By Lisa Adolf & Lyn
Blair Sandburg sagged back against the door to the loft, savouring its coolness against his fevered body.
Mission accomplished, he thought wearily, trying to work up the energy to push himself away from the door, which was all that was holding him up. He felt like shit and looked like it too, he knew. He felt grubby and wanted desperately to shower and wash his hair, but he wasn't sure he could stand upright long enough to accomplish that mission.
He didn't want Jim coming home to find him languishing in the bottom of the tub. It had been hard enough to get Jim to venture out of the loft and to the Major Crimes New Year's Eve party; the last thing Blair cared to hear in his weakened state was a Blessed Protector's smug, "I told you so!"
He'd been sick since before Christmas, laid low by a rip-roaring version of the flu that was currently making the rounds in Cascade. Half of his students had seemed to come down with it just in time for finals, when none of them could afford stay home until they were less contagious. God alone knew how many microbes had crawled onto the essay tests the bedraggled collegians had handed in; there had certainly been enough coughing, sneezing and sniffling going on to render the blue books a definite bio-hazard.
Damn thing had started out innocuously enough. A slight fever and sore throat had slipped in under the radar soon after he'd posted grades, and he'd ended up dragging himself through the pre-Yule week feeling worse with each passing day. Still, he'd manfully tried to keep up with Jim to make up for all the time he'd been forced to spend away from his Sentinel's side during the hectic last weeks of the term. One too many stake-outs on nights colder than Cascade had experienced in the last five years had been the coup de grace. He had blossomed out into full-fledged influenza on the night before Christmas Eve, so out of it with fever, coughing and body aches that it had been all he could do to collapse on his bed and lapse into unconsciousness.
Jim had been alarmed enough that he'd taken him to the ER, for all the good that had done. Sandburg was sure he'd caught a further chill waiting in the cold examination room for a doctor to show up. Jim should have listened to him. Blair knew only too well he had a virus, and there was little to be done but ride it out and keep hydrated. The flu and colds were occupational hazards when you were a teaching fellow with a full course load, who was also committed to spending all available non-teaching time as guide to a sentinel. Never mind working on a dissertation. Breaks between quarters were really the only opportunity available to give over to the rampant bugs and try to get them out of your system, hopefully in time for the next term and for peace on earth and good will to men to wear off, and the criminals to hit their stride again.
As a consequence of the ER visit, they'd missed the Christmas party that Joel Taggart had hosted for the Major Crimes gang. Blair hadn't cared so much for himself-he was really too done in with the flu bug to feel any holiday spirit-but he had regretted that his physical weakness had robbed Jim of the chance to relax. Jim had suffered from a heavier-than-usual caseload these past few weeks and had definitely deserved better than to play nursemaid to his roommate. Which he did with annoying dedication during the week before New Year.
Jim had wrangled the time off, and the plan had been to get out of town, do some skiing up at Alpental Ski Resort in the Cascades-or at least keep an eye out for beautiful women while sitting by the fireside at the lodge. Instead, for the last seven days, during which Sandburg had been flat on his back and pretty much out of it-and in spite of Blair's pleas that Ellison hit the slopes without him-Jim had been performing his best imitation of Florence Nightingale.
Which was one reason Sandburg had been determined to see Jim off to the New Year's Eve party. He was overdue for a little relaxation. And besides, sick as Blair was, he wanted nothing more than to be left alone, to live or die, whichever the fates proclaimed, without a hovering sentinel at his bedside.
Blair pushed off the door, hoping that he had sufficient momentum to stagger into his room and onto his bed without exerting energy he simply didn't have any more. He'd used his last reserves pretending to be better in an effort to get Jim out the door. It had been an Oscar-winning performance, damn it, and had left him feeling worse than ever. He had actually made it to the futon, sinking bonelessly onto it, already too out of it to pull his covers up around his fevered body.
Jim Ellison shifted from one foot to the other, frowning intently at the glass of punch-from the non-spiked bowl-he was gripping in his right hand. If he didn't loosen up, the stemware was going to shatter in his vise-like grip.
"Ellison! Where's Hairboy?" Henri Brown boomed his voice in order to be heard over the noise of the party, never realizing how unnecessary that consideration was in the sentinel's case. "Don't tell me he's still sick?" He walked over to stand in front of Ellison, his dark eyes sympathetic.
"Yeah, Brown," Jim replied morosely, as he forced himself to relax. "He's still pretty sick. He gave a great performance to convince me otherwise to get me to come here tonight. But I know better."
"What do the doctors say about what he's got? Can't they put him on antibiotics?" Henri questioned.
"Nope, he's got what's going around, and it's viral. Antibiotics wouldn't help and overusing them could result in them not being as effective the next time they are needed." Jim tried and failed to repress a sigh.
"How about his natural remedies?" Joel Taggart had joined them now; he apparently had been eavesdropping, possibly since Henri's overly loud query about Sandburg's whereabouts.
"He's been too sick to whip any up, frankly. I picked up a little bit of plant lore those months in Peru, and I've done what I feel confident about with his algae and herbs, but they aren't helping either," Jim replied, casting a forlorn glance in Joel's direction.
"Poor kid." Rafe's voice preceded his joining the circle. "Nobody should be sick over the holidays."
Vaguely, Jim became aware that the volume of the party had subdued significantly and that several other partygoers had joined the group and now murmured in agreement with Rafe's observation.
"I'm surprised you came tonight, Jim. I'd just gotten done telling everyone not to expect you when you walked in." Simon's deep voice and towering presence made themselves known.
"Sandburg was wasting so much energy convincing me to get out of the loft for a while that giving in seemed the better part of valor. I thought I'd put in an appearance then get back home. Really don't feel right leaving him all alone in his condition." Jim shifted his gaze to meet Banks'.
Simon waved a hand toward the door. "So, go already. Better than hanging around here looking like a Sad Sack."
Jim grabbed the offer gratefully. "You sure you don't mind? I mean, I know he's not at death's door or anything, but-"
"Go!" Simon made it sound like an order. "Tell the kid I hope he feels better soon."
He was sure he was going to die. Actually, death was looking like a fairly attractive option right now. Blair cracked open gummy eyelids, wincing as the overhead light pierced right through to his brain. His stomach did a slow roll, and he groaned and flopped to his side, massaging his belly. It wasn't fair, he decided. New Year's Eve, and everyone was out having a great time while he was lying in bed, too sick to even bother watching the ball drop on TV. Sometimes, life really sucked.
His throat was scratchy, and he needed a drink. If Jim had been here, all he'd have to do was clear his throat and, almost instantly, a cool glass of juice would have been pressed into his hand. But Jim wasn't here; he was out having a good time-and damn, the kitchen looked a long way away.
Well, the juice wasn't going to come to him. He finally managed to convince his body to move, sat up and then rested his head on his knees, taking slow, deep breaths while the room did a slow loop-de-loop. Finally, he forced himself upright, groaning as the muscles in his body protested the action, and began to stagger in the direction of the kitchen.
He was almost to his salvation when a knock sounded at the door. He thought of ignoring it for a moment, too exhausted to deal with a bright-eyed salesman or a cheery neighbour wanting to wish the best for the New Year. He sagged against the kitchen counter, his head pounding a counter-rhythm with his heart. Go away! he ordered miserably. Not tonight.
"Detective Ellison? Mr. Sandburg? Are you there?" Mrs. May's quavering voice called out. Another frantic pounding sounded at the door, sending Blair's headache to newer, excruciating heights.
"It's Blair here, Mrs. May," Blair called back, cursing himself for admitting his presence. "It's not a good time. I have the flu. Wouldn't want you to catch it."
"Is Detective Ellison there?" Mrs. May, it seemed, was not going to be put off.
"No, he's out." Just go away, Blair thought then felt ashamed. Mrs. May was a kind, sweet old lady who lived a floor down. She'd adopted Jim and Blair as the sons she'd never had, delivering home-baked cookies and casseroles to them on a regular basis. "Is there a problem?"
"It's the elevator again, Mr. Sandburg. The doors are stuck, and someone is in there, moaning in pain and crying. Detective Ellison is so good with that cursed piece of machinery. I keep telling the management company they either need to fix the thing or condemn it. They keep hanging up on me when I call about it."
Blair heaved a huge sigh-one that nearly depleted his lungs of all their air. Black dots swam before his eyes for a few moments, until he inhaled as big a lungful of air as he could. Bad move-that sent him into a coughing fit.
The building elevator had long been the bane of everyone's existence, out of commission more often than not. Regular residents had learned to avoid the stupid thing. Ever since he'd been trapped several months back in Wilkenson Tower's elevator with a bomb, Blair had taken to avoiding such conveyances as much as he could. The only time he willingly crawled into one of them was at Cascade PD HQ, and only then if Jim happened to be coming aboard himself. Otherwise, he stuck to the stairs. Nothing like stairs for cardio vascular exercise, after all.
"Have you tried calling 9-1-1, Mrs. May?" Blair was finally able to gather back enough breath to talk. Raising his voice to make himself heard was taking too much energy, but what could he do?
"With it being New Year's Eve, Mr. Sandburg, they aren't promising responses to anything less than a major catastrophe. Whoever is in that thing needs help!"
"Just a second." Blair forced himself forward, unlatched the refrigerator door and grabbed a bottle of juice. Taking a fortifying swig, he wiped his mouth and resolutely propelled himself towards the front door. "I'm coming ."
He only hoped his wobbly legs would carry him that far.
Joel walked over to where Simon stood, the tall captain apparently lost in thought.
The party had carried on in the wake of Ellison's leaving, but at a far more subdued level than before. Something had been off about the party ever since it began. Joel was not taking that fact personally; in fact, he had a pretty good idea why the bash was something less than a resounding success.
Sandburg hadn't been there.
In the 18 months or so that Blair had been part of Major Crimes as Jim Ellison's surprising choice of partner, the young man had not only more than proven his worth as a "consultant", he'd managed to endear himself to the Major Crimes detectives and staff. There were still those in the PD at large who looked askance at the long-haired, unconventional grad student, and there was the usual flow of snide remarks making their way back along the department grapevine, but those who knew him best would readily admit that when the hyperactive anthropologist was around, tempers were more settled, work flowed more smoothly, and there was never a lack of interesting and educational conversation. At parties, Sandburg was often the belle of the ball-if anyone sporting that much five o'clock shadow so early in the day could be considered the belle of anything-people gravitated into his company. When Joel had first heard that the young man was sick, he'd almost called off the New Year's party completely; it hadn't seemed right to forge ahead with the plans with the kid so sick. It was only at Blair's own urging that they'd decided to carry on.
"Something wrong, Simon?" Joel asked after he'd stood next to Banks for a full two minutes without the other man's acknowledging his presence. "Worried about Blair too?"
The question seemed to startle Simon out of his reverie, as intended. Joel smiled at the look of dyspeptic chagrin that crossed Banks's features. Taggart would bet any amount of money that Simon had been worrying over Ellison's partner as much as Jim was. The big captain would never admit it, but he had a soft spot a mile wide for Sandburg, and covered it up with fierce gruffness. Joel had known Banks long enough to know what that meant.
"Worried about the effectiveness of my team, more like. Jim's so worn out and distracted with the kid being sick, he's going to need a week of vacation just to get his head on straight again. That's going to send his solve rate into the crapper, which means the Chief will be on my butt ."
Joel chuckled softly. "Well, I had no idea that you considered Sandburg so integral to the team, Simon. You should tell him that sometime. You've got him believing that act of yours. He thinks you hate him."
Banks's features warred with themselves, split between stormy denial and being stricken with something close to guilt at Taggart's bold comment. "I don't hate him. Too strong a word. He just irritates me, rubs me the wrong way." Banks defended. "And it is not an act."
"Yeah, like Darryl 'irritates' you when he stays out too late. Don't worry, Simon; your secret is safe with me." Joel smiled, miming locking his lips and tossing away the key.
"Hey, Simon?" Henri Brown's voice drifted into their consciousness, the affable detective coming close, Rafe in his wake. "You think Sandburg might be worse than Jim is letting on? Rafe and I were thinking that we should check on him. Maybe spell Jim for a while-he's really looking ragged. Bet he hasn't had a good night's sleep since Hairboy got sick."
"I don't know ." Simon frowned. "Didn't sound like Sandburg's exactly up for visitors."
"Hell, we all know that it hardly seems like New Year's Eve without Sandburg lecturing us on the cultural significance of marking the passing of the old year. We wouldn't be going expecting him to entertain us-just provide some support where it looks like it's needed," Henri persisted.
"I was thinking of picking up some hot and sour soup at Wong Yee's; Sandburg swears it's medicinal burns a fever right out of you. Fight fire with fire. I bet Ellison hasn't even thought of that," Rafe volunteered.
"It's Joel's party. I'd say it is up to him," Simon responded, his expression still skeptical.
"Then I say we load up some of the food, shoo the rest of guests out of here and get going!" Joel beamed.
Blair stared at the closed doors of the elevator, trying to marshal his fuzzy thoughts into some coherency. He could vaguely hear soft moans coming from within the car, which meant it was probably not far down from where he stood. The intercom on the wall buzzed, and he reached out and pressed the button. "This is Blair. Are you hurt?"
"I'm David Marshall," a breathless male voice replied. "I think I think Kathy's in labor."
The name wasn't familiar. Blair looked at Mrs. May, who nodded. "That's the sweet young couple who moved in a month or so ago. She's pregnant with her first baby. Must be close to delivery, I'd say."
Oh boy! Blair pressed the intercom button again. "I need you to stay calm, Mr. Marshall," he said. "I-" His words were ambushed by a coughing fit that had him whooping for breath and brought tears to his eyes.
Mrs. May patted his back. "You should be in bed," she admonished.
Blair tried not to roll his eyes. He gripped the edges of the doors with his fingers and tried to pull them apart, but they wouldn't budge. Even that small effort exhausted him. "Must be stuck between floors," he panted. "The doors have a safety mechanism so they can't be opened unless they're level with the floor." He spoke into the intercom again. "Mr. Marshall, do you know how far advanced your wife's labor is?"
"It's our first," Marshall replied, sounding panicked. "She's in so much pain. Please, get us out!"
"What will we do?" Mrs. May asked, wringing her hands. "We can't leave the poor woman down there."
Blair thought a moment. "I think I can access the top of the elevator from the roof. There's a maintenance shed up there." He closed his eyes briefly, wondering what the hell he was thinking. He could barely stand up, let alone climb down to an elevator stuck in a shaft God-knew-how-far-down.
Kathy moaned again in pain, and the sound galvanized him into action. Taking Mrs. May's arm, he led her toward the loft and pushed the door open. "Jim's cell phone number is on a list on the fridge. I'm going to go up to the roof and see if I can get in. I need you to call Jim and tell him to get here as fast as he can. Try phoning for an ambulance too."
Mrs. May didn't look convinced. "Maybe we should wait for Detective Ellison," she said. She reached up and felt Blair's forehead with her hand. "You have a fever, dear."
"We don't know how long it'll take Jim to get here," Blair said. "And I have no idea how long it'll be before Kathy gives birth. I don't think she should do that in an elevator."
"All right. Be careful." Mrs. May patted his arm and headed into the apartment.
He never remembered the stairs to the roof being this steep. Blair had to stop once to catch his breath, and, when he finally got to the top and stepped out onto the roof, the cold night air had him doubled up coughing once more. He shivered, wrapping his arms about his chest, wishing he'd thought to grab a jacket first. He made his way quickly to where the tiny shed concealed the entrance to the elevator shaft. Bending, he managed to pull the hatch open with some difficulty, and stared down into the yawning darkness below. Fear gripped him. Maybe he should wait for Jim.
A high-pitched scream echoed from the elevator car. He grabbed hold of the handrails of the ladder that descended into the dark and stepped down.
Jim tapped his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel. As expected, the traffic was congested with people on their way to parties and celebrations. His phone rang, and he pulled it from his pocket, surprised to see the loft's number on the phone ID. "Ellison. What's up, Chief?"
"Detective Ellison, this is Ida May," a quavery voice said.
"Mrs. May? What's wrong? Is Blair all right?" Jim's stomach clenched. He knew he shouldn't have left Sandburg on his own.
"The elevator's stuck, and young Kathy Marshall's in there in labour," the old woman said breathlessly. "Mr. Sandburg's gone up to the roof to try to get down to her."
"He what?" Jim reached under the dash, pulled out the mars light, and switched it on.
"I know," Mrs. May sighed. "He didn't look at all well. Can you come home?"
"On my way." Jim didn't wait for a response. He tossed the phone onto the seat beside him and weaved his way through the traffic.
Blair paused in his descent into the elevator shaft, clinging to the ladder as a wave of dizziness threatened to suck him down off his perch. He'd never considered that it was possible to feel vertigo in near total darkness, but he'd just experienced the proof. Carefully inhaling so as not to set off another coughing fit, he shook his head to clear it and gingerly made his way further down the ladder.
There was no way in hell he should be here, doing what he was. He should be tucked into his bed under at least 20 blankets, waiting for either his fever to break or the grim reaper to come to claim him from his misery. Instead he was playing the hero. First thing he was going to do-if he survived this fool's errand-was to clock Jim Ellison a good one. Damned G.I. Joe Super Cop Sentinel had rubbed off on him too damn much. In his former strictly academic life, he'd never been called upon to put his physical safety at risk so regularly. But then, he really wouldn't want to go back to that staid existence, would he? Once he'd had a whirl on this merry-go-round?
Another high-pitched scream interrupted his thoughts and reminded him that there was a helpless woman in dire straits, possibly giving birth at this very minute to a tiny innocent soul. The essence of being a hero was, after all, doing what needed to be done when it needed to be done, and in spite of your own discomforts or fears. There was no one else here to step up to the plate right now-he had to act.
He was only a couple of yards above the stuck elevator car now-he could make out the soft light of the car's interior filtering up through the latticed ceiling panel. He'd just need to ease on to the top of the car, lift the panel and shimmy down into the car. What he'd do when he got there, he wasn't going to think too much about. He'd witnessed a birth or two in his 28 years at the string of communes Naomi and he had called home in his childhood. He'd even gotten special dispensation once to attend a birth while on a field study in Irian Jaya. But he'd never been asked to aid a woman in delivering a child himself. Hopefully, it wouldn't come to that now.
He'd try to get Kathy calmed down, get her into a light meditative state and urge her to do her breathing exercises. With any luck, Jim or the ambulance would arrive before things progressed any further.
Blair knew he was in trouble when, as he carefully extended his left foot down to feel for the next rung on the ladder, the crossbar gave a loud creak and broke away. If he'd been in the bloom of health, he'd have had no trouble hanging on. But his palms were sweaty, his arm muscles were screaming and cramping from the effort of making the descent in his weakened condition .
He was falling, down through the darkness and toward the patch of filtered light. He felt the impact of his body on the top of the car, what oxygen remaining in his beleaguered lungs forced out of him. His last conscious thought was that it could have been worse-he'd only fallen maybe six feet max. That should be survivable, right? He would have done an injury inventory, but a new and deeper blackness closed up around him, and he knew nothing more.
Jim tried desperately not to think too much as he skidded around corners and dodged traffic. He was only a block or two from the loft now; he'd be there in a matter of minutes. Hopefully, Blair would have come to his senses, realized he was in no shape to tackle a climb down into the elevator shaft .
Damn! He'd been ragging at the building managers to replace the padlock that normally would have kept anyone from entering the small maintenance shed and accessing the shaft. The original lock had disappeared the last time a crew had come to ostensibly fix the troublesome lift. They'd promised to do it, but somehow, in his heart, Ellison knew that they hadn't. That Blair, sick as he was, had probably encountered no obstacles on his foolhardy mission of mercy.
He was going to kill his guide. That was all there was to it. Sandburg had no business being out of the loft doing anything-he shouldn't be out of bed, period! One of the only reasons that Jim had left to make an appearance at Joel's party was because Blair had promised he wouldn't try to go any farther than the bathroom, and only then to attend to necessary business.
Images of Blair collapsed on the roof in the cold or lying brokenly at the bottom of the elevator shaft flashed before the Sentinel's eyes. The urge to kill was replaced by a sense of overwhelming failure and guilt. He should never have allowed himself to be convinced to leave his guide alone for a moment. Not in the shape he'd been in. If he was going to kill Sandburg, he might as well plan on offing himself next. There was no way that Blair, no matter how sick he was, would ignore a call for help like that. If Jim had just stayed at home where he should have been all along .
Inside the elevator, David Marshall was so fixated on the look of agony on his beloved wife's face, that he only registered the thump above his head peripherally. When the elevator car lurched and dropped a foot, his attention was swept away from his spouse and fixed on the motion. He was panicked for a moment, before remembering that this wasn't a high rise, and yes, the car had stopped after that initial drop. In fact, the car was making that dinging noise it did when the doors were about to open.
"Hold on, Kathy, we'll be out of here in just a second." He turned his attention back to his straining wife, who was frantically puffing in the middle of a contraction as they'd been taught to do in Lamaze class. "That's it, honey, just do your breathing."
The door didn't open immediately, and David's heart lurched with the fear that what he had considered salvation was, in fact, just another complication. His panic was assuaged when strong, slim fingers appeared in the seam of the elevator doors, followed by a muscular arm, and then the entire body of a large, strongly built man with startlingly intense blue eyes appeared between the now open halves of the door. David recognized him as the big cop who lived on the third floor. They'd never actually met, but Marshall had seen his new neighbor entering and leaving the building a time or two, and knew of his reputation around the building.
The big cop was cocking his head slightly and smiling as he crouched down next to them.
"Ambulance is almost here, folks." Detective Jim Ellison was speaking now, and David found himself relaxing at the big man's softly spoken words. His icy-blue eyes were obviously taking in Kathy's breathing and general aspect, and he spoke again. "You're doing fine; your baby is just fine. The paramedics will be here in a minute. Keep on with the breathing. That's it. Everything is going to be just fine."
Kathy was relaxing appreciably under the gently soothing tones of their neighbor. And true to his assurances, David could hear the bustle of more bodies outside the elevator car and the crackle of walkie-talkies.
Ellison faded back into the background as the paramedics eased into the car and tended to Kathy. David hovered around his wife for a moment, then vacated the car, stepping out into the lobby at their insistence for more manoeuvring room. He watched as they carefully edged a gurney into the car and lifted her onto it.
"Mr. Marshall?" David's attention was snagged away from his wife and the paramedics by the touch of a hand on his arm, and that same softly reassuring voice that had been so calming a few minutes earlier. "The elevator was caught between the floors, I was told, but when I got here, it was seated in place, and the doors were just hanging up a bit. Can you tell me-did the controls finally begin to work, or "
Marshall's mouth was dry and the words he wanted to form took a moment to come together. "No, I heard something on the top of the car. Like an impact or something, then the car dropped a foot or two, the door chimed then you broke through. I guess Blair must have gotten something working again; he said he was going to try."
"Did you just say you heard an impact? Like a hammer striking a gear or something else?" Ellison's eyes were intently boring into David's, demanding an answer even as his voice remained steady, never raising even a half an octave.
"No, more like something hit the roof of the car. Not a sharp metallic clang, more like a sandbag being dropped or something like that. I'm sorry, Detective Ellison, I've got to go with my wife now " David replied, his own voice taking on a pleading tone, as Kathy was wheeled by him and towards the doors of 852 Prospect.
David Marshall ran to catch up as Ellison nodded and stepped back. He could see the concern on the cop's face, but he had no time to stop and offer comforting words. He had to get into the ambulance with Kathy.
The second the car was empty. Jim stepped inside and looked up. There was a slight darkness at one edge of the covered vent, and dialling up his sight, Jim was certain he could make out the shadow of curly hair.
"Blair!" he called out, but there was no response. "Damn it, Chief," Jim muttered. He extended his hearing, relieved to hear a rhythmic though rapid heartbeat above him, but he was concerned by the labored, wheezing breaths of his partner. "Sandburg!" he called again.
"Jim?" Blair's voice was barely there.
There was a sound of shuffling, followed Blair's panicked gasp.
"No, Chief!" Jim ordered. "Stay completely still. I'm going to come up and get you."
"Gonna fall-" Blair whispered. His words were cut off by a round of violent coughing, and Jim stiffened, terrified the movement of Blair's body could cause him to fall from the car.
"You're not gonna fall," Jim said, sounding calmer than he felt. "I'm coming to get you."
"Jim? What the hell's going on?"
Jim turned at the sound of Simon's incredulous voice and saw his captain standing in the hallway, accompanied by Rafe and Brown, with a food-laden Joel bringing up the rear. "Blair decided to play Sir Galahad, sir, and ride to the rescue of a damsel in distress."
"Say what?" H said, a puzzled look on his face. He glanced at Rafe, who just shrugged, and Jim wondered for a brief moment if he was speaking in some foreign tongue. Above him, he heard Blair moan again and knew this was no time for joking, even if it felt like he was in some weird dream.
"Elevator got stuck between floors," Jim said. "There was a lady in here in labor. Blair decided to climb down the shaft to try to get to her, but he fell somehow ." Blair muttered something incomprehensible, catching his attention once more. He raised his voice. "Just lay still, Chief. Help's here.
"Simon, would you give me a leg up?" Jim asked.
Simon stepped into the car, shaking his head. "Only Sandburg ."
"Wouldn't it be better to climb down from the roof?" Joel suggested. "Bring him back up the ladder."
"I don't know how badly he's hurt," Jim replied, lifting his foot and resting it the cupped palms of Simon's hands. "He may not be able to climb back up under his own steam. H, you and Rafe get ready. I'm gonna try to hand him down to you."
The two men nodded and crowded in beside Simon. It was going to be a tough call to manhandle Sandburg down into the cramped space as well, but there was nothing to be achieved by worrying about smaller details. Jim hefted himself up and grabbed hold of the lip of the vent. It took a couple of pushes to get the removable tile open. He wanted to make sure he didn't jostle or startle Blair unnecessarily. Finally the lid was pushed away, and he was able to stick his head and shoulders through the opening.
Blair was laying face down, his head facing toward Jim, but his face partly obscured by his hair. What Jim could see of his features were pale, his expression dazed, his mouth lax. A large lump had blossomed above one eye.
Jim strained, listening carefully for the sounds of bone grinding on bone, feeling, even though he wasn't actually touching his guide, heat associated with bruising and lingering fever, but detecting nothing more serious. He had never hoped more fervently that his perceptions were right; if Sandburg had a spinal injury, removing him from his precarious perch could have life-altering consequences. Blair moved slightly, fingers twitching on the hand nearest Jim and legs moving a fraction. Jim heaved a small sigh of relief. Those small, restless movements were good. Sandburg hadn't broken his back or severed his spinal cord.
"Hey, Chief," Jim called softly. "Cavalry's here."
Blair didn't respond, and Jim's concern grew again; his guide had seemed near to consciousness. He got both arms up and out of the hole, though it was a tight squeeze, and just managed to snag Blair's nearest shirtsleeve. Slowly and carefully, he dragged Blair closer to him.
For a moment, he was stymied. There was no way to get Blair through the hole while Jim himself was still wedged up there. Not letting go of Blair, Jim called down to Simon, "Start lowering me down carefully. I'm going to bring him with me."
Inch by agonizing inch, he was lowered, pulling Blair's limp body with him. He winced as Blair's shirt rode up and his chest was scraped as he was dragged over the edge. Finally, up-stretched hands grasped hold of Blair's shoulders and carried him the rest of the way to the floor.
Jim wasted no time getting back to Blair's side. With a shaking hand, he felt for Blair's carotid pulse, breathing a sigh of relief when it thrummed steadily against his fingertips. Blair's breathing was still laboured, though, and his flesh was sallow and clammy. "Somebody call for another ambulance," he said harshly as he drew Sandburg's lax body against his thighs, propping the young man up slightly. It would facilitate breathing, and it also provided the sentinel with the comfort of contact with his guide.
Simon patted his shoulder. "Already on its way."
Blair's eyes blinked slowly open, and he stared up at the sea of faces surrounding him, looking somewhat befuddled. "Wh't h'ppened?"
Jim shook his head, feeling weak as the adrenaline that had sustained him thus far waned. "You trying to take over my job, Chief?"
Blair managed to crack a wan smile. "Nah, man, I'm just the sidekick, remember?"
Jim patted Blair's cheek gently. "Just make sure you remember that next time the elevator's out."
" 'Kay," Sandburg replied softly, giving a weak, unproductive cough.
Unconsciously Jim moved his hand to Blair's chest and rubbed it. He could hear the sirens in the distance.
Everything was going to be all right now. It had to be.
Simon watched as the ambulance bearing both Sandburg and a worriedly distracted Ellison rolled away from the curb, light and siren blaring. He heaved a sigh. Elevator safety wasn't exactly his area of expertise, and he couldn't really ask Rafe or Brown to check out what had happened in the shaft that had caused Blair to fall-if anything had. But he remembered some of Jim's muttered comments as they had waited for the paramedics to arrive, about missing locks on maintenance sheds and frequent problems with the contrary conveyance. Damned if he was going to allow the possibility of malfeasance or misfeasance to endanger anyone else. Pulling out his phone, he prepared to make this New Year's Eve one the building managers wouldn't soon forget.
" was damned lucky. Nothing broken, but it's likely he's going to have some discomfort from bruised ribs at least. While I don't recommend this method of precipitating a visit to the hospital, chances are, getting him in here when you did headed off a nasty case of pneumonia. We just got some of the new anti-viral medications in, and they've shown great efficacy when administered at this stage of the influenza. We're giving it to him via IV. He'll need to stay overnight just to make sure that concussion isn't going to develop into something else. Hopefully, the medication will start to work as well during that time period. With any luck, we ought to be able to release him around 11 a.m. tomorrow." The doctor waited for Ellison's acknowledgment before moving away.
Jim nodded, the wave of relief that coursed through his body rendering him momentarily incapable of speech. Somehow he mumbled his thanks, watching for a moment as the ER physician moved out of the curtained cubicle.
Jim slumped into a chair at Blair's bedside. The young grad student would be glad to know that he wasn't being admitted, that the overnight observation was going to take place in the ER where things, for once, were slow. Rooms were at a premium upstairs due to the flu epidemic. As unbelievable as Ellison might find it, there were plenty of Cascade residents in worse shape than Blair this night.
Reaching through the railing of the ER bed, Jim laid a hand over one of Blair's and hunkered down to weather what remained of an already very long night.
Blair felt his body falling through space. Anticipating the impact, he flinched violently and found his eyes opening to a place decidedly different from the elevator shaft he last remembered being in. Or had that been a fever dream? The surroundings he gradually became cognizant of weren't any part of the loft, and there was an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. Even feeling as rotten as he did, he knew what that meant.
The calming comfort of a hand settling on his midsection forestalled further reaction to finding himself at the mercy of the medical establishment once again. He looked up and into the tired, haggard visage of Jim Ellison.
"Easy, Chief. You're okay. You're in the ER; they wanted to keep you overnight for observation. You'll be back home in a few hours. Try to go back to sleep for a little while." Jim's voice was soothing, reassuring, and Blair very nearly followed the gentle tones back into slumber. But the memory of what had dragged him off his sick bed to begin with flashed through his brain. His eyes flew open, and he pulled the oxygen mask away from his face, attempting to sit up in the bed. "Kathy Marshall? Her baby?"
Jim frowned for a moment, taking the mask out of Blair's hand and replacing it over his nose and mouth, pressing his guide back down into a supine position with his other hand. "Calm down. Kathy is fine, and so is the baby. A little boy, born a couple of hours ago, in the maternity ward, not the elevator at 852 Prospect."
Blair closed his eyes, partly in relief and partly in the knowledge that in spite of his best intentions, he'd done nothing but complicate the situation further.
"No thanks to me," he muttered into the oxygen mask, making the words sound muffled, distant, and near incomprehensible even to his own ears.
"I wouldn't say that, Sandburg. By the time I got there, the elevator was seated in place and the doors just needed a little help opening up. While throwing oneself at the top of an elevator car is not quite the recommended repair protocol, in this case it worked. Just don't ever let me see you trying anything like that again. You're damned lucky you didn't break your neck."
There was a curious emphasis on the last words that caused Blair to re-open his eyes and search Jim's out, as though the Sentinel were grinding the words out through either clenched teeth or a tight throat. While the jaw muscle was twitching a bit, as it habitually did when Ellison was stressed or displeased about something, there was no gnashing of teeth. Letting the tone of Jim's voice bounce around in his beleaguered brain for a few moments, Blair was able to read, as clearly as day, the hint of self-recrimination in Jim's words.
"Didn't throw myself. Rung on the ladder gave way," Blair commented deliberately, removing the mask once more. "And I only fell a few feet. Not all the way down the shaft or anything. There was no one else to help; I had to do something ."
"I know, Chief. And I shouldn't have left you to face that situation. You were too sick to be out of bed, let alone riding to someone's rescue. If I'd been there ." Jim's tone was sour.
Something tickled the back of Sandburg's brain. Some half-heard, barely remembered string of words. He scrabbled to pull them out of the haze of his fever dreams and make sense of them, glancing over at the IV that snaked into his left arm. "I might have woken up on New Year's Day to a full blown case of pneumonia. Wasn't that what the doctor said? It came down the way it was supposed to, maybe. Synchronicity, man," Blair replied, his tone quiet, yet strong in its conviction.
"I never thought of God or Fate as Rube Goldberg, Chief," Jim replied wryly, remembering the famous inventor of improbable, convoluted and complicated technical solutions to everyday routines.
Blair shrugged elegantly. "Mysterious are the ways, man. One hundred and fifty pounds of pressure, applied at just the right spot-it's physics! Got everything rolling! I just had the misfortune to be the pressure."
Jim smiled, somewhat grudgingly at first, then more genuinely. "Only you could see a connected thread between a nasty case of the flu, a stuck elevator and a near case of pneumonia, Chief. Which you still might get if you don't put that oxygen mask back on and keep it on. It's humidified and helping break up that congestion in your chest," the Sentinel admonished gently, once again placing his hand on Blair's stomach and patting it soothingly.
Blair reluctantly picked the oxygen mask up from where he'd laid it and put it back in place once more. His eyes were growing heavy from the sustained effort of talking, and Jim's hand patting his midsection was causing him to relax so completely, he was asleep before he knew it.
It was well past noon when the taxicab deposited them at 852 Prospect, far later than they'd planned. But Blair had gotten it into his head that he needed to have a peek at the infant he'd come somewhat close to being instrumental in the birth of. Jim hadn't really approved of the side trip.
Sandburg, ribs aching, a lump the size of a Satsuma orange on his forehead, and still weak as a newborn kitten from the flu, had no business going anywhere but straight home to bed. But if Ellison had learned nothing else in the time he'd known Blair, it was that, when the kid turned those huge eyes in your direction and did his best impression of those kitschy paintings of big-eyed waifs that had been so popular in Jim's childhood, you might as well start waving the flag of surrender.
Jim had tucked Sandburg into the wheelchair that was supposed to be his transportation out the front doors and took a swing by the nursery on the maternity floor. The pair of them got more than one double-take on the trip, between the wheelchair, Blair's mane of wild hair, and their obvious destination; faces that were set to smile indulgently and ask about their newborn quickly took in Sandburg's five o'clock shadow and hurried on their way. His guide might be oblivious to the reactions, but Jim saw them all. He hadn't quite decided, being short on sleep and on edge from residual worry, whether to laugh or be mortified.
Blair had been enchanted by the tiny bundle pointed out for their inspection. If he hadn't been all but wearing a biohazard sign on his chest from his now retreating influenza, doubtless he'd have asked the nurse if he could hold the baby, and chucked it under the chin. Jim was spared that ordeal, thankfully.
Now, as they were climbing out of the cab, Sandburg still wobbly and weak-kneed, Jim's guide was still going on about the topic of conversation that had erupted when Blair had asked if the baby had been named.
"I mean, I didn't expect them to name the kid 'Blair', but you got them out of the elevator, man! They could have at least slipped a 'James' in as a middle name or something."
Jim suppressed a sigh, put an arm around Sandburg's shoulders to steady him, urging him toward their building as the cab driver counted his fare and tip, then pulled away from the curb.
"Family tradition, Chief. All first-born Marshall boy babies are named David. And they'd already picked out a middle name, Maxwell, after his maternal grandfather. Kid almost got called David 'Otis', coming as close as he did to making his debut in the elevator," Jim joked. At Sandburg's blank look, he offered up the explanation, somewhat worried about the sluggish nature of his guide's reactivity this morning. He had a mild concussion; it was true, but . "You know, Einstein, after the famous manufacturer of elevator systems?"
Sandburg seemed to roll that over in his mind then smiled slowly. The Sentinel felt a real stab of fear for a moment then tried to tamp it down. With everything Blair had been through, he was entitled to have thought processes moving something less than at their usual quicksilver pace.
Their slow progress brought them into the lobby a short time later. Jim, exhausted beyond measure by a week of constant care giving and a night spent holding vigil at his hapless partner's bedside, automatically urged Sandburg toward the elevator, only to have Sandburg stand as firm as the weakened and injured man could, resisting the forward motion.
"I'm good to take the stairs, man. No way have they fixed that thing this quick," Blair said emphatically.
As dubious a prospect as it was that Sandburg actually had the stamina to make it up two flights in his present condition, Jim more than understood. He was going to think twice about allowing his guide anywhere near one of the damn things again. Sandburg wasn't the only one who remembered the near tragedy at Wilkenson Towers.
No sooner had they begun to move toward the staircase when the elevator dinged, and Ida May stepped out of the car with a satisfied smile on her face. The smile spread to one of genuine pleasure as her eyes fell upon Ellison and Sandburg. Blair groaned under his breath and sagged against his sentinel, Ellison shifting unconsciously to provide more support. As tired as he was, Jim put on his most charming smile and pleasant aspect, even though he was surprised to see the woman on the elevator after the events of the evening before.
Something of his puzzlement must have transmitted to her. Ida May chuckled, clapped her hands together in delight, and gestured towards the car she'd just exited.
"Detective Ellison! Blair! That friend of yours, Simon Banks, is a real firecracker! He raised enough hell with the building managers that they had an emergency crew in here all night fixing the old bucket up! We got a direct line to the repair service from the elevator now, new gears and brakes, and they fixed that ladder too. If I was 20 years younger, I'd marry that man!"
Ida peered at Blair, her obvious joy dampened markedly. She walked up to where sentinel and guide stood, patting Blair on the arm maternally. "You, young man, had better get yourself to bed and get some healing done! I left you some chicken soup up in your loft. I'm on my way to visit the Marshalls and their new little one. I'll bring you over a nice casserole later on. You both look beat. Get some rest!"
Sentinel and guide looked at the elevator, then at each other.
"Up to you, Chief," Ellison offered.
Blair took a moment to consider then squared his shoulders. "As long as you climb the ladder to go for help this time, and I lie in the car moaning, I'm willing to give it a shot. Naomi didn't raise me to be a chicken shit," Sandburg said, with more bravado in his voice than he obviously felt.
Trusting their luck not to be that bad two days running, the two men entered the elevator car and punched the button.
Henri Brown straightened as he heard the elevator car stop on the 3rd floor.
Making a dash for the loft door, he skidded through to alert the occupants.
"They're almost here. Everything ready?"
Simon stepped in from the balcony, closing the doors behind him quickly to control the amount of cigar smoke that followed him in. He gave the loft a quick visual survey, making eye contact with Joel, who stood in the kitchen stirring the large pot of chicken soup that Ida May had dropped off earlier.
Rafe straightened up from where he'd been arranging sheets and blankets into a makeshift bed on the sofa for Sandburg, and crossed to the VCR to check the tape and turn on the TV at low volume. Brown moved toward the refrigerator, removing some bottles of beer and sparkling apple cider, along with a tray of snacks.
Simon had circumvented an earlier plan for everyone to hide and leap out from behind furniture to shout "Happy New Year!" as both inappropriate and potentially dangerous. Blair certainly did not need to be startled; he'd had quite enough excitement in his life the night before, and chances were, after an all night vigil at his partner's bedside, Ellison's temper wasn't likely to be conducive to a positive reaction.
The loft door swung open.
Blair was silently thankful that they hadn't taken the stairs after all and that the elevator had, indeed, shown every indication of having been recently repaired and was running smoothly. What little energy he'd had stored from his night on pain and flu medications had definitely gotten used up, somewhere between the curb and the lobby. It had been all he could do to shuffle into the elevator car. Once inside, he'd done everything but climb into his sentinel's arms, instead wedging himself between the wall of the car and his friend's muscular body. Jim had sensed his distress, and once they'd arrived safely on the third floor, had taken up supporting his guide even more bodily. All Sandburg could think of now was crossing the loft and toppling into his bed.
He hadn't even really registered the fact that Ellison had given a small grunt at finding the loft door unlocked. He'd cocked his head and grimaced, which Sandburg had seen but not really tried to analyze. His pain meds had been wearing off for the last hour or so, his head and ribs were now waging a shooting war to determine which hurt the worst. The patch of skin worn off his stomach-by the edge of the elevator skylight, Jim had apologetically explained as he'd helped Blair dress-was stinging in counterpoint to the other rhythms of agony. The only thing on his mind was being able to get horizontal again, as quickly as he could.
He was, therefore, more bemused than surprised when the loft door opened, and Simon, Joel, Rafe and Brown stepped up to greet them. Before their presence fully registered on his pain-numbed mind, he was being disengaged from Jim's grip, escorted to a comfortable makeshift bed on the loveseat, shoes removed and feet put up, then covered with a blanket by Joel. Simon was urging Jim to sit down on the couch. Rafe and Brown approached bearing juice and pain medications.
"Hot and sour, or chicken soup, Blair? Jim?" Joel was asking as he moved back to the kitchen.
"Chicken, Joel," Jim answered for both of them, exchanging a quick glance with Blair and rightly assessing that his guide wasn't really in any condition to respond.
"We won't stay long. Just wanted to make sure you both got something to eat and were all right," Simon stated, dividing his attention between both Ellison and Sandburg. "Seeing as you both missed the New Year's countdown last night, Brown taped it for you. He's got the TV already set for the football games today too.
"We might not have done any of it to your normal standards, but there are fresh sheets on the beds, laundry's been done, larder has been stocked, garbage taken out, and bathroom cleaned up.
"You, Jim," Simon paused, fixing his detective with a smile, "have an extra week off, a little thank you from the Mayor and the Commissioner for your hard work these last few weeks."
"Don't know what to say, sir," Jim began.
Simon waved him silent. "A thank you will suffice."
"Thank you, sir," Jim responded.
"You're welcome. And you, Sandburg," Banks was now favoring Blair with an expression and tone of voice that was almost paternal, which reinforced a general sense of unreality the anthropologist was immersed in, "you just concentrate on getting well and healing up. We need you back at Major Crimes in best form. No more solo rescue missions until you're feeling 100%, understand?"
Convinced now that he had lapsed back into a state of delirium and had just fantasized the police captain's expression of "need" for his services, Blair could only nod, his silence seeming to amuse Banks to no end. Blair could only nod. His silence seemingly amused Banks to no end; his dark eyes danced . Blair sank back onto the pillows of his makeshift bed, putting a hand to his forehead to check for a sudden spike in his body temperature.
"Simon?" Jim was speaking through a grin of his own. "About the elevator? I guess we owe you thanks for that too. Mrs. May is about to ask for your hand in marriage, she was so impressed."
Simon's grin turned into one of satisfaction. "Heh! Amazing what threatening a little action from another city government department can do! I just called in a few favours from some friends in public safety and inspections, informed the managers they'd endangered the life of not only a pregnant condo owner, but valued members of the Cascade Police Department, and that the Mayor wasn't taking it too well. They saw the light pretty damn fast! The repairmen were thrilled; they got paid triple overtime for the job."
Jim stifled a small groan. "There go the condo association fees," he muttered.
"No. That was something else I threatened them with-a full audit of their association bookkeeping. I dropped a few hints about knowing what you paid per month and how it isn't really reflected in the condition of the common areas. Mentioned the city's forensic accountant . Amazing what a little name dropping can do." Simon's grin really shouldn't have been able to get any bigger, but it did.
Jim was chuckling softly and extending his hand to Simon for a 'low five'. No wonder Banks seemed so mellow-he'd given his pissed-off, bad-ass police captain personality quite an overnight workout, Sandburg mused. That certainly explained his unheard of kindness towards Blair himself. Joel approached with bowls of soup on a tray, placed one on the coffee table in front of Jim, and took the other over to Sandburg, luring him into sitting back up. He hadn't had any breakfast, held as he had been in the ER for the overnight observation, and suddenly food sounded like an excellent idea.
Maybe he was feeling better, after all.
Soon Sandburg's bowl was drained, and, truth be told, so was he. He lay back down, his medications starting to kick in, his body's pains fading a bit.
He listened as Banks, Brown, Taggart and Rafe made noises as if to go. Blair struggled back up to his elbows, caught Jim's attention and tossed him a questioning look.
Ellison, tired as he was, nodded his approval.
"Why don't you guys stay here and watch the game? Can't promise I'll be awake the whole time, but I-we-would really like it if you hung around for a while," Blair said aloud, silently adding, Missed you guys while I was sick!
With the flu finally on the run, and the injuries from his fall really not that bad, maybe Blair would have some success in getting Jim to use the extra week of vacation time he'd been granted to get up and do the skiing he'd planned before Blair had gotten sick. Jim really did need the respite. He'd even promise to stay off the elevators and not answer the door for anyone, if that's what it took for his partner to take the time to rest and recuperate.
It was worth a shot.
Beer bottles were opened, chip bags and cold cuts laid out. By the time the first quarter of the football game began, Blair Sandburg was asleep, warmed as much by the camaraderie of those members of the closed society of Major Crimes as he was by the soup in his stomach and the blankets that covered him.
Five sets of eyes periodically cast indulgent eyes in Blair's direction; a concerted effort was made to keep their excitement over the latest touchdown muted in deference to the sleeping man on the couch. There was something to be said for being together on holidays, no matter if one of the brotherhood was sick or injured. It was a lesson they all would carry into the rest of the new year.