Evolution Of Friendship 16
Kind Things Done
“I have seen flowers come in stony places
And kind things done by men with ugly faces...”
Jim Ellison didn’t think anything had ever scared him more than stepping into the room Blair and Amber had been heading for and finding his partner on the floor. He heard the shots when he was still only halfway up the stairs to the 12th floor, after getting waylaid in the elevator by a bratty kid who’d pushed every button. Jim had barreled out at the next stop the elevator made and headed for the stairs. The gunshots had made him stop, frozen involuntarily for a moment. Then he’d gathered his professionalism and called for backup and took off up the stairs at a run, gun drawn.
He almost passed the room by, so intent was he on listening for signs of danger. The half-open door drew him back though and he entered, gun first, checking each corner of the room as he’d been trained to though all his attention was focused on the body on the floor. Sandburg! Jim knelt by his partner’s side, placed a couple of fingers to Blair’s throat, barely able to breathe till he felt the slow pulse against his fingertips. He leaned forward, over Blair’s mouth, waiting for the exhale. Feeling nothing, he cursed, ripped open Blair’s shirt. “Sandburg!”
Jim fingered one of the slugs embedded in the hardy material of the vest he’d insisted Blair wear. “Sandburg!” He slapped at Blair’s cheek just a little short of frantically. “Sandburg!”
Blair came to with a start, eyes wide and wild. He coughed and lifted his head.
“Thank God for that vest.”
Blair looked around the room, obviously disoriented. “Where’s Amber? Where’s Amber?”
“You’re okay, buddy,” Jim rushed to reassure him. “You’re okay. Keep breathing.”
Blair coughed again and winced in pain. “Oh, Jim, I blew it,” he grunted out, eyes squinted shut, “didn’t I?”
Jim shook his head in denial though the proof was there in the fact that Amber was gone and Blair had almost been killed. ‘You didn’t blow it,’ he wanted to say. ‘I did. I should have gotten here sooner.’ Instead he just said, “It’s okay,” and pressed down against the bruising on Blair’s chest, knowing from personal, painful experience how much pain Blair had to be in. He slid his other hand under Blair’s back, bracing him, feeling the muscles contracting in painful spasms under his fingers.
“Oh God, Jim, it hurts,” Blair groaned, writhing away from the pressure.
“Yeah,” Jim muttered, holding him in place. “Take it slow, Chief. Help’s on the way.”
It seemed to Jim, and probably to Blair too, he thought ruefully, looking at his partner’s pain-filled eyes, that they stayed like that forever, a frozen tableau – Jim’s hands trying to comfort and Blair doing his best not to writhe away from the comfort being offered. By the time Simon stuck a wary head around the door and asked if they were okay, Jim’s knees were aching and Blair had fallen into a restless doze, his breath still coming in short gasps as he rode out the spasms of muscles protesting being hit with something that probably felt equivalent to a bulldozer.
“Is he hit?” Simon asked, coming into the room to stand at Jim’s shoulder and look down at Blair worriedly.
“The vest caught it,” Jim said.
“Thank god for that.” Simon knelt beside him and reached to place a concerned hand on Blair’s head. “You hang in there, Sandburg, ambulance is almost here. Where’s the girl?” he asked Jim.
“Gone. Zeller must have taken her with him,” Jim said as quietly as he could.
Blair heard him anyway and fought to sit up, mumbling curses as he grabbed at his ribs while Jim tried to help him.
“Sandburg, will you lie still?” Jim snapped. “You could have broken ribs. You want a punctured lung as well.”
“Sorry. I just... We need to find her, man.” Blair’s voice was still filled with pain but he seemed to have gotten his breath back, Jim noticed with relief as he extended his hearing and eavesdropped on Blair’s lungs.
“Will you at least let the medics check you out first?” Jim asked, letting Blair sit up against his bent leg.
“I’m fine,” Blair muttered. “I’d rather just go look for Amber.”
“First you get checked out then, if they say you’re up to it, you can leave,” Banks ordered, his tone brooking no argument.
“Fine,” Blair muttered sullenly but he submitted to the medic’s administrations when they came in and then let Jim help him to his feet once he’d been given the all clear to leave.
The medic pulled Jim to one side while Blair waited impatiently by the door of the room, his arm still wrapped protectively around his bruised, though thankfully, apparently not fractured chest. “He needs to rest,” the man said. “No strenuous exercise for a few days though he’ll probably be sore enough for that not to be an option anyway. He’s gonna have some spectacular bruising come morning.”
“What about his head?” Jim asked. “He was out cold when I found him.”
“He’s oriented to time and place, remembers what happened,” the medic said. “Keep an eye on him, wake him up every hour or so for the next 24 hours. Any signs of decreased consciousness, confusion, irritability, vomiting, you get him straight to the ER. And, Detective, strapping ribs isn’t actually considered a viable treatment these days but if he insists on staying on his feet, it wouldn’t hurt. Might give his chest muscles some support.”
“Thanks.” Jim patted the man on the shoulder, collected Blair under his wing and walked him out to the truck.
Jim had strapped Blair’s ribs as soon as they got back to the loft, commiserating with a manly pat on the back over Blair’s complaints of it being too tight and calming him down as he worried about Amber. He’d barely gotten the strapping on before they’d figured out where Amber would go and headed for the club.
It had almost gone to hell in a handbasket from there with Kurt ending up dead from a Zeller special and Zeller escaping but at least they’d had Amber back... until she’d done a Houdini and gone walkabout again.
She’d finally had a change of heart and they’d gotten to her just in time, and even though Jim was the one who’d gone head to head with Zeller, it had been Blair who’d looked battered and exhausted by the time they’d rounded the Iceman up, and gotten back to the loft after finishing up the paperwork, and then seeing Amber safely off back home to her parents.
“You okay?” Jim asked now, watching Blair surreptitiously from the corner of his eye.
Blair was sitting in the corner of the couch, his shoeless feet up on the sofa cushions, hunched over, arms wrapped around his chest. “Fine.” He yawned and grimaced, hunching over a little more into his protective self-hug.
Blair sighed and shook his head. “I’m fine. My ribs just feel a little sore still, that’s all. Ow,” he opened and closed his mouth a few times then rubbed at his jaw ruefully.
Jim nodded sympathetically. He could empathize with that. “You’ve got quite a bruise coming up there. Try a hot bath,” he said. “That might help. Why don’t you do that while I get dinner organized?”
“I’m not really hungry, Jim. Thanks.”
“Hey, you’re okay with Amber leaving, aren’t you?” Jim asked, concerned at Blair’s apathy.
“Of course. I’m glad she’s going home to her folks and going back to school.” Blair shrugged then winced at the movement. “She’ll do great.”
“I just thought maybe you and she...”
“Nah. Well, yeah, she’s nice, but no. She’s not really my type. I’m just gonna go have that bath then crash, okay?”
Jim waved him off. “Don’t drown in there.”
Blair waved back over his shoulder and kept going.
Jim walked into the kitchen and perused the contents of the fridge, finally pulling out a leftover casserole he’d made the night before and reheating it in the microwave. He heard Blair come out of the bathroom and go into his room a half hour or so later and Jim settled down on the couch in front of the TV, looking forward to an hour or so mindless channel-surfing and then an early night for once.
He peeked into Blair’s room on his way upstairs, finding him asleep on his stomach, half the covers kicked down to his knees. Jim crept into the room and pulled them up to his shoulders, smiling at what Blair would think if he woke up and caught him at it. Then he closed the door behind him and went upstairs and climbed wearily into his own bed.
The voice was whisper-thin and Jim might have turned over and ignored the call, figuring it some figment of a dream if not for the sheer desperation in the tone.
Rolling quickly from the bed, not bothering with a robe, he padded quickly down the stairs to Blair’s room.
“Chief, you okay?” he called as he entered.
The gasp of undoubted pain from Blair’s bed had him switching on the light as he made his way over.
Blair was on his back, one hand fisted up over his sternum, the beds of his fingernails pale blue to Sentinel sight. He wasn’t gasping for breath but his respirations were shallow and it seemed as if every intake was causing him agony.
“Jesus! Blair, what’s wrong?” Jim pressed two fingers against Blair’s carotid vein, the pulse there rapid and thready.
“Hurts... to... breathe.” The words stuttered out between sobs of obvious pain and Jim patted Blair’s shoulder comfortingly before turning and sprinting for the phone. He gathered it up and took it back, kneeling beside Blair’s bed, his fingers punching in 911 quickly.
He gave the required information to the dispatcher then sat back on his haunches and reached for Blair’s hand, gripping it firmly in his, murmuring words of reassurance that his friend was long past hearing, till the medics came and took Blair away.
Jim looked up quickly, forcing his gaze away from the tiles he’d been counting in an effort to stop himself from listening in to the cubicle where Blair had been taken. He stood, shaking the hand the doctor held out to him. “How is he?” he asked tersely.
“He has a fracture of the first rib,” the doctor replied.
“That’s it?” Jim felt stunned. “He could barely breathe. His lips were blue. I’ve had more than one broken rib at a time and-“
The doctor held up a hand and gave him a sympathetic smile. “It’s not at all the same,” he said. “The first rib rarely gets broken because it’s protected by the clavicle. In actual fact, in Blair’s case, it’s more an evulsion of the ligament of the rib than a true fracture. When he was hit in the face, he apparently twisted with the force of the blow. This can twist the rib on its pedicle, tear it free of its moorings, so to speak, and thus set up a slow bleed into the chest cavity, causing all the symptoms you described. Fortunately for Blair, you reacted quickly, didn’t attempt to move him, and got him here almost immediately.” The doctor patted Jim’s shoulder reassuringly. “He’s going to be fine. A small operation to repair the tear, a blood transfusion, and a few days in hospital on the receiving end of some heavy duty analgesics and antibiotics, and he’ll be good as new.”
“Thank god! Can I see him?”
“They’re taking him up to surgery now but I’ll tell the nurses to come get you as soon as he’s back... unless you’d rather go home and wait for us to call-“
“I’ll be here,” Jim replied quickly.
The doctor laughed. “I had a feeling you’d say that. The surgery will take around an hour then he’ll be in recovery for a while. I’ll get someone to bring you some coffee and a sandwich.”
“Thanks.” Jim sat back down in the chair and leaned forward, hands covering his face as he let the relief seep in. Not for the first time he wondered whether Blair was where he was supposed to be or whether he should cut him loose, send him back to academia and safety.
“It’s about time you surfaced.” Jim kept his voice soft in deference to Blair’s barely open eyes and the small grimace of pain on his face.
“Jim?” Blair blinked a few times then managed to get his eyes open and keep them that way, focusing blearily on his partner.
“Who else is gonna sit in a hard plastic chair half the night waiting for you to wake up,” Jim replied jokingly while his hand found Blair’s and gave it a sympathetic squeeze.
“Lyn would,” Blair murmured, smiling faintly.
“Lyn? Ah, the latest recruit to the Blair Sandburg Fan Club.” Jim nodded and grinned, turning to grab a glass off the bedside table and holding the straw to Blair’s lips so he could drink.
“She’s got a Masters in Education,” Blair said, pushing the straw away after a couple of sips. “She’s a very intelligent woman.”
“She’s blind, Sandburg,” Jim reminded him.
“I know.” Blair gave a beatific smile that Jim suspected was as much the result of morphine as lust. “She has the most amazing hands. She tried to teach me Braille once by tapping it out on my body-“
Jim clapped his hand gently over Blair’s mouth. “TMI.”
“You’re just jealous.”
He got a noogie for that then Jim sat back down in the chair and gave him a complete Sentinel once-over.
There was a small bloodstained bandage on Blair’s side, and an IV in the back of his left hand but apart from that, and the bruise on his cheekbone he looked better than he had the night before.
“I’m fine,” Blair murmured, keeping his eyes closed.
“I know,” Jim replied.
“Then stop running your senses over me like I’m some lab rat.”
“Takes one to know one, Sandburg. So... I was thinking, you’re going to be off school for a week and I’ve got some time off owed to me-“
Blair’s eyes opened at that. “A week? No! No way, man. I can’t afford a week off.”
“Chill out, Chief. Simon spoke to your department head, and to the dean, and they agreed to it, and Simon’s organized a small payout from the Victims Of Crime Association that’ll keep you afloat for a while...”
“Simon did that? For me?” Blair smiled. “Wow! That’s nice of him.”
“Well, he knows you went above and beyond the call on this one, Chief. Now. Can I finish what I was saying?” Jim grinned as Blair nodded. “Okay. I was thinking we could take a trip to New York.”
“Why New York?”
“I think there’s someone there you might like to see again.” Jim waited for the expected question but when all he got was a narrowing of Blair’s eyes in suspicion, he went on. “Remember the baseball coach who believed you when you were a kid? About you being abused?”
“Coach Moreton? You found him?” Blair was looking at him, an indescribable expression in his eyes.
“Yep, he retired to New York. Lives in a senior citizen’s community there. Well?” Jim waited, grinning broadly. “What do ya say, Chief? You said you’d like to see him again.”
Blair rolled carefully onto his side. “I don’t know. Maybe. What if he doesn’t want to see me?”
“We had this conversation when you told me about him, remember?” Jim said.
“Yeah, I remember. Okay.” Blair swallowed and closed his eyes. “I guess we could go, if you really want to. I’m kinda tired, Jim.”
“All right, you get some sleep, partner. I’ll be by to pick you up in the morning.” Jim patted Blair’s shoulder and waited till he was sure he was asleep then left the room quietly. He had plane reservations already booked and he wanted to get back to the loft to pack. He wasn’t giving Blair any time to back out now.
“You all right?” Jim asked as Blair put the small airline pillow against the window of the plane and leaned gingerly back against it. “You need your pain meds?”
Blair shook his head. “I’m fine.” He rolled his head to the side and looked directly at Jim. “I can’t believe you’re doing this... that you did this, tracked down Coach Moreton and bought plane tickets.”
Jim shrugged. “I wanted you to see him for yourself, to know that he doesn’t resent you for what happened.”
“You don’t know he doesn’t either,” Blair observed and Jim could only nod at that.
“Look, you were a kid and you said he was a good guy so...”
“He was but-“ Blair sighed and rubbed at the incision in his chest. “Maybe I will take a couple of pills.”
“Good idea. It’s a five-hour flight into Kennedy and then we’ve got a 90-minute drive out to Long Island. I did think about getting us a flight that landed at Islip, it’s only a twenty minute drive from there but we would have had a layover on the way and I figured you’d be more comfortable this way.”
“What?” Jim asked, handing over the pills and an uncapped bottle of water he grabbed from the stewardess on her way past.
“Jim Nightingale,” Blair said, still smiling. “You’re gonna lose your rep as a tough guy if you keep this up.”
“Yeah, well, make the most of it, Chief, because as soon as we get back home you’re still going to obey the house rules and do your share of the cleaning.”
Blair shook his head and swallowed the pills then closed his eyes. “Wake me up when we get to New York.”
Jim did, and Blair came awake reluctantly, moving stiffly against the pain of his wound. Jim made him take more pain pills and then held him more or less upright and maneuvered him ahead down the aisle and off the plane.
By the time they were in the rental car and heading for Long Island, Blair was more awake and seemed to be moving more freely. He twisted in his seat to look away from the scenery outside his window to shoot Jim a nervous, shaky smile. “Does he know we’re coming?”
“No,” Jim replied. He didn’t want to tell Blair that he was worried if he’d given Moreton notice the man might have refused to see them but he figured Blair might have guessed that from the way he shrugged his shoulders and turned back to the scenery. “I figured we’d give the old guy a nice surprise,” Jim added.
“Okay,” Blair said.
“You want to stop in at the motel before we go to Jefferson Ferry?” Jim asked. “Have something to eat and a rest?”
Blair shook his head. “Don’t think I can eat till this meeting’s over,” he replied.
“All right, we’ll head straight there then. We’ll call in and grab a burger on the way through.”
“I just said I can’t eat right now,” Blair snapped. He turned around and flashed Jim an apologetic smile. “Sorry, man, I’m a little tense.”
“It’s fine, but you didn’t eat on the plane and you’ve taken two lots of pain meds,” Jim observed mildly, making a left into the drive thru of a MacDonald’s. “Besides, I’m starving.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Just get me a plain chicken burger though, okay?” Blair agreed.
By the time they had left the drive thru and were out on the road again Jim noticed Blair was eating as if he hadn’t done so in a week. He nodded to himself approvingly then reached out and turned on the car radio, grinning as an Angie Ferris song came on. “Small world, Chief.”
“Yeah.” Blair flashed a small smile over at him and Jim found himself relaxing for the first time since Blair had been hurt.
Jim glanced at his watch. “We still have time to stop at the motel and have a break before going to Jefferson Ferry,” he suggested as he balled up his rubbish and stuck it in the side pocket of the door.
“Nah, let’s just do it,” Blair replied, resting his head back against the seat and closing his eyes.
“You’re missing some great scenery here, Chief,” Jim said, smiling, as Blair’s only response was a soft snore.
“Well, don’t just stand there, Sandburg, ring the doorbell,” Jim said, finally leaning forward and doing it himself when Blair just gave him a wide-eyed, barely awake look.
“Yeah.” The man who opened the door was exactly what Jim had expected. He looked like all the retired baseball coaches you saw on TV, he decided: balding, a little paunchy around the middle but with the strong hands and arms of a man who obviously tried to stay in shape despite his declining years.
“Hi, are you Joe Moreton?” Jim asked.
“Depends. If you’re collecting on some debt I’ve forgotten to pay or trying to sell me something I already have then no, I’m not.”
Jim smiled. He liked the old coot already. “Nope, not collecting or selling. My name’s Jim Ellison and this is my partner, Blair Sandburg.” He stopped, waited for Moreton to show some recognition.
Moreton turned on his heels and walked back inside. “Well, don’t just stand there. Guess you’d better come on in.”
Jim gave Blair a soft-handed shove through the door to get him moving then followed him inside the apartment.
“Nice place,” Jim said, noting the comfortable furnishings.
“Thanks. I like it,” Moreton said. He turned around in the doorway of the kitchen. “You look like you could use a drink. I know I could. What’s your poison?”
“Beer’s fine, if you’ve got it,” Jim replied. He nudged Blair when he didn’t reply then spoke up for him instead. “Blair’s on heavy duty pain meds so maybe some juice or water?”
“Okay.” Moreton went to the fridge and came back with two beers and a glass of orange juice. “Well, don’t just stand there. Take a load off.” He waited till they sat then placed their drinks in front of them on a small table and sat down in an armchair opposite from the settee they sat on. “So, Blair, how’ve you been?”
“You remember me?” Blair asked.
“Sure. You were the reason I lost my job,” Moreton said. He swigged a healthy gulp of his brew then set the bottle down and leaned forward. “You okay? You look a little peaked.”
Blair nodded, took a sip of his juice and put the glass down. “Um, yeah. I just got out of the hospital-“
“And you came to visit me? Why?”
Jim leaned forward at the question, unsure if he should step in. Blair did look pale, he noticed now. Maybe he should have insisted they stop at the motel first. “It was my idea,” he said when Blair didn’t respond.
“You’re his friend?” Moreton asked.
Jim nodded. “And his partner. I’m a cop from Cascade, Washington. Blair’s a consultant to the Major Crime department.”
“I’m impressed,” Moreton said. He sighed. “Blair… Get that scared look off your mug, all right? I’m not mad at you. I never was.”
“I caused you to lose your job,” Blair said, his voice little more than a whisper. “You just said so.”
“Yeah, you did. And right after you and your mom left town, I sued the pants off the bastards and got enough money for wrongful dismissal to retire here. Look around, kid. You did me a favor.” Moreton stood up and walked across to a small cabinet, taking down a couple of framed pictures that sat on top. “These are my grandkids. I see them every day. They live in Port Jefferson Station. My daughter and her husband moved here so I could do that. I was able to get this place and help my daughter out as well.” He handed the photos to Blair. “Aren’t they the best-looking kids you ever seen? That’s Joey Jr. He’s 8 and he’s got a pitcher’s arm. He’s gonna make the major’s one day. And that little princess there, that’s Reeve. She’s four now. She’s the light in her grandpa’s eyes.”
Blair looked up, tears dampening his eyes. “They’re wonderful,” he said softly. “I am so sorry, Coach. Sorry you got caught up in my problems back then. Thank you for believing in me and for standing up for me.”
Moreton tapped his grandson’s photo with his forefinger. “You weren’t much older than Joey back then, Blair,” he said gruffly. “All I did was what I’d expect anyone to do for my grandchildren if, God forbid, they ever had to go through what you did.” He put a hand on Blair’s shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze. “You were never at fault, Blair, not for any of it, you got that?”
Blair nodded. “Got it, Coach.”
Jim bit his lip against the emotion overwhelming him and returned the blazing smile Blair gave him. This had been, perhaps, the best idea he’d ever had.
“So,” Moreton said, sitting down in his chair and picking up his beer again. “I was thinking of making ribs and baked potatoes on that fancy barbecue on the patio out there for dinner tonight. Reckon there’s enough for three. What do you say? Wanna stay keep an old man company.”
Blair just nodded as if his heart was too full for words so Jim spoke for both of them again. “Nothing we’d like better, Coach. Thanks.”