APRIL FOOL

by

ANNIE

Disclaimer: Please insert standard disclaimer here.

Feedback: Annie

This story was written for Dawn's h/c competition, even though I didn't have a hope in hell of getting it in under the deadline <g>. Still, here it is, Dawn. Hope you enjoy it anyway and that your future days are much less horrible.

 

Just once it'd be nice to be the rescuer instead of the rescuee, Blair thought muzzily as he tried to get comfortable on the damp concrete. Sometimes, life seemed profoundly unfair. He was beginning to wonder if there was a virtual contract out there with his and Jim's names on it, that said (in extra-small fine print) that one of the duties of the Guide was to get hurt or go missing often enough, that the Sentinel could exercise his sensory muscles, so to speak, and come riding in on the proverbial white horse - which in Jim's case just happened to be a truck called, improbably, Sweetheart - and pull said Guide's ass out of the fire just in the nick of time.

Blair didn't mind the actual rescue part, he decided, trying to wrap his jacket more firmly around his shivering torso and holding it closed with one arm. It was the whole getting hurt and spending a few days in hospital part he could do without. But, here he was anyway, once again living up to his end of the virtual contract, sitting in the dank basement of an abandoned warehouse; pieces of the rotten floorboards scattered around him like matchsticks with a decidedly painful, profusely bleeding gash in his right thigh. All he could do now was hope that the Sentinel came through with his part of the agreement.

Jim would, Blair knew. Well, he would if he had the faintest idea of where to look.

He cast his mind back to just before he'd left the loft, trying to will his increasingly muddled thoughts to coherence. Had he told Jim to expect him at a certain time? He thought he'd said he'd be home by eleven. The problem was it was nine o' clock now, which meant it would be at least another two or three hours before Jim started to wonder where he was.

He changed his blood-slick grip on his leg, trying not to notice the way the blood welled up as he removed his fingers. Groaning aloud, he pressed down again. This time the bleeding didn't abate. His hand ached from the pressure and his leg throbbed, keeping time with his hammering heartbeat.

His jeans were wet with blood down to the knee of the right leg and now a small puddle was beginning to form on the ground underneath. Removing his hand from the wound again, he leaned forward and managed to unbutton and pull off his jacket. The sudden chill of his bare arms meeting the cold night air made him shiver violently, goosebumps prickling along his skin. He wished now he'd worn one of his flannel shirts but they were all in the laundry and it hadn't seemed that cold when he'd left the loft.

Working as quickly as he could, he pulled his teeshirt over his head and tore a long strip from the bottom of it. With fumbling hands he got the strip of cloth tied more or less firmly around his thigh, biting his lip as the pain of the wound tore through him. Panting heavily from the exertion, he got his teeshirt and jacket back on. He found he couldn't manage the buttons this time, so he contented himself with pulling it closed again and wrapping both arms tightly around his middle. He squinted through the gloom and checked his leg. He thought the bleeding had slowed somewhat, and he leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. Just for a minute, he promised himself. He'd just rest for a minute and then he'd get back to the problem of extricating himself from this mess.

Jim was gonna have a field day with this one, Blair thought, his mind drifting. How could he have been so stupid as to fall for such a dumb April Fools Day prank?

He'd left the loft at seven to go to a faculty meeting at the University. He was halfway there when he felt his car bump over something lying in the road. The next minute there was a bang and the car slewed as one tire blew. Blair cursed as he managed to pull the car over to the side of the road. Climbing out, he looked around. It would have to happen here, in an area with no houses, just several abandoned warehouses.

He patted his pockets. Shit, he'd left his cellphone charging on the counter. Probably just as well, he decided, as he remembered he still hadn't got the spare tire fixed yet. Jim had been nagging him about it for weeks, but there always seemed to be something else that needed to be bought or paid. In the end, Jim had offered to lend him the money, something Blair couldn't bring himself to take advantage of. So, instead he'd told his partner that he'd already had the tire fixed, quashing down his guilt at the white lie with the thought that he absolutely, definitely would get it done this coming payday, no matter what.

Sighing, Blair decided there was nothing else for it but to hike to a payphone, from which he could call somebody, anybody but Jim, that is. He locked the car and started to walk.

He'd only gone a few steps when he heard the cry. At first he'd thought it was a cat yowling but then he made out the desperate plea for help.

"Help! Someone, please, help me! I'm stuck! I can't get out! Help!"

Blair spun around, trying to work out where the voice was coming from. It was that of a child, he could tell now and the kid sounded frantic. He moved towards the warehouses and stopped, turning in a slow circle, trying desperately to pinpoint the child's location.

"In here! I'm in here!" the voice screamed, the tone sounding eerily metallic in the night air.

Blair finally thought he had the direction right. He ran to the warehouse on his left, ducking through the entrance that gaped like a dark maw in front of him, its door long gone.

Inside, he stopped. "Where are you?" he called. "Keep talking so I can find you." Suddenly remembering the flashlight he'd shoved in his pocket after he'd checked the tire, he pulled it out and turned it on, letting the beam sweep the floor in front of him.

"I'm over here," the voice called. "Please, mister, I'm hurt. Can you come and get me?"

"I'm coming, buddy, just hold on, okay?" Blair called back, keeping his voice steady and hopefully reassuring.

He could see a pile of boxes shoved up against the far wall and he directed the light at them, wondering if the kid had somehow become trapped beneath one. A shadow caught his eye and he started forward, almost running now, as the child's cries became more plaintive.

As he ran forward he heard an ominous crack and then his right leg was out from under him, sharp agony slicing through it as he plunged downward. He barely had time to gasp as gravity took over and then he was falling. The darkness prevented him seeing where he was landing, but he fell hard, his head thumping into something, sending bright sparks dancing across his vision. Fighting to pull in enough air to keep breathing, he rolled to his back and forced his eyes to stay open.

Seemingly miles above him was a jagged hole, the light above it only slightly brighter than where he lay. He groped for the flashlight but couldn't find it.

He pushed himself to the side, cursing as his leg and ribs protested the movement, then gradually, fighting the darkness that threatened to carry him into oblivion, managed to make it up to a slumped sitting position against the wall.

"Mister, are you okay?"

Blair looked up, blinking to clear his vision. Two blurry faces looked down through the hole at him. He shook his head. "What's going on?" he asked.

"We didn't mean for anyone to get hurt, mister. It was just an April Fool's joke," one of the faces said.

"What?" Blair muttered. "I don't understand. Someone else is trapped in here. You need to get help. Call 911, okay?"

"No, we'll go to jail," came a strident voice. "This is all your fault, Tom. I told you we shouldn't use the walkie-talkies for something like this."

"Yeah, well, they're your walkie-talkies, Jack, so you're gonna be in as much trouble as me!"

Blair lifted a hand to his aching head. "Listen, guys, just go get some help, all right? I can't get out of here by myself. Everything'll be okay, I promise. I work with the police - "

There was a scrabbling sound above him and Blair jerked back as more of the crumbling floorboards scattered around him. As the dust settled, he looked up. The kids were gone.

*Shit! * He'd scared them off. He should never have said anything about working with the cops. Forcing back nausea, he waited till his eyes adjusted to the dimness then looked down and saw the gaping wound in his leg and the steadily growing bloodstain on his ripped jeans. He tried to calm himself, taking slow, deep breaths as he began to take inventory of his body and set about putting a little damage control into place.

All he had to do, he thought, was get the bleeding under control, stay awake and stop himself from getting hypothermic until Jim came looking for him. Riiight!

And so here he was, an hour or so later, right back at the beginning of his circuitous thoughts, wanting nothing more than to hear Jim's voice and see his face leaning through that damn hole above him.

~oOo~

Jim Ellison had a horrible pricking feeling at the back of his neck. Something was bugging him and that something had to do with Sandburg. He looked at his watch again for the fourth time in the past thirty minutes. Blair wasn't even due home yet for another hour but what the Sentinel jokingly referred to as his spider-senses were tingling.

He went into the kitchen and turned on the kettle, hoping that busying himself with mundane activities would dispel the unsettling feelings creeping into his gut, setting his nerves on edge.

He'd never been much of a worrier, after all. He'd always been one of those "what's gonna happen is gonna happen" kind of guys and probably still would be, if he hadn't met Blair Sandburg. The kid was a trouble magnet on legs and Jim had lost count of just how many scrapes they'd had to extricate themselves from, in the few short months since they'd hooked up.

To be fair to Sandburg, the majority of those scrapes came about due to his new career as Jim's guide. Jim wasn't sure if Blair had always been trouble-prone or whether it was some sort of guide predilection. He supposed that had he been a Sentinel accountant or bank manager, Blair might not have had as many opportunities to end up on the wrong end of a gun or a knife or someone's fist…

*Dammit! * Jim slammed down the coffee cup he'd been about to fill with hot water sans coffee and gave into his gut instinct. He picked up the phone and dialled Blair's cell. He experienced a weird echo effect as the phone rang in both ears and looking around, saw the cell phone atop the counter, plugged into the charger. "Oh, for crying out loud, Chief," Jim muttered as he slammed the receiver back on the hook.

He walked out onto the balcony, taking note of the drop in temperature. It was going to be a cold night after all and Blair had been wearing only a teeshirt under his leather jacket. Making a sudden decision, he went back inside, locked the sliding doors behind him then retrieved his keys from the basket next to the phone. He pulled his jacket off its hook and slipped his cell phone into a pocket as he dragged the jacket on. Then he headed out of the loft, slamming the front door behind him.

Sitting behind the wheel of the truck, Jim steadied himself and tried to think things through logically. Firstly, he knew where Blair had been going so it made sense to at least head toward the university, using the route he knew Blair mostly took. He’d given some thought to calling there to see if Sandburg had arrived but he didn’t want to embarrass his partner if he was. After all, what excuse could he use? That he was worried because Blair had left his cell at home or because Jim had a hinky feeling. Oh yeah, Sandburg would have a great time with that!

He put the truck into drive and pulled out onto the street, forcing himself to keep within the speed limit. If Blair was in some sort of trouble, Jim wouldn’t do him any good by ending up in a wreck.

Fifteen minutes later, he was turning onto the street he knew Blair used as a shortcut. Jim had asked him not to use it. The streets here were unlit for the most part, the lots on either side filled with huge old warehouses that had been long ago abandoned and left to rot.

Slowing the vehicle in deference to the darkness of the street, he gave a momentary thought to simply dialing up his sight but didn’t want to risk having a sensory spike if another car came towards him, so instead he flipped his lights to high-beam and almost immediately saw Blair’s car pulled up on the side of the road. *I knew it. * He pulled up ahead of it, and got out, grabbing a flashlight.

Walking around the Volvo, he could see that one tire was punctured. Wondering why Blair hadn’t put the new spare on, Jim cast the beam of the flashlight further afield, searching for some sign of his partner. He called Blair’s name and focused his hearing as he began to walk towards the huge empty buildings bordering the roadway.

A sound to his left had him spinning around and he reached out with one hand and grabbed hold as a small figure dashed past him. "Whoa, slow down!" he yelled. He bent and shone the flashlight at the person he’d caught. It was a boy, about twelve years old. The kid’s face was red and sweaty. He burst into sobs as Jim held him still.

"Hey, it’s okay. Everything’s all right. Look, I’m a policeman –"

NO!" the boy screamed.

Jim dialed his hearing down as fast as he could; though his ears still rang for a few seconds from the assault on them. "Listen to me," he said, giving the boy a small shake. "Just calm down. I’m looking for my partner –"

"Oh man, is he a cop too? He said he worked with the police but he didn’t look like a cop. Oh man, mister, it was an accident. It was just an April Fool’s joke. I told Tom not to but he made me give him my walkie-talkies. I was gonna go get help, I swear, mister. I was going home to get my dad when you grabbed me –"

"Hey, slow down. Look, kid, what’s your name?"

"Jack," the boy muttered.

"Okay, Jack, you know where my friend is?" Jim waited till the boy nodded reluctantly. "Show me."

Jack turned and walked hesitantly into the warehouse he’d run from, Jim at his side, shining the flashlight ahead of them.

"He’s over there," the boy said, pointing into the center of the warehouse.

Jim’s heart clenched in his chest as he saw the hole in the floor. *Oh, Jesus, Blair!*

He ran across and knelt carefully at the edge of the hole, hearing the floorboards around him creaking under his weight. He angled the flashlight to shine down into the hole and gasped as he saw his partner slumped against the wall about ten feet below. "Blair? You with me, Chief?"

Blair stirred slightly but didn’t respond.

"Hey, Jack, come here." Jim handed the boy his phone. "Call 911, ask for an ambulance. You know the address?’"

The kid grabbed the phone from Jim’s outstretched hand. "Yes sir. 400 block of Maple, cross street, Elm."

"Good man. Do you know if there are any ropes or ladders lying around here?" Jim asked.

"There’s a ladder over near those boxes," Jack replied, pointing.

"Good. Blair?" Jim called again. "Hang on, buddy. I'm coming down for you."

He stood and ran to the far side of the warehouse, quickly locating the ladder left propped against the wall among a myriad of half-empty paint tins and other debris. Slinging it over his shoulder, he hurried back to the hole and cautiously crouched next to it. The ladder had extensions, which he set in place, then he pushed it over the side. He looked around for the boy. "Jack? Come over here and give me a hand, okay?"

"The ambulance is coming, sir. Is he okay?" the kid asked, wiping a shaky hand across his trembling mouth.

"I'm not sure yet. Listen, I'm gonna put the ladder down into the hole. I think it'll just reach but I need you to steady the top for me. Can you do that?" Jim asked, wanting nothing more than to lay all caution aside and simply throw himself down the ladder to reach his partner. He knew he couldn't risk that, though. There was still the chance that his weight would be too much for the already weakened floor and if it collapsed again there was the danger of himself and the ladder ending up on top of Blair.

"I can do it," Jack said firmly. "I do it for my dad all the time when he's painting or fixing stuff at home."

"Okay, here we go." Jim pushed the ladder gently through the gap, breathing a sigh of relief as he heard the feet hit the floor.

Jack settled down on his front and took a firm grip on the top handles while Jim maneuvered himself around till he had his full weight balanced on the top step. He held his breath for a moment, then when nothing untoward happened he descended carefully, one step at a time. As he hit the bottom rung, he swung off the ladder and stepped over to his partner.

Blair was more or less sitting against the wall, his chin resting on his chest, his hair covering his face. Jim swore as he saw the blood-soaked cloth wrapped around his partner's thigh and the pool of blood beneath. He reached out a hand and gripped Blair's chin gently, tipping it up, pushing back Blair’s hair with his other hand. "Christ, you're cold, Chief," he whispered. He took off his jacket and placed it over Blair's chest, pulling him forward so he could wrap the sleeves behind his shoulders. He pushed him back again then stopped as he realized Blair was conscious, looking distinctly woozy, but awake nonetheless.

"Hey there, Chief," Jim said, swallowing hard, the sheer sense of relief almost choking him.

"'m I dreaming?" Blair whispered, a hand reaching toward Jim's chest.

"No dream, buddy, I'm really here." Jim clasped Blair's hand in his own and placed it over his heart. "Feel that?" he asked quietly. "Real as it gets."

"My leg hurts," Blair said, biting his lip hard enough to leave tiny dents in the arid skin.

"I know it does, Chief," Jim said. He sat down next to Blair and put an arm around his shoulders, pulling him close, then turned him gently onto his side and moved him slowly down so Blair's head was resting across Jim's lap. "Paramedics are on the way, buddy. You just rest for a while. Don't go to sleep though. Just relax. Let me take care of you." He looked up and spotted Jack's frightened eyes staring down at him out of a white face. He smiled and gave the kid a thumbs up. He had a feeling this was one boy who'd learned a lesson the hard way today.

Jim stroked along Blair's arm, feeling the trembling shuddering through his partner's body. He pulled him closer, trying to warm him with his own body heat, huffing out a sigh of relief as he heard the sirens of the ambulance coming closer. "You're gonna be all right, Chief. Help's here."

"Jim?" Blair spoke so softly that Jim had to extend his hearing to catch the words. "You're not gonna laugh about this, are you?"

"Christ, Blair, of course not. You're hurt. Why the hell would I laugh about that?"

"Not now," Blair said, twisting his head back to look into the Sentinel's face, grimacing at the pain it obviously caused him to move.

"Ssh," Jim soothed, using his hand to push Blair's head back down and beginning to stroke along his arm again. "Relax."

"I mean, later," Blair murmured. "You know, with the guys. Laughing about me falling for a stupid trick." His voice sounded thick with tears.

Jim thought about how many times Blair must have heard laughter behind his back, all the jibes about him tagging along with Jim. Jim had heard them himself and chosen to ignore them rather than dignify them with a retort. He recalled, too, with no small amount of shame, the jokes he'd shared with the other guys at the precinct about Blair's untidiness and his habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and wondered if Blair had overheard *them* too.

Jim tightened his hold around his guide, hugging him as best he could under the circumstances. "No laughing, Chief, not now, not later. You did a brave thing, buddy. I'm proud of you."

Blair nodded shakily within his arms. "Thanks," he murmured.

Jim could hear the medics running across the floor above him and he called a warning to them about the hole and the rotting floorboards. He bent his head till his mouth was a breath away from Blair's ear. "We're still gonna have a talk about the spare tire, Chief," he said, Sentinel-soft, "and I'm giving serious thought to stapling your cell phone to your rear end where you can't forget it."

Blair laughed then groaned, reaching up to grasp one of Jim's hands weakly with his own. "Thanks for coming for me, Jim."

"Always will, Chief," Jim replied, feeling as if he could smile a little now. "It's written in the contract somewhere. Part of the Sentinel's responsibility to the Guide."

The End

May 6th 2005