"Heads up, Sandburg. Time to get this show on the road."
Blair sighed, but he saved what he had on screen and turned off the computer nevertheless. "Oh man," he said, standing up and stretching the kinks out of his back. "I can't believe we have to go through this again. I do NOT have the time."
"Don't start, Chief." Jim finished buttoning his jeans as he made his way down the stairs. "You know the drill."
"Yeah, I know, I know. Martha needs to ask another favor of Kitty, and you KNOW what that means for us."
"So there's not really any point in whining about it, is there? Any coffee left?"
"Uh-huh. Enough for a cup anyway."
"Thanks." Jim made his way to the kitchen, frowned at the half inch of syrup left in the bottom of the coffee maker. "How long has this been sitting here?"
"I dunno. I made it when I got up this morning. Since five or so? I wanted to get some work done before the 'show.'"
"Well, thanks anyway." Jim poured the sludgy remains out in the sink and contented himself with a glass of grapefruit juice and two Excedrin instead.
Blair was still whining. "You know, I don't see why that girl doesn't just buy herself a decent computer."
"Computers are expensive. And I think she's saving up to put a new roof on her house."
"Man, that CAN'T be any more expensive than our medical bills."
Jim just shook his head, a lopsided almost-smile on his face, and checked his watch. "You ready?"
"Yeah, I'm ready." Blair started for the door, but Jim put a hand on his forearm.
"Not this time, Chief."
Blair looked up at him. "Jim. Are you sure?"
He nodded. "You've had more than your fair share lately."
"I don't mind. Better me than you." He tried to shake himself free, but Jim didn't let go.
"No. I'm taking this one." He smiled at Blair's serious expression and cuffed his face gently. "What's the matter? Think I can't handle it? Lemme tell you something, Darwin, if you can take it, I sure as hell can."
Blair managed to smile a little at that. "Well, OK. If you really want to. But I'll be right behind you."
"I know you will." Jim opened the front door, checked his watch again. "And -- action."
Blair listened to his footsteps growing fainter as Jim jogged down the stairs to the street. He paced to the sofa. Try to act natural, Sandburg. Should he bother turning on the computer again? Nah. No point. He rubbed his hands together, feeling a chill run through him although it was warm in the loft.
The shot rang out.
Here we go again.
He flew out the door, down the hall, down the stairs, nearly tripping and falling headlong in his desperate haste. "Jim!"
Funny. And after all that, the first thing he saw wasn't Jim at all, but the little white Isuzu truck disappearing around the corner, tires screeching, sooty black smoke pouring from the tail pipe. He even ran a few steps after it, though he knew it was hopeless. He slowed to a halt and turned around.
And finally saw Jim.
He lay where he had fallen, limbs askew, face turned skyward. Somehow, impossibly, incredibly, Blair had run right past him. "Jim! Oh god, Jim --" Oh god. And the last thing he'd promised was that he would be right behind him. Blair ran to him, fell to his knees, covered the terrible wound in his side with both hands, trying to hold back the blood, trying to hold in the life. "Jim! It's gonna be OK. I'm gonna get you to the hospital. You're gonna be OK."
Ellison was breathing in short, hard pants. His face was gray, his skin cold. His pupils had shrunk to pinpoints. Blind blue eyes staring up at the blue sky.
"Aw, Jim -- Aw, man, hold on. Just hold on."
Blair looked around frantically. A scared knot of people had gathered on the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. Just standing there. Just STANDING there while Jim's lifeblood poured into the street. "Call an ambulance!" Blair screamed. "Dammit, what's the matter with you? Can't you see he's dying? Get an ambulance for god's sake --"
"Chief." Just a whisper. "Chief, it's OK."
"Oh god, Jim, don't try to talk." Blair crouched closer, lowering his head until his forehead almost touched Jim's, his hair falling forward, sheltering Jim from the pitiless world that could just stand there and watch while the very best were taken first. "Oh, Jim. Jim, I'm sorry."
"No." He shook his head a little. "No, Blair. don't."
"Be quiet, man! Help's on the way. Just lie still."
And somehow, there was that smile again, lopsided, tolerant, accepting, even of this. "Sandburg, you're gonna keep going, you hear me?"
"Jim, please." The pain in his chest was so bad Blair almost felt as though he was the one who'd been shot.
Ellison coughed. A thin froth of blood appeared at his lips. "Look on the bright side. You can use the blue tupperware now."
A bolt of agony tore through Blair. He hunched forward, shuddering uncontrollably, laid his head on Jim's chest, keeping his hands pressed down hard though they were slick and hot with Jim's blood by now.
"Shut up!" He was sobbing out loud and didn't even know what he was saying anymore. "Just shut the hell up, damn you. Don't you DARE die."
Somehow, Jim managed to move one hand. He grabbed a handful of Sandburg's tangled hair near the scalp and dragged his head up, forcing Blair to look into his eyes. "Nobody's dying here. Are you listenin' to me, Chief?"
"Jim." He wanted to touch the face that could smile, even at a moment like this, but he didn't dare move his hands from the wound in Jim's side. The wail of a siren suddenly loud in his ears, Blair bent his head and brushed his lips across Jim's blue eyes as they closed, and remained there, his face warm next to Jim's, until it was over.
Jim sat up, wincing a little from having had to lie so long in such an awkward position, then looked down at his blood-stained clothes with dismay. "Total loss."
"You mean that's it?" Blair looked a little dazed. "No ride in the ambulance? No week-long vigil at your bedside?"
"Martha doesn't do hospital scenes. Or ambulance rides either."
"What's the deal with that? Too lazy to do a little research into triage procedures?"
"Probably. You complaining, Chief? Speaking for myself, I hate those damn vigils. Days without showering, nothing to eat but that lousy hospital food, stiff back from those miserable hard little chairs they always leave by the bedside. You ask me, you're getting off easy."
"Yeah, I guess so." Blair got up first and helped pull Jim to his feet. "Wish this was one of Kris's stories."
"You kidding me? Kris does amazing hospital scenes. You'd be sitting at my bedside for weeks."
"I know." Blair wiped his hands across his face, grimaced when he found it wet with Jim's blood. "But after all this, you've got first dibs on the shower, man, and in her universe, we just got a new hot water tank."