WARNING: Hot off the word-processor....not spell-checked or betaed.
OUTLINE: Written in response to the "Things You'd Love To
Say At Work Challenge". I used, with a little paraphrasing here and there:
#2: I don't know what your problem is this morning but I bet it's hard to pronounce.
#6: I'll try to be nicer if you'll--[the rest didn't fit so I didn't use it ":^D ]
#14: What's helping me right now is visualising the duct tape over your mouth.
#22: Do I look like a people person right now?
#25: Sarcasm is just one more service I offer.
#31: Can I trade this job for what's behind door number one?
#32: Too many freaks, not enough circuses.
DISCLAIMER: Nope, not mine. I *wish*!Just took the boys out to play for a little while. Didn't scuff them up *too* much. No money, so no point to suing.
DEDICATED TO: all the lost and hurting ones. May the angels bring you safely home.
Rain slashed against the window of the diner. In the grey winter light, Blair yawned and poked his fork at the food on his plate. "Man, this stuff is disgusting. My arteries are hardening just looking at it."
"Eat it or starve, Chief." Jim took a swig of coffee to wash his mouthful down. "We don't have time to go anywhere else."
"Can I trade this job for what's behind door number one?" Blair sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "Why us? Why did we have to be the ones who got stuck with this crummy assignment?"
"Just lucky I guess."
"Yeah, that's us. Lucky. We should take out lottery tickets." He brooded over their luck for a moment, then brightened. "At least I've got a museli bar in my pack. I can forget this stuff and make that last until I get some decent food."
Jim shook his head and broke the bad news. "No, you can't."
"Sure I can. I just have to work out how long to wait in between bites and then eat it one bite at a time."
"I already did that. At three o'clock this morning, while you were 'resting your eyes'."
"You ate my museli bar?" Blair's fork clattered onto his plate. "My *emergency* museli bar that I keep for *emergencies*?!"
"The half-squished one in the side pocket of your pack, yeah."
"You don't like museli bars!"
"And this morning reminded me why." Another swig of coffee helped drive the memory of that from Jim's tastebuds. "It tasted like cheap cardboard."
"First you steal my food and then you complain about how it tasted?"
"If you'd stayed awake, I wouldn't have been bored enough to eat it."
"So now it's *my* fault you stole my food and didn't like how it tasted?"
"Will you stop saying I stole your food?"
"Yeah, right, silly me. You didn't steal it. You merely rummaged through my pack without my knowledge or consent, and helped yourself to the contents."
"I did *not* rummage! I just took the mueseli bar out of the side pocket, without even touching anything else."
"Oh well, that's all right then."
"Don't get snide with me, Junior."
"Sarcasm is just one more service I offer."
Jim frowned. "I don't know what your problem is this morning, but I bet it's hard to pronounce."
"No, it isn't. The first word has one syllable and starts with 'J'. The second word had three syllables and starts with 'E'. Any guesses?"
"Me? What did I do?"
"For a start, you let me go to sleep on a stakeout--"
"You always go to sleep when we're on a stakeout."
"--then you stole my *emergency* museli bar," Blair continued without missing a beat. "The one I keep for *emergencies*--"
"So I'll buy you another one--hell, I'll buy you a whole carton if you'll just shut up about it."
"Like that helps me now, when I have to eat this garbage or starve."
Jim gritted his teeth, his scanty store of early morning patience exhausted. "What's helping me right now is visualising the duct tape over your mouth."
"Oh fine. First you steal my food and now you threaten me."
"I'll try being nicer if you'll--" He broke off as the door was thrown open and a distraught woman burst into the diner.
"They took my baby! They took my baby!"
Food and their argument both instantly forgotten, the partners slid out of the booth. By the time they made it across the diner and pushed through the crowd of customers already gathering around, a waitress had supported the sagging woman to the nearest seat.
"Cascade P.D. ma'am." Jim showed her his badge as he spoke. "What happened?"
"I came to out to get some diapers for Emily--my baby, she's only three weeks old. Please find my baby!"
"Who took her?"
"A man and a woman. They said she had to go with them now...I tried to hold onto her, but they were to strong..."
"Do you remember what they look like?"
"They had dark suits, and a black car with tinted windows. The woman said she was sorry... she kept saying she was sorry, but she took my Emily anyway. Please find my baby!"
"Ma'am, did you get a look at the license plate, or what kind of car it was?"
"It was black. I already told you that. Why aren't you looking for my baby instead of asking me questions?"
Jim pulled the cell phone from his pocket and tossed it at Blair. "Call it in. I'll check the street."
"Right." As Blair dialed the numbers, Jim snatched his coat from the rack by the door and headed out.
Cars drove by, headlights gleaming through the rain. One lone pedestrian splashed past, and shook his head at Jim's questions. He hadn't even seen the woman herself, let alone the abduction. And even Jim's senses at full stretch could find no clue to follow. Reluctantly he turned back to the diner.
Inside again, he pulled off his coat and draped it over his shoulder, holding it in place with his hand as he walked towards the woman.
"My baby!" The cry of joy echoed through the diner. "You found my baby!"
The woman leaped up from her seat, snatching Jim's coat from him. She held it against herself as if it was indeed a baby, rocking it and uttering coos of delight.
For a stunned minute no-one moved, then Blair gently helped her back to her seat. "Anne, is there someone we can call to come get you and Emily?"
"What?" Anne looked up from her baby, but her focus was on Jim. "She's cold. You let her get so cold."
"I'm sorry." Jim didn't know what else to say.
"Anne." Blair crouched down in front of her, making their faces level in an attempt to catch her notice. "Emily needs to go home so she can get warm. Who should I call to come get you?"
She glanced at him, too busy rocking and crooning to her baby to spare him much attention. "There's a card in my purse. It has Linda's phone number."
"I'm going to look in your purse for the card so I can call Linda, all right?"
"All right." Her entire focus was back on the baby.
Standing, Blair picked her purse up from the table beside her and moved over to the counter with Jim following him.
"Your guess is as good as mine." Blair tipped the contents of the purse on to the counter and began sorting through it for Linda's card. "While you were gone, she told me her name is Anne Booker and her baby's name is Emily."
"If she ever had a baby, I'd say something bad happened to it."
"Which would explain why the Linda she said to call is a psychiatrist." He held up a white card with blue printing. "You want to be the one to make the call?"
"Do I look like a people person right now?"
"Ah, no. No, you don't." Blair made a mental note to probe into the emotions he saw in his partner's eyes in the not too distant future, and dialled the number on the card.
"What's the story?" Jim asked when he hung up.
"Anne did have a baby named Emily." Blair closed his eyes briefly before continuing, and Jim knew he was going to hate what came next. "Emily was three weeks old. Anne had to go out for some diapers, but it was raining. She slipped and fell on the sidewalk, dropped the baby. Emily fractured her skull -- she was dead before the ambulance got there. That was a year ago today."
Jim nodded, not trusting himself to speak. It was always the young and innocent and those who loved them who paid the price, while the wicked lived forever. To steal a quote from the Sandburg Zone, that just sucked. And no matter how he tried, it was never enough to change that for everyone who deserved it. While they waited for Linda, Jim called Simon and explained their predicament, promising they'd be back at the stakeout as soon as possible. Then he watched Blair talk with Anne, bringing her a drink, making sure she was comfortable as if this was the most normal situation in the world.
When Linda arrived, Anne greeted her friend with a smile, holding out her baby for inspection. "See who I found."
Linda ran a gentle hand over her hair. "Anne, that isn't Emily."
"She isn't?" Confused, Anne looked down at the baby in her arms. "But she looks just like her."
"Emily isn't here Anne."
"Then where is she? Do you know where she is?"
"Yes, I know. Will you come with me to find Emily?"
Anne was immediately on her feet. "Oh please, will you take me to her now?"
"Before we go, you need to give this baby back."
Anne frowned at Jim. "You let her get cold."
"I won't do that again." Not knowing what else to do he held out his arm, crooked like he was about to be handed a baby. "I'll take good care of my baby, I promise."
Anne glanced up at Linda, and at her nod carefully placed the coat in Jim's arm. "She's such a good baby, she never even cried."
He had to swallow a lump in his throat before he could say, "She doesn't much."
"What's her name?"
"Caroline." That name came without conscious thought, and he decided he didn't want to know why.
"Bye-bye sweetheart." Anne gave the coat a final pat. "You be good for your daddy now, you hear?"
The door clanged shut behind them, the silence finally broken by a man near the back of the room. "Too many freaks, not enough circuses."
Jim didn't realise he'd moved until Blair grabbed his arm and hauled him to a stop. "Let it go, man. His kharma will catch up with him."
"Yeah, and I'm it," he snarled back, under cover of the diner returning to its normal noise level.
"Not this time." Blair pulled him around so that his back was to the offending customer. "I am definitely *not* up to explaining to Simon why I let you get in a fight when we're supposed to be on our way back to the stakeout."
Jim considered their captain's powers of self-expression and winced. "Yeah, you're right. His kharma will catch up with him. I only hope it's soon."
"It will be. Let's go find out what we owe, okay?"
At the counter they paid for their meal, then Blair snagged his coat from the rack. Shrugging into their coats, they paused and squinted through the glass at the driving rain, gathering the intestinal fortitude for the dash out to the truck
"Jim, I'm sorry about the attitude I was giving you back there. I didn't mean it."
"Sometimes it just gets a bit much...like I'm being split in all these different directions, all ways I want to go, but there isn't enough of me to get there at the same time." Blair half-turned to look directly at his partner. "Then we meet someone like Anne and it makes those problems seem so petty."
Jim nodded. "Like we've forgotten to count our blessings."
"Yeah. And biggest one I have is you being my friend."
"Same goes, Chief."
They watched the rain for a moment, absorbing the power of that feeling. Then Blair added, "But don't even think that means I've forgotten you stole my *emergency* museli bar. The one I keep for--"
He knew it was coming and still barely managed to duck the swat Jim made at his head. Bouncing back out of reach, he grinned at his partner, sentinel, and best friend in affectionate mockery. Jim tried to scowl at his partner, guide, and best friend, but couldn't stop the answering smile speading across his own face. Together they went back out into the rain, ready to protect and serve once more.