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It'd been just over a year since Blair first moved in when we had our first massive, big time argument. We were at the end of a particularly tough case, where a cop had been badly injured and Sandburg had nearly caught a bullet.
It started with some trivial little thing, and then before I knew it he was yelling at me about he would never be accepted if Simon and I kept him wrapped up in cotton wool all the time, and I was yelling back that he needed our protection, goddammit!
Then, without even a thought, I hit him. Backhanded him right across his cheek, hard enough to throw him to the floor but not hard enough to break the bone, or even the skin – just about, anyway. I froze, just looked at him lying on the floor, his hands up on his face, touching the mark that was already forming, his breath coming fast and shallow.
Somehow I'd managed to split his lip; blood was trickling from the side of his mouth, running over his chin and onto the floor, dripping into a little puddle right there by the kitchen table.
The worst thing, though, wasn't the injury itself, it was what I could see in his eyes. It was fear, and pain, and loss, and something deeper than that, something more than fear, as though it wasn't just my hitting him again he was afraid of, but something else.
I turned away from him, leaning against the wall and covering my eyes with one hand, taking deep breaths to calm myself. When I looked back, Blair was gone, fled to his room, the door shut resolutely against me. I hadn't heard a damn thing.
The next morning, I woke up to the smell of scrambled eggs, cooking in the pan, along with bacon and toast. It'd been a while since Blair had done anything like that, but I didn't comment, not wanting to provoke another argument, and just quietly thanked him for the food.
He didn't eat anything, just gave me mine, went to his room, grabbed his backpack and left, telling me he'd be at the university all day and had stuff to do afterwards, so I wasn't to wait up.
I didn't realise until he had left that he'd carefully kept the bruised side of his face away from my sight, and that there was a stitch in his split lip. He must have fixed it up on his own, in silence – I know I would have heard him otherwise. I should've guessed he wouldn't ask me, but I should have offered to at least check it this morning. Dammit. Doing it himself must have hurt like a bitch.
He's so goddamned stubborn.
When I turned up at the station, people asked me where Sandburg was. Not just one person, but people. Every single fucking person in the entire fucking building asked me where the kid was. When Rafe asked me, I finally snapped, yelled at him, and at people in general, and really made sure that everyone kept the hell outta my way.
Even Simon left me alone – I guess he figured he'd leave me to stew and get myself over it. Or, as he muttered to himself, give me time to get out of my 'hissy fit'. If I hadn't have been so pissed off at the world, I would have laughed.
That night, late enough that even the dogs on the street had stopped their barking, I heard a shuffle at the door, the key turning in the lock, and the thud of a backpack being softly placed on the floor. There were the familiar sounds of Blair collapsing into bed after a late night, and I was finally able to slide into sleep.
When I awoke it was, for the second morning in a row, to the smell of frying bacon. Once I had woken up enough to appreciate why I had bacon for breakfast, I was suddenly a hell of a lot less hungry.
By the time I had meandered downstairs, the plates were being slid onto the table, and Blair cautiously smiled at me.
I forced a grin back at him, and a cheery 'good morning' as I sat down to eat. The relief on his face was almost painful.
The cheek where I had hit him was already turning purple, and there was swelling, but not enough that I should be majorly concerned about. If it got any worse, I would take a closer look, but it wasn't really that bad. Still, it tore at me every time I had to look at him and saw it marring his face.
Fucking guilt trips.
Before we left the loft I hauled the pile of case folders I had brought home into my arms. They were all files on a family of dopers we thought were in on a murder, and they were damned heavy, as well as obscuring all view of the ground beneath my feet. As I picked up the keys to the truck, and turned away, my foot caught in something, and I was falling to the ground, the files going everywhere in an explosion of paperwork.
Avoiding serious harm, I clambered to my feet, checking my limbs for damage. There was none, barely a bruise, but the shock and adrenaline was already flooding though my system. When I looked for what had tripped me, all I saw was Sandburg's tattered old backpack, one strap still stuck out and the contents spilling out the top where it was been knocked over.
Spinning around, I glared at the kid, who had frozen by the kitchen table at the sight of me tumbling to the ground. He flinched, and seemed to be jolted back into motion again.
"Shit!" It was the first emotion I'd got out of him since I'd hit him, and I couldn't even tell what it was, it just seemed an explosive burst of shock, frustration, and fear.
Before I could stop myself, I was yelling at him, shouting like a drill sergeant, about what a dumb place to put his backpack, and then he was on the floor, frantically trying to pick up the papers and put them back in some sort of order. I helped, but every time our hands got near each other he would jerk back, and he refused to make eye contact.
There was a silent ride to the station, and a silent ride up the elevator. Today, few people spoke to me, and even to Sandburg, though he received several smiles, which he returned. No one seemed to notice just how badly his hands were shaking.
When he got called into Simon's office, I stood up to go with him, but Simon shook his head at me. "Not you, just Sandburg. Don't eavesdrop, either."
Blair stood up and walked through the bullpen, without exchanging a glance with me, or with anyone else. Even Rafe's bright grin did nothing the lift the dejection that seemed to hang around the kid. He looked smaller somehow, his body hunched in the way of convicted criminals, when they know the sentence is coming, but they haven't yet heard how bad it will be.
A reassuring grin and a pat on the arm from Rhonda helped him to pull his head up, his hair swinging back to reveal the bruise on his cheek. I hadn't noticed, until then, how hard he had worked to keep it hidden from everyone in the bullpen. No one bar Rhonda saw it now, and when she reached up to touch it he turned his head away, saying it was nothing.
She nodded, and watched him as he entered Simon's office, then turned to stare unerringly at my guilty face. I bent my head back to my paperwork, already feeling the red tide over my cheeks.
But just because I wasn't looking didn't mean I couldn't hear.
Simon seemed calm, relaxed, but worried. He was sat on his desk, far more informal than usual – I could hear his leg swinging slightly against the side of it. When Blair walked in, the swinging stopped, but the relaxed attitude remained.
Blair on the other hand was far more nervous; I could hear him wringing his hands and swallowing convulsively. His steps were short and slow, with none of his usual bounce. "Sir?"
"Sit, Blair. And drop the sir. For this meeting, I'm Simon, ok?"
A sigh, from Simon. "What's going on, Blair? You have injuries I know you didn't get here at work, Jim spent all of yesterday acting like a bear with a sore head, and today you're… you're goddamned quiet! What the hell happened? And don't bother lying to me."
I could almost hear Blair flinch back as Simon's voice rose, and it was all I could do to stop from running in there and throwing myself on their mercy.
There was silence for a moment as Blair gathered himself; I heard several deep breaths and hoped they weren't the start of a panic attack.
"Me and Jim… we had an argument. It was my fault, Simon, I started it and wouldn't let it drop. I got mad, and ran into my room, fell over and hit the desk, and needed patching up. Jim's just mad because he blames himself. You know what he's like." I didn't need to see it to know it had happened – a shared look, a roll of eyes; it was the two of them sharing their knowledge of me. It's one of Sandburg's tactics to get people to believe him. People with things in common trust each other more. It works, too.
"I'm just being quiet because I've got a headache, and my lip makes talking sore. It's nothing to worry about, honest." I could almost hear the honesty radiating from his words. Sandburg's a professional at this; he doesn't even have to try, and boy was he trying.
"You're sure nothing's wrong?" Sandburg must have nodded, because Simon continued. "Alright then, you can go. But Blair… if anything happens, you need someone to talk to or a place to stay, just call me, ok?"
Maybe Sandburg's not as good as I thought he was.
Or maybe Simon's better than I knew he could be.
"Thanks for the offer, Simon. If I need to take it up, I will." Blair left Simon's office with a thoughtful expression on his face. He never caught me watching him, and was soon sat back down at his desk, still sorting out the files that had gone flying that morning.
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Once we got home that evening, Blair disappeared off to his room… taking his backpack with him. He didn't come out until I put dinner onto the table and called for him. We sat in silence for several minutes, Blair staring at his food as he ate.
When I finally broke the silence, he jumped, and his head shot up to stare at me with those wide blue eyes. I think he'd forgotten I was even there.
"So, how's Cassie?" Cassie was one of his students, and she'd been having problems with a boyfriend. Like most of Blair's female students, Blair was her first port of call when she needed to talk.
"She's ok." His head was back down, staring at his food as he moved it listlessly around his plate. "She split up with Kurt yesterday."
"Is that good?"
"I guess. She cried, though." Blair dropped his fork, and it hit his plate with a jarring clatter. "I'm not hungry, Jim. Sorry."
I shook my head. "Don't worry about it. I'll wash up. Go on, I'm sure you've got marking to do or something."
He nodded in a peculiarly marionette fashion, jerked his chair away from the table, and went to his room. Once again, the door was shut firmly.
Sighing, I threw the remainder of our dinners away and went to wash up. I could deal with Sandburg in the morning.
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It turned out, though, that I couldn't. When I got up, he had already left for the university. I read his short note – he had a class, apparently – with mixed feelings. On one hand, he was avoiding me, but on the other, he'd left a note for me, so it couldn't be all that bad.
I went to work without a second thought. I couldn't do anything, so why worry?
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At work, people kept asking me, "Where's Sandburg?" "What did you do with the short one?" "Where's the cheery half?"
Eventually, it pissed me off enough that I snapped at Megan. She scowled at me and marched off. Oops.
Mind you, you would have thought they'd get the idea about asking, by now.
When Simon hauled me into his office ten minutes later, I snapped at him too, until he told me to shut the hell up and sit down.
I sat. When Simon uses That Voice and tells you to jump, you just ask, "how high, sir?"
There was a moment of silence as he settled himself behind his desk, holding a cigar in one hand. "Jim, what have you done to the kid?"
When I started to speak, he held up a hand to stop me. "Don't give me any bull, either. I don't get it outta you, I'll make Sandburg tell me, and the state he's in at the moment, if glare at him he'll break."
Again, the silence, before I spoke. "I hit him. That's what the bruise is, on his cheek. And it split his lip."
Simon whistled. I got the impression it was for my benefit – he had already known, and just needed my confirmation. "Shit, Jim. Why'd you do it? He's acting like a kicked puppy, and it's making everyone miserable."
"Jeez, if I'd known that, I'd never have done it." The sarcasm seemed feeble, even to me. "I don't know, we were having an argument and it just… got to me."
"It 'got to you'? And that made you hit him?" Simon was disbelieving. He put the cigar down and clasped his hands. "Jim, Sandburg is precious to everyone in this building. We don't want to know he's been hurt, and by you. If anyone – particularly Megan or Joel – finds out about this, you're a dead man. You know that, right?"
I nodded. Oh, boy, did I know. "Ok then. So, go fix it." When I didn't move, Simon waved his hands at me. "Go on, out. And I don't want to see you back here without Sandburg, is that understood?"
I left the bullpen in a hurry, and pretended not to hear the sighs of relief and Joel's comment – "If Sandburg's not back tomorrow – how he should be – we're gonna give Jim hell, right?" The little chorus of 'right' from everyone in the bullpen sped me on my way.