RIGGED

By: Lyn

Email: Lyn

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

CATEGORY: Epilogue/ Tag for "The Rig."

RATING: G.

SPOILERS: The Rig.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Something that had been rattling around in my brain some time ago and I'd put it to one side then Dawn's recent excellent epilogue to The Rig reminded me of it and Dawn asked me to post it. So, for better or worse and despite all the other excellent epilogues out there for this great ep, here it is. I always figured having something as big as that antenna falling on you has got to have consequences. Right? Right.

Feedback is welcome on or off list.

"Rigged."

Present:

"House rules?" Blair turned to look in surprise at his partner as they waited on the flight deck of the rig for the helicopter to arrive. He looked closely at Jim's face, trying to detect a tell-tale twitch of the lips that would clue him in that his partner was joking but Jim looked very serious.

Blair shook his head and listened to the other man rant. 'I don't believe you sometimes, man,' he thought to himself as he looked down and scuffed a battered sneaker on the deck. "I got beamed by an antenna - a fucking heavy antenna, by the way. I pulled you out of a vat of oil. Almost broke my thumb getting those cuffs off my wrists,' he winced as the very thought appeared to set the injured digit throbbing once more, 'and disarmed a bomb. One second. I was one second away from being vapor and you're talking house rules.'

One second. Blair felt a sudden chill assault him and he shivered violently, biting back a groan as the movement awoke sharp pain in the bruising marring his chest. He swallowed down the nausea that surged suddenly up his gullet and forced himself to concentrate instead on Jim's tirade. Only to chuckle in relieved amusement as his fatigued brain finally caught onto Jim's spiel. Plastic covers on the furniture? Yeah, right, Jim. Even you're not that anal. He smiled appreciatively up at his partner, grateful for the reprieve from thinking about what could have been and shifted himself a little closer to the detective's side.

It was close though, entirely too close.

0~0~0~0~0

Earlier:

Blair pulled the large hood of his raincoat over his head and made his way hesitantly outside the relative safety of the radio room, suddenly wishing that he'd let Jim lead the way. Knowing the detective's phobia of open water, Blair shrugged the idea off and moved forward. Icy rain lashed at his face, the gale-force wind almost blowing him off his feet. Steadying himself with one hand against the railing, Blair turned back and shouted over the howling of the wind to his partner, knowing the Sentinel would hear him. "I can't see a thing."

Jim pointed a hand over his head, pointing the way. "It's right over there."

Blair caught half the words and turned back into the wind, nodding, wanting only to fix the problem and get out of the weather. He hated the cold, and he despised the rain. He rounded a corner, each side of the deck stacked high with drums and packing crates, hoping that Jim was taking his advice and not looking out to sea. Slowing his pace, he heard an ominous creaking from above and looked up just as something heavy crashed into his chest, smacking him soundly in the head and knocking him to the ground.

0~0~0~0~0

Present:

Jim grinned as Blair's face relaxed into a smile as he caught onto the detective's house rules joke. He was pleased to see the tension beginning to dissipate now that the danger was over and the bomb had been disarmed. Jim felt his own concern mount once more as he remembered seeing the time fixed on the clock. One second. It had been entirely too close.

He felt Blair move closer to him and draped a casual arm over Blair's shoulder, extending his senses and affirming to himself that he was all right. His sensitive nose twitched at the smell of antiseptic and blood and he took a closer look at his partner.

Blair was still ashen, and the bruise spreading out from the gash on his forehead stood out in stark contrast to the pallor of his face. There were fine lines framing his eyes and his mouth was thinned as though he was in pain. One arm wrapped around his torso as though he was trying to hold himself together and the arm that had crept to anchor itself around Jim's waist shook slightly.

"Are you sure you're okay, Chief?" Jim asked, studying the other man with concern.

Blair nodded then winced as he reached up and fingered the cut on his head. "I'm okay. Hell of a headache but that's to be expected."

"Yeah," Jim agreed. "Your ribs all right?" He suppressed a smile as Sandburg immediately straightened his stance. "I've seen the bruises, Chief," he advised the younger man. "When we were handcuffed to the pipe. Probably not a bad idea to get you checked out at the emergency room when we get back."

"Jim, I'm fine," Blair protested but Jim's expression brooked no argument.

He relaxed when Blair sighed and nodded his acquiescence. Watching the helicopter coming in to land, his mind wandered back to the heart-stopping moment when he'd seen Blair on the deck, unconscious and trapped beneath the fallen antenna and he shivered in reaction.

0~0~0~0~0

Earlier:

The Sentinel had dialed up his sight to compensate for the driving rain almost blinding them but turned down his hearing in deference to the roar of the storm. Obeying Blair's instructions to the letter, he kept his gaze firmly down at his feet and resolved not to look at the ocean as he followed his partner into the gale. Jim rounded the corner behind Blair, just in time to see the big antenna come crashing down, knocking his partner to the ground. Jim yelled a warning, though he knew he was too late. His words were swept away by the onslaught of the storm. He hurried forward and dropped down at Blair's side.

Blair shifted slightly and groaned as Jim hefted the metal and pushed it to one side. He knew that he should check for spinal or neck injuries before moving the injured man but his hands were numb from the cold and the bulkiness of the slicker Blair wore precluded any efficient examination. As lightening crackled overhead causing him to wince, Jim lifted Blair and supported his lolling head against his chest.

The anthropologist was semi-conscious, his face white with shock and a deep gash on his forehead was bleeding profusely. Jim leaned in closely and pressed his mouth to Blair's ear. "I need to get you inside, Chief. Do you think you can stand up?"

Blair did not respond which caused the detective further concern. Taking a final look around, Jim spotted the guy wires from the antenna lying on the ground. Using his enhanced sight he studied it and his jaw clenched, it was obvious the wire had been cut. He lay Blair back on the deck and gently turned him so that he lay on his side, then hurried over to where the antenna support cable lay. Looking around, attempting to keep one eye on his motionless partner and the other on anyone who might still be creeping around, he spotted a pair of wire cutters and cut off a piece of the cable, stuffing it into his pocket. Satisfied that he at least had some proof of a deliberate act of sabotage and possibly attempted murder, Jim hurried back to Sandburg's side.

The anthropologist was still unconscious and Jim tapped lightly on one cold cheek. Blair moaned softly and turned his head away from the stimulus. "Okay, buddy. Hang in there," he reassured the other man. "I'm going to get you inside."

Grasping Blair firmly under the arms, he hoisted the younger man up and then slung one of Blair's limp arms about his shoulders, keeping a firm grip around his waist. Blair was initially a dead weight against his side, the blood still dribbling sluggishly down the side of his face and being rapidly washed away by the torrential rain. As they neared the entrance to the rig, Jim was relieved to feel Blair push slightly away from his support and attempt to move his feet.

"That's it, Chief," he encouraged. "Nearly there and then you can lay down."

Blair nodded but kept his head down, staring at his feet as though each step was a marathon effort. The young man was visibly drooping by the time they reached the infirmary but he appeared to be more oriented and aware of their surroundings. Maggie met them at the door with Weaver the medic in tow and together the two men lifted Blair onto the nearest bed.

Ten minutes later, Weaver pronounced Blair to have no serious injuries and patched up the still oozing gash on his head with some butterfly closures. Watching his partner struggle to sit up, one arm curled around his bruised and battered body made Jim's anger flare once more.

"What happened?" Blair still looked groggy as he winced under Weaver's ministrations.

"The guy wires on the radio antenna must have snapped," Maggie replied. She looked tense.

Jim shook his head. "This didn't snap," he said, pulling the length of guy wire from his pocket and showing it to her. "This has been cut."

Blair's eyes boggled. "What? Someone meant for that antenna to fall on us?"

Jim nodded; his expression grim. "Somebody didn't want us to get through to Simon. Maggie, is there another radio on the rig?"

0~0~0~0~0

Present:

Jim rested his head against the back of the chopper seat and closed his eyes. Blair sat beside him watching the endless ocean far below them with rapt attention.

"Thought you were afraid of heights," the detective grumbled.

"I am." Blair turned to smile at Jim. "But when you've got this to look at…" He waved an expansive hand at the view outside the door.

"I'd rather not. Thanks anyway."

"Welcome. Oh and thanks for letting me have the seat closest to the door."

"Any time, Chief. Anytime."

Blair grinned at his dozing partner and turned his attention back to the sparkling water below. Suddenly the chopper dipped in some mild turbulence and Blair slipped sideways, slamming into the door with considerable force. He felt Jim's hand bunch in his jacket, halting his slide and he turned back to thank him, but suddenly there was no air.

He sat up straighter, his entire body tense, and one hand going to clutch at his throbbing chest. "J-Jim?"

The Sentinel was already leaning toward him, his face creased with concern. "Sandburg? What's wrong?"

Blair shook his head and felt sweat begin to bead on his forehead, stinging as it dribbled into the cut. His lungs felt tight and as hard as he strained, he couldn't seem to pull enough air in. "Can't breathe," he managed to force out.

Jim's eyes went wide with surprise but he reacted instantly, pulling the gasping young man toward him and turning him so that his back rested against Jim's chest. The detective tapped the pilot on the shoulder and pointed at Blair. "Get us back fast. There's something wrong with my partner."

The pilot nodded and gave a thumbs-up and Jim turned his attention back to Blair. The younger man was struggling in Jim's grip as though he was trying to get away, his breathing labored and tight and his heartbeat thundering in Jim's ears. He'd heard Blair talk before of suffering panic attacks but he'd never seen him experience one and this looked too severe to be that.

"Sandburg?" He leaned in close to Blair's ear and began what he hoped was a soothing stroke up and down Blair's tense back. "Calm down, Chief. You're okay. There's plenty of air. Just take slow, deep breaths."

Blair moaned and continued to struggle and Jim focused his hearing on Blair's laboring lungs. The air was entering Blair's chest but Jim could easily hear the problem as the younger man inhaled. He was certain the knock Blair had taken on the door had driven an already fractured rib into Blair's right lung.

"Blair? Sandburg, listen to me!" He gave the panicking man a small but firm shake and to his relief, Blair stopped fighting and collapsed back against him, his chest heaving, his face white, his lips already taking on a bluish tinge and his eyes unfocused, the lids at half-mast.

"That's good, Chief. That's good. I think you might have punctured a lung. We're going to be down on the ground any minute now." Jim looked hopefully at the pilot who nodded. "We've radioed ahead for an ambulance. You're going to be fine. Just try to take slow, shallow breaths. Okay?"

He was unsure if Blair had heard him until one shaky hand lifted to his own and squeezed it weakly. Jim kept up his litany of assurances and rhythmic stroking and prayed for the chopper to land soon.

0~0~0~0~0

The next hour sped by in a haze as the chopper landed and an almost unconscious Sandburg was loaded into the ambulance with Jim at his side. The detective had prepared his 'you're not taking my partner anywhere without me' glare but it wasn't needed. The paramedics were glad to have him aboard so that they could get an accurate history on their patient en route.

By the time they reached the hospital, Blair was hooked up to a monitor and oxygen and an IV dripping fluid into a vein. "We can't give him any pain relief yet," the medic explained. "Narcotics can depress respiration. If the doctors think he needs something, they'll administer it at the hospital where he can be monitored."

Jim nodded and continued to clutch Blair's limp hand. "I don't think he's feeling any pain right now."

"He's exhausted from trying to pull in air," the medic continued as he rechecked Blair's pulse rate. "You'll be surprised how quickly he'll recover once they get a chest tube in."

0~0~0~0~0

"Mr. Sandburg, can you hear me?"

The voice seemed to come from far away and Blair decided that he couldn't spare any energy right now for an answer. His entire concentration was fixed on the action of trying to breathe. He felt as though there was a huge weight on his chest and no matter how hard he tried, his lungs refused to expand. He settled for taking small, gasping puffs that seemed to lessen the agony that sheared through his chest with each labored breath.

"Blair? Can you answer the doctor, Chief?"

'Jim?' Blair struggled to lift his heavy head and look for his partner but his neck muscles seemed to be made of wet noodles. He opened his eyes though and blinked owlishly at his lap. Pulling a small reserve of strength from somewhere, he managed to lightly squeeze the warm hand that clung so tenaciously to his own and was rewarded with a delighted sound of encouragement from his partner.

"That's good. Real good. I need you to listen to the doctor now, all right?"

Blair tried for another squeeze of Jim's hand though his energy was waning fast and he could see dark spots encroaching once more on his vision. He couldn't remember ever feeling this exhausted not even when he was cramming for finals and pulling all-nighters on stakeouts with Jim. All he really wanted to do now was go to sleep. Perhaps when he woke up, whoever was sitting on his chest would have moved.

"Mr. Sandburg?" The voice was back and Blair tried desperately to listen to it past the roaring in his ears. "It's probably better if he's not completely conscious for this part. It's can be painful although we will give him a local anaesthetic."

'Huh?' He wasn't sure if he was supposed to answer that cryptic comment or not and opted to leave the conversation to those who had the air to spare. He felt his eyes drift closed and his last conscious sensation was the all-encompassing warmth of Jim's hand.

0~0~0~0~0

"Detective Ellison?"

Jim stopped his agitated pacing down the hospital corridor when he heard his name called. Turning, he saw Blair's doctor standing in the doorway of the trauma room. The doctor led Jim to the waiting room and sat beside him.

"Blair's going to be fine Detective," the doctor said. "Stiff and sore for a couple of weeks but he's breathing well now. It appears that the initial blow from the falling antenna fractured a rib then sometime later, another blow to the chest forced the rib into his lung and caused a pneumothorax. The chest tube will need to stay in for several days until we're sure that his lung is fully inflated and the puncture has healed. "

Jim nodded, feeling weak with relief. "Can I see him?"

"Of course." The doctor stood and led Jim back to the trauma room. "We've given him some medication to relieve the pain so he'll be drowsy. Don't stay too long. He needs his rest and I suspect you do too."

"I'll just let him know that I'll be back tomorrow," Jim replied. The doctor's last comment made him suddenly aware of just how exhausted he felt.

The doctor left and Jim entered the room where Blair lay. Jim thought he looked much better than the last time he'd seen him when they had ushered the detective out of the room while they inserted a chest tube into Blair's collapsed lung.

The young man lay sleeping now, propped up on several pillows, the blankets tucked around his waist leaving his upper torso bare to Jim's gaze. The detective grimaced at the dark bruising mottling Blair's ribs, blending in with the orange colored antiseptic that had been wiped over his skin. A thick tube ran from an incision in the side of the anthropologist's chest and drained fluid and air from his lung. Blair's face was still pale but his breathing was quiet and peaceful, his features slack and free of any expression of pain or fear.

Drowsy blue eyes opened and roamed around the room for a moment as Jim sat down in the chair next to the bed. As he leaned forward and took Blair's hand, the younger man's gaze finally fixed on him, the focus instantly aware.

"Hey, Jim." Blair's voice sounded hoarse and Jim picked up the water glass on the bedside table and offered it to his partner. Blair nodded his gratitude and took a couple of sips before pushing the cup away. "Thanks," he said as he rested his head back on the pillow.

"How are you feeling?" Jim asked.

"Feeling no pain, man," Blair replied as his eyes drifted closed. "The tube feels kind of weird inside me but it is so nice to be able to breathe again. That sucked big time."

"Yeah," Jim agreed fervently. "I tell you, Sandburg, when I saw you gasping for breath…" Jim broke off and shook his head. "Let's just say I never want to go through that again."

"Me neither. It's been quite a day, huh?"

"That it has." Jim felt himself relaxing as he listened to his partner's easy breathing and then he automatically dialed up his hearing to lock onto Blair's heartbeat, the steady beat reassuring him and soothing his jangled nerves. "Sandburg?"

"Yeah?" Blair's voice was equally as drowsy as Jim's was.

"This doesn't get you out of the house rules." Jim ignored the quiet groan that came from the direction of the bed. "As a matter of fact, while you're recuperating in here, it'll give me some time to think of some more. Looks like I'll finally get the chance to house-break you properly."

"Jim?"

"Yeah."

"It'll give me time to think up more tests for you too."

"Oh. Um, Sandburg?"

"Yes, Jim?"

"Truce?"

"Truce."

FIN

- March 2nd, 2002.