Masks: Part 25

Jim held Blair close, feeling the slamming of the smaller man's heart and the tremors shaking his body. Blair needed this, and Jim was willing to give it to him for as long as he wanted. The fact that he needed it too was just extra. When he'd heard those shots--God, he'd felt like the world was falling away beneath him, leaving him nothing.

"Are you okay, man?" Blair asked, his voice muffled by Jim's sweater.

"Yeah." Now. "You?"

"Yeah." The slender body stiffened. "Connelly!"

Blair pushed away from him, heading down the dark corridor at a near-run. Jim followed, and caught up to him easily.

"He's hurt," Blair said. "We need to call an ambulance."

"It's already on its way," Jim assured him. "I called in when I heard the shots. Hold on, Chief."

They had reached the lab. Grabbing Blair's shirttail, Jim pulled the younger man behind him. He stepped into the room, flipping the light switch. Connelly lay on the floor, bleeding from a gash in his head. Jim crouched beside him and put a hand to his throat. Connelly's pulse was strong.

"Oh my God," Blair breathed behind him. "Where's Hatch?"

"Right here, Mr. Sandburg."

Jim shot to his feet, hand darting toward the holster at his waist.

"I wouldn't, Detective Ellison. I'd be only too happy to shoot Mr. Sandburg."

Geoffrey Hatch had Blair by one arm, his other hand pressing a gun to the kid's side. Hatch's face was pasty, and he swayed on his feet. The fingers gripping Blair's arm were covered with blood.

Blair turned beseeching eyes on Jim, his face pale. Jim could see him trembling, and he cursed himself. Christ, he should have known! He knew Stanhope didn't work alone, he should have figured his partner would be here too. But he'd been so relieved that Blair was alive that it hadn't even occurred to him. He hadn't even thought to listen for other heartbeats. He hadn't done his job, and now Blair was endangered because of it.

Sirens, in the distance. "Give it up, Hatch," Jim said. "Your partner's dead. You'll never get out of this building."

"Your partner's alive, Detective," Hatch said. He pulled Blair toward the door, wincing when he moved his bloody arm, but the hand with the gun remained steady. "If you'd like him to stay that way, you won't try to interfere."

"No." Something came into Blair's eyes, something Jim didn't ever want to see again, something less than sane. He planted his feet, and refused to move when Hatch jerked on his arm. "I'm not going with you."

Hatch jammed the gun into Blair's side. "You shot me, Mr. Sandburg. I will return the favor, if you don't do as you're told."

"Fine," Blair spat. "Shoot me. Go ahead. The minute you do, Jim will kill you." Blair twisted in Hatch's grip, facing him. "Is that what you want, Geoffrey? Are you looking for a quick death? Jim will give it to you, just like he gave it to Joshua. Come on, man!" Blair shouted in Hatch's face. "Do it! Shoot me! I'll help you pull the trigger."

Blair put his hand over Hatch's. Hatch wrenched away from him, backing off, staring at Blair with dazed, uncomprehending eyes. Jim drew his gun, but he couldn't get a clear shot. Blair stood between them, his back to Jim.

"Blair, get out of the way."

Blair shook his head. "No, Jim. Let him shoot me if he wants to."

"I should." Hatch was slowly regaining his composure. "If not for you, everything would have worked perfectly. The prospect of prison is not appealing."

They could all hear the sirens now. Hatch gave a half-smile, and shrugged. "A quick death seems the best alternative."

"No!" Blair cried.

God, Blair! Jim tackled him, shielding the smaller body with his own. A gun went off, but there was no impact of bullet into flesh, no burn, no blood. He raised his head and gun-- But there was no need. Hatch was sprawled on the floor, half his head missing.

"Jim?"

Blair lifted his head. Jim shifted off him, placing himself between Blair and Hatch.

"Jim, he--"

"I know." He lifted Blair to his feet, still blocking his view of the body. "Simon's here, and the ambulance. I want you to go back to Connelly while I go meet them. Okay?"

Blair nodded. Jim turned him around and gave him a little push to get him started toward the lab. He watched him go in, then loped down the corridor to the stairs. Descending to the basement, he turned the lights back on, climbed back up to the ground floor, and went outside to let Simon know the situation was over.

Twenty minutes later, the ambulance was gone and forensics was going over the scene. Simon chewed a cigar while Jim filled him in on what had happened. As much as he knew of it. Blair hadn't made a statement yet, and wouldn't have to until tomorrow. He stood by the windows in the back of the lab, hugging himself. He looked so small and pulled into himself that Jim was reminded of a little boy he'd seen once, the only survivor of a bomb blast that had destroyed his family's house. The EMT's had wanted Blair to go to the hospital with Connelly, but he'd refused, insisting that he was fine. Aside from a rapidly darkening bruise where someone had hit him, he was fine. Physically.

"Ellison? Are you listening to me?"

Jim started guiltily, refocusing on Simon. "Sorry, sir."

Simon shook his head, turned to look at Blair. "Why don't you take him home?"

"Thanks, Simon."

Blair spotted Jim's reflection in the window and turned to meet him. He was still pale, still shaking, but Jim knew he couldn't help by holding him now. The crisis was past; Blair would never allow himself to be touched.

"Hey, buddy," Jim said softly. "You okay?"

Blair gave a sickly smile. "Sure, Jim."

"You want to tell me what that was all about, before?"

"What do you mean?"

"Blair, you practically begged Hatch to shoot you. Why?" Jim lowered his voice even more. "Do you want to die?"

The blue eyes went wide. "No, man. No, I don't want to. I just--I just got so mad all of a sudden, so sick of being everybody's hostage or shield or victim, that I--" Blair shrugged. "I guess I lost it."

"I guess you did." Jim locked his gaze with Blair's. "Don't do it again, okay? The next guy might take you up on it. Besides, you scared the shit out of me."

"Sorry, Jim. I promise, I won't do that again."

"Good." Jim smiled. "Let's go home, Tough Guy."

They left the lab. Jim steered Blair around Hatch's body, and tried to do the same around Stanhope's, but Blair wouldn't be deflected. Simon stood watching Serena do her preliminary examination. Blair stared down at the body. There was a neat hole in Stanhope's forehead, the only clear target Jim had been given. The sightless eyes were green.

"He was one of my kids," Blair said.

"He was only a year younger than you," Jim said.

Blair didn't seem to hear. "He seduced Arthur Hatch, then he helped kill him. He killed Rupert Crowley. He would have killed you, me, anyone."

Serena pulled a cloth bag out of Stanhope's pocket. "What's this?"

"That's why he did it," Blair said.

"What is it?" Simon asked.

Blair gazed at the bag as though it were the most uninteresting thing on earth, and turned away, heading for the stairs. "A bunch of rocks."





Jim pushed the loft door open, ushering Blair inside. He dropped his keys in the basket, tossed the mail after it, and took off his coat, holding his hand out for Blair's. Blair gave it almost absently and moved toward the table, where he stood looking at nothing in particular. He hadn't said two words during the drive from Rainier, just stared out the window, the color washed out of his eyes by night.

"It's good to be home, huh, Chief?" Jim said.

"Yeah." Blair's smile flashed by so fast that Jim almost didn't catch it. "It is."

"Why don't you go on to bed? We've gotta be at the station bright and early tomorrow."

Blair shook his head. "I can't sleep yet."

"Yeah, I'm pretty wired myself." Jim grabbed the teakettle, filled it with water, and plunked it down on the burner. "How about some of that tea you're always going on about?"

Blair looked at him. It was an odd look, but anything other than the vacant stare was good. "What kind?"

"I don't know. Something that helps you get to sleep."

"I've got something already made up. It's in the cabinet, in the baggie marked with the z's."

Jim searched the cabinet, spotted the bag, and took it out, studying the contents. "What's in it?"

"Pau d'arco, kava-kava, valerian--a little of this, a little of that. You know."

Jim shrugged. "If you say so, Partner."

He busied himself measuring tea into a pot, guessing at the amount. When he didn't hear any choking sound from Blair, he assumed he was doing it right. He put the tea back in the cabinet, and turned to see Blair pick up the phone.

"Who you calling, Chief?"

"Ms. Palmer. I promised to let her know what was going on."

"Sandburg, it's after midnight. She's in bed."

"Jim, studies have shown that many older people actually require less sleep than--"

"Tomorrow, Sandburg."

Blair looked at the phone, grimaced, and put it down. "Yeah, okay. You're probably right."

He slumped into a chair at the table. The water boiled. Jim filled the pot, and carried it and two cups to the table.

"You want anything to eat?"

"No."

They sat in silence while the tea steeped, Blair staring at the table, or the far wall, Jim surreptitiously studying his partner. Blair had shot Geoffrey Hatch. He hadn't killed him--Hatch had taken care of that himself--but it was only the second time Blair had ever fired a gun, the second man he'd ever shot, and the first one had been Ponytail. The bleak stare had to have something to do with that, but Jim didn't want to press Blair to talk about it. Not yet. He had no doubt that the shooting would be added to the list of things for Alice Hawthorne to work on with him. If Blair didn't want to talk about it with Jim, he didn't have to. And to be honest, Jim wasn't sure whether he wanted Blair to talk about it with him. He didn't know what to tell him, how to make it easier to live with. Blair had done what he had to do to survive, and he hadn't killed anyone. But shooting someone, no matter the justification, tore a hole in your soul. In time, the hole would close, for most. But the scar would always be there. And now Blair, who should never have had any, would have two. And Jim knew there was nothing he could do about it.

Jim poured the tea, and slid a cup in front of Blair. "Hey."

Blair started, and looked down at the cup. "Oh. Thanks, man." He raised the cup in one hand, blew on the tea, and took a sip.

"You okay, Partner?"

"Yeah. I'm just worried about Connelly."

"He'll be okay. He's got a hard head."

"He has to, around me."

"Tell you what, Chief. We'll go visit him tomorrow, as soon as you're done with your statement. How's that?"

"You think he'll want to see me?"

"Yeah. I do."

Blair smiled briefly. "I'd like that." He stood up, still holding the cup. "I'm going to read for a while. If I pick something dry enough, maybe it'll put me to sleep."

"That should cover just about every book you have."

"Yeah." Another quick smile faded before he turned. "Good night, Jim."

"Good night."

Blair went into his room and closed the door. Jim drank the tea he'd made but didn't particularly want, listening to Blair move around his room, change his clothes, and finally climb onto his bed. There was no sound of pages turning, but the light stayed on.

After a while, the tea began to take effect. Jim smiled. How about that, the stuff actually worked. He took the empty pot and cup into the kitchen, washed and put them away, shut off the kitchen light and started toward the stairs. Halfway there, he changed direction and headed back to Blair's room. The light was still on, but there was no movement in the room, just the sounds of Blair's heartbeat and breathing. Jim knocked softly.

"Chief, you awake?"

Movement on the bed. "Yeah. Come in."

Jim opened the door and took a step into the room. Blair lay on top of the covers, propped on his elbows, wearing gray sweatpants and Jim's Cascade PD sweatshirt, the sleeves pushed up to free his hands.

"What's up, Jim? Something wrong?"

"No, everything's fine, Chief. I just wanted to say thank you."

Blair regarded him quizzically. "For what, man?"

"For solving the case."

"Oh." Blair thought about that. After a moment, a smile lit his features, this one reaching to his eyes. "You're welcome, Jim."

"Good night, kid. Go to sleep."

Blair yawned, and obediently slid under the covers. "Always giving orders. Go to sleep yourself, Detective."

Jim grinned, and left Blair's room to climb the stairs to his own. Blair was asleep before he got undressed. Keeping one ear attuned to his partner's steady breathing, Jim climbed into bed. Within minutes, he was asleep.

End Part 25

Part 26