Author-Sherrylou and Author-LindaS
Rising to the Occasion
by Sherrylou and LindaS
Summary: Blair and Jim are taken for a ride. Rated PG.
Notes: First -- this is NOT a death story. Second -- I could have never finished this story without my sister. When I'm stuck, she's there with just the right words. And third -- I can't forget to thank my clean-up crew, my two wonderful betas: CJ and Lyn!
Disclaimer: Not ours!
The metallic groan echoed noisily throughout the small enclosure, vibrating the walls and floor and causing another load of powdery debris to rain down on them. Coughing and sputtering, Blair shook his head and then ran his fingers through his dusty curls. They were alive. Amazingly, they were still alive.
The elevator jerked again, dropping several feet and giving Blair only time for a small gasp before he felt an arm reach around him and a body partially blanket him in an effort to shelter him from the showering fallout. As the elevator jolted to a stop, the protective weight lifted, and he heard Jim ask, "You okay, Sandburg?"
Still in shock from the initial explosion, Blair could only nod his assent. He couldn't remember being more afraid than he was now. Following the blast, the elevator had slipped twice and was looking more and more to Blair like an express car straight to the basement. His heart pounded a helter-skelter rhythm against his chest, fast and hard, and he was shaking. Why couldn't he stop shaking? He placed a trembling hand on his chest, willing his heart to slow down.
As he looked around the small enclosure, he felt his throat tighten and he fought off the impending panic. Squinting through the settling haze, he was surprised that the emergency light still worked, casting an unnatural glow throughout the elevator. Next to him sat Jim, looking like a crumbling statue, crusted in a chalky dust. Shredded insulation and small pieces of the car's roof littered the floor.
"J-j-jim?" The name was no more than a half-stifled croak. With the air hanging thick and heavy, a choking mixture of dust and debris coated his throat. Swallowing with difficulty, Blair tried again, more successful this time. "Jim, does anyone know we're here?"
Noting Jim's evasive tone, Blair's immediate concern for their predicament multiplied as he squeaked suspiciously, "Kind of? What the hell does that mean?"
"Well, we weren't supposed to be gone long. I sorta mentioned to Brown that we were stepping out."
"Stepping out? As in what? Out to lunch? Out to the movies? Out to dance the day away? Oh, I know, with all the talk that's been going around the station lately, perhaps a little romantic tryst in a second-rate, fleabag motel. Some afternoon delight?" Blair struggled to bite back the flurry of words that were slipping off his tongue, knowing that it was mostly fear that provided the momentum for his words, but he was on a roll and unable to stop himself. Blair had to admit that he was just plain scared, and he and elevators -- well, they kinda had a history together -- and little of it good.
He took several steadying breaths and then brushed the dust off his arms before making his next statement. "Did you happen to remember that Brown was going to be in court all afternoon? What if he didn't let anyone else in on our little 'stepping out'?"
"Oops? Great! Just great! Not only am I trapped in this deathbox with one absent-minded, message-challenged sentinel, but also no one will miss us for the next few hours. I do have a class to teach at two o'clock."
"Guess the kids will just have to make do without your loquacious talent."
"Loquacious? You've been reading Word Power again?" Folding his arms across his chest, Blair made a half-hearted attempt to glare at the unrepentant man, but failed. He relaxed his shoulders and grinned in spite of the serious situation, shaking his head lightly. He wasn't really mad at Jim. It was this damned elevator.
Jim ducked his head, appearing slightly embarrassed. "Well, I guess we've got a bit of a wait."
"You...uh...don't hear anything?" Blair tapped an ear with his finger. "You know, like help, sirens -- the cavalry? The explosion had to make some noise, someone had to hear it."
"Nothing's happening out there right now, Chief, but that's not to say they're not on their way. We're pretty far off the beaten path, and the explosion was fairly self-contained -- not a lot of noise. It's safer if we wait awhile for help to arrive; and if no one shows up, then we'll need to figure a way out ourselves."
Realizing there was nothing to be done now, Blair released a deep sigh and settled back against the wall of the elevator. Glancing around the car, he asked, "You sure we're safe here?"
Jim cocked his head in that familiar pose that told Blair he was listening to all the minute nuances of the building, and then answered, "Everything sounds stable for the moment."
"I take 'for the moment' being the opportune words?"
"You got it in one, Chief."
"What the hell happened?"
"Damned if I know. But I have a feeling this was a set-up."
Blair scrunched into himself, wrapping his arms around his knees. *Yeah, a set-up,* he silently agreed. Some anonymous tip, an unoccupied office building, and an elevator shaft rigged with explosives. It couldn't have been more perfect.
"Maybe the rental agent will miss us when you don't return the key," Blair offered as an afterthought. He wondered why he hadn't thought of it before. Surely, Miss ...ah, what was her name ...Miss Sunnengren would report them missing when they didn't bring back the key to the property.
"Maybe, but not until..." The rest of the sentence was lost as Jim dropped his head and coughed to clear his throat.
"Not until what, Jim?" As Blair tried to pinpoint what Jim was hiding, since the man was definitely avoiding looking at him, the realization hit him hard and the fear intensified. Surely Jim would have brought up that possibility before, if it were a possibility. Jim's silence only confirmed that fact. "She won't be looking for us, will she?"
"Doubtful...uh, she mentioned something about heading out of town for a conference. Told me not to worry about the key, she had duplicates and that I could return it on Monday."
Blair stared at Jim as the hopelessness of the situation confronted him. Slumping back against the wall, he pulled out his cell phone. Punching a button and reading the 'no signal' message, he was unsurprised at the lack of reception since their cell phones had been the first things they'd both reached for following the explosion and they hadn't worked then either.
It was just so darned frustrating. The wonder of modern technology and it wouldn't work in this six-foot by six-foot box. He had the urge to hurl the phone across the small car and gleefully watch it break into a bunch of tiny little pieces, but instead he wisely replaced it back in his dust-covered pocket.
Sweat was dampening his shirt, leaving him feeling hot and sticky, and the air felt non-existent. God, he couldn't breathe. Was it possible to die from lack of air in an elevator? And the walls! They seemed to waver, rippling from the car's roof to the floor like an incoming tide, encroaching inch-by-inch toward where they sat.
Blair pulled his feet in closer to his body and bit his bottom lip hard, hard enough to draw blood. The throbbing lip and the sharp metallic taste of blood momentarily drew his attention away from the walls and its imaginary rolling. *Focus...focus, damn it! Steady breaths,* he mentally urged himself. He could feel the beginnings of a panic attack, swelling up from the pit of his stomach, ready to overwhelm him. *Not now. Please, not now.*
Wheezing on the hot, dust-coated air, Blair realized that he needed a distraction, fast, and asked, "Jim, have you ever thought about the meaning of life?"
"You asking me that now, Sandburg?"
"Well, yeah...um...seeing as how we're kinda stuck here." He couldn't stop his eyes from darting around the car, taking in the small enclosure, and he shivered involuntarily. The walls were moving closer, weren't they? He tugged at the collar of his shirt.
"Why not just ask: 'What's the purpose of it all'?"
Blair offered a nervous chuckle. "Oh, getting metaphysical on me. That could work."
Jim was silent for a moment, as if thinking then brought up hesitantly, "So, uh, what you said before...about a romantic tryst. Some of the officers actually think we're..."
Blair pushed back a wayward curl and snorted in disbelief. "Oh, get real, Jim. You are not that naive. Where's your head been for the last three years? Even I've heard the talk. We're Break Room fodder for the precinct. Longhaired hippie and ex-military macho cop sharing an apartment...and perhaps more. I mean --"
"Gotcha." Jim chuckled.
"Well, your heart rate's lower and your breathing's slowed." Jim lowered his voice and his eyes met Blair's with a solemn intensity. "Blair, I'm going to get us out of here. Believe me. Everything's going to be okay."
Choked with emotion, Blair swallowed tightly and nodded.
Suddenly, the car lurched, tumbling the two men together; and Blair found himself grappling for something -- anything -- to stop the imminent fall. Strong arms wrapped around him and he clutched that anchor, praying, his body trembling. He felt like all the air had been sucked out of the car, like a vacuum, and that thought left him gasping.
The elevator slipped a few feet and as he clung to his human security blanket, Blair tried to remember what floor they'd been on when the explosion occurred. Wheezing, choking, his heart hammered in his chest.
"Easy, Chief," came the reassuring words.
But he couldn't take it easy. He knew they were going to die. Then in the blink of an eye, they were falling, and he couldn't help but let out a yell, using what he was sure was the last of the air in his lungs.
The force of the stop was like a painful slap across his whole body. It took Blair a moment to catch his breath, and then he realized that the elevator was still suspended, they hadn't dropped all the way to the basement.
Jim got up and began to move slowly around the car, touching the walls and looking up at the top of the car. Blair stood and moved next to him, remaining quiet, and when Jim spun around and said, "That's it! Time's up! We're getting out of here now, Chief," he knew they were in trouble.
The urgency in Jim's voice scared Blair. What did his partner know? Did he sense something? A zillion questions flew through his mind. "J-jim?"
"Look, I'm going to boost you up to the emergency hatch. Maybe you can climb up the shaft and find a way out. If you can get away from the shaft, near a window, you can probably use the cell phone."
"What about you?"
"Opening's too small. I won't fit."
"What do you mean you won't fit? There's plenty of room." It was then that Blair noticed the slight tilt of Jim's stance, a favoring of one leg. Looking carefully, he saw the tight lips and squinting of the eyes. With a sudden awareness, Blair recognized that Jim was hurting. All this time they'd been in the elevator and not once had he asked Jim if he was all right. What had been Jim's first words to him? Something like: 'you okay?' And with those words, Blair just assumed...assumed that Jim was fine.
Their eyes met, and he watched as Jim's shoulders slumped, apparently in realization that he'd been discovered. Reluctantly, the detective came clean. "It's my knee. I'd never be able to make the climb with you."
"I could help you."
Jim rubbed his hand across his forehead. "Uh...it's also my head. I'm a bit lightheaded and dizzy. If we have to climb the shaft, I could fall and take you with me."
"No," Blair declared. "I'm not leaving you here." Uneasiness crept over him, and he got the feeling that maybe he'd never see his sentinel again -- alive. "There's got to be another way."
"Look, you're getting out now and finding help." Jim's voice held a determination Blair didn't like, then it softened as his partner added, "I'll be here...waiting."
Jim propped himself against the elevator's wall and offered his good leg as a step-up to the hatch. He nodded his head toward the opening, encouraging Blair to get a move on. "Come on, Chief, I know you always wanted to climb up the inside of an elevator shaft."
Blair smirked at the remark and shook his head. "Yeah, right."
Staring up at his partner's face, Blair felt the urge to memorize it, to touch it, but he let his outstretched hand fall lightly onto Jim's shoulder, brushing off a layer of white chalky dust before dropping it to his side.
"I'll get help."
In response, two strong hands encompassed Blair's shoulders, drawing him close to Jim's side. "I know you will, Chief," his partner affirmed with a whisper as warm breath filled Blair's ear. Blair felt his hair being lightly ruffled by Jim's hand followed by a quick pat to the cheek. "Now, up you go."
Balancing on Jim's good leg, Blair carefully stepped up the short distance to the elevator's hatch and pushed on the door. "It's stuck. I think something's on it." He gave another shove at the door and it suddenly moved, freed of whatever was blocking it. With Jim's help, he levered himself up through the opening and after pushing aside some scattered remains of the explosion, sat down on the ledge, dangling his legs through the hatch.
Allowing his eyes to adjust to the darkness, he realized that the only illumination in the shaft was coming from a large jagged hole where elevator doors should have been about three floors above him. That was the floor they'd originally been heading to, the floor where the explosion had taken place.
Scanning the immediate area, he saw that part of the top of the elevator car didn't look too stable, and he knew he'd have to be careful where he stepped.
"Sandburg. Can you see what floor we're on?"
"It's a little dark out here. Sentinel eyes would certainly be handy right about now." Looking around the shaft, he spied a large 'four' painted above the closed elevator door directly above him. "We're between floors three and four, Jim."
"Do you think you can get the doors open?"
"I don't think so," Blair replied, knowing he didn't want to tell Jim about the condition of the elevator itself. He didn't think it would be safe for him to be moving around on the roof while trying to force the doors open. "But the blast opened a hole up on the seventh floor. I can climb up the ladder to that floor."
"Just be careful," Jim offered.
"Riiight." Blair took one last look down at Jim and then slowly climbed the rest of the way onto the roof of the elevator. On his first step, he felt the car shudder. He paused and then took three quick steps to the ladder. Climbing the first rung, he listened to the creaks and groans of the settling car, expecting the worse, but then the noise dissipated and stillness filled the shaft.
"Uh, I'm on the ladder heading up, Jim," Blair called out over his shoulder. He gradually made his way up, carefully grasping each rung in his sweat-dampened hands. "Don't look down," he whispered to himself, terrified to see how far he'd climbed. He swallowed back his fear, grateful for the dim illumination that helped to hide the reality of how high up he really was, and kept his eyes focused on the opening above, occasionally calling out progress reports. It was as he neared the sixth floor that all hell broke loose.
There was a loud resounding crack, then a few pieces of dangling wires and twisted metal split free from the seventh floor above, striking Blair's head and shoulders. Stunned, jolted by the force of the blow, Blair felt his hands slip from the rungs. Frantically he reached out, his fingers stretching toward the ladder, grasping for any purchase without avail, and then he was tumbling backwards off the ladder.
"Nooooooooo," he cried, panic filled him as his arms windmilled through the open shaft. He imagined his body falling, and then hitting the top of the elevator with a resounding crunch. The painful images flashed through his mind like a slow-mo slide show. No! No, he didn't want to die! He didn't want to go that way! "Jiiiiiiim!!"
Suddenly, his fall halted, almost as immediately as it had begun. His back slammed painfully into the metal rungs. Dizzyingly, he saw the elevator below him. The blood pounded in his head, panic seized his chest, and he found it hard to breathe. He was going to die. God, it wasn't over yet, he was still going to die.
Blair wasn't sure how long he hung there, breathing like a fish out of water until a sound pierced through his fear. It was Jim calling to him -- more like shouting to him. He could hear the sheer panic in Jim's voice and realized that Jim probably had heard everything, including the runaway beating of his heart.
Taking a deep breath to clear his head, Blair examined his situation, ignoring Jim's shouts. He was now hanging upside down on the ladder, his right foot wedged between the rung and the wall of the shaft. It looked bent, like it should hurt, but right now the only thing Blair felt was fear, overwhelming gut-wrenching terror. It completely encompassed him, freezing him with indecisiveness. Somehow he needed to overcome it; no way could he stay the way he was, and Jim's language filtering up from below was starting to get rather colorful. Taking another deep breath, Blair reached up with a trembling hand.
"I can do this. I can do this." Blair continued to recite that mantra as he latched onto a rung and then another and another, his arms straining with the exertion, until he was once again upright. Clinging to the ladder with both arms wrapped tightly to the metal support, he carefully slipped his injured foot free of the restraining rung.
"I'm okay," Blair whispered and then repeated louder to appease his worried partner, "I'm okay, Jim."
Blair closed his eyes and rested his head against the cool metal bars of the ladder. He wasn't sure he believed that statement, but he hoped Jim did. At least the imploring shouts had stopped.
A quick glance down showed him that the fallen pieces had covered the opening to the elevator, cutting off the small glow of light from the hatch and symbolically cutting him off from Jim. Somehow, that made Blair feel as if he were even more alone in the shaft than before.
"If I make it out of here alive, I swear I'm never taking another elevator again." He reached for the next rung. "You listening down there, Jim? I mean it. Elevators and me are a thing of the past. We're history. Finito."
He was only one floor from the opening. He could do it. As the fear of the situation subsided, Blair realized how much he hurt -- not only the sharp, piercing agony of his foot, but also the throbbing in his head and back.
He bit his bottom lip as he reached up for the next rung. His entire focus was on the goal above, getting to that opening. Suddenly the quiet of the shaft was punctuated again with a rumble from above, the whole shaft was vibrating. Blair clung tighter to the ladder. A roar of wreckage raced past him, and his ears were assaulted with the sound of metal crunching, machinery screeching, followed by a loud reverberating crash and then silence -- deathly, breath-stealing silence.
In shock, he stared down at the dust cloud below him, willing himself to see through the scattering particles. He felt faint-headed and almost lost his grip on the ladder when he finally saw through the settling haze and realized that the elevator was no longer where he'd left it.
"JIM!! God, no, Jim!!!" He shouted again, calling out to his friend, but there was no responding answer. "Please, please, please," he begged, "please be all right," and wished for once that he had hypersensitive hearing.
Tears welled up, stinging his eyes; and he blinked several times, trying to clear his vision. One hand swiped across his nose as he sniffed, and he felt wetness on his cheeks. "jim, jim, jim." The treasured name fell almost silently from his lips.
He was shaking now, his whole body trembling with such ferocity that his hold on the ladder became tenuous. Horror knotted his stomach as he struggled to catch his breath, to hold back the sobs. He noted strangely how everything kept wavering around him, going in and out of focus.
*Get a grip,* Blair chastised himself. *Jim's alive -- not dead. NOT DEAD! I know he's alive and he's depending on you. Now move it!* Heavy-hearted, but with a renewed sense of determination, he began to climb the few final feet to the opening, the movement shooting white-hot pain through his injured foot.
With his next step, he faltered and grasped the rung securely as the metal ladder wiggled, then shook a little more. Looking up, he saw several bolts were loose, probably damaged from the explosion. He stared up at the pins, his eyes wide in agonized disbelief, and realized they were barely supporting the next section of the ladder. Unbelievable! It was freaking unbelievable!
A hysterical sob escaped his throat as he rested his forehead on the metal rung and wondered what could possibly happen next. He was almost within reach of the opening. Should he chance it or climb back to the sixth floor and try to force the doors open? Blair glanced down, then back up. He was so close. So freaking close to escaping this nightmarish hellhole, so close to getting help. Help for him...and Jim.
The coolness of the metal soothed his aching head. He was tired...and everything hurt. Somehow, it would be so easy to stay right where he was, but he couldn't. Reaching upward, decision made, Blair slowly and carefully maneuvered the shaky ladder, one rung at a time, his breath catching each time the ladder moved. *A few more rungs...only a few more rungs to go.*
A bolt popped free, twisting one side of the ladder away from the wall and causing Blair's left hand to slip. *Oh god, oh god, oh god...no! This can't be happening!* There was no time to go back down, to change his mind or even to wipe his sweaty palms. There was no more time to be careful. Using what little strength he had left, Blair propelled himself up toward the opening.
*There. Almost there.* His fingers grasped the edge. He scrambled over the blown-out ledge and dragged himself up onto the floor, rolling onto his back. Lying on the dust-covered linoleum floor, Blair gulped the air, chugging in huge mouthfuls. His chest heaving, his head spinning, Blair knew he was close to hyperventilating and tried to slow his inhalations. A strange malady was overtaking his body. Blair's body slowly relaxed, his eyelids drooping.
With a jerk, he opened his eyes, chastising himself for his brief respite. Turning over onto his knees, Blair dragged his way down to the end of the hallway where the afternoon sun shone brightly through the windows. Having no strength left to pull himself totally upright, Blair managed to half-sit under the window.
Tugging his cell phone out of his jacket pocket, he carefully dialed the three numbers needed to bring help. Tears of relief formed as he heard the 911 operator ask him the nature of his emergency. In a shuddering voice, Blair quickly explained the situation, choking back a sob as he recognized that help was finally on the way. He had done it.
With that realization, his body began to tremble. No longer able to remain sitting, Blair slipped to the floor. The phone tumbled from his hand, as the walls spun and the floor tilted. Blair could hear from far away the operator asking him to stay on the line. His last thoughts were about Jim. *Please be okay...Jim, please hold on...help is coming.*
Feeling the cold flooring beneath his face, Blair stared down the hallway toward the jagged opening. The shadowy hole filled his sight, overlapping his own encroaching darkness. One last word formed on his lips before he gave himself over to the darkness. *...Jim.*
Remember this is NOT a death story. There will be a companion piece titled: Hitting the Deck. However, there are no guarantees when it'll be finished. I'm bad, I know. <eg>