starwatcher_fic ([personal profile] starwatcher_fic) wrote2009-09-28 11:31 am

#29 - Just Desserts


Title: Just Desserts
Summary: What had he done to deserve this?
Style: Gen
Size: 4,460 words -- about 9 pages in MS Word.
Warnings: None
Notes: October 25, 2006
Feedback: Not necessary, but every comment is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a note that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at-

Just Desserts

by StarWatcher

When had he lost control? Not that anyone else seemed to recognize that; his department still obeyed his orders and apparently respected him. Even when Sandburg and Ellison -- and when had Sandburg started coming first in his mind? -- went charging off on their own, they made it look like they had his support. As far as anyone else knew, he was captain to a dedicated, hard-working, high-functioning team, rather than a pair of wild cards who skated the thin edge of chance far too often, with far more luck than any ten teams deserved.

"I'm telling you, Simon, it'll work!" insisted the more vocal half of the team. "We can set up a trap that plays right into his belief system; after I get done adding all his personal permutations to the scenario, he simply won't be able to resist walking into it. He'll be so utterly certain that his destiny is coming true that he won't suspect a thing, and Jim can just snap on the handcuffs. What can go wrong?"

Plenty, his mind supplied. "What's your take on this, Jim?" Simon asked the -- sometimes -- more rational half of the team. "Do you believe it'll be that easy, or are you just going along with another of Sandburg's scams?"

Ellison held up a hand to forestall his partner's automatic protest as he said, "Maybe not quite that easy, sir, but I do think Sandburg has a firm grasp of this guy's psyche. It can't hurt to try. If it doesn't work, we still have 'storm the ramparts with all guns blazing' to fall back on. But if it does, we take him down without a shot being fired; not only safer, but good for morale, and it plays well in the press." He shrugged; much as they hated it, they both recognized the realities of politics and PR.

"So you're seriously asking permission to dress up in a toga, with laurel leaves on your head, proclaim that you're Zeus, and simply walk in with half a dozen toga-wearing, palm-frond-waving 'minions' following you?"

"Oh, Jim has the legs to carry it off," Blair assured him sunnily. "And then he'll already have his costume for the Halloween party next week." He snickered, unconcerned with the twin glares cast his way. "At least the looseness of the togas will allow everyone to hide their guns."

Jim shrugged again. "I know it's silly, Simon, especially since the guy is mixing Roman and Greek mythology, but that's a point in our favor. We can be certain that this guy has never been confronted by real-life toga-wearing citizens; whether he believes it or not, he'll be so off-balance that he shouldn't be able to effectively resist. But bedsheets won't do it; we have to have costumes that look like the real thing."

Simon shook his head as he signed the requisition purchase order for 'Carl's Custom Costuming'. He couldn't understand what he'd done to deserve being saddled with a crazy sentinel/guide pair; if he believed Sandburg, he must have a hell of a karmic debt built up from some previous life. But he did know that his people couldn't work effectively if they were constrained by petty restrictions. At least he wouldn't be forced to don a toga; sometimes being a captain had definite perks. He handed the voucher to Ellison, who promptly passed it to Sandburg, who examined the amount thoughtfully before nodding and folding it into his wallet. "You know the rest of the PD will be pulling your leg about this for years," he warned.

"Not if we pull it off; it'll become just another chapter of the Ellison legend." Jim sounded distinctly smug, and Sandburg was wearing a prideful smirk.

A wise leader knew when to retreat. "Go do your thing," Simon ordered testily. "And shut the door on your way out."

Captain Banks raced toward the hospital with the siren clearing the streets in front of him. Sandburg's phone call had been desperately frantic; he needed help to break through the walls of bureaucracy. Just their luck to be stuck with doctors who don't know them, he thought as he pulled up in front of Skagit Valley Hospital in the small town of Mount Vernon, Washington. Cutting his siren, he parked decorously in the visitors' area; he'd probably be here for quite some time, and it wouldn't do to block access for other emergencies.

He strode into Admitting like an angry thundercloud, projecting all the authority granted by his size and position. "I'm Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade Police Department," he told the nurse-receptionist, "and I've been told that you're screwing up the treatment of one of my detectives. I want to see the doctor who's treating Jim Ellison immediately!" He finished with a glare that had the power to turn water to steam. It certainly melted the façade of the woman in front of him, despite the designation of 'Head Nurse' on her nametag.

"Yes, sir!" she not-quite-squeaked. "He'll be with you in just a few minutes." She hurried off; the doctor could fight his own battles with this glowering behemoth.

The promised 'few minutes' stretched to eight, but a doctor finally approached him. "Captain Banks? I'm Doctor Smithers; I believe you wished to speak to me?" He offered his hand in greeting.

Simon ignored it as he sized up the man. Of average height and on the downslope of middle age, the doctor radiated an air of self-satisfied arrogance; his attitude suggested that he was always right, and any other opinions would be ignored.

Simon was decidedly unimpressed. "I'm hoping that the report I received about my detective's condition was garbled," he barked. "What exactly is going on, Doctor Smithers?"

"Nothing to be concerned with," the doctor declared unctuously. "Your man is having an atypical allergic reaction to some bee-stings he received while he was pulling a child out of a wrecked car; the crash disturbed a nearby hive. He's stable, but that -- young man -- objects to our treatment." From the doctor's expression, the very idea of Blair's presence -- in the hospital? in life? -- left a bad taste in his mouth.

Ah-HA! thought Simon. Another idiot who judges a book by its cover. When Sandburg works his magic, he's not going to know what hit him.

"I assure you," the doctor continued, "we're following standard procedure with IV drips and histamine suppressants to support your man until the reaction passes; he's in no danger."

Simon's voice grew colder; this man's bungling might have put Jim's life in danger. "And what did Mr. Sandburg suggest?"

"That hippie? Some new-age nonsense about a quiet, dark room and acupressure. I've barred him from Mr. Ellison's room; the man doesn't need that kind of stress when he's trying to recover."

"'That hippie' is Detective Ellison's roommate, his partner on the police force, and holds Jim Ellison's personal and medical Power of Attorney -- which you would have learned if you had bothered to listen to his explanation!" Simon's voice rose to cut off the doctor's protests. "Mr. Sandburg has solid experience in how to handle Ellison's 'atypical reactions' to a number of allergies; if he requests a dark, quiet room in which to perform acupressure, I suggest that you damn well give it to them -- unless you want to be sued for malpractice. Now, take me to them," he growled, "find someone to unhook Ellison from whatever you have him on, and then leave them alone so that Mr. Sandburg can effect his treatment."

When he and Doctor Smithers exited the elevator one flight up, Simon saw Blair halfway down the hall, sitting on the floor. An orderly who would have looked more at home as a bouncer in a bar stood in front of the door across from Blair, apparently to keep him out.

Blair had looked up when he heard the 'whoosh' of the elevator doors, and now he sprang to his feet and hurried toward his captain. "Simon, thank God you're here! Nobody will let me do anything. When Jim --" he cast a glance toward the doctor, "uh, 'passed out' at the scene, there were already ambulances there for the accident victims, and they just shoved him in without listening to me, and everybody keeps not listening to me, and you know I can help him, but they won't let me in!" His voice rose in frustration.

"Take it easy, Sandburg; I've got it covered." The captain's voice was firm, but kind. "The good doctor understands the situation, now. You can go in to see Jim, and he'll send someone to disconnect all the medical paraphernalia ASAP, so you can start your 'treatment'."

Blair sagged in relief. "Thanks, Simon," he said sincerely. "You know what it means to me -- to us!" He hurried toward the guarded door and, when the doctor waved the orderly aside, slipped through.

Ten minutes later, the medical devices had been unhooked and turned off; Jim and Blair now shared the requested dim, quiet solitude. Simon sat guard outside their room in the chair he had asked for. No one would be allowed to disturb them until Blair had worked his magic; when Jim had recovered from his zone and whatever the bee-sting poison was doing to his body, Blair would come out with the good news. Till then, all anyone else could do was wait.

Simon leaned back and wearily rested his head against the wall. He was pretty sure that most other captains weren't faced with protecting the sentinel and guide as part of their duties. He wondered what he'd ever done, that Fate seemed to think he deserved this. He hoped that, someday, maybe he'd have an answer.

Jim had become increasingly restless during the morning. Something was wrong, but he couldn't pinpoint it. He'd turned his senses on his guide several times, but found no cause for alarm there. Blair's temperature, respiration and heartbeat were normal; he was calmly engaged in filling out the paperwork for the Meriwether bust. But, dammit, there was something...

A groan, almost inaudible even to his senses, drew his attention to Simon's office. The blinds were drawn, but when he zoomed in with his vision, he could see his captain through the narrow gap between the edge of the blinds and the side of the window frame. Simon had his head in his hands, his eyes were clenched tight, and minute beads of sweat dotted his brow. Sending his hearing out, Jim found his captain's heartbeat rapid with stress; the man had all the earmarks of being afflicted with a severe migraine.

Jim leaned close to his partner, keeping his voice low; Simon wouldn't appreciate the whole department descending on him to offer help or sympathy. "Hey, Chief, it looks like Simon's fighting a migraine. Do you have anything in your 'sentinel emergency' stash that might help him?"

Blair glanced toward Simon's office, frowning in thought. "Yeah, man, I have a few things that should work. I'll need a few minutes to get it ready." He rose and headed toward the break-room.

He returned a short time later, carrying a mug of something hot, with a small plastic bottle tucked under his arm. With a quick glance around the bullpen to be sure that no one was paying attention, Blair slipped quietly into Simon's office.

"Simon?" he said, softly. "Jim says you've got a migraine. I think this will help." He placed the mug on the desk, within easy reach of the captain.

Simon opened his eyes the barest slit to see what Sandburg was talking about, then quickly closed them again. "Sandburg, I don't need any of your poisonous concoctions; go away." He groaned quietly against the agony of his own voice.

Blair's voice was soothing, coaxing. "It's ginger tea, mixed with butterbur and feverfew. Even mainstream doctors recognize the value of all of them. Please, Simon, just a few sips; see what happens."

Blearily, Simon wondered why he deserved this treatment; couldn't the man let him die in peace? But giving in was easier than arguing; he snagged the mug and took a few cautious swallows. Not bad, actually, and he was thirsty; he'd felt too nauseated to have his usual cups of coffee. He drank some larger mouthfuls. Maybe it was his imagination, but the grip of pain did seem to be easing somewhat.

By the time the mug was half empty, Simon was noticing a definite improvement; he could almost feel the tension dripping away. He cautiously twisted his head from side to side, trying to loosen tight muscles in his neck and shoulders.

Apparently, Sandburg took that as some kind of signal. He rose from the chair where he'd been sitting quietly and stepped forward, again speaking in hushed tones. "Simon? I have another part of the treatment here. Would you let me massage your temples with lavender oil?"

"And end up smelling like some lady's boudoir?" Simon's snort was weak, but no less heartfelt.

"You can claim it's a new room deodorizer, or something. Come on, Simon; is avoiding a floral scent more important than getting rid of the pain?"

Once again, it was easier just to acquiesce to Sandburg's suggestion than to argue. "Fine; just get on with it and then leave," he grumbled.

Blair stepped around the desk to stand next to Simon. Gently, he started to rub the captain's temples in a circular pattern. His hands were cool with the oil, and the scent wasn't as strong as Simon had expected. It was soothing, actually, and the massage did feel good.

After a timeless interval, the pain was amazingly reduced. Blair's hands slipped down to his neck and shoulders, where he continued his massage on those muscles. The relief was incredible; if he ever gave up guiding a sentinel, Sandburg could easily get a job as an expert masseuse.

Blair finally stopped, and gently patted the captain's hand. "That's it, Simon; all done. Drink the rest of your tea, and stay still and quiet for another half hour or so; I think you'll be back to good by then." With a last pat of his captain's hand, he moved toward the door.

"Thanks, Sandburg," Simon whispered; he felt too relaxed to even raise his voice. But, somehow, Blair heard him.

"You're welcome, Simon," he murmured. "Glad I could help." The door quietly snicked closed behind him.

The door was pulled open to reveal the gangly teenager on the other side, his face lit by a broad smile. "Hey, Blair."

"Daryl, my man! How's it goin'?" He stepped into the entryway and let Daryl close the door behind him.

Daryl turned eagerly, his smile impossibly wider. "I got an A-minus on that Social Studies paper, and a solid A on my History test."

"All right! I knew you could do it; way to go!"

"I couldn't have done it without your help," Daryl declared fervently, leading the way to their usual spot at the kitchen table. "You make things easy enough to understand, and interesting enough to remember. I wish all my teachers were as good as you."

"That's only part of the learning process," Blair said as he sat down. "The student has to work at it too; most people get out of lessons exactly what they bring into them. And you, my man, are developing an excellent student-work ethic; gotta say, I'm real proud of you."

Daryl took the chair next to Blair, so that they could easily read the same pages. "Not half as proud as my Dad; he says if I keep this up, I can get a scholarship based on my brains instead of trying to bulk up enough to play football."

"Go with that, Daryl," Blair said seriously. "Football lasts only a few years; brains are forever, and they'll take you a helluva lot farther. But that's a concern for the future. What's on the agenda for tonight?"

"A paper for Ms. Jackson's class; we have to compare and contrast the Etruscan and Minoan civilizations. I've found a lot of stuff on the 'Net -- so much that I'm over my head; I'm not sure what's important and what's not."

"Okay, let's see what you have so far." Two heads bent over Daryl's scribbled notes.

Simon arrived from work an hour later, carrying their pre-arranged dinner from the Cotton Patch Café -- meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and apple pie. "So, Sandburg, this young whelp been giving you any trouble?" he asked as he took the plates from the cupboard.

"Dad, you know better than that," Daryl protested as he rose to help set the table. "Without Blair's tutoring, my chances of actually finishing tenth grade go way down; I'm staying on his good side so he won't kick me out."

"Not going to happen, Daryl," Blair proclaimed as he moved the books and papers to an unused chair. "After dealing with Jim Ellison, there's nothing you could do that I couldn't handle. On the other hand, you don't want to see what I'm capable of dishing out, so maybe you better toe the line." His broad wink completely ruined the effect of the scowl he bestowed on the teen.

"Well, at the risk of sounding maudlin, Sandburg," Simon began, as he filled their plates, "I vote with my son. Your tutoring has really opened his mind and improved his attitude; you've helped him show the smarts I always knew he had." He ignored Daryl's automatic protest of, "Da-ad!" from the other side of the table. "I don't know what we've done to deserve this, but I'm grateful. Thank you."

Blair snorted inelegantly. "What is it about macho cops that they have such difficulty with the concept of 'friendship'?" he asked, rhetorically. "Jim doesn't seem to get it, either. Friendship isn't 'deserved', Simon; it just is. All you have to do is share it, enjoy it, return it, and maybe extend it to others. Like Naomi used to say, 'love makes the world go round' -- and I love you both." He chuckled at Simon's slightly glazed expression. "Yeah, I figured that would go over real big with you. Forget about it man; let's eat."

Shortly before five, Jim knocked on the captain's door. "End of a long day, Simon," he said when he entered. "Taggart's joining Sandburg and me for a steak dinner at The Cattle Baron. We thought you might like to pick up Daryl and come with us; sort of make it a family affair. I think we deserve to celebrate after taking down the Blocker boys. How about it?"

Simon tossed his pen on the desk and leaned back in his chair, reaching under his glasses to rub tired eyes. "Sounds like a winner, especially after dealing with this crap all day. I swear, for two cents I'd put on a uniform and go back to walking a beat; let someone else worry about the paperwork."

"Arrest reports. Daily beat reports. Accident reports," Jim pointed out. "And the scuttlebutt is that the higher-ups will soon be demanding dog-poop reports. Face it, Simon, we'll never get away from the paperwork. But at least we can bury our sorrows under a rare steak and good beer. We have reservations for six-thirty; adding two more won't be a problem."

"You've convinced me. I'll swing by and pick up Daryl, and meet you there."

"Simon Banks," he told the receptionist. "I'm with Jim Ellison."

She checked the book. "Yes, sir; your party is already in the back room. Marcus will show you the way."

Simon followed the waiter, wondering what was up. The 'back room' was usually reserved for large parties; the five of them wouldn't even require an overly-large table.

He paused just a few steps inside the doorway, slightly disconcerted. Someone had indeed reserved a large party; it looked like every single member of the Major Crime Unit was present, and the room was decorated with an assortment of brightly-colored balloons and colorful streamers. On the far wall was a large banner that read, "CONGRATULATIONS!" in sparkly letters. Congratulations for what? Simon wondered in bemusement.

He felt Daryl pushing at him from behind. "What's the big deal, Dad? You know all these people. Let's go sit down so we can eat; I'm hungry!"

Daryl was right; he knew these people, and he could give them hell on Monday morning. In the meantime, he took a seat in one of the empty chairs that had been so prominently reserved at the main table, and Daryl settled in next to him.

Simon let his gaze roam among his friends and coworkers, and finally settled on Sandburg. "What's going on here?" he barked.

"Not a thing, Simon," Blair assured him. "We just realized that the whole department deserves to pat ourselves on the back. Every single one of us worked our asses off to bring in the Blockers, so we simply... expanded the celebration a little."

"And I suppose you managed this 'expansion' in the past hour and a half?"

"Well, no..." Blair started cautiously.

Taggart spoke quickly. "We've been planning it for a couple of days," he admitted, "but Blair pointed out that parties are more fun if someone is surprised. Since your desk isn't in the bullpen, it was easy to make you the 'surprisee'. And that means the rest of us pick up the tab for your and Daryl's dinners, so you really can't complain." He sat back, beaming comfortably.

Simon kept his snort of disbelief internal. How is it I never noticed that Sandburg has two Blessed Protectors? he wondered. He's got Ellison and Taggart wrapped around his little finger. We're just lucky he uses his powers for good instead of evil.

He turned to his son. "And you knew all about this?"

"Well, sure, Dad," Daryl said. "I like your friends, and I'm happy you guys got another bunch of creeps off the streets, so I want to celebrate, too. And there's no sense turning down a free steak dinner."

All right. Simon had the feeling that, eventually, another shoe would drop. Meanwhile, he might as well enjoy the good company and good food. He grinned toothily around the group. "You may be sorry; I intend to order the most expensive meal on the menu. Has anyone asked if they're offering lobster tonight?" Amid hearty laughter and a spattering of applause, he reached for a menu.

Over a delicious dessert of 'Sizzling Apple Crisp' topped with 'homemade' vanilla ice cream -- yes, it was just a fancy dressed-up type of apple pie, but sometimes traditional treats were the best, and the ice cream certainly tasted homemade -- Simon noticed an expectant stir among the participants. Here it comes, he thought. Wonder who they selected for the fall guy?

As Simon laid his fork down after the last bite, Taggart rose and cleared his throat. "Simon," he began, "I'm sure you've realized that we had ulterior motives in planning this get-together."

"They didn't make me 'captain' for nothing, Joel," he quipped.

"We know that, Simon. In fact, that's why we're here. We've decided that the captains always get short shrift at the yearly Awards Banquet. There's recognition for individual policemen, and detectives, and teams... but captains -- good ones -- are almost invisible. They're the linchpin of their unit, but linchpins don't get noticed, even though everything else hangs on them.

"So, we took a very exclusive vote; only the members of Major Crime were eligible." Taggart paused to let the laughter sweep across the room. "And the vote was unanimous; we're giving you an award for the best captain of the Cascade PD."

Thunderous applause spread through the group, while Taggart ceremoniously presented his captain with a medium-sized, flat box. Simon opened it to find a wood-and-brass plaque. He read the inscription:

Awarded to
Captain Simon Banks
of the
Major Crime Unit

The best damn captain
of the best damn section
of the entire
Cascade Police Department.

Your bark inspires terror,
but also pushes us to achieve
more than we ever thought we could.

It is an honor to work with you.

Underneath the inscription were the names of every member of his team, including Rhonda, Megan, and Sandburg.

Simon's throat thickened, even as his eyebrows raised. He'd have to keep this in an inconspicuous place in his office; it was obviously meant only for him and close friends, rather than for any passerby into Major Crime, but the sentiments struck a deep chord within him. He couldn't even begin to understand what he'd done to deserve this -- he simply did his job to the best of his ability -- but he appreciated the deep feeling behind it.

"Speech! Speech!" came the inevitable cry.

Simon's voice was husky. "I... I don't know what to say." He stopped to clear his throat, then tried again. "To say I'm stunned is putting it mildly; as Joel said, captains don't get much in the way of specific recognition. From reading the inscription, you seem to think it's an honor to serve with me. To tell the truth, I'm the one who's honored to serve with all of you; there really is no finer group of men and women in the entire Cascade PD.

"Someone told me recently," he cast his eyes toward Sandburg, "that 'it's about friendship', and it seems he was right. I certainly think of all of you as 'friends', and I'm prouder than I can say that you feel the same way about me. Thank you.

"Although..." Simon directed a fierce glare toward each table, "this doesn't mean that I'll go any easier on any of you, come Monday morning. We have the best unit in the whole of Cascade, and I intend to see it stays that way. If I inspired you with terror before, just wait!" He sat, among more applause and laughter, and well wishes called from every part of the room.

Daryl quickly grabbed the plaque to examine it more closely. "Man, Dad, that is so rad!" He leaned over to hug his father. "And you know, don't you, that as much grief as I give you sometimes, I'm proud of you, too. I couldn't ask for a better dad."

Simon returned the hug fiercely, resting his cheek on his son's head. "Daryl," he whispered, "that is the best present you could ever give me. Thank you, son."

Maybe he didn't deserve this, Simon thought, but he was going to hang on to it for as long as he possibly could. Thank God for friends and family, the only things that made life truly worth living.

The End

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