by Kristine Williams
"Sandburg!" Jim burst into the room, gun drawn, scanning every square inch as quickly as he could. Blair was on the edge of the bed, doubled over, gritting his teeth and trying to swear through them. "Sandburg, what the hell are you doing?" Jim holstered his gun quickly and hurried over to help his partner. He grabbed Blair by the arms, noting the tension in every muscle. He had stopped trying to curse, and just breathed heavily through his nose, pushing at Jim's hands.
"I'm all right!" He finally said, looking up, but still doubled over. "I'm fine."
Blair was pushing at his hands but Jim refused to let go. "You're not fine, Chief. What the hell happened?"
Blair looked up then, and Jim could see anger in his eyes, and redness. "What the hell happened?" He pulled away and Jim released his grip. "I'll tell you what the hell happened." Blair tried to stand up, but he couldn't, and he cursed again, clenching his jaw. "I screwed up, that's what the hell happened."
"Sandburg, you didn't..."
"Yes, Jim, I did." Blair cut him off, then managed to stand up, and walk slowly to the other side of the room. "I screwed up, again, and you lost a man, and it's all my fault." He had paced to the far end of his room, and now turned to walk back. "I screwed up with Lash, I screwed up with Zeller, I screwed up with Brackett last time." He stopped and stood in the middle of the room. "It's one thing to get myself into these things, but God, Jim, a man died because of me! Two men!"
The end of Blair's sentence was punctuated by a cry of pain that doubled him over. Jim rushed to catch him before he hit the ground, and managed to get him onto the bed. "Dammit Sandburg, this has to stop right now!" He pushed Blair down onto the bed and held him there until the spasm stopped.
When it did, Blair looked up at Jim. He was shaking, and Jim could see the sweat breaking out on his face. Jim stayed there for a moment, holding him down, until the spasm had completely stopped. Then he stood, walked over to the door, and closed it so Simon wouldn't hear them over his shower. "Now, you listen to me. This has gone far enough, for both of us." He walked to the foot of the bed so that Blair would be looking at him. "I've had it with you blaming yourself for the actions of every psycho in Cascade. You think Lash was your fault? Dammit Blair, he was right there in the Precinct, Simon and I were working with him. We're cops, for Christ's sake! Zeller? God, Blair, that was my fault, I wasn't there in time. And Brackett? He picked you because of me. He needed me to get that plane, and I needed you. He held an entire city hostage to get what he wanted, and we gave it to him. What makes you think I wouldn't come after you if he took you? What makes you think your life isn't as important as someone else's?"
Blair was just sitting there, listening. But Jim could see something in his eyes, something that wasn't hearing what he said. There they were, both feeling guilty, and neither one of them was. God, how was he going to get this through? What was he thinking that would make him feel guilty to be alive?
"He used me to get to you. To have a man killed. And it worked." Blair said, his voice shaking slightly. "I'm a fucking pawn to him. What are you going to do next time, huh? What will you do if it comes down to me or some innocent victim? How the hell am I supposed to feel when someone gets killed because of me? Because I was there, and an easy target."
Jim was slightly stunned, hearing the incredible guilt coming from his partner. Guilt that he had no right to feel. "Blair, you were used because of me. Not because of you. You think that's easy for me to deal with? Listen to me," Blair was shaking his head and Jim stepped forward. He heard the shower go off, and he knew Simon was probably listening, but he didn't care. Blair needed to hear this, he needed to understand. "You kept yourself alive with Lash, until I could find you. He took you because I didn't see through him, and didn't see him coming. Zeller got Amber because I didn't get up there in time. I should have known he'd be up there waiting. I blew it, and you could have died. Brackett and I both would have been killed on that bridge if you hadn't been there. Then half of Cascade would have died. I didn't hear Brackett in here last time, and he got us up on that mountain. We got down together. I came running because I knew you were in danger. What do you think I would do if it happened again?" He paused. "I'm gonna make damn sure it doesn't happen again, not with Brackett." Blair was trying not to look at him. He had to get through. He couldn't let this tear Blair apart. He couldn't let it tear them apart.
"And what about Lash? Or Maya? Or another international hit man, huh?" Blair stood and moved away from Jim, towards the corner of the room. "God, I've done more harm than good coming here." He shook his head and laughed, but there was no humor in it. "What the hell was I thinking? Simon's been right all this time."
Jim watched him walk to the corner, then stop and stare at the wall. Blair was still shaking. He took a deep breath and moved closer. "So, what are you saying? You want out?"
Blair just stood there, shaking his head. When he finally did turn around, there were tears forming in his eyes, and a look of complete helplessness on his expressive face. "I don't know." he said, glancing up at Jim for just a moment before looking away. "I don't know anything anymore. I used to. But now...I want...I just want to crawl in a corner somewhere and hide. For a very long time."
Jim reached out quickly, taking Blair by the arms, and pulled him in. He held him, feeling the resistance but not letting go. God, all this time, blaming himself for everything that happened. No wonder he was so jumpy sometimes. He was tearing himself up inside, and he never let Jim know. He could feel Blair's discomfort at being held, but he didn't let him go. He wasn't about to lose the best partner he had ever had, the best friend he had ever had, because of some misguided sense of guilt. He'd always thought Blair had a stronger sense of self than most. But to be this guilty, to feel that he wasn't worth saving...Jim realized then that Blair had been giving himself the raw end of the stick way too many times. Blair finally stopped trying to pull away and just stood there, holding on to Jim's shirt.
Jim continued to hold him, feeling the shaking slowly subside, Blair's muscles easing out of their tension. He wouldn't put his arms around Jim, but he wasn't letting go of the two fist-fulls of shirt, either. Jim was aware of noises in the kitchen; Simon was out of the bathroom, but trying to be quiet. He was grateful that his Captain hadn't come into the room. Blair needed time. Time to accept the fact that Jim wasn't going to let go until he understood. Holding Blair was doing him just as much good as he hoped it was for his friend. He opened his senses completely, willing the comfort to flow from himself into Blair, wishing it would. Blair felt so small then, in his arms. So hurt and vulnerable. Like a little kid whose entire world had just crashed down around him. For a well traveled man, Blair had obviously spent little time looking inside himself. Jim held on, until the fear and guilt he had been feeling ever since Brackett's face came onto his television screen slowly began to fade, replaced by an almost overwhelming sense of relief. Physical contact had always been a big part of Jim's life. Too many people still had too many hangups about touching, and missed out on the incredible sense of comfort that words couldn't provide. He felt Blair sigh, and one arm finally came around, reciprocating, accepting Jim's comfort. The shaking had stopped completely now, but Jim continued to hold him. He was going to stand there and not let go until Blair understood, and accepted it. And felt better.
After a few minutes, Blair's arm came back to the front of Jim's shirt and grabbed another hand-full. Jim took a half step back and placed both hands on Blair's shoulders, looking down at him. Blair was looking at the floor, and he let him take a minute to compose himself.
"Listen Chief. You're my partner. You're not a cop, but you're my partner." He paused and Blair lifted his gaze to a midpoint between the floor and Jim's face. He was keeping his voice low, quiet, trying to maintain the calm he had felt finally entering Blair's body. "There's good and bad that goes with that, both ways. I've only had one other, and I wasn't there when Jack needed me. But I'm not losing you because of some jackass and his vendetta, or any hitman from Europe, or gun smuggler from Chile, or any stupid sense of misplaced guilt on your part. It's about friendship, remember? You think I'd go to all this trouble to housebreak you, if I didn't think you were worth it? I've taken you on, like it or not. And you're not getting out of it."
Blair laughed slightly, shaking his head, and finally looked up, for a moment. His eyes were still red, but they didn't look quite so helpless anymore. "So, what do we do now?"
him on the shoulders, squeezing for a moment, then let go. "Now, we eat breakfast.
Are you hungry?"
"Yeah, maybe a little." Blair nodded, and let go of Jim's shirt. "Just let me get cleaned up, okay?" He ran a hand through his hair, pushing it away from his face, and had to sniff back against the tears that were still there. It was useless trying to hide them now.
"Take your time. Remember what the doctor said." Jim caught his eyes and held them. "If you need help, say something. Okay?"
Blair raised his eyebrows for just a moment, nodding. "Yeah." Jim smiled then and walked towards the door. Blair took a step forward, "Hey, Jim?"
"Yeah?" Jim paused at the door, the knob in his hand, and looked back.
Blair took a deep breath, as deep as he could against his sore stomach. "Thanks, man." Was all he could say before his voice threatened to crack.
"Anytime, Chief. Anytime." Jim smiled, watching him for a moment, then left the room. He left Blair's door open as he walked into the hall, calling to Simon.
Blair remembered then that Simon was there. But Jim had shut the door, most likely for Blair's sake. He moved slowly to the closet and pulled out a fresh pair of sweats. His hands were shaking a little again, and he felt an overwhelming desire to just sit on the floor and cry. God, Jim deserves better! The man was a rock. Blair hadn't been held...comforted like that since...since...Since he couldn't remember. He was stunned by it at first. Stunned by Jim's reaction, stunned by his friend's own view of what had happened in each circumstance, and the guilt he had been feeling about Blair getting into trouble. Stunned by Jim's complete acceptance of him as his partner, and friend. And stunned by what that meant to him. He'd never been physically comforted by another man before, not in a way that made him feel so...So cared for. All of Naomi's friends had liked him well enough, and taken him everywhere he ever wanted to go, but they didn't stay. Blair was glad they didn't. He was used to it. But Jim...Blair wasn't used to someone caring that much for or about him. Now he wanted to get used to it. He had felt like a child, being held like that. But, like a child, it had done so much to make him feel better. Once he got past the shock, and let himself be comforted. It almost felt like...like Jim was absorbing his pain, pulling it away as he held him, and imparting a friendship like he had never known. For one incredible moment, he felt safe. For the first time in a long time, he felt safe and protected, and very, very small. That feeling didn't pass when he pulled away from Jim. He always felt small around the taller man, but it wasn't just physical size that made him feel that way. He admired Jim. He admired his strength of character, his unfailing drive, and now, his ability to care deeply for some screw up anthropologist who kept getting into trouble. Jim's emotions were solid, Blair's seemed...shallow. He realized his friend was serious, and he'd have to learn to accept his friendship, and everything that meant. Blair usually just hugged a pillow when he was really upset. But hugging someone...being hugged by someone, provided so much more. He'd have to start letting himself open up to his friend, let him know how much Jim's friendship was meaning to him. And he'd have to stop feeling guilty about Jim caring.
Blair sighed, pulling on the sweatshirt carefully so as not to instigate another round of spasms. He did remember bits and pieces now of the past day and a half, lying in the hospital, sweating and fighting the pain. Jim was there, each time he opened his eyes. Jim was always there. Zeller shooting Blair hadn't been Jim's fault, it was the elevator, he couldn't get up there in time. But he had made sure Blair wouldn't get hurt by insisting he wear that vest. Blair pulled on a clean pair of sweat pants and moved slowly across the hall to the bathroom. And Maya, that had been his own stupid fault. Jim never said he should fall in love with her. Well, if Jim could forgive him for so many mistakes, maybe he should start forgiving himself. He could hear Simon and Jim in the living room, talking about Kostov. There was still a case, then?
Blair entered the bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror. His eyes were still red, but he didn't care anymore. Jim hadn't been upset with him for wanting to cry earlier, and when he was holding him, the relief and security he felt almost overwhelmed him into tears. Even then, standing at the sink with the cold water running, the remembered feeling brought the emotions back on full force. Okay Sandburg, enough. Jim deserves better now. He splashed the cold water over his face for several minutes, washing away the last of the sweat and tears. He wanted a shower, but he was afraid of having another attack while in there. The doctors told him they would be infrequent, but unpredictable. And God it hurt when it happened. He brushed his teeth, ran wet fingers through his hair, and called it good.
"Sandburg, you look like hell." Simon watched Blair walk slowly into the living room and stood up to give him room on the couch.
"Thanks, Captain." Blair moved around the couch and sat down. "I feel like hell." He was shaking again, but figured that was due to exhaustion and lack of food. Jim was carrying a plate of eggs and a glass of orange juice to him. "What's happening with Kostov?" he asked, accepting the breakfast.
"As soon as Mike and Jeff get here, I've got a meeting with a guy in Vice." Simon had taken a seat in the chair opposite the couch. "He's got connections with some people in certain circles who can get the word spread around to Kostov that there's a bigger fish in the sea who just might want him out of the picture."
"What's the plan?" Blair asked, looking up at Jim who was standing on the other side of the couch, holding his coffee cup.
"Well, the way we figure it, Kostov hired Brackett to take out Delaney, before we could bring him into the witness protection program." Jim sipped his coffee. "So, the idea is, to get Kostov thinking there's someone else out there, who is paying Brackett to take him out. It's well known he works for the highest bidder, and has no problem taking out former bosses." Jim glanced at Simon. "So, we play both sides against the middle, and with any luck, come away with Kostov and Brackett both."
Blair nodded, trying to piece it together in his head. He'd be happy if they just got Brackett, but Jim had been after Kostov and his protection racket for some time now. And if he hadn't...If Brackett didn't...They'd have Delaney, alive, and testifying against his Russian boss.
There was a quiet knock on the door and Blair jumped, watching both Jim and Simon draw their guns.
Jim nodded to him, "It's Mike and Jeff. He still wears Brute."
Simon laughed, shaking his head, and looked through the peep hole. Satisfied, he opened the door and Mike Jenkins entered, followed by Jeff Clark.
"Captain." Mike glanced over to Blair and nodded, smiling. "Hey, it lives."
Blair raised his eyebrows and smirked a little.
"Come on outside for a minute, I'll fill you three in before I leave." Simon ushered the three Detectives into the hall.
Jim turned to Blair before closing the door. "I'll be right back."
"Yeah." Blair nodded. As soon as the door shut he eased himself off the couch and picked up his dishes. The eggs and orange juice had taken care of his shaking hands, but now his head needed coffee. There was still some left in the pot, so he put his dishes in the sink, found a clean cup, and returned with it to the couch. The four men could be heard outside, discussing the case, he assumed. Blair had just set the cup down when it hit. The pain sent him straight to the floor, landing hard on his knees, and buckling him over. He had to grit his teeth to keep from screaming, and even that didn't help. The cramping in his gut was as bad as that night, lying on the wet floor, wanting to die. He could hardly breathe. It was building, threatening to send him into unconsciousness. He heard the door, heard someone rushing across the room. The black spots that were dancing in front of his eyes began to fade as hands gripped him, pulling him off the floor and onto the couch.
"Damn!" He managed to get out between his teeth. The pain was easing as Jim pushed him into the cushions and his vision began to clear. He could see Jeff, Mike and Simon all standing there, watching him, with concerned looks on their faces. He was embarrassed then, that he had fallen, but at least he hadn't screamed. Even though he wanted to. Jim was holding him down and he reached out, taking his shirt sleeve in one hand and held on until the pain was gone. Then he nodded. "I'm okay." He was shaking all over again, and he could feel the sweat beading on his face and chest. God, how much longer was this going to go on? "I'm okay."
"This guy's gonna pay, believe me," Mike said, looking down at Blair from beside the couch.
Blair tried to smile and nodded at him. Mike was a good man, not just a good cop. Blair always thought he and Jim would be good partners, and he assumed Jim would be going with them on this case. He knew Jim would want in on catching Brackett, and putting Kostov away. But he didn't want him to go out there, not without him. And Blair didn't want to stay home without Jim. He realized then that he was still holding Jim's shirt and he let go.
"You going after him?" He asked, looking up at Jim and trying to stop shaking.
Jim shook his head, glancing at Simon and the others. "They're on this one Chief. You and I get to sit on the sidelines and wait."
"I'll let you know as soon as I get the ball rolling." Simon had started to speak before Blair could question them, moving to get his coat. "Jenkins, you and Clark think you can handle these two?"
Jeff laughed, "Sure Captain, I think between the two of us, we can handle them."
Mike was smiling and nodded his agreement.
"Okay, I'm off. Take it easy, you two." Simon left, glancing one more time at his discarded cigar in Jim's wastebasket. He sighed, shaking his head, and shut the door.
Mike locked the door after Simon and turned to the others. "So, what's on the agenda for today?"
"Anyone want coffee?" Jim patted Blair on the arm and left the couch, walking to the kitchen.
Blair closed his eyes for a minute, listening to the three in the kitchen, and leaned back into the couch cushions. He slowly eased his feet onto the coffee table and pulled a pillow onto his lap, hugging it against the throbbing that still pounded his stomach. At least most of it had happened when the others were in the hall. But when was the next one going to hit? And how much longer was this going to go on? Shouldn't they be getting better? He could still see Brackett's face when he closed his eyes. Still feel that needle piercing his neck. Still hear the hiss of steam as he lay on the floor, wanting to die. He tried to breathe through his nose, tried to establish a calming pattern, but Brackett was still there. He could hear the other three men coming into the living room and he opened his eyes. Brackett wasn't there, Jim was. He'd have to keep his eyes open for a while.
"Anyone up for poker?" Jeff asked.
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