"Damn it, Jim, where are you?" The young man demanded frantically. His eyes searching the trail looking for a sign of his friend's passage. The trail in either direction looked undisturbed. He focused on remembering the tracking skills Jim had tried to teach him on their camping trips, but his mind was refusing to cooperate.
"JIM!" he shouted, then stood quiet listening, hoping for a response to his call. //This would be a really great time to have Sentinel abilities.// Blair thought. //This isn't getting me any closer to finding him. Pick a direction, Sandburg, and get moving.// As he headed down the trail he remembered earlier that morning.
Jim smacked him on the bottom of his feet. "Come on, Chief, time to get up. Sun's shining, not a cloud in the sky. We have enough time to hike over to the next valley and be back in time to have lunch before we head for home, if you get a move on."
Blair just groaned and burrowed deeper into his sleeping bag. Jim tried again knowing how difficult it was for the younger man to wake up. He lifted the bottom half of the sleeping bag and dropped it on the ground. Blair's head poked out from the top of the bag. He opened his bleary eyes and looked up at his grinning friend.
"Man, you've got to be kidding, right?" He shook his head in disbelief. "Let me get this straight. You want me to climb out of my nice warm sleeping bag and go on one of your quick march hikes?"
"You got it, Chief." Jim answered.
Blair stared at his partner as if he were speaking in an unknown language. "I think not. This is my last chance to sleep in for a while and I'm planning to take full advantage of it." He pushed one hand out from the confines of the bag and waved it in a shooing motion. "You go on and have your hike. Wake me when you get back." With that he burrowed back down and fell asleep.
Jim stood for a couple of moments trying not to laugh. He had known it would be a long shot convincing Blair to join him. His partner's punishing schedule left very little time for sleep. It wasn't surprising that, given a chance, he would take advantage of the opportunity. Jim decided to go ahead with his planned hike. He couldn't foresee anything happening in the short time he was going to be gone.
Blair was awakened by an intense pain shooting throughout his body. He frantically fought his way out of his sleeping bag. Head turning from side to side trying to find the source.
"Jim." Blair shouted. "Where are you?" As suddenly as the pain appeared it stopped. This frightened the young man even more. He had a feeling that it was connected to his Sentinel and the pain was due to an accident, and it had ended because Jim was unconscious.
"Okay, Blair, think." He said to himself. "Take deep breaths. This is not the time for a panic attack." He continued muttering to himself as he gathered up all of the first aid equipment and stuffed it into his pack along with his cell phone and other supplies. When he passed the truck on the way out of camp, he grabbed a coil of rope. He wanted to be prepared for anything.
Blair had been searching for an hour when the pain returned, driving him to his knees. With great difficulty he tried to clear his mind and focus on his Sentinel. He received a flashing impression of falling. Then the pain stopped- Jim was unconscious again. Blair dug into his pack for the cell phone. He pushed the speed dial and prayed he wasn't out of range.
"Major Crimes, Simon Banks," was the response when the phone was picked up.
Blair took a deep breath. "Simon, its Blair. Something has happened to Jim. I can't find him. I know he's hurt and...."
"Sandburg, slow down and take a breath." Simon waited until he heard the young man take the ordered breath. "Now, tell me what happened, slowly."
"Jim went hiking this morning while I stayed in camp. He was supposed to be back an hour ago. I think he may have gotten hurt." Blair didn't tell Simon about the pain since he didn't want Simon to dismiss what he was saying as imagination. He knew how uncomfortable the big Captain was with the bond between Sentinel and Guide.
"So he's an hour late. What's the big deal? Maybe it took longer to get where he was going."
"Come on, Simon, you know him better than that. Jim is Mr. Punctuality. When he tells me he's going to be somewhere at a certain time, he is - especially when we are in the middle of nowhere.
Simon was silent for a moment. "Okay, kid, maybe something has happened. I can be there in an hour. You're in the usual campsite, right?"
"Yeah, but I'm on the trail going up towards the valley, don't worry," Blair said when Simon started to protest. "I have the phone and I will get in touch if I find him before you get here."
"Okay, Sandburg, just be careful. I don't want to deal with Jim if something happens to you. I'll notify Search and Rescue. If you're right, we're going to need their help."
"I promise I'll be careful. Call when you get to the campsite."
Once Simon agreed, Blair disconnected and repacked the phone. He started down the trail continuing to mark his trail. He figured that if he got lost, he would at least be able to backtrack his way to the camp.
The pain was attacking off and on. Blair knew he was getting closer as the pain intensified. As he reached the top of the ridge, he felt it begin. This was the worst attack yet. He tried to concentrate on the barriers he had constructed but they were quickly breached. When the pain eased, he found himself on the ground. Pushing himself up, he looked around; Jim had to be close for the pain to be so overwhelming. Blair noticed a bit of color that looked out of place, next to the edge of a drop off. He carefully walked over staying away from the edge. When he came within a few feet of the object he recognized it as Jim's Jags ballcap.
"Oh, shit." Blair could now see the disturbed earth at the edge. He crawled to the edge, took a deep breath and looked down. Thirty feet down, half on and half off of a ledge was his unconscious partner. The younger man started to shake as multiple fears struck all at once. Fear that Jim would fall off of the ledge to the rocks a hundred feet below did battle with Blair's deep-seated fear of heights. For a few seconds he felt paralyzed. Then a feeling of calm stole over him; he knew what he had to do.
Crawling back to the pack and supplies he had dropped he picked up the rope and tied it to a tree set back from the edge. Once the knot was as secure as possible, he moved back to the edge and tossed the remainder over the side. Standing for a moment, he called on all of the meditation techniques he knew to center himself. With a final cleansing breath, he shouldered his pack and picked up the rope. He went over the side carefully, working his way down the side keeping his eyes on the mountainside in front of him. He was so focused that it surprised him when his feet touched down on the ledge.
Blair carefully placed his feet in the space next to his friend. Kneeling down he grabbed the rope and pulled up the loose end. As carefully as possible, he slid the end under Jim's back and pulled it around. He made sure after tying the bowline around Jim's waist there was plenty left to tie around his own waist. He knew that it would be just as easy for him to fall off the ledge as it would be for Jim.
He started to check over his partner. The only open wound he could find was on the back of Jim's head. Carefully supporting his head, Blair bandaged the wound. Blair could see that Jim's left wrist was broken from the angle it was lying at. His legs looked fine, but there was no way of telling if there were internal injuries. Blair carefully splinted the wrist in the position he had found it in. During the exam and splinting he started talking to his unconscious friend.
"I know you are going to hurt when you wake up. Boy, do I know you're going to hurt. You need to focus on my voice and only my voice." Blair pulled the cellphone out of the pack and dialed.
"Hey, Simon, it's me again. I found him." Blair stated.
"Is he okay?" Simon asked, worried about his men.
"Not exactly." Blair responded. "How far are you from the campsite?"
"About fifteen minutes."
"Good. Call as soon as you get there and I will guide you to where we are."
Once he had disconnected, he continued to talk. He started describing the lecture he was planning to give his students next week. Blair kept on hand on Jim's forehead and the other monitored his pulse. He felt Jim's pulse rate increase and could feel the pressure the heralded the onset of pain.
"Come on, Jim, listen to me." Blair was solidly in Guide mode. Trying to reach his Sentinel before the pain overwhelmed them both. "Look for the dials, I need for you to find the dials. Turn them down. I know you can do it. Turn down the pain dial as far as it can go." The level of pain continued to increase. Blair kept talking, repeating the instructions over and over, hoping to get through before it was too late.
The pain began to ease. Blair was rewarded with the movement of Jim's eyelids. The first thing Jim could blurrily see was his partner's face.
"Hey Jim," Blair smiled when he saw recognition in the older man's eyes. "I know it hurts, but you need to hold still and keep the dial turned down."
"What the hell happened?" Jim asked confused.
"As far as I can tell, you fell off a cliff. Right now you are on a ledge about thirty feet down. I think you have a pretty decent concussion, maybe some broken ribs and your left wrist is definitely broken."
"At least two hours. Yeah, that's when the pain hit." Blair answered. When Jim looked even more confused, Blair reassured him. "I'll explain all about it when we get out of here, okay?"
"Okay, Chief." Jim answered starting to drift off.
"Come on, Big Guy, stay with me." Jim opened his eyes again. "Tell me what you remember." Blair urged trying to keep Jim awake.
"I don't know. One minute I was on the trail heading back and the next thing I know you were leaning over me." Jim moved as if to roll over. Blair grabbed his shoulders to hold him down.
"Jim! I told you not to move! Please keep still." Blair ordered stress evident in his voice.
Jim had noted the sharp increase in his Guide's already rapid heart rate when he moved, and heard it slow when he laid still. His Blessed Protector instincts came in to play, and he kept absolutely still to calm the young man.
"Simon will be here soon. He called in Search and Rescue." Blair smiled at his partner. "Good thing, too. We're going to need their help getting out of here."
Blair quickly answered the phone when it rang.
"Sandburg, we're at the campsite now. Where are you?" The Captain bellowed.
"We're about a half hour from the campsite. I marked the trail as best I could. Take the right hand trail toward the cliffs. Oh, and Simon, make sure they bring plenty of rope and a stokes stretcher. They'll need it to pull Jim up."
"What exactly happened?" Simon asked after relaying Blair's message and starting down the trail.
"It looks like Jim was standing at the edge of a major drop off, when the ground shifted and he went over the side. We are on a ledge about thirty feet down."
Simon stared at the phone in disbelief. He had first hand knowledge of Blair's fear of heights. "Are you telling me that you climbed down a cliff?"
"Of course. I couldn't let him get restless and maybe fall off, now could I?" Blair said matter-of-factly.
The connection between the two was something Simon knew he would never fully understand and he wasn't sure he even wanted to. It still amazed him when the younger man did something so out of character to help his partner. Simon sometimes felt envy for their closeness but was glad he wasn't faced with the burdens of their gifts.
"You need to hurry because I think Jim is going into shock. I can't keep him awake for very long."
"Hang in there, kid. We should be almost there."
Blair closed his eyes and leaned against the rock at his back, keeping his hand on his partner's head. Partially to comfort Jim, and to also keep himself grounded. His focus on his partner was the only reason he hadn't had a panic attack due to the open space in front of him. When Jim began to stir restlessly, Blair soothed him with his voice and touch.
"It's okay, Big Guy. Just hold still. Help will be here soon." Jim opened his eyes. Blair could feel the pressure building, but Jim was able to keep the level of pain at tolerable levels. Blair continued to talk as he watched Jim focus. "Man, I am so sorry. If I'd gotten up this morning when you wanted to, this wouldn't have happened." Blair lapsed into silence, mentally berating himself. He was so wrapped up in his own thoughts that it surprised him when Jim reached up with his uninjured hand and tapped the younger man on the side of the face. Blair looked into his partner's eyes, he halfway expected to see the blame he felt echoed on Jim's face.
"Not your fault." Jim said with difficulty. "Both be hurt then." His eyes drifted closed.
"Even hurt you look after me, even if to only protect me from myself." Blair said quietly. He gently brushed the dirt from Jim's face and hair.
"Sandburg!" Simon yelled. The worry evident in his voice. Every couple of minutes he would yell out, hoping for a response. A few minutes later he heard a returning shout. About ten yards down the trail he spotted the rope tied to a tree. They followed it to where it disappeared out of sight over the edge. Simon and the SAR team carefully moved to the edge and looked down.
"Hey, Sandburg! How's it going?" Simon called down.
Blair looked up and smiled in relief when he spotted Simon leaning over the edge.
"Man, I am, like, so happy to see you. Did they bring everything?"
"Yeah, kid, we're all set up here. We'll bring you up and then come down and get Jim."
"No can do, Simon." Blair argued. "Jim has to go first. I won't leave him down here alone."
Simon started to argue and then sighed. He knew he wouldn't get anywhere with the stubborn young man. All he was doing was wasting time. He turned to the SAR team.
"Can you work around him?" He motioned toward Blair.
"No problem. It'll be a tight squeeze but we can do it." The team leader assured Simon. They finished rigging the ropes. Two of the five men moved over the side and carefully lowered themselves down to the ledge. The stretcher was sent down next.
Blair kept speaking to his partner as they immobilized and packaged Jim for transport up the cliff face. The young man was trying to keep the feelings of panic pushed away. There was a bad moment when he had to untie the rope connecting him to his Sentinel.
The stretcher was carefully pulled to the top, the two rescuers guiding it to keep it from bouncing against the mountainside on the way up.
For the moment Blair was alone. All of the fear he had kept at bay while taking care of Jim crashed over him. He wrapped his arms around his drawn up legs and began to shake. He tried to control his breathing. Blair knew this was not the time or place for a panic attack, but found himself unable to stop it. He had exhausted his reserves while waiting to be rescued. Blair's panic escalated even further when the stretcher cleared the top. He knew it wasn't logical to think that they wouldn't be back to get him, but fear is never logical.
The EMT at the top started to check Jim out. Simon was startled when Jim's eyes flew open.
"Blair!" He tried to push himself out of the stretcher, dialing down the agony he felt when he forgot and pushed with his left hand. The mental connection had reversed and Jim was feeling Blair's fear. Jim struggled against the restraints needing to reach and protect his guide. Jim worked one hand out of his restraints and grabbed Simon's arm.
"Where's Blair? He's afraid." Jim looked up at Simon. "I can feel his fear."
"Jim, they are getting him now. He's going to be alright. Now calm down." Jim's hand tightened on Simon's arm almost to the point of injury.
"Go talk to him, remind him that I need him up here. I can't reach him my mind wont focus." Jim said desperately.
Simon gently pulled his arm free. "Okay, Jim, take it easy and don't move. I'll go." Jim relaxed into the stretcher when Simon moved to the edge.
"Sandburg, it's time for you to get up here." In addition to his body tremors, Blair's head began a negative motion. "Come on, kid, work with me. We need you up here. Let the Search and Rescue guys get you hooked up and we'll get you out of there." Simon wouldn't have believed it but he saw the kid get even closer to the mountain side.
"Sandburg," Simon paused. "Blair, Jim needs you up here. They need to give him some medication, but I can't remember what drugs he's allergic to. We need your help. Jim needs your help."
Simon's plea worked like magic. Blair's body stilled and he carefully stood, easing his way over to the rescuers. Without a word, he let them hook him up and listened to their explanation of what they were going to do.
"We just want you to hold onto the rope and use your feet to walk up the side. They are going to pull from the top. Do you understand?" Blair looked up from the harness and nodded. His knuckles were white from the tension in his grip on the rope.
He followed their directions, carefully walking, trying to place his feet just right. He was doing fine until he was ten feet from the top when a piece of shale under his feet broke loose. Jim heard the rock crumble under his partners feet.
"Oh, shit! Come on, guys! Pull me up faster!" Blair dangled at the end of the rope spinning around his eyes tightly closed. He suddenly felt a sense of calm. It felt as if Jim was right beside him ready to protect. Just one more bit of evidence of a growing mental connection.
"I hope you're listening, Jim. I'm only going to tell you this once. It'll be a cold day in hell before you convince me to go mountain climbing with you. This goes on the list with parachuting, cliff diving, tree climbing...." Jim smiled as he listened to the younger man's litany of complaints. He had remembered Blair saying that he could feel his pain, and since he could feel Blair's panic, he'd hoped to send calming thoughts over the link between them. He could tell that the calm he had projected had worked.
When he reached the top Blair automatically searched out his partner. Barely taking time to get unhooked from the harness, he raced to Jim's side, reassuring himself that his friend was no worse than he had been on the ledge.
"Hey, Jim, how's it going?" Blair asked softly.
"I've been better, Chief." Jim gave his Guide a slight smile. I just want to go home and climb in bed for a week."
"I hear that, but first a stop at the hospital and tomorrow we'll go home." Jim gave him a puzzled look. "Concussion, Big Guy, remember the twenty-four hour observation rule." Blair chuckled at the mutinous look on his friends face.
The SAR team gathered up their equipment in preparation for the hike out since the area was too heavily forested for helicopters. It only took a half hour to reach the campsite. Jim was quickly loaded into the waiting ambulance. Simon took pity on the younger man.
"Go ahead, Blair, ride in with him. I'll pack up here."
"What about the truck?' Blair asked while focused on the ambulance.
"I rode out with the SAR team. I'll drive it back."
Blair gave him a big smile and a quick hug. "Thanks, Simon." He said before running to the ambulance.
"You're welcome, kid." Simon said softly as he watched the ambulance drive out of sight.
"I swear that was the longest twenty-four hours I have ever spent." Jim complained as they made their way up to the loft.
"I guess they didn't realize how hard headed you are." Blair teased. Once inside, he directed Jim to the couch, settling him in. "I'll get dinner started. You relax and watch TV. Yell if you need anything."
Jim sat on the couch waiting for the right moment to bring up the subject of the link that had been activated when he was hurt. He decided to wait until after dinner as the smells from the kitchen were driving him crazy. After camp and hospital food he was ready for a real meal.
"What's for dinner." He yelled from the couch. "I'm starved."
Blair looked over at him and grinned. "Thinking with your stomach again?"
"Have to, the brains are a bit scrambled."
Blair gave a sigh as he stirred the vegetables in the pan. "I guess I'll just have to wait."
"Wait for what?" Jim asked suspiciously.
"Until you get your head straight before we start the new tests." Blair explained.
"The empathy tests, you know receiving and sending feelings." Blair sighed again and looked at Jim. "But it'll have to wait until you're 100%." Jim almost fell for the sad Sandburg act, stopping himself from offering to try the test anyway, until Blair turned away trying to muffle a chuckle. Jim caught it with his hearing. He grabbed one of the cushions from the couch and tossed it. He noted that he still had good aim when the pillow smacked Blair on the back of the head.
Blair turned and looked at him with surprise. Jim couldn't hold back the laughter at his Guide's expression. Blair started to laugh, relaxing for the first time since the cliff. He knew that everything was going to be okay.