just wanted them all to feel as bad as my family did when the Bay of Aberdeen flooded and we were forced to leave our homes. The mayor did nothing! No federal help, no FEMA, nothing. So, now, I just want these people to feel as scared and cold as we did. They deserve it. My brother drowned and nobody cared." Elizabeth was babbling her mitigation, as if she could make him understand. Suddenly, her eyes narrowed. "You don't care either," she spat out, and he watched with morbid fascination as her finger pulled back on the trigger.
"Freeze! Police officer! Drop your weapon!"
Blair flung a relieved glance over his shoulder and saw Jim raise his gun, taking bead on the woman. Suddenly, Jim's fingers fumbled and Blair watched with sickening dread as his partner's weapon fell and skidded across the floor. He stepped back and twisted desperately to one side, heard the report of a gun and then a burning pain flared up his forearm, the impact sending him crashing to the floor.
Blair rolled to his back and grasped his injured arm tightly against his chest. He saw Jim lunge forward, tackling the woman as she aimed the gun at Blair again.
They went down in a tangle of arms and legs and then, within minutes, Jim had the woman subdued, facedown on the ground, and was snapping the cuffs around her wrists.
Blair heard footsteps thundering towards them and he looked towards the door, seeing Banks lead several uniformed cops into the room.
Jim stood up and waited till one of the other cops pulled the woman to her feet, then he moved over to kneel at Blair's side. "You okay?" he asked, one hand already going out to cover Blair's where it pressed against his blood-soaked sleeve.
Blair nodded hesitantly. Truth be told, he felt sick and dizzy and the dampness he could feel beneath his fingers wasn't making him feel any better.
Jim's other hand rested gently on his forehead for a moment. "Just take it easy. We'll get you to the hospital."
Blair nodded again then managed a smile as Jim leaned toward him and said, "You must be hurt, Chief. You're not talking."
"I'm okay," Blair said.
"Yeah, you're gonna be fine," Jim replied but he kept his hand pressed against the wound on Blair's arm till the medics arrived.
"See you're still hanging around with the cops, Sandburg."
Blair rolled his head toward the voice. "Hey, Drew, I thought you'd left Cascade."
"I did, well, almost," replied the young man who walked up to his bedside. "I was almost out of town and someone persuaded me to stay. You know how it is."
Blair grinned up at the dark-haired young doctor then cast a quick glance over at Jim, who was sitting next to the gurney. "Yeah, I do," he replied softly. "Jim, this is an old friend of mine, Dr. Andrew Zaine. We met when Drew was in pre-med at Rainier."
Jim accepted the hand Drew offered and shook it. "Nice to meet you," he said. "You the doc on call?"
Zaine nodded as he began to remove the temporary dressings from Blair's arm. "That's me." He picked up a swab and dipped it in the antiseptic solution on the dressing tray and swabbed Blair's arm gently but thoroughly. "Doesn't look too bad," he murmured. "Probably hurts like hell, though."
"A bit," Blair murmured. He felt suddenly nauseous again. His arm hurt a lot more than he wanted to let on.
"Bullet?" Drew asked casually. He picked up a syringe from the tray "This'll sting a bit at first. It's just a local but the first one always does." He pushed the needle into Blair's arm, making him jump.
Jim grabbed Blair's shoulder. "Take it easy, buddy," he murmured. "Try to breathe through it. You know the drill. Big breath in-"
"Smartass," Blair jibed back, but he relaxed a little under Jim's hand. "Yeah, bullet," he said at last, answering the doctor's earlier question. "Just a graze though, right?"
"A bit more than a graze," Drew said as he finished infiltrating the wound and picked up the suture needle. "It's gonna take about six sutures to close. You feel that?" he touched the wound with the needle and when Blair shook his head, began stitching. "Looks like you need to learn to duck, Blair."
"I did," Blair replied, his eyes never leaving Jim's. "Jim, Drew's a pretty good surgeon. You should ask him about your hands."
"It's not the first time I've dropped my gun-"
"First time you've fumbled it," Blair replied. "Other times it's been knocked out of your hand. And there's the other symptoms as well. The pain, the numbness and tingling. Jim, come on, just let Drew check you out, all right? You said you were going to see a doctor anyway so... no time like the present."
"Dr. Zaine's probably busy-"
"I've got a break coming up as soon as I've finished stitching up Detective Macho here, so..." Drew smiled across at Jim. "I don't mind taking a look at you, Detective. I owe Blair a favor." He grinned down at Blair. "Remember all that research you did for me to help me pass my finals? I never did get a chance to pay you back."
"Okay," Jim said, his voice resigned. "Only for you, Chief, you know that, right?"
"Yeah, I know that," Blair said. He reached up and placed his free hand over Jim's and squeezed it gently. "Thanks, man."
"All right. That should hold you together, Blair. I'm gonna get the nurse to bring you in a tetanus shot, seeing yours is out of date, as well as some antibiotics and some Vicodin-" He held up a warning finger as Blair began to protest, "- which you will take, once the local wears off. Believe me, Blair, you'll be glad to. That's a pretty painful injury you've got there."
Blair nodded. "All right."
"Jesus, Doc," Jim said, smiling. "You should give lessons in that technique of yours. I'd sign up for it."
"You mean my course in how to get patients to do what's good for them?" Drew replied with an answering smile. "I got plenty of practice with Blair when we were undergrads. Come with me, Detective. I'll tell you a few stories while I look you over-"
Blair pushed himself up onto one elbow. "Don't you dare tell Jim the bull and the roses story, Drew," he yelled despairingly after their retreating backs.
"Carpal Tunnel Syndrome," Drew said succinctly, peeling off his gloves and tossing them in the trash can next to the desk.
"You're kidding?" Jim asked.
"We can do more tests to verify it but they're not really necessary. The lack of pinprick response and the pain over the base of your palm pretty much nails it."
"It can be fixed, right?" Jim asked. "It won't affect my ability to handle a weapon in the future?"
Drew shook his head. "Minor surgery. You could have it done at my clinic."
"I don't react very well to anesthetics," Jim said hesitantly.
"I can give you something called twilight anesthetic. You'll be barely asleep but you won't have any pain or memory of the procedure. There'll be some post-operative pain, of course, but that can be easily managed. And once it's healed, you can go back to work in a relatively short time."
Jim nodded. "Okay," he agreed. "I guess I'll do it then."
"Good. Call my clinic in the morning." Drew pulled a card from his shirt pocket and handed it to Jim. "My nurse will set up the appointment."
"Thanks." Jim stood and shook Drew's hand.
"You're welcome, Jim. Oh, and by the way, take care of Blair. I'd really hate to see him back here with any more bullet holes in him."
"I'll do my best," Jim replied with a smile. "But he tends to have a mind of his own about things like that."
"Yeah, he's pretty stubborn. Always has been. I'll see you soon, Jim."