Blair Sandburg exited the elevator of the Cascade Police Department with a weary step. Though his head hung low and his hair draped forward to partially cover his eyes, he didn’t miss the curious stares and occasional snort of derision as he passed uniformed officers and detectives alike on his way to the Major Crimes division. He made a conscious effort to ignore the smug smiles and whispered innuendos that circled in his wake, instead concentrating all his attention on his untied left shoelace, snapping about with each shuffled step he took.
Blair didn’t need to hear the words to know what was being said. Jim’s increasingly heated messages on his voice mail told him all he needed to know. Blair had screwed up.
“Hey, Hairboy!” Henry Brown swooped in to clap a hand playfully on Blair’s shoulder as soon as the younger man passed through the door to Major Crimes. The unintentional strength behind the friendly gesture upon freshly bruised flesh was enough to drive the air from Blair’s lungs with a hiss. Unfortunately, Brown didn’t seem to notice. “You’re gonna get it!” he sing-songed.
“Lay off, H,” Detective Brian Rafe interrupted, tossing H’s coat to him before smoothly slipping into his own. “The poor kid’s going to get enough of an ass chewing when Simon gets hold of him.” Rafe straightened his coat collar, then smoothed the sleeves. “Seriously, Sandburg, Simon is gunning for your hide and Ellison was none too pleased when he finally left,” he glanced at his watch, “three hours ago. If I was you –”
“Sandburg!” Simon hadn’t yelled the name so much as growled it, but it was enough to gain the attention of the few people who had yet to head home for the evening. Keys in hand, obviously ready to call an end to another long day, Simon stalked out of his office towards the young man. “Just where the hell have you been?”
“Been nice knowing you, kid.” The slap Rafe delivered to Blair’s chest was light, but the area tender enough that it caused Blair to jump back a step, bumping into a nearby desk. Stars danced before his eyes and Blair found himself grateful for the support the desk offered. By the time his vision cleared, Henry and Rafe were gone. Simon loomed dangerously close, his eyes hard as steel, his jaw clenching and unclenching repeatedly.
“I… I’m sorry, Simon…” Blair began, only to be cut off by Simon’s fury.
“Sorry? Sorry! ‘Sorry’ just doesn’t cut it, Sandburg,” he yelled. “You said you’d be there. I know I’ve had to repeatedly remind you that you’re not a cop, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have responsibilities to this department, to Jim! Kirmer wanted to talk to you! All these years riding along with Jim have given you a bit of a reputation. For whatever reason, Kirmer has taken a liking to you. He trusts you and only you!” Simon thrust a finger forward and Blair couldn’t repress the involuntary flinch.
“Kirmer was ready to talk. He was ready to give us enough information to bring down Selver and put an end to this arson ring. Five people have died, Sandburg, and Kirmer was ready to help put an end to it. All you had to do was show up! You promised you’d be there, but you couldn’t be bothered to keep that promise. You’d better have a damn good excuse!”
“Simon, there was this girl at Rainier –”
“Shut up, Sandburg! I don’t want to hear about the latest coed to catch your eye!”
“Simon…” Blair’s head snapped up and he felt the heated flush of embarrassment creep across his face at the accusation. His eyes were drawn to one of the few remaining detectives when he heard a soft snicker. Banks’ booming voice broke through the distraction.
“Jim stood up for you today.” Simon’s voice was softer, laced with a disappointment that was somehow worse than when he was yelling. “He kept saying that there had to be a good reason you didn’t show.” He sighed, rubbing a hand over weary eyes. “I’m going home to have a very late dinner with my son and then try to get some sleep before I have to explain to the mayor tomorrow why we weren’t able to make an arrest in this arson case today.”
With a final, sad shake of his head, Simon swept from the room, leaving Blair to face the accusing stares of the remaining officers.
It was well after dark when Blair finally dragged his weary, aching body into the loft. He sincerely hoped his roommate would already be asleep, but those hopes were proven futile as he opened the door. Jim was on his knees, his upper body buried deep into the oven, scrubbing vigorously at the greasy build-up.
“Woah, Jim, man,” Blair exclaimed, scrunching his nose at the overpowering stench of oven cleaner. “I hope you have your sense of smell dialed down.”
Jim froze, pulling himself out of the oven to sit back on his heels, panting slightly from the effort he’d put into cleaning. His gaze was fixed at a spot somewhere in front of him.
“Jim, you okay?” Blair hung his coat on the hook by the door and dropped his backpack to the floor. Stepping forward, he was ready to talk his friend out of a zone, but he halted as Jim’s cold words reached his ears.
“Kirmer bolted, Sandburg.” Jim stood, slamming the oven door.
“Stow it, Sandburg!” Jim interrupted, still refusing to look at his roommate as he forcefully hurled his rubber gloves and an empty can of oven cleaner into the trash. “Simon already called so you can save your breath. First thing tomorrow morning you and I are going to track Kirmer down and try to salvage this operation. Be ready by 6:30.” Jim turned his back on Blair, busying himself with washing his hands at the kitchen sink.
“But, Jim, if you’d just let me explain…” Blair took a step forward, hand outstretched. He’d just made contact with his sentinel’s shoulder when Jim violently slammed a clenched fist onto the countertop. Blair jumped, breaking contact with Jim as his arm pulled back to curl protectively around his own sore chest.
Jim turned to his roommate, eyes ablaze with a fury Blair had never before seen directed at him. “You having trouble understanding English tonight, Darwin? I said stow it! Shut up! I don’t want to hear your excuses, your obfuscations, or whatever you want to call them…”
This time Blair broke in with one final, and ultimately futile attempt. “If you’d just listen –”
“No!” Jim slashed his hand through the air as if trying to physically cut Blair’s sentence off. “I’m too tired and too angry right now and you’re only making things worse. I’m not going to listen. Do you understand? I’m. Not. Listening!” That said, Jim pushed past Blair, bumping into the smaller man and throwing him slightly off balance, and made his way to the stairs leading to his bedroom.
Blair stood unsteadily for a few minutes, breathing heavily through the pain while waiting for his equilibrium to return and his vision to clear. When the threatening blackness finally receded enough that he could at least see the fuzzy outlines of his surroundings, Blair retrieved his backpack and slowly headed to his own room, one hand on the wall to support him the entire way.
Once safely in his room, Blair collapsed onto his bed, fighting back the bile that rose in his throat and the tears that welled in his eyes. He shivered and pulled at the corner of the comforter until it haphazardly covered his upper body. The light, flannel button-up shirt he wore provided little warmth against the bone-deep chill that gripped his frame and the long-sleeved t-shirt he customarily wore underneath had long since been discarded; bagged and tagged as evidence by some officer Blair couldn’t begin to remember the name of. Under the circumstances, Blair had to wonder what important evidence could possibly be gathered from his torn, bloodied shirt, but he dismissed the thought as quickly as it entered his mind. It wasn’t as if he’d want the shirt back any time soon.
Blair sighed deeply then bit his lip against the sob that threatened to break loose upon hearing his roommate move restlessly in bed above him. He knew everything would be straightened out in the morning. Jim’s anger would dissipate after a good night’s sleep and Blair would be able to talk to him, explain everything that happened. Jim would inspect Blair from head to toe, tutting over the cuts and bruises, insisting Blair stay in bed for the day to recuperate, full of concern and a healthy dose of guilt for ignoring Blair’s pain during the long night. He’d then immediately call Simon who would have a copy of the police report ready for their perusal as soon as Jim entered the bullpen.
But Blair didn’t want to wait until morning.
“I’m. Not. Listening!”
The words echoed in Blair’s mind. He wanted Jim to listen. He wanted to talk to his best friend about the events of that evening. He wanted his Blessed Protector to hover – at least a little – and ensure that Blair was taken care of, that his injuries had been tended properly. He wanted reassurance that he’d done the correct thing. He wanted… Blair threw an arm over his eyes and sighed again, telling himself that he was being childish. He should try to get some sleep. Things would be better in the morning.
“I’m. Not. Listening!”
But, he wanted Jim to listen.
Blair chuckled softly, quickly stifling it when he heard more restless movement coming from upstairs. Jim Ellison, Sentinel of the Great City, was refusing to listen. Jim’s greatly enhanced sense of hearing allowed him to easily pick up on a whispered conversation taking place blocks away, yet he wouldn’t…
Blair froze, wondering if it could honestly be that easy. Any other time he might have been excited to explore the possibility, jotting notes and arranging tests, but that night he was simply too tired, too sore, too depressed. All he wanted was to talk to Jim.
“I was stuck at Rainier,” Blair began in a sentinel-soft whisper. “There was this girl…” He paused when he heard a loud groan, sounding very much like a growl. Jim was listening. The thought gave Blair the strength to smile lightly and continue.
“She was being attacked; attempted rape.” The noise from upstairs suddenly ceased and Blair realized he now had Jim’s undivided attention. “My car wouldn’t start, as usual, so I was digging in my bag for my cell to call you for a ride while cutting between the buildings to get to the main parking lot. I heard a noise coming from behind some dumpsters. It was late, no one was around, so I decided to check it out. I know, I should have gone ahead and called you, but hind-site is 20/20, you know?”
When no response was forthcoming, Blair continued, “I walked in on Trent Jarvis, one of Rainier’s star football players, trying to force himself on a young woman. She was putting up a hell of a fight, but he had probably a hundred pounds on her and already had her pinned on the ground and half her clothes off. I don’t know who was more surprised, me or Trent, but he recovered quickly, pulled a knife, and came at me.”
Blair heard the sudden squeak of bedsprings and realized that Jim had probably just bolted upright.
“I fought with him for a while, kinda unsuccessfully, I must admit, but the girl ran and got help.”
Soft footfalls descended the stairs and soon the sentinel was standing at the door to Blair’s room, concern etched into his features. “Were you hurt?” he asked quietly, but didn’t wait for an answer. He walked into the room and up to the bed, sweeping his guide with each of his senses and obviously not liking what he found. “Show me,” he requested with a frown.
Blair took a deep, calming breath and relaxed back onto the bed, allowing the tension of the past several hours to slowly ebb away. He flipped back the comforter and brought fingers, trembling with exhaustion, to the buttons of his flannel shirt. He fumbled unsuccessfully with them for several seconds before he felt the bed dip as Jim sat down beside him and gently eased Blair’s hands away.
“He only got me once with the knife before I was able to knock it out of his hand,” Blair assured as Jim made quick work of the buttons to reveal Blair’s chest, covered in bruises and one large, white dressing just below his left collarbone.
A sentinel-soft touch ghosted over Blair’s ribs, counting and cataloguing each bump and bruise. “You should see the other guy,” Blair tried to joke when Jim’s blue eyes locked on to his own.
Wordlessly, Jim reached for the bandage, peeling it away to reveal a neat row of a dozen black sutures. Two in the center had broken, allowing the edges of the wound to gap and fresh blood to ooze. “You’ve been to the hospital.”
Blair couldn’t decide if it was a statement or a question. “The uniformed officers said they’d call you and Simon… which I guess they didn’t… and by the time I was able to get to a phone… I guess it was too late.”
“I’m sorry, Chief, I should have answered the phone. I should have listened to you when you came home. I should have…”
“Please, Jim,” Blair interrupted, placing a hand on Jim’s which still rested on his chest, “let’s not do this now. We’re both tired, I’m sore.” A tickling sensation alerted Blair to the trickle of blood running from his wound, over his shoulder, and towards his neck. “And I’m bleeding,” he added with a small burst of dry laughter.
“Pain meds? Antibiotics?” At Blair’s gesture towards his bag, Jim continued, “I’ll grab a damp cloth and the first aid kit. I think a couple of butterfly bandages will work, at least for now. We can get you checked out again in the morning if necessary.”
Blair nodded, allowing heavy lids to hood his eyes as, suiting actions to words, Jim stood and exited the room. Finally at peace with himself and the situation, Blair let his mind drift as he listened to Jim in the kitchen, opening cabinets and running water, gathering the supplies he’d need to care for his guide. Even the shrill ringing of the phone a few minutes later garnered only the slightest response from the dozing man.
“Ellison. Oh, hi Simon… Yeah, he’s here…” Jim returned to Blair’s room, depositing a glass of water, a damp cloth, and the first aid kit on the bedside table while cradling he phone between his ear and shoulder. “Yeah, Simon, he told me about it.” He reached into Blair’s bag and pulled out two prescription bottles. After reading the labels and glancing at the younger man for confirmation, he shook one pill from each bottle and handed them to Blair along with the glass of water and retook his seat on the edge of the bed. After ensuring Blair swallowed the pills, Jim replaced the glass on the table and began tending the wound while still talking on the phone.
“He’s okay,” Jim continued his conversation with Simon. “He’s got a nasty cut just below his collarbone and a couple of the stitches have come apart, but I’m taking care of it now. Lots of bruises. Nothing’s broken, but he’s going to be pretty sore for a few days… Yeah, he said they were supposed to call you and me both; guess they just got around to it. Those guys really dropped the ball here, Simon…”
Jim’s voice hardened. “Yes, you should have. But I’ll admit I’m guilty of the same.” As if sensing Blair’s eyes on him, Jim took a calming breath and lowered his voice again. “I didn’t want to hear it either, but he’s a smart guy, Simon, and knew exactly what to do to make me listen.” Jim winked at Blair, the gesture somehow both an apology and a promise. “Trust me, Simon, I’ve learned the hard way.”
“So… the girl is all right? And that guy, Jarvis? Good, good. Well, I don’t think Blair’ll be up to much tomorrow, but have Rafe and H put the word out on the street about what happened. It’s sure to get to Kirmer. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get him to meet us…”
Blair lay back and allowed his heavy lids to close again, allowing the soft sound of Jim’s voice to wash over him, providing a sense of security and comfort as he drifted off to sleep.