by Kristine Williams
Blair moaned. Eyes still closed, he reached up to touch his mouth, discovering he was no longer bound or gagged. Fighting a surge of nausea, he opened his eyes, looking up at darkness. There were spots in front of his eyes, but after a few minutes of blinking, they clarified into stars.
Stars? Slowly, Blair glanced around without moving his body. He was alone! Alone and untied, and in some kind of cave or hole or something. Gingerly raising his head, Blair tried to see his surroundings more clearly. A stab of pain shot through his gut before his shoulders even cleared the rocky ground. He fell back, crying out quietly for fear he wasn't truly alone. As the pain eased up, he realized there had been no answering shout or sound from nearby. The stabbing had become a deep throbbing in his gut and right side. Carefully, Blair brought a hand to his chest, wincing against the stinging sensation in his wrist as night air struck raw flesh. He swallowed, trying not to cough, and ran his hand over his chest and side, feeling for any gaping wounds, still not sure he was really alone.
As his hand moved over his stomach, Blair realized his pants were open. Oh God! Quickly, he reached down and pulled the zipper up, then fumbled with the button until he got it closed. No, no no no. He closed both eyes tightly, a small moan escaping his dry throat. Please...Almost too afraid to think about it, Blair took inventory of his discomfort. His right side hurt, his stomach was throbbing badly, his face and head were painfully bruised. Both wrists burned from the ropes, and his right knee was sore. Feeling only slightly braver, he checked again. Nothing below the waist or above the thighs was painful in any way. At least not too bad. He could still feel the threat of hands there, still feel Scarface touching him. But that had to be his imagination. It had to be! He was alone now, and no matter what the ugly guard had done, he hadn't actually...No, he hadn't done it. Whether that was true, or just something he desperately needed to believe, he wasn't sure, but he was going to stick with it.
After all, he'd managed two good solid hits to Scarface's balls; what could the man have done after such injuries? Other than just... "Jim, where are you?" Blair's voice cracked with the dryness, reminding him of how long he'd been without food or water. The memory only added to his discomfort, and made him want to cough.
He was alone, wasn't he? He had to be. No one was making any sounds, he was sure he could see four dirt walls around where he lay, and he was the only occupant of whatever this was. Maybe he was supposed to find his own way out? Maybe he'd just been dumped out here to give someone time to make a clean getaway?
"Sure, that makes sense." He coughed again, then grimaced against the pain that shot through his stomach and side. "Dammit!" He had to do something. What if he was supposed to get out and save Jim? "Right. Get a grip, Sandburg."
As slowly as he could, Blair began to get up, gritting his teeth against the pain that shot through his entire body with each movement. After what seemed like an eternity, he managed a sitting position, leaning against one dirt wall. That small accomplishment left him winded and soaked with sweat. He sat there, staring at the night sky, trying to catch his breath, and played back the last few hours he could recall.
"Oh, God, Jim!" Robert said Jim would be dead soon. Was Jim dead already? "No, come on, man. No, this can't be happening." He had to get out of here. Jim could be up there, above this hole he was in, dying, hurt--he had to get out of here! Biting down against the pain, Blair pushed himself to his feet, using the crumbling rock wall for leverage. When he got to his feet, he stood shaking for a few seconds, trying to get past the vertigo sweeping over him. With a few tries, he managed a relatively deep breath, then looking at the opening several feet above his head, he shouted.
"Help!" The pain in his stomach after the shout nearly doubled him over. He reached out for the rock to steady himself. Much more of that and he'd be unconscious again, but he had to try! He'd be damned if he was going to die five yards away from some old woman's house in the back lands of India just because he couldn't shout.
When the pain eased up, he tried again. "Chaarah!" The word in Hindi was no more difficult or loudly delivered, but the pain it caused sent Blair crashing to his knees, where he stayed, clutching his stomach and trying hard not to be sick. "Jim." That name barely needed air, but the pain it gave his heart hurt just as much.
Blair sank back on his heels, then leaned against the wall again, pulling his knees up to hug himself against the pain. He closed both eyes tight and pressed his head back, hearing nothing but the rush of blood in his own ears. Every time he closed his eyes, he could feel those hands on him, touching him. And Jim was watching. He forced his eyes open and heard an owl cry somewhere in the distance. "Please, Jim." Only the owl answered back.
It was getting cold. Blair only had on his short-sleeved shirt and jeans. He'd never planned to stay out like this. He'd never planned any of this. And he still didn't understand what this was. It involved Jim and his old friend, Robert. That didn't tell him anything. Obviously, Robert had done something, tricked or captured Jim for some reason. But why? Vaguely, Blair remembered seeing Jim, for just a moment, before he lost consciousness again. How long had he been there, and what had he seen? Where was he now? Had Robert killed him already, like he said he would?
"Jim." Blair eased his knees away, trying to find a comfortable position. Failing, he started to rock gently back and forth, willing that owl to shut up, willing Jim to come and pull him out of the hole. Willing this to be over now.
He had no idea what time it was, or how long he'd been there, sitting in the dirt, staring unseeingly at the rock wall in front of him. He had to keep his eyes open, in order to keep the hands away. The sound of wheels on dirt brought his attention upward, where he saw the night sky paling into dawn. Jim!
The vehicle came closer, spitting rocks and dirt as they approached. Just when Blair feared it would drive right by, it stopped, coughing up a cloud of dust he could see from below. Suddenly fearful of who might be there, he resisted the urge to cry out. Scrambling painfully to his feet, Blair looked up just as a wooden ladder was thrust into the hole. Startled, he tried to step back, pressing against the rock wall.
Blair looked up. At the top of the ladder, gun in hand, stood Robert.
"I said up here!" He waved the gun, indicating the ladder. "I'll drop you there, if you prefer."
"Where's Jim?" Blair's voice wasn't very loud. He was shaking, he knew, and his throat was so dry it hurt.
"If you want to live, you'll get up this ladder."
"Where's Jim?" If he was already dead...Blair knew he couldn't go through that again if Jim was already gone.
"If I know Ellison, not far behind." Robert pulled the hammer back and took aim. "Now, get up here or die in the hole. Your choice."
Struggling with what Robert had said, Blair moved toward the ladder. Climbing it was painfully slow, but when his shoulders cleared the hole, hands grabbed his shirt and pulled him roughly up and onto the ground. He stumbled, trying to stay on his feet as his hands were pulled behind him.
"What are you doing?" Not again! Blair felt the rope dig into already raw flesh, binding his wrists together. He opened his mouth to protest again, too hurt and exhausted to care about the reasons for all of this. Before he could speak, a thick wad of cloth was shoved into his mouth, then tied behind his head.
"I'm not in a listening mood. Let's go."
Robert shoved Blair's back, propelling him toward the trees lining the dirt road. Blair stumbled, recovered, then walked, feeling the hand that held his shirt and the cold metal of a gun muzzle pressed into his neck. When he reached the edge of the road the sun was coming up, showing his surroundings more clearly. The road wasn't a road, it was a dry riverbed with steep sides. Robert pushed him forward, forcing him to climb the embankment with only the hand on his back pushing him up when he'd stumble.
By the time he reached the top, the pain in his stomach and side was too much. Biting down on the gag, Blair fell to his knees, trying to double over to protect his bruised abdomen.
"Move it!" Robert pulled him back to his feet by the arm, then launched him toward a clump of trees. A few yards farther in, and he was pushed down onto a large boulder.
Pain seared through him as he sat on the rock, facing Robert. Pain he didn't want to show, but couldn't breathe through this time. He bent forward, trying to catch his breath and ease the throbbing in his gut.
"Damn him." Robert looked down at Blair, gun aimed at his neck. "I never should have changed plans, there wasn't enough time."
Blair looked at him, trying to straighten up, and realized the man was talking to himself. There was a gleam in his eyes, an almost insane rage that was barely held in check. But he'd said Jim was not far behind, hadn't he? That must mean Jim had gotten away, and was coming. There was hope. Jim was coming, and Robert was apparently alone. Blair risked a glance around, praying he wasn't going to find Scarface in the trees, waiting to finish what he hadn't been able to start in the cell. There was no one else there.
Robert checked his watch, then looked up the riverbed. "Come on, come on, dammit!" He turned quickly, glancing down the way he'd driven up. "I'd rather let the river kill your partner, but if I have to, I have to."
Fighting rage and the pain in his gut, Blair didn't hear the other vehicle crunching up the dry riverbed toward them until it was sliding to a stop next to Robert's. When he did look up, he was grabbed from behind and pulled to his feet. Robert wrapped an arm around Blair's throat, then shoved the gun into his side and pushed him forward.
Blair's vision was swimming so badly, he couldn't even see Jim until they were standing next to the embankment's edge. But he was alive!
"It's over, Robert. Let him go." Jim stepped out of the jeep, moving toward them.
Robert pulled Blair backwards a few steps, and waved the gun in the air.
"Come up here."
Jim came closer, his eyes holding Blair's as he walked. It was then Blair noticed his arm, and the blood covering his left sleeve. He was unarmed, and once again Blair was going to be used as a shield, or pawn, or whatever else served Robert's purpose. With some difficulty, Jim climbed the crumbling rock embankment and came to a stop a few yards away.
"That's close enough, I think." Robert aimed at Jim, tightening the pressure on Blair's neck with his other arm. "I never should have tried it this way. Changing plans that late in the game is never a good idea."
"Just let him go, it's all over." Jim's voice was quiet, and his eyes locked with Robert's.
"I don't think so, Ellison. If I let him go, I'm as good as dead."
Blair searched Jim's face for any sign of a signal, anything he was supposed to do to help Jim take this guy down. His eyes were cold stone, staring through his old friend, but they were also full of pain. His arm hung limp at his side, and there was sweat on his forehead and lip. A surge of fear rushed up inside Blair. What if Jim was physically unable to take Robert out? Blair was helpless, and neither of them had the gun. No, this had to be the end of it. Jim was here, he'd take care of Robert. There was no backup, no Simon or squad cars coming up the river.
"I'll give you the same chance you gave me. Run for it." Jim's eyes flashed onto Blair's for an instant, softening, then returned to Robert. "The authorities can't be far behind. You can run for the border."
"Ah, but I lied, Ellison. That dam will open any minute now, taking care of any bodies I need to hide." From behind, Blair felt Robert shake his head, then the gun pressed into the side of his face, the hammer clicking back. "I only plan to kill you. Him, I'm going to sell. I have to gain something from this. I was set to get a big paycheck for killing the Congressman. Now I have losses, and no way to recoup them."
Jim lunged forward and the gun moved, taking aim at his head. He froze, blue eyes blazing.
"Right there, Jim! I'll drop you right there!"
"You're going to have to do it, then."
Blair tensed, ready to make his own move and give his partner an opening. Catching Jim's eye, he saw the slight nod. It was time to get this over with.
But the explosion came first. Startled, Robert released the trigger, turning his head with Blair to glance up the riverbed at the source of the thundering they heard and felt.
Blair recovered first, just
in time to duck down and pull out of Robert's grasp so Jim could slam into the
man. He hit the ground hard, landing on his injured right side. Agony blinded
him. By the time he recovered his senses, Jim was on top of Robert. The gun was
nowhere to be found, and the two men were struggling in the dirt. He tried to
roll away, to give Jim more room, but the pain in his side and gut kept him in
place, helpless. Still gagged, he couldn't call to Jim. All he could do was watch,
Jim's rage was unleashed. He sat back quietly and watched it take over, slamming his right fist into Robert's face over and over again. His left arm was nearly useless, and he tried to shield it with his body, but a sudden kick into his side threw him to the right. Another kick caught the injury and Jim clutched his arm, rolling to the side, away from Robert, who was getting to his feet. The ground was quaking, and the thundering in his ears grew louder. Along with his determination to kill this man.
Robert made a lunge and Jim feinted left, rolling back to his feet in one swift motion. They faced each other, sizing up the next move, each aware of the gun lying several yards away in the dirt. He knew Robert was going to die, for what he'd done to Blair, and what he'd been willing to allow the ugly scar-faced man to do. He also knew Robert was aware of Jim's goal. This was a fight to the death, where surrender and arrest wasn't an option. Simon wasn't here to stop Jim from doing what needed to be done.
A stab of pain shot through Jim's arm. As he was blocking it out, Robert made his move, tackling Jim and sending them both crashing to the ground again. This time Jim was underneath, but before Robert could deliver a single blow, he reached out with his right hand and found a sizable rock. With that in hand, he slammed his fist into the side of Robert's face, knocking him to the side. Before he could get to his feet again, a fist connected with the bullet wound. Jim rolled away, nearly going over the embankment.
As he turned to locate Robert again, he became aware of a fine spray reaching his face. The thundering grew louder, and the ground shook with the weight of water pummeling down the dry riverbed.
With a shout, Robert ran toward him. Jim looked up just in time to see him rushing forward, a huge rock in both hands, poised to crush Jim's skull. There was no time to move, and nowhere to move to. Jim glanced at Blair, one last desperate attempt to convey a million emotions. But Blair wasn't looking at him, he was struggling to raise both legs.
Blair's legs slammed into Robert. That, combined with his momentum, sent Robert over Jim and down the rocky embankment with a scream. Jim rolled over and got halfway off the ground, ready to jump down and finish the job. Before he could, Robert and both jeeps vanished.
A wall of water crashed into them with such force, Jim was sure the impact had to have killed him. He fell back, instinct distancing him from the edge even after realizing the level wasn't going to reach the top. One jeep bobbed briefly to the surface before disappearing again under the white water. Jim watched the lip of the flood until he could no longer see it. Until the water stopped its mad rush and became a fast running but contained river.
When he could no longer see Robert, Jim's rage cooled, counting it over. He turned to find Blair semi-conscious on the ground, lying on his side. The pain in his arm was forgotten as he pushed himself to his partner and untied the gag. A small moan escaped Blair's mouth when the cloth was removed.
"Easy, Blair. It's over." Jim ran a hand over his friend's head, smoothing the hair from his face before starting to untie his wrists.
Blair moaned again. As soon as his hands were free, he struggled to get away from Jim, shouting. "No! Don't touch me!"
"Blair! Easy, easy, it's Jim."
Blair lunged away, then cried out, clutching his abdomen. Seconds later, he passed out.
"Blair." One quick check of his pulse calmed Jim's sudden fear. "It's okay, Chief." He let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding. After taking a few seconds to compose himself, Jim set about checking them both over.
He rolled Blair gently onto his back, then examined the cuts and bruises on his head and face. Dried blood covered his right temple, leaving a trail of dark red that reached down to his throat. Mixed with that was old blood from a cut on Blair's right cheek, just under the eye, and a split lip. Sentinel fingers ran over his skull, confirming that there were no breaks.
Jim picked up the cloth Blair had been gagged with and hurried to the new river. When he returned, he washed the dried blood off, then began to work his exam farther down. Lifting his friend's shirt, he found several dark purple bruises, most of them concentrated over his abdomen and right side. Jim's touch felt no broken ribs, but a firmer pressure elicited a moan of pain as Blair struggled to come to.
Jim had to force his jaw to unclench as he continued to check Blair over. He knew if his friend had been hurt in any other manner, he'd never admit the injury. But if he was hurt, injured in any way, Jim needed to know.
He made the exam as quickly as he could while still being sure. It wasn't easy with one arm too painful to use, but he had to know. Blair began to stir when Jim was refastening the jeans.
"Easy, Blair, it's okay."
Jim was reaching for the button just as Blair shot up, blindly pushing at his hands while trying to scramble away.
Clutching Blair's shoulders, Jim winced against the pain in his own injured arm. "Easy! Easy, it's okay. It's Jim."
"Jim?" Blair's eyes finally focused on Jim's. He grabbed the arms holding him up. "Oh, God, Jim. I thought, I ..."
"Blair, it's okay. Lie back." Jim pushed him back down to the ground, then had to gently pry Blair's hand off his injured arm.
Reluctantly, Blair let go of Jim's shirt and closed his eyes for a moment, gritting his teeth as he pulled both knees up. "What happened?"
"Just take it easy, it's over." Jim reached down to finish buttoning Blair's jeans. The instant his hands found the top of his pants, Blair pulled back again with a start.
"No!" The word was coughed out, a quick, plaintive cry from an enraged young man.
"It's all right, Chief." Jim finished with the button, ignoring the hand that had tried to push his away. When he was done, he gripped Blair by the arms and looked into his eyes, waiting for him to calm down again and look at him. "Blair, no one hurt you. You're okay. I checked."
He waited until his friend finally looked up, meeting his eyes. "You're fine." His eyes reflected anything but fine, but he nodded nevertheless. Jim sighed, swallowing back the remnants of his own terror. He reached up and smoothed back long strands of hair that threatened to stick to the freshly cleaned cuts on Blair's cheek. Somehow the kid resisted the urge to pull away from Jim's touch. He felt warm, but not from the morning sun. "You're okay. Trust me. You just need to rest. We both do." With light pressure on Blair's shoulder, he got his friend to lie back down. From the paleness of his face, it was just in time.
Blair relented, teeth clenched against the pain, then looked up at Jim. Uncertainty remained in his dark blue eyes. "Jim, your arm."
Before Jim could stop him, Blair tried to sit up again, winced, and fell back. "Lie still, Chief."
He closed his eyes and held on to the hand Jim had on his shoulder. After a few minutes, he sighed and relaxed a bit.
Jim moved around to sit beside his friend on the ground. He'd intended to return to the river and clean his arm, then re-bandage it and try to bring some water to Blair, but right now his partner needed him to stay there. Ignoring the pain in his left arm, he lifted Blair's shoulders and moved himself under his friend's upper body, letting Blair's head and shoulders rest on his legs.
"Try to rest, Chief." Jim ran his right hand over Blair's hair, smoothing it back, trying to get his friend to relax. He was tense and warm with the beginning of a fever, but after a few minutes, he nodded, eyes still closed, and established a strong hold on Jim's left shirt sleeve.
He wasn't sure how long they sat there, or how much longer they'd be safe being in the area, but Blair finally drifted into a restful sleep. Gently, Jim eased himself out from under the sleeping young man, making sure his head rested on a relatively soft spot before he got to his feet. The sun had passed the high mark and started down toward late afternoon, and his arm was throbbing badly. Jim made his way to the edge of the river, dropped to his knees and began to unwrap the cloth bandaging his arm. He'd been trying to block out the pain, but that took concentration, and ever since he found the riverbed and started driving up, his mind had been on Blair.
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