by Kristine Williams
"Hold on!" Was all he managed to say before the bottom of the bridge fell away. The planks under their feet fell away with great speed, gravity carrying them to the river below. His grip on the wire was the only thing keeping him from following. Quickly he glanced over at Blair, relieved to see him similarly suspended, one hand gripping the cable on his side.
"Jim! What now?!"
They were each hanging by just one hand, on opposites sides of what had been the bridge. Four feet of open air separated them, and four feet of heavy chain bound them together. Jim looked at the far bank, trying to gauge the distance. They had about twenty feet to go, and the cables were holding, but one handed was not any way to travel across a cable.
"Okay Sandburg, you're going to have to come over here."
"What?!" Blair looked up at his hand, then over to Jim. "How?"
"Start swinging with your legs, then when I tell you, let go and swing over here. You'll use your left hand to grab this side."
"You're kidding, right? Jim, there's no way. Why don't you swing over here?"
"Look at the bank, Chief. On your side the tree is right up against the edge. On my side, we stand a chance of climbing up." He paused, looking back at Blair. "Now come on, this isn't getting any easier."
"Jim, if I miss, I'll take you down with me."
He could hear the concern overriding the fear in his friend's voice. "It's okay, Blair. I won't let you miss." He pulled on the chain and started Blair swinging.
"Okay. But if this doesn't work, the last thing you're going to hear is I told you so." Blair used his legs to increase the momentum.
"On three." Jim said, watching him swing.
"This really sucks."
He was going to have to raise his right arm up so Blair could catch the cable with his left. "One." His partner had the ability to be fearless when the need arose, for that Jim was grateful. "Two." Jumping from a plane, into a jungle, with no training what-so-ever was no small feat. "Three!"
Blair let go exactly when Jim said to, reaching up with his left hand for the cable. He had over shot the jump and for a split second, missed the wire. But as he began to fall lower, his outstretched hand made contact, and he grabbed the cable, then pulled his right hand up.
"Okay?" Jim asked, eyeing him. Blair just nodded. "Let's go. Just slide your hands down, don't try to overhand it." Jim was now able to grab the wire with both hands, letting the chain dangle against the back of his head as they both slid along the cable, towards the other side. It seemed like forever before they reached it, and Jim's hands were raw from the cable. The tree that it was attached to was several feet back from the edge, allowing Jim to stay on the wire until he was far enough in to just drop onto solid ground. He turned and pulled Blair in to land beside him.
Blair hit the ground and kept going, laying down gratefully on the ground and examining his hands. "Man. I used to like suspension bridges."
Jim smiled as he looked around, finally seeing the small holes in the ground where the charges had been set. "He's been on this side."
"What?" Blair sat up. "Dammit. Jim, you have got to stop listening to me."
Jim shook his head and sat down next to Blair, looking at his own red, sore hands. "It's not your fault, Chief. I could have said no." He looked up.
Blair thought for a moment. "Jim, he's hunting us. Setting traps ahead of us. But what if he isn't ahead of us? What if he set these traps before we even got up here, and he's herding us in the direction he wants us to go? And we can't find him because instead of looking for him, we're trying to out guess him."
Seeing as how the route they took after waking up was the only one that would lead them down. And down was the only logical route when you were trapped on a mountain. Following a river was standard military survival. He figured Brackett was behind them that first night, then moved ahead while they slept. At the bridge, he could have set a remote charge to cause enough noise that would make both of them think he was on their side, making them want to cross the bridge that had been rigged already. He scanned the forest again, wondering if Brackett was in front of them, farther down, or behind them, ready to follow. He couldn't see much in the dense woods on that side. And Brackett probably counted on that, too. Blair swore softly and Jim looked at him.
"What are you doing?"
"Jim, if I could get out of this thing, you could go after Brackett. I'm only holding you back here."
"Sandburg, I told you that's no good. You're going to hurt yourself." He pulled Blair's hands apart and looked at his left wrist. "You are not holding me back, Chief, you're--" Blair's sudden intake of breath matched his own. "Dammit Sandburg." he'd pushed the shackle as far up his friend's arm as he could, revealing the red, bleeding wrist. "Haven't learned yet, have you?"
"I was getting close." Blair replied, wincing as Jim examined the wrist.
"Close to what? Getting this off, or listening when I tell you it's not going to work?" Jim examined the damaged tissue, then tore a piece of his shirt tail off and tried to make a bandage that would keep the metal from touching the raw flesh. "This is not your fault, Chief. We're in this together, and that's the only way we'll get out of it." he wrapped Blair's wrist, then gently lowered the metal band back down, trying to shove the cloth in under it. "We outsmarted Brackett once before. We can do it again."
Blair shook his head, trying to pull his hand away as Jim forced the cloth in. "We didn't out smart him. Ow!. You over powered him. And you could do that again if we could get these off."
"No. No good. I can't find him, remember?" he released Blair's arm and looked around. "No, we just keep heading down, until we figure something out. He's enjoying this, which means he's going to make a mistake soon. Then we'll get him." Jim stood and reached out a hand to pull Blair to his feet, then they headed off.
It was late afternoon when they finally came to a more clear area,
where Jim could see more than just green bushes and large trees. He had been keeping
alert, using all of his senses to look for traps along the way. After several
hours past the bridge they had seen no more sign of their hunter. Jim was beginning
to think Brackett planned the long intervals to get them both to drop their guard.
Blair hadn't said a word in the past three hours, except for the occasional cough,
and Jim wasn't sure if it was to help him concentrate, or out of a sense of guilt.
He tried to get him to talk once or twice, but it was hard to get his friend to
open up, and watch their step at the same time. That was probably what Blair was
doing, keeping him focused on the task at hand. He knew when Jim was focusing
and never broke his concentration. He also knew instinctively when Jim was zoning
out. Something no one else seemed to notice, not even Simon. Blair was walking
slightly ahead of him now, and had been blocking his view of the ground just in
front. He heard the trip wire an instant before it released, and saw the heavy
branch coming straight at them both.
"Jim!" Blair had felt the shove from Jim's hand on his shoulder at the same time the branched brushed right over his head, striking the taller man in the temple. Blair was taken down with him by the pull on the chain as Jim fell to the ground, unconscious. "Jim!" He landed on his knees beside him, and saw the gash on the left side of his head. "Jim, come on." he jumped across his friend and examined the wound. "Jim, answer me." It was bleeding badly, so Blair pulled out the piece of Jim's shirt that he had stuck under his shackle and used it as a pressure bandage. "Jim...Jim come on. Don't do this to me, please." He was looking around, trying to see if Brackett was anywhere near. If he saw Jim go down, he just might move in and finish Blair off. "Dammit, Jim." he couldn't tell how hard the branch had hit, but it was hard enough to knock the larger man out completely. It couldn't be good. How hard a blow did it take to give a concussion? He wanted to stop the bleeding If only he could find... "Yes." Blair spotted the flower he was looking for just off to their right. By straining as far as he could, he was just able to reach it. Head wounds bled a lot, he knew that, but he didn't like the look of this. Blair tried to tear a strip off of the bottom of his own shirt to make a bandage that would hold the bits of yarrow to the wound, but the heavier fabric wouldn't start a tear. So he used Jim's, as it was already torn, and pulled off a strip long enough to tie the small bandage in place.
Suddenly there was a rustling in the brush in front of them and Blair looked up, fearing the worst. He expected Brackett. He expected to die. He didn't expect the small brown rabbit that sat there, staring at him. "Oh man, I'm really sorry about this, but..." Blair slowly picked up a rock and the rabbit just turned a little away from him, sniffing the air. He took aim, prayed, and let the rock fly, hitting the rabbit square in the head, killing the animal instantly. "Thank you." Blair was now grateful it was his left arm chained to Jim, as it was his right arm he threw best with. Now, to get dinner from several yards away, with Jim's unconscious body attached.
It took him several minutes to pull Jim back up the hill, close enough to the dead rabbit to grab it when he stretched as far as he could. He reached out, pulling Jim's arm up as he did so, and gritting his teeth against the sharp pain in his left wrist. He didn't know how long Jim might be out, and leaving a dead rabbit that close was just asking for an unwanted visitor. He snagged the rabbit by an ear and pulled it closer. Jim was still unconscious, so Blair gathered as many branches as he could reach and started to build a fire. The sun was just beginning to set, and if he couldn't wake his friend, he'd have to keep him warm against the cold night air. If he didn't wake up soon there was no way Blair could carry him. Maybe he could build some kind of stretcher. How long was too long to be unconscious from a head wound? Jim hadn't been out this long after Kimberly hit him. Blair had little experience, other than taking a couple of blows himself. He did remember something about how a concussion caused pupils to dilate. But then, Jim's Sentinel eyes could dilate impressively at will. Still...he leaned over and lifted Jim's right eyelid, peering inside. Immediately a hand came up and grabbed his wrist,
"Ow! Jim!" Blair pulled his sore wrist out of Jim's grasp and looked down on his friend. "Thank God. Man, you were starting to scare me. How do you feel?"
Jim blinked heavily, then reached up to touch his head. "What happened?"
"Easy, easy." Blair pulled his hand down. "One of Brackett's little surprises. Caught you dead center. You've been out for a while."
"Oh, man, what a headache." Jim was trying to sit up slowly so Blair supported his back. "What the hell is this?"
"Don't pull it out, Jim." Blair pushed his hand away from the bandage around his head. "Just take it easy, okay?"
"I'm okay." Jim was sitting up now, supported by Blair. "Any sign of him?"
Blair glanced around. "No. Not one."
"What is this?" Jim reached up again and was feeling the slight bulging of the bandage.
"It's yarrow, Jim. It's a flower, used to stop bleeding. Head wounds bleed a lot and I couldn't get it to stop." He paused, still holding his friend up. "God Jim, I'm sorry. I wasn't paying attention. I just..." He faltered, unable to find the words to say how sorry he was that he had nearly gotten Jim killed. Blair let go of Jim's back and reached around to produce dinner.
"It's okay, Chief." Jim was rubbing his neck, trying to clear his head. "Just stay behind me from now on, okay?" He looked up and noticed the dead rabbit. "How did you manage that?"
Jim looked skeptical, but stopped fingering the bandage and looked at the small fire that was taking on more shape. "How long was I out?"
Blair shrugged as he pulled out his knife and began to gut their meal. "I dunno, maybe twenty minutes. I'm not sure." He paused. "Long enough to scare the hell out of me."
"My head is killing me." Jim was rubbing the back of his neck. "Got anything for a headache that grows naturally?"
"Yeah, coffee beans. But we're in the wrong part of the world for those. Sorry." He had finished gutting the rabbit and shoved the meat onto sticks, placing them into the flames.
"We're going to need more wood soon." Jim started to get up and Blair reached out,
"Hang on, you should sit for a while. Jim..."
His friend had already made it shakily to his feet and was tugging on the chain as he rubbed his neck again. Blair stood quickly, trying to stop the metal from rubbing into his wrist.
"I'd love to just send you out for some Sandburg, but under the circumstances...."
"Yeah, right." They walked together in a circle around their small fire, this time Blair picked up the wood and handed it to Jim, so his friend wouldn't pass out with the rushing of blood to his already throbbing head. Blair tried to keep an eye on his friend and gather wood at the same time. How could he have been so stupid? Walking in front of Jim like that. He never did that when Jim was in charge. He never did that period, and for good reason. After a good armful they returned and found dinner sufficiently browned. Blair wasn't very hungry anymore, so he let Jim have most of the meat. He still had a chill from standing in the stream, and there was a faint scratching at the back of his throat. His wrist was throbbing, but he didn't want to mention it, having been properly scolded earlier that day over what he had done. And after nearly getting his partner killed...he didn't want to cause any more trouble.
"It's your turn to sleep, Chief."
Jim's statement startled Blair. He had been sitting, who knew how long, just staring into the fire, mesmerized by the flames. "I don't think I can."
"Sure you can. You were practically asleep right there." Jim replied, tossing the stick that had held dinner into the fire. "Come on, you've been awake too long. If you don't get some sleep we won't make it out of here. I'll keep watch. My head's throbbing too much to sleep anyway."
Blair nodded, deciding not to argue. He could at least lay down, close his eyes. But being chained to someone, in the middle of the woods, on who knew what mountain, with a madman hunting you, was not conducive to a good night's sleep.
It wasn't good, but
it was sleep. Every sound woke him, only to find Jim sitting beside the fire,
scanning the surrounding area. He kept waiting for his partner to let him know
it was time to trade off, but Blair had lost all sense of time during that fretful
night. When Jim did rouse him the sun was already up.
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