Evolution of Friendship17
Test Of Courage
Jim Ellison watched his partner covertly on the ride home from the dock. Blair was sitting huddled up in the back seat of the car, arms wrapped around his middle as if he was still chilled to the bone. Jim wouldn’t have been surprised if he was. Not just by the cold air out on the rig but by the shock of what was, after all, a near death experience by anyone’s definition. He leaned forward and turned up the heat a little more, shrugging at his captain’s raised eyebrows. “Sorry, sir, still a little chilly,” he said casually, though he wasn’t sure if Simon believed him or not.
“You okay back there, Sandburg?” Simon called over his shoulder.
Blair took a moment to answer as if he was having some trouble processing the question and coming up with the answer, and not for the first time Jim worried whether the bang on his head caused when the radio antenna had fallen on him had given him a concussion.
“Hmm? Yeah, I’m fine,” Blair said eventually and Simon nodded while Jim stayed half-turned in his seat and continued Sandburg-watching.
His partner had revealed himself to be more of an equal in this unusual partnership than Jim had ever imagined he could on this case. From the moment they’d stepped off the chopper and onto the rig, Blair had been there for Jim, backing him up, guiding him through his fear of the open water, not to mention risking his life to stay on the rig and actually defuse a bomb while Jim was off rounding up the bad guys. He wondered sometimes whether the Blair Sandburg he’d met so many months before had become subsumed by this Blair Sandburg, partner to a detective, and guide to a sentinel. He didn’t want that for him, wanted Blair to be able to keep the naïveté and trust he’d had at the beginning of this roller coaster ride but at the same time he recognized it was this evolving toughness that was helping to keep Blair safe and making him the best partner Jim could ever have asked for.
“You all right, Jim?”
Simon sounded concerned and Jim blinked then turned to look through his window and realized they were parked in front of his apartment building. “Yeah, yeah, just tired. Thanks for the lift.”
Jim fumbled for the door handle, finally getting it open then unsnapped his seatbelt, stumbling out to stand, feeling unutterably weary, on the sidewalk, waiting for Blair… who was still sitting in the car, head slumped over to one side, obviously fast asleep.
Simon shook his head as he joined Jim next to the car then reached forward and opened the rear door. “Sandburg,” he crooned as he shook Blair’s shoulder, “wakey wakey.”
Blair opened his eyes slowly, blinking several times before nodding and scrabbling at his seatbelt catch. “I got it,” he mumbled as Simon tried to help him.
Jim grinned as Simon slapped his hands away and did the job himself then reached in and levered Blair out of the car. “You sure you two are going to be okay on your own?” Simon asked worriedly.
“We’ll be fine, Simon.” Jim yawned expansively. “Just need a little sleep.”
And they had, he’d thought, which made it even weirder to find himself two hours after they got home, sitting on the couch, idly channel surfing while his mind replayed over and over what had happened on the rig.
At least Blair had gone to bed, shuffling off to his room the minute they were inside the front door, waving off Jim’s offer of dinner with a yawned, “Night, man.”
Jim had gone into Blair’s room to check on him after eating a huge sandwich and found Blair slumped on his bed, on his stomach, face turned to the side, snoring, and fully dressed. Sighing as he realized his new, jokingly made “house rule” about leaving shoes at the door had already been broken, Jim pulled off Blair’s shoes and socks and covered him with a spare blanket after checking the cut on his head again and making sure the gash hadn’t come open. The dressing was dry and Jim contented himself with a quick pat to the back of Blair’s head before going upstairs to bed.
Once there, though, he kept seeing that antenna crashing down on Blair, sending him crumpling to the deck like a rag doll. By the time Jim had gotten to him, Blair was already starting to stir but he was out of it enough that Jim had to half carry him back inside the rig. Once there, he’d propped Blair up against a wall for a minute while he caught his breath, and the moment Jim’s hands had left him, Blair had slid down the wall, eyes rolling back in his head. Jim got him into a fireman’s carry and took him to the infirmary where the medic had checked him over and said he’d be okay, wouldn’t even need stitches. Regardless of that fact, Jim hadn’t been lying when he’d told Blair he’d been worried. As a matter of fact, seeing Blair on that infirmary bed, so still, had sent shivers down Jim’s spine, and it had been as much as he could do to stop himself from reaching out and shaking Blair awake just to prove to himself that he wasn’t dead.
Blair had proven himself Jim’s equal again after that. When Jim had ended up in a vat of oil, it had been Blair to the rescue, refusing to give up until he’d managed to activate the crane hook and pull Jim out.
Then he’d stayed behind on the rig while Jim rounded up the perps, refusing to leave till he’d found the bomb and defused it. Jim was still shaking his head over that little stunt. He didn’t know how many seconds there’d been to go when Blair had pulled the wire but judging from the pallor of Blair’s face when he’d next seen him, Jim guessed it had been close. Down to the wire, quite literally.
There was a scuffling of feet from the direction of Blair’s room and Jim looked up, surprised to see a disheveled-looking Blair walking stiffly into the kitchen. “You okay, Chief?” he asked, standing up and following him.
Blair smiled faintly. “Yeah, just a little sore, man. I feel like I’m bruised all over.”
“You probably are,” Jim said. “That antenna was bigger than you are and flattened you to the deck. Why don’t you take a hot bath? I’ve got some Epsom salts here. That’s supposed to be good for bruising so Sally used to say every time I came home banged up from a football game.”
Blair stretched a little then winced. “Yeah, maybe that’s a good idea. I don’t think I’ll be sleeping anymore tonight anyway.”
Jim grabbed his arm and led him over to the bathroom. “Get undressed. I’ll run the bath and get the salts.”
“Get the salts first and then I can run the bath myself and get undressed,” Blair said, walking into the bathroom and closing the door firmly behind him.
“Never figured you to be shy, Sandburg,” Jim said with a grin as he walked back to the kitchen.
“Well, that just goes to show you don’t know the real me,” Blair called after him and Jim had to admit there was some truth in that.
Blair was something of an enigma, he thought as he rounded up the Epsom salts. When Jim had first met him he’d written him off as a geek, or worse yet a flake but Blair had proved his mettle time and again since the day they’d first met. His confidence had grown as the rest of the MC team began to accept him and even Simon Banks had been known to admit he was glad to have Blair on the team.
Then, just last month Jim had seen a new side to Blair when he’d admitted to being abused by one of his mother’s boyfriends. That had shaken Jim profoundly. He hadn’t had the best relationship with his own father but he’d never have said his father was physically abusive. It shook him to realize that Blair had gone through that pretty much alone except for the support of his baseball coach.
“I’m turning into a statue waiting here,” Blair yelled and Jim picked up the salts and headed back for the bathroom.
He knocked on the door and it opened just far enough for Blair to snake a hand through to grab the bottle from his hand.
“Thanks, man, I got it,” Blair said, closing the door.
Twenty minutes after hearing the water turned off, Jim was getting antsy. He glanced at his watch then went and stood by the bathroom door, resisting the urge to send his hearing into the room to check out his partner. “Hey, Chief,” he called instead, “water must be getting cool by now. It’s pretty late. How about we both try to get some sleep again?”
There was a splashing of water from the other side of the closed door and a pain-filled groan. “Um, I don’t think I can. See, the water got cool and now I’ve stiffened up and I can’t seem to get up without it hurting like hell- Hey!” Blair yelled as Jim burst through the door. “A little privacy, man!”
Jim winced at the purple bruising crisscrossing what he could see of Blair’s torso and shoulders. “Ouch!” he said, grabbing a towel and holding it in front of him. Here, grab hold of my hand and I’ll get you up.”
“Close your eyes first,” Blair said primly, sounding so much like Jim’s Great Aunt Milly that he almost burst out laughing.
“Fine.” Jim closed his eyes and swung his hand around till it connected with Blair’s then he slowly levered him upright to the accompaniment of more groans and sub-vocal curses in several languages. “Okay, step over the side carefully,” Jim instructed, waiting till he knew Blair was standing safely in front of him then opening his eyes.
“I’m not ready yet,” Blair said and Jim sighed and dutifully closed his eyes again.
“You saw me naked on the rig,” he retorted.
“Hey, I didn’t peek,” Blair replied as he grabbed the towel from Jim’s free hand. “Okay, now you can open your eyes.”
“Maybe we should get you checked out at the hospital. That guy didn’t have an Xray machine on the rig. You could have cracked ribs or internal bleeding…”
“I’m fine. Just a little bruised,” Blair said reassuringly as he led the way out of the bathroom.
“A little? You look like a zebra,” Jim observed following him over to his bedroom and pushing the door open for him. “You want me to help you get into your track pants and tshirt?”
“Nah, I think I’ll just wrap myself in my bathrobe and sleep like that,” Blair replied. “It’s not like I’m sharing my bed with anyone, you know,” he added.
“All right. I’ll get you some Tylenol,” Jim replied, heading back out to the bathroom. He grabbed the pills and a glass of water and went back to Blair’s room, handing them over then helping Blair to get settled under the covers again. “Get some sleep, partner,” he said as he left.
“Yeah, you too,” Blair murmured sleepily. “Hey, Jim, I‘m glad I was with you out there even if I did end up a little battered and bruised.”
“Me too, Chief. Get some sleep, okay?” Jim closed the door and went upstairs.
Lying in bed he thought about all the men on the rig Blair had saved from being consigned to a watery grave. “Thank you, Chief,” he whispered, “for their lives and for mine.”