Synopsis: Missing scene for Murder 101 - Jim hits Blair intentionally…and Blair hits him back.
"Dammit, Sandburg! What the hell do you think you're doing?" Ellison snarled, as he hauled his soaking wet partner out of the bay and into the small motorboat.
Cutting a look at the sneering face of Brad Ventriss, who was equally sopping wet and shivering, Blair stiffened his jaw to keep his teeth from chattering. Deciding the question was rhetorical, he shrugged irritably and made his way forward, while Jim cuffed Ventriss and read him his rights. Leaving his partner, the detective, to stand watch over his prisoners, Sandburg turned the boat back to the dock it had recently left, to meet their chopper for the ride back to Cascade. Hunching forward, one arm wrapped around his body, he silently cursed the wind that blew through his sodden clothes, freezing him to the bone.
Within half an hour, they were back at the Ventriss estate where Simon was just finishing up with the uniforms after charging the rich guys with obstruction of justice, as well as aiding and abetting the escape of suspects in a murder investigation.
Ellison hauled Ventriss and his girlfriend from the back of the chopper and marched them toward a patrol car, where he ordered the uniformed cop to take them in and book them for first-degree murder. Simon scowled at the bedraggled Sandburg, who had climbed out of the helicopter a little more slowly to stand hunched with his arms crossed, shivering miserably.
"What the hell happened to you?" Banks demanded.
"He was playing hero again, what else?" Ellison snapped as he joined them. "Of all the stupid - he jumped into the water after Ventriss, who uh, fell out of the boat they were using for their getaway."
"What?" Banks exclaimed as he turned back to Sandburg. "Are you nuts?"
"Nuts? Yeah, I'm seriously beginning to think so," Blair growled with a venomous look at both of the older men as he stomped past, heading toward Jim's truck.
"What's the matter with him?" Simon mumbled, the scowl melting into a frown of concern. And then he turned to Ellison. "And where were you while he was jumping into the ocean?"
"I was already on the boat," Jim replied stiffly, his gaze following Sandburg.
"And how did you get into the boat?" Banks queried archly, beginning to suspect why Sandburg was so huffy.
"And you accuse him of playing hero?" Simon grated, shaking his head as he pictured how Ventriss had likely managed to 'fall' into the water. Sighing, he gave Jim a shove toward his truck, as he said, "You can fill in the details later - take your partner home before he turns into an ice cube."
Ellison nodded, clearly not happy. "Sorry, Simon, I'll come down to the station as soon as I've dropped Wonder Boy off at the loft."
"Don't worry about it," Banks demurred. "It's late. You can submit your report in the morning. We've got more than enough to hold this bunch regardless of how many legal beagles they sic on us."
By the time Jim had stalked to the truck, Blair was huddled against the passenger door, his arms crossed tightly as he fought to stop shivering. Silently, the angry detective got in and switched on the heat before turning out of the parking lot to head home. "Quit your sulking," he muttered through clenched teeth. "It was a stupid stunt, and you know it."
The only sign that Sandburg had heard him was a stiffening of the younger man's shoulders and a shifting of his gaze from the front to stare out the side window.
Frustrated, Jim cursed under his breath as he drove too fast, as usual, toward their apartment. Sandburg would be lucky not to get pneumonia. Hell, he'd just gotten over the last bout after his virtual collapse when they'd gotten back from Sierra Verde. His lungs didn't need any more abuse, dammit. And that piece of shit, Ventriss, could have easily dragged Sandburg down with him, and he'd've…
Nausea twisted in Ellison's gut, distracting him so that he took a corner too hard. Sandburg threw out an arm to brace himself on the dash, as he exclaimed, "Would you slow down! You'll get us both killed, you moron."
Moron? Sandburg had just called him a moron? "Watch your mouth, junior," he snapped, anger once again on full boil. "There's only one idiot in this cab, and it ain't me."
"Is that right?" Blair flashed back, his eyes blazing with barely contained fury.
"Yes, that's right," Jim growled. "You had no business jumping out of that 'chopper. You're not - "
" - a cop," Sandburg cut in scathingly, the words clipped as he shifted away, his gaze again directed out the side window.
"Well, you're not," Ellison grated. "I don't know how many times you have to be reminded of that fact. If you want to play hardball, you can damn well go to the Academy like the rest of us. Otherwise, you have no business - "
"You know, I've had just about enough of your attitude, Ellison," Sandburg interrupted harshly. "Can it."
"What?" Jim roared. "Attitude? Look, you little smart-mouthed jackass, if you don't shape up soon and get your head screwed on straight, I'll do it for you."
"Me? I'm not the one who needs an attitude adjustment," Sandburg argued bitterly, though he kept his face turned away. "God, you have been so far out of line for so long that you can't even see it anymore, if you ever could."
"Out of line?" Ellison echoed, Sandburg's continued antipathy only fueling his ire. "Care to explain that, Einstein?" he added, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
By then they'd reached the loft and Sandburg jumped out of the truck before Jim had even shifted the gear into park. Cursing softly, Jim switched off the ignition and charged after him, catching him just as Blair was entering the building. Grabbing his arm, Ellison hauled the younger man around to face him. "What is wrong with you?" he demanded, hotly.
"Wrong with me?" Blair spat back, as he wrenched his arm free and stomped past the elevator and up the stairs, too angry to wait for the elderly contraption to wheeze its doors open. "You self-centred, egotistical, stupid Neanderthal…" he muttered under his breath, shaking his head.
Not appeased by the diatribe pitched deliberately just loud enough for him to hear, Jim surged up the stairs in Blair's wake. When they got to the third floor, Sandburg fished in his pockets for his keys and huffed in annoyance to realize they must have fallen out in the bay.
"Lose something?" Ellison snarled as he shouldered Sandburg away from the door. "Want to take another swim to see if you can find them?"
Blair pushed past as soon as the door was open, but Jim again grabbed his arm. "Not so fast," he grated. "I want to know what the hell is wrong with you."
Sandburg's jaw tightened and he swallowed hard, but then he whirled on Jim, his face flushed with fury. "You want to know? Fine. I'll tell you. I've had it, Ellison," he snapped, jabbing his finger into Jim's sternum with every point he made. "Had it with being pushed around, yelled at, demeaned publicly, like the way you treated me in front of the witness the other day, put down, told to shut up - whatever. You have been a head-case for weeks now."
Jim tried to slap Blair's hand away, but Sandburg was furious and not about to back off - his anger had been pent-up for too long and he was good and ready to explode. He got right into Ellison's face, his eyes squinting with disgust as he rasped harshly, "You throw me out of the loft, refuse to speak to me to try to fix things - after more than three years of working together, you blow me off - and you had more concern and consideration for the bitch that murdered me, dammit, than you've been able to dredge up for me. If you'd listened to me in the first place, we might have gotten that creep, Ventriss, before he had his goon work me over. But, oh, no - what could Sandburg know? He's not a cop. Just an annoying hanger-on."
"Enough, already," Jim snarled, his muscles tensing as Sandburg's voice and glare ripped him apart. He couldn't listen to this. Couldn't - the memories of Sandburg lying dead at the fountain, and then of clutching at Barnes on the beach and kissing her in the temple, crashed into him, filling him with inarticulate rage.
But Blair was on a roll, and kept coming, yelling at him now. "You wouldn't have him at all if I hadn't ID'd that photo, and you know it. You stupid sonofabitch. You freak out, behave like a caveman on steroids, blow me off like I'm yesterday's bad news and you want to know what's wrong with me? Get a grip, you moron."
"I said, enough!" Ellison bellowed as he physically pushed Sandburg away.
"Oh, I don't think so," Blair raged as he slammed back, shoving Jim against the door. "You wouldn't even listen when I tried to tell you about Ventriss! You and Simon, both, just told me to chill out, sit down and shut up - and Ventriss was out there gloating over murdering some poor schmuck. It cost me my job to go after him, but does anybody care? Evidently not. Why would you give a shit about the fact that I got fired? It's not like what happens to me means a damn - oh, wait! The rent's important, though, isn't it? I drowned and all you were worried about was the back rent! Well, at least you brought me back so you wouldn't be left hanging for the money. But I guess we got a problem now, don't we? 'Cause now I don't have a job to pay the damned rent. And you know what else?"
"Stop it," Jim choked, the words hitting like blows, too fast, too many. Too true.
"I'm not done yet," Blair snapped back. "You know what else? If Ventriss had drowned after you practically threw him out of the boat, you'd be up for manslaughter! Talk about the paperwork! Undue force, and all that. So I save your sorry ass by making sure the scum didn't drown, and all you can do is insult me in front of the jerk - and Simon. Like I needed that? God, didn't anyone ever tell you how to say 'thank you'. It's not that hard, you know. Repeat after me, 'thank…you - "
But Jim had had enough of being slammed against the door, and more than enough of the venomous words and tone. Without thinking, he punched his fist into the side of Blair's jaw to shut him up.
Sandburg crashed back onto the floor, and just laid there for a long moment, shock in his eyes as they stared at one another.
Ellison blinked, and his face went slack as he realized, with sick horror, what he'd just done. He was stepping forward as Blair rolled to get up, bending to help, when a sharp elbow jabbed him in the solar plexus and he doubled over only long enough for Sandburg's fist to smash him with a hard upper-cut that sent him banging back against the door.
Blair glared at him as he shook out his sore fist. "Feel better now?" he seethed with complete disgust. "I know I do."
Sandburg whirled away before seeing Jim slump down to the floor, massaging his jaw, and stomped to the bathroom where he slammed the door and savagely turned on the shower faucet. He was cold, he was wet and he was furious.
Jim pushed himself to his feet, and went to the freezer to grab a bag of peas to hold to his jaw. Wincing, he pulled out a beer and headed into the living room to sink into his chair and wonder what the hell had just happened.
He'd just slugged Sandburg! Was he nuts? And Blair had hit him back, not that he hadn't deserved it, but the kid wasn't usually so aggressive. But then, Jim reflected with a twist of nausea, he hadn't hit Blair before. Could scarcely believe he'd done so now. As he listened to Sandburg's low muttering of curses and ongoing diatribe about 'stubborn damned caveman with enough testosterone to light up the whole friggin' city', he grimaced and chewed on his lip unconsciously, only to wince again at the twinge in his jaw. Less than five minutes later, Sandburg stormed out of the bathroom, his still-damp clothes in his fist, his hair dripping and a towel around his waist, and disappeared into his bedroom - slamming the door behind him hard enough to rattle the glass.
Jim sighed as he pinched his nose, squinting against the headache drumming in his skull. Blair was right. He had been riding the knife-edge of anger for weeks now, the least little thing setting him off. But he wasn't the only one. Sandburg's own flashpoint had been low and frequently sparked, launching him into furious outbursts like the one in Simon's office. They'd been grating against each other like sandpaper, in a state of constant irritation that, given the latest violence, wasn't getting any better but was only too obviously escalating out of control.
And, he knew why. He just hadn't wanted to face it, talk about it. Kept hoping it would just…get better, he supposed. Blair usually rode with his moods, shrugging them off, challenging him or teasing him out of them, but this time Sandburg had his own anger to deal with and hadn't had the patience to jolly him along. When Blair came out of his room to head to the kitchen, banging pots and pans around as he prepared leftovers for their dinner, Jim rose and tentatively approached his roommate.
But Blair cut him a look, lifted his hands and turned his back as he snarled, "Just stay away from me, man. I'm so not in the mood for more of your crap."
"Chief," Jim ventured, his tone carefully even, "we need to talk."
"Not tonight," Blair snapped back. "I'm way too angry right now."
"I was out of line," Jim tried again.
"No shit," Sandburg grunted, the line of his back and shoulders rigid as he pulled plates from the cupboard.
"It's just…" Ellison began, and then faltered. Just what? So damned much, he didn't have a clue where to start. But when Sandburg ignored him, shifting to the fridge to pull out vegetables for a salad, he knew it was his responsibility to fix this. He was the one who had thrown the first punch.
Swallowing, setting the bag of melting peas on the counter, he tried again. "I've been…scared," he said, very softly, humiliated. Blair continued to ignore him, as he ruthlessly tore apart the helpless head of lettuce and then began to soundly chop up an innocent carrot. "Would you…would you just give me a minute here, Chief," Jim appealed, his tone now cajoling. But he added, with an edge, "I'm not the only one who's been testy lately."
Flicking a look up at him, Blair seethed, "If you're waiting for me to apologize, don't hold your breath."
"No, no, I'm not suggesting that," Jim replied, holding his hands up in a gesture for peace. "I'm saying that, well, things have been off between us since, uh, since Alex…"
"'Off' is an understatement," Sandburg growled, as he scooped the lettuce and carrot bits into a bowl and turned his attention to slicing a tomato with cold efficiency.
"Yeah, well, I guess we need to talk about what happened," Ellison admitted reluctantly. He hated raking over stuff that was already over and done. It was easier to bury it and move on but, this time, the 'stuff' wouldn't stay buried. It kept coming back, in wrenching nightmares or shattered splinters of memory that sickened him and left him feeling scared and helpless.
"Fine," Blair sighed, recognizing that Jim wasn't going to just leave him alone. "So talk," he snapped, as he rigidly held to his control to keep from shaking. Jim had hit him, and he still couldn't quite take it in. It wasn't that he was scared of Jim, not physically or in any other way, despite the dull ache and the bruise darkening on his jaw. He was too angry to be afraid - shit. It felt like he was angry all the time lately. Jim was right. They'd both been out of line and had been itching to smack one another. Blair couldn't remember ever having been so angry for so long in his life. And Jim was also right about it all starting with Alex. Oh, they'd had disagreements before, misunderstandings, but never anything like what had happened because of her.
When Jim seemed to flounder, his eyes skittering around the apartment, Blair took enough pity on him to mutter, "You said you were scared. What are you scared of?"
"That you'll die again," Ellison choked with devastating candour.
Blair's hands stilled. "Oh," he murmured. He thought about that for a minute, and then his rigid shoulders sagged. "So that's why…"
"I've discouraged you from coming down to the station," Jim filled in when Sandburg's voice died away. "And why I wanted you to leave the Ventriss thing alone. And…and why I snapped at you for jumping into the bay. He could have dragged you under, Chief. You could…you could have…have…"
"Drowned again," Blair supplied, his throat tight with his own memories of the fountain.
"Yeah," Jim sighed, shifting to lean his hip against the counter as he crossed his arms and hung his head.
"And you just punched me because…" Blair prompted, his dark gaze lifting to study Ellison.
Jim shook his head. "I don't know," he muttered. "You just kept on and on about what a jerk I've been, and you were right - but also so wrong - and all I could think about was how much I hated Barnes and everything that had happened, and I just wanted you to stop, so I could think, but you wouldn't, you just kept snarling in my face and…and I guess I just snapped."
"Uh huh," Sandburg muttered as he lifted his fingers to lightly massage his jaw. "Snapped is right," he added, but this time his tone was reflective rather than angry. Jim had given him all the signals to stop, and he could read Ellison well enough to know when to back off. But he hadn't. He'd been too mad. "I, uh, I guess I was pushing pretty hard," he admitted ruefully, and then he sighed again. "Jim, I'm not some little kid that can't tie his own shoes. You can't go around trying to protect me from - whatever."
"Whatever?" Ellison echoed, looking up, his eyes haunted. "Dying, Chief. I've been trying to protect you from getting hurt - killed."
"Yeah, I get that, now," Blair murmured, abashed.
"You've been angry, too," Jim repeated then. "The things you said, in the truck - a few minutes ago, when we came in. You really believe all that?"
Blair shrugged and looked away. "Well," he began, but shook his head.
"You honestly think I only care about the rent? Or don't care that that witch fired you for no good reason?" Jim challenged, needing to know.
"No, I guess not," Sandburg admitted quietly. He swallowed heavily as he lifted a hand and let it fall again as he searched for words. "I guess I'm still pissed that you were so ready to end our…our friendship, without giving me any chance to fix what went wrong. And…and that you took off to Mexico without me. And, well, the way you treated Alex, like she was precious, even after she'd killed me."
"Chief, you know I don't have a clue about what the hell was going on between me and her," Jim protested. "You said it yourself, down there, that it was beyond anything even you could figure out."
"I know," Blair allowed, some of the tension easing inside at the tone Jim had used, as if to say that if he couldn't figure out what the hell had been going on, then nobody could. "It was just that, when we got back and you kept pushing me away from working with you, I wondered if you still didn't want me around anymore," he explained, his eyes downcast. "And that made me angry, because I figure I deserve better for all the years we've been friends and, uh, partners."
Ellison chuckled mirthlessly. "I was trying to do the best I could," he sighed sorrowfully. "I don't know what happened to me in Mexico; I can't explain it. So that means I don't know if it'll happen again, and that scares the shit out of me. And I don't know how I brought you back…at the fountain. I don't understand all this spirit guide and dead shaman shit; I don't know if it'll work again, if…if…" He swallowed, his voice dropping as he stammered very softly, "When I thought he was g-going to drag you d-down, it scared me."
"No shit," Blair replied as he pushed his damp curls back. He was slipping. He had realized that Jim's behaviour was odd, and had been odd for weeks. He should have challenged Jim directly about it, but he'd just been too angry himself, too hurt - and too afraid to hear Jim really wanted him gone - to deal with it. "I guess we both screwed up this time."
"You think?" Jim muttered, but he lifted his head, encouraged by Blair's conciliatory tone.
"Yeah," Sandburg sighed, as he went back to slicing up the tomato with less venomous energy. Dumping the pieces into the salad and then wiping the sticky juice from the counter, he continued. "So, we need to be clear on a couple of things, I guess."
"Like what, for instance?" Ellison asked uneasily.
"First, you don't keep pushing me away," Blair replied with a straight look. "I can't help you if I'm not backing you up. I'm not a kid, Jim. I'm a grown man and I'll choose the risks I take, not you."
Ellison grimaced, but he nodded reluctantly.
"And, second, I'll work harder at letting my own anger go," Sandburg committed. He shivered a little, an unconscious ripple of disquiet, as he murmured, "It's really weird to die, you know? And I guess I haven't quite figured out why I got a second chance…"
Ellison's wary gaze softened and he reached out to grip Sandburg's shoulder as he replied gently, his voice husky, "You got a second chance because it shouldn't ever have happened in the first place. You weren't meant to die, Chief. It was wrong - so wrong."
Blair didn't lift his head, but he nodded. When Jim squeezed his shoulder, and then pulled back, Sandburg straightened. "One other thing," he said, his voice tight, "if you ever punch me again, I'm outta here, man. I won't take that shit from anybody, not even you."
"It won't happen again," Jim vowed, his jaw tight. He still couldn't believe what he'd done and he'd damned well make sure there'd never be a repeat performance. If their tempers frayed like that in the future, he'd push Sandburg away or leave to walk off the anger before he'd ever lose it like that again. Ruefully, he fingered his jaw. "You pack quite a punch yourself, Chief."
"Yeah, well, we're even, I guess," Blair muttered, flushing a little.
"So we're good now?" Jim ventured, aware that Sandburg was still tense.
"We're better, man," Sandburg sighed as he handed the plates to his roommate. "Set the table, Jim. Dinner's almost ready."
"Chief, I - " Jim began, wanting more reassurance that he was being given.
"It's fine, Jim," Blair allowed wearily as he turned to empty the pots into bowls. "We'll be fine."
"What about your job?" Ellison wondered then, remembering that their fight wasn't the only issue Sandburg was contending with that night. "Can I help - "
"I'll handle it, Jim," Blair cut in as he turned to carry the bowls to the table, Jim following him with the plates and the cutlery. "I plan to go in tomorrow to ask for a review. The fact that we've got Ventriss for murder kinda lends credence to the idea that he might have been cheating and should have been thrown out on his ass. I don't think the Chancellor will fight me too hard on this - it wouldn't look good for Rainier if I kicked up a stink over it."
"Okay," Ellison replied as he sat down. But he studied Sandburg silently, ignoring the food, not really hungry.
"What?" Blair asked, uncomfortable under the intense gaze.
"I just…" Jim began, and then flushed. "Oh, hell, I just want things back to normal, you know? When we were friends."
Blair blinked at that. "We're still friends, Jim," he said soberly. "We must be, to have gotten through all this shit without doing more than snarling at each other and, uh, one whack apiece."
Rubbing his midriff, Jim replied ruefully, "Well, technically, Sandburg, you got in two 'whacks'."
Snorting, Blair shot back, "Yeah, well, you're bigger, so your 'whack' deserved appropriate retribution. At least, I didn't deck you."
"Almost, Chief," Jim chuckled as he reached for the salad. "The front door is about all that held me up."
"Yeah?" Blair snickered, absurdly pleased and knowing it was ridiculous to take such satisfaction from having punched out his best friend. But it was okay. Jim clearly wasn't holding any grudges, and neither was he. They'd just had to, uh, clear the air.
"Oh, yeah," Jim replied with a grin. "You left too fast to see me do the slow slide to the floor."
Sandburg snorted, and then he started to laugh. And, God, it felt good. Looking up at Jim, his eyes held something of their old sparkle as he sniggered, "Then I guess we're good, man."
Jim's grin widened as he gave a short nod. They'd hit the wall, literally, but so long as they were 'good', then everything else would be just fine.
And now that his appetite was back, he attacked his dinner with relish, absurdly pleased to see Blair do the same.
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