Feedback: Always welcome
Summary: What's a little puke among friends, especially at Christmas…
Notes: I wrote this as a gift fic for my friend Shirley last year (2009) and just now found it again.
Death Takes A Holiday
by Twilight (Dawn)
Jim paced up and down the hall outside the ICU, counting his steps as he went; 'eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen,' and then he reached the elevators and turned to go back the way he came.
This was definitely not the way he thought he would be spending his Christmas Eve.
His best friend was right on the other side of the double doors and Jim wasn't permitted to see him…not yet anyway.
It had all happened so damn fast.
Blair was feeling perfectly fine and looking healthy yesterday morning, but by noon he couldn't keep a single thing down, and then he developed a fever, and now that fever was so high they were saying…
No, he refused to think that Blair was so ill; his body so weak, that Jim could lose him.
"Not now, Chief," he mumbled on one of his circuits. "Tomorrow is Christmas for Christ's sake."
He turned around quickly, making himself a little dizzy, seeing Simon and the guys walking toward him.
But that's not right.
They should all be home and enjoying the holidays with their families, not camping out in the ICU waiting room with him.
"Guys," he said as they got closer. The hall was mostly empty, only a nurse at the desk and another woman pacing the other end from him. A small, artificial tree sat on the kiosk, colored lights blinking, making Jim's gate a little off as he met his coworkers. "You didn't have to come…"
"Of course we did." Simon said, always the voice of reason.
They moved as one toward the small waiting room, where Jim encountered more flashing lights and dusty decorations in green and red.
"How's the kid doing anyway?" Simon asked, sitting in one of the waiting room chairs and the others followed suit.
It felt good to be sitting. He must have been pacing longer than he thought.
"Yeah," Joel joined in when Jim didn't answer. "He didn't sound so good when I spoke with him earlier."
Rafe and Brown leaned in closer to hear him, but Jim didn't really have any answers. "They say…"
"Excuse me, gentlemen," a man dressed sharply in a navy suit walked toward them. "I'm looking for Jim Ellison."
"Ah…that would be me," Jim slipped away from the tight knit group and toward the stranger. "Can I help you?"
"Mr. Ellison," the man stretched forth his hand and shook Jim's while he produced a business card with the other. "I'm Doctor Cohen with the CDC."
"CDC? Why…" The man's hand was warm in his, but cold chills started to rack Jim's body. What the hell did the CDC want with him?
"I've been called in to investigate Mr. Sandburg's case and was hoping to speak with you in regards to your roommate's whereabouts and habits for the last several days."
"What do you mean Sandburg's case?" Simon piped in, clearly not giving Jim and the newcomer privacy. "What kind of case?"
Cohen studied the faces of the men that moved closer, all clearly waiting for an answer and seemed to be weighing his options. "We believe that Mr. Sandburg may have contracted a severe case of E Coli. We need to map out his whereabouts and foods he may have consumed to obtain the point of breakout. We have three other patients in area hospitals all exhibiting the same symptoms and by studying them we hope to contain an outbreak."
The doctor turned back to Jim, "So if you could go over what you know, we can compare overlapping data with the other patients."
Jim nodded, feeling numb. E Coli? That didn't usually cause more then an upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea…food poisoning. But Blair was much worse, far beyond those simple symptoms. "But Blair…are you sure that's what it is?"
"It actually could be a few other candidates. But with the symptoms he presented with we're pretty sure we are dealing with a virulent strain, a mutation if you will. The culture results will confirm my suspicions, but even if it is another bacterium, we still need to identify its source."
Jim nodded, unbelieving, sinking into one of the waiting room chairs. He was with Blair much of the week, shopping and getting ready for the dinner they were hosting for their friends and family the day after Christmas.
Jim hadn't gotten sick, but he wasn't with his roommate the whole time. "I don't know how much help I'll be, but I'll tell you what I can."
"Good, also we would like to send a team, with your permission, to test the food items and water in your home."
Jim nodded, not quite able to wrap his head around what the doctor was telling him.
And feeling like it was all very out of his control.
"Start a few days back. Tell me about your time together," the man said. "Places you went and people you both came in contact with."
"Well…three days ago was just another work day," Jim began, thinking about what they had been doing then. "Blair had some projects to finish up in the morning and then some tutoring in the early afternoon. He met me at the station…"
"Whew, man…what a day." Blair bounced into the bullpen with his usual enthusiasm, plopping down hard at Jim's desk.
"Rough day, huh?" Jim was just finishing up a report and then he was taking Blair out to finish some last minute shopping. Crime in Cascade seemed to be taking a holiday and Jim was not about to complain about that. "How about we head out and take our chances at the mall?"
"Come on, man…it's not gonna be that bad?" Blair jumped up; full of excitement, as Jim saved his file and shut down his computer.
"Not bad," Jim snickered, "It's gonna be full on cannibalism out there, Chief." He grabbed his truck keys, slinging his coat over his shoulder as they both moved toward the hall. "Speaking of which…how about some lunch?"
Blair blanched a little, but probably for Jim's benefit. Who knew what the kid ate on a daily basis. Jim couldn't identify much of it. "That's great…how about Chinese?"
The ride to the shopping center was just the start of their adventure. It took twenty minutes and countless trips around the parking lot to even find a spot and once inside it was wall to wall people.
Jim just couldn't understand why Blair waited so late to do his shopping, but he knew not to ask; sure he would get a lecture on the mentality of the mob of people they were wading through.
When they finally made it to the China Palace in the food court, it took just as long to find a free table as it did to find a parking place.
"So I had orange chicken, with pork fried rice and Blair had bourbon chicken...he got lo mien noodles and steamed vegetables."
Dr. Cohen didn't look up from his note taking, so Jim went on.
"We ah…we both had a shrimp egg roll and fountain sodas...mine was Sprite and his was Root Beer. Then after eating we went to a few of the stores to finish up his shopping. A little later we both got a pretzel from Auntie Anne's. Blair got a regular pretzel...with cheese sauce, and I got cinnamon sugar."
The CDC specialist finished what he was writing and looked back to Jim to continue.
"Then we went home a little later. After a bit Blair made dinner. But we both ate everything he made."
"That's okay. Tell me anyway," the doctor told him. "You might remember something different that he had or it's possible that for whatever reason the bacteria didn't effect you."
Jim didn't know what to think about that. Could it be that I didn't eat something that Blair did because I sensed it was somehow contaminated?
"Okay...well, he made a pot of stew…it was beef with carrots and potatoes, a tomato base. We also had a mixed greens salad, ranch dressing and bread and butter. Oh…"
"What is it, Mr. Ellison?"
"I just remembered. I had butter, but Blair used some kind of spread he got at the health food store…something organic."
"That's good, Sir. We'll look into that when the team takes samples from your home. What else?"
Jim shifted in his seat, watching the double doors as he spoke. A nurse was in with Blair now, checking his vitals and he could hear his friend groan and the sheets rubbing against Blair's skin.
"Sorry..." he shook his head, bringing his attention back to the man that sat across from him. "Later, after we cleaned up and Blair worked a little on some of his papers, we had popcorn and soda while we watched some cheesy Christmas flick on the Hallmark channel, and then we went to bed. I think Blair got up again…he does that sometimes, to work on his research…he sometimes has tea…"
"We'll sample that too. Anything else?"
"No, we got up in the morning, but Blair was running late…"
"I can make breakfast." Jim called from his room, as Blair dislodged books and papers on his desk, trying to find some misplaced work he needed for his trip to the U.
"Don't bother, man. I'll grab something on the way." Blair was running around when his friend came down the stairs, tucking in his shirt. He jogged back to his room and then made another trip to the kitchen, shoving junk into his backpack and pouring a cup of coffee into his travel mug, before heading to the door. "I'll see you later at the station," he called as he stepped into the hall and heard a muffled, 'sure thing, Chief."
Traffic wasn't so bad, but he wasn't looking forward to fighting it on the way downtown and to the station later in the day.
The campus was nearly deserted, just a few TAs and some lingering students making up work that was missed during the semester.
Blair found Melissa in the break room, nibbling on a sugar cookie that one of the faculty brought in. "Hey, Blair. I thought you'd be done for the holidays"
"Yeah, just about to be," he snagged a cookie on his way by her, heading for the copy machine. "I just have a few things to finish up and then I'm out of here."
She nodded, flipping jet black hair over her shoulder, turning to grin at him. "Hey, um...If you're still around later, how about some lunch?" Her head ducked as soon as she asked him and then she shuffled her papers around before putting them into a folder.
Blair finished his copies and stacked them into separate piles, smiling from ear to ear. He had been trying to get Melissa to go out with him forever now. "I ah...I would love to…I'll check in with you later."
He didn't turn as she left, but could hear her heels clicking on the ceramic tile as she went to her office.
Hmm….lunch with Melissa...Happy Hanukkah to me.
The morning buzzed by and soon Blair found himself sitting in Looney's, in a booth near the back, drinking a micro brew with Melissa.
She was picking at her salad, while Blair chowed down on his humus and alfalfa wrap. But she didn't seem to be enjoying her food. "Are you feeling alright, Melissa?"
She was lost in thought, but looked up and smiled when he spoke to her. "I'm okay, Blair. I just think I'm coming down with something."
Despite her feeling ill, she perked up and chatted about her winter break and her upcoming visit from her parents. Blair thought about his own holiday plans and for the first time, in a long time, he knew he would be spending it with his family.
"So," Jim continued, focus still divided between his memories and listening to Blair shift restlessly in his sick bed. "He came into the station after two and we did some paperwork, finished up some reports. He ah, he had some coffee from the break room and cheese curls from the vending machine. We got home around four thirty and I made pasta with shrimp and alfredo sauce. We had some red wine with dinner and then he went to his room to wrap some gifts. It was a little after that, that he started to feel sick."
"Can you think of anything else…anything at all?"
"No, I'm sorry. I'm sure if you speak with the woman he went to lunch with she could tell you more…"
"We have someone on that and Blair did provide some information before he lapsed into unconsciousness." The doctor finished his notes and stood to go. "I'll ask that the attending come out and give you any updates on Mr. Sandburg's condition."
Jim nodded and watched him go.
Simon had agreed to escort the doctor to the loft and wait while the man's team took their samples. Rafe and Henry lingered for a bit longer but when it became clear that they would not be able to see Blair for the time being, they said their goodnights.
Only Joel remained.
"How you holding up, Jim?" Joel handed a cup of vending coffee over and sat down in the seat next to him.
He took a tentative sip of the strong brew, and then sat the burning paper cup on top a stack of well worn magazines. "I'm fine…go home Joel…your wife must be…"
"My wife practically threw me out of the house when I told her about Blair. You know she loves that boy."
Jim smiled, but it didn't feel right. None of this was right.
How could eating something make someone so sick?
One minute they were enjoying pasta and wine, watching a movie and joking and the next Blair was throwing up everything he had eaten for what seemed like days.
"He was just so sick, Joel…it really scared me..."
Jim was just about to drift off when he heard Blair run to the bathroom. He listened for a second and then turned his hearing down, way down and his sense of smell too.
He shifted out of bed and came down the steps in stocking feet, putting on the kettle for tea and going to the linen closet to grab the hot water bottle and a clean washcloth. He found the door unlocked, so he went in and turned on the tap, wringing the cloth in cold water and putting it on the back of his friend's neck.
Blair was still spitting up, but it seemed to be lessoning now. "That's it, Chief. Probably just caught a bug."
He went back to the kitchen to finish making some tea to settle Blair's stomach and to give him a little privacy to clean up.
By the end of the night, Blair had thrown up more then what Jim thought possible and then the diarrhea started. He developed a fever before dawn and by afternoon, despite the medicine and lukewarm baths, his fever soared.
By then, Blair was too weak to make it back and forth to the bathroom, so he hunkered down by the toilet with a blanket and pillow.
When Jim couldn't get the fever down he decided a trip to the ER was in order, even though Blair wasn't too happy about that, he let Jim help him clean up and put on some fresh sweats and a tee, brush his teeth and run a comb through his tangled hair.
When Blair was finally admitted, later that day, he was very dehydrated and had a fever of 103.
That was hours ago and now, now Blair was unconscious, may have slipped into a coma and if his fever didn't come down soon…Jim could lose him.
He could lose Blair.
Late into the night, Jim was finally allowed to see him.
Blair looked so pale, stark white against the sheets and so frail with all the tubes and wires.
Christmas came with a whisper while Jim sat by Blair's side. It was early morning when the fever finally started to break.
Dr. Cohen said the testing would take some days, but he didn't care.
Blair was on the mend.
When he finally surfaced, he was hot and uncomfortable; his mouth felt like a desert and everything was muffled and out of whack.
His body was shaking. He could feel the chills rack through him even though he was so hot, so hot that he felt like he was on fire.
In the distance he heard voices, people talking and then he knew he was listening to a TV. Maybe a game show of some sort?
He peeled open an eye and then the other.
He didn't know why he was there, but he really couldn't bring himself to care. He felt like crap and just wanted to get back to that place where it was comfortable.
"I know you're awake."
He heard Jim's voice and opened his eyes again, not sure when he had closed them.
"You were very sick, but you're on the mend, Chief. Doc says you should be good as new in a few days."
Blair licked dry, cracked lips, with a dryer tongue and nodded.
Sick…yes, I'm really sick.
"Go back to sleep. You're getting better."
And he trusted Jim, knew he wouldn't lie to him, so Blair did what he was told. One second he was awake and the next, he was back in that place where he was comfortable and could rest.
The next time he came to, he heard many voices and opened his eyes. No one seemed to be in the room with him, but then Jim was there, patting his arm and putting a cool hand on his hot forehead.
"Hey, Chief. You're doing just fine. Think you can stay awake for a while?"
He nodded, or at least he thought he did. Sometime later he opened his eyes again and other people were in the room.
Rafe and Brown, Joel and Simon.
"Hey, buddy…glad you could join us."
He looked around again, grateful when Jim pressed a straw to his parched lips. He drank greedily, disappointed when Jim pulled the cup away. "Not so much…you'll get sick."
And as soon as Jim said it, his stomach rumbled and churned.
He turned to his side, pulling his legs up to his chest. His stomach ached, but then so did the rest of him. He tried to breathe through it, tried to push the swell of sickness back down, but it didn't work and before he could tell anyone, Jim had shoved something under his chin.
He puked into the bowl, thin ribbons of slime and bile, wincing when his vomit splashed up and over Jim's hand and the cuff of his sleeve.
A flurry of activity erupted around him. Someone wiped his mouth, tucking a washcloth under his cheek as he laid his head back down, and then his eyes were closing.
Later, when he opened them again, the room was cooler and dim. Only the TV provided a muted light.
Jim sat in the chair beside the bed and he patted Blair's arm when he realized he was awake. "How ya doing, Chief?"
He licked his lips, but this time they weren't as dry and his mouth actually felt moist.
He looked toward Jim and opened his mouth to answer, but his voice cracked like he hadn't used it in days and in fact he probably hadn't.
Jim handed him a cup with a straw and he sipped on the apple juice within.
It tastes like heaven.
"I'm okay." He finally said, the cup shaking in his grasp, but he still managed to take a few more sips. "Better."
Jim nodded, sitting back in his chair. "You gave us quite a scare there, Chief."
"Sorry." And he was. He didn't remember much, but puking on Jim was one memory he wasn't going to be able to forget anytime too soon. "What happened?"
"There was an outbreak of E Coli. You ate something that made you very sick, plus they confirmed you also had a strain of the flu, but you're getting better now."
"Outbreak? How many sick?" Blair sipped his drink again and thought that nothing tasted better in the entire world.
"In Washington State, about thirteen, nationally maybe fifty, sixty."
Blair put his cup down, feeling slightly ill again. "What was it?"
Jim picked up the paper on the tray table and handed it to his friend. As Blair read the headline, 'CDC confirms fifty-seven cases of E Coli nationwide', then Jim told him what he knew.
"They traced the contaminated alfalfa to a farm in California. Seems it was shipped to about twelve states. There were no fatalities this time, so that's some good news."
From the look Jim was giving him, he sensed that maybe it was a close call with him…cause only with my luck do ya get a case of E Coli with a side of the flu virus.
So…it was a Christmas miracle then, and Blair thought to say, "Merry Christmas," sure that it had to be Christmas by now.
"Merry Christmas, Chief…but you're a little late. How about Happy New Year?" and then Jim laughed at him.
Sure, it could have been because his mouth was hanging open, or when he ran a hand up and through his hair, it got stuck in the mess of tangled curls.
But for real? It was already 1999?
"Don't sweat it, Blair. Plenty of time to party when you get out of here. Which reminds me...Some girl named Melissa dropped this off for you...said to tell you she's sorry if she gave you her bug..."
Blair took the card and carefully opened it, smiling at the well wishes and invitation for dinner when he was feeling better.
Jim went back to watching a football game on the tube and Blair tucked the card under the edge of his pillow, catching sight of a few others on the heating vent by his window.
He took some time finger combing his hair, ignoring Jim's chuckle at the lost cause and before too long he got sleepy again.
He dozed and then sometime later a food tray showed up, but Blair wasn't too keen on eating anything, not yet anyway.
A new year had come and Blair missed it. But life went on as he slept and he thought of the old saying about death and taxes…but no fatalities…
"Stop thinking so hard. Luck, a miracle…whatever you want to call it. Seems like death took a holiday after all."
The rest of the evening was spent in comfortable silence and tomorrow, if they let him, he was going home and having Christmas with his family and then New Year's too.
But for sure, one New Year's resolution would be no more alfalfa.
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