Summary: A late season hike and an early snowstorm spell trouble for the guys.
Challenge: Write a scene in which a pair of mittens figures prominently.
"T-take 'em, man," the young man gasped.
Jim shook his head, "No way, Chief." He rubbed his hands together and blew warm breath on his tingling fingers. A quick survey of their surroundings only confirmed what he had originally feared: they were well and truly screwed unless he could manufacture a miracle.
He tensed as he heard a low rumble. Focusing his sight, he watched another rock slide rain down on the already devastated roadway, rocks bouncing off the boulders that now littered the road. Luckily for them, this rockslide was far enough away from them that the bouncing rocks, many of them bigger than a man's fist, missed their position completely. The crashing of the rocks was enough, however, to make him wince and he quickly looked to his partner.
Blair lay on his back, cradling his hands to his chest. There was blood on his face, matting his hair and running back to pool in the shell of his ear. Jim watched as he blinked up into the night sky, cringing as each rock crashed in the distance. He let his eyes wander down, over the other man's body, mentally cataloguing the injuries his hands had mapped out immediately after the crash.
As Jim's fingers had ghosted over his partner's body, he'd discovered a massive lump behind Blair's right ear, along with a good sized laceration that had bled freely for the few minutes it had taken for Jim to find a cloth to press against the wound. He'd then bound the wound with a strip of cloth ripped from his own tee shirt. In addition to the head injury, Blair had a dislocated right shoulder, a fractured right wrist, a severely sprained left ankle and six cracked ribs along with various cuts and bruises. Jim had gotten away with a shallow laceration over his left eye that had bled profusely but was easily butterflied closed with bandaids, a sprained right wrist and a throbbing ache in his left knee, all of which faded into the background when he focused his mind and dialed his touch down. All in all, they'd been lucky. Their injuries could have been significantly worse.
Two days previously, Blair and Jim had left Cascade to go hiking in the mountains for the weekend. It was the end of the season, and this was most likely the last chance they would have before the snow made the mountain trails impassible until the spring. The weather had been great. Cool mornings gave way to mild sunny afternoons. The evenings brought chilly campfire weather and a sky loaded with twinkling stars. They were surprised then, when they'd awakened on their last day in the mountains to a light dusting of snow.
The snow wasn't a problem, but the storm clouds on the horizon made both men nervous and they quickly packed up their camp and headed for the truck. They stopped for a light lunch around mid-day and by then the wind had picked up enough to make it cold. By the time they made it to where they had parked the truck, snow was falling again and the light was fading from the sky.
Blair grinned over at Jim as he fastened his seatbelt clumsily. He wagged mittened fingers and smirked. "And you said I wouldn't need my warm fuzzies," he taunted.
Jim frowned. "Sure, rub it in, Chief." He blew in his fingers as he rubbed them, trying to warm them. The air was cold and he could see his breath as he talked. "The truck should warm up in a minute and we'll get some heat."
Blair nodded and looked up at the sky again as Jim put the truck into reverse and backed out of their parking space. The weather had gotten progressively worse as they had traversed the mountain roads. And then it happened. Just as they rounded a particularly nasty bend in the winding road, Jim heard a rumble. He lifted his gaze, searching for the source of the noise.
And that's when it happened. Rocks and boulders, some of them bigger than the truck, rolled and bounced down the side of the mountain, pushing them off the road. They rode the wave of granite for a little distance, but then they were swamped by the rock and they rolled to the bottom of the steep gully.
Jim thought he must have been knocked unconscious for a moment because he didn't remember stopping. There was the sickening rolling motion and then, nothing. He'd looked over at Blair and saw the blood pouring down the side of his face and thought for a moment he'd lost him. But then he'd focused his hearing and found his Guide's heartbeat and his own settled.
And now here they were, stranded in a snow storm in the mountains, injured and with no hope of being missed for at least another twelve hours. He wasn't too sure they could last out here the time it would take for a search party to be organized and a rescue mounted. Hell, he wasn't even sure anyone would know where to begin looking.
Sighing loudly, Jim crouched down beside Blair again. "It's okay, Chief. The slide is up a ways from us. We're safe here." He gently touched Blair's arm, feeling the tremors that coursed through his body.
It was cold and snow was falling steadily. Jim had pulled everything he could from the wreckage of the truck and moved it a distance away, in case the truck exploded. He could smell the gasoline as it leaked from the ruined vehicle and knew it was only a matter of time before the gas ignited on the hot exhaust pipe. And it had. Minutes after he'd pulled Blair to safety and tossed everything he could get his hands on to safety, the truck went up with a muted thump of heat and sound, pushing him to his knees from the force of the blast.
Jim spread out the ground cloth he'd found and then unzipped the single remaining sleeping bag, the rasping sound of the zipper loud in the darkness. He laid the bag flat on the tarp and turned to his partner. "I'm going to shift you onto the sleeping bag, Chief. Hang on for me, okay? It's going to hurt like hell."
Blair nodded slightly and tensed for the move. A low groan was the only sound as Jim gently shifted him onto the blanket. He then zipped the bag up around his Guide's shivering body.
"T-take these, man," Blair rasped.
Jim shook his head. "Can't do much with mittens on my hands, Blair. You keep them for now."
"B-but your hands will freeze."
Jim smiled into the darkness. "I need to use my fingers right now, Chief. You keep them warm for me, okay?"
Blair nodded slightly and Jim saw him wince at the slight movement.
"I'm going to scout out the hillside. You lie still. I won't be gone long." Jim didn't want to leave his partner, but he knew their only chance of survival was for them to get out of the ravine. Maybe then they would have at least a little cell signal and they could call for help. Anything was better than sitting still, waiting to die.
"Be careful," Blair whispered, and Jim could tell each breath hurt him.
Jim reached out and touched Blair's shoulder again, "Just lie still, okay? I'll be right back."
And then, before he could change his mind, he turned and walked away. The ravine was steep but he thought he could climb it. He knew at a glance, however, that there was no way he could make the climb and carry Blair as well. He also knew that Blair couldn't be manhandled like he would need to in order to get him up the steep slope. There was something wrong, something broken, deep inside his partner and Jim knew that moving him again would be detrimental to his survival.
Blair's eyes were closed when he got back to him and Jim panicked for a moment before he picked up his slow and steady heartbeat. He slipped on a loose rock and Blair startled, gasping in pain as his body tensed.
"Sorry, Chief. Didn't mean to startle you," Jim said softly as he lowered himself to the ground, wincing as his own aches and sprains made themselves known.
"S'okay, Jim," the young man said. Jim saw his tongue snake out to moisten his dry lips and Jim mentally slapped himself.
He pushed himself to his feet and picked up one of the backpacks he'd scavenged from the truck. After rummaging around inside for a minute, he pulled out a water bottle.
"Water, Chief. I found water," he said, holding up the bottle.
"Mmm, sounds like heaven," Blair whispered.
Jim held the bottle to Blair's mouth and allowed tiny sips. "Good?"
Blair nodded. "Jim?"
"Are there any stars tonight?"
Jim frowned and looked up into the sky. "Not so much. It's snowing pretty good. Why?"
"I can't see anything." Blair's voice caught and Jim thought he was swallowing a sob. "All I see is darkness."
Jim stilled, dread filling his heart. "It's okay, Blair. It's pretty dark out here. I've had to dial up my sight pretty high to see anything."
"Okay," Blair said with a small sigh. "I'm sure that's it."
Jim nodded and sent a prayer heavenward. "I'm going to try to get some rest. As soon as the sun comes up I'm going to try to get us out of here. Are you warm enough?"
Blair nodded. "What about you?"
"I'll be fine."
"Sh-share body heat," Blair offered. "B-better chance of survival."
Jim smiled. "I don't want to hurt you."
"You w-won't," Blair asserted.
Jim crawled into the sleeping bag carefully, snuggling against his trembling Guide, making sure not to jostle him. In a matter of minutes they were both asleep.
Jim was trying to wriggle out of the sleeping bag when Blair awoke, groaning in pain.
"Sorry, Chief, didn't mean to wake you."
"N-not you. Hurts," Blair managed to gasp. He blinked up at the overcast sky. "Th-thought you were g-going to wait until morning to t-try the climb."
Jim frowned down at his partner and then leaned forward and waved his hand in front of Blair's face. Blair blinked again, his eyes clearly not focusing on anything. Jim swore softly. "It - it is morning, Blair." He looked away for a minute before looking back down at Blair. "You - what are you seeing?"
Blair blinked. "Nothing, man. J-just darkness." A tear ran down the side of his face and Jim wiped it away gently.
"It's okay, Blair. It's probably just the head injury." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I want to start the climb. Are you going to be okay here alone for a while?"
Blair nodded slowly and groaned in pain again. "I -I'll be okay. Y-you go."
Jim pressed some Tylenol between Blair's lips and lifted his head so he could swallow them with a little water. "More Tylenol, Chief. Make you feel a little better."
Blair smiled. "Thanks, man."
Jim pressed a kiss to Blair's lips and then pushed himself to his feet. "I'll be back soon, Blair. I promise."
Jim turned to go and was stopped by Blair's voice. "Will you take these now?" he asked, pushing a hand free of the sleeping bag.
Jim grinned. "Yeah, those mittens will come in handy this morning. It's freezing out here! Be thankful you're all bundled up in there, Chief."
Blair smiled and closed his eyes. "Hurry back," he breathed softly.
"I will, Chief. You rest and I'll be back before you can miss me."
The climb was excruciating and Jim was glad he'd taken the time to wrap the ace bandage around his knee before he'd started out. He'd wanted to wrap Blair's ribs, but the younger man had talked him into using it to stabilize his aching knee instead and now he was glad of it. The knee was throbbing by the time he hit the rock strewn road and he leaned against a boulder, bending it gingerly to ease the bone-deep pain.
Jim looked down into the ravine, focusing his sight to make sure Blair was okay. The younger man appeared to be asleep and Jim searched for his heartbeat. Only when he heard it did he take a deep breath and relax. He smiled, pulling Blair's fleece mittens off his hands, and then winced as he shifted position to remove his cell phone from his pocket. It was fully charged and he sent a prayer heavenward as he saw two bars of signal strength on the display.
Simon was on speed dial and Jim fidgeted nervously as he waited for the connection to go through. He almost cried in relief when the phone was answered.
"Simon, it's me, Jim!"
"Jim, wh you?"
Jim winced as Simon's voice broke up. He was afraid of this. The signal wasn't strong enough for a clear call, but at least Simon knew it was him calling. "Simon! There's been an accident. We need help! Blair is injured pretty badly. Simon, are you getting this?"
"Jim? Wh acci ?"
"Send help, Simon! We're on " There was a muted beep and the call was terminated. Jim sighed softly. He only hoped that had been enough. With a last look heavenward, he left the cell phone on the nearest large boulder and prepared to head back to Blair. Just as he was pushing to his feet, the phone rang. He picked it up.
"Jim help hang "
"Thank you, Simon." Jim hung up again and smiled.
It took him nearly forty-five minutes to get back down into the ravine. By that time, his leg was throbbing all the way to the hip and he brutally dialed down his sense of touch, pushing the pain into the background where it wouldn't get in his way. He hobbled back to where he had left Blair, lowering himself to the ground gingerly.
As he sat, Blair opened his eyes and blinked. "Jim?"
"Yeah, Chief. It's me." Jim watched as Blair tried to track where he was, but without his sight his eyes seemed to wander aimlessly.
"M-mission accomplished?" he asked softly, slurring his words slightly.
"Yeah. Mission accomplished." Jim sighed. "It wasn't a great connection but I think I got my point across. I left my cell phone up there so they can trace the GPS. Someone should be coming soon."
Blair's eyes slid shut again and Jim thought he heard a mumbled sound, but even with his exceptional hearing he couldn't make out what it was.
"Blair, don't fall asleep. You need more drugs." Jim got the Tylenol out of the pack and pressed two to Blair's lips. He lifted Blair's head so the young man could drink some water and swallow his pills. "I know it's not much, but "
Blair reached a cool hand out of the sleeping bag and patted Jim's knee. "S'okay, man." He licked his lips and grimaced as he shifted a little. "Ground s-sucks to sleep on."
Jim smiled at the sullen grouse and grasped Blair's hand gently. "Hey - thanks for your warm fuzzies, Chief. I think they saved my hands from freezing." He pulled them off and began to pull them onto Blair's hands.
Blair put up a token protest. Jim shushed him. "You need these more than I do. You're freezing."
"Sh-share b-ody heat?" Blair asked softly.
"Sure thing." Jim carefully climbed back into the sleeping bag with Blair, snuggling as much as he could without hurting Blair further.
The rescuers came about three hours later. Jim had fallen asleep wrapped around Blair as much as he could without hurting his partner. He knew the younger man's strength was waning and he had fallen asleep with a prayer on his lips that he would be able to hold on until help arrived.
As the helicopters neared, Jim could feel the air reverberating from the blades rotating. He lifted his head and then stilled as Blair moaned softly beside him. Looking down, he saw that Blair was very pale and his lips were a bluish gray in color. He knew then that what he had feared was true: Blair was bleeding internally.
Jim ghosted his hands over Blair's body, barely touching him but needing to imprint the feel of him on his senses. He could feel the fine tremors that continually ran through his body and also noted Blair's shallow breathing and slow heartbeat.
It was so cold. He could see his breath in the air. Knowing that help was nearby, he lay his head down and breathed in the scent of his mate again.
The rattle of loose rocks alerted him to the presence of the rescue crew and he opened his eyes wearily. Simon stood, peering down at him and he blinked in surprise.
"What? You thought I'd leave this to someone else?" Simon chided softly.
"Something like that, Sir," Jim answered.
And then the medics took over and Simon moved out of the way. Jim watched as the crew worked, gently but efficiently maneuvering Blair onto a backboard and strapping him into a basket stretcher and moving him away. He made a small sound of protest as he too was loaded into a basket.
"Yes Jim?" Simon answered, appearing as if by magic at the sound of Jim's raspy voice.
"Don't worry. You're going to be right beside him in the chopper."
Jim nodded as he extended his hearing, easily picking up Blair's heartbeat. He held on to that sound as he was transported across the rocky terrain and loaded into the helicopter, only relaxing again when he saw Blair. He monitored Blair with his senses until the soft thump of his mate's heartbeat along with the steady beat of the helicopter's rotors and the alluring pull of whatever drug they had injected into his IV line lulled him to sleep.
When Jim next opened his eyes it was to cotton-mouth, a muzzy head and a sharp stab of pain in his leg. His first conscious gasped breath was met with a muffled expletive from somewhere to his left and the sound of a chair scraping on linoleum.
He turned his head slightly to see Simon limping to the side of his hospital bed. Hospital bed? He looked around the stark white room and, finally, down the length of his body, noting that his right leg was elevated and in a cast to his hip. His ribs were taped and his left wrist was in a cast.
Jim licked his dry lips. "Simon?" he croaked.
Simon smiled down at him. "Jim! Glad to see you're awake. How ya feeling?"
Jim swallowed and grimaced. "Right now I ache all over. I don't remember hurting this much right after the accident."
Simon shook his head. "My theory is that you probably dialed everything down so you could get help out there. The sedatives they gave you for the surgery probably messed up your control."
Jim smiled as he relaxed back into the bed. "You sound like Blair."
He saw the wince and his heart raced as he opened his senses, searching for Blair.
The hand on his shoulder was a distraction and he tried to shrug it off, stopping only when fingers tightened to a point just shy of painful. He heard a door open and a voice ask what the problem was.
Simon answered. "Nothing. He was just asking about his partner."
"Oh. I'm so sorry."
He gasped and opened his eyes to see a young nurse checking his IV lines and catheter. His eyes immediately sought out Simon again. "Sorry?" he asked softly. "What happened? Where's Blair?" He reached out with his right hand, grasping at Simon's sleeve.
The big man shook his head. The nurse checked the leads for the cardiac monitor on Jim's chest and then left them alone again.
"Simon, tell me!" Jim growled.
Simon sighed. "Blair is alive, Jim. I think you'd know if he weren't. That whole Sentinel-Guide thing would tell you. And don't think I haven't thought about what would happen then. I know about the link you have with him - the bond. I just wonder if you would choose to follow him even into death rather than stay here without him. And, God knows, I never want to find out. That boy is a trouble magnet."
"Simon!" Jim interrupted. "Please."
Simon smiled. "Sorry, I'm rambling."
"More like stalling."
Simon nodded slowly. "Maybe a little. But the kid's okay - well, he will be. Aw damn, Jim. He's knocked up pretty bad. Nearly lost him a couple of times." As Jim struggled to push himself upright, Simon gently pushed him back. "Lay still, Jim, and let me finish. Blair's in the ICU. He just came out of surgery."
Jim closed is eyes, willing the tears to stay away. He nodded as he opened his eyes again. "But he's going to be okay. Right?"
Simon sighed again. "God, Jim. I can't lie to you. It's touch and go right now. They operated. He was pretty messed up, but I guess you probably know that. Hell, you could probably feel his injuries. But what has everyone worried is the head injury."
"I have to see him, Simon."
"Jim, there is no way "
Jim interrupted. "Now," he said as he tried again to push himself upright.
Simon pushed him back again. "Lay back, Jim, and I'll see what I can do." Simon turned away and walked out of the room.
Jim stared up at the ceiling, tensing when he heard the door to his room open again. He studiously ignored the intruder, fully expecting it to be Simon telling him he wasn't allowed to go see Blair. What he didn't know was how he was going to get there on his own, but he was working on a plan.
Jim blinked. That voice definitely didn't belong to his captain. He turned his head and looked up at his physician. "Dr. Williams."
The older man smiled. "Good to see you awake," he said as he pulled a chair up to the side of Jim's bed.
Jim nodded and waited, looking expectantly at the physician. When he didn't begin speaking right away, Jim prodded, "How's Blair doing?"
Dr. Williams smiled. "Well, Jim. You're nothing if not blunt." He sighed. "Blair isn't doing so well. His injuries are severe." He held up his hand as Jim tried to sit up again. "Calm down, Jim. Lay back and I'll explain what's going on."
Once Jim was settled again, the doctor picked up the conversation where he'd left off. "I have to give you credit for keeping him alive out there. His more obvious injuries were bad enough; the dislocated shoulder, fractured writs, sprained ankle, cracked ribs and head injury. What nearly did him in, though, was the internal bleeding. I think the only thing that kept him going, besides your stubborn refusal to let him die, was the cold. Hypothermia slowed his heart rate just enough to decrease the rate of bleeding. The medic in the chopper apparently had the same idea and the saline IV he started was chilled as well. That is what gave us long enough to get him to the hospital and into surgery. The surgery was rough on him, though, and he'd already lost a lot of blood."
Dr. Williams paused. Jim stared at him, willing him to go on, and dreading what he had to say at the same time.
"Blair nearly coded on the operating table a couple of times. For a while there I was sure we were going to lose him, but he's a strong young man. He is still on a ventilator because when we tried to wean him off the vent after surgery, he was unable to breathe on his own."
"What does that mean?" Jim interrupted softly.
"It means," the doctor began softly, "that Blair could be brain damaged. The head injury would be worrisome on its own, but add to that the staggering blood loss, the near cardiac arrest in the O.R. and the fact that he hasn't shown any reaction to external stimuli and, frankly, I'm worried that this may be a permanent condition."
"Permanent?" Jim echoed. "You're trying to tell me that he'll never wake up?" Jim clutched the blanket in his fist, trying to stop his unencumbered hand from shaking. He could feel the panic building and he fought against the rising tide, willing himself to stay coherent long enough to talk to the doctor, long enough to convince him to let him go see Blair.
Dr. Williams nodded. "That's exactly what I'm saying. But I'm not saying that we've totally given up on him as of yet, Jim. Blair is a strong young man, but he needs to wake up, and soon."
Jim nodded and took a deep breath. "Can I see him?"
The first thing Jim noticed were the myriad tubes and wires snaking in all directions from the bed. The second thing was the rhythmic whooshing sound of the respirator. The third was his partner. Jim's breath stilled in his lungs as he stared at the sight of Blair lying so still and pale in the hospital bed.
Simon pushed him to Blair's bedside. Jim nodded to him and then turned his full attention to the man lying in the hospital bed. He didn't even notice when Simon slipped out of the room.
"Chief, I know you can hear me. I know you're hurting right now and it's easier to stay sleeping, but I need you to wake up. We made a pact, you and I. Do you remember? We promised to grow old together, Blair. You need to hold up your end of the bargain."
Jim picked up a slack hand and brought it to his lips.
"I love you, Blair Jacob Sandburg. Please come back to me."
Jim sat with Blair for a few more minutes before Simon and Dr. Williams returned. His time for the day was up and, even though he didn't want to leave Blair's side, he was in a lot of pain and knew he needed to get back to his own bed. He kissed Blair's hand again and then let Simon push him back to his room.
The pain meds were too much for Jim to fight and he only vaguely registered Simon leaving the room before darkness took him. His sleep was fraught with dreams of panthers and wolves and blue jungles and Blair, a whole, healthy Blair.
When Jim awoke, he immediately asked to see Blair again. It took them nearly three hours to bring the wheelchair so he could go to the ICU. Those two hours were the longest of his life and he set about seeing to it that they were the longest of the hapless aides' life as well.
He stilled, the satisfied smirk falling from his face. The latest aide had run from his room, ears wringing from Jim's latest tirade. He looked up to see his nurse standing in his doorway, hands on her ample hips, fire radiating from her gaze.
"You leave my aides alone, Detective. I know you're anxious to go see your partner, but Blair's nurses aren't finished with him yet this morning. You just hold onto your horses and behave yourself until they say you can visit. You keep badgering my aides and I'll leave you in this room to rot, young man. Mark my words. Make my life miserable and I'll make yours miserable. Understand?"
Jim blushed and nodded. "Sorry, Rosie."
The nurse smiled then. "Jim, it isn't me you have to apologize to. Poor Madeline is in tears and Janie wants to put itching powder in your sheets." She sighed. "Look, I know this is rough on you, but you need to be nice to my girls, okay?"
Jim smiled. "Yeah , okay, Rosie."
"Good, now let me get my girls calmed down and then we'll see about getting you over to the ICU to visit your fella."
They took Blair off the respirator that afternoon, but he was still unresponsive, stubbornly remaining unconscious through all of Jim's pleas. For Jim's part, he sat beside Blair's bed for as long as they would allow him, studiously ignoring his own aches and pains in favor of talking to his lover, trying to coax him home.
On day three, Blair finally squeezed Jim's hand and mere hours later he opened his eyes for the first time. Everyone was relieved, but Jim had been ecstatic. He'd been dreaming of Blair every night - the same dream.
In Jim's dream Blair had been huddled against the blowing snow, shivering in his lightweight jacket. What stuck out in Jim's mind were the bright red mittens on Blair's hands. The red looked like blood as his hands rhythmically patted his arms for warmth. Jim yelled into the howling wind and Blair looked up with eyes that were dimming with each passing minute. Jim knew that if he didn't reach his lover soon, he'd be gone from his life forever.
It was this dream that haunted him every minute he sat beside Blair's bed, pleading with him to wake.
It was late when the staff finally pried Jim away from Blair's bedside. They all agreed that their lives would be easier when Blair was well enough to be released from the ICU and put out on the medical floor. At that point they were planning to place the two men in the same room. That alone was guaranteed to make Detective Ellison a happier patient.
Jim fought against sleep, his body telling him he needed to rest, but his mind shying away from his nightly unsettling dreams. He fought his nightly sedative for as long as he could, but finally succumbed.
He braced himself for a howling windstorm and blowing snow. What he got was a tropical sunset and a glistening body lying on a chaise by the ocean. He smiled and began walking across the sand toward his lover, knowing that everything was going to be fine in time.