Not Beta-Read. Rated PG, minor language. H/C and Angst. This is just a little exercise to help my brain get back into gear. I've been trying to complete a legal writing project, and I am going batty writing all this stupid legal mumbo-jumbo *grin* So, I'm switching gears for a little while so I can refresh my brain and go back to my more boring legal writing. *sigh* Really, I'll go back to my legal writing... No, Really... <bg>

  One Agonizing Moment

"Stay here, Sandburg!" Jim barked, then ran into the abandoned warehouse in pursuit of the suspect.

Blair nodded, withdrawing his cell phone form his jacket pocket to call for back-up. He kept his gaze fixed on the empty building in front of him as he relayed the information to the dispatcher. Come on, Jim. He hated standing on the sidelines while his partner put himself in danger. The Sentinel could zone in the blink of an eye and find himself on the receiving end of a bullet.

He snapped the phone closed and tucked it back into his jacket. Minutes passed, but he saw no sign of Jim. He bit his lip, debating the pros and cons of going in after the Detective. On one hand, if Jim were in trouble or injured, he could render aid. If Jim were zoned, he could pull him out of the zone. On the other hand, he could just end up becoming a target and a liability. He'd been turned the hostage on more than one occasion, and he had no desire to compromise Jim's position by finding himself with a gun pressed to his temple once again.

He released a relieved sigh when he heard the faint sirens in the distance, and gave a silent prayer for them to hurry. He felt his heart pounding furiously in his chest as he kept his gaze focused on the entrance to the building. Between the span of one beat and the next, the warehouse erupted in an angry ball of fire. He caught the edge of the blast and felt himself being lifted into the air and hurled against the truck. He slammed into the side of the vehicle, and his head cracked against the glass, leaving a slim trail of blood as his body slid down to the ground.

He sat there, dazed, with his head and shoulders slumped against the metal. His face and eyes throbbed with hot pain, and the world around him appeared as a cloudy blur. He blinked, but the action sent stabs of pain into his cornea. He released a low moan, and the soft sound jarred his brain out of its fog, allowing a single, terrifying realization to enter his consciousness: Jim!

An instantaneous flood of adrenaline rushed into his bloodstream, and he bolted off the ground. Oh God, Jim... Oh God...  He blinked furiously, desperately trying to clear his vision as he staggered toward the kindling heap of wood and metal in front of him. Smoke enveloped him, slicing its way into his lungs and sending a myriad pricks of agony into his eyes. He gasped, but staggered forward blindly.

He's alive. He's alive. I know he's alive. A hand clamped over his heart, twisting it in his chest, and a harsh wail erupted from his throat. Oh God, Jim, please be alive. Oh God, please, please, let him be alive.

Jim Ellison followed the suspect's heartbeat down a flight of stairs. His eyesight penetrated the darkness easily, but he saw no sign of the man. Frowning, he listened to the retreating heartbeat, then pinpointed the location. His frown deepened and he looked down, wondering how the heartbeat could be below him. Walking cautiously toward the center of the room, he scanned the room visually, and his eyes focused on a round metal disk on the floor. Son of a bitch! A manhole.

He moved toward the open hole next to the disk and peered down into the blackness. Parker's heartbeat receded with each passing moment, so Jim felt confident that he could drop into the tunnel without making himself a target. He shook his head as he climbed down into the sewer tunnel. Obviously Parker had chosen this empty warehouse as his base of operations because it existed over the sewer system, and he'd evidently created an artificial entrance into the system as a means of escape in a desperate situation. Jim allowed himself a small smile as he flew down the tunnel in pursuit of the criminal. You're definitely in a desperate situation, Parker, he mused, quickening his pace.

A second later, the ground shook and an explosive noise sent his sensitive hearing into shock.

Simon leapt out of his car just as the rest of the units skidded to a halt in front of the old building. He had been on his way home when he heard the call over the radio, and he watched in horror as the swaggering figure rushed into the flaming building, suddenly thankful that he'd responded.

"Sandburg!" He yelled, bolting into a run after the young man.

He made it halfway to the building when strong arms pulled him back. Anger flared in his chest, and he whirled around, twisting out of the hold and preparing to lay into the arrogant fools who'd hampered his rescue. He eyes met Joel Taggart's, and the shock of seeing the bomb expert stole his fury.

"You can't, Simon. It's suicide," Joel said, his voice strained with emotion and his eyes wet.

A crushing weight gripped Blair's chest, pulling him down toward the ground. Heat and smoke surrounded him, overwhelming his senses and assaulting his lungs. He struggled forward, forcing his legs to carry him through the wrecked building even as gravity fought to bring him down.

He kept his eyes closed against the caustic smoke as he staggered through the disaster. He opened his mouth and released a strangled cry. "Jim!" His wail caused a fresh onslaught of smoke to fill his lungs, and he doubled over, falling to the ground as violent coughs wracked his body. His mind screamed at him, hurling insults at him. How stupid could he have been? He wasn't doing Jim any good. He was only making himself a victim in need of rescue and diverting men who would otherwise be searching for Jim.

He crashed into the ground, retching violently as the darkness overcame him. He gave into the comforting void, eager to immerse himself in the respite it provided. Jim was dead. There was no way anybody could have survived that blast, so, it didn't really matter whether he himself lived or died. In fact, it was better this way. It spared him the pain of continuing on by himself -- alone. A blur of images flashed through his mind... beer bottles clinking as he stood with Jim on the balcony... a garbage truck flying over him as he pushed Ellison to the ground... Jim standing over him, unfastening the shackles that held him to Lash's dentist chair.

Tears streamed down his cheeks as his consciousness waned, and one fleeting thought echoed through his mind just before the blackness enveloped him. I'm sorry, Jim...

Ellison recovered quickly, shaking his head and bolting into a run down the tunnel. He spotted his quarry several yards ahead of him and raised his gun. "Police! Freeze!"

Parker spun around, raising his own weapon, and Jim reacted, pressing his trigger twice and hitting the man in the chest both times. Parker fell backward, falling hard to the wet ground, his body limp. Jim extended his hearing, ignoring the residual ringing in his ears, as he listened for Parker's heartbeat. What he heard caused his heart to drop to his feet.

Sandburg! He spun around, flying back down the tunnel, his ears now focused on the pained wheezing of his Guide. He listened in horror as the sound faded, and he pumped his legs faster, leaping onto the ladder as he flew into the dwindling inferno above.

"Sandburg!" He staggered through the hot smoke, keeping his ears tuned to the fading heartbeat.

His foot slammed into something, and he fell forward on top of a soft, warm mass. "Blair?" Blindly, he used his hand to feel the lump below him, and his fingers brushed against a tangle of curls. "Sandburg!"

His partner didn't answer, and Jim clenched his jaw as he listened to the weak beat of his friend's pulse. He slid his arms under Sandburg's chest and legs and lifted his Guide, slinging him over his shoulder in a fireman's carry.

The smoke threatened to overwhelm him, stealing his breath and setting his lungs ablaze. He staggered toward the opening, and dropped down into the tunnel, letting his own body cushion the fall for his partner. He laid there for several seconds, gasping painfully, gulping agonizing lung fulls of air. Finally, he rolled his limp partner off of him, then pushed himself to his knees.

"Sandburg!" He took a good look at his Guide, his jaw clenched as his eyes drifted over the harsh burns and black soot covering Blair's face and neck.

He tilted Blair's head back and covered the young man's mouth with his own, forcing air into his partner's starved lungs. Come on, Chief. Come on! He continued the mouth-to-mouth, keeping his ears tuned to the fluttering heartbeat. Don't do this to me, Blair, goddamnit! Don't you dare do this!

He almost released a cry of joy as Blair's heartbeat increased a notch, but his joy was short-lived as he continued breathing for his partner. Come on, Blair. Pick it up! Breathe! Again and again he forced air into Sandburg's abused lungs, but his partner showed no signs of breathing on his own.

"Damnit!" Sandburg had taken in too much smoke, and Jim knew his partner needed prompt medical attention. "Hold on, buddy," he urged, as he abandoned the resuscitation effort and slung Blair back over his shoulders.

With a grunt, he took off down the tunnel, moving as fast as his legs could carry him. He had to reach the next manhole. He only hoped the next one showed up soon, because he knew Blair didn't have much time.

Two minutes later, his efforts were rewarded. He thanked every deity Blair had ever talked about that Parker's non-permitted manhole was so close to the city's access hole. He climbed up the ladder, his ascent difficult with his extra burden. By the time he reached the top, he was wheezing painfully, his lungs still protesting the earlier smoke inhalation. With a frustrated growl, he pushed the cover off of the hole and lifted his partner onto the blacktop. Then he pulled himself up, landing almost on top of his motionless partner.

He saw half a dozen black-and-whites a couple of blocks down, along with a shining white ambulance. Oh thank God. He forced himself to his feet as he slung Blair back over his shoulders. His arms and legs burned with exhaustion, but he forced himself to move swiftly.

As he ran closer to the commotion, he felt his strength and endurance giving way. He was only one block away, but his senses told him that Blair's heart had stopped beating. No! It was taking too long... too long.

"Help! Somebody help!" He was surprised by the force of the cry that erupted from his lungs, and he fell to his knees, dropping Sandburg to the pavement. "Blair, come on, please don't do this." He started CPR, forcing Blair's heart to pump and then alternately breathing air into his lungs.

Hands grabbed his shoulders, pulling him up away from his Guide. "NO!" He lunged forward, but once again found himself pulled back.

"Jim! Jim!" Simon's voice broke through his desperation, and he looked into his Captain's anxious face. "Let them do their job," Simon ordered, his voice firm but his eyes gentle.

Numbly, Jim nodded, falling to his knees on the hard pavement. Simon followed him down, refusing to relinquish his grip on Ellison's arm.

"We need someone over here!" The Captain barked. "Get a medic over here, too!"

Jim shook his head. No. No he didn't need a medic. He wouldn't pull a medic off of Sandburg. That was his last thought before he fell backward into the void.

Something beckoned him, tugging at his dim consciousness... pulling him upward. He allowed himself to drift toward the source. Gradually, the emptiness lifted, and he became aware of muffled sounds and dull sensations. Something didn't feel right... Actually, several things didn't feel right. His throat felt tight, and he tried to swallow, but a flare of pain cut his attempt short. Something hard filled his trachea... something that didn't belong.

He felt a hot wetness slither down his cheeks, then a soft pressure touched is forehead. Thats when it all came back to him... the fire... Jim... An overwhelming despair filled him, bathing his mind in agony. He was alive... God, he was alive and Jim was dead.  No... He clenched his eyes tight, but the wetness on his cheeks increased. NO!

He willed the darkness to return... tried, in fact, to force himself back into its quiet embrace, but something refused to let him go. Something tethered him to the agony. He turned his head to one side, his heart filled with rebellion. He didn't want to stay. He didn't want to meet what awaited him... He didn't want an empty loft... He didn't want to stand at Jim's funeral and say kind words about his best friend... He didn't want to go back to the motions of living... teaching... studying... eating.... breathing. He didn't want any of it. He hurt too much, both inside and out, and he sure as hell didn't want to face the pain. 

But that something kept tugging at him. Calling him. Finally, he heard it... and the sound drove a spike of crushing hope through his chest.

"Blair... it's okay. You're going to be fine."

Jim? No, it couldn't be... There wasn't any way... It couldn't be...

"Come on, buddy, open your eyes for me."

He had no choice but to obey that voice. Slowly, his eyelids lifted, and shafts of light sent spikes of pain into his skull. His eyes stung with renewed tears, but this time they resulted from the pain.

"Thank you."

Jim? He turned his head toward the voice, and a blurry image stood above him. He blinked, and the image became a notch cleared. He blinked again, and the image became recognizable as a face... a beautifully familiar face with bright blue eyes and cropped hair.

Jim smiled, but his eyes held a note of pain. Blair could do nothing but stare up at the Sentinel as he felt fresh tears stream down his cheeks. Jim? God, he wanted so much to speak that name, but the damn tube prevented the formation of that one glorious syllable.

He lifted one hand and grabbed the tube, pulling on it weakly. A firm hand closed over his, forcing his hand back down.

"No don't. It's okay, Sandburg. It'll come out soon enough."

The Sentinel stroked the top of Blair's head gently, then moved his other hand away from Blair's fist and reached over the bed. A faint buzz sounded and, seconds later, a woman in white entered the room.

Words were exchanged, but Blair didn't listen to them. His eyes remained transfixed on his Sentinel, and he was afraid that if he blinked, Jim would disappear... prove himself an apparition or a figment of his own tortured imagination.

He found himself lifting his hand again, but this time it rose up toward Jim's face. His fingers brushed against the Sentinel's cheek, and an indecipherable emotion erupted in Blair's chest as his fingertips caressed the solid flesh above him. Solid. Real. Oh please, please let this be real.

Jim didn't move, allowing Blair's fingers to glide over his face. Then the older man brought both hands up and clasped them around Blair's smaller hand in a firm, reassuring grip.

"It's okay, buddy. I'm right here."

Then the doctor entered, and the next few moments passed in a blur... until Blair felt the hard tube sliding out of his throat, leaving a trail of burning pain in its wake.

"Easy, Blair. Easy."

Hands slid beneath his back lifting him up a few inches as something hard and cold was placed in his mouth. He sucked on the icy wetness gratefully, and it slid coolly down his throat, easing some of the pain.

"Jim..." He croaked, his voice barely a whisper. Fresh pain flared in his throat, but he ignored it as he lifted both arms to grab Jim's arms, needing to reassure himself that Jim was indeed solid.

"I'm here, Chief."

"Dead," Sandburg rasped. "I thought you were dead... explosion."

Jim sat down on the edge of the bed, wrapping one arm around Blair's shoulder and leaning back against the pillow. Blair rested on Jim's arm, soaking up the firm warmth of the Sentinel's flesh... solid flesh... real.

"It's okay. Don't talk."

"How?" Blair asked.

"I found an access hole to the sewer system. I wasn't in the building when it blew."

Oh. Blair closed his eyes. Oh... His head shifted to the right, falling against Jim's chest. "Thank you," he mumbled.

"For what?" Jim asked.

For not dying, Blair answered, but the reply was answered silently as sleep claimed him.

Well, heck, this was longer than I intended and now I have to get back to work :-) Let me know what you thought! Okay, so it's smarmy and angsty and oh-so melodramatic, but you try reading statutes and case notes for hours on end and then see if your brain doesn't scream for mush! *grin*