Disclaimer: See home page.
Spoilers: The Debt
Warnings: This story contains a few bad words.
Food for Thought
Detective Jim Ellison walked across the Major Crime's bullpen towards his desk. Another day that his official observer and unofficial partner hadn't joined him for lunch. He couldn't remember when he had last seen Sandburg before lunchtime. Or before breakfast either for that matter. He saw less of him now than before the grad student had moved in with him. As he sat down he heard his name being called.
Jim looked up to see Detective Henri Brown looking at him. "Yeah H?"
"Where's your new roomie? He's been pretty scarce around here lately. First he was practically living here and now suddenly he's almost never here. You finally scare him off or something?"
"Nope. He said something about some big project he's working on for school. To tell you the truth, he's gone when I get up, doesn't show up here until after lunch and then only for a few hours, then he doesn't get back to the loft until way past dinner. If it weren't for all the hair in the bathroom, I almost wouldn't even know he was living there."
Henri laughed. "Well, at least the monkey's gone. If Sandburg's gone that much, you could have been stuck babysitting it."
Jim shook his head and grimaced. "No way H. Not after the way that animal ransacked my placetwice. Good riddance to Larry."
He heard H and his partner, Rafe, both chuckling over the remembered antics of Larry the Barbary ape. He still couldn't believe that Sandburg had talked him into letting both of them move into the loft with him after drug dealers blew up the warehouse that he and Larry had been living in. Thank God that monkey was back at the University where it belonged. But what was up with Sandburg? Up until lately they had fallen into a fairly regular routine: breakfast together in the loft; then he'd go to the station and Sandburg would go the University or if he didn't have classes scheduled, he would come with him. Then after lunch, depending on their schedules they might work together all afternoon or if not then whoever got back to the loft first would start dinner. Blair actually turned out to be a pretty decent cook, even if he was a little too concerned about everything being 'healthy'. If no one cooked that night they would either eat out or have something delivered. During their time together Sandburg would help him with his senses. He had to admit that the kid knew what he was talking about. He was already much better at controlling almost everything now. And fewer zone outs too. Jim frowned. I thought I was his big project. His 'Holy Grail'. Did he find another sentinel? No, somehow he was sure he would know if another sentinel was around. So what's the big deal if Sandburg was working on another project? As soon as it was finished, things would get back to normal. Because, he finally admitted to himself, he actually missed having his observer around. Blair was smart and witty and had actually made some good observations during their investigations of various crimes. He also found that he was a lot more comfortable using his senses when his guide was around. It just felt 'safer' somehow.
Just then the sound of a familiar heartbeat alerted Jim that his partner and new roommate was entering the bullpen. Jim had been surprised when he realized he could actually pick out Blair's heartbeat from everyone else's. He hadn't told Sandburg yet, not sure how he would take that bit of information. It was the first time in at least a few days that Blair had actually come to the station. He watched as Blair slowly walked towards his desk. He looks tired. Real tired. Well why not? He knew that Sandburg was up till all hours typing away at his laptop every night and then was always already gone by the time he got up. Didn't the kid ever sleep?
Apparently he wasn't the only one that noticed. Rhonda walked up to Blair as he sat in his usual chair beside Jim's desk. He smiled up at her.
"Hi Rhonda. What's up?"
"I think I should be asking you that. Do you feel all right, Blair? You look awfully pale today." She laid her palm across his forehead.
Blair reached up and gently removed her hand. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just been real busy lately. You know, school stuff." He gallantly kissed the back of her hand. "But thank you for asking."
She blushed slightly then stared pointedly at Jim. "Well, somebody needs to keep an eye on you. Making sure you're taking care of yourself. I still don't think you look quite right."
Jim was about to answer in his own defense when Blair beat him to it. "Rhonda, I'm fine. Really. And it's not anyone else's job to look after me. I'm a big boy, I can look after myself, okay?" He gave her one his patented Sandburg smiles, small but disarming. It worked its usual magic. She gave Blair a smile in return. "All right Blair. Just don't over do it, and don't forget to eat and sleep once in a while, okay?" Then giving Jim another 'you're not doing your job' glare she returned to her desk.
Blair had a strange look on his face as watched her walk away; then he turned to Jim. "Anything big planned for this afternoon? I've got a few hours free before I have to be back at school."
Jim sighed to himself. Again only a few hours. Then he wouldn't be home until later this evening. What could be so important that it was taking up virtually all of Sandburg's time? Before he could answer, Blair spoke up again. "Well, before we do anything, I've got to go visit the Little Observer's Room." Jim looked puzzled for a minute then understanding dawned. "Oh, sure. Go ahead. We're not in any hurry." He watched as Blair almost had to push himself off the chair. It seemed as if every movement was an effort. Blair gave Jim a small, tired smile as he passed him. "And they say you only made detective on your good looks." Just as Jim was about come back with a smart reply, Simon Banks opened his office door.
"Ellison, I need to see you in my office. And bring the Clarkston file." Grinning to himself, Jim picked up the file and headed for his captain's office. Next time Sandburg.
Jim knocked then entered the office. With the ease of long familiarly, he sat in one of the chairs in front of the big desk and accepted the cup of coffee Simon held out to him.
"Thanks. What is it this time?" He closed his eyes and sniffed. "Hmmm, a little hazelnut, a little cinnamon and..." he sniffed again, "... vanilla?"
"Very good. I see those lessons with Sandburg are actually paying off. It's a new blend my cousin just sent me."
Jim took a small sip, wrinkled his face and put the cup on Simon's desk. "Ugh. A little too sweet for me. Those ingredients should be in a cake, not coffee."
"Yeah, I agree. So, speaking of our favorite, if not only, police observer, how is everything going with you two? Driving you crazy yet, you know, working together and now him actually living with you?"
Jim gave a small shrug. "Actually Simon, Sandburg kinda grows on you after a while. He's unbelievably intelligent and he has a wicked sense of humor that he lets loose at the most unexpected times. He's picking up on all the police stuff pretty quick too."
Simon just stared. It sounded like Jim "I don't need anybody" Ellison was actually becoming fond of the long-haired grad student. Now I've seen everything. Not wanting to make too big a deal out of Jim's finally admitting that he might not mind having a partner again, abet an unorthodox, unofficial one, Simon turned his attention to the file Jim brought in with him. "So where are you on the Clarkston case?" Soon the file was open on the desk and both men were deeply involved in discussing Jim's latest assignment.
A short time later they were both startled when Rhonda opened the office door and stuck her head in without knocking, a very rare breach of protocol around Simon. "Jim. You better come quick. Something's wrong with Blair, he just collapsed in the bullpen." It didn't take sentinel vision to see how upset she was. Jim was on his feet and out the door so fast he almost knocked Rhonda down without even realizing it.
As he approached the group of detectives and uniformed cops gathered on the floor, a few of them moved away to give him room. Blair was lying on his back beside Jim's desk, one arm out straight, his hand under the desk, the other hand resting on his stomach. His head was slightly tilted, loose hair fanning out around it. With his eyes closed he almost looked like he was sleeping. Except Jim could hear the slightly irregular breathing and the slower than normal heart rate. Kneeling down beside his partner, he subconsciously noted that Rhonda was right, Blair was way too pale. He immediately started checking Blair for any injuries, finding only a small bump on the back of his head, probably from when he fell. Pushing up the numerous shirt cuffs to take Blair's pulse Jim was surprised at what he saw. When did Sandburg get so thin? I know he wasn't this thin last time I looked. And why didn't I notice something before now? Looking up he saw that Rafe was kneeling directly across from him, beside Blair. He pinned him with a glare and almost growled, "What happened?"
Rafe didn't even blink, he'd seen Ellison get all protective over Sandburg before. "He was sitting at your desk when he said he was going to the break room for some coffee and asked if anyone wanted anything. He took one, maybe two steps and just went down like a ton of bricks. There wasn't anything anyone could do." Jim's face relaxed just a bit, he knew that no one here would do anything to hurt Sandburg, it was just scaring him how quiet and still his partner wasit was almost unnatural.
Almost as if reading Jim's mind, a small groan escaped from Blair's lips. Immediately Jim's full attention was on his partner. He lightly tapped one pale cheek. "Sandburg? Chief? Can you hear me? C'mon Buddy, open your eyes."
Another unintelligible sound came forth, this time with a slight cracking of eyelids. "That's it Chief. C'mon, wake up."
Slowly the eyelids blinked open to reveal two confused blue eyes. As they looked around at the group of people staring down at him the confusion grew.
"Right here Chief." Jim laid his hand on a now trembling shoulder. "It's all right. Just relax."
When Blair turned and looked at him, Jim became concerned at the unfocused, glazed look in his eyes. When he spoke his words were slurred. "D-Don' unnerstan'. Wha' happ'nd?"
I was hoping you could tell me. "You passed out, Chief. How do you feel?"
Jim's concern was growing. "What?"
"Hav'ta... go home. Feed Larry."
Oh shit. He could hear Rafe whispering to Brown. "I thought the monkey went back to the University." "It did." "Oh man, this isn't good is it?"
Blair was now struggling to sit up. "No, hav'ta go. Feed Larry. Waiting."
The harder Jim tried to hold Blair down the more insistent he became. "Lemme go. He's 'ungry. Gets cold. Hav'ta turn on heaters."
Oh God. Blair obviously thought he still lived at the warehouse with Larry. Back then he had placed a few space heaters around his living area in a vain attempt to heat up the place. What the hell do I do now?
"Jim." It was barely a whisper but Jim heard Simon's voice easily enough. "Why don't you pretend you're taking him to the warehouse but drive him to the hospital instead?" Jim nodded. He would deal with an upset Blair there, least he'd be at the hospital. "Okay, Chief. Let's go. I'll drive."
Blair stopped struggling. "Really?"
"Yeah, really. Let's go." God he hated lying to Blair, even under these circumstances.
"'kay." Jim managed to get a still shaky Blair on his feet and with one arm securely around his shoulders and his other hand on Blair's arm he slowly started walking them towards the door. He stopped when Simon walked up to them holding out Blair's wallet from his backpack. "Insurance card and personal info." Jim looked startled, then just using the hand that was on Blair's arm, he took the wallet and put it in his back pocket. His other arm stayed around Blair's shoulders. He hadn't even thought about that. Simon just gave him a small smile. "That's why I'm the captain."
They were almost to the door when he felt Blair stiffen under his arms. "J-Jim? I-I really don' feel so gooo..." That was as far as he got before his head fell back and he went completely limp against Jim.
Fortunately, Jim had felt Blair tense up and was prepared when he collapsed again. He held the unconscious man against him until he could reach down and pick him up in his arms. Immediately Simon took command. "Jim, you and I will take him straight to the hospital. We'll use my car, it has a bigger back seat. Brown, you and Rafe come with us and help get them into the car. You..." He turned to one of the other officers in the room, "... have dispatch call Cascade General ER and tell them to be ready when we get there. Tell them it's someone affiliated with the Cascade PD." He tried to ignore the small smiles on almost everyone's face at his last words. He realized he may live to regret them later.
Simon watched Jim as he continued to pace in the suddenly too small ER waiting room. He couldn't decide which would wear out first, the thin carpet on the floor or Jim's molars as he constantly clenched his jaw muscles. He had already come to the conclusion that Ellison wasn't just 'fond' of his sometimes annoying, young observerhe actually cared about him a lot and was more than just a little worried about him right now. He remembered the look Jim had given Brown in the elevator when the other detective had offered to take Sandburg from him, to give his arms a rest. A lesser man, or at least one not used to the ex-Army Ranger turned cop, probably would have wet his pants, but Brown just exchanged a knowing smile with his partner and let it go. Even at the hospital Jim seemed momentarily torn between giving Sandburg to the orderlies and keeping his hold on him. Maybe Sandburg had just managed to do the impossible, worm his way into Ellison's heart all by himself or maybe it had something to do with this weird sentinel stuff they had going on between them. Either way it was obvious that Ellison was becoming a changed man since Sandburg came along. He just wondered if Jim was even aware of it yet. He stopped his musings as he watched Jim stop pacing and stare at the swinging doors that separated the waiting room from the main ER area. Less than a minute later a doctor came through the doors. "Who's here with Blair Sandburg?"
Jim was in front of the doctor in a few quick strides, practically in his face. "How's Sandburg? What's wrong with him? Is he going to be all right? When can I see him?"
Simon hurried to join them, putting his hand on Jim's arm. "Jim, calm down. Give the doctor a chance to answer one question before bombarding him with others." He turned to the doctor. "I'm Capt. Banks with the Cascade police. Sandburg works for me." He tilted his head towards Jim. "This is Detective Ellison, Sandburg's partner. What can you tell us about what happened to him?"
The doctor seemed relieved to have a rational person to talk to, especially since he seemed to be in charge. "I'm Dr. Hassler, I've been treating Mr. Sandburg since he was brought in. And to answer your question Captain, your man's immediate problem is that he is suffering from severe hypoglycemia, a severe shortage of glucose or sugar in his blood. Tell me, do either of you know if Mr. Sandburg is diabetic?"
Simon and Jim looked at each other then back to the doctor. Simon spoke first. "I don't think so. He had to fill out some medical paperwork when he first started working with us and that was never mentioned. Jim?"
"Not that I'm aware of. I know that he's real picky about what he eats, but I think he would have said something about it by now if he was."
The doctor frowned. "Well, I noticed that it's not listed in his medical file, I thought I'd just make sure. Of course that makes his current situation a bit more complicated."
Jim spoke up again. "What exactly is his 'current situation,' Doctor? I know that he's been really busy at school, he's a doctoral candidate at Rainier, and I also know that his eating habits can be haphazard at best, so what's going on? Could he have missed a few meals and that caused his blood sugar level to drop?"
The doctor became very serious. "This is much more serious than missing a few meals or a slight drop in his blood sugar level. His glucose level was practically a whiteout, so low it almost couldn't be measured. It's a good thing you brought him in when you did, he was almost borderline coma earlier."
"What!" Jim looked like he'd been struck. He staggered back a few steps until he felt hands on his shoulders pushing him down into a chair. "Did you say Blair was a coma?"
The doctor shook his head. "No, no he isn't, but he was definitely heading in that direction. I'm just amazed that he was able to function right up until he collapsed. Which brings us back to how he got to this state. A normal, healthy, non-diabetic person's blood sugar level does not drop this low by skipping lunch or even missing a few meals. This takes time. Going by his blood sugar level, his thin, gaunt appearance, slow response of skin turgor and a few other signs, I'm willing to bet that Mr. Sandburg has had virtually nothing to eat for the last three maybe four days and has probably only eaten sporadically for quite a while before that. He's malnourished, in fact to put it bluntly, he's starving."
If Jim hadn't already been sitting down he knew he would have collapsed right there. Somewhere above him he heard Simon exclaim, "Dear God."
Jim looked up at the doctor. "Is-is he going to be all right?"
"Well, right now we're giving him several units of D50, that's a highly concentrated level of dextrose administered through an IV. That will bring his blood sugar level up. We're also giving him vitamins and nutrients, also through an IV, which is the quickest way to get them into his system. We'll see how he responds to that. This is only a temporary quick fix of course. Once he leaves here, if he doesn't start eating again on a regular basis, he'll be right back in the same condition fairly quickly. The only permanent solution is to find out why he hasn't been eating and correct that problem."
Over his initial shock at what the doctor had said about Blair condition, Jim stood up. "Oh, believe me Doc, I will find out what this is all about and if nothing else, I can guarantee that Sandburg WILL be eating regularly from now on." Both Simon and the doctor also heard Jim mutter under his breath, "Whether he wants to or not." That brought a small smile to the doctor's face. Now that he'd gotten over his initial shock, Detective Ellison looked like a man that not many people said 'no' to and got away with it. Which may be just what his patient needed right now. "Well, I have other patients to see. Do you have any other questions before I go?"
Jim spoke up. "Well, yeah, just one more. After he collapsed the first time, Blair woke up for a few minutes. He thought he still lived at his previous address, with his old 'roommate'. Will he still think that now?"
Dr. Hassler shook his head. "When a person's blood sugar level drops this low they often become confused and disoriented. In fact, they're often mistaken for being drunk or on drugs. Once his glucose level rises back to within his normal range, the confusion should disappear." The relief was obvious on Jim's face. "When can I see him and when can he leave? He and I obviously have some things to discuss."
Simon stepped right beside him. "Jim, you're not going to go in there and start taking the kid's head off. I imagine he's going to be feeling pretty lousy right now. Physically and emotionally. He doesn't need you in there making him feel even worse. At least wait till you get him home to kill him, there won't be any witnesses that way."
The doctor looked puzzled. "Home?"
"Yeah. Blair's not only my partner, we're roommates too. Long story. Anyway, that's why I KNOW he'll be eating right from now on. I'll be right there with him, counting every damn calorie if I have to." His mouth curved up into an almost fiendish smile.
"Okay then, if that's the case, we'll probably just keep him here overnight so we can monitor his blood sugar level and in case we need access to the IV again. If everything looks good enough tomorrow, I'll release him into your capable hands then. They should be bringing him to his room soon; you can see him after they get him settled in. The duty nurse can tell you when that will be. Gentlemen, it's been interesting. Don't hesitate to call me if any other problems develop later." With that the Dr. Hassler turned around and walked back through the swinging doors into the ER. Jim immediately went to the nurse's station to find out when he would finally be able to see his partner.
Thirty minutes later, after taking a trip to the hospital cafeteria for some much-needed coffee while they waited, Jim and Simon approached Blair's room. Simon stopped Jim just outside the door. "Remember Jim, go easy on him. You'll have plenty of time to grill him later, when you're both home." He didn't take his hand off Jim's arm until the detective nodded.
Entering the room ahead of Simon, Jim took one look at Blair and all thoughts of interrogating the observer fled. His partner was lying back on the bed, the head of which had been partially raised so he was semi-reclining. His eyes traveled up the IV stand attached to the bed, two half empty bags were hanging from it, the tubing running down and disappearing under a piece of gauze taped to the back of Blair's hand. The blanket only went up to his waist, leaving Blair's arms and upper body were exposed. The thin hospital gown hid very little. Without the usual several layers of baggy clothing, Jim could see how thin Blair had become. Not emaciated as he had feared from the doctor's description, but it was still pretty obvious that Blair had lost several pounds that he could ill afford to lose anyway. His skin was still pale and he could now see the dark circles under his partner's eyes. Those eyes were closed and he appeared to be dozing.
Jim stood there looking at Blair until he felt Simon trying to come in the room behind him. He walked over and stood beside the bed, not sure if he should say anything. Simon stood at the foot of the bed and spoke first. "How could this be going on and nobody notice?"
At Simon's words Blair's eyes blinked open. He looked first at Simon, then Jim. His eyes dropped to his lap as his free hand began to pick at the blanket. "Hey Jim. Captain." He spoke so softly Simon almost couldn't hear him.
Jim moved a little closer. "Hi Chief. How're you feeling?"
Blair just shrugged, keeping his eyes down.
Jim looked over at Simon, not sure what to do now. Simon just raised his eyebrows and gave his own small shrug. Jim tried again. "Everyone at the station was worried about you."
Blair slowly shook his head, still not looking at either man. "Yeah. Right. Guess this'll give them something new to laugh about for a while. Sandburg does a header in the bullpen. Ha. Ha. At least if nothing else, I keep everybody amused."
Jim could feel Blair's unease. "Chief, nobody was laughing. Simon's gotten three calls on his cell phone so far asking how you're doing. Two from Rhonda and one from Henri, they wanted to know the minute we knew anything. I think you're selling yourself short here, Blair."
At hearing Jim use his first name Blair looked up. Jim hardly ever called him 'Blair' usually just Sandburg or Chief. He wasn't sure where 'Chief' came from but it was the first time anyone ever called him by a nickname, at least one that wasn't an insult anyway, and he liked it. He looked closely at Jim. No laughing, if fact Jim looked very serious and... concerned? Looking over at Simon he saw a similar look on the captain's face also. "So, uh, what are you going to tell them? I mean, did the doctor talk to you?" Dr. Hassler had already read him the riot act about what had led him to ending up in the hospital. He was pretty sure he had already talked to Jim and Simon too. He couldn't imagine going back to the station if everyone there knew.
Jim leaned towards Blair, his hands on the bed rail, as he remembered the doctor's words. Borderline coma. His partner not having eaten anything for at least couple of days now and apparently had barely been eating for quite a while before that. What was he thinking, doing that to himself? His voice started rising on its own accord. "Oh believe me the doctor definitely talked to us, Sandburg. Just what the hell were you thinking, doing that to yourself? I hope you have a damn good explanation for --" He stopped when he saw that Blair had shrunk back and away from him. Something that looked suspiciously like fear was in his eyes as he stared up at him. At the same time he heard Simon's low warning, "Jim." Jim immediately softened his expression. Damn. He hadn't meant to go off on Sandburg like that, but it was just so frustrating seeing him looking so bad and not being able to think of one good reason for it. He lowered his voice. "I'm sorry Chief. Now's not the time to talk about this. And don't worry about the guys at the station. All they have to know is that you've been working yourself too hard, not eating right or getting enough sleep. It just caught up to you all at once. That's pretty much what Rhonda already thinks anyway. It'll be all right, most of them have been there themselves at one time or another, they'll understand."
Blair turned towards Simon, looking for confirmation of Jim's explanation. The tall captain gave it to him. "That sounds about right. Especially since that is what Rhonda believes. And as we all know, what Rhonda says goes in the bullpen." All three men smiled at that truthful statement as Blair visibly relaxed a little.
Just as Simon was about to suggest they leave so Blair could rest, the door opened and a nurse came in carrying a tray with a few covered dishes on it. Motioning to Jim to get the small, wheeled table by the wall she waited until he moved it in front of Blair. She then placed the tray on it and uncovered the dishes. Ignoring Blair's disgusted looking face she pointed to the tray. "My orders, Mr. Sandburg, are that you are to eat every bite on that tray. No exceptions. And trust me, you will." She stepped back and stood with her arms folded across her chest, looking at him expectantly.
Blair looked at her. "What? Are you going to stand there and watch?"
"If I have to."
Blair looked down and whispered sentinel soft. "Hey Jim, you like some of this... stuff. Maybe after she leaves you can eat some of it for me. Please."
Jim was trying hard not to smile, partly because of what Blair had just said and partly because he was pleased to see him acting more like himself again, especially after he had just come down on him like he had.
Almost as if she had heard Blair the nurse spoke up again. Looking at Jim and Simon she tilted her head towards the door. "Okay you two, out. Mr. Sandburg has a meal to eat and I don't want any distractions. Or anyone trying to help him finish it either. You can come back tomorrow if you want. AFTER he eats his breakfast."
Jim saw Simon was also trying not to laugh. "Well Chief, I guess we're outta here. I'll be back tomorrow..." he looked at the nurse, "... AFTER breakfast, to see if the doctor is going to release you." He gave Blair an evil smile. "You be a good boy and don't give the nurses any trouble." He and Simon headed towards the door.
"Jim. No. Wait. Don't leave me here alone with Nurse Ratched. Come back."
Jim stopped at the door and looked back at Blair shaking his head. He glanced at the dark expression on the nurse's face. "Oooo, bad move there, Chief. Have fun. See you tomorrow." As the door closed behind them, both men heard Blair's plaintive wail, "Jiiiimmm..."
Jim opened the door to the loft and ushered Blair inside. Despite the few minutes of levity yesterday, it was a much more subdued Blair that was released from the hospital earlier today. Even after the infusions from the IVs, Blair had still been a bit shaky and unsteady as he walked to the truck. Jim knew that he was embarrassed to be seen in his current weakened condition. The doctor had told Jim that Blair's system had been through a shock, first the lack of food, then the drop in blood sugar, followed by the rapid replacement of glucose and then eating again. He told him that Blair might suffer from headaches and become nauseous when he tried to eat. Better to let him start with several small meals throughout the day rather than three big ones until his system adapted to eating regularly again. He also told Jim that his roommate might be overly emotional for a while, until his blood sugar finally leveled out. All in all it sounded like they were in for a fun time for a while. And he was still no closer to finding out the reason for all this than he had been before. Blair apparently hadn't told Dr. Hassler or anyone at the hospital why he hadn't been eating for so long. After blowing up at his partner yesterday, Jim was determined to go slower and try not to upset Blair again.
He settled Blair on the larger couch, watching as the smaller man took toed off his shoes then curled up on his side, putting a sofa pillow under his head and staring straight ahead at nothing. He looked miserable, like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. Something was definitely going on with his partner and he was determined to find out what it was. He just hoped that Blair trusted him enough by now to eventually confide in him.
"How about some tea, Chief? Might help settle your stomach." He knew that before "Nurse Ratched" went off duty this morning she made sure that Blair ate a big, hardy breakfast. What she didn't know was that soon after eating it Blair's stomach rebelled against the heavy meal and he ended up throwing up almost the entire breakfast. Jim had gotten there just as Blair was finishing eating and had watched as a short time later his face suddenly went even paler and he made a mad dash for the bathroom, barely making it in time. Small, light meals definitely were going to be the order of the day for a while.
Blair's voiced sounded soft and sad as he answered, "I don't have any more tea, Jim." In an even softer and sadder voice, one that Jim was sure he wasn't supposed to hear, Blair added, "I don't have anything left anymore."
Puzzled over that last remark, Jim decided to let it slide for now. "Yes you do, Chief. I noticed this morning that your tea canister was empty so I picked some up before I came and got you." He put some water in the teakettle and put it on the stove. There was silence from the couch, then came the same soft, sad voice. "You shouldn't have done that, Jim. You didn't have to do that."
"What? It's just some tea. Next time we're out of something you can buy it."
There was a small, quick intake of breath from the couch, then a minute later what sounded suspiciously like a sniffle. Jim tried to hurry as he fixed Blair's tea. By the time he carried it over to the couch Blair's breathing was deep and regular, he was sound asleep. Jim looked closer, he could swear that Blair's eyelashes looked wet. He reached over Blair and carefully pulled the afghan off the back of the couch then gently covered the sleeping man. "I really want to know what's going on with you, Chief. I just hope you're ready to talk to me soon." He turned and carried the untouched cup back into the kitchen.
Jim sat on the balcony nursing beer and trying to figure out the best way to get Sandburg to open up to him. Talking was never his strong suit, Blair himself was always complaining that it was like pulling teeth to get any kind of personal information out of him. Now it was his turn to try to get his usually verbose partner to talk. Maybe when this was all over, whatever 'this' was, he would try to be more open with Blair, answer his questions without giving him such a hard time about everything. Maybe. As he sat there thinking, he could hear Blair start to stir on the couch. He got up and went back inside. Throwing away the empty beer bottle he went over to the couch and sat down on the edge of the coffee table, facing Blair, watching as he started to wake up. Blair had rolled over onto his back and as he opened his eyes he looked surprised to see Jim sitting there.
"Uh, hey Jim." He reached up and rubbed his face with both hands, then looked at Jim again. "What's wrong?"
There were so many answers to that question that Jim decided to ignore it completely. "So, now that you're awake, what do you feel like eating? I thought something light, how does some soup and a sandwich sound?"
Blair looked almost panicked. "Umm, no, Jim. They, uh, gave me a really big breakfast at the hospital. I'm fine. Really." He looked around like he was looking for a way out. "I think, maybe, I'll go to the University for a while. Uh, catch up on the stuff I should have done yesterday." He started to get up.
Jim had had enough. He put his hand in front of Blair's chest without actually touching him but keeping him down on the couch. "Stop Sandburg. Just stop right there. First off, the doctor told you to take it easy for at least a few days. That's means no school. I've already called your department head and told them you wouldn't be in for at least a few days." He held up his hand to stop Blair's horrified expression. "I just told them you were sick and under doctor's orders to stay in bed. That's all." He could see the relief on Blair's face. "Second, yeah I saw that big breakfast you ate. I was also there when you threw the whole damn thing back up again too, remember? So don't even try to use that as an excuse." He watched as Blair's shoulders slumped. He looked... defeated. Jim felt his anger dissolving replaced by an overwhelming desire to somehow help his friend, and yes he realized, he did consider Sandburg among his few friends, with whatever it was that was causing him so much pain. He pinned his friend with a steady gaze. First things first.
"Blair, are you hungry? Right now, are you hungry?"
He watched as Blair quickly started to shake his head, but unable to maintain the lie any longer, he finally gave a few small nods then turned his face towards the back cushions, as if embarrassed to have to admit it.
Awww, dammit Chief, why couldn't you just say something? Why make me drag it out of you? "All right then. First I'll make you that soup and sandwich and then we'll talk. Just sit right here, it won't take long." He started to get up.
"No! I can't, I mean you can't, I mean... just don't. Please."
Now Jim was thoroughly confused. He sat back down. Blair just admitted he was hungry but he didn't want him to fix him anything to eat. He struggled to keep his voice level. "Okay Sandburg. Out with it. Right now. What the hell is going on here? The truth this time."
Blair slowly sat up until he was sitting with his back against the arm of the couch. He pulled his knees against his chest and wrapped his arms around his legs. Lowering his head he rested his forehead on his knees. He knew Jim would still be able to hear him, but at least now he didn't have to look at him. He knew he wouldn't be able stand to see the look on Jim's face when he told him his story.
"Just let me talk without interrupting me. If I stop I might not be able to finish." He took a deep breath and let it out. "I-I can't eat anything here, or anywhere else for that matter, because I can't pay for anything. I'm broke. I mean totally, absolutely, literally don't have two nickels to rub together broke. And I have been for a few weeks now. When the warehouse blew up it was the beginning of the month. I had just gotten my stipend check from school. First thing I always do with it is pay bills, before it's gone. I just barely make it paycheck to paycheck so I have to make sure they're paid first. I had just paid the rent, utilities, car insurance, credit card payment and the few others things I pay out each month. I lost almost everything I owned. What the explosion itself didn't destroy, the water damage from the fire hoses did. The few things we got out before the fire trucks got there are it. Most of it was just stuff, you know, things that can eventually be replaced. Well, I did lose some pretty cool things that I had collected on my expeditions and some important personal stuff too, including most of my clothes, but, I mean, at least we got out all right, and Larry wasn't hurt. That's what was most important. And fortunately I keep all the sentinel info in a locked file drawer in my office. Losing that would have been a real disaster. But anyway, the biggest blow was that I lost all my textbooks and notebooks. Between the fire and water, there was nothing left of any of them. Being a TA, the school pays my tuition and pays me a small, make that a very small, stipend. But we're on our own for books and supplies. I had to replace those books. Some of them were teacher's editions that I need for my teaching classes, I was responsible for those. Plus the one's for my own classes. Not to mention photocopying other students notebooks and handouts to replace the ones that I lost. At 25 cents a page even for just a few classes, believe me, it added up. The books alone cost a couple of hundred dollars to replace. I had to use almost all of the last of the grant money I got for the study I was doing with Larry to cover them. Fortunately I was almost finished with that study, all my notes were in my laptop, which we saved. Otherwise, if I couldn't have turned in a finished report I would have owed all that grant money back."
Blair took another deep breath. He was surprised that Jim hadn't said anything yet. But he knew if he looked up, he wouldn't be able to finish. Just push on.
"By the time I finished replacing everything I had to replace right away, mainly the books and some clothes, I was pretty well busted. And I knew I wouldn't get another check for almost four more weeks. I was desperate. I didn't know what to do. I even went to see Sammy Harper. He owned the warehouse, he was my landlord. He actually owns a couple of warehouses, has his office in the big one on Canal Street, by the docks. Anyway, I was hoping that since I had just paid the rent when it blew up, maybe he would give me at least some of it back, or maybe even my deposit. At that point I would have taken anything. I should have known better, he all but laughed in my face. Said rent was paid in advance, I was free to stay in what was left of the warehouse for the rest of the month if I wanted to but he didn't give refunds on rent. And the deposit was to cover any damages so he was keeping that too. Like it was my fault his damn warehouse blew up. He always has these two big, and I mean big goons in the office with him, and I have no doubts that they're packing, so there wasn't much I could do but leave. At first I was kinda doing okay. Until the little money I still had ran out. Then I started living hand to mouth. I tried to ration what little food I already had here. Cutting back to only eating once a day. But as stuff ran out I couldn't afford to replace any of it. Like the tea. Eventually I was eating anything I could get hold of. Sometimes there'd be some fruit in the teacher's lounge, or I would scrounge up enough change to get something out of a vending machine or well, never mind what I resorted to once. These last few days though, were the worst; I couldn't come up with anything. And before you ask, no I did not tell anyone what was going on. Most of my friends are TAs too, they're in the same financial bind that I usually am, barely scraping by. It was my problem, it was up to me to deal with it. I thought I could make do somehow until I got paid again. Guess I thought wrong."
Blair was exhausted. He was still weak from his hospital stay, and now that long speech just took up the last of his reserves. Jim watched as he leaned sideways until he was leaning against the back cushions of the couch, still wrapped up tight, eyes closed. He couldn't believe that Blair had been going through all that while living here with him and he never suspected a thing. One thing was certain though; he was now going to keep a much closer eye on his unpredictable roommate. There were a few questions he had to have answers to, if just for his own peace of mind. "Chief, can you answer a few questions for me? If you don't mind."
Why not. At this point he had nothing to lose. "Sure Jim. What do you want to know?"
"Well, I know you have a bank card. Couldn't you have used that either to buy some food or get a cash advance or something?"
"Yeah, I have a credit card, but it's always just barely below the limit. Not even enough for a cash advance. Besides, I was using itit was the only thing keeping gas in the Corvair. I had to keep enough open on it to keep the car going, so I could get to school everyday, so I only used it for gas. Next question, I know you have more." He didn't even open his eyes.
Jim could feel himself struggling with his emotions. Something he wasn't used to having to deal with. What was it about Sandburg that brought all these little used feelings to the surface? He looked at Blair, still keeping himself in a tight embrace, arms wrapped protectively around his legs. Are you trying to keep your own emotions inside Chief, or are you trying to keep the rest of world out? Right now though, he still needed answers to his own questions. "Well, these are kind of personal, for me. I want to know whywhy didn't you come to me? I mean, shit Chief, you're living here with me and going hungry. How do you think that makes me feel? Didn't you think that I would help you? Or at the very least, if you didn't want to ask me for help, you know there's always food here. It may not always be the healthy stuff you like, but you have to know you're always welcome to anything you want. We used to eat together every day. You know I wouldn't ever let you go hungry. Just the thought of you being here and being hungry, hell not even hungry, starving, it's just, I mean, I feel so helpless. Like how could I not have seen what you were going through?"
Blair opened his eyes. He could hear the hurt and pain in Jim's voice. He had to make him understand why he had kept his problems to himself. "Jim, you didn't see because I didn't want you to see. That's one reason I tried to stay away so much. Especially at mealtimes. Listen to me. It has nothing to do with you personally. Nobody has helped me more than you have, in fact that was the whole reason I kept all this from you. When the warehouse blew up I know I talked you into taking in Larry and me. I know you didn't want us here, but I pushed until you gave in. Then Larry tore the place uptwice. I still can't believe you didn't kick me out over that. Even after Larry went back to the University you let me stay on. I wasn't paying you anything, even though I was using your phone, electricity and hot water. I was well past the one week I had promised. I kinda half convinced myself that as long as I could at least cook, contribute whatever food I could, I was somehow earning my keep, at least a little. But when things got really bad, I couldn't even do that anymore, I had nothing left to offer. I felt bad enough living here without paying for anything, using your utilities, I was NOT about to start eating your food too. So I made it a point not be around for any meals, I knew you wouldn't eat and just let me sit there, so I stayed away. Please believe me, Jim, it wasn't anything AGAINST you, I was doing this FOR you, trying not to be any more of a burden than I already was. I wouldn't deliberately hurt you for anything. I" Blair looked down, his voice going very soft, "I kind of like to think that we're not just working partners, but that we're... becoming friends, too."
Blair had closed his eyes again, afraid to see Jim's reaction. His "roommate" couldn't even afford to feed himself, never mind pay his fair share of the bills. It was only Jim's generosity that kept him from literally being homeless right now. Now he would finally see what a loser he had for a partner. Neither man moved or said anything for several minutes, each concentrating on his own feelings and emotions. He then felt Jim move closer to him. Was he angry? Maybe he shouldn't have made the assumption that they were friends. He kept his head down, still afraid to look up. If he had lost Jim, then he had lost everything important, not just a sentinel. Then he felt Jim put his hands on his shoulders. "Blair Sandburg, I want you to listen up, I mean really listen."
Blair's heart sank. Oh Shit. Now I've really pissed him off. Guess I'm outta here now.
Jim's voice was stern with no room for argument. "Look at me."
Better to just get this over with. Blair slowly raised his face, fearing what he would see in his sentinel's eyes. When their eyes finally met Jim resumed speaking. "If you ever, ever do anything so stupid and so dangerous to your health again or if you ever have a problem this serious and you DON'T come to me first, I swear I will kick your butt so hard your grandchildren will each be born with a boot mark on their ass. Do I make myself clear?"
Blair sat up straight as he just stared. What? Did Jim just say what he thought he said? He-he wasn't being kicked out. Jim didn't think less of him because of his situation. In fact, he seemed worried about him. And he apparently still wanted him around. For the first time in weeks he felt the knot in his stomach loosening while at the same time it was like an enormous load was being lifted from his shoulders. Jim knew and he still wasn't going to make him leave. Blair couldn't help it, the sense of relief was almost overwhelming, he started chuckling, then he was laughing out loud. "Yes SIR. Very clear, SIR."
Jim had watched as every emotion Blair was feeling showed on his face. From fear and dread to shock then confusion then to relief and now almost pure joy. Now it was time to get back in control of his own emotions. He had come close to losing it himself a few times while Blair was telling his story. "Good, now you just stay right here while I fix you something to eat." Jim got up and headed for the kitchen. "And I don't want to hear a peep out of you about it."
Blair looked over the back of the couch. "Not peeping, SIR."
Jim turned around. "Smartass."
But they were both smiling. They still had a lot of talking to do, but Jim could see that his partner, roommate and yes, definitely his friend, was back.
Blair was sitting on the couch going over his notes. It had been almost a week since he had left the hospital, his three days of Jim enforced rest plus the weekend had given him plenty of time to recover. He was teaching his first class since his release tomorrow. He pushed his glasses back up his nose. It looked like Rick had followed his lesson plan pretty faithfully, so there shouldn't be any problems with the class. He looked up as he heard the key in the front door, a few seconds later Jim walked in.
"Hi Jim. I thought you were working all day today?"
"Yeah, well I had to run a special errand, then Simon let me leave a little early."
Blair feigned shock. "Simon? Simon Banks? Our Simon Banks? Let someone leave early? And you aren't even hurt." His eyes widened in sudden fear. "Are you? Did something happen? Are you all right? Did you zone? You never leave early. Why didn't someone call me? Dammit, Simon knows he's supposed to call me"
Jim could hear Blair's heart pounding inside his still too thin chest. "Sandburg! Stop. Take a breath already. I'm perfectly fine, and no zone out. Yes, 'our' Simon Banks actually let me leave early, he does do that every once in a while. Just calm down." And they call me over-protective. "So, how are you feeling?" In the past few days Blair had improved considerably. It would take a while for him to regain all the lost weight, but his color was better and his energy level was definitely higher than it had been for a while now. Jim had taken the two days following Blair's release from the hospital off. He had seen to it that his partner ate a light breakfast, lunch and diner as well as a midmorning and a mid-afternoon snack every day. It worked. The headaches were gone and he was no longer nauseous after eating. Jim still got a shudder every time he remembered the doctor saying that Blair could have been headed for a coma. Blair had complained that he hovered too much, but he didn't care. Blair's welfare had now become a top priority in his life and he took the responsibility for it seriously.
Blair stared up at him from his seat on the couch. "Tell me you didn't leave early, and practically give me a heart attack, just to check up on me. You could have just called if you were worried or anything."
Jim pulled something white out of his jacket pocket. "No, actually I brought you something."
"Well get your butt over here if you want to see it. Do you see 'Delivery' stamped across my forehead?" He had made it a point to try to treat Blair as normal as possible once he started recovering.
Blair grumbled, but got up and walked over to Jim. When he got to him he stopped and looked up. "Okay, I'm here, what is it?"
"Look at this." Jim handed Blair a letter size white envelope. He watched in amusement as Blair's eyes widened behind his glasses as he looked inside.
The envelope was filled with money, without even counting it Blair could tell it was a lot. "Did you knock over another convenience store? I thought we'd cured you of that little obsession." He looked back up. "But, I mean, really Jim, where'd you get this? And what are you going to do with it?"
Jim just smiled. "Not what am I going to do with it, what are you going to do with it. It's all yours. All two thousand dollars of it."
Blair's jaw dropped. "Uh, Jim, I was only kidding about the convenience store. This isn't mine. I don't think I've ever had two thousand dollars all at one time in my life. C'mon, who's is it really?"
Jim was enjoying this. "It's really all yours Chief. I paid a little visit to Sammy Harper today."
"You mean Sammy "Two Goons" Harper? My ex landlord? Why would you want to go see him? I don't even want to go see him and I still feel like he owes me money." Realization dawned in Blair's eyes. He looked back down at the envelope in his hand and then back up at Jim. "You mean he gave you this, all this, to give to me? But this is a lot more than my rent or deposit. And how on earth did you convince him to give up any money, never mind this much?"
"Well, like I said, I paid your Mr. Harper a little visit today. I just told him how unfair I thought he was being about giving you back your rent and deposit, especially with your actually having been in the warehouse when it exploded and all. He wasn't too cooperative at first. That is until I mentioned that since he owned the warehouse where a known street gang was operating an illegal drug manufacturing operation and how as the owner he could be held responsible for all activities that occurred there, maybe we should start a full scale investigation into the activities at all of his warehouses and other holdings. Just to make sure no one else is secretly doing anything illegal in any of them."
Jim was finding it interesting to watch Sandburg as he kept alternating between looking at the money and looking at him. It was as if he was afraid either one would disappear if he took his eyes away for too long. "Soon we were talking about your last month's rent and your deposit. They came to an odd number so I suggested a little something for your inconvenience and pain and suffering. Enough to round it up to a nice even number." He grinned. "Like two thousand."
"Oh wow. I-I don't know what to say." Blair looked up at his partner, roommate and now friend. "Thanks Jim. This is really great." He began to get excited. "This will cover my books for next semester. And there's this great anthropology anthology series that I never thought I'd be able to afford. And, let's see, there are a few people I owe money to" He stopped suddenly and counted out some money, holding out the bills to Jim. "Here's $500. Will that cover my living here for a month and pay for whatever damage Larry did while he was here?"
Jim shook his head. "No."
Looking a little startled, he put the money back in the envelope and started to add more to it. "Okay, then how much"
Blair looked back up.
"I meant 'no' I don't want your money. We can work out some kind of rent arrangement later. And Larry didn't do any real damage, just knocked things around and made a mess. I want you to take part of that money and stock up, and I mean really stock up, on all that weird food you eat." Jim suddenly got serious. He put one hand on Blair's shoulder. "I mean it Blair. I don't want you to ever go without eating again, especially here at home. And later, if you find yourself short again and need something, anything, you let me knowimmediately." He removed his hand as he smiled. "Now as for the rest of it. Use to get yourself some new clothes. You need a warmer coat. And better shoes. And how about some jeans 'without' holes? A couple of new sweaters. Do you even have any gloves? Maybe"
Blair held up his hand laughing. "Okay, okay. I get the picture. One clothes buying trip coming up." He started counting through the money again. "Hey, now I can replace that bald tire on my car. A retread shouldn't cost much. And maybe add some memory to my laptop or even"
"You're driving on a bald tire?"
Still thinking about other things, Blair answered distractedly. "Yeah."
"What about using the spare?"
Without looking up he mumbled, "That is the spare." Blair suddenly raised his head and looked directly at Jim. "Hey, is there anything you want? I mean you should get something out of this, after all you're the one who actually went to Harper and "convinced" him to pay me back. Is there anything you really want?"
"Yeah, there is. A new set of tires for your car. Including a new spare."
"Jiiim. First off, that's not something for you. And second, even with this..." he held up the envelope, "... that's awfully expensive. I'll just surprise you with something."
Blair turned and started back towards the couch he had been sitting on. Jim reached out and carefully grabbed his arm and turned him back around. "I'm not kidding about this. The streets here in Cascade are wet more than they're dry. I don't like the idea of you driving on bad tires. Tell you what, we'll split the cost. Consider my half an early Christmas present if you want, but this Saturday we're getting new tires for your car." His face told Blair there was no point in arguing. He just nodded and went back to the couch but instead of sitting he just stood there with a puzzled look on his face. He was apparently too deep in thought to even hear Jim approach.
"Something the matter, Chief?"
"Umm, I'm not sure. I don't know. Maybe."
"Just spit it out Sandburg."
He looked hesitantly up at the bigger man. "Well, maybe I'm just taking all this the wrong way, and if I am wrong just tell me, okay? But... it's some of the things you just said. Like, working out a rent arrangement and me stocking up on food and not being hungry 'here at home' and making it sound like I'll still be here at Christmas. It just kind of sounds like my being here is going to be, you know, like permanent." He started to speak quickly, "If I jumped to the wrong conclusion I'm sorry. I know I'm way past due to be out of here. I can be moved out pretty quick..." he lowered his eyes, "... it's not like I have a lot of stuff to move." Raising his eyes again he continued, "You've been really great about everything so just say the word and I can be like so out of here." He watched for Jim's reaction.
Jim folded his arms across his chest and leaned back a bit. "Unless you've got a better offer, I think things are fine just the way they are." He grinned. "Of course you haven't really been around much lately, so we may have to lay down a few house rules."
"Uh, rules Jim? House rules? What kind of rules are we talking about here? I'm not really a rules kind of guy, if you know what I mean."
"Tell me about it, Sandburg. I'm getting hungry. Let's eat out tonight and we can discuss it over dinner." He walked over to the door and took Blair's jacket down and held it out towards him.
Folding the envelope in half and putting it in his back pocket, Blair walked over and took his coat from Jim. "Okay." He started putting it on, "But tonight's on me. Seems like a good friend came through for me in a big way tonight and I'm actually a little flush right now. Better take advantage of it now though, this may never happen again."
Jim smiled. "A good friend, huh?"
Blair's smile matched Jim's. "Yeah, the best."
As they headed down the hall towards the elevator Jim casually slung his arm across Blair's shoulders. He was pleased when he felt Blair slowly put his arm around his waist. He knew they both still had a long ways to go in learning about each other, but he felt that Blair had just crossed a major hurdle in learning about trust and commitment. For once he was actually curious to see what the future would bring. He was sure that with his new, unpredictable partner beside him, it would be anything but dull.
~ End ~
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Page last updated 8/15/03.