Blair Sandburg swallowed past the lump in his throat and took another step closer to the crazy holding a gun on his lover. Jim was kneeling on the ground in front of him; a gash above his eye still bled freely, gumming up his rapidly swelling eyelids.
Blair thought carefully about what he was going to say, and prayed that Jim would know that this was one time that he was the expert. He remembered the argument theyd had just that morning in the police station garage over the fact that Blair wasnt a cop and how he never did what Jim told him to do.
Blair didnt think hed ever seen Jim so angry before and then hed looked at his lover more closely. Hes scared, he realized, scared of losing me. Blair recognized that look, because it mirrored what he knew Jim saw in his own eyes so often.
"Damn it, Sandburg! Youre not a cop," Jim ranted as he paced in front of the truck.
Blair grabbed his lover's arm and pulled him toward the elevator, away from the curious stares of other officers in the garage.
"What was I supposed to do?" Blair asked, squaring his jaw, preparing for the verbal sparring that always occurred after an experience such as this. "Sit in the truck and watch them shoot you?"
"They almost killed you, and you put two other officers at risk by barging in there," Jim answered, fretfully running a hand through his hair. "If Simon hadnt been right behind you " He didnt finish the sentence. He didnt need to.
Blair nodded. "I know," he replied softly. "Im sorry. But I cant be your guide in the truck, Jim. I cant sit out there and watch them carry your dead body out, knowing that if Id been there backing you up, it might not have happened."
Jim muttered an expletive, then nodded, as though accepting the stalemate. "Come on," he said, pushing Blair into the elevator. "Youve got paperwork to do and then as penance, you can buy me lunch."
"The paperwork is the penance, man," Blair groused good-naturedly, pleased that the dark mood had dissipated for now. "Buying you lunch is a cakewalk after correcting your spelling mistakes."
Jim grinned and cuffed him amiably on the back of the head.
Blair looked at the sweating man in front of him and then at the gun that ground into Jims temple. He was encouraged to think that this was one time that not being a cop might work in his favor.
He licked his dry lips and took another step forward, resolutely ignoring the pleading look from Jim. "You want a hostage, man, to get you out of the city? Youve picked the wrong guy there," he began.
"Sandburg " Jim growled low and menacingly.
"Shut up, Jim," Blair breathed, knowing the sentinel would either hear him or read his lips. "Im trying to save both our asses here."
The perp lifted his jaw belligerently. "What the fuck are you talking about?"
Blair indicated Jim with his chin. "Hes a cop. A nobody." His spirits lifted as he watched the gunmans puzzlement grow. "He knows the risks. They're not going to let you out of here just because youre holding a cop hostage. Casualty of war, man. Thats all he is."
"Who the fuck are you?"
"Me?" Blair smiled a feral grin. "Im someone important. Someone who can get you out of here."
"How you figure that? Youre a cop, too."
Blair shook his head. "No way, man. Im better. Im his best friend."
"Sandburg, shut up!" Jim shouted.
The gunman swung his weapon sideways and Blair flinched as it connected once more with Jims head. The detective fell sideways, then staggered almost immediately back to his knees, shaking his head to clear the fog. Blood from a new wound ran down his cheek and dripped off his chin.
The man wasted none of his attention on his current hostage, save for tightening his grip around Jims throat. He pushed the gun back into Jims temple and focused his attention back on Blair. "If youre his best friend, hows that help me?"
Blair rolled his eyes as though he had to state the obvious. "Because he'll do anything to keep me safe. If that means letting you go, hell do it. Right, Jim?"
"You lay a hand on him, Ill take you apart with my bare hands," Jim growled.
The detective struggled against the grip on his throat, stopping only when the gunman slowly moved the gun away from his head and aimed it at Blair. Blairs heart skipped a beat. He wasnt sure whether to attribute the phenomenon to his absolute fear or his elation that his plan was working.
Way to go, big guy, he thought. We have a winner.
The criminal didn't appear to be willing to throw in his cards just yet. "What about the other cops?"
"Youve got it made," Blair said. "Theyll bargain for me. Im Joe Public, man! They cant risk anything happening to me." He grinned conspiratorially. "Its an election year."
The perp was obviously torn. Suddenly, he brought the gun up once more and slammed it into the back of Jims head. Jim collapsed bonelessly to the ground and Blair had the terrifying thought that hed just made the worst mistake of his life.
"Hey!" Blair protested but before he could say anything more, the gunman trained the weapon on him and reached for him. He pulled Blair up against his chest then wrapped a strong arm around his throat. Blair fought against the suffocating hold, wincing as the muzzle of the gun ground deeply into his skull.
"All right," the other man said. "Lets get out of here. Remember, no tricks."
Blair barely managed to nod his head before he was dragged backward through the store door, his eyes fixed on the unmoving body of his lover.
Jim stirred and groaned then rolled over onto his back. He shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs from his mind and groaned once more as the movement awakened the pounding in his skull. The pain also served to sharpen his memory and he staggered to his hands and knees, forcing his shaky limbs to support him, before stumbling drunkenly toward the doorway of the store.
Pressing himself against the doorframe, he poked his head out and was surprised and overwhelmingly relieved to see the thief ahead of him, dragging Sandburg toward his car. One hand was wrapped securely around his partners throat; the other held a gun to Blairs head.
Realizing he was of no help to Blair here, where the perp could spot him at any time, Jim turned and ran for the stairs that led to the roof. Reaching his goal, he pushed down the nausea and dizziness that threatened to overwhelm him from his enforced exercise and crept quickly, bent almost double to the edge. Below him, the scene seemed all the more frightening, with Blair so far from his reach. Jim crouched down as low as he could and extended his hearing to the people below.
The detective grinned humorlessly as he heard the gunman swear softly, Jim's heightened hearing having already picked up the approaching sirens.
"Take it easy, man," Blair soothed. "This is it. You just stay cool. Tell them what you want. Theyre not going to let anything happen to me."
"Shut up! Im trying to think."
Jim ground his jaws together as he saw the nervous man slam the gun into Blairs face. Blair collapsed but was pulled back up quickly to lean, panting, against the other mans chest. Jims sight easily made out the blood dribbling slowly down Blairs cheek, snaking under the collar of his shirt.
He reached down to his ankle and pulled his backup weapon from its holster, feeling immense relief that the perp had not had time to search him for extra weapons. Sighting carefully, knowing his future depended on the next second or so, he squeezed the trigger slowly .
And cried out in agony as the gunman arched up, his body falling away from Blair, even as his finger tightened spasmodically on the trigger of his weapon. Blair spun sideways, slamming into the ground to lay silent and unmoving.
Jim looked up as a man wearing wrinkled scrubs under a white coat approached him.
"Im Doctor Jackson. You can go in now, Detective. Your partners a very lucky man. The bullet just grazed his forehead. Hes going to have the mother of all headaches for a few days but apart from that, hell be fine."
Jim nodded and stood, swaying slightly on his feet, grateful for the young doctors supportive presence at his back. His head ached and the stitches in his eyebrow and cheek itched annoyingly as the local anaesthetic wore off and sensation returned.
Slowly, he made his way to the trauma room door and pushed it open. His lover lay on his back on the examination table; a blood-spattered gown covering his body and a thin blanket pulled up to his chest. His eyes were closed, one looked as swollen as Jims own. His features were white and slack, the black stitches in his forehead stark against the pallor.
Jim made his way over to the bedside and sank down into the adjacent chair with an exhausted sigh. Blairs eyelids fluttered and then one blue eye opened, roving over the ceiling before moving sideways to fix on Jim.
"Hey, Jim." Blairs voice sounded scratchy and weak but Jim felt an enormous wave of gratitude wash over him at the sound.
He reached for Blairs nearest hand and raised it to his lips, kissing it lightly. "Why?" he whispered.
Blairs head lolled sideways and Jim could see the lines of exhaustion and pain marring his face. "Because it was the only way to keep both of us safe."
When Jim raised an eyebrow, he continued. "Because youre my Blessed Protector and I know you love me more than life itself," he said, "and I knew you would do anything to keep me safe."
Blair gulped a breath and Jim watched as a single tear welled in his one good eye and trickled down his bruised cheek. "And because Im not a cop and even though I love you just the same way, Im not sure that, if the positions were reversed, I could have done the same for you."
Jim reached over and wiped the trail of moisture away with his thumb, then leaned forward and pressed a soft kiss to Blair's lips. "You did good, partner," he said. "And I know, because I'm the love of your life that you would have." He leaned in for another kiss, lingering for a long moment, allowing his senses to capture the presence of his lover and reaffirm that all was well. "And if you ever do that again," he said, leaning back and stroking a gentle caress along Blair's brow, "I'll kick your beautiful ass into next week."