Comfort for the Soul
“A house is a home when it shelters the body and comforts the soul.”
“I just think you were a little hard on her, Jim.” Blair Sandburg gave his partner a considered look. I mean, she said she doesn’t know where her brother is. You practically called her a liar.”
“Well, I probably should have called her one because I think she is,” Jim Ellison retorted hotly. He rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. This was turning out to be a bad day. The case they were working on involving the selling of stolen jewelry was stalled and their last lead had turned out to be anything but cooperative.
“Look, I’m not telling you how to do your job, man—“
“Could’ve fooled me,” Jim grunted as he climbed behind the wheel of the truck. He barely waited for Blair to buckle up before peeling out into traffic with a loud squeal from the tires.
“Whoa!” Blair stuck out a hand to stop himself from ending up face-first against the dash. “What’s your problem, Jim?”
“My problem? Well, let’s see,” Jim bit back sarcastically, “I have a case that’s going nowhere and the first time we get a lead, my partner decides I’m being too tough on the poor little witness who probably knows exactly what her baby brother’s up to his neck in. You think I didn’t run my senses with her while we were questioning her?” he asked rhetorically. “I’m not exactly a rookie at this Sentinel stuff anymore, Sandburg.”
“Hey, I know that—Wait, you did? It worked? You could actually tell she was lying by her heartbeat and stuff… although… You sure she wasn’t just nervous or upset? I mean you were pretty rough on her—“ Blair held up his hands in a gesture of apology. “Sorry, just thinking out loud here.”
Jim grabbed his ringing cell, answering it gruffly. He listened for a moment before thumbing it off and tossing it on the seat between them. “Stop thinking, Sandburg. Rawlins has been sighted.” He screamed the truck into a U-turn, sending Blair sprawling against his door, despite the seatbelt, then accelerated back the way they’d come.
Blair rubbed a hand ruefully against the back of his head, shrugging as he saw Jim was watching him from inside Simon’s office.
Rawlins hadn’t gone down easily. Blair had left the truck against strict orders and paid for his impetuous action when Rawlins slammed a two by four against the back of his head. That, and lectures from Jim and Simon Banks reminding him he wasn’t a cop and when told to stay in the truck, that’s damn well where he better stay if he didn’t want to get his ride-along revoked, had made his head throb. Blair grumpily picked up the ice pack Jim had slung at him when they’d gotten back to the precinct and held it to his aching head. He was beginning to wonder if finding a Sentinel was all he’d thought it would be cracked up to be.
“You all right?”
Blair looked up to see Jim standing next to him. “Um, yeah.”
“You nodded off for a few minutes,” Jim observed. “Thought I’d better come make sure you hadn’t passed out.”
“Funny—“ Blair began then stopped when he realized Jim looked serious.
Jim shrugged. “You were sitting up one minute and the next time I looked you were face-down across the desk. I’d’ve panicked if my senses hadn’t told me you were sleeping. You ready to go?”
“Yeah, sure.” Blair stood and stretched, wiping the corner of his mouth where he could feel some drool. Guess he had nodded off after all.
“You sure you’re okay?” Jim asked, slinging him his jacket.
“Yeah, I’m just tired. I guess spending the day at the pediatrics ward with Emily yesterday wiped me out. Not to mention getting hit upside the head by Rampaging Rawlins,” he added with a smile.
“Look, I know you fit a lot into your days. Any time you need a break from all of this,” Jim encompassed the bullpen with his gesture, “just say so, all right? I can manage a few days without you.”
That shocked Blair enough to straighten him up. He pulled on his jacket and led the way out to the elevator. “I’m fine. I’ll let you know if I’m not, okay? But, I mean, if you don’t want me around, cramping your style, getting under your feet—“
“Oh for Pete’s sake,” Jim growled, punching the down button. “Show a little consideration and that’s what I get?”
The doors opened and Blair stepped back in surprise as Sally Rawlins was ushered through and into the bullpen, handcuffs gleaming on her wrists. “What’s Sally doing here?”
“Oh yeah, forgot to tell you. Rawlins admitted he’s been holed up with little sis from day one. He says she knew exactly what he’d been up to. He promised her a share of the take,” Jim replied, his tone more than a little smug.
“Yeah, ‘oh’, so maybe now you’ll cut me a little slack when I tell you I might know a little more about police work than you do,” Jim said sharply, pushing Blair ahead of him into the elevator.
“Jim, I’ve never said that—“ Blair stopped, feeling overwhelmingly tired suddenly. “Let’s just forget it,” he said instead, in a tone as flat as he could muster.
“Sure. Fine,” Jim agreed tersely, and that was that. Neither of them spoke the rest of the way home.
Blair spent most of the night tossing and turning. He felt hot and antsy. Finally, around four in the morning, he gave up sleep as a lost cause and went to take a shower, hoping the warm water would soothe him enough to let him try again. His head ached dully now that he was up. He put that down to the bang on the head he’d received the day before.
Standing under the shower, he turned his mind to what was happening between him and Jim. He’d been wondering for some time now if maybe they were living too much in each other’s pockets. It had to bug Jim more than it did Blair. Jim, after all, had lived alone for a couple of years before Blair had come barreling in with his ‘just one week, man’ and turned the cop’s life upside down. It felt better for Blair to think that was the reason for Jim’s pissy attitude of late than to think it was because he really had grown sick of having Blair in his life.
“Jesus, Sandburg, since when do you take showers at oh-dark-thirty?”
Jim’s voice echoed through the small bathroom. Blair pulled back the shower curtain and smiled apologetically. “Sorry, Jim, couldn’t sleep. I was really hot and sweaty and—“
“TMI, Chief,” Jim turned and called over his shoulder as he walked out to the kitchen. “You want coffee? No point in going back to bed now.”
“Crap.” Blair cursed himself under his breath then called out brightly, “Coffee’d be great, man, thanks.”
He toweled off and dressed before joining Jim in the kitchen.
“I’ve been thinking,” he began, accepting the coffee mug and sipping gratefully on the hot brew.
“There’s a newsflash,” Jim interjected.
He was smiling so Blair brushed it off. “Yeah, I know,” he replied good-naturedly, sitting down at the table. “Um, maybe it’s time I moved out, let you have your place to yourself.”
He saw the moment Jim’s expression closed off, even as his friend shrugged nonchalantly.
“You’re a big boy, Sandburg, you wanna move out, go ahead.”
“Well, I was just thinking that we’re together all the time… Well, a lot of the time anyway,” Blair amended. “You know what with working together and all, so I just thought maybe I should get my own place—“
“I said it’s fine,” Jim said flatly, his tone giving every indication the conversation was over as far as he was concerned. “You got somewhere lined up?”
“Well, no, not yet. I just thought of it this morning. If you’d rather I stayed though—“
“I lived alone long before you came along, Sandburg. I’m sure I’ll cope without your scintillating presence.” Jim put his cup in the dishwasher and headed for the bathroom. “I’m going to take a shower… if you’ve left me any hot water, that is.”
“See, that’s another reason why I should get my own place,” Blair called after his retreating back. “You’ll get your hot water tank to yourself.”
Jim just closed the door behind himself, its muted slam giving Blair no real indication of his feelings.
“Okay,” Blair whispered. “So, does he want me to go or does he want me to stay?”
The bathroom door opened and Jim stuck his head out. “He wants you to make up your own mind about what you want, Chief. No skin off my back either way. Please yourself.”
The door closed again and Blair rubbed at his aching head. Shrugging, he went downstairs to get a newspaper.
Blair looked around at his new if somewhat seedy apartment, smiling as Jim dumped the last of his boxes on the linoleum floor.
Jim straightened up and looked around as well, shaking his head. “You sure you want move in here, Chief?”
“It’s a done deal, man. I’ve already paid the rent. Besides, I think this’ll be good, for you too—“
Jim raised his hand. “I already told you I didn’t mind you staying at my place.”
“I know, but you gotta admit, Jim, you’ve got to be as relieved about this as I am.” The minute Blair said the words he wanted to take them back. “That didn’t come out right,” he murmured apologetically.
“It’s fine.” Jim nodded tersely.
“I just meant we seem to be getting on each other’s nerves a lot lately and I just figured—“
“A little space would do us both good,” Jim finished for him. “We’ve had this conversation before, several times as a matter of fact.”
“See, that’s what I mean,” Blair said, ready to jump into a longer explanation of why Jim’s Sentinel abilities made him more likely to want solitude, even from his guide.
Jim shook his head and headed for the door. “I’ll see you around then,” he said as he opened the door.
“Well, yeah, I’ll be at the station after classes tomorrow,” Blair replied. “You sure you don’t want to go out for dinner?”
“I thought the whole idea of this little exercise was to spend time apart,” Jim said tightly.
“Yeah, you’re right. Okay, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.” Blair waved a goodbye, which Jim didn’t bother to return. “Yep, see ya later, Jim,” Blair whispered as the door slammed shut behind his friend. “Damn it!”
Blair looked around his new home. Paint peeling from the walls and worn linoleum made the place seem a lot less welcoming than the loft had been. Mind you, it was a damn sight nicer than the warehouse. That seemed to be the story of his life, he thought dejectedly, slumping down on the lumpy sofa the previous tenant had kindly left behind. It was either famine or feast. He guessed he’d just have to tighten his belt a few notches and hope that the next feast wasn’t too far around the corner. Hopefully, six months or so from now he and Jim would have come to a better working relationship and friendship, one that wasn’t dogged by Jim’s impatience at feeling hemmed in, and by Blair’s insecurities that Jim didn’t really want him around.
“Yeah, look for the silver lining, Sandburg,” he told himself firmly as he opened one of his boxes and started to unpack.
“Where’s Sandburg?” Simon looked around the loft as if Blair might have been hiding behind the couch, ready to jump out and yell, ‘Surprise!’
“Not here,” Jim said shortly, walking past his captain with a bowl of chips in each hand. He put them on the table then went back to the kitchen for the dips. “Beer?” he offered.
“Hmm? Oh yeah, why not?” Simon took the proffered bottle and uncapped it, walking around the island to put the cap in the bin. “So where is he?” He sipped on the beer as he looked around the room. Something was off-kilter, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on… “Shit! His stuff’s gone! You kicked him out?” Simon sounded as shocked as he felt. Jim and Blair had seemed joined at the hip the past few months. The last thing he’d expected was for Blair to move out of the loft.
“No, I didn’t kick him out,” Jim corrected vehemently. “He moved out, his choice, not mine.”
He walked quickly across to open the door to a surprised Brown and Rafe. Taggart was at their backs.
“How’d you know we were here?” Brown asked, one hand held ready to knock.
“Nobody could not know you were here,” Jim remarked dryly, standing aside to let them in. “Mrs. Harrison downstairs is deaf as a post and I bet even she heard you.”
Taggart snorted a laugh as he made a beeline for the chips and grabbed a handful out. “Oooh, is this Blair’s special poker night dip?” he asked, lifting the lid of the Tupperware container sitting on the table.
“No,” Jim snapped, taking the lid from Joel’s hand. “It’s regular Jim Ellison French Onion dip.”
“Oh, that’s okay, I like French Onion,” Joel replied quickly. “No offense meant, Jim.”
“None taken,” Jim said, sounding somewhat mollified.
“So, where’s Blair?” Rafe asked, handing beers to Brown and Taggart from the six-pack in his arms. “Hope he’s ready for me to get my money back.” He grinned broadly. “Revenge is going to be so sweet.”
“Sandburg’s not here,” Simon supplied helpfully. He waited to see if Jim would explain, but Jim remained silent.
“What? No Blair? Where is he, Jim?” Joel looked over at Jim.
Jim shrugged then sighed. “He’s moved out, okay? Got himself a new place over on Dunstan Street. *His* idea,” he added.
“Oh.” Rafe mirrored Jim’s shrug then seated himself at the table. “So we playing cards?”
Everyone sat down. Simon tried his level best to ignore the empty chair next to him where Blair normally sat. He noticed Jim eyeing it uncomfortably a few times over the course of the game. Conversation was muted in comparison to other nights.
Simon felt a little relieved to be leaving when he gathered up his coat and headed for the door at the end of the evening. “So, Sandburg’s still going to be working with you, right?” he asked Jim.
“Yeah, whenever he has time,” Jim replied, his jaw twitching noticeably.
“You sure you’re okay with this, with him moving out—“
“I’m fine. It’s kind of nice to have the place to myself. Maybe he was right. We were getting on each other’s nerves. I’ll see you tomorrow, Simon.”
Simon sketched a quick wave and headed for his car.
Stretched out on his back staring at the ceiling, Blair realized he’d never really known just how much he’d liked living at the loft until now. It was poker night. He’d expected a call from Jim all day, reminding him of that fact and asking him to come over. The call didn’t come, and now Blair was at a loose end, time that would normally have been filled with the company of friends stretched before him, devoid of anything to do.
It wasn’t helping that he felt like crap. His head ached constantly, his eyes were sore and he had a vague itchy feeling prickling all over his skin. A hand to his forehead told him he had a fever, but he’d run out of Tylenol, after having used the last of the pack to alleviate his headache after tangling with Rawlins. Moving into his own place had pretty much wiped out what available cash he had, and there was no more forthcoming for another week when his stipend from the University came through.
A knock on his door had him stumbling to his feet, hope surging inside that Jim had come to see him after all, but a quick peek through the spy hole shattered that idea as he saw a man he didn’t recognize standing in the hallway.
“Can I help you?” he asked, opening the door but keeping the chain on.
The man stepped forward, shouldering against the door, snapping the chain and sending Blair falling back into the room.
“What the hell—“ Blair rolled quickly to his side but was shoved onto his back again by dint of the man aiming a kick into his ribs. “Look, I don’t have any money,” Blair managed to pant out through wheezy gasps for air.
“Shut up and stay there,” his assailant ordered, walking across to the sofa and flicking open an Army knife. He slashed at the back of the furniture and pulled out a bag of white powder. He held it up with a smile on his face. “Damn landlord kicked me out before I could get my stuff,” he said, grinning down at Blair.
He walked back to Blair’s side, knelt down, and ran the tip of the knife down Blair’s arm to his wrist, holding it over the pulse point. “Where’s your phone?” he asked grimly.
Blair nodded his head toward his jacket. “It’s in the pocket.”
As the man stood up, Blair rolled quickly to his side and tried to make it onto his hands and knees. A hand fixing in the back of his hair halted his movements. He yelped as his hair was tugged sharply, his headache flaring to new life.
The man tossed him over onto his back again and knelt on his chest, keeping him in place. “That was a mistake,” he muttered. With that, he pressed the knife into Blair’s wrist and twisted, clamping his other hand over Blair’s mouth as he yelled in pain. “I’m the one with the knife, you got that?”
Blair nodded furiously, tears of pain trickling down his hot cheeks. “What do you want?’ he managed to ask through gritted teeth, His hand was burning and he could feel warm blood trickling down over his palm.
“I have someone meeting me here.” The man stood up.
Blair gasped in relief as the pressure on his ribs lifted.
“What’s your name?” the man asked.
“Well, Blair, you can call me Tony. It’s not my real name of course but it’ll do for now. We’re gonna be spending a little time together waiting for my friend, so we might as well be on first name terms, right?” Tony moved away, more slowly this time, keeping his eyes on Blair as he reached into Blair’s jacket pocket and pulled out the cell phone. “Nice phone,” he remarked as he flipped it open. “What’s someone who can afford a phone like this doing living in this dump?”
“It was a gift from a friend,” Blair said softly. Jim had given him the phone after he’d rescued Blair from Lash. He’d wanted Blair to be able to reach him in an emergency, he’d said. Well, this was an emergency all right, Blair thought, but there was no way he was going to get his hands on the phone to call Jim now. He swallowed down his anguish and fear and tried to school his face into a calm scrutiny of his attacker, watching as Tony punched in a number then told the person who answered he had the stuff and gave him Blair’s address. If he made it out of this alive, he’d at least be able to show Jim that he’d listened to his lectures on what to do in these situations – stay calm, take note of everything about your assailant… Yep, Jim’d be proud… *if* he made it out alive. Blair’s eyes burned with emotion as he thought about that. He turned his head away so Tony wouldn’t see his weakness. All he had to do was wait and watch for an opportunity…
Simon pulled out onto Prospect, wondering if he should really do what he planned to do – go and see Sandburg. Hey, he was the first to admit the kid was a little flaky, but he had worked wonders on Jim. The whole unit’s solve rate had increased and most of that was down to the way Blair worked on Jim’s Sentinel abilities. Only months before, Jim had been a shell of himself, ready to throw in the towel, and Simon hadn’t been far from letting him do it. Then Jim had met Blair and almost overnight the cop was back in Detective of the Year mode, working with his senses instead of against them.
Simon sighed as he made the turn onto Dunstan Street, keeping his eyes peeled for Blair’s distinctive car. Hell, there was no reason Sandburg had to live at the loft to help Jim with his senses, he supposed, but Jim had shown signs of his previous self tonight, the self that wanted to work alone, and Simon didn’t think Jim had as good a handle on his senses by himself as he thought he did. Blair moving out was one step closer to Jim deciding he didn’t need his help anymore, and there was no way Simon wanted to see that happen, no way he wanted a repetition of that scene in his office during the Switchman case when Jim’s senses had overwhelmed him without Blair’s guidance.
He flashed his brights and caught sight of Blair’s car parked in front of an apartment building. Damn, he had no way of knowing which apartment he was in. Pulling over, he took out his cell phone and dialed Blair’s number.
“Who’s this?” he asked of the unfamiliar voice that answered his call. He pulled the phone away from his ear and flicked on his overhead light, peering at the number on the display. It was the right number. He quickly put the phone back to his ear in time to hear the strange voice on the other end ask if he was Manelli. “What?” he said. “Let me talk to Blair Sandburg,” he insisted, the name Manelli ringing a bell somewhere in the recesses of his brain.
“He’s busy right now,” the man on the other end said.
“Fine, I’ll wait,” Simon replied mulishly.
It took a couple of minutes before Blair came to the phone. “Who’s this?” he asked, sounding out of breath.
“Banks,” Simon said. “Look, I need to talk to you about what’s going on with you and Jim. I know it’s not any of my business,” he added quickly before Blair could say just that, “but humor me, all right? You’ve got company so I’ll call back some other—“
“No! It’s fine,” Blair responded, sounding overtly enthusiastic.
“You’re sure?” Simon waited but Blair didn’t reply though his breathing could still be heard over the phone. “Well, I’m not a mind reader, Sandburg, what’s your apartment number?”
“Yep, that should be fine, Dr. Banks, ten tomorrow morning. No problem. I’ll see you then.”
The phone clicked off. Simon looked at it in puzzlement. Dr. Banks? What the hell was Sandburg playing at? He still didn’t have the apartment number. He was about to redial the phone when the name that had been dinging in the back of his head suddenly made the leap from ‘where have I heard that name before?’ to ‘aw, Jesus, Sandburg, what the hell have you gotten yourself into this time?’. Manelli, new kid on the block in the cocaine business. He’d been barely a blip on the radar for a few months, but the past week or so his name was being bandied around by every snitch in town as someone who was a mover, primed to take over Joe Dando’s drug business now that Dando was enjoying a nice, long vacation in jail.
Simon dialed Jim’s number and started talking the minute he heard the phone pick up. “Jim, I’m outside Blair’s apartment and something hinky’s going on… It doesn’t matter why I’m here. Just get your ass out of bed and over here as fast as you can.” He waited while Jim asked the expected questions. “Look, it’s something to do with Manelli.” Obviously Jim made the connection with the name faster than Simon had because the phone suddenly went dead in Simon’s hand. Sighing, he dialed the precinct and asked for back up – no lights, no sirens. Spooking whoever was holed up in Blair’s apartment could make the whole situation go to hell in a hand basket, if it hadn’t already.
Easing back against the seat, Simon looked up at the lighted apartment windows. Blair had made a point of saying 10 AM. Maybe he was in apartment 10. Simon counted along the windows and found what should be the right one, then kept his eyes on it while he waited.
Tony ripped the phone from Blair’s hand and leaned over him, a sneer on his face. “Your doctor calls you to make appointments?” he asked disbelievingly. “What is he, hard up for patients?”
Blair shook his head, groaning as all the sore parts of his body decided to check in at once. “No,” he whispered. “You see, I’m really sick. I missed an appointment the other day. It was really important and—“
“Right,” Blair said. He turned his head and lifted his injured hand so he could get a look at it. It still dripped blood but the flow had eased so he was pretty sure no arteries had been severed. Hurt like a mother though. All he could do was lie there on the floor, keep his mouth shut and hope like hell Simon had gotten the message. Lying on the floor was no hardship. He didn’t think he could stand up if he wanted to. The shutting up part was easy to achieve when he knew that talking might bring that knife back in close proximity with his flesh. Jim might not think so, but there were times where Blair definitely understood silence was golden.
Jim… Blair swallowed against the emotion making his throat ache. Almost more than he hated the thought of dying in this dingy apartment, he hated the thought that he’d die without getting the chance to tell Jim how much he valued his friendship. He closed his eyes against the dismal future and tried to visualize green fields, blue skies, all the meaningless mantras he’d used on Jim when he was trying to get him to relax enough to use his senses properly. He was beginning to think it was actually working when there was a knock at the door.
“You Manelli?” Tony asked as he opened the door.
Blair heard a muffled grunt he assumed was an affirmative answer. The man stepped into the room and Blair felt his jaw drop when he saw it was Jim.
Jim barely gave Blair a glance, simply looked at the knife in Tony’s hand and nodded towards it. “You mind putting that away,” he said casually. “I have a thing about knives.”
Tony holstered the knife quickly. “Sure, no problem, Mr. Manelli. You got the money for me?”
Jim shrugged. “Depends,” he replied. “Who’s your boyfriend?” he asked, looking straight at Blair this time.
“Just the new tenant. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of him as soon as we finish our business.”
“So, what is this business?” Jim asked.
Tony pointed at the sofa. “That sofa’s got half of Dando’s last shipment of coke inside. I got it out of the warehouse just before he was arrested. I’m offering it to you… for a fair price, of course. I know where the rest is too.”
“Okay.” Jim held his hands out to his side for a moment. “I’m reaching for my wallet, all right?”
Jim moved so quickly he was a mere blur of movement to Blair’s eyes. By the time his vision had cleared, Tony was face-down on the floor, his hands cuffed firmly behind him, and Simon was crouched at Blair’s side.
“How ya doing, Sandburg?” Simon asked, real concern in his voice.
“Okay, kind of,” Blair whispered, relief shuddering through him, leaving cold chills in its wake.
“Jesus, Chief, you can’t even run away from home without getting into trouble.”
Blair rolled his head to the side and smiled at his partner. “Sorry.”
“Let’s get you downstairs,” Simon said. “There’s a gurney with your name on it.”
Blair allowed Jim and Simon to haul him upright as a couple of uniforms rushed into the room and took Tony into custody. Two steps later all the blood in his head seemed to drop into his feet and he slumped, barely aware of being tipped over Jim’s shoulder as consciousness fled.
“Well, good morning.”
Blair blinked away the fuzziness of his vision and looked up to see Jim standing next to his bed. “Hi,” he mumbled through a dry throat.
Jim held a cup of water to his lips and helped him to take a few sips before adjusting the head of the bed so Blair was sitting partway up. “How you feeling?” he asked.
Blair frowned, thinking about that. “Numb,” he decided finally. “Kinda woozy.”
“That’ll be the good drugs they’ve got you on,” Jim replied. He shook his head. “Doc says there’s no tendon or nerve damage to your wrist. They did a little exploratory surgery to be sure.”
Blair nodded. He had a vague memory of regaining consciousness somewhere cold, with an oxygen mask clamped over his face and a group of strangers in masks surrounding him. He thought he’d panicked at first until something warm and soothing snaked through his veins and tipped him back into the oblivion from which he’d just arisen.
“Bruised but not broken ribs, a slight concussion.” Jim ticked off the litany of Blair’s injuries on his fingers. “You’ve got a slight fever too but the doc thinks you might have had a virus before all this happened so they’re not too worried about it. He says you can go home this evening.”
He stood up, stretching, and Blair was suddenly aware of how tired he looked, the stubble on his cheeks making it apparent that he’d probably spent the night at Blair’s bedside.
Jim reached out, giving Blair’s head a gentle noogie. “I’ll be back to pick you up around six.”
“Jim.” Blair finally got the word out just as Jim reached the door. “It’s fine. I can catch a cab or something—“
“To where?” Jim came back to stand at his bedside. “You’re coming back to the loft, Sandburg. Doctor’s orders,” he added as Blair opened his mouth. “Either that or you stay here another couple of days ‘til the doctor thinks you’re able to take care of yourself.”
“Jim, nothing’s changed,” Blair said firmly. “We haven’t resolved anything. If I go back to the loft, it’ll only be a matter of time before we’re back to where we started—“
“There’s no room for argument here, Sandburg,” Jim said, his voice as firm as Blair’s. “You want to stay in the hospital another few days, I won’t stop you.”
Blair thought about it, about the feeling of home in the loft and the sterile hospital room. “Okay, thanks,” he agreed. “Just for a couple of days. I’ll be out from under your feet again as soon as I can.”
Jim nodded quickly. “See you at six,” he said as he left the room.
“Look, Chief,” Jim began, sitting opposite Blair at the dining table, “why don’t we just give this another try?”
“You mean me living here?” Blair pushed aside the plate of spaghetti Bolognese Jim had served him. He still hadn’t regained his appetite since leaving the hospital a couple of days before.
“Yeah.” Jim sighed, took the plate over to the sink and came back. “We did okay most of the time you were here. I figure it needs just a little give and take on both sides.”
“I just don’t want you to feel like you have to have me here,” Blair said. “It was just bad luck what happened—“
“I know.” Jim held up a hand to stop him. “I kind of got used to you being here,” he said, his cheeks flushing a little. “What do you say? Want to try again?”
“I already signed the lease on the apartment,” Blair said, though truthfully his heart wasn’t in the argument. He did want to stay, he’d never really wanted to move out in the first place.
“I already spoke to the landlord. Told him his security sucked,” Jim replied, grinning. “Here.” He pulled some money out of his pocket. “Your security deposit and what remained of the first month’s rent.”
“You should keep it. I owe you back rent already,” Blair replied.
“Take it,” Jim insisted, pushing the money into his hand and closing his fingers over it. “Do some shopping when you feel up to it. I haven’t had time lately.”
“Are you sure?” Blair asked hesitantly. “I’ll try to give you more space and keep the place picked up and—“
“I’m sure,” Jim said, standing up and going into the kitchen to clean up the dinner dishes. “Uh uh,” he said when Blair joined him. “You’re on sick leave for another couple of days. You still have a fever and you look flushed. Go, surf the net or whatever it is you do on that computer of yours. Bedtime is at nine-thirty.”
“What?” Blair looked up at his partner in shock. Jim was grinning. “Wiseass,” Blair muttered as he went back to the living room.
The cell phone Blair kept stuffed under his pillow at night in the hope of not waking Jim, vibrated, waking him from a sound sleep. Pulling it out, he glanced quickly at the time before answering. “Hey, it’s one-thirty in the morning,” he whispered. “Who the hell is this?”
“Oh, Blair, it’s me, Emily. I’m so sorry to wake you. I just needed someone to talk to. I didn’t realize the time. I’m sorry. I’ll call you tomorrow—“
“No, hang on a sec.” Blair climbed out of bed, wincing as his bandaged hand hit the edge of the bureau. He stepped to the doorway of his room and peered up through the darkness at Jim’s bedroom. He could just make out his friend’s head and Jim wasn’t moving. Blair breathed a quiet sigh of relief and walked over to the fire escape door of his room. “I’m just going outside,” he told Emily, opening the door with extreme caution, pleased when it didn’t so much as creak.
He stepped out into the chill air, then went back and grabbed his blanket off the bed, wrapping himself in it as he sat down on the landing. “What’s wrong?” he asked, swallowing against the soreness of his throat.
“Are you okay? Your voice sounds funny,” Emily said.
“I’m fine. Just trying not to wake Jim up.”
“Oh, okay. I thought for a minute you might have caught something from one of the kids when you were on the ward with me the other day.”
“Me? Nah, I’m fine. Em, what’s wrong?”
“Patrick and I broke up,” Emily replied, her voice thick with tears. “He said I’m too wrapped up in my job, too involved with the kids on the Pediatric ward. He says I don’t give him enough time…”
Blair listened, advised, and comforted. The sun was coming up over the Cascade skyline by the time a much calmer Emily had hung up and he’d crawled back into bed. He rolled onto his stomach, carefully cradling his injured hand on the pillow and fell into a deep sleep.
“Morning,” Blair mumbled, walking into the kitchen to see Jim already dressed and most of the way through his breakfast.
“You look like crap,” Jim observed mildly, finishing off the last of his eggs and walking over to deposit the dish in the sink.
Blair shrugged. Emily’s late night call hadn’t helped in the overall scheme of making him feel rested. His head still ached stubbornly, his eyes were burning, his ribs felt as bruised as the doctor at the hospital had pronounced them, and his lacerated wrist alternated between itching and throbbing. All in all, he felt like crap too.
“I have to go down to the precinct, process the paperwork on that scumbag that broke into your apartment,” Jim said, grabbing his jacket off the hook and his keys from the basket. “You be okay on your own?”
“Sure. Um, anything on Manelli?”
“Not yet, but I’ve got a feeling your friend Tony’s gonna be itching to spill his guts when I tell him I’m planning on letting Manelli know he sold him out to the cops.”
Blair shivered a little. Not that he had any sympathy for Tony. The guy had shown none towards Blair when he’d sliced his wrist open after all, but still… The predatory look in Jim’s eyes gave Blair pause. No wonder it worked so well on the perps when it had that effect on him.
“You sure you’re okay?” Jim’s hand was on his forehead now.
Blair wriggled out from under it with a snort that came as much from the twinge his bruised ribs gave him as from embarrassment. “Go.” He flicked his bandaged hand in the air in a goodbye gesture. “You’ll be late.”
Jim grinned, made a pecking motion with his lips at him. “See you tonight, honey. Have a good day.”
Blair laughed so hard it made his head ache even more than it did already. But it felt good. It was nice to be home.
Shopping. First order of business in the life of the new, improved Blair Sandburg. Jim had said to shop and shop he would. It was strange though how a chore he’d always done without thinking much about before now seemed to take on epic proportions as he wandered the aisles, shivering in the too cold air conditioning, trying to decide between oat flakes and bran flakes, wholemeal bread or white. He gave up making decisions based on health around the freezer section. Trying to read the small print on the labels was sending his headache zooming into the stratosphere and the freezer section added a wind chill factor of minus ten to the already cold store. By the time he reached the checkout, he felt like leaving the cart behind and hightailing it for the comparative quiet of his car, but he kept his place in line, smiled sympathetically at a mom with a fractious toddler, and thanked the cashier with what passed for a genuine smile on his face when she clucked over his injured hand. He’d never been so pleased to see the exit sign of a supermarket before.
The heavens opened the minute he stepped through the doors and by the time he reached his car he was soaked through.
He tossed the keys into the basket as he maneuvered his way into the loft, the bags of groceries tugging painfully on his arms. Awkwardly dumping them on the table, he detoured for the shower, grabbing a disposable glove for his injured hand on the way. The message light on the phone was blinking. He sighed and turned the message service on. It was Jim, checking up on him, asking if he’d remembered to take his meds *after* lunch. Blair looked at the clock on the microwave. It was well after lunch, had been for an hour or so. He scooped up the receiver and called Jim.
“I’m fine,” he said shortly as Jim answered. “I went to the market. Yes, Jim, I know it’s raining. I’m just about to go take my meds and have a shower. I’ll see you tonight.”
He hung up the phone on the rest of Jim’s admonitions then went into the kitchen and grabbed a slice of dry bread, eating it half-heartedly. He felt like shit. He ached in places he didn’t know he had places to ache in. And he still felt chilled, which wasn’t surprising, he thought, considering he was dripping rainwater all over the kitchen floor. He slugged down the antibiotics and two Tylenol with a swig of orange juice then headed back for his aborted shower.
Twenty minutes standing under the hot water hadn’t done much to improve his well-being, so he stepped out, dried off and redressed, shivering the entire time. Deciding moving around would at least keep him warm, he grabbed the laundry basket one-handed and made his way downstairs to the basement.
He tossed in the first load, not even bothering to separate the whites from the colors, pretty much a cardinal sin in Ellison-world, but he figured he’d have it all dry and folded by the time Jim came home and what Jim didn’t know, Blair wouldn’t be telling.
Nausea abruptly ambushed him as he stood in front of the machine and he pulled up a stool to sit on, scratching desultorily at his neck as he watched the clothes move in their dizzying swirl through the water.
“Crap!” Too late he realized his mistake as the dry bread and whatever else he had in his stomach made an abrupt reappearance. Retching, one hand over his mouth, he made it as far as the trash can before losing control. He knelt there for several minutes, feeling drained, his headache now a blinding, pulsing cacophony of pain.
“Blair? Are you all right, dear?”
Blair cursed under his breath as he heard Mrs. McGinty’s concerned voice at his shoulder. She was a dear old soul but inclined to be a little more fussy than Blair was in the mood for right now. He willed the nausea to abate and took a deep breath before turning to look up at her, groaning despite himself as his headache flared bright agony at the movement. “Fine, just a little sick.” He gave a miniscule nod at the trash can. “Sorry, I’ll clean it up in a minute.”
“Nonsense,” she replied firmly. “Lean on me and I’ll help you upstairs. I can take care of this. I had six sons, you know, and Mr. McGinty, God rest his soul, he liked a tipple or three on payday too.”
Blair refrained from telling her that he didn’t have a hangover and allowed her to help him up. The light in the room made his eyes water. He shaded them with one hand as they walked slowly out of the laundry room then haltingly, one agonizing step at a time, up the stairs to the loft.
“Now then, straight into bed with you. I’ll call Detective Ellison—“
“No!” Blair groaned, the force of the word making it feel as if razor blades were scraping the inside of his throat. “I’m fine,” he whispered. “Just need to lie down for a while. Jim’s at work. He’ll be home soon. Please don’t call him.”
“Well,” she scanned him critically with astute eyes, “all right then, but promise me you’ll go straight to bed.”
Blair made a cross over his heart in lieu of words and thanked her as he walked inside. He headed for his room where he fell across the bed, burying his aching head in the pillow, wishing fervently for oblivion even as he fell asleep.
Ellen McGinty squinted at the phone book. Why they didn’t make these in large print was beyond her. Sighing in exasperation, she picked up her phone and called directory assistance instead. Getting the number she needed, she hung up then dialed again.
“Jim! Get your ass in my office!”
Jim looked up from his computer and saw Simon beckoning him over. Glancing out of the corner of his eye, he saw Brown grinning broadly. “If you need something to do, H,” he snarked, “you can finish up my filing for me.”
Brown’s smile disappeared and he bent his head to his own keyboard. “Busy here, man,” he said, typing away industriously.
“Sir?” Jim asked, taking a seat in front of the captain’s desk.
“Your neighbor, Mrs. McGinty?”
“Yeah,” Jim replied slowly, not sure where this was leading.
“Seems she’s worried about Sandburg.”
“What? Why?” Jim was on his feet without even registering that he’d moved.
Simon smiled placidly at him, the way a shark does when it know it has its prey firmly in its sights. “Didn’t think you’d be that concerned seeing as you—“
“I *didn’t* kick him out!” Jim said with frustration. “Anyway, it’s a moot point because he’s back at the loft now. What’s wrong? Manelli?” he asked, cold fear snaking around his heart.
“Nope.” Simon shook his head. “Seems Mrs. McGinty found him all but keeled over in the laundry room. Helped him upstairs and saw him off to bed. But she thinks he’s pretty sick. Thought you should know about it.”
“Well, why didn’t he call me himself?” Jim stopped, thought about it and shrugged. “Okay, so why did she call *you*?” She’s got my cell number. I gave it to her last year when she had a break in.”
“Seems she promised Sandburg she wouldn’t call *you*. She figured he didn’t say anything about not calling me so…” Simon grinned. “Get out of here. Go check on the kid. Give me a call later, tell me how he’s doing.”
“Will still be here tomorrow or the next day. Manelli’s gone to ground anyway; hopefully he’s on a one way train out of Cascade to escape the heat our friend Tony dropped him in.”
Jim sketched a salute on his way out the door. “Thanks, Simon. I’ll call you later.”
The loft was in late afternoon dimness when Jim unlocked the door. “Chief?” he called, stepping inside and tossing his keys into the basket.
When there was no reply, he headed for Blair’s room, turning on the light on his way in.
Blair moaned in response, burrowing his head further into the pillows and struggling to pull the covers up to shelter him.
“Hey.” Jim moved quickly to the bed. “What’s wrong, Chief? Headache?”
Blair mumbled an affirmative and groaned as Jim sat next to him, jiggling the bed a little.
Even without touching him, Jim could sense the fever emanating from Blair’s body. He put out a hand, touching it to Blair’s forehead, wincing at the heat he felt there. “Damn it, Sandburg, your temp’s at least 104. Why the hell didn’t you call me?”
Blair moaned again, a hand coming up to cover his ear. He coughed, the sound moist and hacking. “Shit, I hurt all over,” he whimpered. His other hand scrabbled at his chest, scratching rabidly at his skin until Jim waylaid the movement.
“Don’t scratch,” Jim said firmly. “Let me take a look at you.”
Blair flopped over onto his back, one hand covering his eyes. Jim pulled the hand away and winced. Blair’s eyes were red-rimmed and his skin looked almost sunburned.
“You been sunbathing, Chief?” Jim asked rhetorically. He focused his sight then leaned forward and tugged gently on Blair’s chin, opening his mouth. “Say ah, buddy,” he said, grinning as Blair poked his tongue out at him. He peered inside. “Koplik spots,” he observed. “Ever have measles, Chief?”
Blair’s eyes went wide and he groaned. He shook his head slowly.
“Guess Naomi didn’t believe in immunizations either?”
That earned another headshake and a roll of the pink-tinged eyes.
“Welcome to your second childhood, Chief. I’ll get the doc to make a house call but I’d say you’ve got measles.”
“Crap!” Blair closed his eyes for a moment then opened them and glared at Jim. “Why are you here?” he asked raspily.
“I live here.”
“You know what I mean. I told Mrs. McGinty not to call you.”
“She didn’t. She called Simon.”
“Damn! I’ll never live this down.” Blair sighed and rolled onto his side again.
“Uh uh, no you don’t. Tepid bath for you while we’re waiting for the doctor. We need to get that fever down. I’ll throw in some bicarb. It’ll help with the itching. Old Sentinel trick.” Jim stood up and levered Blair gently to his feet, steadying him as he ushered him down to the bathroom.
“You don’t need to do this, man. I said I wouldn’t get in your face again if I moved back here.”
Jim looked at the groceries sitting on the kitchen table, the basket of clean laundry by the door. “Looks like you’ve been doing your fair share of taking care of things,” he pointed out.
“I just don’t want you to—“
“What? Be a friend?” Jim stopped just inside the bathroom door and pulled Blair around to face him. “When you’re better we’ll sit down, work out some ground rules, make sure we both get our space, all right?”
“All right. But what if—“
Jim placed a hand over Blair’s mouth then took it away, tousled his hair, and pointed at the tub. “You, bath, not too warm. I’ll call the doc. It’s called teamwork, Chief. You gonna work with me here?”
Blair nodded and for the first time in what seemed like weeks he gave a genuine Sandburg grin. “Always, partner, always.”