Blair Sandburg had to admit he’d always wondered what it felt like to be shot, especially since he’d started hanging around with Detective James Ellison. He’d come close a few times, had seen people he knew get shot and so… he’d wondered. No need to wonder anymore now, he thought. Not with a thunderously throbbing leg wound that was leaching out what seemed like an awfully large proportion of his circulating blood volume, while he sat, kind of, half-propped against the wall of the mine and kept the dead man’s weapon waveringly focused on Quinn’s girlfriend. The dead man lay nearby, his eyes partly open and already misting over. “Stay there,” Blair growled as convincingly as weakness would let him when the girl made a movement. She subsided into the mud again and he fell back against the wall as he saw Jim and Simon heading towards him, a bound Quinn between them. He wondered if the dead man had ever wondered what it felt like to be shot. Guess he knew now anyway.
Jim pulled Quinn’s girlfriend to her feet and bound her hands behind her with some rope that he’d obviously picked up from somewhere. Then he moved her over to the opposite side of the tunnel from where Blair was and pushed her down, not roughly, but firmly enough that the girl didn’t seem to think about protesting. “Do I need to tie your feet too?” Jim asked and the girl shook her head. “Good.” Jim nodded, stood up and walked across to Blair.
Blair watched him approach, feeling unutterably weary. The hand holding the gun shook as if he had ague and he was relieved to feel Jim take it from him and lay it down to one side as the detective crouched in front of him.
“Hey, how are you doing?” Jim asked, his voice laced with concern.
“Not so hot,” Blair rasped out, his throat burning still from the smoke he’d inhaled in the mine when Quinn and the mountain man had tried to smoke them out.
“Okay. Let’s take a look here.” Jim’s hands were gentle as they undid the knot securing the makeshift bandage he’d wrapped around Blair’s thigh earlier but it hurt like hell anyway, dried blood at the edges of the wounds in Blair’s leg catching on the cloth and pulling painfully.
Blair hissed in a breath then exhaled noisily. He looked up at Jim. “That was some pretty fancy shooting, partner,” he said.
“Thank god I still had that one bullet left,” Jim replied, his head bent to the task at hand. “If I’d missed…”
He left the rest unsaid but Blair saw the clenching of his jaw and reached out clumsily with one still shaking hand and patted his shoulder.
“But you didn’t,” Blair said, closing his eyes momentarily against a particularly nasty pang from his leg.
“No.” The word was short, Jim’s voice still tense but he rested a hand on Blair’s shoulder in return and Blair let the warmth and security of the touch anchor him. “We need to clean this up and get it re-bandaged,” Jim said.
Blair just nodded, exhaustion overtaking him almost completely now. He shivered as Jim took his hand away. “It’s getting cold,” he murmured.
“I’ll build a fire.”
Blair looked up and saw Simon standing next to Jim, worry in the captain’s dark eyes.
“We need to get you inside,” Simon added. He indicated the hut a few feet away. “How about in there?”
Jim nodded. “Stay with Blair while I go check it out.” He gave a last pat to Blair’s shoulder then stood up and moved off while Simon crouched down in his place.
“You okay, Sandburg?” Simon asked gruffly.
“I’ll be fine,” Blair replied though he was less and less sure of that with each minute that passed. His thoughts were becoming unfocused and it was becoming a struggle just to concentrate on what Simon was saying.
Blair jumped as a hand patted his face firmly.
“You need to stay awake a while longer,” Simon said. “Listen to me, Sandburg.” He waited till Blair focused his eyes on his face then went on, “You did good in there, kid. I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks,” Blair muttered, too tired to even feel surprised at the captain’s words. “You did pretty good too.”
“Pretty good?” Simon laughed then shook his head. “You’re a piece of work, Sandburg. Just when I think I’ve figured you out, you turn around and surprise me.”
Jim came back and hunkered down next to them. “It looks dry in there at least,” he said. “Don’t know how we’d go building a fire in there though. There’s no place to contain it.”
“What about in the mine?” Simon asked. “They were sure able to build one in there.” He indicated Quinn and his girlfriend with a nod of his head.
“Yeah, okay.” Jim stood up and looked down at Blair. “We’re going to get you on your feet, Chief. Just relax and let Simon and me do all the work, all right?”
Blair just nodded. He couldn’t do much else. He had a vague moment of wondering just how much it was going to hurt then his arms were grasped and he was pulled upright, his injured leg buckling beneath him the minute his foot touched the ground. “Shit,” he groaned as white fire flashed from his toes all the way up to his thigh and centered there. Sweat beaded his face and he felt the hot/cold sensation of an imminent faint. There was a moment of nausea and vertigo just before his vision darkened completely and he passed out.
Someone touched his face and Blair jerked awake.
“Easy, it’s okay.”
Blair blinked as he tried to force his eyes to cooperate in the dimness of his surroundings. Finally he was able to make out the roof of the mine shaft above him, dark and damp-looking, and Jim sitting next to him, a small campfire burning brightly to Jim’s left.
“Where’s Simon?” Blair asked, his voice still roughened by smoke inhalation and dehydration. He coughed, wincing as that caused pain to stab through his leg again.
Jim held a water bottle to his lips and let him sip a few times then pulled it away despite Blair’s hands reaching out to pull it back. “You need to stay hydrated,” Jim said reassuringly, “but if you drink too much you’ll probably just throw it all up again. I’ll give you some more soon.”
Blair nodded and let his hands fall back to rest at his sides.
“Simon’s keeping an eye on Quinn and the girl,” Jim added, motioning further back into the mineshaft where Blair and Simon had earlier taken refuge when Quinn and Rooker had started shooting at them. “We figured if Quinn even tries to make a run for it, he’ll have to get past me first.” Jim gave a cold smile that said there was no chance in hell of that happening. He reached out and touched a hand to Blair’s forehead. “You feeling okay? I found a first aid kit in the stuff Quinn stole from that cabin. I redressed your leg while you were out but I wanted to give you some Tylenol for the pain as soon as you woke up.” He grimaced sympathetically. “Won’t help much but it’s better than nothing.”
Better than nothing sounded like heaven on a stick to Blair right now and he nodded eagerly. “Is Simon okay?” he asked as Jim rummaged through the first aid kit for the pills.
“He’s a little bruised and battered but he’ll be fine,” Jim said, uncapping the bottle he’d found and placing two of the pills in Blair’s mouth. He placed a hand beneath Blair’s neck and lifted him enough to swallow more water, stopping when Blair started to cough again. Then he pulled the jackets Blair was covered with more snugly around his shoulders. “You warm enough, Chief? I could move you a little closer to the fire…”
“I’m okay,” Blair replied. Sleep tugged at him and he closed his eyes and let it pull him under.
Smoke was pouring into where he was trapped, clogging his throat, suffocating him. Blair rolled to his side, screaming as his wounded leg touched the ground, but desperate to get to his feet, his knees if need be, as long as he could escape the fire burning around him. Something had snagged the back of his shirt and he fought against it, trying to pull free, hands scrabbling for purchase on the dirt floor where he lay. An orange flame licked towards him and he moved back then sideways, finally making it to hands and knees as whatever had held him prisoner released its hold. Panting, he dropped his chin to his chest and looked around for a way out through the flames.
“Stay with me,” a voice said, into his ear and he shook his head. To stay would mean being burned to death. Already he could feel the heat of the flames warming his skin. He struggled forward then moaned as arms wrapped around his waist and he was pulled backwards, ending up on his haunches, his wounded leg screaming with pain as it bent beneath him.
“Sorry,” the voice said. “Jesus! Simon, I need some help out here!”
Blair vaguely recognized the voice as Jim’s and it was enough to stop him fighting to escape. He bent forward, trying to stretch his injured leg out behind him, writhing as it cramped and burned. “Hurts,” he moaned.
There were other hands on him now, holding his shoulders, lifting him and turning him to place him down on his back on the ground.
“Jim, we need to get out… Fire,” he managed to get out past lips that felt as dry as the desert.
“There’s no fire, Chief,” Jim murmured soothingly, his hand smoothing across Blair’s heat-filled brow. “You just had a bad dream, buddy. Open your eyes for me, all right?”
Blair forced his clenched eyelids open and waited till the roof of the mine and then Jim’s face came into focus above him. He turned his head and saw Simon crouched on his other side, beyond him the small campfire still burning, but no huge orange flames reaching out to lick at him and sear his flesh… He shuddered and ran a hand over his sweaty face. “God, I thought…”
“I know,” Jim said, his tone matter of fact, his hand patting Blair’s shoulder quickly. He lifted Blair’s injured leg and examined the bandage closely.
“Believe me, Sandburg, you’re not the only one who’s gonna have nightmares about all this,” Simon said, ruffling Blair’s hair.
Blair looked up at him. Simon looked exhausted, his face bruised from the punishment Quinn had meted out before Jim and Blair had found them. He nodded and gave the captain a grateful smile. If anyone understood what he’d felt in the midst of that dream, it’d be Simon. “Thanks,” he said softly.
“Damn,” Jim said. “You’re bleeding again, Chief. I’m going to have to redo this dressing, make it a little tighter.”
Blair grimaced at that and then suffered as stoically as possible through it, biting his lip to stop the groans of pain that wanted to seep past his tightly clenched teeth.
When it was done, Jim dampened a cloth with water and bathed his face, gave him some more Tylenol and settled him comfortably back under his makeshift covers. “Try to go back to sleep,” he said.
Blair drifted for a while, half awake, listening to the low murmur of Jim’s and Simon’s voices as they talked about how to get help. “What about the hunting cabin?” he said after a while, the throbbing in his leg still too raw to allow him to fall asleep. “There might be a radio there.”
Jim gave him a fond if exasperated look. “You’re supposed to be sleeping,” he said but then he nodded. “Worth a look,” he said. “Will you be okay here if I go check?” he asked Simon.
“I can go,” Simon replied. “You should stay here with the kid. You’re the one with medic training.”
“I’m also the one with Sentinel sight,” Jim reminded him and Simon nodded reluctantly.
“What about Quinn?” he asked.
“I’ll check to make sure they’re secured before I leave,” Jim replied. “And this time we’re the ones with the guns.”
“Yeah, there is that.” Simon stood and stretched then moved over to hunker down next to Blair. “Jim’s right. You should get some sleep,” he said gruffly.
Blair closed his eyes obediently but he lay awake long after he heard Jim leave.
Light peeking through the opening of the mine shaft woke Blair and he stretched uncomfortably, surprised to find he’d slept after all. His leg felt stiff and sore but his mind seemed less muddy and confused than it had when he’d woken from his nightmare during the night.
There were voices murmuring off to his left, further back in the shaft and he turned his head to see Jim and Simon standing there.
Jim seemed to sense he was awake or more likely heard his small movements and crossed over to him, crouching down beside him. “Hey there, Chief, looks like you got some beauty sleep. How you doing?”
Blair shrugged. The truth was he was in pain but he was loath to mention it. “Okay,” he finally replied. “Everything all right here?”
Jim nodded back at him. “Rescue chopper’s on its way. Quinn and his girlfriend are still nice and secure back there.”
Blair nodded tightly, fisting his hands as the pain soared to renewed heights.
Jim frowned then palmed his forehead as if smoothing out the pain lines there. “I know you’re hurting, Chief, but I don’t want to give you anything more till the medics get here. Then they can give you the good stuff.”
“Yep.” Blair closed his eyes tightly against the agony that felt like it was shredding a hole in his thigh and let himself just feel the comfort of Jim being there, at his side.
A clattering overhead and the sound of voices got his attention quickly though and he sighed in heartfelt relief as he saw a chopper hovering overhead. Turning his head, he saw a cluster of people approaching from beyond the trees skirting the camp.
“Speak of the devil,” Jim said, standing up.
Blair lost track of things for a while after that as the medics looked at his wound, inserted an IV, and pumped him full of narcotic bliss. Jim helped lift him onto a stretcher then stood back with Simon as Blair was carried out of the mineshaft to a clearing. He vaguely remembered later talking to the FBI agent, Mara, and when Jim walked across to crouch next to him as they hooked the stretcher to the chopper’s cable, he joked with him about making a date with her. Blair wasn’t sure he had but he was so out of it on happy juice by then that he took Jim at his word and joked along about writing his memoirs when he got old rather than letting Mara see his diary.
Then Jim patted his uninjured leg and gave the thumbs up to the chopper pilot and Blair freaked. Really, really freaked. He knew even as he was screaming for Jim to get him down that it was stupid, pointless even. Jim might be able to hear him screaming as he was carried off into the distance swinging beneath the belly of the chopper but he couldn’t do a thing about it. The guy was a Sentinel after all, not Superman. Yet, knowing that didn’t stop Blair panicking. The one thing that did was the stretcher getting caught in a slight updraft that tipped it just a fraction, just enough for Blair to catch sight of the earth and sky changing places. That was right about where he blacked out.
There was something really annoying about being tapped on the cheek when you were trying to sleep. Blair turned his head away from the stimulation then opened his eyes suddenly as he heard Jim’s voice.
“Good morning, sunshine. It’s about time you woke up.”
Blair blinked against the sudden onslaught of overhead lighting then made out Jim, sitting next to his bed, looking tired and as if he was in need of a couple of night’s sleep himself.
“Hey,” Blair croaked out through a throat that felt spit-dry.
Jim held a straw to his lips and Blair sucked down the water like it was manna from heaven.
“You okay?” Blair asked when he’d drunk his fill and Jim had taken the cup away. “Simon?”
“We’re fine,” Jim replied. “Simon’s got some spectacular bruising coming up but he’s okay. How are you doing? You were in surgery for about an hour, getting those holes in your leg patched. Doc says you’ll make a full recovery though,” he added quickly.
Blair flexed his leg. It twinged but it was nowhere near as painful as he remembered it being before… He felt his face burn as recall set in. “Look,” he began, “I’m sorry I was such a wuss about the chopper. I’ve just never been real good with heights-“
“Are you kidding?” Jim said, interrupting him, his hand reaching out to cover Blair’s where it rested across his stomach. “You did it! Man, no way would they have even got me up there. I’d have walked out on that shot leg before I let them swing me beneath a chopper god knows how many feet from the ground-“ He stopped as Blair swallowed convulsively. “Sorry,” he said, giving the hand beneath his a gentle pat. “You did great, partner. Simon’s singing your praises too.”
“Thanks,” Blair said simply. He smiled up at his partner. There really was nothing else that needed to be said.
Jim relaxed back in his chair, grabbing the TV remote off the bedside table, and switching on a football game on the overhead TV. “Yep, you’re a braver man than I am, Sandburg. You made a date with the Ice Queen of the FBI.” He shuddered theatrically.
Blair groaned. He was never going to live that down.