by Kristine Williams
"Jim? Oh God!" Immediately he knew his mistake. Pain shot through his abdomen, doubling him over in the bed as black spots danced in front of his eyes. Pain as piercing as the first time. It hadn't stopped. The same instant he uttered his curse, the door swung wide and Jim came rushing inside.
"Sandburg!" Jim was beside him in an instant, grabbing his shoulders. "Nurse! I need help in here!"
Blair shook his head, too breathless from the pain to speak, and tried to raise his hand to stop the urgency. Finally the spasm stopped and he was able to inhale again. "I'm fine. I'm fine." He waved Jim off, trying to lean back, but his friend wouldn't move. Blair opened his mouth to speak again when a doctor and two nurses rushed into the room.
"What's happened?" The doctor came beside the bed, trying to force Blair back down into the pillows. "Easy now. Take it easy. You need to lie still."
No shit. "I'm okay." Blair insisted, able to speak now through the pain that was slowly fading to a more manageable level. "I just panicked, I'm okay." He was embarrassed, but God that had hurt!
He was finally back down against the pillows and had to lie still while the doctor examined him thoroughly, then explained to him that the drug Brackett had used was taking longer than expected to leave his system.
"You're going to have these attacks for a few more days, I'm afraid. It's just not moving out quickly, whatever it was." The doctor then turned to Jim, who had been hovering next to the bed for the past fifteen minutes, ever since the doctor came in. "You can take him home, only because your Captain says it would be safer for everyone concerned, and there isn't much we can do for him here. This drug just has to wear itself out. But he's going to have to rest, and not be left alone." He turned back to Blair. "These spasms are going to be infrequent, and fade with time, but you'll need plenty of rest. And I recommend no sudden movements. The more you try to use those muscles, the longer they'll take to recover. Understand?"
Blair nodded, looking sheepishly from the doctor, to Jim, then back. After both he and Jim reassured the man that Blair would rest, he agreed that they could leave within the hour. Blair hadn't realized what time of day, or even what day it was. The pain was nearly gone now, and he let Jim help him get dressed, anxious to leave, but fearful of what they would find out there, or who would find them.
"Jenkins and Clark are coming to the loft. Simon's had a team there keeping an eye on things." Jim tossed Blair his shirt then searched for his shoes. "Once we get you settled, we've got some Detective work to do."
Blair was grateful Jim had been turned away, looking for his other shoe, when he put on the shirt. A sudden spasm had gripped him just as he pulled in his arms and he had to grit his teeth hard to keep from crying out with the pain. He wasn't going to embarrass himself again, and he wanted to go home. By the time Jim did look up, the spasm had stopped and Blair was able to fuss with his buttons long enough to recover.
"Detective work?" Was his voice steady?
"Yep. Simon and I have a theory about Brackett and Kostov."
"What? Have I missed something?" Blair reached down and pulled on his socks, praying another spasm wouldn't hit as he did. "Kostov, isn't that the Russian mob guy?"
Jim helped him with the shoes. "Oh, that's right, you've been asleep for a while." He unlaced the second shoe and held it out. "The way we figure it, Brackett was working for Kostov, and used...you, to get Simon and me away from Delaney's dealer. He knew when Delaney would be in for more cocaine and killed both him and the dealer, as soon as Simon and I were gone."
Blair was stunned.
Not so much about having been used by Brackett, but that Jim was taking such a
casual approach to having lost a man he was staking out, just to save him. Obviously,
Brackett knew Jim would come running if he had Blair. God, that made him feel...That
made him feel guilty. He was dressed then, and Jim stepped outside the
door to let Jenkins and Clark know they were ready to leave, and to bring the
car around to the back. Blair was sitting on the edge of the bed, confused and
embarrassed. Jim never made a mistake, not at work. But he had left his stakeout,
and lost a man, because of him. Brackett had said the drug wasn't lethal, although
while he was there, on the floor, writhing in agony, he had thought differently.
But Jim didn't know that. In fact, he didn't know anything that was happening
at the time. Why would he...Why would Simon let him...This is all my fault.
What was it Brackett sent across the phone to Jim that would get him to leave
his post and come running? He'd have to ask, sometime. But he was almost afraid
of the answer. He was more afraid of what he was beginning to feel.
Jim held the door open for Blair, then let Mike and Jeff follow them inside. "Straight to bed." He ordered, giving his partner a slight push towards his room.
"Straight to bed." He reached behind his back and produced the handcuffs from his belt, placing them on the table. Mike and Jeff were both in the loft now, so Jim also removed his gun, setting it beside the cuffs in an attempt to make the action look casual to those who didn't know what he had done before.
Blair watched, glancing at the other two officers for a second, then nodded, making a face, and walked slowly down the short hallway into his room.
"Hey." Jim had followed him, and now stood in the doorway while Blair eased himself down onto the bed. "I'll fill you in when Simon gets here, okay?"
Blair sat down, then looked up and nodded. "Okay."
"Mike and Jeff will be here all night. Listen, you hungry? I gotta feed these guys."
Blair shook his head and kicked off both shoes. "No, thanks. I guess I'm tired."
Jim nodded. "Okay, get some sleep." He pulled the door closed halfway, then left it that way, turning out the lights, and walked into the kitchen. "Hey guys, how about pizza?"
"I'm up for it." Mike replied, sitting on the couch with a smile. "The wife doesn't let me indulge often enough."
"Yeah, fine by me." Jeff agreed, checking the windows for the second time since they arrived.
Jim laughed, glancing back down the hallway. "Sandburg has a fit when I eat too much take out, says I might as well just shoot the lard right up my veins."
The two men laughed and nodded knowingly while Jim dialed the number of the pizza delivery. He placed the order, then went upstairs to change clothes, picking up his gun and cuffs from the table where he had set them. He hadn't left the hospital since he and Simon brought Blair in, and that was nearly 42 hours ago. He had taken a shower at the hospital, while the doctors were in with his partner, and Mike and Jeff were outside. Simon had insisted they both stay under guard until a plan to take care of Brackett could be put into motion, and Jim had bristled at the idea, at first. He wasn't one to hide, from anyone. And he knew if Brackett was to be caught, he'd have to be the one to do it. Lee Brackett was CIA trained, and a proven ruthless killer. And now, working for hire again here in Cascade. But, Simon was right about one thing, anytime Brackett came after them, he came after both of them. If Jim had to remain under guard, like any number of victims he had protected before, in order to keep Blair safe..Then he would. He didn't want to think about Jeff or Mike being in danger, but if he was to trust himself, and his partner, to anyone, they were the ones.
He heard the footsteps approaching the door before the others heard the knock, and drew his gun, glancing over the balcony railing. Jeff was standing beside the door, gun drawn, while Mike peered through the view hole.
"Pizza guy's here." Mike holstered his gun, but remained cautious as he opened the door, with Jeff and Jim both still aiming.
Jim had focused tightly through the small view hole and could see a distorted view of a young woman in her teens, holding a pizza box, but he kept the gun drawn until she had left and the door was once again secured. He took a deep breath, and holstered his gun. Having all five senses on full alert for so long was getting exhausting. Every sound, even coming from down the block, had him jumping. Brackett was out there somewhere, and this time, he was ready even for the white noise generator he often used. Jim had learned, with Blair's help, how to 'feel' the blind spot the white noise created. And now that Brackett was back, he had been listening, probing, constantly feeling for the bubble that would give him away. But he hadn't found it. Even when they watched the tape that forensics had found rigged to his television from the boiler room downstairs, he hadn't been able to feel it. Brackett must have been on his way to the stakeout even as they were speeding back to the loft. He knew exactly when Delaney would arrive for his buy, which meant he knew more about the man then they did.
"Hey Jim, you hungry or what?" Jeff called from downstairs. "Come on down."
"Yeah, I'm coming." Jim was shaking his head, trying to get the echoing of Jeff's voice out of his ears. He was probing again for Brackett, but instead of filtering out the sounds he didn't want to hear, he was open for anything and everything he could hear. Jeff's voice hit like thunder. He recovered and walked downstairs, joining the other two officers at the table.
"So this Brackett guy, you figure he only attacked Sandburg this time to get you clear of Delaney?"
"Yeah, Mike, it's the only thing that makes sense. As much as any of it makes sense." Jim helped himself to the pizza that was quickly disappearing. "He's become a hired gun, most likely working for Kostov. He was always available for the highest bidder. That's what makes him so dangerous."
Jeff opened his mouth to say something when Jim heard more footsteps coming up the stairs. He held up his hand, motioning towards the door, and put the pizza down. The others stood, not questioning Jim's direction, and drew their guns for the second time in less than an hour. Jeff moved farther down the hallway, between Blair's room and the living room, while Jim and Mike each took a side of the door. Jim waited for the knock, then smelled the cigar.
"Come on in Simon." He opened the door, still keeping his gun drawn in case his Captain wasn't alone.
"How'd you know it was me?" Simon stepped inside, glancing at the three men pointing guns at him.
"Your cigar, Simon. Dead giveaway," Jim replied. "And, you can leave it outside." He raised his eyebrows and waited until Simon reluctantly extinguished the cigar and tossed in into the trash beside the kitchen counter.
"He's sleeping." Jim returned to the table and motioned for Simon to join them. "Hungry?"
"No thanks. I just came from the DA. Our entire case against Kostov is gone. Without Delaney's testimony, we didn't have enough to hold him."
"Damn." Mike shook his head. "So he's back in business?"
"For now." Simon replied. "Any sign of Brackett?"
"No, Simon. Not yet." Jim sighed, glancing down the hallway towards his partner's room. "But we haven't seen the last of him."
"We can't have him attacking Blair every time he needs a diversion. We need to catch this guy and put him away for good."
"Simon, I just might have a way we can do just that."
Jeff and Mike both looked at Jim, as Simon raised his eyebrows and looked puzzled. "And just how do you figure we can do that?"
Jim thought for a moment, considering his plan. "We know he was working for Kostov, right?"
"That's our assumption." Simon replied.
"And we know he's always made himself available to the highest bidder. So, we find a higher bidder, one who would want Brackett to take out Kostov."
"Where are you going with this?"
"We get both sides to convict themselves. If Kostov thinks someone has hired Brackett to kill him, he just might get nervous enough to need our help...."
"And if Brackett thinks Kostov is going to work with us, to get him.."
"That might work, but how do we get Kostov to believe he's next on the hit list?" Jeff asked.
"We tell him." Jim replied.
"You know, this just might work." Simon stood and began to walk around the room, thinking. "These Russian crime lords have been pouring into the area lately, setting up shop. He just has to believe there's a bigger fish in town who wants his territory. That shouldn't be too hard to do."
"Then what? He comes to us for help?" Mike sounded skeptical, glancing from Simon to Jim.
"That's the idea. We flush out Brackett, and if we're lucky, get Kostov in the bargain."
"What about the CIA? I thought they wanted Brackett?"
"Not this time, Mike. The CIA has washed their hands of Lee Brackett. It's a police matter now, which means when we catch him, we can put him away." Jim nodded in agreement with Simon. "In the meantime, why don't you two go home, get some rest. I'll stay here tonight with our packages."
Jim laughed a little as Jeff and Mike stood up and collected their coats. "You sure you can handle an entire night here with Sandburg, and no cigars?"
Simon scowled, shaking his head. "No. He's asleep, right? I guess if he's asleep, I can go a few hours."
Mike smiled and patted Simon on the back as he pulled on his jacket. "Hey Captain, give the kid a chance. He's managed to whip Ellison into shape. Can't be all that bad."
Jim and Jeff tried not to laugh as Simon creased his eyebrows and looked like he wanted to say something, but he changed his mind and just shook his head again. "Go on, both of you. And report back here first thing in the morning."
"Yes sir. Hang in there, Jim."
"Thanks Mike. Jeff, see you both tomorrow." Jim shut the door, then turned to see Simon looking into the trash at his smashed cigar. "It's only one night, Simon." He moved to the table and began to clear the pizza. "I really appreciate this."
"Yeah, well. You didn't seem too appreciative the other night." Simon walked over to the couch and sat down, smiling at Jim to take the accusation from his statement. "I know, it's not easy to just sit and wait. But it's for your own good. Both of you."
"You want a beer?"
"I shouldn't. How about coffee?"
"Sure. I'm not going to sleep much tonight anyway." Jim started to make the coffee and did another audio scan of the area, feeling for the blind spot. There was nothing. He listened to Blair's quiet breathing for a few minutes, satisfied that he was sound asleep. It had been nearly two days, what was he waiting for? Was his game over now, and he was just back to business as usual? And if so, could they catch him by using Kostov? Brackett was good, but Jim had taken him before, twice. He could take him again. But Blair...He had to keep Blair safe this time.
"Here you go." He handed Simon the coffee, then sat down opposite him in the chair.
"How's Sandburg doing?"
"The Doctor says he'll be fine in time. Whatever that was Brackett used on him isn't out of his system yet. He'll feel the effects for a few more days, off and on."
"That could be a problem. I want you two to stick together, no more separating until Brackett is caught."
"It's not a problem Simon. He can stay here with Mike and Jeff. I need to be a part of this one."
"No. Not a chance. I want you in on it too, but I'm not risking you two getting separated. That's when you're both vulnerable to this psycho. Besides, if you go, he sure as hell won't stay here."
Jim shook his head. He was going to say that Blair would do as he was told, but he knew better. Handcuffing him to the bed had been a last resort, and he spent a lot of time apologizing for that. He still wasn't over the fact that Blair had been able to sucker punch him so well that night. But he promised that wasn't going to happen again, although he wasn't above using the memory to his advantage now and again. He conceded Simon's point, agreeing that he and Blair needed to stay together. God, if anything happened to him again, because Jim wasn't here, he couldn't deal with that. Blair had been abducted, then tortured, just to provide a distraction. Jim hadn't needed Sentinel touch to feel how severely Blair's abdominal muscles were cramping with each attack. Even unconscious, in the hospital, poison was at work. And that was the only reason for the drug, from what the doctors could tell. Madman, or sadist? Was there a difference?
"What's got you, Jim? I haven't seen you this quiet in a long time."
"He used Blair to get us away from there. I'm having a hard time with this one, Simon."
Jim shook his head, trying to force back the lump that was working its way up his throat. "I just...It's my fault." There, he confessed. He should feel better now, shouldn't he? "I should never have left that mountain without finding him. Hell, I should have known he was in here, with Blair, when I came up the steps." He set his cup down and stood, pacing the room. "Sandburg is with me to study my Sentinel senses, not get himself attacked every time someone has a beef with me. If I can't even keep my own partner safe, what kind of Detective am I?"
Simon stood then, walking up to Jim, and stopped his pacing. "Listen, that kind of thinking isn't going to get you anywhere. Now I know you know that. Just calm down." Simon motioned towards the couch. "Sit down." He scowled at Jim when he didn't move. "That's an order." Jim reluctantly walked to the couch and sat. "Now, Sandburg is here, with you, because he wants to be. Why, I don't know, but he does. And how you put up with him, I'll never know. But I do know one thing, and if you tell him I said this, I'll put you on suspension for a month." Simon crossed over to the couch and sat down facing Jim. "He's been good for you. I've seen you change, for the better, since he came along. And, as a matter of fact, I was thinking we might want to keep him. At least for a while."
Jim laughed a little, surprised, and proud, that his Captain was beginning to see Blair in the same light that he always had. "You have to admit, he does have potential."
"Well, he must. Otherwise I can't see you spending so much time working on him." Simon shrugged, shaking his head. "Hell, I'dve kicked him out of my apartment two days before he moved in."
"I don't know, Simon. He grows on you after a while. There's still a matter of housebreaking, but he learns."
"Well, you want the bed, I suppose?" Simon stretched and yawned. "I've got two uniforms watching the street. I think between the two of us, we could get some sleep."
Jim nodded, glancing down the hallway. "Go ahead, Simon. I'll hang out down here."
"No, you go ahead. You haven't had a decent night's sleep in a while. I'll stay up."
"Spell me in four hours, and you've got a deal."
Simon laughed. "Okay."
Jim got up, taking his coffee cup to the kitchen. "Listen, you need some magazines or something?"
"I'll be just fine." Simon produced a paperback from his back pocket. "I've been trying to finish this for weeks."
Jim nodded, flipping the coffee pot off after filling the thermos for Simon. He quietly stepped over to Blair's door, peering inside. He could hear the steady breathing of sleep, but there was sweat on Blair's forehead as he lay there, both arms still wrapped around his stomach, even in sleep. Jim felt another wave of guilt, seeing his friend in pain. He bit down, flexing the muscles in his jaw as he walked back into the living room, then up to his bedroom. Blair was paying a heavy price for being his friend. Well, Brackett would pay an even heavier one.
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