Notes: A huge thank you to Cheryl for giving it a once over and finding all my errors. I've tinkered, so any mistakes are mine.
Summary: A little holiday fun...maybe.
It's all in the Gravy
by Twilight (Dawn)
The little black box on his nightstand squealed and squawked until he had no choice but to move his arm out from its warm cocoon and slap it. The sound stopped abruptly and Blair turned back to his side, throwing his arm over his face.
His room was mostly dark, but a faint light crept through the blinds on the fire escape door.
Closing his eyes, he settled back, sinking into the comfort of his soft pillow, his breathing just evening out when the annoying buzzer went off again.
Flipping over he slammed his fist onto the top of the clock silencing it once again. He couldn't put it off any longer, he had to get up.
Tossing his blanket aside, he rolled upright, rubbing his palms across his fuzzy face, shivering as cool morning air swept up his bare legs.
"Let's go sleeping beauty...we've got a lot to do today."
"Coming Jim," rising and stretching, he opened his bureau, tossing around a few shirts until he found his flannels.
Thanksgiving dinner was due to be served precisely at 2:00 pm, at least that's what Jim kept telling him and Jim had invited the whole of Major Crimes...it was going to be a long day.
The water was a little too hot as it sloshed down his sore back. He really needed to stop staying up too late and falling asleep on the couch or in the dining chair slumped over his laptop.
He turned away from the spray, face wet and eyes cloudy, searching the damp shelf with one hand. His fingers brushed his shampoo bottle, but the container slid farther away, knocking a bar of oatmeal soap to the floor of the shower stall.
Bending carefully, he grabbed for the soap, but it skittered across the shower floor, circling toward the drain.
Using the big toe of his right foot, bracing himself with a hand against the blue tiled wall, he nudged the soap, curled his toes around it and pushed it back to rest between his feet.
"Come on, Chief...I need to use the can."
"Coming," reaching down he got the soap in a light grip, washing up his arm and across his chest before the illusive bar of suds went sailing into the far corner and back under the spray.
Yup, a long day...
The coffee was hot and for that he was grateful. Three days in a row he forgot to set the auto timer and wasn't Jim happy about that.
Speak of the devil.
Jim jogged down the steps, tucking his shirt into his slacks, running a hand up and over his short hair.
"Mornin'." Blair turned to the cabinet to get a mug for his friend, pouring the coffee and grabbing a plate with freshly toasted bagels as Jim flopped in the dinning chair.
"Do you have your list?" His roommate reached out to snag the plate from him, not even looking up from his paper.
Scooting around the table, Blair sank into his own seat, taking another gulp from his mug. "Yes, Mom...we went over it like a thousand times last night...I got it, man."
Jim's brow creased, but the Business section held his attention. "I have every confidence in you, Chief. It's just that it was so last minute..."
"Tell me about it."
"...and I got to finish up the paperwork on the Mallony case..."
"I could help with that, you know."
"...I know, and then I want to give the apartment a good cleaning when I get home..."
"I know, I know, I know, so I get stuck with the shopping, I get it, Jim."
Mouth full of garlic bagel, Jim finally met his eyes over the morning news, swallowing before he spoke. "I didn't think you would mind...I mean I know it's the day of Thanksgiving and the store is going to be packed...but I just figured..."
Standing with his own plate, empty coffee mug dangling from his pinky finger, Blair gathered up the remains of Jim's meal. "Don't sweat it, man. I've got it under control."
Jim sank back in his chair, picking up his cooling coffee. "Good...that's good. Don't forget the gravy okay...the Mueller's gravy in the big can."
Blair flipped up the tap, rinsing the breakfast plate, stacking them in the drainer, drying his hands on a tea towel. "It's on the top of my list in big red letters."
Jim ignored him, but after a few seconds the dining chair slid across the hardwood floor and footsteps sounded toward the front door. "I'll see you around 10:00 and don't get a frozen turkey. We won't have time to thaw it out."
"I got it, no turkey pop and Mueller's gravy, big can."
"Right, well see you later, Chief."
Even as he pulled into the parking lot, cars jockeyed for the closer spaces. People pushed bright red shopping carts toward the store's auto doors and many customers made their way back to their cars carrying laden paper sacks.
So, he wasn't the only one doing a last minute run...
Patting his coat pocket, Blair double checked to be sure he had the all important list.
What was with Jim and his lists anyway?
Hot air rushed toward him as he pushed a squeaky wheeled cart through the door. Taking out the neatly folder paper he bypassed the first few items, knowing that they were all the way on the other end of the store.
Stopping in the produce section, he fingered some Macintosh Reds, choosing a few for the apple pie he promised to make, wresting them into a plastic bag as he pushed his cart toward the broccoli with his hip. He got some red potatoes, celery and fresh garlic bulbs, marking them off the crinkled piece of paper as he went.
A few aisles over he found canned creamed corn before heading to the meat department. The cool case holding the whole turkeys had been picked over, but after some maneuvering he found a nice sized fresh one.
Skipping the aisles in the middle of the store he went to the dairy section on the other end, grabbing milk and eggs and a few cans of biscuits, passing the cool whip and having to fight his way back down the aisle to grab the last one, ignoring the man sneering at him, clutching a piece of paper in his hand.
Now, what else did he need?
Scanning the bottom of the paper he saw that the peanut oil for the deep fryer wasn't checked and wheeled his cart around to find the right aisle. Less people occupied the center of the store, but the lines up front grew larger, he had to excuse himself several times to get to where he needed to be.
Finding the jug of golden oil he made his way to the front of the store, smiling and waving at a little girl sitting in the front of her mother's cart, sucking on one chubby fist.
Finally making it to the checkout Blair watched as the cashier rang up his order, a nagging feeling that he was forgetting something in the back of his mind.
He was making good time though...might even be able to get a nap in...
Blair switched on his wiper blades. "Unbelievable." Tiny specs of white floated down to land on his windshield. Snow clung to the blades and by the time he pulled into his parking spot near the loft, the trees and grass were covered but the roads remained pretty clear.
He hurried into the building, stomping his feet and shaking out his hair. The front door opened just as the lift doors began to close and Blair caught sight of his friend rushing forward to catch the car. "Sorry, man."
By the time the elevator made it to the third floor, the loft door was open and waiting for him. Jim moved around the kitchen, pulling the bucket from under the sink, turning on the tap to fill it. "Got the peanut oil?"
"Yeah," he fumbled through the sacks, pulling the jug free and handing it to Jim. His roommate finished filling his bucket, pouring some bleach in before heading to the balcony. Cool air rushed into the living room as Jim opened one bay door and poured the entire jug into the deep fryer. He waited a few minutes before turning on the propane burner below the cooking pot. "It should take awhile to heat up enough."
Blair emptied his bags, stacking the canned goods on the counter and putting the perishables in the fridge. Jim was cutting the package open that held the turkey, pulling out the innards and sliding the bird onto the base for the fryer. He took a few minutes to tie off the legs and wings before putting the whole thing on a tray until he was ready to take it out.
"You know, when I was younger me and mom used to spend the holidays with my Aunt Freda. She used to cook the turkey on the stove top."
Jim shot him a questionable look, turning to rummage through the hall closet for the mop. "I bet that was appetizing."
"Hey don't knock it, man. She would line the bottom of this like a huge pot with whole carrots and made this sorta paste out of mustard and spices for basting."
Jim's upper lip curled just a bit, but he refrained from commenting, loosening the broom and mop with a final tug.
"I think she used Adobo and Sason and a ton of other seasonings, but I'm not really sure, they never wrote anything down, never...anyway, maybe next year."
"Yeah, Chief...next year."
In no time the apartment was clean and smelt of pine cleaner and apples and cinnamon. Blair's pie sat on the cooling rack and a crock pot kept the potatoes warm. He had another for the stuffing and one for the gravy...
Jim swung the bay door closed, rubbing his hands together. "What did you say, Blair?"
"Nothing, man...I'm just about done in here, but I gotta run and pick something up." He had his coat on and was heading for the door when a hand descended onto his shoulder.
"Where are you going?" Jim spun Blair toward him, a small frown on his lips.
"I ah...I forgot to get the cranberry sauce...I'll be back in a few." Human lie detector, Einstein...
As he hurried down the hall he could hear Jim calling, "It's almost noon...the store will be closing."
"I'll make it." He took the steps as fast as he could, knowing that if he didn't get a move on he wouldn't make it before the store closed.
The roads were still crowded despite the thin covering of fresh snow. Blair turned into the parking lot with fifteen minutes to spare. Slamming his door shut he jogged across the lot and through the auto doors, making a quick left to bypass the aisle that would take him in the wrong direction. Crossing behind the checkouts, he slipped past a closed lane and found the end cap displaying an array of canned gravy.
"Come on, come on, come on...where is it?"
"Can I help you, sir?" A pretty blonde, wearing a bright red work smock greeted him, tucking a few strands of pale hair behind her ear.
"I need Muellers...do you have Muellers?"
"I'm sorry, but all we have is here."
"Okay, thanks." He took off without a backward glance. If he could make it to the Speedy Mart on the corner he might luck out. Running and sliding all the way to his car, he revved the engine and peeled out of the lot and to the store on the corner of the block.
The clerk was just flipping the closed sign when he ran up to the door. "Please...I just need some gravy." The man gave a doubtful look, but unlocked the double door and let Blair in. "Thanks man...I'll only be a second."
Scanning the aisles he found what he was looking for, but there weren't any big cans left so he grabbed four small ones, making his way back to the front. The clerk stood behind the counter, eyes glued to something in the far corner. "I found..."
Someone sprang from the shadows, pushing him forward hard until his hips hit the counter, dropping all but one of his cans. "Just be cool and you'll get out of this alive."
"Oh man...you have got to be kidding me."
"No joke. Now shut the hell up."
"Shutting." He raised both hands, still clutching the last can of gravy.
"Move around with him." A small shove got him going and he stopped next to the clerk behind the counter. The masked man calmly held a gun on them, turning toward the back from time to time and that's when Blair realized there was another robber in the store.
Minutes later he could hear sirens and turned to look at the young guy behind the counter with him.
"Sorry...I thought they'd be long gone by now."
"On man..." The young clerk rang his hands, back pressed against the rear counter, head hanging. "I shouldn't have pressed the button, they tell us not to press it until the robbers are gone."
Blair slid a little closer, eyes watching the masked man beyond the counter, "It'll be okay, man...just stay calm."
"How can you say that?" He looked up, eyes glassy and wet. "The cops have been out there forever...we're trapped in here with a guy with a gun..."
"Hey, stay calm..." the gun man swung around toward them, eyeing each before turning back to look out the barricaded doors. His partner hadn't shown himself, but Blair figured he was covering the rear entrance. He stretched out his tingling legs, tired of sitting in the same stop for so long. "I know a little about how the cops work...you're going to be okay, we just gotta keep our heads and stay down."
The masked man moved off toward the back, gun hand hanging loose at his side. Whispered voices traveled over the aisles of canned goods and prepackaged meals. The phone on the counter rang again and Blair was surprised when heavy footsteps raced toward the sound. The gunman grabbed up the receiver, tucking his weapon under his arm and turned to make eye contact with them.
The cell phone in his coat pocket was still open, he had managed to sneak his hand in when the guy made one of his circuits around the store, pressing the first button to speed dial home, sure his friend was monitoring every word...sure that Jim was right outside those doors, trying to figure out a peaceful resolution to his current dilemma.
At least he hoped it was the first button...it would really suck if he managed to dial three and get their favorite Thai place instead of home.
I really am a trouble magnet
No...no...Jim was here. He was sure of it.
"Yeah, well I got three hostages in here, so you're going to do what ever the hell I say..."
"Oh god...he's going to kill me...I wasn't even supposed to work today...I traded with that shit Micky...gave me some cock and bull story about a pregnant wife...oh god..."
Blair tuned out the jabber of the man sitting next to him. The gunman walked off toward the back again, hands flaying, gun pointed in the air. He circled around the back of the small store. Blair could see him in the round mirror mounted on the corner of the ceiling near the register.
He stopped near a figure at the rear of the store. The other man stood just out of sight of the mirror, but Blair could see a dark sleeve reach up and around the gunman's neck. The conversation escalated and the man marched back to the front of the store, "If you don't then I kill them all."
"Oh god, I told you..."
The robber spun toward the clerk, raising the gun, cocking the revolver, the click loud in Blair's ears. "Shut the hell up."
And then all hell broke loose.
Blair made a wild grab for the clerk, trying to pull him lower, out of the range of the barrel pointed at him and at the same time winged his last can of gravy toward the robber, hitting him squarely in the chest. Seconds later the window panes above his head busted inward, glass and debris rained down on his head, coating his hair. He lost sight of his fellow hostage when a metal can lobbed through the broken out windows billowed thick clouds of smoke and noxious fumes. Running boots crunched over the broken glass and a single gun shot rang out in the chaos.
"Chief? Where are you?"
Blair pulled himself up from the floor, covering his nose with his sleeve. Jim stood in the doorway, gun pointed down, barrel still smoking. The masked man lay a few feet away, a seeping bullet wound to his chest, blood pooled and spread beneath him, but before Blair could make his way toward his friend, Jim raised his gun.
At the back of the aisle, where the smoke wasn't as thick stood a woman in black, her dark hair pulled up, her mask still clutched in one hand, the other holding a raised weapon.
Blair's mouth opened to shout a warning, but even as he turned back toward Jim he could see that his friend wasn't with him. Jim's head was canted to the side, he was too still and his eyes never left the woman.
Oh come on...not now...
He wasn't sure how he knew his friend was in trouble or even how he made it to Jim as she fired the weapon. Blazing pain tore through him as he pushed Jim down, falling on top of him as another shot rang out...people shouted, hands rolled him off his friend and he could see streaks of bright red on the front of Jim's sweater.
Oh god... Jim's been shot. He wasn't in time...
"Sandburg...stay with me."
Dragging his eyes open, he saw Simon hovering over him, a cigar clamped between clenched teeth. Another man was sitting on his chest, hurting him. "Ge..eettt off meeee."
He pushed on the guy's chest, but someone else grabbed his hands and held them down. "Hold still Sandburg. What the hell are you waiting for...get him in the damn bus."
The world tilted as he was picked up by his shoulders and feet, moved over a few feet and laid on something hard. Two blurry figures in blue moved around him, Simon was barking something at another blue blob and Jim paced nearby, muttering something.
Squeaky wheels rolled him up and over the broken doorway and into the cool afternoon sun, snow was still lightly falling, clinging to his nose and eyelashes. A crowd of people milled around as he was pushed through the door of the waiting ambulance. As soon as the gurney cleared the entry, Jim jumped in and the door slammed shut.
"Just hang in there, Chief...it's going to be okay."
Jim held Blair's cold, clammy hand, unable to meet his friend's eyes. "Oh god, Chief, I'm sorry. You're gonna be okay. We're almost there, hold on."
Please hold on.
"We're almost there." He dropped his head into his hands, hanging on to the padded bench as the ambulance took a quick left turn, sirens blaring at a slow moving car in the intersection.
What the hell just happened?
One minute he was holding his gun on the woman and the next he was on the ground with Blair bleeding all over him.
Garbled wheezing brought his head back up to see his friend’s eyes wide with fear, tears rolling down unchecked as Blair struggled to breathe behind the oxygen mask covering his face.
The paramedic worked frantically as the ambulance swayed back and forth, dodging in and out of traffic. The man took another set of vitals, holding a thick pad over the bleeding wound. Jim could only see one small hole on Blair's right flank and knew that the small caliber bullet was still somewhere in his partner's belly or chest.
"Jim…" Blair raised a trembling hand, reaching toward him and Jim grabbed it up, squeezing gently, feeling the sticky drying blood between his fingers.
"You're going to be fine."
He tried to sound reassuring, but Blair's eyes told the story. He wasn't buying it anymore than Jim was.
Blair was still having trouble breathing, gulping air behind the mask that covered his face, blocking his view of what was going on around him.
He'd been shot...
He heard the medic say the bullet probably got his lung and he felt like he was drowning all over again, the pain all encompassing, an icy-hot surge shooting up and down his right side and over to the left side of his chest.
The pressure in his chest was getting worse by the second, like nothing he ever felt before, nothing like the bullet he took to his leg a few years ago.
The look on Jim's face spoke volumes.
It was bad.
The deep sorrow etched around his friend's eyes represented the guilt Jim was feeling.
But it wasn't his fault.
He was the one who forgot...big red letters on the top of the damn list and he still forgot.
And then the clerk unlocked the door for him...the guy could have been home watching the game instead of dodging bullets for being kind.
Blinking his eyes he could feel moisture gathering around the edges, sliding down and wiped away with a warm hand.
It was strangely quiet despite the sirens and people working around him, they seemed so far away and he was so cold. Shivers raced up his spine, his chest trembling under the stethoscope the medic held there.
"He's going into shock."
Someone gripped his hand and he looked to see Jim petting the arm that hung over the gurney. The slight pressure was all he could feel.
The ambulance jerked to a sudden stop and the medics pulled open the double doors and pulled him out, quickly rolling the gurney through the hall and into a small room full of people.
Jim was still squeezing his hand, his body convulsing as he struggled to breathe. "I'm not shot. I'm not shot." he wheezed frantically. "Jim..."
People pressed in around him, talking all at once, asking questions but he couldn't focus on them. Ripping sounds reached his ears, something pulled on his foot and cool air caressed his heated skin.
Someone held his mouth open, a hard tube shoved in and he gagged as it slid down, scraping his teeth and the back of his throat.
"Do you understand, Mr. Sandburg?" Something cold seeped down his side quickly followed by a flare of fire. He couldn't cry out as the pain blossomed, his skin deeply cut between two ribs and another tube shoved in.
As they rolled him from the room, he spotted Jim jogging to keep up with the gurney.
S'okay Jim...not your fault.
Minutes later he was wheeled into another room, moaning as he was lifted and positioned on a hard table. Gloved hands roamed his body, pressing into him. Someone was talking to him...he tried to swallow, feeling the tube in his throat and could see someone out of the corner of his eye squeezing a bag.
"Mr. Sandburg, can you hear me?" He slowly moved his eyes, seeing a woman hovering near his side, lightly squeezing the hand holding his. "My name is Doctor McGee. You've been shot and we need to operate to repair the damage the bullet has done."
The excruciating pain in his back and side started to dissipate. Someone was standing by his head telling him about anesthesia and muscle relaxants. But the sudden lack of pain scared him. When he was feeling it at least he knew he was alive, but now he felt like he was drifting away piece by piece, vaguely aware of people talking and working around him, the sounds of machines and a very bright light above him dimming until all was dark
His last thought...next year Jim can get the damn gravy.
After waking in a fog, Blair slowly opened his sticky eyes, rolling them from side to side to see a dark and windowless room. A chair sat just off to the side, hidden in darker shadow, but it was empty.
Blair tried to breathe in, an alarm sounding as he choked on the tube in his mouth, tears springing to his eyes as he clamped down with his teeth, working his tongue around the rigid surface, trying to push it out.
"Just relax, Mr. Sandburg..."
A small hand rested lightly on his head and a fuzzy figure leaned over him, patting his arm. "Don't fight it...you can breathe, just relax."
His heart pounded wildly against his rib cage and the tears fell, running rivulets into his hair and pillow case, but after some time he managed to calm himself, letting the machine set the pace.
"That's it." A cool hand wiped at his face and cheeks, coming to rest on his forehead again. "Now you've got it."
With this new calm came a burning pain working its way through his belly and up around his chest, settling near his left breast. Beads of sweat peppered his upper lip, dripping down his face and around his neck. Pools of moisture poured from his body and he briefly thought he had wet the bed.
The nurse puttered around the bed, looking over the various readouts and connective tubing as a heat wave enveloped him, burning up his legs and down his arms and now he couldn't breathe, the oxygen seemed to get stuck in his chest, rattling his lungs despite the machine regulating his air supply.
He had to get it out.
Little noises escaped around the blockage in his throat, bringing the nurse back to the head of the bed. She pressed the button on a panel over his head and spoke rapidly. "The on call doctor is coming." She wasn't as fuzzy, a sweet pixie face and piercing green eyes bore into him, leaning over him, placing a hand on his chest and grabbing his wrist with the other. "You can breathe, just try to relax...calm down."
Rubber soled shoes squeaked on the old tile floor. A woman dressed in green scrubs approached, pulling back his blanket and blessed cool air caressed his overheated skin.
Too soon the blanket and oppressive heat returned, but a tingle near his wrist was followed by a sudden blast of cold and he turned his head to see the pixie shooting something into his IV.
With heavy limbs he sank back into the damp sheets and fell into a twilight sleep, still hearing the people moving and working around him.
"I'll get Judy."
After floating for a time he felt gentle movement, someone rearranging his legs and rolling him from side to side, a cool cloth sliding up his skin, but the heat was gone and so was the pain. With clarity he hadn't had all evening he remembered he was forgetting something important...
No, no...where was Jim?
Oh god...Jim was shot, that's why he wasn't there with him.
There was so much blood on Jim's shirt...
Maybe, maybe Jim was gone.
"It's okay Mr. Sandburg." Someone swiped gentle fingers over his cheek, a soft cloth under his nose. "You're gonna be feeling better soon."
But he had to ask about Jim...
"The pain meds are kicking in now...just a few more minutes."
But...what about Jim...
"That's it, relax...you're doing great."
The nurses turned to see a man standing in the doorway.
"I ah...I know visiting hours are over but Blair's my partner and I just wanted to check in on him."
Jim let himself into his home, tossing his keys in the general direction of the side table and basket where they kept their keys, he heard the metal pieces hitting the table and bouncing off to hit the hardwood floor...but he didn't care.
His coat flopped off his shoulders and landed a few feet from the chair he slid into. He sat rigid for a few seconds then lowered his head to his hands.
"Come on, Jim...you need to get to bed." His boss and friend stood off to the side, picking up Jim's discarded coat. "I'll clean up."
He jumped up, totally exhausted, but knowing that if he helped with the cleanup he could get rid of Simon a little faster. "It's okay, sir. I got it."
"The hell you do, now sit down before you fall down...where's your apron?" Simon hung up both coats and pulled out the trashcan from under the sink. He opened the oven and pulled out a cold tin pan full of stuffing, dumping the whole thing into the can. A crock pot full of thick and congealed mashed potatoes followed, landing with a loud thump in the bottom of the can.
It was a miracle he remembered to turn everything off when he got the call from Blair's cell, hearing only his friend's heavy breathing and muffled voices...only Sandburg could get into a mess fetching a can of cranberry sauce.
Jim slowly walked over to the balcony doors, finding one still opened a crack. The large pot with the turkey carcass smelled like rotting meat and peanuts and for a second he wasn't sure what to do with the half cooked, greasy bird.
Simon came through the door and onto the balcony with a heavy duty trash bag and Jim lifted up the hook holding the turkey. The excess oil dripped down the partly cooked skin, splattering the sides of the pot and staining Jim's borrowed shirt.
So much blood...covering his clothes and chest.
He was able to grab a quick shower before meeting with IA, but he knew he missed some, feeling it even now flaking and staining his skin, seeping into his every pore.
"Huh...sorry. I guess I am tired." He grabbed the bag, twisting the top and tying a knot. "I ah...that's good enough for tonight, Simon. I'll probably just finish up in the morning before I head to the hospital. It's not like I won't have plenty of time here with my forced vacation."
Simon looked him over, shaking his head. "You know how it works, Jim. It's a paid leave pending the outcome of the investigation. You head on up and I'll let myself out."
He wanted to say no, but truth was he just wanted to get in bed. The sooner he slept the sooner he'd be able to get back to his friend. The few minutes he'd had wasn't enough to assure himself that Blair was going to make it. "Yeah, okay."
"Good, now head up and I'll be by to collect you at 9:00."
He turned and started to say he didn't need a ride.
"Not a word, Ellison..."
And how could he argue with that.
The little black box on his nightstand squealed and squawked until he had no choice but to move his arm out from its warm cocoon and slap it. The sound stopped abruptly and Jim rolled onto his back, throwing his arm over his face.
His room was still dark, but a faint light crept through the skylight and settled over his bed spread.
Closing his eyes, he settled back, sinking into the comfort of his soft pillow, his breath just evening out when the annoying buzzer went off again.
Flipping over he slammed his fist onto the top of the clock silencing it once again. He must have forgotten to reseat it the night before...or this morning...whatever.
He had plenty of time until Simon came and he was still so tired, but he was also restless...he had to get up.
Tossing his blanket aside, he rolled upright, rubbing his palms across his fuzzy face and thinning hair, shivering as cool morning air swept up his bare legs.
He reached for his cell, planning on calling Simon to tell him he was going to head to the hospital early and then he remembered his truck was still at the scene. Simon had driven him home in the early hours after his brief visit with Blair and the endless questioning at the station.
He didn't like being on the other end of an interrogation.
Worst yet, he really didn't have any answers that would satisfy his actions, nothing that he could explain.
Jeffers from IA told him not to be concerned. Jim took out the threat, a clean shot and under the circumstances, with the Intel they had, he couldn't have known there was another gunman.
But he should have known...somehow.
What good were his senses if they couldn't even help him keep his partner safe?
The water was a little too cool as it sloshed down his chest and arms.
He turned away from the spray, searching the damp shelf with one hand. His fingers brushed his shampoo bottle, but the container slid farther away, knocking Blair's bar of oatmeal soap to the floor of the shower stall.
Reaching forward, he grabbed for the soap, but it skittered across the shower floor, circling toward the drain.
Using his big toe, bracing himself with a hand against the towel bar, he nudged the soap, curled his toes around it and pushed it back to rest between his feet.
Reaching down he grabbed up the bar, setting it back on the shelf next to Blair's shampoo.
It was going to be a long day.
The coffee maker dripped out the last drop of the dark brew into the carafe. Jim was still sopping up the flow that hit the counter because he couldn't wait and pulled out the pot to stick his cup under the flow.
He walked down three flights to grab the morning paper when he heard the paper boy flinging the bundle at the entrance to the building, but even the Business section couldn't hold his attention.
Giving up the daily news, he scrounged in the fridge; finding left over bagels from the day before and popped two pieces in the toaster oven, pouring his second cup of the day.
His coffee was bitter and too strong, but he drank it anyway, taking his time, watching the second hand on the clock in the kitchen tick off the minutes until he could go to the hospital. Twenty four hours ago he and Blair were having breakfast, planning their day, hoping to catch the whole football game even with a house filled with friends.
And the turkey...
He was psyched to use the new deep fryer, a birthday gift from his dad, eager to taste the succulent meat with just a hint of nut and oh so crispy and juicy. He was actually excited about cooking for his friends and having a relaxing day. Just remembering the homey smells from the day before brought about a feeling of peace, but he was plunged back into a crappy mood as he remembered the gravy and what it had cost.
Picking up the phone he dialed Simon and left a message, figuring his boss was either asleep or in the shower. The next call was made to the local cab company and he tidied up as he waited, selecting a few things from Blair's room to make him more comfortable as he recovered, the beginnings of an idea tickling his brain.
A horn beeped below, the cab was waiting at the curb as he jogged down the steps with a purpose in mind, not knowing if it would work out, but he was going to try anyway.
The car pulled up in front of the nearly deserted grocery store. Jim got out and paid the cabby through the partly open front window. Bright red carts lined the front of the store and Jim was glad that most people were off shopping the mall and department stores this black Friday instead of crowding the grocery store.
Patting his coat pocket, Jim double checked to be sure he had the list he made while waiting for the cab.
Hot air rushed toward him as he pushed the cart through the door. Taking out the neatly folded paper he made his way from one end of the store to the other, back tracking several times to retrieve the items needed, crossing them off his list in order that they were written.
He placed each item on the conveyer belt; scanning his list to be sure he had everything as the cashier rang up his purchase.
Once outside, he left his cart in the parcel pickup and walked briskly to the Speedy Mart on the corner. The front door and windows were boarded, but Jim could hear people inside, moving around and cleaning up so they could reopen.
His truck was parked caddy corner to the front doors; back far enough to be out of the line of fire. He got in and drove back to the grocery store, packing his bags behind the bench seat and headed to Simon's to explain what he wanted to do, hoping his friend would be willing to help.
The halls in this wing of the hospital were empty; the ward nurse looked up and smiled as he passed her station.
The door to Blair's new room was opened a crack, the lights were dimmed and the blinds pulled, the TV droned in the background and Jim could hear Blair breathing heavily, but on his own.
Pushing the door open a bit more, he saw his friend propped up on pillows, both hands sweaty and holding onto the raised rails. His face was pinched with pain, his eyes closed tight and he puffed tiny breaths through slightly parted lips, his jaw was clenched so tight it made Jim's own teeth hurt.
Blair opened red rimmed eyes, squinting in his general direction.
"You're in pain. Let me call the nurse." He reached across his friend, finding the remote laying by Blair's side on top of the crisp white sheets. Blair's hand caught his as he began to push the call button.
"No...I just needed..."
Jim patted the hand holding his. "You need something for the pain, let me..."
"No...I can...I got..." Blair gestured toward the wire he held in one hand, a little red button on top. "I had to make sure...you okay?"
Jim reached over and took the wand, pressing his thumb against the red button repeatedly until the box on the other side of Blair's bed beeped. "I'm fine and you're going to be fine...get some rest. I'll be here when you wake up."
With every twitch and hitch of breath, Jim looked up from the newspaper he was still trying to read from this morning, studying his friend to see if he was finally going to wake.
The doctor had been by a while ago, reassuring Jim that Blair was going to make a full recovery. The bullet had torn a hole in Blair's right lung, collapsing it.
The chest tube was replaced in surgery with a thin drainage line that filled a collapsible bag pinned to Blair's gown.
Jim pulled on the gown covering Blair's chest, gently running a hand over the bandages to feel the outline of the tiny piece of metal.
The surgeon decided that the bullet would work its way out since it settled in the fatty tissue of Blair's left chest, just under the skin.
The doctor seemed to think that Blair would only be in the hospital for a few more days and that as soon as he awoke, they would get him up and moving.
"Jim?" Simon stood just outside the door, holding a folder. "How's he doing?"
Jim motioned him in and Simon pulled the chair over from the other side of the room near the empty bed.
"He's going to be fine. The doctor said they'll shake him loose by the middle of next week."
"You think he's going to be up for some company later..." Simon shifted, studying the man lying silent and still in the bed. "I don't want him to overdo it."
"I already cleared it with his doctor. What do you have there?" Jim motioned to the folder his boss held on his lap.
"This is the report from IA. They're clearing you for active duty. I thought I would bring the forms for you to sign and let you know you can report back to work on Monday morning." Simon pulled a pen from his suit pocket, handing both to Jim, but he was reluctant to take them. "We've been over this, Jim...it's not your fault."
"How can you say that?" He jumped up, dumping his paper on the floor, pacing to the window and back again. "I hesitated, Simon."
"Yes and Blair put himself in danger to push you out of harms way...so does that make it Blair's fault?" Simon remained seated, placing the folder back on his lap.
"Of course not...it's just..." Hands moving to punctuate his words, he sunk back into his chair, dropping his head. "It's not because it was a woman...I could have shot her if I had no choice...it was just something about her. And I don't mean that I had it in my head that she was supposed to be another hostage, either."
"Jenna Hardling." Simon told him, opening the report in his lap. "She was Meeker's girlfriend and he obviously wanted to keep her out of trouble if possible. She said her boyfriend lost his job and was having a hard time finding another."
"But why put her into trouble to begin with...it doesn't make sense that he would involve her in a robbery." Jim looked at his boss and then over to Blair, who murmured and whimpered, turning his head on the pillow and then fell back to sleep.
"She said in her statement that they were desperate for money...food. Meeker had been out of work for months and they were being evicted on Monday. They'd been waiting outside the Speedy Mart all day, but couldn't go through with it. Then they saw the clerk let Sandburg in and figured it was an opportune time." Simon closed the report and thrust it toward Jim again. "Now sign the damn report and get on with your life. There's no use in trying to figure out the motives of criminals."
"Is she in this hospital?" They both turned, startled by the soft, weak voice coming from the bed.
"Good to see you back with us, Sandburg."
Blair pointed toward the folder sitting on Jim's chair. "Better sign that form, man. I don't need you loitering around my hospital room on Monday."
Jim smiled and picked up the folder, signing his name and handing the whole thing back to Simon.
"I'll see you a little later if you're up to it." Simon said, heading to the door and the hall beyond.
"So, you're looking a lot better." Jim told him, sinking back to his chair. "You've been sleeping most of the day."
"It's the drugs, man. I'm not feeling any pain." And to prove his point, he compressed the red button on the machine doling out his meds.
Jim watched him for a few minutes, not sure what to say. "Look...about what happened..."
"Don't Jim...I didn't do anything that you wouldn't have done for me." Already his eyes were closing, a light sheen of sweat breaking out on his face. "You should go see her, man. See what made you zone."
"I didn't zone...I think."
But Blair didn't answer him, he was already asleep.
Jim slipped into the hospital room, watching the sleeping woman, not wanting to disturb her. Her arm was wrapped in heavy bandages but otherwise she was free of machinery and tubing, but a silver shackle held her other hand to the bed frame.
"Are you family?" A portly woman in her fifties stood in the doorway.
"Um...no. I'm Detective Ellison." He flashed his badge, tucking it back into his pants pocket. "How is she?"
"Lucky, I'd say. She's going to be released into police custody this afternoon, but I hope they go easy on her, for her baby's sake."
This surprised Jim. Simon hadn't mentioned she had a baby at home. "How old is her child?"
"Oh, she's not even showing yet. I think she was a bit surprised herself to find out she's pregnant." The nurse left him and he stepped a little closer to her bed, studying her face, his eyes moving down her covered body to her stomach and then he breathed in deep, not the best idea considering his surroundings.
Finally he closed his eyes and listened...
Blair was shuffling from the bathroom when Jim came back. He was hunched over and felt like he was a hundred years old, but soooo much better than the day before. Whatever was in the little black box attached to the pole he was pushing must be the good stuff. "Did you get your answer?"
Jim rushed forward to help, but Blair shooed him away, heading for the chair that the nurse brought in during Jim's absence, glad that his friend had missed the pulling of some tubes. As soon as he eased down he felt like he had to pee again.
"Yeah, I did. I found out she's pregnant." Jim perched on his bed, looking down at him. "I think I could hear the baby. Moving around and maybe the heartbeat too..."
"That's so cool, man."
"Not so fast, Chief. We'll talk about it more when you feel better. I might even let you run a test or two."
"Ah, man...you do feel guilty. It's not your fault Jim...if it's anyone's fault its mine." He shifted just a smidge, trying to get his gown pulled around where it belonged, feeling tightness in his chest and pulling near his back. "Owwww."
Jim jumped up, but didn't move closer, clearly conflicted about how best to help him. "I'm okay..." after a few deep breaths, he managed to get out, "I ah...I sorta have a confession to make."
Jim raised his brows, shifting back to the bed, but didn't say anything.
"I ah...I didn't forget the cranberry sauce. I forgot the gravy, man."
"What?" Unbelievable. "How did you know?"
Jim crossed his arms, leaning forward. "After you left I figured you weren't being totally truthful and then back at the store, I saw you hitting Meeker's dead center in the chest with a can of Mueller's."
Blair squirmed, trying desperately to find a comfortable spot, feeling like he was falling off the bottom of the raised bed.
"Do you need some help?" Jim lowered the volume on the TV and Blair missed the call the official made. "You want to lie back a little?"
"No, I want up." Jim raised the bed more and he was able to turn and dangle his legs over the edge. The low volume of the TV could not conceal the cheers of the crowd and they both stopped to see their favorite team make a touchdown.
Moving slowly without really picking up his feet he turned once he made it to the chair. "Ow...man." Blair sank into the cushioned seat, hand going up to gently touch the left side of his chest.
"Don't touch." Jim shooed his hand away, remembering the doctor said since the bullet was so close to the skin surface, it might get pushed out like a boil.
He pulled back Blair's top, lightly running his finger over the unseen bump, feeling the metal slug still deep in the fatty tissue. If the bullet was going to come out, it would be awhile yet.
Someone cleared their throat and Jim jumped back, pulling his hand away like he'd been bit as Blair hoisted the turned down piece of clothing back to its proper place.
"Am I interrupting something?" Simon stood in the doorway, carrying a Tupperware container and plastic grocery bag.
"Hey, come on in, man."
"Jim thought you might want something a little better than hospital food for dinner, so I brought you something homemade." He opened the lid, revealing thinly sliced pieces of turkey and large chunks of carrots.
They pulled the tray table over to his chair and Simon took out some paper plates and plastic flatware. The last item out of his bag was a can of Mueller's gravy.
Another knock came and Blair looked around Jim to see Rafe and Brown standing in the doorway. "Hey, babe...I brought some garlic mashed potatoes to add to your belated feast."
"And I got the cornbread stuffing." Rafe added, placing the containers by the turkey on the empty bed. They both produced a can of Mueller's and sat them on his table.
"Niiice. Thanks guys. Hey, I'm sorry I messed up dinner last night."
"Don't be silly, Sandy." Megan arrived with Joel, both carrying a covered dish. His bed was spread with a mouth watering array of traditional and nontraditional foods, plus two more cans of gravy joined his stacked pile. He almost had enough to make a pyramid.
Jim went to the locker type closet where he had stowed some of Blair's things from home, pulling out a bag and a woolly pair of socks, adding Blair's pie and a thermos of gravy to the spread and topping the pyramid with his own can of Mueller's. "There, now we don't have to worry about the gravy for years to come." He bent, slipping Blair's cold feet out of the hospital booties and into the warmer socks.
"Thanks, man." And he didn't mean for the socks.
"No problem, Chief...you know what they say...it's all in the gravy."
Everyone talked and laughed, dishing out the food and watching the rest of the game. Blair picked at his vegetables, sighing when Jim cut his turkey with the plastic fork and knife.
He speared a small piece with his fork. Even without any gravy it was heavenly, taking him back to a time long ago. Closing his eyes he savored the tender piece on his tongue before chewing, remembering the sounds and smells of that day, the little kitchenette table he sat at while watching slender hands cut and chop the vegetables and the large pot going onto the stove top...his mother laughing and them both sitting on a broken down couch to watch the Macy's parade on a little black and white TV...it was the best Thanksgiving.
When he opened his eyes Jim was studying him.
"How did you..."
"It might not be exactly like your Aunt Freda's, but it's close. I think I got everything you mentioned and Simon fixed it."
Simon looked up from his own plate. "I'm going to make this for Christmas dinner, thanks for the recipe Sandburg."
Jim piped up, wiping his mouth with a crumpled paper napkin. "Thanks Captain, we'll be there."
"Yeah, thanks Sir. I would love to."
"Count me in, mate."
Simon sputtered and they all laughed.
"Who wants pie?" Blair asked, pushing his plate away, he managed to eat a little. "I hear the guy who made it is one hell of a pie maker."
"Yeah well, get better fast, pie boy, 'cause you better be bringing a few to my Christmas bash and Sandburg, don't forget..."
"The gravy. I know, man. I'll get Jim to make me a list...got it covered."
His friends stayed a bit longer, eating and talking, commenting on the game. He let the sounds wash over him, his eyes growing heavier and the pain creeping back. Someone took the wire from his hand; he could hear the machine clicking as his pain medicine was delivered. Hushed talking faded and strong arms pulled him up and wrapped around him.
He tried to open his eyes.
"I'm just getting you back into bed." Jim half walked half carried him, sitting him on the edge and swinging his legs up. Someone else lowered the head and covered him with the warm blanket.
"Night..." and as he drifted off he realized that even though he had a nice Thanksgiving with his Aunt Freda, it didn't compare to this evening spent with his family of choice...besides, Aunt Freda didn't have Mueller's gravy in the big can.
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