ANOTHER FINE MESS

BY: Lyn

FEEDBACK TO: townsend297@gmail.com

DISCLAIMER: The characters of The Sentinel are the property of Petfly, Di Meo and Bilson and Paramount. This fanfic was written for my own and others' enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.

ARCHIVE: Brothers in Arms and the SA Themefic website.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: An April Themefic for the SA List. Set after "Crossroads."

Betaed by Wolf. Thanks again. I've corrected and changed some things since, any and all errors are mine.

Feedback gratefully received.

"Now this is more like it." Jim Ellison stepped out of the cabin and sucked in a slow deep breath as his sentinel sight took in the breathtaking panorama spread out below him.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Blair Sandburg pushed the screen door open with one foot, his hands otherwise occupied with steaming mugs of fragrant coffee. Stepping over to his partner's side, he handed one of the cups to Jim and smiled at the detective. "Thanks for inviting us, Jim. You know you didn't really have to. I already told you I understood about the last time."

Jim shrugged, then blew on his coffee watching a tendril of steam curl lazily up into the air. "And I told you I didn't want to be alone this time. Sometimes I like company. Speaking of which, where's our illustrious captain?"

"Using up all the hot water in the shower," Blair said in a mock grumble. "Geez, Jim, he's worse than I am. I mean it's not as though he's got much more hair than you do…"

"I heard that."

Blair swallowed nervously as Simon's authoritarian voice rumbled from within the cabin. A second later, Simon poked his head out through the door, the grin on his face negating his gruff words. "I hope you two saved me some coffee."

"On the kitchen counter, Simon."

"Thanks, Sandburg."

Simon stepped out onto the verandah with his own mug of coffee in his hand and the three men stood at the railing in companionable silence drinking their brew and savoring the view.

A half-hour later, they were ready for their fishing trip at the lake not far away. Jim and Simon were ready that is. "Sandburg, shake a leg. It'll be nighttime before we get there."

"Coming, Jim." Blair staggered out of the door with a fishing rod in one hand and a bulging backpack in the other.

Simon rolled his eyes. "Mind telling us what's in the bag, Sandburg?"

"Just some extra stuff," Blair answered as he bent down and struggled to do up the buckles.

"Stuff?" The captain raised a curious eyebrow.

"Books, my journal, some lecture notes I need to look over before next week's classes." At the looks on his friends' faces he shrugged and smiled. "I get bored easily. Oh, and food and a couple of bottles of water."

"I thought we were planning on eating fish for lunch," Jim said as he made his way off the verandah and followed Simon down the rough track that meandered its way to the lake.

"Fresh air makes me hungry," Blair called after him as he scurried to catch up to the other two longer-legged men. "Hey, come on, guys. Wait up."

0~0~0~0~0

"Whoo-hoo! Yes!" Blair let out a triumphant whoop and did a little dance as he reeled in his second large fish for the day. Catching hold of the wriggling, slippery tail, the younger man held it up in the air and waved it at Simon and Jim who were fishing further downstream. "I am on fire today, guys."

"With all the noise you're making you're scaring our fish away," Simon said glumly as he looked at his still empty basket.

"You're just jealous, Simon," Blair chuckled as he made his way up the bank to deposit his catch and get more bait.

"Just remember, Chief, you catch 'em, you clean 'em," Jim called.

Blair shook his head, still chuckling as he bent over his bait bucket. "Jealous, both of you. You know, maybe…"

His words were cut off as a sharp crack of gunfire drowned them out and something hot slammed into his leg. He yelped as his knee buckled beneath him and he collapsed to the ground. His hands went immediately to the burning agony in his thigh and he clutched at the wound feeling warm blood spill over his fingers.

"Sandburg!" He heard a voice call out his name over the roaring in his head and he fought not to curl up in a ball as he saw Jim rushing toward him. Moaning in pain, he rocked in time with the throbbing in his leg and tried to push himself up from the ground.

"No! Stay down! Stay down!"

Somehow he registered the panic in Jim's voice and he dropped back to the ground, gasping as the impact jarred his injury. Another gunshot rent the air, sending birds scattering from the treetops and Jim launched himself toward him, scrambling up to cover him with his own body.

"Oh God! Oh God!" Blair groaned as wave after wave of pain shredded up his thigh and stole his breath.

He felt Jim shift around behind him and grasp him under the arms and he tried not to scream at the pain it caused. His vision was beginning to darken at the edges as he felt himself being dragged backwards along the ground. Dimly he registered his hair catching on something and he opened heavy eyelids to see that he was lying under a tree. "Jim."

The name came out as a mere puff of air and he wasn't sure if the detective had heard him but was relieved to see Jim turn toward him from his position in front.

"Easy, buddy," Jim said. He reached a hand back and rested it on Blair's uninjured leg. "Try to keep pressure on that wound until I can see what's happening here."

Blair nodded or thought he did but his hands were growing slippery with blood and he could feel his grip weakening. The world appeared to be fading out on him and he forced himself to stay conscious. "S-Sim'n? Where's Simon?"

"I can't see him from here. Just hang on, Blair." Jim's voice seemed to come from far away and Blair felt himself surrendering to the darkness. He heard Jim call his name, felt his leg being jostled but he was too far-gone to protest and he let himself drift away.

0~0~0~0~0

Jim cursed as he saw Blair lose consciousness. The wound in Blair's thigh looked messy and was bleeding heavily. Carefully, Jim shifted around so that he could pull his belt through the loops of his jeans and wrap it around the injured leg. Hurriedly he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it against the wound. Blair arched his back and moaned as Jim pulled the makeshift pressure bandage tight.

Jim's eyes darted back and forth, splitting his attention between his partner and the clearing. The detective watched for a moment, relieved to see the bleeding slow then turned his attention back to the river. Their fishing spot was deserted, rods lying abandoned on the ground and he could see no sign of Simon.

"Simon? You okay?"

There was no reply and Jim dialed up his hearing. He could detect at least three heartbeats in front of him. He heard a sudden scuffling in the bushes a few yards away and then the unmistakable sound of metal hitting flesh accompanied by a grunt of pain.

Jim pushed himself further back into the cover of the trees as he saw Simon emerge from the bushes. A large unkempt man in orange prison overalls stood behind him, one beefy arm wrapped firmly around Simon's neck, while the other held a gun to his head.

"You better come on out of there unless you want me to put a bullet in your friend's head," the man said.

Jim kept silent and looked around the area for a route to move around behind the man and get the drop on him but saw any path would force him out into the open. He looked back quickly at Blair as the younger man moaned softly and shifted on the ground.

The anthropologist's face was ashen and damp with sweat. Shock was setting in and Jim knew his partner needed medical help quickly. He looked up as the man slammed the gun brutally against Simon's head once more and the captain's knees buckled.

"Well, well, well. Look at what we got here." Jim tensed at the voice behind him and cursed himself for having his senses so focused on the men in front of him and Blair that he hadn't heard the second person approach. He turned slightly to look over his shoulder and saw that the man, dressed identically to the other had pulled Blair up from the ground to rest against his leg. The blade of a knife was pressed against the unconscious man's throat.

"Up! Move on out - slowly." The escapee fisted a hand in Blair's hair and motioned at Jim with the knife.

Jim put his hands in the air and stood slowly then stepped out from the trees and moved to stand in front of Simon and his captor. "You all right?" Jim asked.

Simon nodded, wincing as the man tightened his grip on his neck and pulled him back a few feet. The captain was sweating heavily and a large bruised lump jutted out from his right temple, already closing his eye on that side and puffing out his cheek.

"Sandburg?" Simon managed to gasp out but before Jim could reply, the second man appeared from the trees, hauling Blair with him. "Looks like you got one, Larry," he said as he dumped Blair roughly on the ground.

"Told you I could do it," Larry said. He pushed Simon toward Jim and stepped back, training his gun on both of them. Jim saw the captain's knees buckle and held him up by one arm, shooting a worried look at Blair at the same time.

"What do you want?" Jim asked. "Our friend there is badly injured. We've got to get him to a doctor, so why don't you just take whatever you want and go."

"Just what we plan to do," Larry said. "Where's your car?"

"Back along the track," Jim answered.

Larry nodded. "All right then. Pick up your friend and let's go."

Jim shook his head. "He's bleeding badly. If we move him we could kill him. I'll give you the keys. Take them and go."

Larry shook his head and nodded at his partner. "Do it, Dewey."

Jim's eyes widened as Dewey bent over Blair and forced his head back, placing the knife blade against his exposed throat. "No! Wait!" he implored him. Dewey looked at Larry and Jim sighed. "What do you want us to do?"

"You and your friend get him up between you then lead the way to your car," Larry instructed. "You do as you're told, nobody needs to get hurt."

Jim nodded, then looked at Simon. "You up to this?"

Simon looked dazed but he nodded. Carefully he pushed away from Jim's support and staggered to Blair's side. He touched the wound in Blair's leg and looked up at Jim. "Bleeding's stopped," he said.

Jim nodded and leaned in to grasp one of Blair's arms then lifted him gently until he was upright between them, his head lolling forward onto his chest. "Pick up his legs, si…Simon." He stole a quick glance at the two prisoners, hoping they hadn't picked up on the gaffe. Now was not the time for the men to discover they had cops as hostages.

Larry motioned for them to lead the way up the track. Jim hefted Blair's injured leg in one hand, gently shushing him as the anthropologist moaned at the jostling. He waited a moment until Blair quieted then with a nod to Simon they started off down the path toward the cabin.

0~0~0~0~0

Blair's leg was oozing blood again and he was semi-conscious, grunting with the pain by the time the cabin came into view. Jim did a mental check of what they had brought with them, hoping there was nothing lying out in plain view that might alert the men to who they were.

He had a gun in the glovebox of the Explorer and wondered if he might have a chance to get to it. A quick shake of Simon's head told him that the captain knew what he was thinking and what he thought of the idea.

They stood holding Blair between them as Larry and Dewey walked up the steps of the cabin and peered inside. "Not bad," Larry said. "Pity we don't have time to hang around and enjoy your hospitality."

He looked appraisingly at Jim. "Looks like you're about my size so I'll help myself to your wardrobe. Maybe the kid's stuff'll fit you, Dewey."

The smaller man nodded. "Can't say as I like his taste in threads though."

"Beggars can't be choosers, my mama always said," Larry replied. "Watch 'em while I go shopping."

Dewey nodded and took Larry's weapon then settled himself on the verandah where he could look down at the three men. "Uh-uh." He shook his head as Jim and Simon made to lay Blair on the ground. "Keep on holding him," he ordered. "Can't jump me with your hands full, can you?"

Blair's head lolled on Jim's shoulder and the detective spared a glance down at the wound in the young man's leg, concerned to see it was now bleeding steadily once more. He dialed up his hearing and listened to Blair's rapid heartbeat and his shallow, panting breaths and knew that time was running out.

Larry stepped out of the cabin dressed in a pair of Jim's jeans and a dark sweater, one of Jim's prized Jags caps perched on his head. "You got good taste, buddy," Larry said as he took his gun back and motioned Dewey inside. "Grab some food out of the kitchen while you're in there," he said.

"Jim?"

The word was pushed past Blair's lips with scarcely a breath of air and Jim tightened his hold on the young man. "Easy, Chief," he whispered. "You're going to be okay. Just keep breathing."

Blair nodded his head and his eyes fell closed once more. Jim looked at Simon. "How you doing?" he asked the captain softly.

"I'm fine," Simon assured him though it was obvious he was still in pain from the beating he'd endured. "Let's just concentrate on getting all of us out of here in one piece."

Both men looked up as Dewey stepped out onto the verandah dressed in some of Blair's clothes. The pants were too short on him, the flannel shirt was a tight fit across his broader chest and he tugged at the neck irritably. "Kid's too damn small," he grumbled.

"You get some food?"

Dewey held up a plastic trash bag and then Jim's hopes plummeted as he held aloft Simon's cell phone. The cabin was rustic and not often used. The attraction had been the lack of modern facilities. Simon had insisted on bringing his phone along when he'd heard there was no phone at the cabin and the nearest town was twenty-five miles away. Jim had hoped it wouldn't be found. "Got us a phone too," Dewey said.

"What do we need one of them things for?" Larry asked as he began to descend the steps, his weapon trained unwaveringly on the three men. "Don't even know how to use it."

"My sister's boy's got one of 'em," Dewey said as he followed his partner down to the Explorer. "He showed me how they work. Anyway, don't want to leave it here for them to be calling for help, do we?" He stopped and surveyed Jim and Simon; Blair's limp body slung between them and raised his knife again. "Or we could get rid of them now."

"Wait!" Simon said. "You really want to add murder to your charges?"

Dewey shrugged. "What do you suppose I was inside for in the first place?" His eyes narrowed and he stepped forward, placing the blade against Simon's cheek. "You talk like a cop. You a cop?"

He pressed on the blade and ran it down Simon's face as he spoke, grinning as a thin cut opened in the skin and oozed blood. Simon stood still and stayed silent, only the closing of his eyes betraying his pain.

"Dewey? Get in the damn car," Larry said from the driver's seat.

"We gonna leave 'em alive?" Dewey asked, not taking his eyes off Simon.

"You coming or am I leaving you here with 'em?" Larry asked.

"I'm coming, I'm coming." Dewey pushed on the blade so that it dug cruelly into Simon's face, eliciting a gasp of pain from the other man then pulled back and hurried to the car.

Larry gunned the engine and the Explorer skidded on loose dirt as it accelerated up the track toward the road leading out of the park. Jim watched until he was sure they were gone then hefted Blair into his arms. "Let's get him inside," he said. "Get the door, Simon."

0~0~0~0~0

Simon held the screen door open while Jim carried Blair's limp body into the cabin. The detective hesitated for a moment in the doorway, then made his way through to the main bedroom at the back and gently laid Blair down on the bed.

Blair moaned softly at the movement and shifted against Jim's staying hand. The detective reached for the brightly covered afghan on the chair beside the bed and pulled it up over the younger man's shivering body. He stroked a hand soothingly through his partner's sweat-damp hair as Blair arched up as the blanket dragged against his injured leg.

"What now?" Simon sounded weak and exhausted and a quick glance told Jim the captain was close to collapsing himself.

Jim sank onto the side of the bed and regarded Blair somberly. "Let's get him and you patched up, then we'll figure out what to do."

"I'm fine," Simon replied. He reached out a shaky hand and laid the back of it against Blair's grubby cheek. "He's going into shock."

Jim nodded. "Can you get some warm water, sir, and bandages --sheets, shirts, anything we can use to clean and bind the wound with."

Simon nodded, acquiescing to Jim's medical knowledge and went into the kitchen. Jim reached for his overnight bag, searching through the contents for anything that might be of help. A soft groan brought his attention back to the man on the bed.

Deep blue, pain-filled eyes opened slowly and drifted a lazy gaze around the room before settling on him.

"Hey," Jim smiled. Blair licked parched lips but did not speak, his eyes looked glassy and dazed. Jim stroked a hand up and down Blair's arm, speaking softly as he did so. "You've been shot in the leg, Chief, but you're going to be fine."

Blair's gaze flickered around the room again, as though uncertain of where he was. "We're at the cabin. You're going to be fine," Jim assured him.

The detective looked up as Simon came into the room carrying a bowl of disinfected-scented water, numerous rags slung over his shoulder. Jim looked back at Blair. "We're going to clean and bandage your leg, Blair and then I'm going to go get us some help. Okay?"

Blair didn't reply and his eyes still did not seem to be focusing on Jim. Sighing, Jim lightly tousled the injured man's hair and reached for the small pocketknife he'd found in his bag. Carefully, and as gently as he could, he cut the blood-drenched denim away from the ragged bullet wound and peeled the fabric back to give him better access.

"Simon? Can you just rest your hands on his shoulders?"

He waited until Simon nodded and took position, his large hands pressing firmly but gently against Blair's shoulders. "I don't want to frighten him by having you hold him down too tightly," Jim said in answer to the captain's questioning look, "but I don't want him jumping around when I clean this wound. It's going to hurt like hell."

Dialing up his sight, Jim was able to see the minute fragments of dirt and cloth that infested the deep wound. Gently, he wet a towel and began to wipe around the bullet hole, working his way to the outer edges and then around the surrounding, already swollen and inflamed flesh.

Simon was ready when Blair arched his back and screamed in pain, the young man's eyes closing tightly, tears squeezing from beneath the lids. Helplessly Blair bucked upward, trying to dislodge whatever was restraining him and preventing him escaping the agony..

"Easy, Sandburg, easy." Simon's deep voice rumbled shaky assurances and the anthropologist seemed to sense the voice and calmed considerably. Silent shudders wracked the sturdy body beneath Jim's gentle touch and then Blair's eyes opened, the gaze in them full of pain but completely lucid.

"Simon? Where's Jim?"

"Right here, Chief." Jim stroked a hand down Blair's face, brushing away the tears from his partner's cheeks. "Hang in there. You're doing great. I'm almost done."

True to his word, Jim finished cleansing the wound quickly, then with Simon's help, wrapped several layers of cloth torn from bed sheets around the steadily oozing wound. Blair was unconscious again by the time they were done, his body still shaking in the aftermath of the treatment.

Jim sat back feeling exhausted and drained from the ordeal, then raised a concerned face as Simon dropped heavily into the chair beside the bed.

"You all right, Simon?"

Simon nodded, then lifted a tentative hand, wincing as it contacted the lump on his head. "Felt better," he finally admitted. "How about you?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." Jim rummaged in his bag once more and pulled a small bottle of pills from within. He stood and stretched his aching back then headed toward the door. "It won't help much but I'll see if I can get some Tylenol into him for the pain."

Simon frowned as he regarded the unconscious observer. "Shouldn't we keep his stomach empty?"

Jim nodded tiredly. "Ideally, yes, sir but it's going to take me some time to get back to town and get help here. In the meantime, he needs fluids of some kind and he needs pain relief. My main worry now is that the bullet's still in his leg. It's going to get infected quickly."

Coming back from the kitchen, he handed a glass of cloudy water to Simon and sat behind Blair on the bed. As gently as he could, he lifted Blair's upper body, shushing his partner quietly as he moaned at the painful intrusion. He rested Blair's head against his shoulder, then motioned for Simon to put the glass to the injured man's lips.

Blair coughed and choked on the first drops that trickled down his throat, then gasped as the movement jarred his leg. Simon waited a moment, then poured a further small amount into Blair's mouth. The anthropologist suddenly came to life, grabbing at the glass with both hands. Simon pulled it away and Blair moaned at the loss.

Jim stroked a hand over his friend's cool forehead and spoke reassuringly to him. "Blair, just a little at a time. We can't risk giving you too much water but the pills will help the pain in your leg."

Blair nodded and slumped back against the sentinel's broad chest. Carefully, Jim maneuvered around until he was able to lay the young man back against the pillows.

"Dials," Blair whispered.

"What's that, Chief?"

"Dials," Blair repeated, his eyelids blinking drowsily. "Need dials like you to stop the pain."

"Amen to that, Sandburg," Simon said, as he rubbed once more at the lump on his head.

"Try that meditation you're always nagging me to do," Jim suggested. For the next few moments, he coached the young man into a restless slumber. He started at the touch on his shoulder.

"Thought you were zoning on me," Simon said with a note of concern evident in his voice. He sounded exhausted.

"Sorry," Jim replied. "Just making sure he's okay." He stood and watched the sleeping man a moment longer then walked to the door.

Simon followed him and slumped down into a chair at the rickety dining table and rested his head on his arms.

"Let's get you fixed up, then I'll head into town."

Simon shook his head. "I'll patch myself up, Jim. Go now. I don't like the look of that bullet wound. The sooner you get some help here, the better."

Jim studied his captain for a moment, then realizing the truth of his words, filled a couple of bottles with water from the faucet. Stepping to the door of the bedroom, he watched Blair sleep a moment longer before turning away and walking to the front door.

Simon nodded at him reassuringly. "I'll look after him until you get back. Be careful, Jim."

0~0~0~0~0

Simon stirred from his uneasy sleep as a weak voice tickled at the edges of his consciousness. Sitting upright, he knuckled his grit-filled eyes and looked around the dim room in confusion until his thoughts cleared and he remembered where he was.

Blair's voice called out again, reed-thin and wavering and Simon stumbled to his feet and made his way shakily into the bedroom. The kid was burning up. Even from the bedside, the captain could feel the heat that poured from Blair's body.

Settling at the young man's side, Simon took a flailing hand in his own and wrung out a cloth in tepid water with the other. Stroking it over Blair's face and then down over the bare chest, the captain kept up a litany of soothing words he hoped would comfort the anthropologist.

Once Blair had settled again into a somewhat restless slumber, Simon stood and went back out to the kitchen. He crushed another couple of Tylenol and then dissolved them as much as he could in a tumbler part-filled with water. Taking the cup back to the bedroom, he coaxed Blair awake, then supported his head as the young man gamely tried to force the bitter tasting fluid down his throat.

Simon winced in sympathy as Blair's stomach revolted and he retched the fluid back up over the bedcovers. "That's okay. That's okay," he reassured the distressed man as he reached for a towel and blotted up the worst of the mess.

He sat on the chair beside the bed and racked his brains for something else that might help, wishing desperately that Ellison were there to take control. His own head pounded, making it difficult to think clearly. An idea would flitter half-formed into his weary brain only to skitter away before he had the chance to grasp it. He wanted to sleep but knew his own survival and Sandburg's relied on him staying awake and aware.

Simon shook his head. He could run an entire police department on a shoestring budget and still have the best arrest record in the state, yet a sick, injured kid had him quaking in his boots. He looked down at Blair, now sleeping fitfully and brushed a damp strand of hair back from the grubby face.

Sitting there, watching the young man sleep, a memory rose and his brow wrinkled with effort as he fought to hold onto it. His grandmother's sweet face swam into view, smiling gently at him and Simon rose to his feet and hurried outside.

Hugging the plants he had gathered to his chest, he filled the kitchen sink with water and rinsed off the roots then set about painstakingly crushing them until he had enough mashed root for a poultice. Placing the crushed mass onto a clean piece of towel, Simon took it into the bedroom and carefully wrapped it around Blair's injured leg. He lowered himself back onto the chair at Blair's side and prayed he was not putting the kid at further risk.

He leaned forward and checked the thigh wound, relieved to see that the younger man's agitated movements had not started the wound bleeding again. He sat in the gathering darkness, wiping the fever-sweat from Blair's brow and sending God-speed to the sentinel.

0~0~0~0~0

Blood oozed from a gash above Jim's eye, caused by a rampant branch ambushing him when his enhanced sight was focused on the far-off sight of the main road into Clayton Falls.

"Almost there," Jim rasped. His chest felt as though it was locked in a vice, his breath heaving from a dry throat. He'd dropped both water bottles when the tree had hit him in the face and didn't bother wasting time searching for them. Now, he wished he had as he tried to work up enough saliva to swallow and ease the dryness of his throat.

Slipping and sliding up the final slick incline, the detective took a gasping breath of relief and stepped onto the blacktop and straight into the path of a car. Totally blinded by the glaring headlights, Jim's senses spiraled and spiked. He staggered drunkenly, hands going to his ears in a vain attempt to drown out the deafening sound of screaming brakes. The impact of the hood felt like a giant fist thumping into his side and he was tossed brutally back onto the road to skid along the bitumen before coming to a halt in the dirt.

The shredded skin on his hands and knees erupted into a fiery inferno and he gathered his hands to his chest and curled himself into a ball in a vain attempt to blot out the sensory assault.

A loud crash was followed by pounding footsteps approaching him at a run, then a hand fell on his shoulder and Jim groaned and struggled to rein in his rampaging senses. He managed to get up to his hands and knees and crouched there, his head hanging limply as he fought the blackness that threatened to steal his awareness.

He focused on the rhythmic splat-splat-splat of the blood dripping from his head and inched the dials back in painful increments. Control shakily restored, Jim fought to get his plea for help out before his consciousness fled.

"Cabin…friends…shot."

"Jim? Oh, God! Jim Ellison?"

Jim raised his head carefully and looked into the shocked face of Linda Conway, the veterinarian from Clayton Falls.

0~0~0~0~0

Jim sat on the side of the examination table in Linda's surgery and took a sip from the bottle of water he held gingerly in his bandaged hands as he watched the vet pack a bag of medical supplies.

The young woman had managed to get the barely-conscious detective onto his feet and into her car and had driven him to her office, ignoring his demands that they go straight to the cabin.

"Think, Jim! Just for a minute," she pleaded over the detective's complaints. "I'm going to be of more help to Blair if I can take some medical equipment with me. I can radio the police and have a chopper on its way."

Jim slumped back dejectedly into the passenger seat of the car and nodded. "Just hurry. I don't know how long he's got."

Now, the vet hefted her medical bag and held up a hand as Jim slid shakily off the examination bed. "No. You're in no shape to go back out there. You're exhausted, dehydrated and injured yourself. I'll call you as soon as I get there."

Jim shook his head resolutely. "No. I need to show you where they are."

"I know the general area. It won't take me long to find them," Linda insisted but Jim was already at the door.

"They're my friends," he said as she sighed and led the way to the car. "I have to go."

0~0~0~0~0

Simon jerked awake at the sound of slamming car doors and rushing feet. Staggering upright, the captain stepped toward the window and pushed the curtain aside, peering out into the inky blackness.

"Simon!"

Jim's voice made him weak with relief and he turned around and hurried back to Blair's side as the young man shifted and moaned softly in the throes of his pain.

"It's all right, Sandburg," Simon whispered, leaning close. "Jim's back. You're going to be fine." Standing upright, he gaped as the battered and bloodied face of his detective appeared at the door. "What the hell happened to you?"

A smile replaced his surprise as a young woman stepped around Jim and he recognized her as the vet from Clayton Falls. "Linda! Where did you come from?" He wavered on his feet and would have fallen if not for Linda's firm grasp on his arm.

"Sit down before you fall down, Simon," she commanded, leading him back to the chair. She smiled as Jim stepped past her to Blair's side and stroked the young man's forehead before speaking softly to him. "I ran into Jim on the main road - literally." She studied Simon carefully for a moment. "You okay?"

Simon nodded, feeling an immense weariness overwhelm him. "I'm fine. Blair's not."

"I'll check him out now. There's a chopper on the way."

Simon watched as the woman turned to the injured man and his partner. He shook his head as Linda cajoled Jim to move out of the way so that she could examine her patient. "I can't help him if you're under my feet, Jim. Just go stand over there next to Simon. All right?"

Jim hesitated for a moment then squeezed Blair's lax hand before moving to Simon's side. "How is he?" the detective asked.

Simon shrugged. "Not good. He has a fever, and I think the wound's infected. I sponged him down, gave him some more Tylenol but he vomited it back up. I didn't know what else to do so I put…"

"What on Earth is this?"

Linda's voice cut through their whispered conversation and Simon looked sheepishly at the bandage the young woman held up.

"It's a poultice," he began to explain. "The wound looked inflamed and I know the bullet's still in there. He was burning up, couldn't keep down the pills. It was something my grandmother used to use when we were kids."

"Comfrey!" Linda said as she sniffed the material.

Simon nodded. "I haven't made things worse, have I? I just didn't know what else to do."

"You did fine, Simon," Linda assured him as she turned back to her patient. "My great-grandmother used it too. It can't cure the infection but it would have helped keep the inflammation at bay."

"Jim?" Blair's voice was whisper-soft and Linda moved enough so that Jim could stand next to the bed.

"Hey there, Sandburg. Chopper's on its way, buddy. They'll have you at a hospital in no time."

Blair nodded and licked dry lips. "You all right? You look awful."

Jim brushed Blair's curls back from his face. "You checked a mirror lately, Chief. I'm fine."

Blair studied him appraisingly. "How are your dials?" he whispered just loud enough for the sentinel to hear.

Jim shrugged. "All over the place," he admitted. "I just need some rest. So do you. Let Linda look you over, okay?"

"Linda's here?" Blair forced his drooping eyelids wider and looked fuzzily around the room, a small smile turning up the corners of his mouth as he spotted the vet fussing over Simon and hushing the captain's protestations.

"Hi, Blair. Wish the circumstances were more pleasant. I've changed the bandage on your leg and I'm going to put an IV in, all right? I wish I could give you something for the pain but they frown upon us vets treating humans. I'm afraid that will have to wait until the rescue chopper gets here."

Blair nodded, his eyes sliding shut again. Linda looked up from her ministrations and smiled reassuringly at the other two men.

"I think we got here in time, Jim but we need that chopper to hurry."

0~0~0~0~0

"Jim? Can you come?" Blair's voice was almost a sub-vocal gasp and Jim had to lean in closely to catch the fragmented words.

Jim looked up at the paramedic who was busy changing the empty IV bag and buckling Blair into the gurney for transport. Despite the medical intervention, the anthropologist still looked ghostly-pale, his skin cold to the touch. The EMT gave Jim a quick shrug.

"Check with the doctor, all right? It'll be a tight squeeze."

Jim nodded and turned his attention back to his wounded partner and as he did, an almost identical scene came to mind. Blair had been shot in the leg two years before after an escaped convict had taken Simon hostage and set off into Cascade National Park in search of stolen money from a heist. Jim could still hear Blair's terrified cries as the injured young man had been hoisted into the air and carried beneath the helicopter to the hospital.

This time at least, he was being transported inside the chopper but another look at Blair's pale, frightened face made Jim determined that he was not going to leave his partner's side. A brief word with the doctor gained him permission and Jim climbed into the helicopter and strapped himself into the seat next to Blair's stretcher.

Simon looked barely cognizant of his surroundings. A large swelling covered his left temple and continued down into his eyelid and cheek. Blood from the gash caused by Dewey's knife had dried in a stiff mask down the side of his face. The doctor had inserted an IV and wrapped a blood pressure cuff around his upper arm. The captain sat beside Jim, his head back and his eyes closed as he twitched occasionally in an exhausted slumber.

"You can earn your ride, Detective and try to keep the captain there awake until we get to the hospital," the doctor said.

Jim nodded and after a final check on his now-sleeping partner turned his attention to Simon.

"I'm awake." Simon's voice came out slightly slurred though his eyes didn't open. "You poke me, Ellison and I'll have you riding a desk for a month, is that clear?"

"Yes, sir. I just wanted to thank you."

This time, one eyelid managed to open - to half-mast at least. "What for?"

"For looking after Sandburg, keeping him safe until I got back."

Simon shrugged. "All part of the job description, Jim. A captain's duty is to look after his men."

"His men?" Jim raised an eyebrow. "You know, Simon, I think that bang on the head rattled your brain more than you realize."

Simon managed a weary chuckle. "You tell Sandburg about this conversation and I'll have you riding a desk for two months. Is that understood, Detective?"

"Yes, sir."

Simon sat up in his seat, wincing at the movement and looked over at Blair. "He's got more guts than I give him credit for. Going through this again after Quinn…he handled it well."

Jim slumped back in his seat and reached out one hand until he could grasp one of Blair's then curled his fingers about it firmly. Warmed by the presence of good friends on either side, he relaxed his guard, knowing that all would be well.

FIN

- May 5th 2002.

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