There was something about looking into the eyes of a madman who was asking you if you wanted to die that tended to make that moment a defining one in anyone’s life. Okay, so Lash had actually asked if he’d wanted to take a nice warm bath but Blair knew the implication behind the metaphor. Nobody who’d been on the receiving end of David Lash’s “nice warm baths” had survived. Blair was determined to be the first.
So he fought back with the best and only weapon in his arsenal – his words, ridiculing the little imposter as scathingly as his terror would let him. And even as Blair told Lash that he could never be him, Blair knew it was true, that no matter if he died in this godforsaken place alone, there would be people who would remember him and care that he was gone while Lash would just be what he always had been – a faceless cypher, a wannabe.
When Lash held his mouth open and poured the drug down his throat, he couldn’t do much but swallow, but he battled against Lash’s steely grip on his face anyway, determined that even if he couldn’t stave off death, he’d at least die trying. Then, just when he’d almost given up hope, just when he’d thought his life was really over, the one person he’d wanted to see once more before he died was there.
Adrenaline surged through him at the promise of rescue but then his heart plummeted seemingly to his chained boots as the bottom step gave way and Jim fell, his gun skittering across the floor out of his reach. The drug Lash had dosed Blair with was already warring with the rush of adrenaline in his system, making him feel nauseous and weak. He was aware of the fight continuing but it was as if he was a step removed from it all, watching through someone else’s eyes. When Jim and Lash fell through the rotten floorboards, seemingly taking all hope of rescue with them, he closed his eyes and prayed.
What seemed like hours passed before he heard the slow, weary step of someone returning to his prison. Unsure as to whether it was Jim or Lash, he didn’t call out. Instead, focusing all his will on his hands, he tried desperately to free himself though he knew it was futile, that if that *was* Lash returning and not Jim, he was doomed anyway.
When the footsteps stopped and he managed to turn his head and saw Jim standing in the doorway, looking like he’d just battled the devil and won, Blair wanted nothing more than to weep. But instead he summoned what moisture he could into his mouth, forced the swirling drug-induced shadows back and quipped, “Took you long enough.”
Jim shook his head and shot him a wry grin as he crossed over to the chair Blair was imprisoned in. “He was a tough little motherfucker,” he said, kneeling down and examining the chains around Blair’s legs. “He wasn’t going to go easy.”
“Was?” Blair asked. He allowed the surge of relief he felt at Jim’s nod to take over from his despair of moments earlier then lifted his hands and rattled the chains meaningfully. “Any chance you can get me out of these? I’d really like to go home now.”
Jim stood up and crossed to the table on the other side of the room, sweeping some of the detritus of Lash’s lair aside with his hand, finally turning back to Blair with a padlock key in his hand. “I can get you out of these but you’re not going home till you’ve been checked over at the ER.”
“I’m fine-″ Blair began and then stopped. The thing was he wasn’t fine and he knew it. The resurgence of adrenaline he’d felt earlier seemed to be leeching away, taking whatever alertness he’d had with it. He watched as Jim worked at the lock on the chains, seeing it all through slightly misted vision. When the chains fell away, he wanted nothing more than to leap from the chair, his fight or flight instinct at odds with the weakness of his limbs. Instead he pushed himself to the edge of the chair and let Jim hoist him to his unsteady feet. He could hear sirens now, their intermittent wailing an odd comfort.
At the foot of the stairs Jim stopped and pulled Blair more firmly against his side, shoring him up as much with the warmth of his embrace as with his supportive strength. “You’re not gonna pass out on me, are you?” he asked, stepping past the broken “party-crasher” step and taking Blair with him up to the next one.
Blair shook his head but he had to keep his eyes on his feet. The stairs seemed to undulate gently beneath them and he felt as if they weren’t quite there, that any minute his foot would sink through and he’d fall to join Lash somewhere in the bowels of the building beneath them. He shivered and Jim stopped again, angling Blair’s chin up with gentle fingers so he could look into his eyes.
“He dosed you pretty good, huh? You hurt anywhere else?” he asked, setting them slowly but surely into motion again.
“Just my head. Banged it on the coffee table at home when I went down. Knocked me out for a while, I guess. By the time I woke up, I was here. Guess Lash carried me out. He’s stronger than he looks.” Blair wondered if he was talking for Jim’s benefit or his own. Just hearing his own voice reminded him that he was alive, that Lash hadn’t won.
“Sandburg! You okay, son?”
Blair looked up, blinking against the brightness of the flashing police car lights. Simon’s face swam in and out of focus for a moment or two and nausea made an unwelcome reappearance in his belly. He swallowed thickly, contenting himself with nodding in answer to Simon’s question then bent forward and put his head down, his hands resting on his knees. “I don’t feel so hot,” he said. Before he could say any more, he retched, bitterness welling up his throat and filling his mouth. When it stopped, he found himself sitting on the steps of an ambulance, Jim at his side, his hand warm on Blair’s arm.
“You blanked out on me for a minute there, Chief,” Jim said then he stood up and walked a few steps away as the paramedics moved in to check Blair out.
Blair instantly missed Jim’s presence at his side, the familiar security of it, but he was tired now, his head clanging with a headache to rival any he’d ever had before so he gave himself over to the ministrations of the medics and allowed himself to be loaded onto the gurney in the back of the ambulance. “Are you coming with me?” he asked quickly just as they were about to close the doors.
Jim sent an inquiring glance at Simon who nodded acquiescence. “Go with him, Jim. Make sure he’s okay. You can deal with IA in the morning.”
“IA?” Blair asked as Jim sat in the small jump seat across from him.
“Standard procedure whenever a suspect is shot, Chief,” Jim replied. He leaned forward and tousled Blair’s hair. “Don’t worry about it. Let’s get you checked out first.”
Blair sighed impatiently as the ER doctor listed the reasons why he should stay in the hospital overnight.
“Although your test results are only showing a minimal amount of chloral hydrate still in your system, you still have a concussion and quite a nasty contusion on your head,” the doctor said. “Fortunately,” he added, “although I’m sure it was unpleasant at the time, it was actually a good thing that you threw up when you did. Your body got rid of most of the medication before it had time to reach your bloodstream fully. A dosage like that on top of a concussion could have been very nasty indeed.” He grinned over at Blair. “I’m not going to convince you to stay, am I?”
Blair shook his head then winced ruefully as pain stabbed through his temples. “Nothing personal, Doc, I just really would prefer to be home right now. Jim used to be a medic. He’ll keep an eye on me.”
“All right. I’ll go talk to Detective Ellison, see if he’s willing to take on the responsibility of keeping an eye on you overnight. But at the first sign of any problems you come back here. Agreed?” He smiled at Blair’s quick nod of agreement then headed out of the cubicle.
Blair pushed himself hesitantly to a sitting position. He still felt like hell but he really didn’t want to be in here any longer. The staff had been nothing but kind and sensitive to what he’d endured but he just wanted to be home at the loft, away from being prodded and poked. He was exhausted and he’d already drifted off to sleep a couple of times, only to be jerked into startling awareness as flashbacks invaded his dozing mind. If he was going to have a meltdown, and, looking at his still shaky hands, he knew that was a distinct possibility, he’d rather do it at home, away from strangers’ sympathetic looks. Jim would understand.
“You ready?” Jim asked, stepping inside the cubicle and over to the gurney Blair was sitting on. He looked at Blair searchingly and Blair could almost feel the sentinel-senses mapping him, ensuring that he really was okay to leave. Finally Jim nodded and helped Blair pull on his jacket, then, keeping a hand under Blair’s arm, he levered him off the bed. “You need a wheelchair?” he asked as Blair wobbled a time or two on their way out.
“I’m fine. My legs just feel a little disconnected still,” Blair reassured him even as he locked his knees and firmed his step, forcing the shakiness to abate a little.
“Okay.” Jim put his arm around Blair’s shoulders and ushered him out to the parking lot. “You did good, Chief. I’m proud of you.”
Blair flashed a quick look up at him, not sure whether he meant it. Praise from Jim Ellison was rare and therefore something to be treasured, making this another defining moment, Blair decided. “Really?” he asked as Jim unlocked the door of the truck and helped him up into the passenger seat.
Jim walked around and climbed behind the wheel. He started the car, turned the heating vents Blair’s way then reached over and patted Blair’s shoulder. “You did everything right,” he said. “You kept him off guard, you faced him down. You survived. It doesn’t get more right than that, Chief.”
Blair relaxed back against the seat as Jim pulled the truck out of the lot and turned it in the direction of home. He could live with that.