See notes and disclaimer on part one.
Feet bound, hands still tightly cuffed behind his back, Jim Ellison lay amidst the dirt and gravel and the spent shell casings and imagined his Guide's voice.
*Just picture the dial in your head, Jim, and then make the connection to your senses. You control them, man. It's all up to you!*
The original label on this particular dial in Jim Ellison's mind had long since been replaced. "T" for "touch" was gone, in its place a new letter, a rather large, rather capital "P"--for "Pain." Eyes closed, breathing harshly through his nose, and doing his damnedest to ignore the shivering itches crawling across his skin, the stabbing, burning pains in his arms and legs, the burning gouges left by Derek's bullets as they passed across his upper arm and along his ribs--Jim pushed all those things and the rough gravel digging into his face and chest away, and painfully, carefully built the image of the dial in his mind. Once he had it, he wrenched it down to zero as fast as he could.
He gasped in relief, and then sneezed as he inhaled a breath that was more dust than air, more motes and molecules of diesel and his own blood and adolescent smells of excitement and Derek's bloodlust and...Jim sneezed again and then once more began the laborious process of constructing another dial in his mind's eye. Not that the dials helped much right now; his control was too shot for them to work for long, but at least for the moment he could ignore some of the myriad torturous sensations that were threatening his control entirely. If he could get a couple of the other dials down now maybe he could hold on until the help promised in that all-too-brief whisper an age ago materialized--if it ever did.
No, that wasn't fair. Sandburg had somehow followed him, it was only a matter of time until they found him, and Jim just had to hang on until then. Okay, so, while he had time, back to the dials.
Inhaling one more dust and decay-laden breath only to find himself fighting another sneeze, Jim decided that smell might be a good place to go next. Something else was dead around here, and the stench was overwhelming--to him anyway. Sight was necessary for now. Sound wasn't too bad at this point; the babbling creek in the background washed soothingly over his sensitive eardrums, enabling him to focus on something besides the pounding of his own heart and the debate the young punks with guns were having over by Derek's truck. Poor boys, they were having a hard time trying to decide just exactly what to do next with their uncooperative captive.
He managed to turn the dial for smell down to zero before the crunch of gravel signaled the return of his tormenters and the end of his reprieve. He didn't waste much energy wondering what they had in mind for him. Neither boy struck him as particularly bright, and so far their attempts to frighten him had been childishly pathetic: A gun to his head, a few blows from Moe, shoving him around and pushing him down into the dirt, and then Derek shooting at him--obviously intending to miss. If they wanted him to be afraid they were going to have to work a lot harder than either of them appeared willing to at this point.
Once again Moe hauled him to his feet, held him up to face Derek. Jim could barely make out Derek's smile, backlit as it was by the headlights behind the young man. Squinting and flinching away from the stabbing light, Jim realized he probably should have gone for the sight dial instead of smell. Watching Derek's smile grow as the boy brought a silver cigarette lighter up to his face, snapped it open and lit it, only reinforced his regret. Damn. "Hey, Macho Man. I think we figured out how to get you begging. And screaming." Leering at Jim for a minute longer, Derek looked beyond him to Moe. "Come on, we don't want to start a forest fire now, do we?"
Damn! The punks had gotten imaginative on him, figured out a way to have their fun and not break a sweat. No matter, he wasn't going to give them the satisfaction of struggling or whining. Not that he was capable of much beyond that right now, but...
Catching him under the arms, Moe dragged him a few yards back then dropped him down beside a large rock, propping him to sit up against it. Derek squatted in front of him while Moe trudged back toward the parked truck.
"You could end this now, you know." Derek's smile was feral. Moe was a shadow beside the truck, and whatever he was doing clanked on the rocky ground. Jim couldn't see anymore than that before Derek snapped the lighter open in front of his face. One thumb called the flame up, and he stared raptly at it for a moment before looking up at Jim. "I can be merciful, you know. You'll be begging for mercy in a bit anyway. All you got to do is say 'please,' cop, that's all."
Blinking hard in the glare of the lights, Jim stared at the boy, then carefully worked his throat. Derek looked back over his shoulder to include Moe in his gloating, and then Jim spat on one ostrich-toed boot.
"Son of a bitch!" Derek roared, jerking his boot back and then planting it in Jim's belly. Bereft of air, Jim toppled over and writhed on the ground, desperately sucking with lungs that refused to cooperate. He'd just gotten things coordinated again between his mouth and his respiratory system when Derek's boot landed on his ear, grinding the right side of Jim's face down into the gravel. "You stupid son of a bitch. I could kill you here, you know that? I could kill you right now!" he screamed, and Jim couldn't help wincing as his hearing kicked in suddenly. Derek mistook the grimace for victory, and he removed his boot, leaning down next to Jim and caressing his cheek with the small metal box. "Say please," he cooed.
"Like hell," Jim grated, succeeding in dialing his hearing down a few notches. He was braced for the next kick, and though he closed his eyes just before the impact, only a slight "oof!" escaped him. Jim opened his eyes as Moe rejoined them, and found himself eyeing the bottle Moe held carelessly by the neck. At one point the gallon container had held wine. Jim didn't need his sense of smell to tell him what that funny orangey-pink colored liquid that filled it now was: the fruits of Moe's labor over at the small truck. Following Jim's gaze to the bottle, Moe spat on the ground and smiled. This time Jim couldn't stop the shivers that shook him. There hadn't been any light in those flat, dark eyes before, but the appearance of it now was not reassuring at all--it was chilling, and far more frightening than the wild gleam in Derek's eyes.
Irritated that Moe was getting a reaction from his captive when he had failed, Derek dug at Jim's side with his boot.
"You know, we should have taken that rat, Sandburg. He'd have been screaming by now."
Jim didn't dignify that comment with any kind of a response. Yeah, right. And someday pigs would fly.
"Hear me, cop? Maybe when we're done with you we'll go back for the little rat." Derek laughed, and Moe smiled again, the unholy gleam flashing again in his eyes. Toeing Jim's head, Derek crowed, "We can have a real pig roast!"
Sure they could. Jim worked up enough saliva to answer Derek.
"Dream on, Mansfield," he wheezed, swallowing and trying to work up enough spit to set the punk straight about his partner. The touch dial was holding, good thing too. Smell was a bit iffy, but at least he was maintaining control of things--for now. "Sandburg's already lived through tougher than you. Your big mistake was taking him on in the first place. If you had real balls you would have tried to live up to be the man he saw inside you. He'd have gone to bat for you, but now he's gonna be out for your blood."
Derek rolled his eyes.
"Oh, right, like I'm so scared of him."
"You should be," was all Jim offered. There wasn't any more to say. He knew what would happen to these two once word got out about what they had done--were going to do to him. They'd be lucky to be shot on sight.
Though at this point Jim would gladly take being shot on sight instead of what he was facing.
Derek shared a laugh with Moe, and then Moe handed the bottle of gasoline to Derek. Walking over to where Jim lay, he yanked him back up to his knees, grabbing his head air and turning him up to where Derek could stare down into his eyes.
Derek held the bottle above Jim's head and crooned, "Beg, sucker, just beg." Trying to ignore the knowledge of just how that gasoline was going to feel hitting his already tortured skin, Jim's gaze slid from the bottle of gasoline down to Derek, and he let the contempt he felt show in his eyes.
"What for? So you can pretend those tiny little *cojones* of yours make you a man?" Jim snorted. "Got a news flash for you, Mansfield. It ain't how well you're hung or the size of your gun makes you a man. That's just window dressing. It's not who you take out either. What counts is what's on the inside. That's what makes you big, makes you a real man. Know what, kid? You're not a man; you're just a spoiled brat trying to play with the big boys. You're not even big enough to get out of the playpen."
Jim saw the blow coming, but he couldn't avoid it. Derek's ring left another cut open on the Sentinel's cheek, and Moe released him to fall back down into the gravel. Laughing, Derek held the bottle up, and Jim closed his eyes as the opening tipped toward him. Desperately holding onto the picture of the "Touch" dial at zero--*zero*--he couldn't stop the twitching that shook his muscles as the liquid began to splash over him. The cuts on his face and then the bullet burns flared as the gasoline found its way into them and Jim was losing control over the dial. One, dammit, it was at *one,* but it was slipping as the gasoline slid over his inflamed skin and in the end, Jim was barely able to keep the dial at three. Okay, so that's where it had to be. He could ignore pain, he'd done it before, as long as nothing else went out on him. Then the dial for smell slipped, and he gagged on the stench of the gasoline dripping from the end of his nose.
Swallowing against the bile, Jim heard Sandburg's voice.
*You can do this, man! C'mon Jim, concentrate! Find the dials, turn them down, and *don't* let go!*
He was trying, Blair, dammit, he was trying. Yeah, he'd trained for this, actually been trained to resist worse--much worse than this. Trouble was his Army training had never taken into account hypersensitive senses, touch, smell, hearing, all way above normal. If he couldn't get them under control he was going to experience his own death with the equivalent of Dolby Sensurround Sound.
Jim swallowed, desperately fighting the instinctive impulse to lick the liquid off his lips, to open his eyes. He ruthlessly slammed the dials to zero, all of them, sound and sight and touch...touch was hovering between 2 and 3 now, and would go no lower with the oily slippery feel of fuel on him, the stinging and burning where the fluid was interacting with the rash he had from that damn synthetic blanket in the truck. Fine, leave it there, go for the last two, smell and taste. Okay, he had them down, but...But dammit, he was not going to go out like this, shivering and quaking in his boots. He was a Ranger, and a cop, and a *Sentinel*, and he was going to *face* death with as much dignity as his shattered senses would allow him.
And hopefully by the time he couldn't help but scream he'd be too far gone to know it.
Resolutely Jim allowed sight and sound to come up to where he could open his eyes, where he could hear again. He tried to focus on the soothing murmur of the creek instead of the gasoline gurgling out that damn bottle, but there was a new noise, a rumbling somewhere out in the forest that kept interrupting, some sibilant, unidentifiable sound underneath it that kept yanking him back, preventing him from zoning on the creek and then his skin was burning all over and Jim gave up. Well, hell, it hadn't been his night at all so far, why should he expect it to be different now?
Moe definitely had a talent when it came to siphoning; Derek had enough gasoline to drench Jim's entire form with the liquid and still lay a trail of gasoline out across the gravel. He watched as Derek shook the last few droplets out a few feet away from where he lay. Gee, wouldn't want to be so far away they missed any of the upcoming show, would they? Empty, Derek tossed the container back over toward Jim, and it smashed on the ground beside him.
Both boys stepped away from him then, Derek sniggering and Moe's eyes crinkling as they shared some joke he had missed. Aw, too bad the talent scout for Jay Leno wasn't here, maybe the boys could have gotten a good spot. Then Derek, with a glance at Jim, jogged Moe's elbow with his own.
"You ready, Moe?" he grinned, and Moe, unholy fires burning deep in his eyes, nodded once before he too looked at Jim. Derek held out the lighter, making sure Jim's eyes were on him before thumbing it to life.
"Last chance, cop. Beg, now, beg for your life."
Jim just stared back at him, and Derek, his eyes again falling away from Jim's direct gaze, shook his head.
"So be it, you stupid bastard."
But as Derek knelt, the rumbling became a roar, and Jim finally identified the sound as an engine. All three men looked as the vehicle came charging out of the forest. Jim blinked and tried to focus, but couldn't make out anything more than a pale blur before the headlights stabbed across his line of sight and blinded him.
"Hell, Sean ain't got no endurance! Yolanda ain't gonna let him have no more if he can't do her better than that!" Jim heard Derek's laugh, but he was once again fighting for some semblance of control over senses that refused to be controlled. He smelled that laugh, and felt the small flame of the lighter die as Derek stood. Control was gained at the sacrifice of another notch on the pain dial. Telling himself he'd had worse sunburns than this, Jim opened his eyes to find Moe staring at him, while Derek was more interested in watching the approaching truck bounce and clatter through the rocky clearing. Whoever it was driving was going much too fast for either safety or comfort. Moe looked up and he and Derek both cheered when it lurched into a particularly large chughole.
"Yowee, if he ain't careful they're gonna knock themselves out on the roof!" Derek took a couple of steps towards the approaching truck. Jim had more pressing concerns. Turning his head away from the approaching lights, he struggled to keep from losing control of his dials altogether. The longer the gasoline had to soak into his skin, the more it burned and itched. He could feel the heat building in his skin; at this rate he'd burst into flames spontaneously, no need for Derek's lighter. Derek's yell cut through his concentration.
"What the hell does that idiot think he's doing? Hey, Sean! Hey, stupid! Stop the damn truck!"
But evidently Sean didn't hear or didn't care, because the truck kept coming, even faster now, headed straight to where the three men waited. Both boys' attention now focused on the oncoming vehicle, Jim didn't waste the opportunity. Gathering his strength, he managed to roll over once, away from the gasoline soaked gravel he was lying on, before Derek shouted again.
"SEAN! DAMN YOU! STOP!"
Jim checked to see what Moe and Derek were doing. Derek had taken a couple more steps away from the gasoline trail. Hands on his hips, he frowned with confusion at the vehicle, which showed no signs of stopping. But Moe was no longer watching Derek or the truck, he was watching Jim. As their eyes met, Moe smiled. With athletic grace he reached out to slip the lighter from Derek's hand and then he was bending over to light the trail of gasoline that still, in spite of Jm's efforts, led straight to him.
As the truck came closer, the flame licked up, crawling across the gravel toward him. Jim tried to roll over again, get further away from the flames. When his body refused to obey him, he closed his eyes and tried not to think about anything at all, tried to prepare himself for death, to empty his mind...He ignored the sounds of the truck skidding across the gravel. There was an instant where he thought he smelled Sandburg, heard him, but Jim refused to look, refused to be deceived. Blair was gonna feel like shit after tonight, and it was gonna be Jim's fault for not holding on long enough to tell his roommate that this was *not* his fault. No one was to blame here, no one but the twisted punks who were getting their jollies out of his misery.
Okay, enough of this self-pity stuff, he might as well face it now as later. He wasn't going to get any further away than he already was. Steeling himself, clamping down firmly on the dials, wherever they were, Jim pushed himself over on his side and turned to face the fire.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was a night that refused to measured in anything but forevers--forever to get Jim's senses under control, forever to catch up with Henri, forever to find out where Derek had taken him. And, once again, it was taking forever to reach the elusive gravel quarry--and Jim. Blair had no idea how much time had passed as he followed the barely discernible track through the trees and overgrown underbrush that Rafferty had optimistically labeled a road, but any amount of time was too long at this point. Jim's truck lurched and there was another squeal as more paint was sacrificed to the blackberries that seemed to have claimed the right-of-way for now. For the fourth or fifth time since leaving the farm, Blair slammed the shift lever down into lo gear, and the truck crawled through this patch of bushes, to come out and round the bend to see...Damn! More bushes, more trees, and more no Jim! Damn!
"Damn. Jim, man, hang on, we're trying, we're trying. It's just not going very fast, here, man. This is just so not the way I imagined it would be, you know? I thought it would be easy, you know, you just drive up, get out and break down the door waving your gun around and save the day. But, man that is so not the case. This riding to the rescue stuff is just so not fun, not fun at all, man. And I thought it sucked being the rescuee. You can have this cavalry, shit, Jim, you can have it all. This is just *not* my idea of a good time."
Shifting back into high once he cleared the thicket, Blair kept his eyes on the road as he continued to mutter, ignoring the strange looks coming from Rafferty. Rafferty didn't matter, he didn't care if the guy thought he'd gone loopy. Blair just hoped and prayed Jim was still alive to hear his reassurances.
Anything else was just not an option.
And finally, after forever driving through the darkness, they were there, coming around a bend, pushing through the hugest fern Blair had ever seen to break out into the open and find themselves at the edge of the quarry. On Blair's right the headlights flashed over a small, black truck, its headlights on and illuminating three men in the clearing in front of Blair, one man lying on the ground a few feet away from where the remaining two stood.
Blair's headlights flashed across the man on the ground, and his teeth clenched as he recognized his partner's face before the man's head dropped back down into the dirt. Oh my god....
And Jim just lay there, on the ground, not moving. Ohmygod...
And this damned clearing was full of potholes and large rocks that made steering a straight line damned near impossible. But Blair gunned it and kept going, way too fast, throwing Rafferty and the four poor souls in the back of the truck around, because even though this time he had an actual visual sighting of his partner, it was taking forever to get to Jim.
Underneath his fear, Blair felt a faint pleasure that his assessment of the situation had been so accurate; Derek saw no threat in the approaching truck. The punk had actually stepped forward to meet them, putting enough distance between the motionless Sentinel and himself that Blair had just aimed the truck straight at them, not planning on coming to a stop until he was parked between them, Rafferty and his gun on Derek's side, Blair the Guide on Jim the Sentinel's side. Damn, they couldn't be too late, they just couldn't!
Okay, maybe his partner was just zoned. Blair tried to hold on to the hopeful thought--well, more hopeful than thinking Jim was just dead, wasn't it? But as the truck hit another pothole and he jerked the steering back into alignment with his plans, Jim began to move, struggling, then, with obvious effort, rolling over once, away from his captors. Okay, movement from Jim was good, movement away from Moe and Derek was better. But what in the world was Moe doing?
What in the world was painfully clear just a few seconds later as flames leaped up from where Moe had just been, flames that quickly began to lick along the gravel--towards Jim.
The pickup skidded across the rocks as Blair stomped first on the accelerator and then on the brake. Slamming the truck into park in front of a screaming Derek, he threw himself out of the cab and at Jim, Jim who was straining with the effort of trying to roll over one more time, trying to get further away from the flames following him, flames that abruptly flared up in front of Blair. Behind him Derek was still yelling and someone else was swearing but he had no time for anyone but Jim. Blair threw one hand up in front of his face and then he was through the wall of flame, left it flickering behind him except for one small tongue that was following his friend, and suddenly, this close to the other man, Blair smelled gasoline and realized just exactly what his friend had to fear from the flames.
"SHIT!" Blair shucked his coat and, standing between Jim and the fire, began beating at the flames, kicking and scattering the gravel in an attempt to stop the blaze from reaching the injured man, trying to put it out before the fumes pouring off of Jim could ignite as well. Simon materialized out of the darkness, and Blair yelled at him, "They doused Jim with gasoline; get him out of here!"
Simon's eyes grew huge, and he didn't waste any time, taking off his own coat and throwing it over the Sentinel before roughly grabbing Jim under the shoulders and dragging him back, further away from the flames. Blair heard the choked cry from Jim at Simon's manhandling, but he couldn't stop now, couldn't--Simon appeared beside him, and grabbed his hands.
"Give me that, he needs you." And with a sideways nod over his shoulder towards Jim, Simon turned back to the fire. Henri joined him then, and Newhouse, both swinging blankets at the flames, and Blair didn't have to be told twice. Three long seconds later, he was kneeling beside Jim, trying not to gag at the stench of fuel fumes pouring off the wounded man.
Shaking and shivering beneath Simon's coat, coated in dirt from his roll through the gravel, the bigger man could have been in camouflage from his Army days. But as Blair knelt beside him, he opened his eyes and coughed out, "Fancy meeting you here, Chief."
God, his voice sounded so weak!
"Man, Jim, I can't leave you alone for a minute, can I?" Blair chided gently, and was rewarded with the barest hint of a smile before the Sentinel's eyes closed and he grimaced, coughing and retching onto the gravel. Quickly Blair dug in his pockets for his keys, and moved around behind Jim to get at the handcuffs binding him.
Rafe had joined the firefighting efforts, freeing Simon to help Blair. The big black man went down on one knee beside Jim's feet and began picking at the knots binding his ankles together. It only took a second or two longer to free Jim's feet than it took for Blair to get the cuffs all the way off. Jim gasped as his bonds were released, but he moved, brought his arms forward as he struggled to sit up. Blair and Simon both reached to support him, but the hoarse cry Jim uttered coupled with the shudder that shook the Sentinel at their touch halted them in their tracks. Blair's hand dropped back to his side and his eyes flew up to meet Simon's worried frown before focusing on Jim, who had collapsed back onto the ground with a groan.
"Jim, I need to see how you're doing here, okay?"
Sucking in great drafts of air through his nose, Jim didn't open his eyes, just nodded. Blair pulled the coat back, and Simon's sharp gasp echoed his own as they got a good look at their friend.
The light from two sets of headlights illuminated the strange pattern the gasoline had left as it was poured over the Sentinel. Some parts of his body appeared oily clean in the half-light, while others were dark where the fuel had simply mingled with the dust and whatever else Jim had been rolling in. Blood was added to the mix where it dripped from gouges in his arm and across his ribs. There was a new cut along Jim's cheekbone, just below the one from Derek's gun in the loft; both were caked with blood and dirt. His upper lip puffed out twice as big as it should have been, dark bruises shadowed his jaw and eyes and also stalked around Jim's wrists. More bruises decorated his torso. But worst of all were the angry, swollen welts that ran across Jim's bare skin, huge white welts that covered entire sections of skin and paused only for red, bumpy patches of blistering rash before taking off again across Jim's body. Blair couldn't find anywhere to touch his friend that the hives and rash weren't.
And over everything, the overpowering stench of gasoline.
"Shit, Simon, we have to get this stuff of him." Blair looked around, the creek he'd heard earlier had to be--
"Creek's right behind me, Chief," Jim rasped. "Do what you have to do." Clear blue eyes, lids swollen and achingly red, met his in a determined gaze, but Blair hesitated. Simon knelt beside him, while Henri now crouched a short distance away, his normally cheery countenance sober. Rafe had detoured to grab a flashlight before he headed their way. Derek and Moe, hands cuffed behind them, sat sullenly on the gravel by Jim's truck. Rafferty stood over them, a cell phone to his ear, and Newhouse was going through the cab of Derek's little truck.
All that Blair took in, before meeting Jim's gaze.
"Can you walk?"
Jim shook his head, and Blair took a deep breath before lowering his voice and leaning in close to Jim.
"Okay, can you get the dials do--"
"Dials have been shot for a while, Chief. I can hold them down a bit, keep them from going up too fast, but I can't turn anything off."
Blair heard what Jim didn't say in that, heard the muted agony threaded through the blunt statement. He exhaled a curse, but as Jim's bloodshot eyes met his, he nodded. Okay, so they had to be brutal to be kind.
"We'll go as fast as we can, man," he said, hating already what the next few moments were going to do to the Sentinel, hating the punks that had done this to Jim--and hating himself for allowing it to happen. But he'd indulged in self-recriminations enough for one night. It would all be there for study at a later time--shit, this night ought to give him nightmare fodder for at least a few years. For now he needed to concentrate on Jim. Jim...
Shivering, shuddering, Jim nodded once, and then closed his eyes, steeling himself, Blair knew, for the agony that was to come. Blair looked up at the three sober faces staring at them, and started issuing orders.
"Simon, you and Henri give me a hand here. Rafe? Give me that flashlight, man. Jim keeps a duffel bag with clean clothes and stuff behind the pickup seat. Get that and the first aid kit and the sleeping bag you should find back there and bring them to us down at the creek."
Snagging the flashlight Rafe held out before he turned and jogged towards Jim's truck, Blair then turned to Simon and Henri.
"You'll have to carry him, and it's gonna hurt, there's no way around it. We're going for fast here, not slow and careful, okay?" Both men nodded, Henri moving around to kneel beside Jim opposite Simon. Jim shuddered and gasped as they pulled him up and slung his arms over their shoulders. Linking their own arms behind his back and under his knees, Simon and Henri stood, carefully balancing Jim between them. Blair steadied him with one small touch and then, not bothering to step over Simon's coat as it slid to the ground, he led the way to the creek.
It was only about 100 feet distant, not even really a stone's throw, but by the time they got there, Jim was either unconscious or zoned, Blair wasn't sure which--and he wasn't sure he wanted to know. The idea of zoning on that much pain...Blair fought his own shivers, told himself it was because of the leather coat that lay ruined in the gravel behind them. Fortunately the gravel pit sloped down to a natural pool in the swift-running creek, so they didn't have to hunt along the rocky bank for a place to enter the water. Blair paused long enough to set the flashlight down on a flat rock at the edge of the creek, before splashing into the water behind the trio.
"Just get him down into the water, all the way down." Jim didn't move as they lowered him into the icy creek, the current supporting his lax body as they let it wash over him. Still shivering, Blair stood behind Jim and held his head, watching the water stream over Jim's body, rinsing away the blood and grime and hopefully the damned gasoline. In the gravel pit behind them there was a ruckus of cars arriving and lights flashing, but Blair ignored it all, standing there in the water with his Sentinel.
"Blair?" His arms full of the requested items, Rafe stood at the water's edge.
"Simon, take his head. I'll be right back."
Blair pushed through the thigh deep water over to the shallows where Rafe stood on the gravel, holding out Jim's first aid kit. At his feet were Jim's duffel bag and the sleeping bag. Blair ignored the first aid kit, grabbing the duffel bag instead. It only took a moment to find Jim's glycerin soap and a washrag.
"God bless the anal everywhere," he intoned, breaking the plastic lid off the soap container as he rushed to get it open. Ignoring Rafe's shocked expression, Blair headed back out in the water with soap and rag in hand. By the time he got back to Jim, he had a good lather worked up between the two. Henri and Simon were both shivering in the frigid water, but there was no movement from Jim yet. He nodded at Simon, and the Captain lifted Jim's head all the way out of the water, supporting it in the crook of his elbow as he shifted his grip to place his hands under Jim's shoulders.
"Henri," Simon said, and when the other man looked at him, he nodded his head toward the shore. "Get out of here, there's no sense both of us freezing," he ordered. After a moment, Henri nodded, and releasing Jim, headed back toward the shore. Simon called after him, "And see if Rafferty has any more of those blankets while you're at it! And us find something hot to drink--preferably coffee!" Henri turned to wave once in their direction, before trudging up the sloping bank back to the gravel pit. Simon's attention turned to his other detective. "Rafe, you get the towels out of that duffel bag, and then get that sleeping bag open." Barely visible behind the flashlight, Rafe nodded, and went to work.
Blair had dripped suds all over Jim's hair and neck, and now with Simon's support, he carefully covered Jim's face and ears with the soap. Making sure every portion of Jim's head was covered, he brushed gently at the swollen skin with the soft cloth, biting back the swear words as he did so. God, what kind of a person did you have to be to want to do this to another person? To deliberately plan on inflicting this much pain on another living being, this kind of agony...if they'd been two minutes later getting here...No. He wasn't going to allow those pictures to even play in his mind, not even as a might have been.
Collecting both rag and soap in one hand, Blair carefully placed the heel of his other hand against Jim's chin, holding his mouth closed. He then reached up and pinched off Jim's nose between his thumb and fingers. Moving the hand holding the soap and rag to underneath Jim's head, he looked up at Simon and nodded.
"Okay, I got him, let's rinse."
It was an eerie baptism in the dim night, Simon backing away long enough for Blair to lower Jim's head completely under the dark stream, both of them holding him there as they watched the current sluice away the dirty suds. Jim never moved, never reacted to his face being all the way underwater. Blair passed this forever focusing his anger, imagining Derek and Moe as the recipients of some of the more exotic tribal punishments he'd read about. There was this one Mayan ritual....
Of course, as the one who'd let his partner down, as the Guide who'd failed his Sentinel, the tribe just might decide that he, Blair, should share the punishment. And Blair wasn't sure he could argue with their logic. He'd ignored his Sentinel's warnings about Derek, he'd gone out of his way to make the boy--the animal--a part of his life--and thereby a part of Jim's. Some of the blame for tonight had to fall squarely on his own shoulders--never mind Simon's tense silence and clenched teeth clamped down on his own rage. The captain's anger would only be the tip of the iceberg Moe and Derek would find themselves buried under; the weight of Major Crimes' wrath for what had been done to one of their own would be massive indeed. Yet even though their friends and co-workers might overlook Blair's part in this night's debacle, he could not let himself off the hook.
As the suds disappeared downstream, Blair lifted Jim up out of the water, and Simon moved back in to brace him above the stream. The Sentinel drew in a deep breath and coughed as his nose and mouth were released, but that was all the movement from him for the next few minutes. Working together, Simon and Blair lifted Jim until his torso was all the way out of the water. Simon supported him against his chest as Blair began again, working up a lather with the rag and dripping the resulting suds over Jim's chest before brushing gently over them with the washcloth.
By the time they'd washed his chest and back and were working on his arms, Jim was starting to move around a bit, but for the most part he lay placid in the water, eyes closed. In the dim light there was no way to be sure if they were irritating or soothing the condition of Jim's skin, but Blair chose to believe Jim's calm acceptance of their ministrations meant they were helping. And hey, if nothing else, at least the man was numb. Blair's body had long since lost all feeling from the waist down, and he knew Simon must be numb as well, but neither man said anything more than was necessary to get the job done. A small crowd had gathered on the bank at one point, but a few growls from Simon had run off everyone but Rafe and a blanket-wrapped Henri.
Finished sudsing and rinsing all Jim's visible skin, Blair stopped, and brushed a few stray suds from the side of his nose. He looked at Jim for a moment, and then up at Simon.
"Okay, next thing is to get him out of those pants."
"You touch my pants and you die here, Sandburg."
It was weak, raspy, and he coughed twice before he got the sentence all the way out, but it was Jim's voice.
Blair's relief met Simon's above the white form stretched out beneath the water, then Blair smiled at his partner. Jim still hadn't opened his eyes.
"Welcome back, man. And hey, you'd have to catch me first. And right now with this impersonation you've got going of a beached, albino whale, well, hey, man, you're just not that awe-inspiring," Blair joked, and jumped at least half a foot out of the creek when a large white hand suddenly rose from the murky water and grasped his forearm. The glycerin soap popped out of his grip and bobbed away down the creek. Jim's eyes opened, and he grinned weakly up at his roommate.
Simon chuckled. "Definitely got him up above flood stage there, Jim. Maybe you should move away for a bit while the water around Detective Sandburg clears out," he said.
"Yeah well, who's the one who always tells me payback's a bitch, Jim?" Blair asked pointedly, reaching out to take Jim's arm as he struggled to stand. Jim made it to his feet, but he didn't straighten up. Instead he remained hunched over like an old man, leaning against Simon. Blair pulled his hand away and saw the angry red print of his fingers on the large welt that covered most of Jim's arm.
"Jim?" he asked, and watched in concern as his friend shivered, staring down at the creek. Simon hadn't moved, except to put an arm around Jim's back to support him, and Blair saw his own worry reflected in the Captain's eyes. Jim coughed, shivered again, and finally met Blair's gaze.
"Better, Chief," he whispered hoarsely, "But if it's all right with the Captain here, I think I'd like to go home." "I don't believe that will be a problem, Jim." Simon's deep voice could be profoundly gentle. "And you'd better take Sandburg with you before they decide to arrest him for polluting the creek."
That comment won a ghostly smile from the Sentinel, but the smile didn't last long, eclipsed by another shuddering cough. Damn, they needed to get the man out of here before he caught pneumonia.
"Okay, man, but I *am* checking your pants before we go anywhere," Blair insisted. "They were pretty saturated with gasoline." Jim's lack of response to that worried Blair more than he cared to admit, but he didn't say anything, just bent over and ran his hands along the sides of Jim's khakis while the Sentinel shivered and leaned against Simon. The thin material appeared free of the oily film of gasoline, and Blair breathed a silent thanks as he stood. Reaching for Jim's arm, he added a plea for forgiveness to his quiet prayer. But surely the forest understood; protecting the Protector had to be an acceptable excuse for temporarily polluting the creek.
It took Simon and Blair's combined efforts to get Jim up the sloping bank to where Rafe and Henri waited, more blankets and Jim's own towel in hand. As they wrapped Jim in the large towel from his duffel bag, Henri dropped a blanket over Simon's shoulders and Rafe grabbed another one for Blair. Blair surrendered his place at Jim's side to Henri, and reached for first aid kit and the flashlight before following them to a nearby fallen log where Jim's sleeping bag had been laid out. Rafe grabbed a thermos and a couple of cups from the ground by his feet before following them.
"Hey, brother. Hell of a night." Henri said, and Jim's reply was an unintelligible mumble as he lowered himself wearily to sit on the sleeping bag. Simon kept a steadying hand on his shoulder while they wrapped the bag around his legs. Blair squatted beside Simon and started sorting through the first aid kit. Accepting the cup of coffee Rafe poured, Simon knelt down in front of Jim and held it out.
"Drink this. You need something warm inside you."
Jim's hands were shaking so bad when he reached out for the cup that Simon simply held onto it, lifting the cup to Jim's lips. Blair held out two aspirin tablets, and Simon took them, gently feeding them to Jim one at a time, followed by sips of hot coffee. Finally, Jim pushed the cup away, capturing Simon's arm with the same hand. His eyes on Blair, Jim directed his question to Simon.
Blair looked up to find both men gazing fixedly at him. His hands stilled for a moment, then he rolled his eyes and went back to digging through the first aid kit. Sentinels. Shit. Here the man was practically Sentinel-ka-bobs, thanks to his partner, Blair himself, and yet he's worried about said partner getting a little bonk on the head? The man needed to get his priorities straight. Simon sent a crooked smile Blair's way before answering Jim.
"Ellison, if you don't know by now how hard Sandburg's head is," he said, handing the half-empty coffee cup to Henri and accepting a full one from Rafe. "He's supposed to go see his own doctor later today, to be sure his marbles are all still there, but as far as we can tell he's been his normal delusional self."
JIm didn't say anything to that, and Blair didn't look up to see if he was still under the Sentinel microscope. Finally he found what he wanted in the first aid kit. Gathering the items, he waved away the coffee Rafe was offering to him to tap Simon's shoulder. Blair moved in when the captain stood, a small bottle with a dropper lid and a purple tube in his hands. Crouching next to Jim, he began to unscrew the dropper lid.
Simon watched for a moment, clutching his own blanket around his shoulders and sipping his coffee, Then his attention shifted from his injured detecitve, up to the gravel pit, where lights flashed and many voices babbled. Following his Captain's gaze, Henri spoke up.
"Rafferty requested an ambulance, paramedics just got here. Joel called, we've got three units here to take the 'Brat Pack' in to booking. He's riding back with the punks from the farmhouse in one; Megan's on her way down here with the others. Rafferty just wants to talk to you before he signs off on the whole gig."
"All right, I'll go on up there in a min--"
"No." Jim's monosyllabic comment interrupted Simon, and he turned toward his detective, frowning. Blair looked up from the dropper he was filling.
"He's right, Simon."
Simon stared at Blair, and then back at Jim, before shaking his head.
"Right about what? 'No,' what? You know, it really plays hell with my image as the in-charge Captain here when I get turned down for something and I don't even know what that something is!"
Blair resisted the urge to grin at Simon's histrionics, and Henri and Rafe weren't even bothering to hide their relieved grins. At last, something about this hellish night was getting back to normal. Jim, staring down at nothing once he'd made his objection known, seemed oblivious to the whole thing. Blair took a deep breath, and explained.
"No ambulance. What Jim really needs right now is just to go home. All the hospital is gonna do is aggravate his sen--his allergies. He'll be better off--"
Simon waved a hand and cut off Blair's words. He knelt in front of Jim, and waited until the detective looked up at him.
"Jim? You're sure?" he asked softly.
Bloodshot blue eyes in a swollen and bruised face stared up at Simon, and then Jim nodded. Simon didn't hesitate.
"Okay, good enough for me. Rafe, you get on the horn and tell Connor to turn around and go back up to where we left our cars. She can bring her car down here and give Ellison and Sandburg a ride home while we finish cleaning up this mess. Henri, you come with me while I go make nice with Rafferty so the County doesn't decide they get first crack at our perps."
With that, Simon drained his coffee cup and handed it to Henri as well. He pulled the blanket from his shoulders and draped it over one arm before turning and heading up the hill. Rafe and Henri stared blankly at each other for a second, then, looking down at Jim and Blair, Rafe cleared his throat.
"Jim..." he started, and then Henri caught his arm, indicating the route Simon had taken with a sideways nod of his head. Rafe nodded, and they turned to go.
"Hey, H, Rafe..." Jim's rasp caught their attention, and he looked up and smiled at them. It wasn't much of a smile, and would probably have frightened more people than it reassured. But Henri's face lit up with his answering smile and Rafe looked even younger than he normally did with the huge grin that he now sported. Jim swallowed, then said, "Thanks, guys, for coming after me."
"Hey, Bro, it was nothing. Besides, somebody had to protect the perps from Sandburg. That poor kid would never have known what hit him." Jim looked askance at Blair, who smiled and shrugged. Henri laughed, and slapped Rafe on the shoulder. "Come on partner, I think Simon gave you an order."
"Yeah." Rafe smiled at Jim again, and then turned to follow his partner up the incline and back to the action.
"Here, Jim, open your mouth." Blair held the dropper he'd filled, and Jim obediently opened his mouth, jerking away just before the dropper reached his mouth. His glare wasn't up to its normal strength, but it was a glare nonetheless.
"This doesn't have any relatives in the peyote family, does it?"
"No, it's plain ol' store bought Benedryl. It will help get rid of the hives." Jim accepted that, and took the medicine, before he frowned.
"Chief, my senses are already sho--"
"It's infant's Benedryl, Jim. The dose should be small enough to give you some relief and not affect your senses. It's either that or take you in for a shot of adrenaline to get rid of them. Trust me, you don't want hives to go internal."
Jim shuddered at that, and Blair quickly pulled the blanket from his own shoulders to drape it around him, making sure the towel protected Jim's skin from any contact with the blanket. Now to get the Sentinel into something warmer before they added hypothermia to the night's problems. Digging in the duffel bag Rafe had dropped next to him, Blair brought out a sweatshirt. Another second of digging netted him a pair of Jim's sweatpants. Pushing the duffel bag aside, he turned back to Jim, holding the shirt out to him.
"Look, Jim, I was serious about getting you out of those wet clothes. The cold water helped the hives, but if you start shivering and get too chilled, they'll take off again. We need to get you warm and dry."
He leaned forward, reaching for the blanket Simon had draped around Jim, but Jim shook his head, and batted weakly with at Blair's hand. Blair sat back on his heels while Jim coughed, and then tried to pin him with another pale imitation of his normally icy stare.
"I'm fine, and I'll get even colder changing out here in the open," he rasped. "Besides, you're just as wet as I am, Chief."
Blair tried not to shiver as Jim's words reminded him of just how cold he was now that they were in the cool night air. He held the sweats up in front of Jim.
"Well, hey, Jim, you're the anal Boy Scout here--what's the sense in always being prepared if you don't make use of those preparations? Besides, you're the one who spent the last fifteen minutes totally submerged in 50-degree water. I'll be fine once we get inside a nice warm car. You, on the other hand--"
Blair shot to his feet, and, turning around, found himself facing the same two paramedics that had tended him in the loft. What the--oh, that's right, Rafferty had called for help. Shoot, how could he get rid of them? Jim really did *not* need their poking and prodding at this point. Blair stared at the two men for a second before swallowing and laughing once.
"Whoa, hey, Johnny and Roy, take two."
Short, blonde and pudgy glared at him, while his dark-haired partner shoved past Blair to kneel beside Jim, Jim who sneezed and flinched away from the man. Sniffing experimentally, Blair realized the dark-haired EMT exuded a faint but rank odor, some kind of aftershave or something. Shit, one more thing Jim shouldn't have to be dealing with! When he turned towards Jim, however, Blair found his way blocked by the blonde EMT, who started pushing him back, away from Jim.
"Look, Mr. Sandburg, why don't you just step aside and get out of the way so we *professionals* can do our jobs?"
"Hey, now, wait a minute, folks, like this is so not going to down like this," he objected, shaking off the EMT's grip. "Jim's got some severe medical allergies, and you can't just go giving him whatever treatment you please. Let's get some ground rules down here, first, okay?"
Blonde and pudgy blocked his next move towards Jim, while his partner opened up the medical box and started pulling out equipment.
"Where's his medical tag, then? " Pudgy questioned. Taking Blair's arm, he once again tried to lead him away from Jim.
Blair forgot his retort when he saw what the dark-haired paramedic held as he leaned over Jim. Jim had raised one hand to object, but the EMT was pushing both Jim's hand and his objection aside.
"Hey!" Blair lunged past Pudgy and grabbed the penlight before the idiot could actually turn it on. The dark-haired EMT fell back on his heels, while Pudgy glared at him. Blair stood between Jim and the paramedics, waving the penlight back and forth between the two men like he'd been taught to use his gun.
"Now look, no one has given you pinheads permission to treat anyone here. You're not going to shine any little lights or take anybody's blood pressure or so much as offer a tissue, until I say you get to; have you got that? You guys can just back off until we get some ground rules established, like I said before." He lowered the penlight, and looked down at Jim. He could swear the Sentinel was smiling, but in the strange pattern of light and shadow that filtered through the trees and vehicles to where they sat, it was hard to be sure.
Short-and-Pudgy rolled his eyes, and leaned around Blair to speak to Jim, still huddled against the log.
"Sir? You're in need of some assistance here and this person--"
Jim looked up to meet the EMT's worried gaze, and this time he managed to get some of the normal wattage into the Ellison ice-down glare.
"You heard my partner," he said hoarsely.
Pudgy and his partner gaped at each other in disbelief, then looked back up at Blair, who honestly tried not to gloat too hard.
Well, sort of. Blair didn't bother to waste a smile on the duo. He nodded and crossed his arms over his chest. "Yeah, well, okay. Like I said, ground rules. No lights, no blood pressure cuffs, no medication. You get to treat and bandage Jim's cuts and the two bullet scrapes, using the ointment I will give you. In return," Blair hesitated, and then grinned as inspiration struck. "In return, you let him use your ambulance to change clothes. That's the deal, folks, take it or leave it."
They took it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Concluded in Part Four...