Survival Epilogue
 

"Jim... JIM!" Blair's voice held a sharp edge of panic as the lift rose higher.

Jim and Simon smirked, watching as the air lift trailed the helicopter, gliding smoothly as it headed toward civilization.

"Oh, Jim! Jim, get me down!"

Exchanging amused glances with the Captain, Jim's smirk turned into a grin.

Simon headed toward the trail that led to the rescue vehicles. "Kid's carrying on as if being on that thing were worse than getting shot."

"He'll live." Jim chuckled, casting a glance at the retreating helicopter as he followed the captain.

To normal eyes, the aircraft would have been barely visible, but Jim's sentinel vision zoomed in, focusing on the bedraggled figure strapped to the board. Blair's eyes were clenched tight, but his mouth remained open. Focusing his hearing, Jim turned into the young man's hysterical, gasping screams.

His grin faded and he stopped, turning fully to face the aircraft. He strained his hearing, trying to focus on the breathing and heartbeat underlying Sandburg's screams, but even his sensitive ears couldn't pick up such distant sounds.

But the things he *could* hear told him Sandburg was having trouble breathing. The kid sounded as though he were in the midst of hyperventilating himself into unconsciousness, which, given the circumstances, would be a blessing.

"Simon..." Jim glanced back at the captain, his chest tightening as he continued to listen to Sandburg's screams and gasps, the sounds fading as the aircraft grew more distance.

"Yeah?" Simon turned toward him, squinting up at the sky, but it was obvious he couldn't see the helicopter.

"I think Sandburg's in trouble." He glanced around at the meandering police and rescue workers, all of whom seemed oblivious to them. Lowering his voice, he leaned closer to his friend. "He's having trouble breathing. Maybe..."  He shook his head. What could he do? "Can we have someone radio the craft? Tell them to check on him, or something?"

Simon frowned. "Is he really that bad? You know he'll be at the hospital in only a few minutes. They can't do anything from the air until they land."

An uneasiness settled in Jim's gut as he watched the helicopter disappear behind a mountain. "I guess not... I just hope he's okay until then."

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*God... God...* He struggled, his chest tight. *Can't... Breathe....* His lungs burned. *God. Please, please... Help... Can't breathe."

He dared not open his eyes. He didn't need to. He *felt* the air around him and the tenacious tug of gravity. Wind slapped at him, whipping strands of his hair against his face.

His throat was raw from screaming, but he could no longer draw enough air in to his lungs to cry out. Inside, though, he couldn't stop screaming. He knew -- he just *knew* -- that the tether holding the lift would snap, sending him spiraling to an abrupt, messy death below.

The lift rose abruptly, and his stomach churned. The wind grew stronger, twisting the tether and making the backboard swing nauseatingly. Something hit him in the face, and his eyes sprung open in surprise, a strangled cry pushing its way from his chest. He jerked his arms, wanting to bat at his cheek, feeling a squishy mass stuck against his flesh. But he couldn't move. His legs and arms remained pinned to the board.

As the backboard swung in the wind, he got a glimpse of the dizzying drop below, and his panic exploded into searing terror.

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Jim leapt out of the car as soon as it pulled to a stop along the curbside. His hearing on alert, he barreled through the front doors of the hospital, listening for signs of his partner. The ER, he knew, was on the first floor... Was Blair there? Or had they taken him to surgery?

"Ellison! Hold up!"

Jim paused, glancing back as Simon stopped behind him. "I can't hear him... Can't get a fix."

"Well, here's a thought." Banks gestured to the triage desk. "Why don't we ask?"

Jim barely nodded as Simon sighed and staggered wearily to the desk. "Blair Sandburg? Gunshot to the leg? He was brought in on helicopter. I assume he arrived before us?"

The nurse flashed a weak smile and turned to her computer, typing swiftly on the keyboard. "He's not entered yet, but I know they brought someone down from the roof about fifteen minutes ago. I believe Doctor Carter's engaged with that patient."

"Do you know how he is?"

She shrugged. "I'm sorry, sir. All I know is they're having some trouble treating --"

"Oh damn." Jim's soft curse interrupted the conversation, drawing the nurse's attention to him.

"Sir?" Her brow furrowed. "Can I help you?"

He swallowed, his throat dry, and scrubbed a hand over his face. His legs propelled him toward the commotion drumming against his eardrums.

"Jim!"

He pushed through a set of double doors, ignoring the vehement protests of the nurse and the captain.

Sandburg was in distress, breathing erratically. Jim listened as the doctors tried to calm him so they could better treat his injuries. He heard one bark an order. //"Hurry up with that sedative!"//

He followed the sounds down the hall, turning a corner and nearly bumping into the small group clustered around the young man.

"Blair..." He moved forward, but a doctor slapped a hand on his chest, stopping him.

Jim looked down into the round face of a sandy-haired kid wearing aqua scrubs.

"Sir, you can't be here..."

Jim pushed past the man. "I'm his partner. Just give me a second." He pushed past another staff member, stopping when his thighs hit the edge of the gurney. Blair lay on his side on the flat surface, trembling violently and breathing like he'd just run a marathon. His eyes were clenched, and his hands clutched the edge of the exam bed as though it were a life raft keeping him afloat in the middle of the ocean.

"Chief..." He placed a hand on Blair's arm...

"No!" Blair flinched, his knuckles growing whiter as his grip tightened. His chest heaved, strangled sobs escaping through his struggles for air.

"He was worse than this when they brought him in," a man's voice informed him.

Jim glanced back at the young resident. He throat tight, he swallowed and looked back at his young friend. "He's afraid of heights." Guilt twisted like a knife in his chest. "He was screaming not to go up in that thing. I... I didn't know it would affect him like this. It was the fastest way to get him here."

"Well, that explains it, I suppose. I've ordered a sedative. We need to get him calm so I can take a good look at his wound and get some more reliable readings on his vitals."

Jim nodded, leaning closer to his friend. Blair's face looked almost as white as the tile floor, but Jim didn't know if that was from the fear or the blood loss. "Blair, buddy. It's me." He placed his hand once again on Blair's arm, keeping it there even as the young man flinched and trembled more violently. "It's okay," Jim whispered. "You're okay, Blair. You're on the ground now."

After several seconds of that softly-spoken litany, Jim felt Blair begin to relax. The trembling subsided, and his death-grip on the table eased.

"That's it." A small, relieved smile touched Jim's lips. "Chief, open your eyes and look at me. You're in the hospital. You need to calm down so they can help you."

Blair's eyelids cracked open, and although his trembling had eased, Jim could still feel tiny shivers running through the flesh beneath his hand.

"That's it." Jim's smile broadened. "See? Everything's okay."

Sandburg's blue eyes met his, widening with recognition and relief. His gaze darted around the room quickly, as if he were reassuring himself that he was truly safe, then settled back on Jim's face. "I... Jim," he croaked, then closed his eyes again. "Can't breathe."

The doctor stepped forward. "You're just having a panic attack, Mr. Sandburg..."

A nurse appeared behind the physician, carrying a small bottle. "Here you go, Doctor."

The physician nodded, taking it from her. "Thank you." He looked at Jim, then back down at Blair, who still had his eyes closed, struggling to breathe. "I'm going to give you a sedative...."

Blair shook his head. "No... No! Wait..." He gulped for air. "Just... In a sec, please."

Jim wasn't quite sure why Sandburg wanted to hold off on the sedative, especially considering it promised to send him into blissful peace. He could only guess that Blair wanted to get conquer his anxiety attack himself, probably because he didn't want to be knocked unconscious without having some opportunity to communicate with the doctor about his condition and any necessary treatments.

When it came to hospitals, doctors, and medicines, Sandburg was his own kind of control freak.

"Okay, Junior, take it easy." Jim slid his arm beneath Blair's shoulder, lifting the young man. He slid onto the exam table, keeping Blair propped against his arm, and scooted further back.

Blair straightened, his breathing steadying but still strained. His gaze hung low, avoiding the stares of the others around him. Jim placed his palm flat against Blair's back and rubbed a slow, gentle circle.

"You doing okay, now? Just focus on taking slow, deep breaths... You're doing fine. Everything's going to be okay." Jim continued the soothing motion, feeling Blair relax beneath his touch. "I'm sorry. I swear, Sandburg, I didn't know..."

Blair took a deep, shuddering breath, apparently breaking through whatever barrier had kept him on the verge of hyperventilation, and shook his head. His breathing steadier, he managed a few soft words. "No... S'okay." He glanced shyly at Jim. "Just... I hate heights, man."

"It's okay. No need to explain." He glanced down at Blair's injured leg. The make-shift tourniquet was caked with mud and dirt. The leg definitely needed prompt medical attention. "You ready to let the good doctor take a look at your leg?"

Blair nodded. "Y-Yeah."

The physician needed no further prodding and gestured to the group. The medical personnel moved forward in a single wave, surrounding Jim and Sandburg. Hands gently grabbed Blair's shoulders, urging him back on the bed as a voice droned softly, issuing orders and asking questions. Jim slipped away, moving out of the crowd and giving the workers their
space.

His ears told him Blair's exhaustion and blood loss had just caught up with him, finally sending the young man into unconsciousness. Taking a deep breath, Jim turned slowly and headed back to the waiting room, reassuring himself with the knowledge that Blair would be okay.

As he pushed through the double doors, he spared another backward glance, even though he could no longer see Sandburg from that angle. His thoughts however, remained tethered to his friend. *I'm sorry, buddy. Somehow, I'll make this one up to you.*

As the doors swung closed behind Jim, separating him from Blair, a pang shot through his chest. He couldn't help but feel as though he were once again leaving the kid behind... abandoning him. It was foolish, he knew. This wasn't the woods, and there were no killers after them. It was a hospital. And he wasn't leaving Blair, not like he had in the woods, and not like he had when he'd helped strap the kid to the backboard.

*No. This time I'm staying right here, Chief.*

He saw Simon sitting in one of the chairs up ahead, waving off a nurse who seemed to be trying to get him to go to the ER. The captain shook his head, flashing a smile at her, and stood as Jim approached.

The nurse turned and, with a frustrated sigh, headed back to her station.

Simon's smile lingered a moment longer as he watched her leave, then he looked at Jim. "So how's the kid?"

"Better." He sank into one of the empty chairs and released a slow, tired sigh.

Simon took the seat next to him. "What was wrong?"

Jim cleared his throat, his ears tuned to the team working on Sandburg. "I'll tell you later, sir. Right now, I just want to be with my partner."

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The End.
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