Such a small event, to bring about such a change in attitude...
Once again, the perp chose to run, scrambling down a narrow passageway between two buildings. Once again, Jim 'Never Say Die' Ellison gave chase without waiting for backup. And once again, Blair 'The Guide Protects His Sentinel' Sandburg followed his partner through hell and high water -- or, in this case, through a stinking, refuse-laden alley, and over a sagging (but still stout) eight-foot fence.
It was just a scrap, the greasy rind of a long-discarded pork chop. As he jumped from the top of the fence, Blair's right foot landed on it and slid out from under his hurtling body. He strained to maintain his balance and -- almost -- succeeded. But gravity, combined with sore muscles that didn't respond as fluidly as he wished, betrayed Blair's best intentions. Although he remained upright, the snap of the breaking bone was audible even to non-sentinel ears.
The doctor in the ER was indecently cheerful. "He won't have any problem with this," he assured the young man's glowering partner. "It's just a hairline fracture of the fibula -- the smaller bone of the lower leg," he explained to Blair, unsure of how much anatomy his patient knew. "You'll be able to use a walking cast, and you'll be out of it in three weeks; four at the most." He heaved a silent sigh of relief as the tension emanating from the bigger man eased.
Well, that was good news. Blair would still be able to teach his classes, although someone would have to give him a ride to and from the University. A walking cast certainly wouldn't impede his ability to 'help' Jim with his paperwork. Jim reflected that it might even be a minor blessing; Sandburg would have to stay in the truck after calling for backup. Maybe he'd finally learn the sense of staying back and staying safe.
But what would they do about...
Four Days Earlier
"Sandy, are you sure you don't mind doing this?" Megan Connor asked. "I really appreciate the offer to lead my step-aerobics class, but it will be eight classes in two weeks -- and step-aerobics is a lot more strenuous than it looks..."
"No worries, mate," he teased gently. "Mom and I lived six months with a man who owned a women's gym. I helped out after school, and I enjoyed..." he waggled his eyebrows for effect, "...joining in the aerobics classes. It's like riding a bike; you don't forget the basic moves, and you've showed me your routines. I'll be fine."
"Still..." she said doubtfully, "...you haven't done it recently. It's certain you'll be sore at least; I'd hate it if you actually hurt yourself."
"Now Megan, I do know how to stretch and warm up! And my yoga keeps me flexible; I'm supple enough to keep up with any of your students. Besides, I could use the exercise; it should increase my stamina. Just watch -- the next time we play basketball, I'll run rings around all the big strapping jocks, and I'll have you to thank for it. Now quit fussing and go; enjoy your vacation."
"That's right, Connor," Jim assured her. "You know he only wants a chance to add some numbers to his 'little black book'. He'll be okay; it won't be any worse than a brisk round of calisthenics." Ignoring Megan's beginning bristle, he smirked at Blair. "I just can't wait to see him in a cute little leotard. I'm sure the ladies will love it. What color, Chief -- blue, to match your eyes?"
Blair snorted his disgust. "You know, Jim, Megan's right; step-aerobics only looks wishy-washy to those who haven't tried it. It actually takes a lot of stamina and endurance. Why don't you join me? You might be surprised; it would be a good addition to your usual gym workouts."
"I don't think so, Chief; I've got no problem with 'stamina and endurance', and I don't need to parade around in skimpy shorts to attract the ladies. But I'll be sure to save you some hot water to help loosen those muscles when you get home."
Two days after Blair had made his confident promise, Jim watched his partner as he slowly shuffled to the breakfast table, then carefully lowered himself into his seat, not quite able to suppress a low moan. The man was obviously stiff and sore after the exertion of the exercise class the evening before. Although he sympathized, he couldn't pass up such a prime opportunity. "What happened, Chief?" he teased. "I thought stretching and warm-ups and hot showers were supposed to prevent this sort of thing."
"Oh, can it, Jim," Blair replied sourly. "I told you that it's more strenuous than it looks. It'll just take my body a little while to adjust to the increased level of exertion. The stiffness'll ease up as I move around during the day."
It did, but not as much as either man would have hoped. Throughout the day, Jim was aware of each stifled grunt as sore muscles resisted movement, of each shift in body position that was restricted as nagging twinges imposed unaccustomed limits. By late afternoon, the situation didn't seem worthy of teasing anymore; his friend was in pain. "Hey, Chief," he offered softly, "the class doesn't meet tonight, does it? Suppose I give you a nice, deep massage after your shower this evening? -- loosen up those muscles so you can get a good night's sleep and be ready to show them your moves again tomorrow night."
"Really? Oh, man, that would feel so good. I'd forgotten how much of a workout these kinds of classes really are. I could use a little help until I get back in the groove." He paused, then continued, "But, you know, Jim, these classes really do help improve lung capacity and increase endurance and --"
"Give it a rest, Sandburg," Jim growled. "You don't try to drag me to that class, and I won't tell the guys that you're having trouble keeping up with a bunch of women."
"Jim, I'm telling you, if you went, I think you'd be surprised at the level of fitness that is exhibited by that 'bunch of women'. You know --"
"Enough, Chief. Let's just finish up this paperwork and see if we can't get out of here a little early."
Neither man felt like cooking, so they stopped to pick up Chinese-To-Go from Mi Won's. After dinner, Blair stood under a shower spray that he turned nearly to scalding. ("Use as much as you want, Chief; I can wait a couple of hours until the water's hot again.") Finally, he pulled down the covers on his bed, and spread out a large beach towel to protect the sheets. With a soft groan, he lay prone on the welcoming softness, already feeling muscles starting to loosen from the effects of the hot water.
"You ready, Chief?" Jim asked unnecessarily as he brought the massage oil into the room. "Just relax; I promise you'll feel better when I'm finished." Sentinel-sensitive fingers went to work, locating and relieving each small knot, loosening and soothing each tight muscle. Legs, back, shoulders, arms -- Jim carefully ministered to each part of his friend's aching body. An hour later, Blair had been reduced to a softly-snoring puddle of relaxed contentment. Jim pulled the blankets up, turned out the light, and closed the door gently behind him as he left his friend to his rest.
The next morning, Jim was pleased to see his partner moving around with -- almost -- his normal bounce. "So, Chief, feeling better?" he asked as he placed the scrambled eggs and toasted bagel in front of the younger man.
"Oh yeah, man, much better! I really appreciate that massage last night. I'm just a little stiff now; it should work out during the day, and I'll be good to go for class this evening. Let's just avoid any footraces or obstacle courses today, what d'ya say?"
"You got it, good buddy," Jim assured him with a grin.
Alas; Fate, and the criminal element of Cascade, didn't cooperate with their plans.
After The ER; Back At The Loft
"Jim, I can still lead Megan's class. I'll take it easy -- sort of just 'outline' the moves while I keep them to the rhythm. It's not like I'm stuck on crutches; the cast will give me enough support to get through it."
"Not on your life, Sandburg. Take note -- you have a walking cast, not a 'bouncing-kicking-dancing' cast. And the doctor said that, even with a walking cast on, you should rest the leg as much as possible. An aerobics class does not qualify! The ladies can go it alone until Connor gets back; they surely know the routine well enough to manage without a leader for the next few classes."
"Well, yeah, probably... but that's not the point! Having a recognized leader gives cohesion to the whole, transforms the group into a single unit rather than a mass of individuals. You should understand that Jim; I bet it's a lot like marching with the drill instructor marking the beat. It can be done without, but it's so much better with! And besides, I promised Megan; I don't want to let her down."
Jim sighed. He knew that he could listen to the argument all night -- and probably every day until Connor returned -- or he could give in semi-gracefully, help out his friend, and restore peace to the house. "Okay, let's do it like this," he offered. "You coach me through the moves here in private. I'll go and lead the class. You can come and sit on the sidelines, talk me through the routine if I get mixed up. But I warn you, Sandburg," he scowled fiercely, "you - stay - in - the - chair! If you get up to demonstrate anything to anybody, we're out of there; the women can do without you, me, and Connor until she returns!"
Undaunted, Blair grinned at his partner. "Oh, man, that would be great! But are you sure? Like I said, step-aerobics is a lot more strenu-"
"Sandburg," Jim growled, "it's just glorified calisthenics. I can do glorified calisthenics! Now quit wasting time and start explaining the routine."
Jim dragged himself into the loft, feeling 'rode hard and put away wet'. Every muscle was hurting; he ached in places he didn't know he had. Only his pride kept him from moaning pitifully and leaning on his partner to aid his progress across the floor. He deserved every 'I told you so' that must be buzzing in Sandburg's head. "An hour and a half, Chief," he groused. "Ninety freakin' minutes! Every other gym class lasts just fifty minutes, but no-o-o, those Amazons signed up for ninety! And not a single one of them willing to slow down and ease up, even a little. I swear, they were all kicked out of drill instructor school for being too tough! What makes them think they need extra conditioning?"
Far from being smug, Blair's voice was softly apologetic. "Honest, Jim, I am sorry. I really thought that all the gym workouts you do -- and your military background with calisthenics -- would... well..."
"Keep me from making a fool of myself? Well, I escaped that -- just barely -- thanks to your advice and support, Chief. But now I know how you felt the other night. At least you managed to get out of bed the next morning; I'm not sure I'll be able to."
"Sure you will," Blair soothed. "I recommend Doctor Ellison's remedy -- a long hot shower followed by a nice, deep massage. Go, use up all the hot water. After you're done I'll meet you upstairs to return the favor you gave me last night."
"Jim, it's a walking cast. I can manage one flight of stairs, and I don't need my foot to give you a massage. Go on; the sooner you start, the quicker I'll be able to help you."
Jim gave up; Sandburg was right -- a massage would feel good. He reveled in the hot water for thirty glorious minutes, then climbed carefully to his bedroom. His partner had spent the time preparing a cozy haven -- the blankets were pulled back, a large beach towel protected the sheets, and the massage oil was warming in a pan of hot water. With a soft groan, Jim lay prone on the welcoming softness, silently thanking Heaven for such a loyal, thoughtful friend.
"Tell you what, Chief," he sighed, "I'll make a deal with you. You don't tell any of the guys about this -- especially Connor -- and I promise never to denigrate women's exercise classes ever again. I'll even admit that you were right, but only if you never tell another soul that I said it."
"Shh," Blair murmured. "Just relax; I promise you'll feel better when I'm finished." He knelt on the bed next to his sentinel. His gentle fingers went to work, locating and relieving each small knot, loosening and soothing each tight muscle. Legs, back, shoulders, arms -- Blair carefully ministered to each part of his friend's aching body. An hour later, Jim had been reduced to a softly-snoring puddle of relaxed contentment. Blair pulled the blankets up, turned out the light, and walked quietly down the stairs as he left his friend to his rest.