by Kristine Williams
Jim turned as a nurse approached, holding out a steaming cup. "Thank you." He returned her smile and she lingered for just a moment before turning around. One of these days, Jim needed to find some time to hang around a hospital day and night, and spend some time talking with the nurses who were getting to know him so well. In the three days since bringing Blair there in the ambulance, both shifts of the nursing staff had looked out for Jim. Bringing him meals, coffee, even letting him use the shower in an adjacent empty room. If this happened again, they were going to think he was flirting. No. This wasn't going to happen again. Jim was going to make sure this didn't happen again.
He sipped his coffee and listened to the doctor explain to Blair the rules to be obeyed if he was to be allowed to go home. His bruised lung was showing no sign of serious complications. Jim's jaw clenched, the muscles of his face flexing. Blair's ribs were slowly beginning to show signs of knitting together. Jim forced his jaw to relax so he could take another drink of coffee. He no longer felt the compunction to avoid listening whenever Blair was being examined. Somewhere along the line, he had convinced himself that Blair's physical well-being was his concern at all times, and he didn't trust his partner to relay the information accurately in regards to the doctor's orders. Bed rest, no physical exertion, can't go back to work for 2 weeks. He could handle that. Jim would take some time off, make sure Blair wasn't alone in the loft until he could get around on his own. Surely the University could do without him for a little while? His teaching schedule always seemed oddly flexible.
Jim looked up as the doctor came out of the room, pen in hand.
"Detective, I understand Mr. Sandburg will be going home with you?"
"Yes, that's right."
"Good. He'll need some help for a few days, until he can manage to be on his feet alone." The doctor clicked his pen, then produced a large prescription pad from one of his pockets. "I'm going to send home quite a collection of pain killers, muscle relaxants, and cough suppressants. I'll give these to you now, they can fill them downstairs. See that he takes them religiously. They'll put him out quite a bit, especially for the first day or two, but then he can taper off and take them as needed." He finished writing out several sheets, then handed them to Jim. "I've signed him out for tomorrow morning. You can pick him up any time."
"Thank you, doctor." Jim accepted the prescriptions, then shook the doctor's hand. He let some of the relief he'd been too tense to accept wash over him as he watched the doctor leave. Finishing his coffee in one quick gulp, he tossed the empty cup into the trash, and returned to the room.
Blair was sitting up even farther than before, and holding his side with one arm tucked close. He looked up as Jim approached. "Jim, I've been thinking."
"That can't be good," Jim teased as he returned to the chair beside Blair's bed. His partner had a bit of his old sparkle back now that some of the more heavy drugs had cleared through his system.
"Back at the club, you said you were hit from behind, right?" Blair ignored Jim's comment.
"But the two guys who took me and Raymond out were already in the bathroom."
Jim paused for a moment, recalling that afternoon. "One of them must have jumped behind the door when I came in."
Blair shook his head, wincing just slightly. "No, I don't think so. He would have had to come out from around the door before he could hit you."
"Neither one has come forward about an accomplice. I think after this much grilling by the FBI, they'd want any partner they had to share in their misery, believe me."
Blair shook his head again, still not convinced. "I dunno, Jim. This just isn't you."
Jim laughed a little. "Not me? Sandburg, I've been sucker-punched before. Even by you, once."
Blair was pursing his lips, thinking about something, and Jim's remark went right over him. "Something just isn't right here."
"Well, that part's right." Jim stood then, and Blair looked up. "Listen, I'm gonna head home. You need some sleep if you're coming home in the morning." He put a hand on Blair's shoulder and squeezed gently. "Will you be okay here alone tonight?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. It just doesn't add up, Jim." He had been gesturing again in his usual manner, and suddenly winced with the pain, clutching his side.
"Hey!" Jim's hands immediately went to Blair's shoulders, easing him back against the bed. "You've got to learn to think with your head, Chief, not your hands."
Blair didn't fight the hands pushing him back against the pillows. Once there, he opened eyes that had been tightly closed, and nodded. "Right."
Jim waited until Blair's breathing returned to the shallow but restful pattern that the injuries allowed. "Now, you going to rest and be okay, or do I spend another night in that chair?"
Blair glanced around the room for a moment, as if trying to recall something. "Jim..."
"Relax." Jim held up a hand to forestall the protest. "The hospital is closer to the Station, and I've been back and forth quite a bit lately. Now, if you're okay, I'd like to go home and get a good night's sleep."
"I'm fine," Blair insisted.
"Okay. I'll be here first thing in the morning to take you home." Jim walked to the door, then turned back as he shut it.
"Hey, thanks, Jim." Blair looked up from the bed, but didn't try to move again.
"Get some sleep." Jim pulled the door shut and felt a twisting in his gut. That damn chipper attitude of his was back, and doing him more harm than good, as usual. It could be partly Jim's doing. He'd been trying to teach Blair how to bounce back from some of the nastier things he was coming into contact with while on the job with him. But a lot of that was just Blair. His natural ability to see another side to almost anything. At times, it meant pushing out reality, though, and that wasn't doing him any good. You can't deal with something if you don't take it out, look at it, examine it, and deal with it. Well, this time, Jim was going to deal with it for him.
Back at the loft, after collecting three days worth of mail, Jim made himself some dinner and sat wearily down on the couch, clicking on the television for company. He was halfway through his five-day old leftover meatloaf when Raymond's face appeared on his television screen.
Damn. This was the last thing they needed, publicity on a case in progress. Jim found the remote and increased the volume. Raymond was there, at the steps of the courthouse, with the Montana mountain that fathered him, and a lawyer Jim couldn't recall the name of.
"I don't care what that lady is claiming, I had nothing to do with it," Raymond was announcing. Jim's jaw clenched at the sound of his voice. My name is Sandburg.
"Now, if you'll excuse us, ladies and gentlemen. My son has been through enough lately, having just narrowly escaped a kidnapping attempt. We have no further comment." Mr. Whatcom pushed aside the cameras, and shoved his son ahead of him, toward a waiting limo.
Jim watched as the huge figure of Eugene Whatcom was swallowed up by the black limousine. He hadn't seemed too impressed about the kidnapping attempt on his son when Jim met him at the Station. In fact, it had seemed more like he was annoyed at having been called out of his shareholders' meeting, than concerned with his son's well-being. Maybe that would have be different, had it been Raymond who was beaten.
Jim clicked off the TV and set his plate down. Rubbing hands over a tired face, he sighed, then glanced around the empty loft. It was quiet. Too quiet. Normally he liked peace and quiet, but this was a stillness he didn't care for at all. Gone was the sound of Blair writing in the next room, or playing his music so loud that even with his headphones on, Jim was annoyed. He got up and stretched, then took his plate to the kitchen. The dishes there were old, and needed soaking, so Jim just filled the sink with steaming water, and stuffed all the dirties inside. Maybe in the morning they'd be easier to clean, and he'd be more in the mood. Right now, he just needed a beer and to go to bed.
Upstairs was no better. The silence screamed at him, making Jim's ears ring with the static of nothing to listen to. He drank his beer while getting undressed, occasionally stopping to listen for something that wasn't there. He knew Blair was several miles away, and he was fine. He'd be home tomorrow. But he kept finding himself unconsciously seeking out his partner's breathing, or heartbeat. By the time he finished the beer, he felt sufficiently relaxed and climbed into bed, setting his internal alarm for 6 am.
At 3 AM Jim turned over for the millionth time, smashing a fist into his pillow. At 4 AM he got up to go to the bathroom, and nearly walked into Blair's room to see what was keeping him so quiet. By 5 AM, he was beginning to go insane.
"That's it, Sandburg. A Guide you might be, but a cop you ain't," Jim said out loud, finally giving up on sleep altogether. No point, really, with just one hour left. He hit the shower, automatically hurrying so Blair would have enough hot water to do that hair of his. That was when he remembered the hot water tank. It was too early to make any calls, but he was definitely ordering one this week. Today, if he got the chance.
After getting dressed, he found himself back in Blair's room and decided keeping busy was the only thing that would make time pass. He stripped his partner's bed, changed the sheets, then drew the blankets down so he could deposit Blair straight into bed when they got home later that morning. The small pile of dirty clothes on the floor in the corner were taken to the hamper in the bathroom, a hamper Blair still missed each and every time. Jim noticed his Cascade PD sweatshirt in the pile, only then remembering Blair still had it. He had dropped off a pair of sweats and a zip front sweatshirt for Blair to come home in. Once his room was in order, Jim went to the kitchen to tackle the dishes. By 6:30, the loft was spotless, and Jim could find no more to do. The nurses had informed him that Blair could be picked up no sooner than 10:00, so that left nothing to do but go in to the Station and wait.
Simon was in his office, and waved to Jim as he entered the bullpen.
"I didn't expect to see much of you today." Simon was filing some papers as Jim entered the office.
"I'll be picking Sandburg up at 10:00." Jim nodded when the Captain raised the coffee pot in a gesture of offering. "Thanks, Captain."
"You'll be taking a few days off, I assume?" Simon handed over a cup after pouring milk into it, then sat down behind his desk.
Jim sipped his coffee and nodded. "Yeah. I'm just glad this one ended when it did, Simon."
"Jim, what's the matter?"
Jim sighed, shaking his head as he sat down in front of the desk. "It's this case, Simon. It just doesn't sit right with me."
"You look tired, Jim." Simon put his elbows on the desk and leaned forward. "Listen, you need some time off, not just to take care of Sandburg, but to take care of yourself, too. Something's been bugging you lately, and I get the feeling it's more than just spending the last three days sleeping in a chair."
Jim rubbed his forehead, trying to push away the weariness that was creeping up. "I can't let him do this anymore, Captain." There, he'd said it. Simon would back him. The Captain had never wanted Blair around this much anyway, he'd help Jim convince the kid it was to his best interests to no longer go on the cases with Jim.
"Jim, I don't think this is something you should be considering right now."
Jim looked up, hearing his Captain's quiet tone of voice, and not the cheery agreement he had been expecting.
"Listen, you're exhausted. You need time to catch up on some sleep, and see Sandburg get better. You'll feel differently in a few weeks."
Jim was slightly stunned, and a little disappointed that his Captain wasn't backing him in this decision. It had been hard enough to come to the conclusion he had, he'd hoped for some support. "Captain, Blair's not a cop. He's got no business being out there where he can get hurt like this. I can let him come here, and help me, but out there..." Jim shook his head. "No, I can't handle this again. He could have died."
"Yes, he could have. But he didn't." Simon's voice was still reasoning and quiet. "Jim, he's been in worse. And some of it he's even found all by himself. And we've already found out he's no safer right here in this building then he is out there somewhere."
"I can't believe you're not backing me on this." Jim felt his anger rise, and had to suppress it. He had no business getting mad at his Captain.
"Jim, as much as I hate to admit it, Sandburg has been the best thing to happen to you since I've known you." Jim opened his mouth to protest and Simon held up a hand. "Now, I know I wasn't too keen on the idea at first, but the kid has proven himself helpful, and not just with those senses of yours. He's got a good head on his shoulders, most of the time, and he's a quick thinker. I'd like to think that's been your influence, but some of him has been rubbing off on you, too."
"Oh, really?" Jim let that drawl out, one eyebrow raised. God, he hated it when Simon did this, tried to make him see reason on a subject he felt his Captain should be on his side about.
"You're one hell of a lot calmer than you used to be. You don't go off on your little loner vendettas that scared the shit out of me. And, without your partner, you'd probably be a basket case with these oddball senses of yours."
Jim shook his head, but he was too tired to argue the point. He'd been fighting with the idea of cutting Blair out of the detective work for the past three days, and his brain was tiring of the subject. He'd come to Simon with it hoping for some agreement, something he could use to justify the thoughts to himself, but he'd been disappointed.
Simon finished his coffee and set his cup off to one side. "This Whatcom character has been mouthing off to the press, but apparently he's been able to keep his mouth shut about the kidnapping."
"Yeah, I saw him on the news last night. What was that about?"
"Seems he's been accused of getting a girl pregnant. And she's suing him for a few million."
Jim laughed, shaking his head. He'd pegged Raymond for a sleaze the day they met. "His father must be happy about that."
"Not hardly. I gather there's not much love lost between those two right now. Can't say as I blame him. Mr. Whatcom seems like a reasonable man, but to be saddled with a son like Raymond, that would try any man's patience."
"Yeah. Anything more on those two about an accomplice?"
"No, nothing. If there was one, surely they'd have ratted him out by now."
Jim shook his head. "I dunno, Simon. It's been bothering me lately, something Blair said about the two men who took him out having already been in the bathroom."
"Maybe it was just one of them, and the second man came in behind you?"
"I can't see one man taking out both Blair and Raymond."
"Well, maybe when they get into the plea bargaining, and these two realize they're going down for a long time, they'll get more talkative."
"Yeah, maybe." Jim stood, checking the clock. "I'd better go pick up Sandburg. Thanks for the coffee, Captain."
"Listen, you take care of yourself for a few days, you hear me?"
"He'll be fine, Simon." Jim purposely misunderstood his reference.
"I know he will, Jim. It's you who needs some rest. Things will look better in a few days, trust me."
Jim stopped by his own desk to gather up a few files he wanted to go over at home, then dumped them into a small box he found, and went back down to the truck. Mike Jenkins joined him in the elevator from the 5th floor.
"Hey, Ellison, how's the kid?"
"Coming home today," Jim replied, wondering if the feeling in his gut could be due to having skipped breakfast.
"Good. A couple of weeks sitting around on the couch, driving you nuts, and you'll be happy to drag him back to work, eh?"
Jim nodded. He wouldn't get any support from Mike. In fact, as he quickly ran through his list of co-workers that mattered, he realized they all thought the world of Blair, and the help he had been giving Jim all this time. None of them would agree that his partnership needed to change, to keep Blair safe. Maybe they were right. But dammit, Jim couldn't go through this again.
"Yeah, I'll be spending all my free time at the Station by next week, just to get some peace."
"Well hey, if you need us to gang up on him, give me and Clark a call, we can get another poker game going." Mike slapped Jim on the back as the elevator stopped on the 2nd floor, then stepped out, leaving Jim alone to descend to the garage.
No, Mike would definitely side with bringing Blair back to work. Jim deposited the box behind the driver's seat and started up the truck. By the time he got to the hospital, he was beginning to reconsider. He'd kept Blair alive through worse, after all. And Blair had on more than one occasion kept him alive.
When he entered the room, and saw Blair holding his side with jaw clenched and tears cresting the outside corners of each eye, he changed his mind again.
"Hey!" Jim rushed to the side of the bed and put a hand on Blair's shoulder as he was beginning to straighten back up. He'd managed to get the sweat pants on, probably with a nurse's help, but was only halfway done with the jacket. "Where's the nurse?" Jim scolded, taking the still dangling side of the shirt and easing it over Blair's waiting arm.
"She went to get a wheelchair."
He had to keep Blair from bringing his arm around too quickly. Pain was apparently not a good motivator to slow his normal activity level. "What did the doctor say?"
Blair glanced up at Jim before beginning to zip the sweatshirt jacket. "Fine, no problems. He gave me something that will put me to sleep. I'd just as soon be home when it takes over."
Jim laughed lightly, then turned as the nurse entered with the wheelchair. It was the tall one with the long blonde hair, who had been so nice to Jim during the day shift. He let her take the handles and accompany them down to the truck. He used her presence to keep him from the conversation he still wasn't ready to get into. When he helped Blair into the truck, he could tell the injection the doctor had given him for the drive home was kicking in. Jim secured Blair's seatbelt, then shut the door and walked around the front of the truck, waving at the nurse who had just turned to leave.
"You with me, Chief?" Jim noticed Blair's eyes beginning to dilate.
"Yeah. Just hurry home, or you'll be carrying me upstairs."
He laughed and started the truck. "You'd better get used to it, you'll be doing a whole lot of nothing for 2 weeks."
"You listened, didn't you?" Blair asked, looking at Jim.
"I need to know these things, Sandburg," Jim replied, glancing at him as he backed the truck out.
Blair shook his head slowly. "Privacy isn't a big issue with you anymore?"
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