Jim Ellison looked around from where he stood at the front desk filling in yet another interminable admission form, and straightened as Simon Banks hurried toward him. "Simon. Thanks for coming down."
The captain nodded tersely and clapped the detective on the shoulder. "What the hell happened?"
Jim shook his head and led the way to the waiting area, where he slumped into a seat and scrubbed his hands through his hair. "Iím not exactly sure. He regained consciousness in the ambulance, but he wasnít entirely coherent."
He leaned forward and rested his head in his hands before sitting back up and staring fixedly at Simon, his jaw grinding madly. "He wanted me to help him with his shower this morning. I was in a rush to get in to start working on the Hudson case." He looked chagrined. "So much of a rush I left it on the dining room table. Anyway, I asked him to wait until I came home this afternoon. Obviously, he decided to have a shower anyway. The real question is whether he fell or whether something elseÖ"
His voice broke and he looked up at Simon, his eyes haunted. "I swear, sir, when I walked in and saw him lying thereÖ"
Simon patted his knee comfortingly. "What did the doctors say?"
"Iím still waiting to hear something." He smiled tiredly. "We only got here fifteen minutes ago. You made good time. What did you do, run the lights and siren all the way?"
Simon shrugged. "Only on the busy roads."
"God, Simon. What if itís come back?"
"Can that happen?"
Jimís reply was cut short by a summons from a young dark-haired doctor who strode toward them. "Detective Ellison. Iím DoctorÖ"
"Carter," Jim replied, standing and shaking the doctorís hand. "I remember you. This is my boss, Captain Simon Banks. Howís Blair?"
The doctor motioned for the two men to sit, then sank into a chair opposite them with a sigh. "Before you worry too much, itís not GBS again. Well, not in its aggressive form. I think Blairís just been overdoing it, trying to rush his recovery."
"Why doesnít that surprise me?" Simon muttered.
"Heís been told that he should still have someone with him when he showers, or is on his feet for reasonably long periods, hasnít he?"
"Itís my fault," Jim put in, looking miserable. "I was in a hurry this morning, and I asked him to wait until I got home."
Doctor Carter smiled gently at him. "Iím not apportioning blame here, Detective. Blair knows what his limitations are right now. If he chose not to wait, you can hardly be blamed for not knowing that."
"Thatís the thing," Jim said, turning to Simon. "I should have known heíd do that. I should have gone back this morning and checked when he didnít pick up the phone."
"Jim! Enough!" Simonís tone was sharp enough to cut through the verbal onslaught. Simon softened his voice. "Let the doctor finish, all right? Then we can go and see Sandburg."
Jim took a deep breath and nodded slowly, then turned back to Steve Carter. "Sorry, doc. Go on."
The doctor nodded and tucked an errant lock of hair behind his ear in a move so reminiscent of Blair that Jim sucked in a breath. "What I think happened was that he stood up for too long and his blood pressure took a dive. Youíll remember, Jim, that one of the symptoms of GBS is low blood pressure."
He continued when Jim nodded. "Okay, I think he had a case of postural hypotension and fainted as he got out of the tub. He hit his chest as he went down. His sternum is badly bruised, so itís going to hurt to breathe for a bit. He also has a gash on his cheek, but that just needed a couple of butterfly strips to close it."
He opened the file he held on his lap and studied it briefly before speaking again. "Apart from that, he was a little cold and dehydrated when he came in, so weíre working on warming him up right now, and he has a mild wheeze in his chest. I've prescribed some Aminophylline and antibiotics for that. I'm not overly concerned about his lungs yet. We'll keep an eye on things."
"Can I see him?"
The doctor nodded, then stood. "Iíll take you back to him. Iíd like to keep him here overnight, but heís not being very cooperative." He grinned, the smile making him look extremely boyish. "No surprise there. Perhaps you can convince him."
Jim nodded as they followed the doctor back to the trauma rooms. "If you think he should stay, believe me, heís staying."
"Iím not staying, so would you please give me back my pants?"
Jim pushed open the door and shook his head in exasperation at the sight before him. Blair sat sideways on the gurney, a blanket wrapped loosely about his shoulders, his bare legs dangling over the side of the bed. An IV dangled from the arm he extended toward the nurse, and patches from a heart monitor festooned his hairy chest. Jim could see the dark bruising that already shaded Blairís sternum, and the cut on his cheek stood out starkly against the pallor of his skin.
"I think you should do what the doctor wants, Chief," Jim said, walking into the room and heading straight over to the young manís side.
He lifted Blairís legs and deposited them back on the bed, noticing the chill of his skin and smelling the slightly sour taint of dehydration on his breath. Pressing Blair back against the pillows, the detective rearranged the blankets over him and patted him gently on the shoulder. "Just for tonight, huh? Make sure youíre okay."
Blair shook his head vehemently, his brow creasing as though he was in pain. "Jim, I canít. Iím so far behind on my dissertation and my classes that theyíll ask me to leave."
"You know thatís not going to happen," Jim soothed. "The Dean said that they understood your circumstances and theyíre prepared to give you extra time."
"I donít want to wait," Blair answered doggedly. "Iím sick of lying around, waiting to get better, feel stronger." He punched a weak fist on the covers and tried to surreptitiously wipe away the tear that snaked down his cheek.
Jim hooked a foot around the leg of a rolling stool and pulled it closer so he could sit down. "I know itís got to be as frustrating as hell, Chief, but you are getting better. And a whole lot faster than the doctors thought you would. Melissa's attack set you back a little, but youíve been surging ahead these past few weeks. Youíve just got to be patient."
"Iím worried about you," Blair whispered. "Iím supposed to be your backup."
"Connerís got that covered for now," Jim answered, stroking his thumb over the back of Blairís hand, pleased to feel the tension begin to dissipate. "You know Simon wonít let me go out without backup."
Blairís eyes had drifted closed. "What if you zone?"
"I havenít zoned in months, Sandburg. You trained me well, and Iím not overextending myself until youíre back on deck with me."
"Can I come home tomorrow?"
Jim smiled and squeezed Blairís hand. "You bet. Iíll be here first thing after lunch."
"Iíve got to study." Blairís voice was just a murmur now. He winced and shifted slightly in the bed. "Can you stay until Iím asleep?"
"They're coming now to take you up to your room. Iím not going anywhere." Standing as the door was pushed open, Jim stepped back to allow the orderlies access to their patient, then, picking up Blair's things, followed from the trauma room and into the elevator.
Jim waited in the hallway until Blair was settled, then tiptoed inside and seated himself in a chair by the bed. As much as he wanted to, he knew he couldn't stay all night. He had an early start at the station the following day, and he'd already used up much of his sick leave when Blair had first become ill. He sat by his partnerís side until Blair's breathing deepened into the rhythms of sleep, then he slipped out of the room, leaving a message with the nurse at the desk that heíd return the following day.
Jim was late. Blair paced the confines of his hospital room with short, choppy steps, pausing on each pass of the doorway to search for a sign of his errant partner.
"Hey, Chief. Ready to go?"
Jimís cheery voice startled him just as he reached the far wall and he jumped, then stumbled as he spun on his heel to face his partner. The fleeting flash of fear spilled his mounting impatience into anger.
"Youíre late," he snapped, casting a quick glance at old Mr. Donnatelli, who dozed in the second bed.
"I said Iíd be here after lunch." Jimís voice was calm and reasoning as he took hold of Blairís elbow and helped him limp toward the waiting wheelchair.
Blair snatched his arm away and sat himself down. "Lunch is at midday here," he said peevishly. "So we can all take a nap like good little girls and boys."
Jimís voice was quiet above him. "I didnít know that. I guess I should have checked."
A small white hospital bag dropped in to Blairís lap and he picked it up, shaking it curiously.
"Your meds," Jim supplied. "I picked them up on the way in."
"We could have gotten them on the way out."
Jim leaned down to release the brake and Blair felt a sigh of breath on his neck. "I figured youíd be in a hurry to get home."
"I am." A large hand patted his shoulder, and this time Blair allowed it to remain there, accepting the offer of conciliation. He closed his eyes, forcing back the tide of anger that threatened to overwhelm him, and when he opened them, his sight was blurred and softened.
Raising a hand, he wiped at his eyes with the heels of his hands, smearing the wetness of his frustrated tears. Glancing quickly around the room for a final check of forgotten items, he saw a pair of beady black eyes watching him from a wizened face. Blair smiled. "You take care, Mr. D. Donít go giving the nurses too much of a hard time."
The old man nodded, his thin lips widening to reveal toothless gums, and one thumb was slowly raised from the bed. "Cool," he croaked.
Blair gave a small hee of amusement and looked up at Jim. "I taught him that. Heís been saying it all morning."
Christ, he was tired. Jim cast a sidelong glance at his partner as he steered the truck into a parking space in front of the apartment. Blair sat slumped in the passenger seat, his head resting against the window, hie eyelids fluttering slightly in response to some unknown dream.
He was still too pale. The cut on his cheek stood out, stark and angry-looking, and his ever-present beard stubble threw his face into sharp angles that made him look pinched and worn. He looked like he should still be in the hospital, Jim thought as he switched off the ignition.
Simon had begrudgingly given him the rest of the day off to get Blair settled. Though the captainís concern for his roommate equaled Jimís, there was a job to be done, and both men knew that the felons werenít going to take a holiday just because Jim had a day off.
They were closing in on a serial arsonist whoíd escalated to bombing, and Simon had the Commissioner breathing down his neck, demanding closure. Jim clamped his jaw down ruthlessly on the moan of despair that welled up in his throat. Fuck, when was it all going to end?
He turned back to Blair to find the other man awake and watching him closely, sadness pulling his lips downward and scrunching his forehead into a frown.
"You okay, man? You look really wiped."
"I am," Jim admitted, feeling some of the weight lift at the admission. "We both are." He reached over and undid Blairís seatbelt as his fumbling fingers refused to do the job. "Thereís a couple of couches with our names on them upstairs. Letís go."
To Chapter Fifteen