In Harm's Way
Jim kept a steadying hand on Blair's shoulder, trying to ignore the overwhelming stench of blood that invaded his nostrils. Blair moaned and shifted fretfully, one hand rising in a weak attempt to push away the pressure on his wound. "Easy, Chief," Jim soothed. "The cavalry's arrived. We'll have you out of here in no time."
He tensed, ready to move when the gunfire halted, the instinct to get his partner to safety outweighing common sense that there was no cover, no way to get them out of the way without risking getting them both killed. The hedge they hid behind offered only a flimsy shelter, no barrier to the bullets still being fired at them. The truck was only a short distance away, parked on the street, but it may as well have been miles away for all the good it would do them.
"Jim! You okay?" Simon Banks' voice was tight with concern.
Jim hunkered down over Blair, his arms reaching to protect his partner as another flurry of gunshots peppered the greenery. "Fine," he ground out. "Sandburg's been hit. He's bleeding pretty badly. I need to get him out of here."
"Doing what we can," Simon informed him in a clipped, tense tone. "Just hang in there 'til I give you the word."
"I don't know that Blair's got that long, Simon. He's been hit twice. Once in the upper chest, once in the shoulder." Jim chanced a glance over his shoulder at his captain, who was hunkered down behind the shelter of his car. "We need to finish this now!"
"Doing what I can, Jim."
"J-Jim?" Blair turned his head toward Jim, and both men flinched as another volley of gunshots shredded the hedge. "Get out of here."
"When it's safe, we'll both get out of here, Chief." Jim released the pressure on Blair's chest wound and examined it with a critical eye. To his dismay, blood began welling up immediately.
Blair's bloodstained hand rose again, wavering uncertainly over his chest then flopped back to his side. "How bad is it?"
Jim tried for a reassuring smile, but it was strained, and he knew Blair wasn't fooled. "You're bleeding a lot, but once we get you out of here, the doctors will fix you up in no time."
"Not long now." Jim gently tapped Blair's cheek. "When we've got to move, though, Chief, I need you ready. Think you can do that?"
Blair gave him what Jim knew he hoped was a cocky grin and a weak thumbs up. "I was born ready, man."
Jim resumed his pressure on the awful wound in Blair's chest, steeling himself against the groan that scraped from Blair's throat. "Sorry, Chief. You hang in there, okay? By tomorrow, you'll be jotting down nurses' phone numbers from your hospital bed."
"I'd rather be at home watching a basketball game- Oh, God!" Blair arched up, his body tensed in agony, and immediately, bullets sprayed the hedge again.
Jim threw himself over Blair, hoping to deflect any hits. When the gunfire ceased, he eased back slightly and wiped the sweat from Blair's brow, his hand smearing blood and grime in its wake. "Just hang in there."
Blair nodded, but his gaze was becoming distant, his eyelids at half- mast, and Jim felt renewed wetness soaking the makeshift bandage beneath his hand. "Sandburg!" He shook Blair's shoulder gently. Blair's head lolled lifelessly, his breath puffing almost soundlessly from a lax mouth.
Jim turned back to Simon, his expression grim. From here, safety seemed like two football fields away. "Where the hell is the SWAT team?"
"On their way." Simon lifted his radio and turned his attention back to the gunman in the house. "Reynolds, give it up. There's no place for you to go."
Both men ducked down as Reynolds let loose another hail of bullets. Jim's attention focused back on Blair. His senses ranged out, hearing the rapid, weak heartbeat, the small pained gasps, seeing the crimson blood that stained Blair's sweater and pants.
How the hell had it gone so bad, so fast? It was supposed to have been a simple witness interview.
"It's just a witness interview, Chief. I won't need you there."
Jim tapped Blair's temple. "This morning you were bitching about not having enough time at the university. I've got it covered. Go back to school."
Blair's shoulders slumped, then he grabbed Jim's arm and pulled him closer. "I don't think I can."
Jim grinned. "You piss off a co-ed's boyfriend?"
Blair flushed, but his eyes glittered with impatience. "I've just got a bad feeling about this. If it's just a witness interview, we'll be done in an hour, and you can drop me at the university on your way back to the PD."
The absolute seriousness on Blair's face erased any humor from Jim's thoughts. He'd had enough gut feelings in his time as a cop to know not to ignore it. "Okay."
Turning onto Wilson Street, Jim gave his uncharacteristically silent partner a worried glance. "What's up, Sandburg?"
Blair turned toward him, a deep frown creasing his forehead. He shrugged. "I don't know. I just think you shouldn't go in alone."
Jim tried for levity though his heart wasn't in it. It wasn't like Sandburg to be this spooked. "Think Incacha passed along more than the way of the Shaman?" He flinched from the expected, but unexpectedly solid blow to his arm. "Easy, Rocky, I'm driving here!"
"Sorry." Blair slumped down in his seat and stared out the window. "I don't know what it is, but something's not right."
"Okay." Jim reached out and patted Blair's shoulder. "You convinced me. What was the house number?"
"Next one up." Jim pulled into the curb and parked the truck. Getting out, he trotted to meet Blair on the driveway. "Anything goes down, you hightail it to the truck and radio for backup. Got it?"
Blair sketched a sloppy salute and offered up a small smile. "Got it, boss. Who's the witness?"
Jim checked his notepad as they made their way to the front door. "A Miss Winifred Winslow. She was putting out her trash when she saw someone drive off from the house next door."
"Winifred? She's got to be like eighty years old."
"Sixty-five, actually. Uniforms said she's a retired teacher, right on the money, had a description down pat."
"So why are we here?"
"Patrolman lost the transcript of her interview " Jim stopped for a moment. The whiff of something familiar teased at his nostrils. He felt Blair touch his arm.
"Blood," Jim said softly. He gave Blair a small shove away. "Get back to the truck. Call for backup."
Blair's face had suddenly gone pale and he swallowed convulsively. "Maybe I should come with you-"
"Okay." Blair gave the house a nervous glance then turned back-and all hell broke loose.
The pain was nothing more than a minor annoyance now. Blair drifted away from it, feeling at peace. Something tapped at his face and he batted it away, not wanting to return to the agony. Something was wrong, though, but he felt too drowsy, too disconnected to focus on it.
"Sandburg hear me?"
"Jim?" Blair coughed, feeling wetness dribble down his chin. He gasped as a shearing agony knifed through his chest. A hand cupped his cheek and turned his head slightly to the side. He looked up and saw Jim's pale face above him. Reaching up, he weakly clasped Jim's hand with his own, fighting to hold on, to stay awake.
"You hold on, you hear me?" Jim whispered, his voice trembling. "SWAT's here. Won't be long now."
"Don't know I can."
"You can." Jim's voice sounded as sure as Blair's was uncertain. "Trust me."
Blair stared for a long moment into Jim's blue eyes. "I do. Always have." But oblivion's pull was too strong now, and he was so tired. He struggled to keep his eyes open, to stay focused on Jim's face, but his eyelids were too heavy
"Blair?" Jim felt for a pulse in Blair's neck, not willing to trust just his enhanced hearing, which was trying to focus on everything at once. Blair's pulse fluttered against his fingertips, weak and rapid, but mercifully present. His chest rose and fell, a soft, wheezing gasp punctuating the labored breaths. The bleeding appeared to have slowed under the pressure of Jim's hand.
Distantly, Jim heard the voice of the SWAT sharpshooter. "I have a clear target. Do I have a green light?"
Now, Jim urged silently.
"You have a green light," the SWAT commander finally replied. "Take your shot."
Jim instinctively huddled down, sheltering Blair's body beneath his own. A single shot rang out, and for a moment, there was a deathly silence, then chaos descended.
"Pulse is 118 and thready, looks like he's got a hemothorax. We're losing him!"
"So, this guy's complaining of problems with his senses? Tess, this is great! I owe you big time. Dinner? Tonight? Sure, you bet! Oh, wait. I'm kinda strapped for cash 'til Friday. Can I take a raincheck? Sure, see you then. Pick you up at seven." Blair hung up the phone and stared at it for a moment, then blew out a slow, deep breath.
Finally! This could be the real thing! Here was his chance to silence his detractors once and for all.
Barely able to contain his excitement, he hurried out of his basement office, up the stairs and out to his car. Heading for Cascade General Hospital, he quickly scanned his hastily scrawled note. Detective James Ellison. A cop. His mother was going to love that.
Despondently, Blair pushed away Burton's tome and stared into space. His hastily rehearsed speech hadn't exactly won Ellison over. If anything, the detective had looked at him as though he was sizing him up for a straitjacket.
But Blair knew he was right The way the man had studied him, had catalogued him, hell, had pretty much looked right through him. The way he'd reacted when Blair had listed his symptoms, especially his hyperactive tactile sense-Blair groaned. 'Extra sensitive touchy- feely lately'-that had won him no points on the confidence scale, but it was all there. Detective James Ellison was a Sentinel. His Holy Grail.
Not that it was much use to him. Ellison had pushed past him, barely glancing at the business card Blair had pressed into his hand, and stormed out the door.
He was so screwed. Listlessly, he reached out and turned on his CD player, letting the pounding music replace the depressing thoughts in his head. Didn't matter, he told himself. There had to be more than one Sentinel out there, right? I mean, if there was one He began to sway to the music, moving with the beat. Didn't matter
The knock on his door startled him and he turned, expecting to find a troubled student, begging for a better grade on the latest assignment. Instead he found himself looking at the imposing figure of Detective Ellison. His heart thumped wildly in his chest and his hopes rose.
"Oh, hey!" he greeted Ellison, who stood, staring at him with a jaundiced glare. Blair fixed a bright smile on his face and tried to talk around the lump in his throat. "Notice how the war chant of the Yanomamo headhunters finds its echo in the cellars of Seattle. I'm sure your dad used to say that stuff all the time about the Stones. 'Hey, hey, turn that jungle music down.'"
"Yeah, he did. So do I. You mind ?"
Pacing the corridor outside the emergency room, Jim sidestepped a hurrying nurse. She walked past them at a clipped pace, heading for Blair's room, and Jim made to follow, growling in frustration when Simon grabbed his arm and held him back.
"You know you can't go in there, Jim," Simon insisted. "You'll just be in the way."
Jim's shoulders slumped and he turned to Simon, his eyes haunted. "It's bad, Simon."
Simon led Jim over to the chairs in the waiting room and sat down, motioning for Jim to do the same. Jim took a quick glance back at the emergency room, then flopped into the chair beside Simon. "The kid's tough," Simon said. "You've said that yourself. Look how he handled himself against Kincaid-first day at the PD? And what about Lash?"
"Nearly got him killed then," Jim commented somberly.
"It wasn't your fault. Lash had us all fooled for a while there."
"I should have gotten there sooner," Jim replied doggedly. Even now, the memory of rushing into the apartment, seeing the evidence of a violent struggle and no Blair made his heart pound in his chest. He could still feel the relief at hearing Blair's voice, taunting Lash, remembered a drugged, disoriented Sandburg clinging to him when he finally released the chains, knew he'd needed the reassurance and comfort almost as much as Blair had.
Simon shook his head. "You got him out. You know, I never thought I'd see the day that you'd let a nerdy kid like Sandburg get under your defenses."
Jim gave him a small, wry smile. "Seemed like I didn't have a say in the matter." He paused for a moment, scrubbing his hands over his face. "When I first agreed to let him help me, all I was thinking about was what was in it for me, getting control, using my abilities for my own benefit."
"Well, Sandburg said it was a quid pro quo arrangement, right? He got his thesis subject and you got a Guide."
"You know, it wasn't until Brackett called him that, that I realized how important he was to me, how often I expected him to put his studies- his life-on hold to help me out or figure out what was happening with my senses, and he never let me down. That time when Quinn took you..."
"Something I'll never forget." Simon winced at the memory.
"He never told me he was hurt until he just couldn't go on. Even after Rooker knocked him out, he got up and kept right on with me. He never gave up."
"I told you then he handled himself well, even in that mine shaft, with a bullet in his leg, choking on the smoke." A small smile touched Simon's lips. "Only thing that brought him down was that damn helicopter ride."
"I'm not going to let him risk his life anymore, Simon. He's not just my Guide, he's my friend. I won't let him suffer again because of me, because of what I do."
"Don't you think that's Sandburg's decision to make?" Simon asked. "What about your senses?"
"They're not important," Jim said, standing and staring at the closed door of the examination room. "He's what's important."
The door opened and a tired-looking doctor stepped. Quickly, he strode toward them. "Detective, Captain, I don't have a lot of time. Blair's condition is serious. He lost a lot of blood and one of the bullets nicked his lung. He's bleeding internally and we've stabilized him enough to take him to surgery."
"What are his chances?" Jim asked.
The doctor shook his head. "I honestly can't say. He's young and fit, which weighs in his favor, but the delay getting him here decreases his chances." He patted Jim's arm. "We'll do our best."
"Mr. Sandburg?" A hand touched his shoulder, shaking gently, and he gasped as a shard of pain rippled through his chest. "It's all right. You're going to be fine. You'll be going up to the ICU shortly."
He tried to answer her, but he couldn't seem to draw enough breath, and his eyelids were too heavy to keep open.
"Going somewhere, Chief?"
Blair looked over his shoulder at Jim, who leaned against the doorjamb of the spare room, a bemused expression on his face. "Just sorting through some things."
Jim walked into the room and sat down on the futon. He waved a hand at the collection of clothing, books, notepads and memorabilia spread out on the floor, around Blair's feet. "I thought you lost pretty much everything in the fire."
Blair sat down on his butt with a sigh and brushed his hair back from his sweaty face. "I did. Everything at the warehouse anyway. Luckily, I kept my most important notes and a couple of changes of clothing at the U. I tossed my other clothes out. I know the smoke on them was bothering you, even after I washed them so " He shrugged.
"So, where's all this stuff going?" Jim picked up a tribal mask and eyed it curiously.
"It's okay," Blair reassured him, taking the mask from his hands and hanging carefully on a newly established hook on the wall above his dresser. "Never had much closet space when I was a kid, so I learned to prioritize. I thought some of the smaller artifacts and stuff could go out in the living room on the bookcase."
"Mm-hmm." Jim nodded, but didn't look convinced. He pressed his hands together and regarded Blair thoughtfully. "So, that one week deal you wanted ?"
Blair felt his face heat with embarrassment. The time limit had come and gone two weeks ago. Jim hadn't said anything and Blair Well, he supposed he could have tried harder to find a place, but it just felt so good to have a permanent place to hang his hat, so to speak, he hadn't wanted to think about leaving. "Sorry." He started to gather his things up off the floor and began to pack them back in the boxes. "I've just been kind of busy, what with Larry and the case with Antoine. I'll start looking tomorrow. Be out of your hair by the end of the week."
"Sandburg!" A hand squeezed his shoulder and he looked up into Jim's eyes. There was no impatience or anger there, just warmth. "There's no need for you to look for another place."
"There isn't? Why not?"
"I just thought, if you're happy here, you could stay. Works well for both of us, working together, and the room's going spare."
"Really? I could stay here? I'll pay rent, man, do my share of the chores."
Jim grinned at him. "You bet you will. Speaking of which," he rubbed his stomach, "I'm starving and it's your turn to cook. So, how about you finish putting all that stuff away after we eat?"
Blair accepted a hand up from his partner. "Sounds like a plan." He watched Jim walk from the room-his room. Bending, he picked up a small statuette from one of the boxes on the floor and placed it on his bedside table, bestowing a small pat before hurrying out to join his partner.
Jim awoke with a start and the small shake of his shoulder and looked up dazedly at Simon.
"Doctor's coming," Simon said.
"Sorry," Jim said, standing as well and scrubbing at his face with both hands. "You shouldn't have let me go to sleep."
"You looked like you needed the rest." Simon shrugged, looking unapologetic, and turned to face the doctor striding toward them.
"How is he?" both men asked at once.
"Tougher than he looks," Doctor Fraser said with a tired smile. "It took longer than we thought, but we got all the bleeders and he's stable. He's just been moved to ICU."
Jim's shoulders slumped in weary relief. "So, he's going to be okay?"
"His chances of a full recovery are good," Fraser said, "but I'm not prepared to give a 100% guarantee yet. He's still weak and there's still the risk of an opportune infection taking hold. You can sit with him for a short time, if you'd like. You'll have to ask the ICU nurse on duty to buzz you in. I left your names at the desk."
Jim extended his hand and shook the doctor's. "Thank you. We'd like that- and thank you for pulling Blair through."
"A lot of that effort was your partner's," Fraser said. He pulled off his scrub cap and smiled. "I'm off to find a cup of coffee. If you'll excuse me "
"Thanks again," Jim said, feeling some of the weight lift from his mind.
There didn't seem to be a single part of Blair's body that wasn't attached to an IV line or monitor and that only served to remind Jim of his partner's still- precarious hold on life. Reaching up, Jim placed his hand on Blair's forehead, brushing back a few strands of hair. Blair's skin was reassuringly warm, his breath slow and shallow, but assisted only by an oxygen mask, not the expected endotracheal tube. Seating himself in the chair by the bed, Jim focused on his partner, allowing the beeping monitors to fade into the background.
"Thank God he's all right," Simon whispered, his voice quavering a little. He cleared his throat, and touched Blair's nearest hand lightly. "I need to get back to the station," he said. "I'll let everyone know the good news. You need a ride home?"
Jim shook his head. "Not yet. Not 'til he wakes up."
"What you were saying before, about cutting him loose," Simon said. "If you're determined to do it, wait 'til the kid's back on his feet, okay?"
"I haven't changed my mind, if that's what you're asking," Jim replied. "Seeing him like this only reinforces that I'm making the right decision."
"I doubt Sandburg's going to see it that way," Simon said. "Call me if there's any change or if you need anything."
"Thanks, Simon. I will."
Jim was in the jungle, though it wasn't blue this time. Dark green fronds swayed on the breeze and the earth was a rich brown beneath his feet. Still, it was the jungle. He looked up at the Chopec warrior who stood on the steps that led to the temple of the Sentinels. "Incacha "
The shaman's face was impassive, but Jim could see a glint of displeasure in the dark brown eyes. "After my death, you chose to become Sentinel of the Great City once more, did you not?"
"With Blair's help, yes," Jim answered honestly, "but this isn't about me, Incacha, or who I choose to be. It's about my Guide and the danger he faces every day by being at my side."
Incacha quirked an eyebrow. "So, you acknowledge he is your Guide?"
"Yes, of course, but-"
"Did he not accept the Way of the Shaman that was passed onto him?"
"Then the choice is his to make, Enqueri, not yours."
Jim shook his head, desperate to make the shaman understand. "He almost died."
Incacha fixed him with a no-nonsense glare. "The choice is his."
Jim opened his eyes to see the pretty face of Nurse Meredith looking down at him.
"Your friend's regaining consciousness. He's asking for you."
Jim surged up-and almost toppled off the sofa he'd fallen asleep on. He looked around blearily, finally recognizing the small side room he'd been shown to after the nurse had found him asleep in Blair's room. The doctor wanted to conduct further tests and Jim knew he would just be in the way if he remained. He couldn't see the point in going home, though, knowing he'd only have paced or tossed and turned until daylight came or the hospital phoned with the news that Blair was awake. Hurrying back toward Blair's room, he put the disquieting dream he'd had to the back of his mind.
Blair's eyes opened to half-mast when Jim strode to his side. He looked washed out and exhausted, lines of pain creasing his forehead now that he was awake.
"Hey, Chief, good to have you back." Jim reached out and took Blair's hand, squeezing gently. "The nurse will be in shortly with something for the pain. How is it you always manage to get the good-looking ones and I get stuck with the mean ones?"
Blair looked up at him, drowsy and a little befuddled. "I can stay, can't I?" he whispered. "I don't have to leave?"
Any assurances Jim wanted to give were lost in the light of Blair's heartfelt question. Blair had often said since Incacha's passing that they shared a link, a bond since Incacha had passed the Way of the Shaman onto him. Had Incacha come to Blair, too, while he was comatose? Jim certainly wouldn't have put it past the wily shaman, determined as he was to keep Sentinel and Guide together. Remembering Simon's caution, Jim simply smiled reassuringly and nodded.
"Sure, you can stay, Chief."
"I can't wait to get out of here tomorrow," Blair sighed. He waited until Jim raised the head of the hospital bed, then shifted back carefully, wincing a time or two, until he was comfortably situated against his pillows. "You want to tell me why they wake you up to give you a sleeping pill?"
Jim grinned and filched a couple of grapes from the fruit basket on Blair's rollaway table. "Because they love to torture you?" He settled himself in the chair by Blair's bed. "Maybe they figure it'll force you to get better so they can have the bed back."
Blair looked thoughtful and nodded before stealing a grape from Jim's hand. "You could be right. I have to admit, though, I'm glad I'm not having weird dreams anymore."
"Dreams? What about?" Jim forced his voice to sound casual.
"I don't remember most of them. I know there was one about when we first met " Blair's forehead creased as he thought. "I don't know. They're all kind of hazy and mixed up."
"You were on some pretty potent painkillers," Jim commented. "Any dreams about the jungle; Incacha?"
"Why would-?" Blair's eyes widened. "You had some more visions, didn't you?" He leaned forward, gasping as his stitches pulled. "Ow!" Defeated, he leaned back again. "What about? Were they about me?"
Jim shrugged. "Sort of."
"Sort of isn't an answer, Jim! C'mon, spill!"
Jim sighed. "I've been thinking that maybe it's time you gave up the observer's pass, went back to school full time." He held up a hand when Blair opened his mouth to protest. "You've said yourself, you have enough information for a dozen dissertations. There's no need for you to be putting yourself in danger anymore."
"You want me to leave?"
Jim shook his head. "Not the loft. That's your home now as much as mine. I just don't want you getting hurt anymore."
"Do I have any say in this?" Blair asked.
"I don't know," Jim admitted. "Incacha says it's your choice. I'm not sure he's right. I don't know if I could live with myself if something happened to you."
"This wasn't your fault, Jim," Blair said softly. "I chose to come along."
"Exactly, and helping me do my job almost got you killed."
"I could get killed crossing the street," Blair commented, then rushed on when Jim rolled his eyes. "I know the chances are greater while I'm riding with you, but I made my choice when Incacha passed on the Way of the Shaman to me. Way before that, really after Brackett, when I saw how we could work together to keep us both safe. This is part and parcel of who I am now, Guide to the Sentinel. I can't give that up and I won't. I think, deep down, you know that as well as I do."
"And if you get hurt again?" Jim forced himself to say it. "Or worse?"
"Then you have to live through it and move on, just as I would if it were you. You think it would hurt any less for me?"
"No, but this is my job, what I chose to do."
"And so did I." Blair's voice was sure, his conviction firm.
Jim stared at him for a long moment, then nodded. "Okay."
Blair gaped at him. "That's it? Just okay?"
Jim shrugged and leaned back in his chair, stretching his legs out. "Who am I to argue with the Shaman of the Great City?" He looked at his watch. "Game's about to start. You want to get the TV?"
Blair shook his head. "So, we're still partners?"
Jim reached out and patted Blair's shoulder. "Yeah, Chief, we're still partners." Settling back, he pulled a bag from under his jacket and flourished it.
"You brought popcorn?" Blair snatched the bag from Jim's hand and sniffed the contents, closing his eyes in bliss. "And it's still warm! You are the best, man!"