Rated PG, some violence. H/C and angst.
Public or private feedback appreciated.

Mortal Combat

*Damn.* Jim Ellison's jaw tightened as he swept a glare over the gang of teenagers, most of them sixteen to nineteen years of age. He'd slipped up, and now the Tolsas had the advantage. He'd been staking out their headquarters, listening in to privileged conversations regarding a drug shipment, and he'd ended up zoning. While Sandburg had been trying to pull him out of the zone, the gang members had gotten the drop on them.

Victor, the leader, scanned the two sets of ID's he'd confiscated from Jim and Blair and then tossed them to another man. The gang members were all dressed in black and purple, their ethnicities varied, ranging from Caucasian, to hispanic, to black. One of them held Blair's backpack in front of him as he rifled curiously through the contents.

"Detective Ellison," Victor spat, his dark eyes hard as they darted back and forth between Jim and Blair, "and, uh," he turned his gaze onto Sandburg, taking in the long, unruly hair and worn clothing, "just what does an 'observer' do?"

"Observe," Blair answered dryly.

Jim glanced heavenward. *Keep a lid on that trap of yours, Sandburg.*

Victor snorted and looked back at Ellison. "You invaded my territory, cop."

Jim raised an eyebrow, his face otherwise expressionless. "Funny, I thought it belonged to the City of Cascade."

Victor's fist lashed out and clipped Blair on the jaw, sending the young man backward. A shocked grunt escaped the anthropologist as he crashed to the pavement, stunned.

"Hey!" Jim had a fist full of Victor's jacket in his hands before he knew what he was doing, but three gang members sprang to action, grabbing his arms and holding him steady.

Victor looked down at his crumpled jacket and smoothed the wrinkles. "You mouth off again, cop, your partner pays." He looked at Sandburg as the young man slowly rose to his feet, a trickle of blood on his chin. With a smile, Victor turned his attention back to Ellison.

"No one crosses the Tolsas," he stated flatly, "but we got our own code of honor. Combat. One of you fights one of us. Whoever wins, walks away. Whoever loses, dies. You win, you and your buddy leave. You lose, you both die."

A spark of hope flared inside Jim. He scanned the group of ten young men critically and suppressed a small smile. He could take any one of them in a fair fight. Hell, even in an unfair fight. He was sure whoever he fought would play dirty, but he'd seen all the tricks and had quite a few of his own.

The smile peeked through, tweaking his lips, and he met the leader's steady gaze. "You're on."

Victor grinned. "Good. I'll be the one fighting." He reached into his jeans pocket and withdrew a quarter. "Heads, you fight. Tails, your buddy fights."

Jim's smile vanished. He hadn't expected that Sandburg might have to fight. "No deal. You fight me."

Victor shook his head. "Rules are rules, Hombre."

He flipped the coin and Jim's eyes zoomed into the small disc as it tumbled through the air. Heads. Tails. Heads. Tails. Gravity won the battle, pulling the coin back down toward Victor's open palm. Heads. Tails. Heads.

Victor snatched the coin out of the air a moment before it would have dropped into his palm.

Jim tensed. *No.*

With an amused smile, he slapped the coin onto the back of his other hand and uncovered the face. Jim saw immediately which side had landed up, but he knew Blair would be unable to make out the coin's face in the darkness.

"Tails," Victor announced casually, looking pointedly at Blair.

"What?" Sandburg took a step back, shaking his head, his hands raised defensively in front of him. "Look, man, you don't want to fight me. I'm nothing. I'm an anthropologist, for crying out loud. A teacher. I wear glasses and read books and spend my time in libraries. I'm a certified geek. A wimp. You fight me and you'll be the laughing stock of this town." Nervously, Blair glanced at Jim, then looked quickly back at Victor. "You want him," he said, jabbing his thumb toward the Sentinel.

*What?* Jim raised both eyebrows. While Sandburg abhorred violence, he was no coward, so the younger man's frantic words surprised him.

"He used to be an army ranger," the grad student continued. "Now he's a cop. One of the best. He works out at the gym -- total testosterone. You beat him, you'll get some *real* respect."

Victor's expression never wavered as he stared at Sandburg, and Jim had a sudden epiphany. The gang leader had never intended to fight him because he knew he'd lose. Instead, the coin flip had been rigged to turn up tails so that it would appear that random chance had chosen Blair, someone the guy was probably sure he could beat -- and he was probably right, too.

"You disgust me, coward!" Victor spat, grabbing Blair's black leather jacket and pulling him forward. "You fight or you both die!"

Blair swallowed hard, looking nervously over his shoulder back at Jim. His face had turned two shades whiter and his eyes held a wild, panicked look.

*He knows he can't win and he was trying to save us,* Jim realized, warm admiration creeping into his chest. *He knows if he loses we both die, so he was trying to convince Victor to fight me because he knows I'd win.*

Jim tensed, but the arms that held him tightened their grip. "Wait a minute, Victor! He's right. Look, you take me on, you got a shot at gaining some real respect. You take on him, you're nothing. You know you can't beat me, so you rigged it so that you'd end up fighting Sandburg. You're no leader, man. You're a coward."

"Shut up!" Victor yelled, his eyes bright with rage. "He got picked fair and square and he'll fight. One more word and I'll kill you both."

Jim clamped his jaw shut, his stomach twisting. He had to think of something and fast because he knew there was little chance of his partner beating the younger man in hand-to-hand combat. While Sandburg could take care of himself, the gang leader towered a good five inches over Blair and had been hardened by the street.

Victor turned his attention back to Blair, apparently satisfied that his message had gotten through to Jim. "Now we start this."

Blair tensed, glancing desperately at Jim, his eyes pleading for a way out of the situation.

*Damn.* Jim looked around, searching for an opening. He could probably twist out of the arms holding him and get the drop on --

A gun cocked near his right ear, putting a premature end to his strategizing.

"Say your prayers, White Boy." Victor lunged and Blair sidestepped just in time to avoid the gang leader.

*No, damnit.* Every muscle in Jim's body tensed as he watched the fight.

Victor attacked again and Blair twisted to his right, grabbing the back of Victor's jacket and pulling him forward off his feet. The younger man hit the pavement hard, snarling with rage as he shot back to his feet.

"No more playing!" He spun into a roundhouse kick, but Blair arched backward, missing the foot by an inch.

Moving swiftly, Blair saw his opportunity and took it, dropping to the ground and sweeping one leg in front of him as Victor finished the kick.

*Yes!* Jim almost shouted, nodding absently with approval and urging Blair on silently. *You got him, Chief!* Damn, Sandburg had surprised him. Where had the kid learned those moves?

Blair's leg contacted Victor's, sweeping the gang leader off his feet. The young man went down hard, landing flat on his back, his head contacting the blacktop. Blair hesitated a moment, apparently unsure what to do next, and his hesitation cost him.

With a growl, Victor's arm whipped over the pavement and something small and hard hit the anthropologist square in the face. Blair yelped, his body snapping backward to slam into the ground. The gang leader wasted no time and scrambled over to his fallen opponent to finish the job.

"No!" Jim moved forward, but the hands pulled him back and the barrel of the gun was pressed hard against his right ear as warning.

Blair groaned and raised his head long enough for Jim to see the blood pouring out of his nose. The grad student saw Victor coming toward him and rolled quickly to the right, bringing his left leg up and catching the gang leader in the chin.

*Way to go, Chief. Now follow through,* Jim urged silently.

Victor grunted, his head whipping back, but the blow wasn't hard enough to stun him. Blair scrambled to his feet at the same time Victor rose to his and the two men crouched, facing one another, with Blair anticipating the next attack and Victor looking for an opening.

The gang leader moved to the left and, as Blair ducked to the right, Victor spun around, his leg catching Blair in the stomach and doubling him over. Sandburg dropped to his knees, his breathing coming in quick, shallow gasps as he struggled to take in air, his diaphragm no doubt shocked from the blow.

Victor followed through with a kick to Blair's head which spun the smaller man around and sent him face-first into the pavement.

*No.* Jim clenched his fists, frustration tearing at him. To his surprise, Blair rolled away as Victor tried to follow through with another kick. Blair made it to his feet with impressive speed and faced the gang leader again, but he swayed slightly and it was obvious that he
hadn't yet recovered from the blows.

Victor lunged forward with a punch aimed at Blair's jaw, but the anthropologist deflected the blow with his left arm and followed through with a punch to Victor's gut.

*I'll be damned.* Jim couldn't believe his partner had lasted this long. Blair had never demonstrated the best combat skills. Sure, the young man could take care of himself and had demonstrated a willingness to fight when necessary, but his greatest asset had always been his mind. He often found his way out of situations using nothing but good
old-fashioned ingenuity. Perhaps this time, though, desperation was urging the normally
peace-loving anthropologist toward victory.

Victor hunched over, obviously hurting from the punch. Jim saw the gang leader reach into his pocket and withdraw a long, metallic object -- a switchblade knife.

"Look out, Bl --" A sharp butt to his head with the gun silenced him and left his ears ringing.

Jim's vision grayed, then came back into focus just in time to see Victor sink the blade into Blair's side.

"NO!" Jim lunged forward, not caring about the goons holding him, but their arms refused to yield.

He watched in horror as Blair's eyes widened with surprise and he sank to his knees, his hands curling around the wound in his side as though trying to stop the bleeding. He looked down at the blood, his gaze blank as though he couldn't quite comprehend that he'd been stabbed. After several seconds, he raised his head slowly, his eyes focusing on Jim.

"Sorry," Blair whispered, and that soft apology brought a mist of tears to Jim's eyes.

*No, no, Chief. It's not your fault. You did good. I'm the one that zoned. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, buddy...*

Victor raised the crimson blade to the anthropologist's throat.

"Wait! Listen!" Jim pleaded. "Don't do this. You kill us and you'll have every cop in Cascade --"

"Quiet, cop, or I'll make it slow for him," Victor barked.

The rest of the words died in Jim's throat. He fidgeted in the arms that held him, his stomach tight. He couldn't just stand there and watch --

Blair sucked in a deep breath, and before anybody could react, the young man's hand clamped around Victor's crotch.

"Ugggh!" Victor hunched forward, the knife dropping from his grip and clattering to the ground.

Blair gave Victor's "package" another hard squeeze, causing the gang leader to drop hard to his knees. Moving quickly, Sandburg released Victor and snatched up the knife, grunting with pain as he moved behind the larger man and held the blade to his throat.

"I win," Blair rasped, panting hard, one hand gripping Victor's short hair to tilt his head back while the other held the knife against his jugular. "Say it!"

"Fuck you!"

Blair pressed the blade deep enough to draw blood, eliciting a pained gasp from the gang leader. "Say it!"

"Okay! You win!"

"Jim and I are free to go. Right?"

"Right! Go! Get the hell out of here! You win!"

The goons released Jim and he rushed toward Blair, catching his partner just as he sagged backward. Wrapping his arms around the young man to hold him close against his chest, Jim looked up as Victor rose unsteadily to his feet, tears of pain glistening his eyes. *Is he or isn't he?* Tensing, Ellison waited for the man to make his next move. Would he honor his word or go back on it and kill them?

The gang leader turned away and waved a dismissive hand in the air. "I don't want to see your faces around here again."

One of the leaders tossed two wallets and Blair's backpack onto the blacktop and turned to follow the others.

Jim released a shuddered breath and tightened his grip on Blair. He had every intention of coming back, but he knew the Tolsa's wouldn't be here. By the end of the hour, they'd have a new headquarters.

"Jim?" came the soft whisper.

"You're going to be okay, Chief."

He dropped his gaze to Blair, who seemed to be hovering on the verge of consciousness, and gently scooted out from underneath the young man. He had to stop the bleeding and call for help. Eyeing the discarded backpack, he moved away long enough to retrieve the cell phone from the bag. Flipping it open, he dialed 911 as he slipped out of his jacket.
Holding the phone between his ear and shoulder, he kept both hands free to gently slide the balled jacket beneath his partner's head.

He relayed the information to the dispatcher, then ended the connection and set the phone on the pavement. Taking off his shirt, he bunched it and held the material against the stab wound. Blair's eyes opened wide and he gasped, moaning as he raised weak hands to push against Jim's arms.

Jim clenched his jaw, hating the fact that he was hurting his partner but knowing it was necessary. "No, Blair. Shhh. I've got to stop the bleeding. Just hold on. Help's on the way."

Blair lifted his head an inch to look at Jim, his eyes clouded with pain. "Jim?"

"Just take it easy, Chief. Relax." Jim pressed harder on the wound, but the flow of blood continued.

"I won, right?"

Jim smiled, offering a subtle nod. "Yeah, partner, you won. You did real good."

Blair dropped his head back on to the bunched jacket, his eyes staring blankly at the star-speckled sky above. It was a clear night, a rarity for Cascade during the autumn months.

"Jim?"

*Where's the damn ambulance?* "Yeah, Chief?"

"I wonder -- Can you see more stars than me?"

Jim finally heard the distant wail of sirens and took a deep breath, his shoulders sagging with relief even as he continued the pressure on Blair's wound. "I don't know."

"We should do a test sometime."

"Okay." Right now, he'd agree to anything the kid wanted.

"You know why I said those things, don't you?"

"What things?" The sirens were louder now, audible to normal ears. Jim knew it was only a matter of seconds before they arrived.

"To Victor when... when I was... trying to get him to fight you."

Jim swallowed hard. "Yeah. You were trying to save us."

"I knew I couldn't win and then you would die."

"You won, Chief. You beat him."

A small groan escaped the injured man and Jim felt him tense beneath his hands.

"Hang on. The ambulance is almost here. You hear them?"

"I hurt."

"I know, Chief. Hold on."

Three police cars and an ambulance descended upon the scene and Jim found himself surrounded. Two blue-clad paramedics dropped next to him, immediately working on the injured man, and Jim moved back to give them room.

"Ellison?"

Jim looked up to see Captain Banks standing behind him, his eyes dark with concern. "What happened?"

"The Tolsas got the drop on us and forced Sandburg to fight. Them or us kind of thing. Sandburg won and they left us alone." It was the bare-bones explanation, but it was all Jim had the energy for at the moment. Although he hadn't been the one fighting, he still felt as
though he'd just gone ten rounds with Hulk Hogan.

"Looks good," one of the paramedics mumbled and Jim's head snapped back to his partner. Blair's face was pale and his forehead beaded with sweat. His eyelids drooped halfway, but his gaze drifted lazily around the various people hovering around him as though he wasn't quite sure what was happening.

Jim looked to the EMT who had spoken, his heart pounding with hope. "So he's going to be okay?"

The man nodded. "I think so. Can't say for sure 'til we get him to the hospital, but his vitals are strong and stable and we've stopped the bleeding. Fortunately, I don't *think* any organs were damaged."

Jim smiled with relief and rose to his feet. The paramedics lifted Blair onto a stretcher and Jim followed quickly, hopping into the back of the ambulance and taking up a position on the small bench next to the stretcher.

~~~~~

"You're telling me Hairboy beat the crap out of the leader of the Tolsas?" Brown shook his head, looking back and forth between Jim and Simon as the Major Crimes gang huddled in the small hospital room waiting for word on their friend.

Jim nodded, grinning. "Yeah, he was somethin' else, H. You should have seen him. I didn't know he even *knew* those moves. He kept sidestepping the guy, using mostly defensive tactics. Victor just kept getting more and more pissed until..." his smile faded, his face darkening with anger, "well, until he decided to play dirty and pull the knife. Damn..." He closed his eyes briefly, remembering the horror he'd felt as he'd watched the blade sink into Blair's flesh and emerged wet with blood.

"Jim? Hey, man, he's going to be okay," Brown reassured him.

"Yeah, I know." Jim took a deep breath and opened his eyes, looking at the concerned faces around him. Simon, Joel, Rafe, Brown, and Megan had all turned out to await word on the young man even though the paramedic had seemed confident that Blair would pull through just fine.

As though summoned by Jim's thoughts, a man dressed in a white lab jacket walked into the waiting room, gaining the attention of every officer.

"Detective Ellison?"

Jim rose. "Yes, that's me. How's Sandburg?"

The doctor extended his hand. "I'm Doctor Herman. Mr. Sandburg will make a full recovery."

Jim smiled and pumped the man's hand vigorously. "Thank you, Doctor. Thank you. Can I see him, now?"

Herman smiled, chuckling softly. "Yes. He's been asking about you, anyway."

~~~~~~

Jim walked into the small hospital room and saw Blair laying on a bed, hooked up to an EKG and an IV. His eyes were open but glazed and he turned his head to look at Jim.

"Hey," Blair croaked. "You okay?"

With a chuckle, he nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine, Chief. You're the one laying in a hospital bed, after all."

A small grin answered him. "You got hit on the head, though. Shoulda figured you'd be okay. Hard head."

Jim raised his eyebrows and dropped into the chair stationed conveniently next to the bed. "Smartass."

"You can call me Conan, now."

Jim laughed, relieved to hear Blair joking. The kid couldn't be feeling *too* bad if he was making cracks. Placing a firm hand on Blair's arm, he met the younger man's tired gaze. "You did good out there, Chief. I'm impressed."

Blair smiled, his cheeks flushing red. "Thanks, Jim."

"Thank *you,* Blair. You saved our lives tonight. You won."

Blair's smile faded and he swallowed, tearing his eyes away from Jim to stare up at the ceiling. "If I hadn't..."

"Shhh." Jim gave his partner a gentle squeeze. "It's okay. You did. We'll talk about it later. Right now, you've got to get your rest."

"Yeah, okay." Blair's eyes drooped closed, his breathing evening out as the medication pulled him into a thick slumber.

"Thanks, buddy," Jim whispered, patting his friend's arm. "I owe you one." *At least a test. Next one, I'll take without grumbling. Maybe if I'd done more of your tests I wouldn't have zoned tonight.*

With a sigh, he settled back into the chair and waited for someone to come in and kick him out.

~~~ The End ~~~

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