Instincts

By: Lyn

FEEDBACK TO: townsend297@gmail.com

DISCLAIMER: Jim and Blair are the property of Petfly etc. All other characters and the story are mine. This story has been written for my own and other’s enjoyment.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Written for Techgrrl, who issued an interesting and rather tough challenge on the SA List. I hope you enjoy it, Techgrrl.

Jim Ellison looked across to where Blair Sandburg was propped up against the storeroom wall. His head hung down onto his chest and only the soft, almost soundless gasps of pain indicated that he was still alive.

The piece of cloth Jim had torn from his shirt to use as a pressure bandage had fallen to the ground and the wound was bleeding again. Jim watched as the blood welled up from where the bullet had torn through Blair’s upper chest. He followed its path as it oozed down Blair’s arm and dripped slowly from his fingertips. If he looked closely enough, he could see the pulse in Blair’s neck as it pumped out his life- giving fluids, past the ragged tear in his flesh peppered with miniscule flecks of gunpowder...

"Jim!" Blair’s head snapped up, the sudden movement bringing a grunt of pain from his lips. "Don’t zone on me, man," he whispered. "I think we’re going to have to rely on you to get us out of this one."

Jim nodded, then indicated the fallen cloth with his head. "You’re bleeding again."

Blair looked down at his chest and touched the wound gently, as though just noticing it. He scrabbled for the bloody swatch of cloth with clumsy fingers and pressed it to the wound. His head flopped back against the wall, and he squeezed his eyes tightly shut against the pain the pressure caused.

"Thanks," he breathed.

~o0o~

Jim cursed silently as he realized the awful predicament his inattention had placed them in. The two men had stopped at a small grocery store on the way home, after several hours of tests on Jim’s sentinel abilities. Since they were both exhausted, Jim had offered to buy dinner, but Blair had insisted that his spaghetti had a lot more going for it than Wonderburger. While Jim knew it was probably more of a thank-you gesture from his partner than the desire to avoid take-out food, his stomach wasn't willing to pass up the offer of one of Blair's home-cooked meals.

They had walked in on a robbery in progress.

Three men had viciously attacked the elderly owner of the small corner store, leaving him behind the counter bleeding from a gash to the head. The injured man was trying to calm his wife, speaking to her in their native Vietnamese language as she fought to get to his side, struggling against the man. The robber held the frail, distraught woman easily, at the same time, holding a cloth sack out to his partner rifling the till. A third man could be seen at the rear of the store, checking out the storeroom and cold storage.

From their location at the front entrance, Jim and Blair could see another customer in the store, hidden behind large cartons in an aisle closest to the exit. Immediately, they moved to their left, trying to draw the thieves' attention away from her location. At the appearance of a gun in one robber's hand, Jim had pushed his partner behind him while identifying himself as a police officer. Using the split hearing focus he had just been working on with Blair, Jim was also able to track the customer's panicked gasps for breath as she crouched behind the boxes, then slowly inched her way toward the door.

Following the robbers' instructions to toss his gun aside and put his hands on his head, Jim spared a quick glance to the side window of the store. He could see the terrified woman's reflection in the glass as she crept out from her hiding place, her fair features impossibly white and damp with sweat. Under cover of speaking to his partner, Jim was able to monitor her inch her way toward the front door, the thieves still oblivious to her presence.

The woman finally made it to the exit and Jim kept his eyes forward on the gunmen as his peripheral vision saw her reach a shaking hand up to push the door open. He could feel his partner tense beside him, then both men stiffened as the bell above the door emitted a cheery jingle.

The apparent leader of the trio spun around, his weapon up and cocked at the source of the noise. With a shrill scream, the woman threw herself bodily through the doorway and was on her feet, stumbling toward the street as Jim tackled the gunman, throwing his weight against the arm holding the weapon.

The crack of the firearm was deafening in the small shop, then the man spun, the butt of the weapon crashing down hard on Jim’s head. As red-hot agony exploded in his skull, Jim dropped heavily to the ground. His blurred sight wavered in and out for a moment, then, as the thief brought his gun up to fire a second time at her, the woman skidded around the corner with a shriek and disappeared from sight.

Trying to ignore the gun still trained on him, Blair knelt at Jim’s side and helped him back to his feet while two of the thieves stood together and argued about their options. Jim wavered, hunched over with his hands on his knees, knowing Blair would keep silent as he recognized the familiar tilt of the sentinel’s head indicating he was listening in on the conversation.

"What the fuck are we gonna do now, man?"

"Shut up, Watson," the leader snarled, his gun still aimed unswervingly on Jim and Blair. "I’m thinking."

"Well, your time for thinking just ran out the door, Pete. Shit, this was supposed to be an easy hit, man. Easy money, you know?" Watson whined.

"You think I don’t know that?" Pete hissed. "I’m the fucking brains here. I’m the one who cased the place. If you’d searched the place properly, like I asked you, you would have found the bitch before she got away."

"Well, if those two hadn’t come in when they did, I would have found her," Watson retorted, nodding his blond head toward Jim and Blair.

"All right, I've decided we take the old couple, for insurance. They ain’t gonna try anything. Then we head out through the National Park; we can cover our tracks in the forest."

Watson listened, nodding his head vigorously in agreement.

"We’ll have to waste the olds, though, when we know we’re clear," Pete continued.

"I told Trey we should have worn masks."

"It’s cool," Pete soothed his agitated accomplice. "Go finish emptying the register."

Jim quietly relayed the thieves’ plan to Blair, using his bent head as cover for the conversation, but despite Jim’s quiet warnings to him to keep his mouth shut, Blair had stepped forward.

~o0o~

"Hey, guys, come on now. Don't get yourselves in any more trouble than you already are. If you just calm yourselves, and put the guns down--"

"Shut up." Watson backhanded the young man, sending him stumbling backwards into his partner.

"I'm serious, man," Blair continued, regaining his balance and ignoring Jim's hiss to be quiet. "Leave the old couple alone. If you want hostages, what better hostages than two cops, right?"

"What, you're a cop, too?" Pete sneered.

"Yeah. Vice," Blair said, using the old line.

"I don't like it, Pete," Watson said. "The old couple would be easier to control."

"Well, it's my decision that counts, isn't it? I say we take the cops."

Blair turned to smile triumphantly at his partner, his look fading when he saw Jim's expression.

"What are you trying to do, Sandburg?"

"I probably just saved their lives, man," Blair said softly. "And I know you can get us out of this."

"There's more than just us here, Chief."

Jim broke off what he was going to say as the youngest of the thieves dragged a very pregnant young Vietnamese girl from the storeroom at the back of the shop. Trey ran his dirty hands over her shaking body as she knelt before him and sobbed quietly.

Blair watched Jim’s jaw tightening in anger, the muscle there twitching frantically, and readied himself for the explosion as he felt Jim start to move.

Before Jim had gone a step, the girl’s mother rose to her feet, screaming hysterically in her own tongue and launched herself at the young thief, her tiny fists flailing. It was all over before Blair even had time to think. He knew Jim was going for the gunman, but when he saw the gun shift up to level at the screaming woman, Blair moved from behind Jim to throw himself in front of her, knocking her to the ground.

The fire that roared through his chest stole his breath and he lay on the floor of the little shop, feeling his consciousness ebbing away from him. His eyes clenched tightly shut against the sudden agony and he could make no sense of the shouted words that echoed above him. He was lifted and carried somewhere, then put down on the floor again. He moaned softly and felt himself being shifted to his side and a firm pressure exerted on his shoulder. He pushed weakly at the hands that caused his pain but they persisted, and he gave in to his exhaustion and floated away.

~o0o~

Blair opened his eyes, a tired ghost of a smile drifting briefly across his pale features. "So, you have, of course, come up with a foolproof plan to get us out of here while I’ve been, um, resting, haven’t you?"

Jim smiled back, his head still pounding but some of his concern easing as his partner regained consciousness. Although he had only a moment to examine it before he was handcuffed, the wound, while serious, did not appear to be life threatening at this point.

It was their situation that was his first concern, knowing it could deteriorate further at any moment. The lack of sirens or police outside was disturbing. Surely the woman who escaped had notified the authorities. "A plan? Of course. Not having your gift for talking my way out of a situation, I thought I’d go with the tried and true method of brute force."

Blair shrugged his good shoulder. "Works for me, man. Whatever gets us out of here."

Both men were silent for a time. Jim moved about, trying to get comfortable on the cold floor of the grocery's storeroom, flexing his hands in the cuffs behind him as they grew numb from the decreased circulation. Jim could hear no sound of police cars or emergency vehicles, but the men outside were discussing an immediate escape before the authorities arrived. Jim’s concern grew as heard Watson beginning to panic and argue that they kill everyone in the store and leave.

"Jim?" Blair said quietly. "About earlier, I’m sorry. I thought I could get them to give it up. I should have let you handle it."

"Nothing to be sorry about, Chief," Jim replied. "You--" He broke off as he heard the sound of footsteps pounding, coming to a stop outside the storeroom. He looked searchingly at his partner, appraising his condition. "Here they come. You sure you’re up for this?"

Blair shivered as though in apprehension, though Jim knew it was shock from pain and the loss of blood. "Let’s do it. I want to go home."

Jim stood up quickly and positioned himself behind the door. He nodded at Blair to remain where he was and Sandburg took the cue and leaned forward, allowing his head to slump onto his chest. As the door was flung open, Jim made his move, barreling into Watson who had stormed in, his gun waving wildly about the room as he realized one of their prisoners was missing.

The sentinel pushed the lanky gunman forward savagely using his shoulder to keep the man off balance. The two men hurtled across the small room, and Jim heard a satisfying thunk as the thug’s head impacted a porcelain hand basin. Watson went down on his knees, dazed but not unconscious, and Jim prepared himself for a further attack.

"Jim!"

The startled cry caused him to look up and a white-hot pain exploded behind his eyes as a second man smashed the butt of his weapon brutally into his temple.

"Jim!"

The word echoed sickeningly in his head as he was pulled downward into a maelstrom of agony, then blessed oblivion and darkness.

~o0o~

Blair struggled upward in an attempt to reach his unconscious partner but stopped as the muzzle of a gun was pressed firmly into his forehead.

"Want to be a hero again, hippie?"

Blair sat back down on the tiles and shook his head, his eyes not leaving Jim.

"Good." Pete Rogers helped his partner to his feet, keeping his gun trained on Blair. "Are you okay, Donny?"

Watson nodded as he rubbed the lump on his head. "Yeah, I’m good, man." He stepped over to where Jim lay and kicked him hard in the ribs. "Asshole," he spat.

"Let’s get out of here," Rogers said. "We've got to get them in the van."

"You bring him," Watson pointed at Blair. "Leave this pig for me." He stared in fury at Jim, his hands clenching.

Rogers reached down and hooked his hand under Blair’s arm, pulling him up onto his feet and ignoring his groan of pain. "Let’s go, cop. Your ride is waiting."

Blair stumbled over something as he was pushed out of the storeroom and moaned in sorrow as he looked down to see the bound and gagged body of the shop owner at his feet, his sightless eyes staring upward, a large pool of blood seeping from under his head. Blair’s despairing eyes caught sight of the similarly tied body of the man’s wife lying dead beside him and he choked back a cry of fear, silently cursing his stupidity. So much for his efforts to keep them alive. If he'd kept quiet, maybe they would be hostages, but at least they’d be alive. He tried to look around for the girl, but was pushed forward to the back door.

Outside the rear of the store, a white Ford van sat with its motor running and the rear doors open. Beyond the boxes and supplies packed in the back, Blair could see the driver leaning over to adjust something on the bench seat behind him.

"Trey?" Rogers called to the driver. "Get inside and help Donny with the other cop."

As Trey sidled past them, Rogers dragged Blair to the back of the van and forced him inside. Blair cried out as his shoulder impacted the metal floor when he lost his balance. He lay there, panting, his chest throbbing and hot. A moment later, he was startled from his drifting senses as Jim’s unconscious body was dumped roughly into the van beside him and then the doors were slammed shut. He felt the vibrations beneath him grow as the van was put into gear and then he was slammed against the side of the vehicle as it accelerated out of the alleyway.

Blair inched his way painfully back to Jim’s side and rested his head against the detective’s chest. To his great relief, he could hear the steady heartbeat and then his own eyes closed as shock and pain combined once more to send him into unconsciousness.

~o0o~

Blair came to his senses with a loud, raucous noise howling in his ears and hands that alternately stroked and patted at his face. "Stop it," he mumbled, batting impatiently at the insistent hands.

"Blair? Come on, Chief, open your eyes for me."

The voice sounded rough and was difficult to hear over the insistent scream that assaulted Blair’s ears but he finally recognized it as Jim’s voice and cracked open his eyes. Jim’s face slowly swam into focus, and Blair moved his head slightly to look at their surroundings.

They were in semi-darkness, but he could see enough to tell that they were still in the back of the van. He appeared to be scrunched up against the back of the bench seat.

"Jim? What happened? Are you okay?" Blair reached for Jim’s hand and pulled himself up slowly to a sitting position.

"How are you doing, buddy?" Jim asked, squinting at Blair’s face.

Blair nodded and then swallowed convulsively several times as nausea threatened to overwhelm him. "What the hell is that noise?"

"It seems like we’ve had an accident. I think they either took a bend in the road too fast or had a tire blowout, either way, we ran into a tree. That noise is the car horn. Hang on a minute." While Blair watched, Jim crawled to the front of the van and leaned over to the front. Jim grunted with effort as he struggled to pull the body of the driver away from where he lay crumpled over the broken remnants of the steering wheel.

Blair gagged as the nauseating smell of blood and death permeated the air but breathed a sigh of relief when the horn finally stopped, leaving his ears ringing in the sudden silence.

He waited until Jim flopped back down beside him before he spoke again. "What about the others? Is everyone else dead?"

Jim shrugged and bent his head to rest on his pulled up knees, gently rubbing a shaky hand over a large angry bruise on his temple. "I don’t know," he said. "I’ve only been conscious for a short time myself. I thought I could hear someone yelling when I first came to, but by the time I figured out where we were, it had stopped again. There are only two bodies here, though."

He turned then to look at Blair and gently placed his hand over the wound in Blair’s chest. "What about you? How are you doing?" He placed his head close to Blair’s body and squinted once more at his partner.

"I don’t think it’s bleeding again," Blair answered. "It’s just throbbing a bit." He bit down on his lip to stifle a cry of pain as Jim’s fumbling hand caught on a piece of shirt that had glued itself to the wound. Watching Jim’s actions closely, he felt a cold dread settle in the pit of his stomach. "Jim? What’s wrong? What aren’t you telling me?"

Blair’s fear grew as Jim sat silently, his gaze roaming restlessly over the interior of the van. He tried again. "Come on, man, we’re in this together. What’s going on?"

Jim looked at him then and spoke casually. "It’s probably nothing. My sight’s a little out of whack, that’s all."

"Your sight sight or your sentinel sight?" Blair asked.

"Both, I guess," Jim answered. "It stands to reason if my ordinary sight is out of whack, then my sentinel sight is going to be impaired, don’t you think?"

"Yeah, of course." Blair said, looking embarrassed. "I’m not feeling too sharp here."

Jim rubbed again at the bruise on his head. "Don’t sweat it, Darwin. That makes two of us."

Blair watched as Jim slowly got to his feet, crouching to avoid banging his head on the roof. "What now?"

Jim extended a hand down to him. "Do you think you can stand up?"

Blair nodded and gripped Jim’s hand tightly. He wavered on his feet as he suddenly felt sweat break out on his skin, leaving him feeling chilled and shivery. He felt Jim’s strong arm around his waist and he leaned gratefully into the support. "I’m okay," he whispered reassuringly. "Just got a little light headed there for a minute."

Jim nodded and then turned toward the rear doors of the van, guiding Blair along with him. It took him a moment to fiddle with the handle before one door swung open and they both squinted at the sunlight that poured into the interior. Jim sat Blair down with his legs hanging over the edge of the doorway. He jumped to the ground and Blair could see he almost went to his knees at the impact of his landing.

"Jim!" Blair tried to catch his breath as he saw Jim clutch at the door of the van as he forced himself to his feet. "What's wrong?" Blair worried that the jolt had furthered impaired Jim’s sight.

"I’m good," Jim assured his partner. "Let’s get you down from there. Easy now." He reached for Blair’s arm, brushing by it twice before he grabbed it and anchored it firmly in his hand. He stepped closer to the van and eased his other arm around Blair’s waist, lowering him gently to the ground. Blair could feel the damp sweat that seeped through Jim’s shirt and knew Jim's tactile sense would feel the chill of his own skin.

Jim raised his face to the sky. His sight appeared to be dulling further by the minute.

"What can you tell?" Blair asked softly.

"The warmth on the left side of my face says it's well into the afternoon and the atmospheric temperature appears to be falling." As Blair moved away from his side, Jim drew him back quickly. " Hang on a minute, Chief. Let’s get our bearings first. Any idea where we are?"

Blair shook his head, knowing Jim would feel the slight flicking of his hair against Jim's cheek. "There’s a lot of trees and bush around. The road we came off is up there."

Jim squinted again, looking as though he could barely make out the blur of his hand as he moved it directly in front of him. "Above us, about twenty yards away. We’re at the bottom of a hill and the road doesn’t look like more than a dirt track."

"They said they were going to head for the National Park," Jim said. "That’s probably where we are. Give me a second here. Maybe I can hear traffic or something." As Blair watched, he carefully extended his hearing and turned his head automatically to track the sounds, simultaneously grimacing as he realized the futility of the action.

"That’s okay, Jim." Blair’s voice deepened, surer, the voice of the guide. "Doing that might still help you focus your hearing, if you follow the direction of the sounds. Don’t try to push your vision though. I don’t want you to zone. Just tell me what you are hearing and I’ll try to follow it."

Jim nodded gratefully and tightening his grip on his partner’s arm, he returned to the task at hand. "Forest noises. Birds. Some creatures scuttling in the undergrowth -- I can't tell what they are. I hear the breeze rustling the leaves of the tall trees above us. No manmade sounds though. Nothing," he said and Blair slumped a little against his side. "Hey, you okay?" Jim asked, leaning in close in an attempt to view his friend’s face.

"I’m okay," Blair answered. "Just tired. What are we going to do, Jim? I don’t think I’m up to walking out of here and the van’s…." He stopped as Jim pressed an urgent finger to his lips, and he strained to hear what the sentinel could. It came softly at first, then more clearly as a gust of wind blew up and seemed to carry it toward them. A cry, laden with pain and unmistakably female.

"Shit," Blair said, with feeling.

Jim cocked his head. "It’s coming from trees on the other side of the van."

Blair took the lead now, guiding Jim over the rough ground, but still leaning into him for support. Jim noted the small tremors of shock that accosted the small frame.

"Oh man."

Blair suddenly ground to a halt and Jim felt the younger man’s abdominal muscles spasm suddenly at the same time as his ears identified the ominous churning. He sensed Blair moving away from him quickly, then heard him sink to his knees, vomiting violently.

The sentinel managed to step over to his partner’s side and knelt beside him, holding his long hair out of his face and absently rubbing his back in sympathy. Finally he heard the retching cease and Blair leaned back against him with a sigh.

"Sorry," he whispered. "Took me by surprise."

"The driver?" Jim asked, nodding toward the van.

"The driver was Pete, at least he’s still recognizable. I don’t know who was in the passenger seat. It’s hard to tell without his head…" The voice trailed off and the retching began anew.

When it was over, Jim allowed Blair to slump to the ground. He could hear him panting raggedly, his sweaty head cradled on his forearms. Jim’s stroking of his back seemed to soothe him for a moment, then he wearily got to his feet.

"Where’s the other one, do you think?"

Jim shrugged and accepted Blair’s offer of a hand up. "Maybe he didn’t come with us." He paused as the girl’s shrill cry came again, closer this time. "Anyway, we’ve got other things to worry about."

Rounding the passenger side of the van, they found the girl from the grocery store huddled at the base of a tall firtree. Her ebony hair was matted with dirt and leaves and a wide swathe of grime and bruises distorted her pretty face. She whimpered softly as she saw the two men come into view and pressed closer to the trunk of the tree, her delicate hands cupping her pregnant belly protectively. A thin trail of scarlet dribbled from under her dress, dripping from her ankle and Blair shuddered at the harsh evidence of her assault.

He pulled his arm from Jim’s grasp and moved slowly toward the frightened girl, speaking softly and calmly. "It’s okay. We’re not going to hurt you. Remember us, we came into the store. Let us help you."

The girl nodded silently and then arched her back, screaming and pulling her legs up. Blair reached back for Jim and hurried over to the girl, dropping to his knees beside her. "Okay, okay," he soothed. "Where does it hurt?"

Blair watched as Jim leaned forward and placed gentle hands on the girl’s abdomen. "She’s in labor, Chief." He moved his hands lower and pushed softly into the flesh, feeling for the baby’s head. "Feels like she’s fairly advanced too, either from the accident or the assault or both."

"Oh man," Blair moaned. "What are we going to do?"

"I guess you’re going to have to deliver it," Jim said, as he smiled at the girl and stroked her damp hair from her forehead.

Blair stiffened at the words. "Me? Why me?"

"Well, you’ve lived with tribes and stuff, observing them."

"Living with tribes and stuff doesn’t predispose me to having delivered babies, Jim."

"Haven’t you?"

"No, I haven’t. I watched. Once. And then I passed out. What about you?"

"What about me?"

"You’re a cop."

"Being a cop doesn’t predispose me to be able to deliver babies, Sandburg."

"Have you?"

"Have I what?"

Blair groaned. "Have you delivered a baby before?"

"Yes, I have, a couple, as a matter of fact. One in Cascade and one when I was in Peru."

"Then you’re the obvious choice, Doctor Ellison," Blair turned and smiled at the girl who now lay quietly, panting softly.

"Blair, I can see hardly anything and my sight’s getting worse. I could hurt her or the baby."

Their worried discussion was cut short as the girl reached out and caught Blair’s hand in hers. "Please," she whispered. "Help baby."

Jim helped to make the young woman comfortable while Blair made his way back to the van to search for first aid gear and blankets. Night was only a few short hours away and the chill in the air was now obvious. They had made brief introductions while Minh had been resting between contractions but he had steered the conversation onto other things when the girl asked about her parents.

Blair pulled Jim away briefly and whispered softly in his ear. "I saw her parents when they were taking me out to the van. One of them shot them both in the back of the head," he dropped his gaze to the ground and his voice quavered with remorse. "I am such a fucking idiot. I’ve been working with you for long enough to recognize the type, man. They were never going to let them go. Why the fuck didn’t I listen to you. It’s all my fault." He fought to contain the growing hysteria but he felt powerless to stop it.

Jim grabbed him hard by both arms and shook him hard. "Pull yourself together, Sandburg," he growled, more harshly than he meant. He put a hand up to his head and Blair saw him grimace in pain. "Self-recrimination isn’t going to help anybody right now, especially not Minh and her baby. There’ll be plenty of time later for us both to examine what we could have done differently." He turned to look over his shoulder as Minh cried out once more. "You okay to go check out the van, see what you can find us?"

"Yeah." Blair spoke softly.

Jim squeezed Blair’s arms once, then reached up to tousle the curly hair. "Go."

~o0o~

Blair returned to the tree looking marginally more confident than when he left. "I found a cell phone. I tried it but the display keeps saying there’s no signal out here. The batteries are low, but maybe if we leave it on, they could track the signal."

Jim nodded. "It’s worth a try, Chief. What else have you got?"

"Oh, right. I found two blankets and a shirt. It’s old, but it looks clean enough. Oh yeah, and two bottles of water." His voice sounded weary and pain filled and Jim frowned at him in worry. "I’m okay," Blair reassured him, "until we get out of here."

Jim could feel the heat of fever beginning to take hold in Blair’s body and could smell the sweet, sickly scent of infection emanating from his partner’s wound.

Jim nodded his acquiescence, knowing there was nothing to be done until then and took one of the blankets, laying it over Minh’s belly. "Put the other blanket around her shoulders for now, Chief. I think this delivery is going to require some team work."

Blair swallowed convulsively but nodded and kneeled next to Jim.

"I can’t see enough to deliver this baby safely on my own," Jim continued, "but if you use your eyes to tell me what’s happening and place my hands where I ask you, I think I can use my sense of touch to feel what’s happening. That way, I can tell you what to do and when."

"I don’t know if I can do this, man," Blair whispered nervously.

"Sure you can," Jim insisted, leaning forward to stroke Minh’s head once more, shushing her cries of pain with soft noises. "Minh’s got the hard part. Let’s all have a few sips of water out of one bottle, we’ll use the other to wash our hands."

~o0o~

An hour later, Blair leaned back and carefully moved his head from side to side. "It will be dark soon, Jim. I’m going to be as blind as you are."

Jim held his hands out. "Let’s see how she’s going. I need you to place my hands at the opening to her vagina."

Blair recoiled at the instructions. "Uh, Jim, isn’t that kind of … wrong?"

Jim shook his head. "I need to feel if the baby’s head is down the birth canal far enough to let her push."

"Oh." Blair positioned Jim’s hands, then looked up and tried to smile encouragingly at Minh. Her face was pale and damp and he could see where her tears from pain and fear had trailed white tracks through the dirt on her face. She smiled tremulously back at him and Blair felt his spirits lift a little.

He wiped the sweat away as it stung and made his eyes water. He was beginning to feel increasingly ill and suspected the bullet wound in his shoulder was infected. It throbbed steadily now in time with his rapid heartbeat and he felt weary to his bones.

Looking over, he watched, as Jim felt carefully under the blanket covering Minh’s stomach, his blind eyes closed in fierce concentration. The sentinel looked as battle weary as the rest of them, a large angry bruise now colored most of his temple and cheek and a thin line of dried blood snaked down the side of his neck from the wound on his head.

"Okay," Jim said decisively. "Hey, Minh, how are you doing, sweetheart?"

"She’s doing all right, I think." Blair translated the girl’s tired nod.

"Next contraction," Jim placed his hand on Minh’s and pushed gently, demonstrating his words, "I want you to push."

"She’s nodding," Blair said. "I think she understands."

Jim left his hand resting on Minh’s belly, waiting for the tightness that signaled a contraction, then pushed Blair to position himself behind her as she began to bear down with a groan of pain. Two pushes later and Jim could finally feel the soft downy head of the newborn protruding from the birth canal. He demonstrated for Minh to pant as the baby’s face came through on the next contraction, and hid a smile as Blair panted earnestly along with her. As he felt the baby’s head turn to one side, he motioned for Blair to join him.

"Show time, buddy," he said. "Next contraction, she’ll push the first shoulder out and I need you here to help the baby out. I don’t want to drop it."

Blair grit his teeth and Jim’s enhanced hearing picked up the sound of them grinding together. "Easy, Sandburg," he joked. "One of us with jaw problems is enough, I think." He patted the young man’s shoulder and then got him to guide both hands down to touch the baby’s head.

"Oh man," Blair whispered in awe and Jim felt his gentle fingers trace the shape of the tiny skull they cradled. Minh leaned forward and once more began to bear down, moaning softly.

"Good girl, good girl," Jim whispered.

He looked down at Blair’s soft gasp, seeing nothing but shadows, and then felt the fragile slippery body surge forward into their combined hold. Jim moved his hands away and allowed Blair to lift the tiny child and lay her on her mother’s belly.

"It’s a little girl, Jim."

Minh’s hand reached out in an age-old unconscious gesture to stroke her daughter, rubbing softly at the greasy white vernix that coated and protected her skin.

"I need you to just put your finger in her mouth, Sandburg and wipe out any mucus that’s in there. Is she breathing okay?"

"Yeah, she is. Shouldn’t she be crying though? Aren’t you supposed to smack her backside or something."

"Old wives’ tale," Jim said with a grin.

He felt Blair lean forward to perch himself over the baby, crooning soft nonsense noises at her as he cleaned out her mouth and wrapped her securely in the old shirt. Jim busied himself washing his hands as he waited for Minh to deliver the placenta.

"Oh gross," Blair said, as he tied the umbilical cord off with a shoelace and cut it with his ever present Swiss Army knife. "Did you know in some cultures, they eat the placenta?"

"You’ve told that one before, Sandburg," Jim replied tiredly, "and it’s still too much information."

Blair suddenly sat upright from where he knelt watching Minh nurse her baby. His body was tense and he scrabbled anxiously for Jim’s hand. "Jim? She’s losing an awful lot of blood, man."

"Damn," Jim cursed and moved over to place his hands once more on the girl’s stomach. "Hold her hand, Sandburg, just keep her calm."

"It’s okay, it’s okay," he heard Blair say softly as Minh began to whimper softly in fear. "Jim? What is it?"

"She’s bleeding from her uterus which means either a piece of the placenta has been left inside or the uterus isn’t contracting enough to stop the bleeding." Jim began to feel his way down to the lower part of Minh’s belly and then started to knead the muscles there with firm hands. After several minutes, as his hands began to cramp, he looked up at his partner. "Any change?"

"I think it’s stopped," Blair paused a moment. "Okay, it’s stopped."

Jim smiled tiredly at his partner. "You did a good job. Here comes the cavalry, Chief," Jim said as his sentinel ears picked up the sound of voices calling their names and the trampling of rushing feet through the forest.

Jim heard the sudden thump of something hitting the ground and even without Minh’s cry of distress, knew instinctively that it was his partner. "Sandburg!" he called. Receiving no answer, he crawled around to the other side and felt along the ground with his hands until he found Blair’s silent body.

He laid a hand on the unconscious man’s forehead and winced at the fever raging through him, realizing that the infection and blood loss had finally overwhelmed him. He focussed his hearing internally, not willing to trust his sense of touch on finding a pulse point and was relieved to hear the strong but rapid beat of Blair’s heart. He rolled Blair over gently to his uninjured side and moved his jaw up slightly to keep his airway clear.

Reaching over, he patted Minh’s shaking shoulder as she sobbed in fear, one hand holding the baby to her breast, the other patting at Blair’s hot cheek. "It’s okay," Jim soothed. "Help’s here. He’s going to be okay."

The sentinel sank down to the ground at his partner’s side, the exhaustion and pain finally catching up with him. Raising his head once more, he shouted as loudly as he dared, shuddering as the noise reverberated in his tender skull. "Here, we’re over here."

~o0o~

Two days later:

Jim leaned forward in the wheelchair and pushed open the door to Blair’s room. His partner looked up from the book he was reading and grinned widely.

"Jim! Hey, big guy, how are you doing?"

Jim graced the pretty nurse with one of his most endearing grins as she leaned over to fix the brake. "Thank you, Cathy," he purred.

Cathy nodded and turned a high voltage smile on both men, then picked up Blair’s chart and left.

"Oh, man, if you could only see better," Blair breathed.

"I can see enough, Sandburg, don’t you worry," Jim countered. "As a matter of fact, the doctor said the swelling around the optic nerves is almost gone and I should be able to go home tomorrow." He waved a hand in front of his face and wiggled the fingers as proof. "How about you?"

Blair sighed and held up an arm bedecked with an IV. "I’ve got another three days of IV antibiotics, then they want me to stay for at least twenty fours hours after that, to make sure the oral stuff’s strong enough to clear the infection. How’s Minh and the baby?"

Jim shifted uncomfortably in the wheelchair and smiled appreciatively when Blair patted the side of his bed in invitation. "Thanks," he said, making himself comfortable as Blair scooted over to make room.

"The baby is doing great. Minh and her husband called her Sarah. They said it was a good strong American name. Minh’s still grieving her folks, of course."

He stopped as he watched Blair’s smile fade to a frown and he looked down, suddenly shaky fingers tracing along the pattern on the quilt. "Hey," Jim said softly. "Hey," he said again when there was no response. He reached over and cupped Blair’s chin, pulling his face up, noting the shadowed eyes, lined with weariness. "You did the best you could. You weren’t to know those bastards would kill them anyway."

Blair pulled back from Jim’s grasp and shook his head. "I keep going over it in my head. There’s got to have been something I could have done differently."

"You did the best you could," Jim repeated. "They caught Trey hiking out of the park. He’s been charged with both murders and the assault on Minh."

Jim was silent for a moment, then turned around so he faced the same way as his friend and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. Leaning over, he snagged the remote control from Blair’s cabinet and switched on the TV. "Isn’t there a game on?"

They watched the basketball for a while in companionable silence, and Jim smiled as Blair began to doze off, his head drooping down slowly onto Jim’s chest, then jerking up with a start. Jim moved off the bed slowly, allowing Blair to lay back on his pillow with a sigh before curling onto his side.

"Jim?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you suppose you could talk the doctor into letting me go home as soon as the IV’s out. You can tell him you’re a medic and you know what to do."

"Sorry, Chief. I want you to do exactly what the doctor tells you. He warned you about losing function in your shoulder, if the infection doesn’t clear completely."

"Yeah, I know." The voice was sleepy, pensive, muffled by the pillow. "At least it will give me time to work on Cathy. Get her phone number, ask her out."

"She’s married, Sandburg."

The only answer was a soft snore.

FIN

- December 20th 2000

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