by Southy

© June 2005



The hardest part was that the outcome was out of his hands.

Jim had strained his hearing, but he couldn’t zero in on Sandburg with all the noise from the FBI operation.

This was their show. 

An excursion of elementary school students to the library had resulted in a hostage situation with six students, a librarian, and Blair. Blair had been there as a volunteer to talk to the students about anthropology.

All it took was one murderous gunman with a beef against the federal government and eight innocent lives were in danger.

The situation wasn’t looking good. Jim ached to go in and assist. But all he and Simon could do was wait for the FBI to decide what to do.

Simon now moved to say something to the agent in charge, Sommers, who was next to a man holding a bullhorn.

Finally, Jim’s hearing locked onto something audible: “Time to show them I’m serious. On your knees.” The words were deep, feral, sinister.

Oh, God. Eight hostages. Six children and a woman. If the gunman was intending to execute one hostage – as he’d previously threatened – it was natural to choose the single adult male of the group.


Jim’s instinct was to act, but he couldn’t botch the FBI’s operation and risk getting children killed. 

He felt weak in the knees. He’d never been so impotent. He staggered to the side of the nearest building and vomited the hot dog he’d eaten before getting the call about this “situation”.

Simon trotted to his side. “Jim.” 

Jim’s ears strained to hear the shot that was sure to follow. “He’s going to execute one of them,” he said breathlessly, his stomach still churning. “I heard him.”

“No, God, no.” Simon said, turning toward Sommers. 

The man now spoke into his radio. Then he spent a moment listening. Then he nodded. “Go!”

Jim and Simon looked up at the third floor of the building as the FBI went into action. 

Please, God, Jim prayed silently. He still hadn’t heard the shot.

Simon gripped his arm, then helped him to stand.

There were shouts from the library. Threats.

Jim knew they wouldn’t have gone in, risking the children’s lives, if they expected gunfire. They had to believe that they had a clear shot at the gunman.

Maybe Blair would be spared, after all.

“We got him!” came across Sommer’s radio. “Get the paramedics!”

Sommers radioed to an assistant to send in all support units. 

Simon grabbed the agent’s arm. “The young man up there is one of ours. We’re going in.”

Sommers nodded and said into his radio, “The locals are coming up. The adult male is one of theirs.”

Jim felt weak once again, this time with relief, though he had no idea of Blair’s condition. Maybe the gunman hadn’t intended to execute Blair by shooting him; maybe he’d used a knife or some other weapon.

Jim didn’t remember he and Simon climbing the three stories up the stairs. At one point, they passed the suspect, surrounded by FBI agents. They ignored him and kept going.

Jim’s hearing was picking up the noises of crying children and a nearly-hysterical woman trying to comfort them. As he and Simon emerged onto the landing of the third floor, Jim heard the paramedics going to work and trying to take charge of the children.

Jim and Simon entered the room where everything had taken place. 

The children were huddled together, a barrage of paramedics tending to them. One of the latter was talking to the woman.

Blair was sitting on the floor, slumped against the wall, ashen but conscious, breathing, his eyes on the children. He waved off a paramedic who was near him, and the paramedic seemed relieved to turn his attention back to the more needy victims.

“Chief,” Jim said with relief, collapsing beside him. He was aware of a powerful smell of fresh feces, overwhelming a more subdued odor of urine. Surely, the frightened children....

“Jim!” Blair greeted shakily.

“Chief,” Jim said again, taking Blair’s face in his hands. “How you doing, buddy? Huh?”

“You okay, Sandburg?” Simon asked, kneeling at his other side.

“I’m okay,” he said in a quavering voice. He looked toward the children, some of which were now being placed on stretchers.

“Nobody was seriously injured,” Jim said proudly, squeezing Blair’s shoulder. “You did good, kid.” As some of the stretchers were being taken away, he realized that the foul odor was coming from Blair.

Simon seemed to be looking Blair over. “You injured at all?”

Blair shook his head. “Just had the shit scared out of me.” He suddenly looked stricken and added, “Literally.”

Simon moved away in what Jim took to be a gesture of giving privacy.

Jim patted Blair’s cheeks. “It’s okay, Chief. That’s a normal reaction for what you’ve been through.”

Blair looked skeptical.

Jim grabbed a child’s sweater from the back of a chair and folded it. “Come on, lie down.” He pushed on Blair as he heard more paramedics coming up the stairs, and placed the sweater beneath his head.

Blair grabbed Jim’s arm. “I just want to go home. Clean up....”

Jim could sympathize, but he soothed, “You need to go to the hospital and get checked out. They’ll take care of you there.”

Blair looked away, but his hand remained clutched to Jim’s arm.

“What do we have here?” one of the approaching paramedics said with forced cheer.

“I don’t think he’s injured,” Jim said, “but he had a pretty scary time.”

“What’s your name?” the other paramedic asked.

As Blair began answering questions, Jim shifted so that he was between Blair and the wall. He patted the hand that was holding onto him. The paramedics took Blair’s vitals and kept up a stream of reassurances and didn’t react to his soiled condition.

His numbers were jumpy enough that they started an IV. Blair finally closed his eyes, as though shutting out the world.

“I’m going to ride with you, Chief, and stay right at your side.”

Blair squeezed his hand.

They lifted him onto a stretcher. Jim realized then how many FBI agents had descended upon the room.

“How is he?” one of them asked Simon, who had stayed off to one side.

“He’ll be fine,” Simon replied firmly.

While Jim accompanied the stretcher to the elevator, Simon made a point of catching the attention of Sommers, who had just now arrived on the landing.

It was when they were putting Blair into the ambulance that Simon caught up to them. “Hey,” he grabbed Jim’s sleeve as Jim ducked his head to enter the ambulance.

Jim paused.

Simon nodded toward Blair. “The kid did good. They’re already getting statements from some of the witnesses, including the librarian. He held his cool. He didn’t panic.” Simon drew a pained breath. “That bastard put a gun in his face and was going to pull the trigger when the FBI made their move.”

Jim gulped and nodded. It was as he had assumed. “I’ll take good care of him.” He quickly took his place beside the paramedic and clasped Blair’s hand. “I’m right here.”

Blair’s eyes remained closed and his jaw was firm.

Jim left Blair to talk more with Simon, once he was certain Blair was in the capable hands of the medical staff. He assumed Blair wouldn’t want him near when they cleaned him up.

Close to an hour later, he entered the cubicle where Blair was being kept. He was dressed in a hospital gown and had regained some of his color. They still had him on an IV. “Hey,” Jim greeted with a smile. “Feeling better there, Chief?”

Blair nodded. Then he asked, “How are the kids?”

“Fantastic. Scared and all that. But nobody got hurt.” He squeezed Blair’s arm. “They’re singing your praises.” Jim leaned close. “They were really scared for you.” He watched Blair’s expression, waiting to see if Blair was going to tell him what he’d experienced.

Instead, Blair forced an unsteady smile and said, “They say I’ll be able to go home in a little bit. They want me to be evaluated by a psychologist first.”

Jim nodded. “Standard procedure. They’ll want to make sure you’re set up for therapy after something like this.”

Blair gazed into Jim’s eyes. Shakily, he said, “I was really scared he was going to hurt one of those little kids.”

Jim nodded while holding his gaze. Carefully, tenderly, he said, “You were going to do whatever you had to do to save them, weren’t you?”

Blair’s eyes misted. “He was going to shoot one of us. I knew it had to be me.” He squeezed his eyes shut. “He told me to get on my knees.”

Jim nodded in encouragement. Softly he said, “I know. I heard him.” He placed his hand on Blair’s chest.

Blair’s eyes opened wide. “You heard?”

“With my hearing. But there was nothing I could do, because the FBI was ready to move in, and I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the lives of those children. I knew you would never forgive me.”

“Thought I was a goner,” Blair said in a weak voice. “He told me to get on my knees... and I did.” He looked stricken.

Jim kept nodding and hoped Blair found his agreement reassuring. “There was nothing else you could do without risking someone else’s life.”

“I knew I couldn’t help them if I were dead,” Blair whispered. “But I didn’t know what I should do instead, except... obey.”

“You did the only thing you could,” Jim said in a matching whisper. “You kept the gunman’s attention on you. You were willing to give your life for the others.” His other hand squeezed Blair’s. “I’m so damn proud of you. Simon is proud of you.”

Blair’s eyes slowly moved away from Jim’s. “All I did was do what he said... got on my knees. I guess that’s when I shit my pants. I don’t even remember doing it.”

“It was all the FBI needed to get into position and move in.” 

Blair closed his eyes. “I’m so glad none of those little kids was hurt.” He released a heavy breath, and then opened them. “At least not physically. Something like this is going to be with them for a long time.”

“They’ll get whatever help they need,” Jim assured. “You will too.” 

Blair intertwined his fingers with Jim’s. “Thanks for – for everything.”

Jim placed his hand on Blair’s forehead. “Rest while you can. I’ll be right here.”

The next few days, Blair threw himself into any available activity. He didn’t seem to want to talk about what happened, other than his therapy sessions.

Jim realized just how close he’d come to losing Blair. He’d learned long ago that one had to take life’s blessings as they came along, and it wasn’t any more productive to obsess over those blessings than it was to obsess over the more unfortunate aspects of life.

Still, it was hard to reconcile life without Blair; how empty his life would have felt, even if Blair had gone out a hero.

When Jim entered the loft now, it was to find Blair standing at the kitchen counter, peeling an orange with a pairing knife.

“Hey,” Jim greeted.

“One of us needs to go to the grocery store,” Blair said. “There’s nothing to eat around here.”

Jim grinned. “I guess you need to get going then.” Impulsively, he put his arm around Blair’s shoulders and hugged him – tight.

Blair relaxed a moment, and then said, “Jim, I’m okay. All right?” He turned as Jim dropped his arms. “I can even find humor in the fact that I shit my pants.”

“That would have happened to anybody,” Jim insisted.

Blair sobered and shook his head. “Not to you.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Jim said as he reached past Blair to the refrigerator. “I puked right before the FBI went it, when I heard what the gunman said to you.”

Blair frowned at him. “You did?”

“Yeah.” Jim looked away. “Thought you were a goner.” His voice softened. “And there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.”

Blair looked uncomfortable and Jim took pity on him and focused on selecting a beer.

“You know,” Blair said seriously, his head bowed, “it’s really meant a lot to me that you and Simon thought I did good... even if I did crap my pants.”

“It’s not just us who think that,” Jim assured quietly, uncapping the beer.

Blair looked up at him. “But it means more, coming from you.” He gave a small shrug. “I’ve been trying to analyze it, why it’s so important to me that you and Simon – especially you – think a lot of me.”

Jim furrowed his brow. He didn’t understand why something so obvious needed to be analyzed.

“I’ve told you about my mom,” Blair said bashfully. “She was great as a single parent. I never thought I needed a dad.” He was silent a long moment, his expression distant. Still,” he looked up again, “it’s dawned on me that, as a young man, I yearn for approval from other men. Especially those men who are a man’s man.”

Jim moved away. “A man’s man?” he teased.

“Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean.”

Point taken. Jim sighed as he sat down on the sofa. “I guess, to me, that kind of need is obvious. I can’t imagine not wanting positive attention from my father.” He muttered, “Not that I ever got it.” Then came a happier memory. “But I usually got a lot of recognition from commanders I admired in the army.”

Blair took a few steps toward the living room. “This is new ground for me. I’ve never needed – wanted – male validation before.” A sheepish shrug. “It feels good.”

“Yeah, well,” Jim said, trying to lighten things up, “don’t let it go to your head. It doesn’t change the fact that Simon thinks you talk too much and finds you annoying a good part of the time. And it’s not like I think you’re brilliant or anything.”

“Wouldn’t dare make that mistake,” Blair played along.

“For that matter, why don’t you make yourself useful and go to the store?”

“Only if you make out a list.”

“Hey,” Jim said toughly, “whose house do you think this is? And who’s the ‘man’s man’ in charge?”

“I am,” Blair said. Then he laughed and found a notepad by the phone. He tossed it to Jim. “There, ‘man’s man’. Make out a list. When I get back from changing the oil in my car, you’d better have checked it twice, to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.”

Jim picked up a sofa pillow and timed it so that it hit the door just a Blair closed it behind him.

Little shit.

Jim started on the list.


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