ICE COLD

It all happened so fast. He moved to push the door closed. It opened. Zeller stepped in, gun in hand, and the first thought that ran through Blair's head was 'Jim!'

What had happened to Jim? Blair had told Amber not to worry. Jim had them covered. So, if Zeller had gotten past Jim...

Oh, God, no.

Blair's heart lurched to his throat as Zeller's fist rammed into his face. He hit something hard, and pain exploded in his jaw and neck. Then he felt himself falling, and the floor seemed to rise up to meet him. Black dots danced in his vision, and his torso exploded with fire as two impacts slammed the air from his lungs.

Surprise and fear turned his insides cold as he sank into oblivion with the knowledge that Jim was likely dead, the vest had failed, and he was dying...

~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim slid into the room, his gun drawn, and listened. His throat clutched with panic when he didn't hear a heartbeat or breathing. His eyes swept the room. Zeller was gone, as was Amber.

Blair lay motionless on the floor, his eyes closed and his chest still.

God, Chief. Slipping his gun into his rear holster, Jim knelt over Blair and ripped open his shirt. Two slugs lay embedded in the vest, and he breathed a sigh of relief, then leaned forward to press his cheek close to Blair's mouth. Nothing! The kid wasn't breathing. Damnit, if Blair had taken two hits at point blank range...

"Come on." 

Jim's ears finally picked up the sound of Blair's heartbeat, and his limbs tingled with relief. He spoke softly as he batted Blair's cheek. He was just about to tilt Blair's head back to begin mouth-to-mouth when Blair's eyes opened, going wide with fear and confusion.

"Jim! Amber..." Blair tried to sit, but he grimaced and fell back.

"You're okay, Chief. You're okay." Jim babbled the words more for his own comfort. You're okay.

"Oh man, I blew it..." Blair's strained words, laced with pain, filled the room.

Blew it? Jim wondered how on Earth Blair could take the blame for this screw-up. It wasn't his fault. It's mine. Damnit, I should've never...

"Oh, it hurts, Jim!" Blair's body arched and his eyes clenched shut.

"I know." Jim leaned forward again, placing a palm on Blair's chest. "Easy. Just ride it out. Keep breathing. Help's on the way." He could hear footsteps pounding up the stairs. Back up was finally arriving. Damnit, what had taken them so long?

Jim's hands slid behind Blair and unfastened the straps holding the vest in place. Blair squirmed, panting hard against the pain, and shook his head.

"Amber. God, Jim. I let him get to her. She trusted us, and..."

"Easy. He's not going to kill her yet. He still needs her. We'll find them. Don't worry."

"What happened?" Simon's deep voice boomed through the room.

Jim looked up to see Simon and half a dozen uniformed officers crowded in the room. "EMT's are on their way, Jim." Simon crouched next to Blair, his eyes going to the two bullets embedded in the vest. He gave a low whistle. "Zeller's no amateur. He knows what to use. You're lucky the vest stopped those things."

Jim threw a glare at Simon. "Yeah, real lucky."

Blair remained on his back, his eyes darting around the room, almost wild. His chest rose and fell with quick, shallow breaths, and deep creases lined his brow.

Jim winced in sympathy. "Easy, Chief. Just keep breathing. The pain'll get more tolerable in a little bit, but don't try to move. You may have some busted ribs."

"Right." Blair gritted his teeth and closed his eyes. "God, this hurts. I thought..." He swallowed hard. "It hurt so much, I thought the bullets went through the vest."

"What happened?" A woman's voice asked.

Jim looked up to see two blue-clad paramedics standing over Blair. The one in the front, a woman with short brown hair and dark eyes, carried an orange box. Her partner, an older man with a square face and graying hair, stood just behind her.

"He was shot twice, but the vest saved him. He might have some cracked ribs."

"I can't breathe very well," Blair panted, his eyes open but narrowed with pain.

"Okay." The woman knelt next to Blair, and Simon moved to give her room.

"I've loosened the vest," Jim told her. "When you're ready to move him, we can slide it right off."

~~~~~~~~~~

It was quiet in the cab of the truck during the ride from the hospital to the loft. After x-rays and a thorough exam, the doctor had given Blair a relatively clean bill of health. Sandburg had one cracked rib, several nasty bruises, a sprained neck, and a sliced cheek resulting from Zeller's punch.

Jim pulled the truck into a parking space next to the loft and turned off the engine. He looked over at Blair. "How're feeling? Those pain killers helping?"

Blair's eyes swung to Jim, wide and miserable. "I hurt all over."

Jim hesitated a moment before replying, not quite sure if Blair was talking exclusively about his physical wounds.

"You did good, Chief."

Blair swallowed and turned his gaze to the front window. "I let him get her."

"You didn't let him get anybody, Sandburg. I did. I blew it, and I'm sorry."

Blair looked at Jim again. "What happened? I thought.... I mean, when I saw Zeller with the gun, I thought he'd killed you."

Jim rubbed his forehead, shifting in the seat. "I got in the elevator. A mother and child came on after me. The kid pressed all the buttons." He shook his head and sighed. "Stupid! I bolted up the stairs, but I wasn't fast enough. I heard the shots...."

Blair released a sigh that sounded suspiciously close to a laugh. "That's great. Just great."

Jim winced. "I'm sorry, Chief."

"No. No." Blair shook his head. "I didn't mean it that way, Jim. It's just... This whole thing was foiled by a kid, and Amber..." He swallowed. "God, he's going to kill her."

"Not if we find her in time." Jim opened his car door. "Come on, Chief." He leaned over and placed a firm hand on Blair's shoulder. "I'll wrap those ribs for you -- it'll help, trust me -- and then we'll deal with the rest of this situation."

With a sigh, Blair nodded and opened his door. He slid out, wincing as he lowered himself to the sidewalk, and carefully closed the door. He kept one arm wrapped protectively around his mid-section and headed to the front doors. Jim fell into step alongside him and placed a gentle hand on Blair's back, guiding him into the building.

Jim couldn't help a glance over his shoulder. His ears scanned the vicinity. Blair had gone head-to-head with an international terrorist with a reputation for cold brutality, and he'd come out of that encounter alive. Men like Zeller tended not to let their failures continue walking the streets.

Blair must have sensed Jim's unease. He turned his head and looked up at Jim. He apparently realized what Jim was doing, because he looked over his own shoulder, his wide eyes sweeping the area once before settling again on Jim.

Jim gave him a shallow smile and a light pat on the back. Don't worry, Chief. He won't get by me a second time. I swear it.

~~~~~~~~~

The End. Feedback appreciated. nawdc@yahoo.com