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.

Feedback: Always welcome.

Summary: Life's a fragile balance.

Casuality

by Twilight (Dawn)

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

His hands shook.

Drawing them carefully into his lap, he cradled his right wrist, shivering as frigid wind whipped around his shoulders, stinging his face, making his teeth chatter, stealing his breath.

Panic surged as blood welled up in his throat, trickling back down and making him gag.

Garbled choking brought up a slimy clot and he split it out on the dirt before swallowing frantically, feeling his tongue swell.

He tasted the tang of drying blood caked to his split lips and reached up with a shaky hand, smearing what still dribbled down his chin.

Above him, on the road the roar of clashing, screeching metal finally skidded to a stop and then the night sky burst into flames.

Rocks sped down the small incline toward him, raining pebbles and fine particles over his hunched form as he huddled closer to the twisted metal of a car.

Still stunned, moving quickly into shock, he sat, his legs straight out in front of him, his right ankle twisted to the left and unnaturally bent.

Bile rose again, choking him as caustic smoke drifted on the night wind, billows of black rose in great columns, covering the silhouetted skyline, concealing the sparkling city lights.

Sirens rose in the distance, but still he sat, unmoving, frozen in a moment of time.

He could not comprehend what had happened.

He was driving home, drumming his fingers against the steering wheel, humming along to the tune playing on his radio.

A normal ending to a normal day.

And then…

Flashes of red and blue shown from the road, a fire engine's sirens died to silence and people began calling to each other in loud and rushed voices.

Someone approached him, laying a hand gently on his shoulder.

"Are you all right, Sir? Where are you hurt?"

He turned toward the concerned voice, seeing the mouth moving, but not hearing anything but the rush of his own blood through his veins, the hammering of his heart against his bruised ribs.

Before he could quite put together what was happening to him, he was laid flat, a hard collar circled his neck and he was rolled to his side.

He closed his eyes.

He couldn't look that away. Didn't they know? She was over there and he couldn't look.

Gentle hands rolled him to his back and he was strapped down, the board he was laid on rose, two men carried him up the incline and to the waiting ambulance.

He slammed his eyes shut, the strobe lights sending spikes of pain through his brain.

Seconds later they were pried open and something bright raced across his line of sight.

He could feel movement under him and a pinch at his wrist followed by someone pressing into his belly.

He hurt.

But he was numb too.

It didn't matter.

He killed her.

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

"Jim? What the hell happened?" Simon's long strides brought him through the E.R. and over to the glass enclosed room in which he was directed to sit.

"Hell if I know, Sir." Jim slumped down into his chair, rubbing both hands up and over his face, through his thinning hair.

It had already been three hours and still no word.

Why did this shit keep happening?

He looked back to his boss, sighing, weary and bone tired and Simon looked the same, having spent the better part of the day tied up in bureaucratic bullshit.

"What's Highway Patrol saying?" Simon asked, taking the chair next to him.

"Three casualties. The '85 Coronet went up in flames on impact, both occupants are being identified and the girl…"

Simon nodded, shifting and pulling his long black trench coat closed around him. "Anyone give an update on Sandburg?"

"When I first got here I talked to the surgeon briefly. He said he didn't think Sandburg had any life threatening injuries. But Christ, Simon…this is gonna kill him."

"Don't jump to any conclusions. We're just going to have to wait for HP to finish processing the scene, interviewing any witnesses and when Sandburg comes out of surgery he can tell us himself what went down."

Jim knew that, but he also knew the condition of the little girl that was imbedded into Blair's shattered windshield.

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

Consciousness returned slowly and with it a pounding pain in his head and his leg.

His mouth was bone dry and his tongue was too big for his mouth, but still he tried to lick his lips.

"Here."

A cold ice chip was spooned into his mouth, bringing temporary relief.

"Can you open your eyes, Chief?"

Maybe he could, but he didn't want too.

Hot tears suddenly streamed from under closed lids and a cool hand wiped them away, just bringing more.

"It's okay, buddy. You're okay."

But he denied the reassurances.

It would never be okay again, never.

A chair scraped across the tile floor and Blair could hear Jim settling his weight, his hand reaching through the rails to rest on Blair's arm.

"The doctor says you'll make a full recovery, just a few broken bones."

He didn't care.

"You were lucky, Chief."

His eyes snapped open and he saw Jim's bleary image sitting next to him. "Lucky?" His throat was raw and sore, his voice husky with fading pain meds and building emotions. "How the hell do you figure I was lucky?"

Jim took in a breath, standing and leaning over the raised bed rail. "Don't do this to yourself, Blair. It wasn't your fault."

He couldn't believe what Jim was saying, not his fault?

"But I…"

"You were in a car accident. A terrible car accident, but that's all it was, Chief."

God…what the hell was he saying…did he know what Blair had done?

"How can you say that, man?" His voice rose with each word. "I fucking hit a little girl, Jim…her head was…" he stopped suddenly, unable to finish, unable to get the horrible image out of his mind. When he spoke again, his voice cracked, nearly gone. "I killed her, Jim. I killed that little girl. She's dead because of me."

Jim squeezed his hand hard, drawing his attention. "I want you to listen to me here, Chief. That little girl died, but not because of you. The car in the oncoming lane was speeding, her brother saw the whole thing…they hit her and she was tossed into the Volvo."

He wanted to believe Jim, clung to the soft spoken words, hoping that just maybe Jim was right, but then, in his mind's eye he could see the small body hurdling toward the hood of his car, could see her tiny head smashing through the windshield, could see how she hung on the jagged and broken glass, her throat bleeding, so much blood…

Jim shoved a basin under his chin and he gagged up blood and bile, crying as he tried to shift forward, to relief some of the pressure in his chest.

"Easy…easy." Gentle hands supported him, lifted him carefully, rubbed at his back and he cried harder.

Great sobs welled up in him and Jim hung on tighter.

He cried for the little girl with red hair and blue eyes, but mostly he cried for himself, because even if it wasn't his fault, he knew his life would have changed.

He would never be the same.

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

Jim slipped out of Blair's darkened room, quietly pulling the door shut behind him.

The nurse had come and injected something into Blair's IV, settling his friend's nerves and quieting his pain, allowing him to rest, allowing him to forget, even if it was only for a little while.

Simon met him halfway down the hall. "How's the kid?"

Jim moved past him, walking side by side, pressing the down bottom when they reached the elevator. "The doctor says his injuries were fairly minor all things considered. A fractured wrist and some busted ribs, mild concussion…his right ankle is the worst, but they say it's a common injury. He was probably trying to brake even after the other car spun him out of control."

"I bet he's anxious to get home." The elevator opened and they stepped into the parking garage. Jim nodded, following Simon toward the unit car parked in a reserved spot. "Tell him I said to get better soon and get his butt back to the station. Your paperwork ain't gonna do itself."

Jim rolled his eyes, shaking his head. "I'll tell him." He watched as Simon climbed in behind the wheel, turned over the engine and rolled down the window.

"Take care of your partner, Jim." And then his boss pulled away.

He walked toward his own truck, parked cockeyed along the far wall. He was so frantic to get to the hospital he wasn't even sure what he had done with his keys. Patting his pockets he came up empty, but the door wasn't locked and his keys were dangling from the ignition.

He headed home to shower and take a nap, knowing that he would need to be fresh for Blair later tonight.

'Take care of your partner, Jim.' Simon's word sounded in his ears.

Yeah, bet on it.

He had a fight on his hands.

But no way in hell Jim was gonna let Blair become the next casualty.

The End.

Comments, criticism, suggestions? Please e-mail Twilight.

Back to Twilight's page.