“You told your mother?” Jim spoke in a whisper forced between clenched teeth.
“Well, I didn't mean to tell her. It kind of slipped out.” Blair grinned and paradoxically that just made Jim even angrier.
“I'm glad to see you're taking this so lightly, Sandburg,” Jim said, anger causing his voice to rise.
“Jim, it's my mom, for crying out loud,” Blair said but Jim raised his hand to cut him off.
“Exactly my point. This is your mom who decided there was nothing wrong with stealing your thesis and outing me as a Sentinel to the whole damn world. You really think she's gonna keep our relationship a secret?”
“Oh come on, Jim, it's not like she's gonna rush out and pick out china patterns for us or anything. Look,” Blair raised his own hand then used his other as well to make a time out sign, “she asked me if we were 'together',” here Blair made squiggly quote marks in the air, “because if not she'd met a guy she thought I'd like and he lives here in Cascade but if we were 'together', then she'd tell him I wasn't available. What's the big deal?”
“The big deal is we decided we were going to wait for at least six months before coming out publicly. My work … “
“We're not coming out publicly,” Blair snapped. “I told my mom. I didn't take out a page ad in the Cascade Times!”
“Yeah, well, you might as well have,” Jim snapped back, ignoring the hurt in Blair's expressive blue eyes.
“Well, I guess this tells me all I need to know about how you feel about us being together, Jim. You don't want your macho cop buddies to know you're doing it with your male roomie.”
They both jumped as the door opened suddenly and Simon Banks stuck his head in the doorway.
“Well, all your cop buddies know now, Ellison,” Simon said. “You guys really need to save these arguments for home if you don't want the whole department to know your business.”
Jim felt his cheeks flush hotly, and as they did, Blair shook his head. He pointed at Jim's reddened face. “Yeah, that right there says it all, doesn't it? It was fine screwing me till your friends found out.” He grabbed up his backpack from where he'd thrown it on the interrogation room table, slung it over his shoulder and took off out of the room at a run before Jim could even reach out a hand to stop him.
“Well,” Simon said, “what the hell are you still standing here for, Ellison? Go after him and make this right before you lose the most important relationship you've ever had in your sorry private life.”
“I've got to write up my report from the Olsen case,” Jim replied, though he couldn't drag his eyes away from where Blair had gone.
Simon sighed. “Fine. Get it done. Maybe he'll have cooled down a little by the time you get home and you can apologize to him without him wanting to kill you, but tomorrow morning I want you both back here on the job looking like the happiest married couple in America!” Simon punctuated the order by leaving the room and slamming the door behind him as he went.
Jim wrinkled his nose as he unlocked the door to his apartment and walked inside. A metallic smell tickled his nostrils and he felt like his heartbeat had gone into overdrive as his brain belatedly identified it. Blood! And the faint whiff of burnt gunpowder accompanying it!
He drew his gun from its holster at the small of his back, clicked off the safety and moved cautiously into the living room, his weapon extended in front of him. “Sandburg? Blair?”
There was no response. Jim extended his hearing as far as he could without zoning as he moved forward. There! Jim made out a faint racing heartbeat coming from upstairs. He turned in that direction and made his way up the stairs to the loft bedroom.
“Oh god, Chief!”
Blair lay sprawled on the floor next to their bed, blood pooling beneath his body. His eyes were partly open, and as Jim knelt at his side, he tried to speak.
“Don't talk, Chief,” Jim said as he grabbed a pillow off the bed, stripped it of its cover and used the case as a pressure bandage against the bullet wound he could now see in Blair's chest, just above his heart.
He cast his hearing around to see if anyone else was in the apartment but the only heartbeats he could hear were his and Blair's. Satisfied they were alone and that Blair's attacker had gone, Jim laid his gun on the ground and reached for the phone on the bedside table. He dialled 911, requested police and an ambulance, identifying himself as a police officer then hung up the phone and turned his attention back to Blair.
Jim's Glock, a gift from Simon for his birthday earlier that year, lay next to Blair's outstretched right arm but Jim resisted the urge to pick it up. He didn't want to contaminate any evidence that might be on it.
It seemed like hours but Jim knew only minutes had passed when he heard sirens getting closer and then people running into the apartment. “Up here,” he yelled. He looked down at Blair and saw that his eyes were still partly open though there was no recognition of his surroundings in them. Blair groaned and Jim leaned forward and said, “Help's here, Chief. You just hang in there. You're going to be okay.”
Then he felt his arms being gripped and he was pulled to his feet by Simon Banks.
“Let them work on him, Jim,” Simon said and Jim could only nod as he let Simon move him out of the way to give the paramedics room to work. “How is he?” he couldn't resist asking after a moment.
One of the medics looked up and shook his head. “He's alive but he's lost a lot of blood. We need to scoop and run or he won't make it.” They quickly inserted an IV and placed an oxygen mask over Blair's face then carefully lifted him onto the gurney and made their way down the stairs and out of the apartment.
Simon nodded, obviously understanding what Jim was asking. “We'll take my car,” he said, ushering Jim ahead of him down the stairs. “We'll meet the ambulance at Cascade General.” He turned to look at Rafe and H, who were standing on the other side of the room. “Call in the crime scene guys and Homicide as well.” He raised his hand as Rafe started to speak. “Sorry, guys, Jim's one of us. We can't handle this case. You know that.”
Rafe and Henri nodded reluctantly then Rafe pulled out his cell phone as Simon followed Jim down the stairs.
Outside Simon unlocked the car and then climbed behind the wheel, started the engine and peeled away from the curb. He kept as close behind the ambulance as he could, turning on the lights and siren to make sure they’d arrive at the hospital seconds behind it.
“You going to ask me what happened?” Jim asked.
Simon shook his head. “No. Homicide is going to want to talk to you. I don’t want them to say that we cooked up a story between us. Besides, if you don’t tell me anything they can’t make me say you did.”
“You don’t think I did this?” Jim sounded stunned and Simon shot him a quick reassuring smile.
“Of course not but you have to admit it doesn’t look good. Blair was shot with the Glock I gave you and it happened just hours after you two had a huge lover’s quarrel in earshot of witnesses who just happen to be cops. You know that’s how IA is going to see it. Luckily for you Harry Murphy’s in charge of Homicide and he knows you and me pretty well. He’ll make sure this is investigated properly.”
“Homicide…” Jim whispered the word, still sounding stunned and Simon gave him a quick pat on the shoulder.
“Blair’s going to make it and yes, ordinarily this would be a case for Major Crimes, but you’re one of the Major Crime team, Jim, so I have to hand it off to Homicide.”
“Yeah, I know.” Jim turned his head to watch the ambulance speeding ahead of them and didn’t speak again until they reached the ER entrance. “I want to be able to find out how Blair is before I give my statement,” he said as he began to follow Blair’s gurney through the ER doors. “I just need to know he’s going to be okay first.”
Simon sighed then nodded. “I’ll hold IA off as long as I can. I’m sure Harry will play ball but I can’t promise anything when it comes to that bastard, Davidson. He’s even worse than that prick, Aldo, was.”
“I know. Just do what you can.”
Simon nodded then watched as Jim walked inside. He pulled a cigar out of his pocket and was about to light up when he saw a sign on the wall of the building “NO SMOKING WITHIN AMBULANCE BAY.” Cursing, he clenched the cigar between his teeth and reluctantly put the lighter back in his pocket then walked inside and took up a sentry-like stance in front of the ER desk. The nurse behind the desk glared at him, gesturing at his cigar and it gave him a perverse pleasure to snarl at her. “It’s not lit.”
“Make sure it stays that way,” she snapped back.
Jim waited outside the ER room where Blair had been taken. He could see inside the room, see the doctors and nurses working feverishly on his partner and he focused his hearing inside the room. Most of what they were saying was just so much medical gobbledegook to Jim until he heard Blair’s heartbeat stutter and one of the nurses called out, “We’re losing him.” Jim’s own heart felt as if it had stopped along with Blair’s and he pressed himself up against the door, as if by getting as close as he physically could to Blair he could hold him back from the brink of death.
Suddenly a hand clamped firmly around his wrist and he was forcibly pulled away from the door. “What the hell—”
“Sorry, Ellison,” a man Jim recognized as Joe Davidson, the detective in charge of Internal Affairs, said. “You need to come down to the station and answer some questions about what happened to Sandburg.”
“Just hold on a minute, Joe,” another man - Harry Murphy from Homicide Jim realized after a moment - said. “Let him at least find out how Blair’s doing.” He shot Jim a sympathetic look but then blew out a sigh of frustration when Davidson shook his head.
“Sorry, Harry, you know how this works. So does Ellison. We need to talk to him first before he gets a chance to concoct a story with Sandburg.” He gave Jim a thin lipped, unemotional smile. “We can do this with you in handcuffs if you want, Ellison.”
“Blair’s unconscious,” Jim said disbelievingly. “How the hell am I going to concoct a story with him? I just want to stay long enough to make sure he’s alive then I’ll voluntarily come down there and make a statement.”
Davidson shook his head and pulled out his cuffs, dangling them threateningly in front of Jim’s eyes. “Aldo got one thing right about you,” he snarled. “You think you’re entitled to special treatment because you’re the city’s supercop. Well, you won’t get it from me. Well?” He waved the cuffs and Jim shook his head.
“Fine,” he replied. “Let’s get this over with. I want to be back here when Blair wakes up.”
“If he wakes up,” Davidson said with an undercurrent to his tone that sounded like he’d be just as happy if he didn’t. He shoved Jim ahead of him out of the ER.
“I’ll get Simon to come in and be here for Blair,” Harry said. “He’ll get news to you as soon as he can.”
Jim cast one more despairing look back at the room where Blair was then nodded and let Davidson prod him forward.
Jim had been sitting in the interview room mostly alone for an hour or more. He figured Davidson was hoping that sitting alone with his supposedly guilty thoughts would cause him to cave and confess the minute Davidson started to question him. It was a well-worn cop interrogation trick and Jim had used himself, often with good results. However, Davidson seemed to have forgotten that Jim was a cop too and therefore privy to interrogation techniques used by cops everywhere. Besides which, Jim had nothing to confess to.
The very idea that anybody would even think he’d be capable of or want to hurt Blair physically appalled Jim. Sure they had their arguments but what couple didn’t?
Harry Murphy poked his head in through the door. “You need anything, Jim?”
Jim shook his head. “Any word on Blair?”
Harry gave him a look filled with sympathy. “Sorry, no news yet. Hey, isn’t that meant to be good news?”
Jim shot him a grateful smile, appreciating the man’s attempt to cheer him. “Yeah, no news is good news, my mom used to say.”
“I’ll let you know the minute I hear anything, man.” Murphy backed out of the doorway and closed the door behind him.
Davidson had peered into the room several times since Jim had been in here but he’d made no attempt to enter the room or speak to Jim. Jim had wanted to tell him that his Sentinel powers didn’t include walking through walls but he really wanted as little to do with the man as possible. So he waited and dredged his memory for anything that would give him any possible clue as to who had done this to Blair.
His mind kept going back to the gun. It looked like Blair only had one bullet wound from what Jim had been able to see. But Jim never kept the gun loaded at home. In fact, rather than buying the magazine factory-loaded with bullets, Jim hand-loaded the weapon himself whenever he used it, despite the fact that the manufacturer’s instructions advised against it. Jim felt safer doing that. As a cop he preferred to have his gun where he could get to it, rather than locked away in a safe but because his brother often visited with his children, he preferred to keep the ammunition locked away in a separate drawer. He stood up and walked over to the door and opened it then stuck his head outside and saw Davidson and Murphy talking at the end of the hallway. “Hey, Davidson,” he called, “you want me to tell you what happened to Blair? Get in here now. The clock’s ticking and you can only hold me for so long without charging me. You’ve got a ten minute window of time when I’m willing to talk to you. Once that time is up I’m calling my lawyer no matter how guilty that makes me look.” He went back inside and sat down at the table, suppressing a satisfied smile as Davidson walked in ten seconds behind him.
“Okay,” Davidson said as soon as he sat down. He reached across and turned on the small tape recorder on the table. “You okay with this being recorded?”
Jim nodded. He’d agree to anything as long as they got this over with and he was able to get to the hospital to be with Blair. As soon as Davidson nodded to say the machine was recording Jim said, “I have no idea who shot Blair but I do know I can prove it wasn’t me.” He told Davidson about the empty gun and where he kept the ammunition locked up.
“So?” Davidson asked with a smug smile. “We found the drawer where you kept the ammo unlocked. This doesn’t prove a thing.”
Jim thought fast. “Ask the crime scene people if the lock was jemmied open. Also tell them to look for a fingerprint on the shell casing of the bullet that hit Blair or on the magazine. I can tell you now it won’t be mine. I haven’t loaded that gun in months. My prints are bound to be on the gun itself but they shouldn’t be on the casing or the magazine because I bought all new ammo last month and locked it in that drawer without ever loading it into the gun.”
Davidson shook his head and Jim thought he was going to refuse but the man surprised him, standing up and going to the phone by the door. He relayed the questions Jim had asked then stood waiting, turning to watch Jim with a blank expression on his face. Suddenly Davidson hung up the phone. “Wait here,” he said to Jim. “If you want your name cleared you’ll extend that window of yours by another 15 or 20 minutes.”
Jim nodded agreement and Davidson left the room.
Jim couldn’t sit still while Davidson was gone. He found himself pacing, willing the man to come back quickly but it was right on twenty minutes later that Davidson came back through the door.
“Well?” Jim asked, his heart racing now.
Davidson nodded at him and gave him a smile but there was no smugness in it this time. It reached his eyes and Jim felt his heartbeat slow down.
“Who is John Rule?” Davidson asked.
Jim started to shake his head then stopped. “He was someone we believed was involved in the murder of a gay couple in Cascade a couple of years ago. Part of a gang that was targeting homosexuals in parks around the city. One of the bashings went too far and both young men died. We arrested three of the perps and we were sure Rule was involved too but he had an alibi we couldn’t break and no direct evidence to tie him to it. The others wouldn’t roll over on him so we had to be content with at least breaking up the gang by putting the other three away for life.” Jim stared hard at Davidson. “That’s who shot Blair? Why? He was free and clear.”
“William Perry was the leader of the gang?” Davidson didn’t wait for Jim to agree but went on. “He was also John Rule’s best friend, had been since they were kids. Three days ago he was killed in a prison yard fight.” Davidson turned and opened the door then ushered Jim out ahead of him. “Let’s talk while I get you to the hospital to see your partner.”
Jim swallowed down his shock at the change in Davidson’s demeanor but the man obviously caught wind of it anyway. He chuckled a little as he walked beside Jim out to the elevator and pressed the button for the basement parking lot. “Hey, acting like an asshole is part of the job description but I’m not dishonest or corrupt like that prick, Aldo. He gave the department a bad name when he tried to railroad you. Look, my job’s not a lot different than yours, Detective. I just want to catch the bad guys too. It just so happens that my bad guys wear badges.”
Jim nodded. “I get that. So…” He followed Davidson over to his car then climbed into the passenger seat and turned to look at him.
“Oh right. Sorry. I get a little carried away sticking up for Internal Affairs sometimes.” Davidson took off out of the parking lot like a bullet and screamed the car into a right hand turn, just beating the traffic at the lights. He reached down and thumbed on the lights and siren then sped up even more. “Want to get you there as fast as I can,” he explained. “Okay, there were minute tool marks on the lock of the drawer where you kept the ammo. No fingerprints though.”
“Then how—” Jim began.
“Idiot tore the fingertip of his glove when he opened the box of ammo and when he hand-loaded the magazine, he very kindly left a fingerprint on the shells. He would have been better off taking his own clean gun to the scene but I guess he thought he was being clever enough to frame you for shooting Sandburg.”
“He almost succeeded,” Jim said hotly.
“My Mom had a saying, ‘Truth will out’ and most of the time I’ve found that to be correct,” Davidson said. He pulled up in front of the emergency doors. “I hope Sandburg makes it,” he said as Jim climbed out. “I’m going to go pick up Harry and his team and we’ll go round up Rule. Fool’s probably sitting at home congratulating himself on a job well done.”
“Thanks. For everything.” Jim slammed the car door closed then took off at a run for the ER entrance, praying as hard as he’d ever prayed before that Blair was still alive.
“Jim!” Simon grabbed hold of his arm and pulled him to an abrupt halt as Jim barrelled through the ER doors. “Harry Murphy just called me and told me what happened.”
Simon sounded relieved but Jim could see he was still worried by the tension in his body, the fine lines around his eyes. “Blair?” Jim asked hesitantly, afraid of what Simon would answer.
“They just brought him back from surgery. He’s alive but they didn’t think he would make it through the operation. He’s in the high dependency unit. I’ll take you up there.”
Jim nodded then followed Simon into the elevator.
They stepped out on the 4th floor and Simon ushered Jim over to the desk. “This is Detective Ellison. He’s here to see Blair Sandburg.”
“He’s not up to giving a statement—” the nurse began.
“I’m his partner,” Jim jumped in. He swallowed down his doubt and said “His domestic partner. I mean, we’re together…” He found his voice dropping to a pained whisper and he leaned forward. “I really need to see him.”
“Ah,” the nurse said. She stood up and came around the desk then walked across the hall and opened a door leading into one of the rooms. “Come along then.”
Jim walked in behind her and over to the bed. There was a chair next to it and Jim sank down heavily into it, his heart thundering loudly in his ears as he looked at Blair. There seemed to be tubes everywhere and lights blinking in time with the bleeping of the monitors.
“Don’t be overwhelmed by all the technology,” the nurse said, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Just remind yourself that this is why he’s still here. That’s what’s giving him time to heal, taking over for his body so it can rest and recover.”
“He’ll make it,” Jim said, not sure if he was trying to convince her or himself.
“Yes, I believe he will,” the nurse replied. “He has someone to come back to, doesn’t he?”
Jim nodded. “Can I touch him?”
“Of course. Talk to him too. I believe that even in this state people can hear their loved ones talking to them.”
Jim reached out and took Blair’s hand in his. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, unable to stop the tears overflowing his eyes. He brushed at them roughly and the nurse handed him some tissues.
“I’ll leave you alone,” she said. “I’ll be right outside if you need anything.”
“How’s he doing?”
Jim startled at the light touch on his shoulder and the sound of Simon’s deep voice next to his ear. He didn’t remember zoning. Maybe he’d just fallen asleep in the middle of talking to Blair, trying to will him back into their life together—
Jim shook his head to get rid of the fuzziness. “Sorry, Simon,” he said. “I’m just a little out of it.”
“You’re exhausted,” Simon observed in a quiet voice. “Go home. Get some sleep. I’ll stay with the kid.”
“I remember you saying that to me when Quinn had us holed up in that mine.” Jim shook off the old memory with a shudder.” I’ll be fine. He must be doing better,” he said giving Blair’s hand a gentle squeeze. “They took the ventilator tube out a little while ago.” He smiled up at Simon. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” Simon replied gruffly, “and when Sandburg wakes up I’ll be telling him I’ve done enough of sitting around in mines and hospital rooms waiting for him to wake up.”
“You do that. I’ve spent the last couple of hours thinking about why I’ve been so desperate not to let the world know how much he means to me. I mean, I haven’t zoned in ages, I have all his Sentinel lessons pretty much memorized. It’s not like I need him for that stuff really anymore and yet the thought of losing him fills me with dread. It would be like losing part of myself, a part I don’t think I’d ever get back.”
“You love him,” Simon said. “It’s really pretty simple.”
“Then why the hell didn’t I just tell everyone that?” Jim asked.
“Because you were worried about how people you care about would take that,” Simon replied sympathetically.
“I shouldn’t be—”
“Hallelujah,” said a husky voice from the bed. “I’ve been telling you that for months now.”
“Blair?” Jim stood up and leaned toward the bed. “You’re awake!”
“Hard to sleep with you two jawing over my bed,” Blair said.
He looked pale and drawn and there were huge dark circles under his eyes but he was alive and if Jim had anything to say about it he was staying that way for a long long time to come.
Jim bent forward and kissed Blair’s forehead gently. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“Not as sorry as you will be when we get home,” Blair replied, trying on a somewhat lopsided lascivious grin.
“Oh, get a room, you two,” Simon said. He smiled down at Blair. “Glad you’re gonna be okay, kid. Now I’m gonna go wait outside while you tell this schmuck that none of this was his fault and then I’m taking him home to get some sleep.” He winked at Jim. “I’ll get the nurse to let the doctor know Sleeping Beauty’s awake.”
“Thanks, Simon. I’ll see you soon,” Blair said.
“Dr. Sandburg, I’m glad to see you back on your feet again.”
Jim and Blair turned around in the doorway to the Major Crime Unit as Joe Davidson approached. Jim smiled and nudged Blair as his partner remained uncharacteristically silent. “Say thank you to the nice man, Chief,” he whispered, Sentinel softly.
“Thanks,” Blair said, with just the modicum of civility in his tone.
Davidson didn’t seem bothered though. He reached out and shook Jim’s hand. “Good to see you, Jim. We should catch up for a drink one of these days.”
“Yeah, we should,” Jim replied. “Thanks for all you did, by the way. Hey, how about dinner at our place Friday night. We’ll have Simon and the guys over, maybe play some after-dinner poker.”
“Count me in,” Davidson said with a grin. “6 PM?”
“Sure,” Jim replied. “You can bring the potato chips for after dinner. Blair makes a mean chilli bean dip.”
“Great. See you both then.” Davidson sketched a wave in the air and headed off.
“I can’t believe you just invited him to dinner,” Blair said snappishly. “He tried to put you in jail for my murder.”
“Number one, he helped keep me out of jail, and number two, you didn’t die,” Jim replied, “thank God.” He leaned down and gave Blair a kiss on the lips then pulled him in for a hug for good measure.
“Not worried someone might see you kissing me?” Blair asked, his voice a little muffled from having his face smooshed against Jim’s broad chest.
It was said in jest, Jim knew. They’d hammered out that disagreement before Blair had even left the hospital and Jim was comfortable with their decision. “You know I’m not,” he replied anyway. He placed a finger under Blair’s chin and tilted his face up for another kiss, this one deeper and more passionate.
“Get a room, you two,” yelled a voice from inside the bullpen.
“Okay,” Jim said, reluctantly breaking away from Blair’s intoxicating mouth. “Let’s get back to work, Chief.”