It was a cold and wet Saturday night and in a fair world Blair Sandburg would have been home rugged up on the couch with a cold beer, watching the game in front of a warm fire. Instead, here he sat, next to a dirty, smelly dumpster in a rain soaked alley in Chicago, next to his best friend, Jim Ellison, waiting for a fugitive on the run from Cascade to pop up and try to buy some fake IDs so he could continue his run from the law somewhere else.
“You know,” he murmured softly to Jim, knowing the Sentinel had his hearing dialed up, “this is beginning to go beyond the bounds of friendship, man.”
“This? The whole sitting in a stinky alley thing?” Jim turned his head and Blair could see the smirk on his face by the light of the street lamp at the end of the alley. “Hey, I told you not to come. Said I’d be fine on my own.”
“Oh yeah, right. I know you haven’t zoned in months, Jim, but that’s in Cascade where you’re used to the sights and the sounds and the smells. This is Chicago. It’s like a whole new country out there just full of new things for your senses to get interested in and try to follow and identify.”
“I’d’ve been fine,” Jim said stubbornly then he turned back to the alley and grasped Blair’s arm in a sudden tight grip. “Sssh,” he whispered, “I think our boy is here.”
Blair watched as their CI, who was pretending to be the purveyor of fake ID, climbed out of his car and walked up towards the mouth of the alley, towards a tall, beefy man who stood waiting there.
“Damn,” Jim said, “he’s supposed to let Pike come to him. If he meets him near the entry, there’s too much room for Pike to run if he gets suspicious.”
The CI obviously realized the same thing for he turned and walked
back to his car, motioning over his shoulder for Pike to follow him. Pike hesitated for a moment then hurried after him.
Jim signaled to Blair to wait where he was then, just as Pike reached the CI’s car, the detective stood up and moved out of their hiding spot, his gun in his hand. “Freeze, Cascade PD!” Jim yelled just as their Chicago compatriots turned their patrol car into the alley, blocking off the fugitive’s one line of escape.
Blair was about to breathe a sigh of relief on a job easily accomplished when the driver of the patrol car hit his spotlight, the better to see what was going on. Blair watched in horror as he saw Pike reach into his pocket just as Jim turned to look at the spotlight. Even from where he was Blair saw the moment when Jim’s sight went into overload and he froze in a zone. He saw Pike’s gun come up and take aim at Jim’s chest and then Blair was flying across the alley, down low, tackling Jim at knee height with his shoulder. He saw the side of the car coming towards him almost in slow motion and then there was an awful pain in in his head and the lights blinked out.
Blair had dropped like a stone when his head hit the car. The crash had been enough to startle Jim out of his zone and he’d ducked down on the ground just as Pike’s bullet whizzed past his ear. Jim barely noticed what happened after that, his full attention on Blair, crumpled on the ground next to him.
He’d instinctively reached out with his hearing, relieved beyond measure when he picked up Blair’s slow but steady heartbeat. One of the Chicago cops came around the car, holstering his weapon and knelt down next to Jim. “You okay?” he asked.
“I’m fine but my partner’s not,” Jim replied tersely. He wanted nothing more than to turn Blair over so he could see for his own eyes what the damage was but he had enough first aid background to know Blair shouldn’t be moved till the paramedics arrived. He’d hit the car head on and Jim was worried that he might have injured his neck as well as his head. There was a small pool of blood beneath Blair’s forehead now, the blood coming from a small wound on his temple where he’d made contact with the edge of the car’s fender as he went down. Jim pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and carefully wadded it over the wound, without moving Blair’s head at all.
“Ambulance is on its way,” the Chicago cop said and Jim nodded. He placed his hand on the back of Blair’s curly head and just willed him to be all right. “You got Pike sorted?” he asked, though he was beyond even caring about the criminal at this point.
“Yeah, we got him wrapped up ready. He’ll be on prison bus back to Cascade tomorrow. Then he’s your problem again. Try to keep him locked up this time, okay?” the cop said with a grin. He looked up then stood up and moved back so the paramedics could get to Blair. Jim conceded his place at Blair’s side as well and the minute they had him in the ambulance, Jim was in his own rental car, ready to tail them to the hospital. He stuck strictly to the speed limit all the way there, much as it killed him to do so, and still managed to park his car in the Emergency parking area just as they were wheeling Blair inside.
He caught up with the gurney at the doors to the Emergency room and was gratified to see Blair’s eyes were open though he looked dazed and not with it at all. He’d had enough head injuries himself to know there were still a dozen things that could go wrong for Blair even now and so he was less than pleased when a nurse barred his way and told him he’d have to wait in the waiting area. Frustrated but not willing to hold the medical team back from treating Blair, Jim turned on his heel and walked back out to the waiting room. He could fill the time giving Blair’s details to the desk staff as well as calling Simon and letting his captain know that despite Blair’s injury they’d still managed to catch Pike. Besides, he could monitor Blair with his senses as long as he kept everything at a low level. It’d be a little more than embarrassing if he slipped into a zone here without Blair around to guide him back out of it.
He pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and went outside to make his call. Simon Banks was audibly concerned about Blair and that made Jim smile to himself. Simon would never admit it but Sandburg had gotten under the gruff captain’s defences as much as he had Jim’s. That was Sandburg for you.
He ended the call then went back inside and spent the next hour alternately pacing and trying to read a magazine, while keeping his hearing alert to anything he might hear about Blair. After a short while though his hearing was simply skittering around and never really picking up on anything he could identify as being about Blair and he was beginning to get a headache so he stood up and went over to the reception desk. “My partner was just brought in by ambulance,” he told the woman behind the desk.
“And you are?” the woman said, looking up at him, and in that moment Jim felt as if the world tilted on its axis and then righted itself. He grabbed the edge of the desk to steady himself, watching as the same expression of realization he was sure was on his face was mirrored on the woman’s.
“What are you doing here?” Jim asked, stunned. He hadn’t had any contact with his mother in several years now. He’d been angry with her when she’d told him she was moving out of state and hadn’t been prepared to even meet her halfway at the time. He’d had his reasons, he reminded himself now, and they were valid to him. He watched a little warily as his mother stood up and walked around the desk, reaching a hand up to pull him down so she could kiss his cheek. He allowed the gesture but kept it brief, stepping back a little so he could scrutinize her better.
“Ben got a job here in Chicago,” his mother replied. “He’s in insurance. His old company went bust so he applied to AllState and they hired him. That was a couple of years ago.” She gave him an appraising look. “You’re looking well. So why are you here?”
Jim shook himself mentally and reminded himself he was here to find out where Blair was. “My partner just got injured on an arrest. I followed the ambulance here. Can you find out where he is so I can go see him?”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Jim. Give me a minute.” She walked back around the desk and sat down, opened up a screen and looked at Jim enquiringly. “His name?” she asked.
She keyed it in then pressed enter, read what was on the screen and looked up at Jim. “He’s already been taken to a room on the neuro ward. Room 10. It’s on the 5th floor. You can take the elevator over there,” she said, pointing across the room.
“Thanks,” Jim replied. He turned away then turned back. “Good to see you, Mom,” he said, forcing a smile onto his face.
“Jimmy? Can we maybe catch up for dinner before you leave? I won’t bring Ben,” she said quickly.
“I’ve never had a problem with Ben,” Jim replied tersely. His mother was apparently as clueless about other peoples’ feelings as she’d ever been. Her choice of second husband had never been an issue with Jim, or with Steven, his brother, either as far as Jim knew. It was about the fact that Grace Ellison Kirkpatrick had walked away from her sons not once but twice and that had cut Jim to the quick. He had no intention of letting her get to him like that again. That steel barrier Jim kept erected to prevent getting hurt had been lowered only for a few people – Blair Sandburg for one. There was no way his mother was getting past it. “I don’t think we’ll be here long enough,” he replied flatly. “I’ve got to do all the paperwork about getting this guy extradited and get him back to Cascade ASAP. As soon as Blair’s been cleared to travel we’ll be leaving. Give my regards to Ben.” He walked off to the elevators without a backward look.
Jim was relieved to see Blair sitting up in the bed when he entered the room his mother had directed him to. “Hey, Chief, how you doing?” he asked, crossing quickly across the room to stand at the bedside.
Blair had a large bandage covering his temple and half his forehead and he looked a little pale but otherwise much better than Jim had thought he would.
“I’ve got a headache with its own zipcode but other than that I’m okay. Eight stitches,” Blair said, tapping the bandage gingerly. “Mild concussion but I’m fine, man. How about you? Did we get Pike?”
“Yeah, we got him, no thanks to you trying headbutt that sedan though,” Jim replied with a grin.
“You didn’t give me much choice, man,” Blair countered, “standing out there like a deer caught in the headlights. Anyway, it’s not the first time I’ve had to do this for you if you recall. It must be in the job description for being a Guide to a Sentinel, I think.”
“Well, next time aim for beneath the level of the side of the car, Einstein.” Jim lowered himself into the chair next to the bed and tried to rub away his own headache that was building in intensity.
“What’s wrong?” Blair asked immediately. “Uh uh, don’t give me that ‘nothing’s wrong. Why would you think something’s wrong?’ routine, Jim. I know you too well.”
Jim sighed then decided to come clean. “I just ran into my mom downstairs. She works here. I didn’t even know she was in Chicago!”
“Wow, really?” Blair pushed himself up in the bed. “That’s totally great, Jim. You hardly ever mention your mom so I’ve never liked to ask too much about her. I wondered if maybe she’d died…”
“Nope, she’s not dead. She’s just been gone. Twice actually.” Jim sighed again. “Look, she walked out on my Dad and Steven and me when I was just a little kid. The only time we really saw her was when my Dad would practically have to beg her to have us for a few days so he could go out of town on business trips. Long story short, I caught up with her again after Peru, when I came back stateside. She must have read that story in the magazine and she came to see me. I thought she was coming to say she was sorry for leaving us with my Dad all those years ago and that she wanted to start over. But nope, she came to tell me she was proud of me and to tell me that she and my stepdad were leaving town.”
“And you never saw her after that? Never stayed in touch?”
Jim shrugged. “She sent me a few letters. I didn’t open them. Look, Chief, she wasn’t satisfied with walking out on me once. She did it twice. That second time was the nail in the coffin of our relationship for me. Besides I wasn’t a kid needing his Mom anymore. I managed on my own.”
Blair nodded. “Okay, I hear you on that but now? Are you going to see her again before we leave?”
“Why? Like I said, that boat’s sailed.” Jim yawned, suddenly feeling the eventful night catching up with him. “I gotta get some sleep. I’m going back to the Chicago PD to write up the report and sign the extradition request then I’ll drop your overnight bag off and then finally, I’m going to get some sleep. I’ll swing by around 12 and see if they’re booting you out of here, all right?” He leaned forward and placed a gentle hand on Blair’s shoulder. “Thanks for what you did tonight, Chief. Really.”
“Anytime, partner. See you tomorrow.” Blair waved as Jim left the room.
“Ready to go?” Jim asked with a smile as he walked into Blair’s hospital room.
“Oh man, I am so ready,” Blair replied. He was already dressed and had his overnight bag that Jim had dropped off for him the night before packed and sitting next to him on the bed. “I am starving, man. You get kinda tired of hospital food once you’ve had to eat it a few too many times. Which it has been since I hooked up with you, partner, if you know what I mean.”
Jim laughed as he shouldered Blair’s bag and waited for Blair to climb into the wheelchair the orderly who had followed him to Blair’s room had brought with him. “I thought you could eat anything, Chief, and judging by that green crap I find in my fridge every morning, you do.”
“Nah, hospital food is in a league of its own, Jim.” Blair shuddered theatrically as the orderly wheeled him out and down the hall to the elevator.
Jim followed them in and pushed the button for the ground level. “We can grab something on our way out of town,” he suggested.
“Oh no, Jim, no fast food. Not when we’ve got a flight and airline food ahead of us. There’s this place in town one of the nurses told me about. It’s like a bistro but with great food. Let’s stop there before we head to the airport. We don’t fly out till this evening.” Blair looked up at Jim, widening his eyes and putting on his best wheedling tone. “I mean I did kind of save your life the other night.”
“Okay, can the puppy dog act, Chief. Truth be told I wouldn’t mind stopping for something to eat myself. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.” Jim didn’t tell Blair that he’d spent most of the night feeling guilty over the way he’d treated his mom. He still didn’t think she was in the right about what she’d done to him and Steven but he could have been a little more diplomatic about it.
“Okay, great.” Blair hopped out of the wheelchair as they reached Jim’s rental car and shook hands with the orderly, asking him to pass on his thanks to the staff for looking after him. Once they were settled in the car Blair handed Jim a card with the name and address of the restaurant on it and Jim found the best route there on the street directory that came with the car then set the car in motion and headed out of the lot.
“So, why the bad night?” Blair asked as they pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot.
Jim shrugged. “Couldn’t sleep without your snoring,” he replied glibly.
“Haha,” Blair said. He climbed out of the car and headed for the entrance while Jim locked up the car.
By the time Jim caught up with him Blair was already at the front counter and talking animatedly to a middle aged couple who were already there. All three turned around as Jim entered and Jim felt as if he’d been hit by a two by four. “Mom,” he said, shooting a death glare at Blair. “What are you doing here?”
“Now don’t be pissed, Jim,” Blair said, moving towards him with his hands up in a conciliatory gesture. “I contacted your mother last night and asked her to meet us here.”
“I see,” Jim said tightly, repressing the urge to spin on his heel and walk out. “Can I speak to you in private for a moment, Sandburg?”
He waited till Blair joined him just outside the restaurant doors then said, “How dare you set me up like this, Sandburg. You have no right to meddle in my private life-“
“Whoa!” Blair held up his hands again. “I’m not meddling… Well, okay, yes, I am a little but can you honestly tell me that the real reason you didn’t get much sleep last night is because you were beating yourself up over the way you acted toward your Mom yesterday? Jim, the only way you’re gonna have any kind of peace over this is if you hear your Mom out at least. You know as well as I do that the reason you and your Dad are okay now is because you finally got the chance to sit down and talk things out with him after he was almost killed. Same with Steven. Now, if you can give them that opportunity I think you owe to your Mom to give her the same. “
Jim sighed. “All right, I’ll talk to her but I’m not promising it’s all gonna be happy families from now on. My Dad might have been a lousy father but at least he didn’t walk out on us twice.”
“Well, he did some other pretty crappy stuff from what you and Steven have told me though so hey, just give her this time to try to explain what was going on with her when it happened, okay?”
“Okay.” Jim walked back into the restaurant and went over to his mother. “I’m sorry, Mom. I owe you at least the time to explain.”
His mother turned glowingly happy eyes on Blair and leaned forward to kiss his cheek. “Thank you, Blair, for making this opportunity happen for me.”
“No problem,” Blair said. “So, I booked two tables. One for Jim and his Mom and one for Ben and me. I thought you two might like some privacy.”
Ben laughed. “Good idea. Then if they haven’t killed each other over the course of the meal, we’ll join them for dessert? All right, Grace?”
“More than all right,” Jim’s mother said with a grin.
The concierge came over to escort them to their respective tables and Jim held back long enough to whisper, “Thanks, Chief. Again.”
“Any time, Jim,” Blair whispered back with a broad grin. “That’s what guides, and friends are for.”