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AUTHOR'S WEBSITE: http://brothersinarms.tvheaven.com
DISCLAIMER: The characters of The Sentinel belong to others more fortunate than I. This fanfic has been written for my own and others' enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.
CATEGORY: Missing scene.
SPOILERS: The Debt.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This began as a simple little 'what if'. What if Jim had said no when Blair asked if he could stay at the loft?
A huge thank you to Kato for her awesome, thorough beta and for her insightful ideas on keeping Jim closer to 'early canon Jim' when I was tempted to let ''Saint Jim.' stray in. (g)
Jim helped load the last box into Blair's car then stood back and dusted off his hands. He repressed the urge to sneeze and promised himself a long hot shower as soon as he got home.
"So you mean to tell me that in all the time you've lived here, you never once suspected that there was a drug lab next door?" he asked the other man.
Blair looked shocked at the very notion. "Oh, man. I swear that place was deserted."
He swiped at his grimy face, leaving a swathe of pale skin showing through the black smudges of soot coating his face. "I mean last week I did start to hear some strange noises in the middle of the night but I thought it was just the plumbing "
Larry the ape chattered suddenly, reaching out pleadingly toward Blair and the anthropologist reached up and clasped its outstretched paw, offering comfort. "Hey, Larry," he crooned, then continued to Jim, " like, you know the rodents or something." He shrugged his shoulders, wincing slightly.
Jim nodded. Sandburg looked exhausted, ready to fall down. "Is this all your stuff?"
Blair looked mournfully at the pitiful collection amassed in the back of his car and Jim felt a stab of pity for the young man's misfortune.
"Yeah, most of it. I'll have to try to come back tomorrow and put the rest, what's salvageable anyway, into storage." His shoulders slumped and he turned his attention to Larry, coaxing the fretting ape into his cage. "Where am I going to stay?" he whispered.
"I don't know. A hotel, hostel or something." Jim pulled his car keys from his pocket.
"That's fine for me." Blair fiddled with the door on the cage. "But what about Larry?"
"Put him in a kennel. He'll figure it out." Jim turned to head back to his truck.
Blair took a step toward the detective. "I can't do that to him. Besides, my project is due next Friday. Unless "
Backing away, Jim edged another step closer to his vehicle, both hands raised in the classic gesture of denial. "No. No. No. No. Just forget it."
"Come on, Jim. Jim, please?" Blair was following him now. "My back is up against the wall here, man." He stopped and looked at the detective. "I've got nowhere else to go."
"I'm not a big fan of animals in cages. I get allergies and stuff. You know that."
"I could maybe take him back to the university tomorrow," Blair ventured. "Of course, I'll have to rescind my project but I don't know what else to do."
"You do that then, Sandburg. Sounds like a plan to me." Jim looked back at the warehouse as someone called his name. "Look, it's late. Get some rest and I'll see you in the morning."
"Yeah. Sure. Okay." Blair waved a hand in farewell and walked slowly back to his car.
Blair startled awake once more and tried to huddle further into the warmth of his jacket. Behind him, Larry the ape snored softly nestled into a pile of Blair's flannel shirts on the back seat of his car. Blair had given up on trying to keep the ape in his cage. The stresses of the night had proved too much for the little primate and he'd continued screeching until Blair had let him out, fearing that he'd be arrested for loitering if he couldn't keep them from being detected.
The anthropologist had phoned several people whom he thought might be able to put them up for the night or at least take Larry in. Two had begged off with the same excuse as Jim - allergies, one was frightened that Larry could hurt their baby and another had simply laughed outright, snorted "Good one, Burg," into the phone and hung up.
He had no money for a motel room, as he had just paid a month's rent and bought two new textbooks and some beer to share with Jim as a thank you for lending him the video camera. His stomach grumbled loudly, reminding him that he'd only had a handful of popcorn before his world had blown up.
Finally, seeing that it was almost 1am, Blair had opted to settle into the car for the rest of the night. He knew he couldn't stay in front of the warehouse and he didn't want anyone to know that he'd been reduced to sleeping in his car, so he drove and parked just up the road a few blocks from the gate. He felt vaguely nauseous and shaky from his experience and didn't feel up to driving too far. If he kept the interior lights off and didn't start the engine, he figured he could avoid drawing attention to himself. Tomorrow he'd figure something out. His mother always said that things looked better in the light of day. Problem was Blair grumbled to himself as he shivered again, day was always followed by another long, cold night.
The following morning, he planned on taking Larry back to the lab at Rainier and then going to salvage what he could from the warehouse. Taking another glance back at the sleeping ape Blair decided that since he couldn't sleep, he might as well check out the warehouse now. He was concerned that his new textbooks were still lying in the rubble somewhere. He couldn't remember seeing them packed in any of the boxes in his car.
He sighed and rested his pounding head on the steering wheel briefly. He'd have to replace them if they were damaged. The cost of his naivete was beginning to mount up. Maybe he could see Phil and ask if the packing job at the market was still open. It didn't look as though he'd be busy with his research project anyway.
Opening the driver's side door, Blair froze as Larry snuffled and shifted in his warm nest of shirts and two dark eyes opened and stared drowsily up at him. "Shh," Blair whispered, leaning in to stroke the ape's back soothingly. "Go back to sleep, Larry. I won't be long." He smiled as Larry's eyes obediently closed. Clambering back out of the car, Blair made sure he locked the door, leaving the passenger side window slightly ajar then headed back to what was left of his home.
He opened the front door, pushing it back to lean drunkenly against the wall as it sagged away from its broken hinges then picked his way gingerly through the darkened interior of the warehouse. The building was silent save for the faint footsteps of what he assumed was an officer posted to guard the crime scene next door until morning. He tripped over an obstacle in his path and wished that he'd thought to bring a flashlight. In the almost pitch-black room he couldn't see a thing. He wished even more fervently that he'd brought Jim with him. With the detective's heightened senses, they would have made short work of the search.
Standing in the middle of his home, with wreckage crunching underfoot and no way of telling whether he was crushing trash or treasure, hearing the weakened framework of the warehouse creak in the wind, Blair felt very alone. A tear snaked unbidden down his dirty cheek and he wiped it away brusquely. Nothing to do but to move on.
His foot skidded suddenly on paper and he kneeled on the floor and brushed his hands in front of him until his questing fingertips found a thick book. Stroking his fingers over it, he could feel that a page was torn where he'd stepped on it but apart from that, it seemed intact. His spirits lifted as he felt around in a widening circle and encountered two more books and a photo in a frame.
Gathering his bounty into his arms, Blair stood and began to make his way slowly back to where he thought the front door was. A strong beam of light shone suddenly in his face, blinding him and he dropped his cargo and shielded his eyes.
"Hold it right there, kid," a deep voice ground out. "Put your hands up where I can see them."
Blair dropped his hands and held them out from his sides as he tried to squint past the light. "No. It's okay. It's me, Blair Sandburg. I live here."
"Sure you do, kid," the voice snorted. "I said put your hands up."
Blair did as he was ordered and continued to talk. "Really. I live here. Well, I did until last night when the drug lab blew up. Look, I work with Jim "
A huge shadow stepped forward blocking out what little moonlight had shone through the door. "Is that right? Turn around and face the wall."
"Wait " Blair reached into his pocket, fumbling for his ID, only to come up empty. "My ID. I must have dropped it somewhere."
He stepped toward the policeman, only realizing his mistake as a large hand reached out and grabbed a handful of his jacket, twisting him and pushing him face first into the wall behind him. He grunted in pain as his nose contacted the wall and he felt blood begin to run from his nostrils. He staggered as his hands were pressed against the wall and then his feet were kicked out until they were splayed widely. A meaty fist bunched in his hair, keeping him motionless as a second hand patted its way down his body.
Blair flinched at the searching hands, his head twisting to try to appeal to the cop behind him. "Wait! My ID!"
The fist grasping his hair pulled him back and Blair jerked away reflexively from the hold, crying out as his vision exploded into blinding red and white as his head hit the edge of a wooden beam. Something warm began to trickle down the side of his forehead and he blinked back the black spots that crawled across his sight.
"Shit! You all right, kid?"
The cop's voice held a note of concern and Blair's head was shifted slightly to the side and examined under the blinding glare of the flashlight. "Here." A large handkerchief was pushed into his hands and he pressed it up against the cut. "You were told to stay still, buddy," the officer admonished him. "You got something to say, you wait until I ask the questions. You okay?"
Blair nodded, regretting it instantly as the room suddenly tipped and he felt bile burn his throat. He felt the cold metal of handcuffs cinch snugly around his wrists. "Would you just call Jim "
"Outside." With that single instruction, Blair was turned around and pushed toward the doorway. He complied with the order, squinting past the glow of the officer's light and stumbling over unseen obstacles. He saw a second uniformed officer stalk up and grasp his other arm. Together the two men led him swiftly to the patrol car parked out on the street.
A faint squawk drew Blair's attention to his car and he could see Larry's small paw poking out through the small gap he'd left in the passenger window. "Larry!"
Shrugging away from the men's grip, he managed to pull free and staggered backward in the direction of his car, ignoring the officers' shouted orders to stop. He lost his balance and fell heavily to the ground, unable to use his cuffed hands to save himself. He landed with a bone-jarring thud that sent pain pulsing up through his shoulders and began to scramble back on his butt.
"Would you just let me explain?" he screamed, exhaustion and fear frittering away the last of his control. "My name is Blair Sandburg. I used to live here. I came back to get my things. I must have dropped my ID in the warehouse when it blew up. I'm a police observer with Cascade PD."
Both cops had stopped their advance and were watching him cautiously as he moved away from them. The lanky blond cop looked at his partner. "Where do you suppose he got the monkey from?"
The big cop shrugged. "He's probably high on something. Maybe he stole him from the zoo or a pet shop. He was here nosing around, maybe hoping there'd be some meth left in the warehouse, might have been in on the explosion. He had his arms loaded with booty when I ran into him."
"No." Blair managed to gain his footing and stood, swaying slightly as he faced the two men. Both rested their hands on the butts of their weapons at his movement. "I know I must look pretty dirty and all that but if you'll just call Detective Jim Ellison, he'll straighten all of this mess out."
"What happened to his face?"
"He tried to get away when I was patting him down. I'll get it checked out down at the station. I don't think it needs stitches."
"What do you think?"
The first cop scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Maybe he's telling the truth but I think I dont want to be hauled over the coals because I let a prime suspect get away. I'm taking him in. He'll get a phone call. He can call Ellison after he's processed, if he really knows him."
Before Blair could react, the first officer stepped forward and grabbed hold of his arm, pulling him up to his feet. "No more trouble, okay, son. It'll be easier on all of us if you just do what you're told." He led Blair toward the patrol car.
"What about my ape?" Blair said, turning a fretful face at the screeching Larry as he was pushed into the back seat.
"We'll take care of the ape," the cop said. You just worry about yourself." He turned back to his partner and tossed him Blair's keys. "Search his car, see what you can find."
The other man shook his head vehemently. "You are not getting me anywhere near that thing, man. No way!"
"We can't just leave it in the damn car, can we? Anyway, there might be evidence or something to prove the kid's story in there."
The second officer didn't look convinced and the first man sighed. "If it attacks you, shoot it," the first cop said quietly, climbing behind the wheel of the car and shooting Blair a quick, apologetic look. He started the car and sped away from the warehouse, sending a frantic Blair slamming backwards into the upholstery.
Blair shifted uncomfortably on the cold floor of the holding cell and lifted a finger to gingerly touch the cut on his head. He'd allowed the duty sergeant to get the cut checked and bandaged and had then been processed and shown to the desk to make a phone call. Just as he picked up the receiver, his memory flashed on Jim backing away from him at the warehouse, the detective's hands raised up as though to ward him off. Blair dropped the phone to the table as if it had burnt his fingers.
"Something wrong?" the booking officer asked. "Forgotten the number?"
Blair shook his head. "No. There's no one for me to call."
The officer eyed him curiously. "Patrolman Cates said you told him you were Detective Ellison's partner."
"I lied," Blair said. He realized now how stupid he'd been to go back into the warehouse alone and the last thing he needed was Jim's ire on top of his own embarrassment. It was time to start taking charge of his life and sorting out his own problems.
"You've got no wallet and no ID so you're still going to have to be held until we can establish your identity and they decide whether to book you."
Blair nodded. "That's fine," he whispered. As the cell door was opened, he looked up at the cop. "Could you find out where they took my ape?"
The officer nodded sympathetically. "I think they were taking him to a vet. I'll check."
Blair nodded his thanks and stepped into the cell, trying to ignore the openly hostile stares and embarrassing catcalls as he found a place to sit down. The cell was already full by the time he arrived and he moved quickly to the rear and slid down the wall, hunching himself into a ball and, resting his aching head on his knees, attempted to keep out both the cold and any curious stares.
He was still feeling decidedly shaky and his stomach rumbled loudly, protesting its empty state. The cut on his head stung from the antiseptic wiped over it and a pounding headache had taken up residence behind his eyes vying for attention with his aching shoulder. Nausea stole the hunger pangs as the stench of half a dozen unwashed bodies combined with the odor of old booze, vomit and urine assailed his nostrils. Blair wrapped his arms around his legs, closed his eyes and prayed for morning.
"Sandburg? What the hell "
Blair looked up in confusion, his drowsy eyes blinking rapidly in an attempt to dispel his blurred vision. He frowned as a dark blue uniform came striding toward him and a vaguely familiar face leaned toward him. "Officer Murray?" he croaked. He sighed, knowing he sounded pathetic.
Murray's broad hand patted his head lightly then cupped his chin to angle Blair's face toward the light. "You look like something the cat dragged in, Sandburg. You been on a bender?"
Blair shook his head muzzily, wincing as his headache flared to life. "Trespassing on my own property," he muttered. He broke off and swallowed hard around the lump that suddenly formed in his throat at the injustice of it all.
"I'll let Ellison know you're here," Murray said, standing up but Blair caught at his hand in a panic.
"No! I don't want Jim to know. I'll figure something out myself."
Murray regarded him doubtfully. "Are you sure?"
Blair's gaze drifted to the barred door of the cell and he closed his eyes briefly then nodded resolutely. "I'm sure."
Jim poured himself a cup of steaming coffee before making his way to his desk and sitting down. He rubbed at his reddened eyes. They were still smarting from the smoke caused by the explosion at Sandburg's warehouse. He wondered if the kid had found somewhere to stay and assumed he had, since he hadn't heard back from him. His memory flashed onto Blair's pale face, as he had desultorily picked through his smoke-damaged and waterlogged belongings, trying to decide what was worth keeping.
Shaking his head, Jim shifted his concentration to the forensic report in front of him. Hed tied up his interview with Gaines and Hollins and gotten precisely nothing, apart from a nagging sense that things were going to get worse before they got better. Maybe he could help Sandburg go through the warehouse again, help him get the rest of his things into storage. He could spring for lunch - the kid was probably hurting for cash until he sorted everything out.
A sudden thought occurred to him and he reached for the phone. Simon had left two uniformed officers guarding the crime scene, so that no evidence was disturbed and also to detract possible looters. The anthropologist had only been riding with Jim for a couple of months, the uniforms on duty wouldn't necessarily know who he was. He'd give Sandburg a call, tell him to wait until he got there before heading back to the warehouse. Then Jim could accompany him, smooth the way and make sure the ever-curious anthropologist didn't put his fingerprints on any evidence.
"Ellison." Simon's deep voice cut through Jim's thoughts and he stood and crossed to the captain's office when the other man beckoned him.
"Do you know where your partner is this morning, Detective?"
Jim shrugged unsure what his answer should be. "Partner, sir?"
Simon sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Sandburg. Your partner, ride-along, associate, whatever. Do you know where he is?"
Jim felt a rush of concern at Simon's words. "No, sir. Not exactly. He was going to find someone to take care of the monkey ape and then get a motel room for the night."
"Guess again, Jim," Simon said standing up and handing Jim a sheet of paper. "It seems Sandburg was arrested last night for looting, trespass and resisting arrest."
"What the hell! Why?"
Simon turned and poured coffee, offering a cup to Jim who waved it away. "I only have the bare bones here, Jim. He must've gone back to the warehouse and the uniforms watching the place found him there. The rest is vague. Something about him fighting them off when they tried to get him in the car. He's down in holding. Get down there and straighten this out, will you?"
Jim was already out the door and striding toward the elevator. Pressing the button for a lower floor he wondered what on earth had possessed Blair to return to the warehouse in the middle of the night. He sighed and shook his head. No good second-guessing the kid. He'd get the full story soon enough.
Some twenty minutes and a lot of shouting later, Jim waited impatiently at the booking desk for the sergeant to bring Blair out. Jim sucked in a gasp at Blair's rough appearance when the anthropologist finally shuffled out of the back room. Jim stepped forward and laid a hand on the younger man's shoulder, feeling tremors beneath his touch. "Jesus, Sandburg! What the hell happened?"
"Jim?" Blair looked up at him, his face still smudged with soot, dried blood crusting his nostrils and a small bandage covering a cut high on his forehead. "I'm so sorry," Blair whispered, his voice sounding hoarse. "It was all just a misunderstanding. Do you know where they took Larry? The poor little guy is probably frantic by now. He doesn't relate well to strangers, except for you. I've never seen him take to anybody like that before..."
Jim halted the verbal onslaught by the simple expediency of placing a hand over Blair's mouth. He shifted his hand to grasp a shaking shoulder and frowned. "Do you need a doctor? Looks like you got pretty roughed up here." He shot an angry glance at the desk sergeant that promised retribution.
Blair shook his head and almost keeled over. "I'm okay. It was just a misunderstanding. Do you know where Larry is, Jim?"
"I'll find out." Jim placed a supporting hand under Blair's arm, ostensibly to offer him support but also in order to use his senses to check the younger man out. Blair's heart rate was regular and his breathing was steadier than it had been when he'd first come out of the cell. He was too pale though and dark circles framed his eyes. "Let's just get you somewhere so you can rest first."
Blair nodded mutely and seemed content to allow Jim to lead him down the hallway. He balked when they got near the bullpen. "Please, Jim, not now. I don't want the guys to see me like this." He waved a hand over his filthy and rather smelly clothes. "Could you lend me enough for a motel room? I promise I'll pay you back at the end of the week. I can take a shower and go find Larry then I'll come back and help you with the case." He looked hopefully at the detective.
"Sure, buddy," Jim said, turning back the way they had come. "Let's go."
Blair had been silent on the way to the motel. Jim had tried to get the rest of the story from him, only to be told once more that it was a misunderstanding and that the cops were only doing their job. He sat now, staring listlessly out of the passenger window, his back to Jim. The detective glanced over quickly to see Blairs reflection in the passenger window as the first tears welled up in the young mans eyes and dribbled slowly down his cheeks. Jim watched feeling uncomfortable and a little guilty as Blair cried silently, his hands curled into fists at his side, his eyes never shifting from the moving vista outside the window.
"Hey." Jim reached out a hesitant hand, not knowing how to approach the upset man, unsure if Blair would want him to. He patted Blair's nearest leg awkwardly. "It's okay," Jim said, trying to keep his eyes on the road but not able to resist stealing a look at the heartbroken face beside him. "We'll work it out."
Blair sniffed then and reached up to wipe at his eyes with the palms of his hands. "Sorry," he whispered. "Stupid."
Jim shook his head. "Not stupid," he said. "You've been through a lot. You're probably a little shocky."
By the time Jim steered the truck up to the motel office, Blair was asleep, curled inward on himself, facing Jim, arms wrapped tightly about his body as though he were holding himself together. Dried tear tracks glistened on his face, cutting a white path through the grime and his eyelids were swollen and red. He looked as miserable as anyone Jim had ever seen. Coming to a decision, Jim put the truck into reverse and backed out onto the street.
Jim parked his truck outside his apartment and looked over thoughtfully at the sleeping man beside him. After a moment's indecision, the detective reached out and shook the nearest slumped shoulder. "Sandburg? Come on, Chief. We're here."
"Hmm?" Blair's eyes appeared to make a valiant effort to open, but then they drooped shut again and a soft snoring filled the cab.
Jim grinned a little then attempted to rouse Blair again. "Sandburg? Come on, Chief. There's no way I'm hauling you up those stairs, so rise and shine already."
A low grumble bubbled up from Blair's throat, but two blue eyes opened fractionally and he rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling of the cab for a brief dazed moment before looking over at Jim. "Where are we?" he croaked.
"My place." Jim kept the answer brief, unsure of how coherent the anthropologist was at this point. Opening his door, he climbed out and walked quickly around to help Blair out of the passenger side.
Jim's reply had apparently been enough information and Blair was silent for the remainder of the walk up to the loft. Leaning against the wall, his eyes drifted shut once more as Jim searched for his front door key. Mission accomplished, the detective steered the sleepy young man inside and led him to the couch.
"Stay here for a minute, Sandburg."
Blair nodded obediently, and allowed his body to sag against the back of the couch. Jim grimaced and tried not to think about the soot stain that was now marking his almost new couch. Satisfied that Blair wasn't about to go anywhere Jim hurried into the spare room and made up the small bed with fresh sheets and a spare comforter. He tracked into the bathroom for towels and first aid supplies then pulled the coffee table over and sat down on it facing his new roommate.
The cut on Blair's head looked superficial and had been closed with a butterfly bandage but the skin surrounding it was still smudged with soot and dirt. Dipping a corner of the towel into the tepid water in the bowl beside him, Jim gently cleaned around the wound and then wiped the damp cloth over the rest of Blair's face. As testament to the young man's utter exhaustion, Blair didn't even stir.
Medic duty taken care of, Jim hurried upstairs and found a serviceable pair of sweat pants and one of his old PD sweat shirts and after a great deal of effort managed to drag Blair up and get him moving mostly under his own steam into the spare bedroom. He finally got the limp body stripped off and redressed in the overly large but dry, clean clothes.
He frowned at the dark bruising marring Blair's left collarbone and realized he had probably caused the injury himself when he'd pushed Blair to the floor as the warehouse had exploded. Running sensitive fingers along the thin bone, Jim was relieved to discover that there were no fractures though the bruising looked painful enough.
He gently tousled Blair's curly head. "Better bruised than dead, huh, Chief?"
He grinned widely as Blair muttered an unconscious affirmative and rolled over to his side with a soft sound of pleasure.
Leaving the sleeping man to a deep slumber, Jim went back out to the kitchen and picked up the phone. As he dialed, he grabbed a trash bag and threw Blair's smoke-filled, dirty clothes into it and tied off the top. After a few minutes, Jim's call was answered. "Henri? Jim. Look, I need you to do me a favor."
Jim passed the time waiting on Henri's arrival by phoning Simon and catching up on the evidence still coming in from the warehouse explosion. Gaines was out trying to get information from one of the gangs suspected of being involved and had told Simon he'd be in touch if he discovered anything new. A knock on the door got Jim's attention and he quickly signed off after telling Simon he'd be in soon.
Jim couldn't hold back his smile as he opened the door to come face to face with a nervous Henri Brown clutching an equally upset Larry at arms-length. "He's all yours, Jim," Henri said, depositing the squealing ape into Jim's arms.
Larry chittered sorrowfully then scampered up Jim's chest to wrap his arms around the detective's neck. "Thanks, H. I owe you one," Jim replied as he tried unsuccessfully to peel Larry's fingers from their painful hold in what was left of his hair.
"You're right there, my man," Henri agreed, shaking his head. "I'll give you the dry-cleaning bill for my car seats later."
"Why didn't you put him in his cage?" Jim asked as he took Larry's little house from Henri's other hand.
"He tried to bite me every time I tried to put him in there, man," Henri answered. "I figured if I still want to play the piano, I should take the hint."
"Okay, H. I'll see you later."
"He's fine, just a little shook up."
"Hey, I don't blame him. Look, Jim, tell him if he needs a place to crash for a few nights to give me a call. I got a spare room."
Jim felt a rare sense of guilt wash over him. Despite the benefits he was receiving from Blair's help with his senses, he hadn't been prepared to offer the kid a place to stay. Looked like Sandburg had made more friends than he realized.
Jim smiled. "Thanks. I'm going to let him stay here until he gets back on his feet but I'll let him know you offered."
Henri waved and then smiled nervously at Larry before he turned and left. Shutting the front door, Jim sat Larry on an old towel on the couch then stood back and observed the suddenly silent ape.
"You be a good boy and I'll let you watch TV, okay?" He shook his head as he realized he was waiting for Larry to reply. He switched on the television and found a suitably violent gangster movie then went to the kitchen and made a cup of coffee before seating himself next to a mesmerised Larry.
Jim didn't know long it had been since he'd drifted off into a light doze, his hearing dialed up and firmly focused on the spare bedroom. A soft mutter and shifting of bedclothes alerted him to Blair's slow awakening and he stood and stretched the kinks from his back before heading into the kitchen to pull a can of soup from the cupboard. He doubted Blair had had a chance to eat or drink anything since the night before. Pausing for a moment and deciding that comfort food was in order, Jim pulled a couple of slices of bread and some cheese from the refrigerator and set about making grilled sandwiches for lunch.
Something warm and wet tickled at his nose and Blair lifted a heavy hand and tried to swat it away. His action caused a loud screech from somewhere above him and he shot up into a seated position and looked around him in confusion. Larry sat on the back of a chair on the other side of the small room, glaring at him balefully. "Larry? Oh, I'm sorry. Come here." Blair beckoned to the Barbary ape and it scampered quickly over to him, burrowing up under his chin with undisguised pleasure.
"Sleeping Beauty awakes."
Blair looked up as Jim pushed aside the curtain at the doorway and stepped into the room, holding a mug of steaming liquid. "Jim? Where am I?"
"My place," Jim replied, handing him the mug and taking Larry from him. He put the ape into the cage at the foot of the bed and then sat down on the chair. "You fell asleep in the truck so I brought you back here. I tracked down Larry, got Henri to pick him up." He shrugged as though that explained everything.
"You need somewhere to go," Jim answered. "Look, Sandburg, I know you said that this deal is a two way street but I can't help thinking that I'm getting the lion's share of the advantages here. Not to mention the extra work that you put in at the station, unpaid. Let's just call it payment for going above and beyond the call, all right?"
Blair nodded slowly. "I'll pay you back," he said slowly. "I'll keep a tab. And I promise you one week and I'll be out of here. Just as soon as my project is finished and I can take Larry back." He had a sudden worrying thought. "What about your allergies?"
"I'll live." Jim stood and walked to the door as the phone rang. "Drink your soup," he ordered. "I'll bring you a sandwich."
Blair nodded and sipped at the flavorsome liquid, closing his eyes in bliss. He reached one hand up to touch his head where he'd banged it the night before and felt the bandage covering the tender spot. Looking down, he saw he was wearing an oversized Cascade PD sweatshirt and soft gray sweat pants but instead of feeling embarrassed by the thought that Jim had washed and dressed him, he felt a warmth that radiated outward from his heart.
He looked up as Jim poked his head through the curtain. "You okay here for a while, Chief? Antoine Hollins has just been shot. I've got to go in."
Blair placed the mug on the bedside table and pulled off the covers. "Give me a minute. I'll come with you."
Jim shook his head. "No need, Chief. I'll be back in an hour or so. Get the monkey ape settled, all right. If he keeps up with that screeching, he'll be out on the street."
Blair smiled. "He'll settle down, Jim," he assured the other man. "He's just getting used to the place. He already likes you. I can tell."
Jim grimaced. "Whatever. I'll see you in an hour."
Blair stood in the middle of the wrecked remains of Jim's living room and sighed. His relief at keeping Earl's grandmother safe had been short-lived with a phone call from Animal Control saying that Larry had been found back at Jim's apartment.
The room was a mess, fruit and something that smelled suspiciously like Blair's algae shake had been trampled into the couch cushions and the rug. Numerous small knick-knacks lay broken on the ground amongst the remains of the textbooks that Blair had returned to the warehouse for on that first eventful night.
Blair bent down and picked up a small photo, its frame bent out of shape and the glass cracked. Hearing Jim's key turn in the lock, he made up his mind and placed the photo on the coffee table and headed for the spare room. When he came out with his backpack in one hand and his duffel slung over his shoulder, Jim was unloading several sacks of groceries and cleaning paraphernalia onto the kitchen counter. Blair stood uncertainly in the doorway of the spare room before hesitantly stepping forward.
"Going somewhere?" Jim's tone was casual and he didn't look up from his task of sorting through the shopping bags.
"I figured it was for the best," Blair said. "I promised I'd only stay for a week anyway but now " His voice trailed off as he surveyed the damage wreaked by 'Hurricane Larry.'
"So, that's how you're going to repay me," Jim said. "Walk out and just leave me with the mess."
"What? No!" Blair's eyes bulged in surprise at the comment. "I'll finish cleaning up before I go, of course. I just Jim, I'm sorry. I'll replace everything as soon as I can. I might have to do it a little at a time but I swear "
"Can you afford to pay rent?" Jim asked as he walked past and began to spray the couch cushions with cleaner. He sneezed violently three times and then his eyes began to water. Blair was instantly at his side.
"Dial it down, man," he said. "Let me do this." He pushed Jim toward the kitchen and began to scrub earnestly at the cushions. "Now, what oh, right. Well, I was paying rent for the warehouse but I'll need to look around a little to find something that'll take apes but I should be able to pick something up eventually. I'll be fine."
Jim nodded as he wiped his eyes with a tissue. "Good, and you take your turn at cooking and laundry and " he pointed at the sofa, "cleaning. I've got a few house rules but if you can live with that, you've got yourself a home."
Blair stood and stared at Jim. "You mean it?" he asked slowly. "I can stay here. After this?"
Jim shrugged. "I guess I've gotten used to having you around," he replied gruffly. "You're a pretty good cook. It's been nice to have someone to watch the Jags with," he conceded.
He held up a hand as a smile lit up Blair's face. "Before you think you're on easy street here, house rule number 1 - no sex in the loft, number 2 - no parties, number 3 - no flushing the toilet after 10 o'clock, number 4 -," Jim paused as Blair's smile grew impossibly wider. "Why are you just standing there?" He indicated the couch. "Scrub, Sandburg, scrub. Oh yeah, and here's the biggie - no animals, Sandburg "
April 18th, 2002.
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