Disclaimer: The Sentinel, Blair Sandburg, Jim Ellison, Simon Banks, and all other characters are property of Paramount and Pet Fly. No copyright infringement is intended, and no money has exchanged hands.

Summary: Jim and Blair take a trip.

Notes: This was originally posted to the SA list over a year ago as a theme fic challenge. Jim and Blair are in the woods and something unusual happens to Blair that involves angst or hurt/comfort. They are far from help.

Blistering Trails

by Twilight (Dawn)

********************

"Man, this is so nice." Blair stood up from the log he was seated on and stretched. The sun was just coming up and the brilliant yellows and oranges washed the horizon. The air was crisp, a little chilly and he pulled his parka closed, wrapping his arms across his chest.

He had already stoked the fire; the kettle that he placed in the embers steamed his coffee water.

Birds chirped from a nearby tree and wind rushed to and fro, blowing the baseball cap from his head. He took a minute to chase it down before returning to his coffee making duty.

Got to have the job done before Jim comes back.

His friend had made an early morning trek to the nearby springs. It was a good ten minute walk, but worth the effort. Jim had taken their water containers, planning on filling them with the pure mountain spring water and then they would have a good breakfast before breaking camp.

It had taken them six hours to reach this spot, the first on their long hike through the Conawingo Range.

They had been planning this trip for months; having heard of the location through a professor at the U. Blair's friend had taken his students on the survivor trail over the summer as part of a bird watching assignment. He had brought in the pictures of the trip and Blair just had to go and see it for himself.

He wasn't a bit surprised when Jim so readily agreed, eagerly looking through the pictures of undisturbed mountain ranges, pure springs and lush green forests.

It took a bit of finagling but they managed to get the needed time off and had set up the travel arrangements. They opted to take a small commuter flight to upstate Washington and then a much smaller plane to a field strip just outside the tiny town of Conawingo.

They purchased some needed supplies, bacon being on the top of Jim's list, at the local store, the only store in the whole town. A hired driver drove them to the state park at the entrance to the trails. They unloaded their gear and shouldered their packs, holding the supplies they would be carrying, each loaded down with cloths, food and shelter. Jim carried the first aid kit and Blair had the flashlights. They both had a sleeping bag bundle, water bottles, and cooking pans.

A Ranger met them at the sign in station, collected their ID's and took any pertinent information.

Once registered, they headed out, passing a few families as they made their way through the minor trails at the bottom of the park. After about three hours of walking, the hikers they passed on the trails had thinned.

The percolating kettle reminded Blair that he was supposed to be making breakfast. He fished through Jim's pack to find the package of bacon, the dry ice was put aside until later.

He sat a small cooking pan on the outer edge of the flame and waited until it was hot enough to add the meat. He could hear Jim whistling as he approached from the rear of the camp.

"Morning, Chief."

Blair smiled at his friend, watching as he unloaded the full bottles and sorted them between the two packs.

A short while later they were munching on the bacon and some canned fruit. Once their meal was done, Jim started to take down the two-man tent and roll up their sleeping bags. Blair made sure the fire was out and then helped Jim as the cook wear cooled enough to be packed.

He got his pack on, shifting the weight, still hurting a little from all his activity the day before.

Jim wanted to walk farther today. If they made it to Sumner's Peek they would be in good shape. The whole trail was forty-six miles long and they were supposed to be at the pick up site within six days. Once they made it to the end a helicopter would bring them back around to the other side and they had another driver lined up to take them back into town.

"Get a move on, Chief."

Blair hurried to catch up with his friend. The forest was getting thicker, the trail a little harder to follow. Route markers kept them on track and they had an emergency radio to contact the park rangers if needed. Jim even had an emergency flare gun.

Time passed, the cool of the day giving way to the hot afternoon sun. Blair took off his coat at their next rest spot and folded it to attach to his pack.

Jim followed suite and within the next few hours Blair was dripping with sweat. His friend called a halt and they settled down in a relatively cool area to enjoy some trail mix and beef jerky.

Blair pulled his map, noting the nearest water source. He still had three full bottles and thought that Jim had at least four.

"I think we'll make it to the peek by early evening." Jim said from beside him, the bag of trail mix extended in an offering.

Blair took a hand full and continued to study the map. The next part of the trek was going to be the hardest. The path took a steep upgrade and he was a little worried about hiking up the side of the mountain.

"I hope I can make it," he commented. "I'm not as young as I used to be."

Jim tapped him on the back of the head as he stood. "If I can make, so can you, junior."

They repacked the trail mix and wrapped up the empty can to be disposed of at the next site.

"You ready to head out?" Jim asked, already slinging on his pack.

"Yeah, onward hoe." Blair felt his sore muscles spasm as he put on his own pack, but within the next few hours he would be sitting around the campfire, enjoying the sights and sounds and a dinner of canned Spam and fried potatoes.

Yum, yum.

********************

Heart beating wildly and wheezing for air, he finally made it to even ground...well almost even.

Jim was just ahead of him, clearly not as winded.

Blair hitched his pack, adjusting it to a more comfortable spot. He dug into his jean pocket for his camera. The next designated rest stop was supposed to overlook the valley.

Blair was excited about taking the photos with black and white film. John, his friend who had taken his class through the area earlier in the year had done pictures in black and white and they were simply breathtaking.

"Should be able to make camp in about an hour." Jim called from the lead.

"Sounds good." Blair said, knowing that Jim would hear him.

They trekked on and Blair was relieved when Jim pulled up short in front of him. "We're here."

He eased his gear off his back and sank down to rest. Jim pulled the tent from off the rig he was carrying and started to put the camp together. "Why don't you start on the fire, Chief?"

Blair nodded, wiping his forehead with his sleeve. It was still pretty hot, but the sinking sun was bringing some cool air.

It took a few tries before his kindling finally caught and soon a roaring fire lit the twilight.

"Let's hurry, Blair."

He looked toward his partner, not understanding what he meant. "Huh?"

Jim eyed him before clarifying. "Let's get dinner on and settled before it gets too dark."

"Ohhh." He kneeled close to the flame, pushing in larger chunks of kindling and wood from around the forest floor. It was extremely hot and he tried to back up a little, but suddenly he was pin wheeling forward, right into the campfire. "Arrgghhh."

Both hands disappeared into the flame and embers as he tried to stop himself from falling all the way in. A blistering pain blossomed up his arms and he could feel the intense heat on his face before strong hands yanked him back by the collar.

"Oh, God. Blair." Jim's panic pitched voice broke through the pain and he suddenly wanted to get up.

"No, no. Sit, Blair...god, please sit still."

"I can't...I gotta go, man." He struggled against the arms over his shoulders, pressing him into the grass.

"Blair, Blair. Listen, you have to stay still."

He tried to calm his breathing, tried to stop squirming under Jim's hold. He caught sight of his hands and tried to stand again. "Water, God I need water."

Jim was already moving to their packs, ripping through the innards to pull out as many water bottles as he could.

Blair watched, shaking with each breath as Jim ripped the caps off with his teeth and doused his hands and arms with the cool water.

It stung.

"Please, please, please." He chanted, not really knowing what he was asking.

"I got ya, just slow your breathing."

The next few minutes were a painful blur. He could hear Jim calling frantically for help.

"God damnit."

He wanted to ask what was wrong but instead he looked down again to his hands. The skin on the right was red and blistered, but the left hand...the left hand had skin hanging loose, long strips between each finger. Panic rolled through his stomach and even before he could warn Jim he was heaving all over himself.

He was quickly turned; his face felt tight as he tried to bring up whatever was in his stomach.

"Okay, okay...you're going to be okay. Just keep breathing, buddy."

********************

Jim tossed the busted radio into the trees. In his panicked search for water he must have stepped on it.

Blair lay shivering a few feet away, but at least he stopped screaming. It took a full twenty minutes to get Blair situated onto his sleeping bag and covered with Jim's. He knew that his friend was going into shock, but Jim did everything in his power to help...to do something.

He looked at the flare gun again. He had three rounds. He could shoot one off tonight and hope for a rescue, but already clouds were moving across the night sky. With a storm coming in he knew they wouldn't risk a helicopter search.

"Jim, Jim..."

His friend lay panting, and Jim was worried that he might have sucked in some smoke when he fell.

He quickly moved to Blair's side, taking in the loosely wrapped hands and slightly red face. A little hair was burned from the front, but his major problem was going to be dehydration and infection. Jim knew from his training that people with second or higher degree burns were at a risk for dehydration and because he had hardly any means of treating the burns, Blair could get an infection.

"It's okay, Blair." Jim patted his hip, hoping that Blair would stay calm. "I'm going to get us out of this."

Jim moved away into the clearing and fired the flare gun. They would have to wait until daybreak anyway if Jim was going to try and move them. Hopefully someone would show up tonight and get them off the mountain.

He made sure the fire was burning brightly before finishing nailing the pegs for the tent. Once he had the sleep area set up he just had to figure out how to get Blair into the enclosure.

He spoke softly, making sure that Blair knew he had to move him. Jim took the bag that covered his friend and laid it out in the tent. Next he knelt by Blair and gently slid one hand under his shoulders, moving his free arm under his friend's legs before lifting. He made it to the tent, but it took a little maneuvering to get Blair in. Once his roommate was settled, Jim covered them both up and dug out a bottle of water for Blair to drink.

"Take it nice and slow." He warned, holding the bottle to his friend's lips.

After Blair drank a few sips, he capped their last bottle and tucked the blanket under Blair's arms, mindful of his hands. The wet t-shirts that he wrapped loosely around the limbs were still pretty wet, so hopefully it was helping with any pain. Earlier he made sure his friend swallowed a few pain pills and smeared some burn cream onto his neck and face.

There was nothing left to do but wait.

********************

Blair knew he was moaning, but he couldn't stop, couldn't even open his eyes to see who was wiping something on his face.

He hurt.

His arms were tingly and his hands just plain ached. He had a maddening itch on his face, but couldn't even think about scratching.

"Shhh...we're okay."

He could tell it was raining; the pelting drops hitting the tent made a loud roar. He wondered if he was lying in water, he was chilled, damp.

"It's okay...shhh."

He floated for a while, knowing that tears were streaming, feeling the sting as they slid down his face. And the persistent wiping, something soft moved over his face every so often.

God, what had he done? "I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

"Shh, Chief. It's okay."

He knew Jim was there, wherever there was.

Later, when he finally was able to open his eyes he saw that he was lying in the tent, the early morning light coming in from the open flap.

"Jim?"

His friend stuck his head into the opening. "You okay, buddy?"

"I need up."

"You rest. I hear water running nearby. I have to fill our bottles."

Jim was just ducking back out, but he called for his friend. "No, I gotta...I gotta go."

"Oh..."

Jim helped him sit up carefully; a whole new wave of pain engulfed him.

"Just take it slow, buddy."

He sat still for a minute or two and then allowed Jim to pull him out of the tent by his feet. "Don't try to use your hands, Chief."

He had no intention, as most of the throbbing was coming from them.

"You got some pretty bad burns there."

They shuffled to the nearest tree and Blair just sorta stood there. "I umm..."

"Don't worry." Jim came up behind him and helped him with his pants.

If he didn't hurt so much, he might have even been embarrassed. Jim stayed, letting him lean against him for support.

"Let's get you settled."

They moved back toward the camp and Blair noted a few logs turned over for sitting. Jim guided him to the ground, the sleeping bag covering it and the log to lean on. A bottle was pressed against his lips and he swallowed as fast as he could.

"Easy now." Jim warned. "You think you can handle some trail mix?"

He really didn't think he could.

"I want to take another look at your hands and then we have to decide what to do."

Jim sat beside him, the first aid kit in his lap. Blair watched as Jim carefully unwrapped his hands and took a small sniff.

He didn't actually look at his hands, remembering what they looked like the night before.

"Hmm."

"What...what do you think?" He was shivering again, feeling worn out even though he hadn't done anything this morning besides taking care of some personal business.

"Mostly second degree. I'm going to see if I can wrap them in gauze."

Blair leaned his head back, just letting Jim do whatever was needed. He jumped once when Jim smeared on some kind of cream.

"Sorry, sorry."

It took a while, but his friend managed to wrap his hands, using most of the gauze in the kit. The last bit of ointment was smoothed over the raw areas on his arms and face.

"I had to use a flare last night. They should know we need help."

He knew there was a 'but' coming.

"I think I should hike out and see if I can get some help."

"Huh?" Jim wasn't going to leave him, was he?

"Look, Chief...it took us twelve hours to get this far. I was considering leaving you, but if we go together we're that much closer to help." Jim moved to the tent, already taking it down to pack up. "I figure we can see how you do. I can use the flares every so often, hopefully we'll be off the mountain by tonight."

The words were spoken calmly enough, but Blair could see the urgency in his friend's eyes. He must be worse off than he thought.

********************

Jim worked fast, lowering the poles and packing the tent. Once he made sure everything was packed he looked around for some inspiration in way of transporting his friend.

He was sure that Blair could walk a little of the way, but he was unlikely to get very far and there was no way that he would be able to carry Blair, the kid was no lightweight.

A few larger braches littered the forest floor and gave him an idea. If he could collect enough he could make a bed of sorts and he could drag his friend down the mountain.

Before starting he made a trek to the small creek nearby and filled their water bottles. The water was cloudy, but drinkable and he didn't want to take the time to walk farther up the trail to the natural spring.

Once back at camp, he insisted that Blair drink as much as possible. "Come on, Blair. You need to drink."

A muted, "Okay", and then he was able to get about half a bottle into his partner.

Once Blair was taken care of Jim moved around, sorting through potential braches for his rig. It took some time, but he managed to gather a few longer, sturdier branches for a frame. Now all he had to do was figure out how to connect them.

He dug through the packs, nearly whooping when his hands brushed over a tight-coiled rope at the bottom of Blair's pack.

He thought that Blair mentioned bringing a climbing rope and pegs in case Jim wanted to scale some of the rock faces. To be honest, Jim wasn't really listening to his friend's rambles, knowing that Blair was excited to be getting away and really just too occupied with packing his own things.

It figures that something like this had to happen.

He swore if they got out of this safely, he was going to take Blair on a vacation that was sure to be risk free...wherever that may be.

He dug in his coat for his pocketknife and went to work on measuring and cutting the rope to complete the frame. With the remainder, he made handles to be tied to him and crisscrossed the rope between the two sides making a sling of sorts. Finally he laid his sleeping bag over to cushion the ride.

He had enough rope left over to secure Blair's pack to the back, to be dragged behind. Now all he had to do was get his partner situated.

Blair seemed to feel better this morning, not as shocky, but he was still dangerously dehydrated. He sat slumped against a log, head slightly tilted forward, a quiet snore sounded every so often.

Jim had made sure that Blair was well dosed on Motrin and that his hands were comfortably wrapped in gauze. He found the dry ice from his bacon and loosely packed it over the gauzed covered left hand, the worse of the two.

Blair stirred a little and Jim urged him to drink.

"I can't."

"You have to." Jim pressed the bottle against parched and peeling lips and finally his roommate drank a few sips. "I'm going to get you over to that contraption." Jim said, pointing to his makeshift creation. "Let me help you up."

Jim hauled his friend by the armpits, half carrying, half dragging him to be lowered to the bed. Blair's sleeping bag was laid over Jim's and then he zipped his friend up, making sure that only Blair's head was visible. The dry ice was rearranged and some water bottles were lined along both sides of Blair, for easier access.

Next he attached Blair's pack to the bottom and shouldered his own. He made sure to repack them so he was only carrying anything essential.

"You ready?" He asked, tying the rope handles securely around his waist.

"Yeah," Blair's voice was strained. Jim just hoped that they would make good progress, because his friend really needed medical attention.

All throughout the morning and early afternoon, Jim tried to be extra cautious of his footing and the trail in front of him. He didn't want to drag Blair over any rocks or branches that would hurt him.

Just before lunch, he fired another flare, watching as the bright reds and oranges lit the surrounding air. They had stopped several times throughout the day. Jim needed the rest, but he had to force Blair to drink and his friend was less responsive each time. On his last check, Blair was a little warm.

Jim had traveled another two hours, knowing that it was only a matter of time before rescue would arrive. He could hear the helicopter searching the west side of the mountain, it was close, but all the foliage was concealing them from rescue.

He wanted to wait until they were close enough before using his last flare. They still had a few hours of light left and Jim knew if they weren't found before dark that the search would be called off until morning.

If he had to, he would walk all night.

Blair was steadily moaning now.

All Jim could do for his friend was ply him with fluids and Motrin.

It was too little.

The next few hours passed as Jim slowly plowed along. Sometime ago Blair had lost his battle to stay awake.

The helicopter swirled somewhere above and to the east. It was maddening because Jim could hear the pilot conferring with the rangers back at the base.

So close...

If he fired his last flare he could only hope that they would see it. If they didn't, he would have no means of contacting the rescue team and he and Blair would be in big trouble.

"Ohhh...."

Jim came to a slow stop and untied his rig. Carefully he lowered his bundle to the forest floor and moved around to see his friend. Blair was shivering and tears leaked from tightly closed lids.

"I'm sorry." Jim told his friend. "I'm doing the best I can."

Blair didn't seem to hear, or he was too weak to answer. Decision made, Jim moved a few feet away and fired their last flare. It would have to be enough.

********************

"Come on, Blair. You have to drink."

He shifted, rolling his head on something soft.

Something hard pressed against his lips and he opened his mouth, trying to keep up with the cool fluid.

Blair carefully opened his eyes, although they seemed heavy. His sight was filled with trees and a darkening sky. Jim hovered to his left and Blair tried to smile at him.

"Help is on the way." Jim told him. "I can hear them talking about the best approach."

Blair nodded, sighing as Jim stood and moved closer to the fringe of trees to his right.

He was hot, but couldn't seem to knock the blanket off of him. "Jim?"

"What do you need, Chief?"

"Hot." Something cool and slightly damp lay across his forehead and he realized that he had closed his eyes, but wasn't inclined to open them again.

Time lost all meaning, the cloth covering his forehead dried and warmed, making him squirm, legs sticking within the confines of the bag.

Even though he was hot, he could tell that he was shivering, teeth chattering in time with the shaking of his body.

"Won't be long now." Jim said and Blair opened his eyes to semi darkness. A campfire roared somewhere close by.

"What's going on?" He asked, sure that Jim would hear him even if his friend wasn't in his line of sight.

"A few rescue workers are on the way up the trail." Jim said, sitting down close to Blair's side. "They'll be here in a few minutes and then they'll carry you back to where the helicopter landed."

His heartbeat quickened, "Helicopter?"

"Don't worry, Chief. It's landed...they're here."

A flurry of activity erupted around him. Men emerged from the shadows, running to and fro, shouting orders and pulling at his blankets and clothes.

Before he could fully comprehend what they were doing, he was lifted and placed in a transport basket. Sheets quickly covered him and his arms were pulled out, hands unwrapped and examined in the dwindling light.

"Owwwww."

"Sorry, sorry." Someone said, lowering his hands to rest on top of the sheets. Something squeezed his arm and a thermometer was thrust into his mouth and under his tongue.

Someone toward his feet pulled off his hiking boots and socks, tapping his right foot, wrapping something tight around his right calf.

"You're going to feel a little pinch on your foot," a voice informed.

"Ouch, ouch, ouch."

"Let's start a broad spectrum antibiotic."

An oxygen mask slipped over his face, snagging and pulling a few stray hairs.

"I'm riding with him." Blair heard Jim say.

"Are you okay, sir?"

What was wrong with Jim? "Jim?"

"I'm here." Jim grabbed his thigh through the sheet, squeezing gently.

"You okay?"

"Yeah, buddy. I'm fine." Jim moved back a little to allow someone through. "They're ready to go."

He was lifted and carried. Spotlights had been placed, lining the sides of the trail. Soon they were at the helicopter, the winds from the rotor blades blowing the nearby trees in the clearing. He was pushed through and the basket was secured to the floor.

Jim jumped in and sat along his side, strapping himself in with the safety belt.

The aircraft lifted, the roar of the blades drowning out the people talking in the compartment with him. They all wore headsets, except for Jim.

Blair cried out again when something brushed over his left hand.

"Sorry."

After a bit, he could tell the craft was coming down, nausea churned his stomach and he took a few breaths, trying to stop from being sick.

As soon as they touched down he was pulled through the opening and set on a gurney waiting a few feet from the helicopter. New faces leaned over him, touching and poking, asking questions.

They raced him toward an open elevator and the sounds from the blades diminished as the car descended.

It opened to a brightly lit corridor and the people pushing him moved briskly toward an open cubicle.

A man in scrubs looked over his injuries as someone called out his vitals. He flinched when a cool liquid splashed over both hands at once.

"I'm sorry. We just need to make sure your wounds are clean."

"I need to start another I.V." Someone told him and he could feel them messing with his other foot.

"Mr. Sandburg?" An older woman stepped toward him. She was wearing a yellow paper gown, but her face was unobstructed. "I'm doctor Hughey. We're going to take good care of you. Just relax now."

He was growing very sleepy; his eyes too heavy to hold open. The noises faded, the lights dimmed and then there was nothing.

********************

"Hey, Jim." Blair emerged from the bathroom, using his good hand to buckle his belt.

"How you feeling today, Chief?" Jim sat at the table, sipping his juice and reading the morning paper.

Blair sat across from him, sipping from the mug of coffee that Jim had made him. "Good. I think Dr. Melton is going to take off the bandages on my left hand today and put it in a light mesh."

Jim folded his paper and picked up his bagel. "That would be great...give you more mobility."

Blair nodded, picking at his own bagel.

"Something wrong, Chief?" His friend seemed a little subdued the past few days.

It had been a month since the accident and Blair seemed to bounce right back. He had only spent a few days in the hospital, his right hand not as bad as Jim first thought. Even his sensitive eyes could hardly make out the scarring.

But his left hand...that was a different story.

The minor wounds on his arms and face faded pretty fast, the scorched hair growing back. Blair only had to see the doctor regularly for his left hand. Luckily he didn't need any skin grafts. The wounds were only second degree, but an infection had set in.

"I guess I'm...I don't know. A little worried."

That kind of surprised Jim, Blair didn't really seem anxious. "I'm sure everything is going to be fine. You said Dr. Melton thought it was going to be a good outcome."

"He did, man." His partner got up and started pacing. "It's silly, I know. I shouldn't be so vain."

"It's not vain." Jim said. "And besides, I've seen your hand when you change the bandages. I can tell it's healing good."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah," Jim moved to the kitchen, rinsing his plate and mug, thinking now would be a good time to bring up Blair's surprise. "When you get back today, Chief, I want you to pack a bag for the weekend."

Blair turned quickly, his eyebrows raised in question. "What's going on?"

"You'll see...now go to your appointment. We need to be someplace by noon."

********************

Blair squirmed in his seat for the hundredth time since the plane took off.

"Hold still, would ya?" Jim said, looking at Blair over his magazine.

"Sorry, sorry. I just can't believe this, man." He continued to jiggle his leg and tap his hand on the armrest. "How much longer?"

"We'll be landing in about ten minutes, now would you sit still?"

"Okay." He agreed, flexing the fingers of his left hand.

The captain's voice crackled over the intercom as the buckle seat belt signs came on. "Ladies and Gentlemen. We will be landing at the Las Vegas International Airport in approximately ten minutes. The weather is a sunny 88 degrees. Thank you for flying with us and enjoy your stay."

"This is so great, Jim." Blair said, struggling to click his seatbelt.

Jim just sort of shrugged, but Blair could see the little smile as his partner tucked his magazine into the pocket of the seat in front of him.

They touched down, the engines roared and the plane seemed to speed up before it slowed down and turned into the terminal. They stood and Jim grabbed both their bags from the overhead compartment.

"Just be careful, Chief." Jim told him, moving down the aisle in front of him.

"Oh come on, man. This is Vegas. What could happen?"

His friend didn't even turn, just kept pace with the people in front of him exiting the plane.

"Jim...Jim?"

The End

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