Many thanks to my wonderful betas, Danae and Wendy, for your suggestions.
Blair Sandburg excitedly gazed out the window as the ferry pulled away from the docks at Rosslare, Ireland on its way across the Irish Sea to Pembroke, Wales. Their small rental car was parked below on the middle level of the three decks devoted to carrying cars, buses, and trucks from one island to the other. The boat was crowded, and he and Jim had been fortunate to secure two window seats on observation deck one. Jim relaxed in the comfortable seat. Luckily there was much more leg room than on the plane flying over to Dublin, and Jim was able to recline his chair and stretch his long legs comfortably in front of him.
As yet, Blair hadn't taken the time to enjoy their comfortable seating. He was leaning forward, observing with interest everything that happened in the harbor. Jim grinned at his friend's enthusiasm. If anyone ever wondered why he and the others at Major Crimes referred to Sandburg as "kid," looking at him right now would put all questions to rest. Although Blair was thirty years old, he approached life with the exuberance of a child. Living was an adventure for Blair, each day offering something new to learn and experience. For years, Jim had worried that the exposure Blair received to the seamier sides of life in his role as Jim's partner would dim that special light which made Blair so unique. Amazingly, that had not happened. Through it all, Sandburg had remained enthusiastic about life and his role as Jim's guide, shaman, and partner. After completing his courses at the police academy, Blair would become Jim's official partner. While the change would be a major one officially, both men planned to continue their partnership much as they always had, helping each other, protecting each other, as close friends as well as partners.
As the ferry plowed the waves of the Irish Sea, Blair settled down at last to read a new book he'd purchased in Dublin about the Book of Kells. Jim knew he'd never hear the end of the teasing about his zone out as he admired the details of that ancient manuscript. He glanced over fondly at Blair. If the incident gave his friend a good laugh, it wouldn't really be so bad. He'd just have to pretend to be annoyed, and that wouldn't be too difficult. After nearly five years spent living and working with Blair Sandburg, feigning annoyance was almost second nature for Jim.
Ellison closed his eyes, relaxing more with each passing moment. This trip had been good for them both. Even with the memorial service for Blair's old friend, Liam O'Brien, it had been a relaxing time. The beauty of the Irish countryside, the new friendship with Liam's sister, Fiora, and the time spent fishing in the splendor of nature had helped both men forget about the pressures of the life they'd temporarily left behind in Cascade. Now they were on their way to Wales for a few days, then they would travel on to England. Blair was enthralled with the history that surrounded them in the British Isles. The night before, he had regaled Jim with stories of Stonehenge and the chalk horses of the Salisbury Plain until the older man had to threaten to lock Blair out of their room if he didn't let Jim get some sleep. He hoped he could use this travel time on the ferry to make up for some of that lost rest. Jim began to doze.
He wasn't sure exactly how much time had passed when he became aware that his guide was no longer occupying the seat beside him. Gradually coming awake, Jim opened his eyes, looking around for his friend. No Sandburg.
Jim stood up, scanning the area around the viewing chairs. Still no sign of Blair.
He felt a touch at his shoulder and turned to see an elderly man standing beside him. "If you're looking for your friend," the man said in a kind voice with a distinctly British accent, "he asked me to relay a message to you. He didn't want to disturb your nap. The young man said that he was returning to your car to retrieve a book. Something about checking a date with an additional source..."
Jim grinned and said, "That sounds like Sandburg. Thanks for letting me know." The gentleman nodded and returned to his own seat.
Ellison wandered out into the central interior area of the deck and studied the directory. A restaurant was located on the next floor up. Maybe after Sandburg returned, they'd go for a sandwich. Jim returned to his seat to wait for Blair.
Just as he was nodding off again, his senses were bombarded by a series of powerful explosions from the decks below. The ferry rocked violently from side to side as each blast sounded throughout the ship. Passengers began screaming, as mothers rushed to gather up their children, and families hurried to find each other. Jim clamped his hands over his ears, struggling to turn back the dial and regulate his sense of hearing. At last, the explosions ceased. Ellison raised his head, still stunned by the shock to his system.
The intercom crackled, and a tinny voice emerged. "Attention all passengers. Please remain calm. Each deck has a specified emergency contact area. At this time, please consult the maps located in each sitting area and by the lifts and stairs. At this time, you should not use the lifts. Please take the stairs. Proceed to the emergency area designated for your deck. We ask that you proceed slowly and calmly. Staff members will be at each site to assist you. Do not attempt to return to the parking decks at this time. I repeat, do not attempt to go to the parking decks. Thank you very much for your cooperation."
Immediately, the people on the deck began moving toward the stairs, their faces filled with fear and anxiety. Jim looked around in confusion, his ears still ringing from the blasts, his memory muddled. Where was Sandburg? Then he remembered with a flash of anxiety. Blair had gone below, back to the car. That's where the explosions had originated, he realized, suddenly filled with fear. Blair!
Jim sprinted toward the stairs. Everyone on the deck was trying to move up the steps toward their designated emergency meeting area on the second deck. Jim elbowed his way impatiently through the crowd until he reached the stairs. A ship's employee stood there, guiding people up. Jim started down the first flight.
"Hold on, there!" The young ferry employee called to Jim. "Your area is up on the second deck. There's nothing below but vehicles. We have orders not to allow anyone below this deck. You'll have to move up, sir."
Jim turned toward the young man. "My friend's down there on deck B. I have to..."
The uniformed employee moved to take Jim's elbow, "I'm sorry, sir, but I can't allow you..."
Without waiting, Jim jerked away and rushed down the stairway, taking the steps two at a time in his hurry to reach his partner. Behind him, the young man shook his head, muttered something under his breath, then turned his attention back to assisting the more cooperative passengers.
The three vehicle decks were lettered A - C, with A being the lower deck. Jim made it down to deck C before the destruction became evident. Below him, the stairs had been twisted into a maze of convoluted metal from the blast. He grabbed a long piece of steel, trying to tear it from the pile of debris. It was wedged too tightly and would not move.
Frustrated, Jim kicked at the mangled debris blocking his progress down to B deck and his guide. It was another two flights down to the B deck entrance, and there was no way he could get through. *Damn it!* He could feel his desperation growing, his anxiety threatening to send his senses spiraling out of control. For a moment, the sentinel stood still, his eyes closed, as he focused on taking deep, controlled breaths, as Blair had taught him.
His control slowly returned, and with it, his ability to search for his guide.
Jim sent out his senses as a fisherman would cast his net, trolling for any sign of Blair. He closed his eyes, shutting out his sense of sight, useless at that moment. Nothing. He cast out his sensory net once again and forced himself to concentrate. Once again, he came up empty, and the tenuous control he had fought to establish began to slip away. There were too many other sounds, other smells, other feelings distracting him. He couldn't tune out the smell of explosives and burning rubber from the decks below, the frantic voices of the passengers above him, or the mighty shudders from the ship itself as it slowly died at sea. His own anxiety combined with the overload of sensory input prevented him from focusing deeply enough to locate Blair. Shaking himself out of his near panic, Jim sprinted back up the stairs. There was no time to waste. He had to remain calm; he had to find Sandburg.
By the time he arrived back on Deck One, the area was deserted. Ellison remembered the warning about the elevators. Were they working or had the blasts destroyed those systems? It was worth the chance. Jim pushed the down button on the passenger elevator across from the stairs. He waited impatiently. A minute passed, and nothing happened. Slamming his fist against the wall in frustration, Jim looked around.
Beside him was a hallway with restrooms and a door at the end marked "Crew Only." Jim jogged down the corridor and through the door. There...a freight elevator. He punched the down button and was surprised by an almost immediate chime, followed by the doors opening. Taking a deep breath, he stepped inside the car and pushed the button for Deck B on the controls. The car began to move downward.
With a mighty groan, the ship lurched to one side, sending Jim staggering across the tiny car. He hit the wall hard, slamming into it with his left shoulder. As Jim tried to straighten up, he suddenly felt as if he was in space, floating weightless, as the car plummeted downward in complete freefall. He desperately tried to brace himself against the side of the car and the door, preparing for the sudden, jolting stop. So that's how Sandburg felt when Galileo was toying with their lives...
As quickly as it began its fall, the elevator lurched to a stop. Relieved that at least the car hadn't hit the bottom of the shaft at full force, Jim looked at the control panel to determine his location. Stuck halfway between decks A and B. Then the lights failed. Picking up the red emergency telephone, he found it inoperable. He was on his own.
Ellison allowed his vision to adapt to the darkness of the elevator car. He could see a dim sliver of light between the sliding doors. The emergency lighting must be on elsewhere in the ship. Obviously it had failed in the service lift. First, he punched several buttons in an attempt to stir the car into motion. There was no movement. Next, Jim tried to pry the doors to the car open. After several attempts, the doors reluctantly parted.
Most of the space in front of him was blocked by the walls of the elevator shaft. Jim leaned out as far as possible and peered upward. There was the opening for parking deck B, about six feet above the roof of the elevator car.
Looking up at the top of the car, he spotted the small, square access door. He jumped up, trying to reach the sliding panel. His fingertips touched the panel, and it moved upward slightly before it settled back into place, and Jim fell back to the floor. He tried again with no better results. Jim looked around the small car, desperate for anything he could use to open that panel. He grabbed the emergency telephone and ripped the receiver from the wall.
Holding the phone by the mouthpiece, Jim stretched toward the roof of the car as far as his muscles would endure. He concentrated all his effort into one mighty leap upward, pushing with the receiver as it touched the panel. It slid to the side, tilted, then crashed down into the service car, barely missing Jim's head. Now he had to get up through the opening.
Ellison was certain that if he could hook his fingers over the edge, he could pull himself up and through. On the second attempt, he gained a firm hold and began straining to lift himself to the small square hole in the ceiling. Muscles trembling with the effort, Jim brought his head even with the top of the car, then above the opening, and at last he was through.
He pulled himself to a standing position on top of the elevator car and paused to catch his breath. After a few deep breaths, he was ready and had no difficulty hooking his fingers onto the floor of the opening above him. With another powerful effort, he lifted himself up and through the door, crawling on his belly onto the floor of B deck. The sight before him took his breath away.
A jungle of contorted metal lay upon a floor of glass shards. The heavy stench of motor oil and fuel was overpowering, so Ellison dialed back his sense of smell to compensate. Even in the surreal crimson glow of the emergency lighting, sight provided more than enough sensory information for the moment. Cars, buses, and trucks lay mangled and twisted, their previously straight rows decimated by the force of the blasts. Most of the cars lay upside down or on their sides, and many had been thrown on top of each other as a child at play might stack Match Box vehicles. Huge tractor trailer trucks and tour buses rested on their sides, like mighty elephants taken down by a poacher's gun. Beneath them, Jim could see the crushed frames of smaller vehicles. He shuddered to think what, or who, might have been inside. Nobody should have been on the car decks during the voyage, but if Blair had come down here, then others might have as well. Most haunting of all, he could smell death on this deck, even with his sense of smell dialed back to within a normal range. The realization terrified him, but the sound he heard from below sent an even greater fear stabbing through his heart.
To his left was a ragged opening, almost eight feet in diameter, torn into the ship's deck. Cautiously, Jim peered over the edge, past the jagged metal of the flooring, down to the deck below. Even though his subconscious mind had already understood what must be happening, the sight still sent a cold chill through his body. Water was rushing into A deck through a huge, gaping hole in the side of the ship. At this rate, the deck below would be submerged in a matter of an hour, maybe less. To make the situation even more desperate, a second hole had been blasted in the side of B deck, and through it, Jim could see the blue sky and sparkling waters of the Irish Sea. Once the B deck gash reached water level...
Where the hell is Sandburg? Jim thought in desperation. What was it about being separated from Blair that drove him into a panic? When had the young man's presence become so important to him, so vital to his control, his existence? Jim did not have the answers, and at that moment, did not care. His only concern was finding the source of his strength, the fount of his very existence. He had to find Blair.
Visually searching the destruction all about him, Ellison called, "Sandburg! Can you hear me? Sandburg?" He stood still, listening, his sense of hearing turned up to the maximum. He heard the groans of the dying ship as it settled deeper into the water, the rush of the water as it poured into the deck below through the hole blasted in the ferry's side, and the frantic calls of passengers on the decks above. They all descended upon him in a cacophony of sound, blocking his concentration, frustrating his attempt to isolate one sound from all the others. For the only sound Jim didn't hear was the one he was most desperate to find, the voice or the heartbeat or the soft breathing of a living Blair Sandburg.
Suddenly, the sentinel's mind was filled with a multitude of horrendous images. The smell of blood, of death, was all about him, enveloping him in its gory embrace. All he could see as he stared around the deck was Blair...Blair, hurt, bleeding, dying...his strong, lithe body crushed beneath twisted metal...Blair's blank, dead eyes staring up at him...Blair's skin cold to the touch and blue...as his lips had been that horrible day at the fountain, but this time beyond hope...beyond life. Jim fell to his knees.
He felt his senses threatening to careen out of control. He closed his eyes, swaying slightly with the burden of all he could see, hear, and smell. The sights, smells, and sounds, combined with fear for his guide's life, were overwhelming. The sentinel struggled to find the dials, to turn back his sense of fear and the sensory input which might easily overload him, and lead to his own death and Blair's. The vision was not yet reality it could not be. Not yet. There had to be a chance, for if all hope was gone, if Blair was already dead, then Jim knew that he was lost as well. Dead himself, although his body did not yet recognize the death of its soul and lingered on where it no longer belonged. The merest whisper of his guide's soft voice echoed in his mind, Find the dials, Jim. Visualize them and slowly turn them back, one by one. You can do it; just concentrate. Each dial, Jim, turn each one back until you're in control again. That's the way, buddy. That's the way.
The familiar, comforting voice faded, and Jim opened his eyes. His control was back, however tenuously. He rose slowly to his feet and began to roam the deck, carefully avoiding the jagged pieces of steel ripped away from the floor beneath him, the twisted metal beams which had collapsed from above, and the mangled wreckage of the vehicles strewn throughout the deck. The sentinel was totally focused on his senses, controlling them and casting with a singular purpose...to search for the sound, the smell, and the sight of the one who had grown to mean life to him. Jim forced himself to screen out the horrific sensory input of the dead bodies around him, ferry employees working on that deck who had not survived the blasts. Some were in plain view, horribly burned by the fires of the explosions, others lay only partially visible, crushed and broken beneath vehicles or heavy steel beams. Ellison pushed away the thought that, so far, he had yet to see anyone on this deck who had survived the force of the multiple blasts. Blair would have survived; he had to have survived. No other option was possible.
Picking his way carefully amid the carnage, Jim continued to call for his partner, "Sandburg! Blair, answer me, buddy!" He stopped frequently, trying to direct his total concentration on finding the heartbeat of his friend. All the while, he was too aware of the sound of rushing water into the deck below. No heartbeat, no sound of breathing met his sensitive ears. "Come on, Sandburg, dammit! Answer me!" Jim cried out, his voice a mix of anger and fear.
As he looked around, Jim spotted their rental car, now resting on its side against one of the support columns which were located throughout the length of the ferry. He hurried to it and used the key to open the trunk. Scanning his bag, Jim selected a few items which might be useful when he found Sandburg: antibiotic cream, bandages, and the bottle of prescription pain pills he'd put in at the last minute.
Then he stopped, motionless, listening, unsure if there had been a sound at all. "Blair! Come on, Chief! Sandburg!" he called once more.
This time, there was no missing the small voice which emerged from a twisted pile of metal on Jim's right. "Jim... Over here..."
Moving as quickly as possible through the debris, Jim threw aside sheets of metal sheared from vehicles and tires ripped off their axles by the force of the blast. At last, he saw an arm reaching out to him, and beyond it, his partner's pale, bloody face. "Blair!" His heart pounded wildly at the realization of just how closely the reality resembled the terror of the vision. Blair lay partially buried beneath the debris. For the moment, all Jim cared about was thrusting aside the remaining wreckage separating him from his friend. He knelt down beside the still figure lying on his back.
"Jim," Blair whispered, reaching out his hand. "What happened?"
Ellison grasped the cold hand in his own and rubbed it reassuringly, trying to transfer some of his own warmth to his friend. He gently brushed back the sticky curls from Blair's face. Covered in blood, he realized, a sense of dread creeping over him. He concentrated on keeping his voice calm. "I'm not really sure, yet, buddy, but my guess would be several bombs, set to go off simultaneously. I can smell the explosives in the air. But who...and why... That I don't know. Right now, though, I need to check you over. That okay?" At Blair's nod, Jim carefully released his hand.
The army medic automatically took over, searching what was visible of Sandburg's body for injuries. The young man's face was a mass of cuts and scrapes, many of them from the flying glass and metal. The blood on his hair was from a scalp laceration. Ellison took off his outer shirt and ripped away part of the sleeve, pressing it down on the injury. "Think you can hold this in place for awhile, Chief?" he asked calmly.
"Sure," Sandburg responded, so Jim guided Blair's hand up to the injury, patting it gently before removing his own hand. Then he went on with his inspection.
Jim checked both arms and was relieved to find them intact, although they, too, were bloody and bruised. Some of the cuts on Sandburg's arms and face appeared deep, and Jim knew stitches would be required to avoid severe scarring. He wanted to clean those angry lacerations, but other matters were more pressing at the moment. He had to get Sandburg up to a higher deck, and there was no time to waste.
Running sensitive fingers over his torso, Jim checked for internal injuries. A few cracked ribs, probably, but nothing more serious. He'd feel better about that diagnosis when a doctor checked him over, but for now, Ellison felt a sense of relief. Then he looked at Sandburg's lower body, and Jim's heart contracted in dread. There was nothing to see.
Blair's legs were buried beneath two massive steel girders which had twisted loose from the supporting structure of the deck above. Smaller pieces of debris also imprisoned his friend's legs and feet. Jim cringed as he imagined the weight of the monstrous beams bearing down on his guide's body. Refusing to allow his facial features to mirror his concern, Jim knelt back beside Blair's head. He took the rest of his torn shirt, folded it, then tenderly lifted the curly head, supporting it as he would that of a helpless infant. Jim tucked the shirt beneath Blair, then carefully lowered him back to rest on the makeshift pillow. "Thanks," came the grateful reply.
Jim stroked the sweaty, matted curls and smiled fondly. His throat contracted at the trust in the blue eyes that looked up at him so calmly. I'll get you out of here, Chief, Jim vowed silently. I can't let you go, won't let you leave me, I promise you. Looking into those trusting eyes, he forced his voice to remain calm as he asked, "How do your legs feel, Chief?"
Sandburg glanced down at his buried legs and shook his head. "Feels like a ton of steel down there, but the pain's not that bad. Just this really powerful pressure. I can feel my legs, though, and I think I'm wiggling my toes."
Jim smiled in relief. "Good, Chief, that's really good." He reached into his pocket and removed the bottle of pain pills. "I want you to take one of these. When I get your legs free, it's likely to hurt more than it does now." He removed one of the pills and handed it to Sandburg. As his friend dry swallowed the small pill, Jim continued, "I'll put the bottle in my jacket pocket in case you need another later on. Just let me know. Listen now, buddy. I have to get you out of here, and the sooner the better."
Blair lifted his head, then let it fall back weakly. "Jim, what's going on? I keep hearing something below us, all this groaning and a roaring sound. What is it?" He waited, his tired, blue eyes focused on his friend.
The last thing Jim Ellison wanted was to frighten Blair any more than he'd already been frightened that day, but he knew better than to try to lie to the young man. Blair had always been able to read him too well. Even under stress, he could detect a lie in Jim's voice and face in an instant. "There's been structural damage to the hull, Chief. That sound you hear is water flooding the deck below. There's also a large hole on our deck, back behind us where you can't see it right now. We're still a few feet above the water level." He stopped, gauging Sandburg's reaction.
The soft, blue eyes flared with fear for an instant, glancing around in alarm, then they settled trustingly back on Jim's face. "So, how long do we have?" Blair asked calmly.
Jim replied vaguely, "Awhile yet. Still, we shouldn't waste any time. I'm going to try lifting off some of the debris. You let me know if anything hurts you, okay?" At Blair's nod of assent, Ellison rose and took hold of some of the smaller pieces of metal, carefully lifting them away from Blair and throwing them aside.
Suddenly, Jim jerked his hand back, inspecting a cut from the sharp edge of a piece of sheet metal. "Jim, you okay?" Blair asked in concern.
"Yeah, buddy, just a small cut. It's okay." Jim looked around. "I'll be back in a minute, all right? I'm just going over to this supply room."
Ellison opened the door and looked inside. Amid the clutter of cleaning materials, mops, and brooms which had fallen to the floor, he spotted his target. When Jim returned to Blair, he was wearing a pair of heavy work gloves. He also carried one life preserver, the only one remaining in the room. "For when we get out of here, just in case," he said, answering the unspoken question in Blair's eyes.
After clearing away the smaller pieces of rubble, Jim turned his attention to the substantial beams lying across Sandburg's legs. Each was supported to some extent on the far end, relieving some of the pressure from Blair's body. Enough weight remained, however, to keep the young man trapped beneath them. At the far end, where the girders rested upon a pile of debris, Jim fastened his hands around one of the beams. Summoning all his strength, he strained to lift the steel structure, his powerful muscles quivering with the effort. It barely moved. Jim's shoulders hunched in disappointment. A second attempt yielded no better results. Needing to rest, suddenly needing to touch his friend, he returned to Blair's side.
The silent, pleading look on Blair's face turned Jim's heart with a sudden lurch. "Jim?" he breathed, raising his hand. Water dripped from his cut fingers. Looking down, Ellison saw what had previously escaped notice during his attempts to free Blair. The water was beginning to creep onto B deck from below.
Kneeling down, Jim placed his hands on Blair's cheeks, cupping his face tenderly. He stroked the delicate skin beneath the frightened blue eyes and smiled reassuringly. "It's okay, buddy. I'm going to get you out of here, understand?"
Blair searched Jim's face for the truth of his statement, and the terror in his eyes abated. "Right. Okay. Jim...?"
Ellison continued the gentle, soothing motions. "What, Chief?"
With a deep breath, Blair whispered, "I don't want to drown. Not again. Please...?"
The wave of emotion nearly crumbled Jim's facade of calm control. Bending lower, the sentinel touched his forehead to his friend's. "You won't; I promise." Feeling the nod of gratitude, he rested there for a few moments, then straightened. "Let's try something else, okay? If you feel any lessening of the pressure, try to pull back immediately, but let me know if I hurt you." Blair nodded, and watched Jim pull over one of the long, metal poles which stood supports throughout the deck, broken off its base during the blast.
Wedging it beneath one of the beams, Jim used the pole as a lever, attempting to lift up the heavy steel. Again, it moved, but only an inch or less. The second attempt proved just as futile. Jim pushed away the pole in frustration. Glancing at his feet, he saw that the water was now more than ankle deep, and he returned to check on Sandburg. In his reclining position, the water was already to his ears. Blair's face was a collage of emotions...trust, fear, desperation...all battling for dominance and control. He looked up at Jim, searching helplessly for reassurance.
"We need to sit you up a little now, buddy," Jim said calmly, ignoring the frantic pounding of his own heart and the tightness in his chest as he reached for a tire lying behind them. He retrieved two more, stacking them carefully, before helping Blair sit up to lean back against them. As he touched his partner, he noticed the trembling in the young man's hands and shoulders. After settling Sandburg back against the tires, Jim began to pull away but found himself caught by Blair's hands gripping his upper arms. "What's wrong? Are you hurting worse this way?"
Blair shook his head, then pulled against Jim, drawing himself forward until he was pressing his face against the sentinel's broad chest and could place his arms around the strong back. Closing his eyes, his face etched with anguish, Jim wrapped his arms around the shaking shoulders and gently rubbed his face against Blair's head. "Shhhhh...shhh...shhh... It's gonna be okay, Chief. I promise, I'll get you out..."
"No, that's not the promise I want... Please, Jim, promise me..." Blair stopped, his voice breaking on a choked sob. "Promise me, if you can't get me out of here, that you'll go... That you'll get yourself out..."
Knowing that with those words his heart would surely break, Jim held Blair tightly, desperately, against him for a few moments, unable to speak. At last, he managed to whisper, "I can't do that, Blair. I couldn't leave you here, like this..."
Blair pulled back, looking at Jim with blazing eyes. "No! Your Blessed Protector contract doesn't include dying here with me for no reason. I don't want that! If the water gets too deep, and you know there's nothing more you can do, get out of here. Please! I don't want you to die, too." The fire in Blair's eyes had faded, replaced by an intense look of sadness and regret. "Please?" His voice was only a faint whisper now, but the look in his eyes spoke volumes.
Jim's answer was determined. "Now, you listen to me, Sandburg. I'm a long way from giving up on this. But if the time comes that I do, I'm still not going anywhere." As Blair opened his mouth to argue, Jim reached out, tenderly touching his lips with his fingers. "No, hush..." Jim commanded, his voice softening as he left his fingers resting against the warm, soft lips. "Fiora had it right, Chief. We are anam cara...soul friends. Two people meant to be together forever, throughout eternity. I know I've searched for you my entire life, without even knowing it, and when I found you, that deep void inside me was filled, for the very first time. I won't... I can't go back to the way I was before, empty and alone. I'd rather die here with you than face life without you in it. Don't you understand that?" Jim searched his face, looking for any sign that his friend understood.
Blair's lips softly kissed his fingers, and Jim felt a barely perceptible nod. He let his hand slide around behind Blair's head, tenderly cupping his neck. "I do understand, Jim. It's just so hard..."
"Then don't think about it yet, okay? I'm still counting on getting us both out of here. I won't ever quit trying. I promise." Ellison leaned forward and pressed his lips to the cut and bruised forehead, to seal his vow. After carefully settling Blair back against the tires, he stood up, looking around the chaotic scene for another alternative. The water was rising more rapidly now, and Jim knew his time was quickly running out.
Suddenly, he rushed away from Sandburg, his feet splashing in the water covering the surface of the entire deck. "Jim! What's going on?" Blair shouted.
"Got an idea, Chief," Jim called back over his shoulder.
Blair leaned back against the stack of tires and waited, emotionally drained and physically exhausted. No longer able to see Jim, he closed his eyes. If this doesn't work, if Jim can't get us out of here...me out of here...I don't want to drown. Not again. He reached down into the pocket of his leather jacket, retrieving the bottle of pain pills he'd slipped out of Jim's pocket. He stared at the small, white pills. If I take the pills, maybe Jim will leave me here, get himself out. He'd be safe. I wonder how many it will take? How long should I wait? A single tear slipped down his cheek at the thought of it all ending here, pinned to the deck of a sinking ferry, so far from home. He pushed away the thought of Jim's death, barely letting it flit across his mind. That was too much to face, Jim dying because he couldn't bear the thought of going on without him. You knew this would happen, though, didn't you, Sandburg? A sentinel cannot survive without his guide, not after they've found each other, after they've grown together as partners. What would you expect Jim to do? Another tear trickled from Blair's closed eyes.
The long minutes ticked by. As the pain pill took effect, Blair felt his mind drift as sleep began to overtake his exhausted body. Then his eyes popped open at the sound of an engine being started. Jim, what are you doing now? He turned his head as far to the left as he could, toward the sound of the approaching vehicle as it slowly crunched its way through the water and wreckage. Then he saw it...Jim's answer to their dilemma. A large, red and white wrecker plowed to a stop beside the beams pinning Blair to the ferry's deck. Jim jumped out, not stopping to explain. By then, no explanation was necessary.
Releasing enough slack to reach the beams, already partially covered by the rapidly rising water, Jim carefully attached the cable. Then he stopped beside Blair. "As soon as I have the beams lifted enough, do you think you can pull yourself backward to clear your legs?"
Blair nodded, a small, confident smile appearing for the first time, even with the water now up to his waist. Jim reached down, and he gently tugged a long curl. "Have you out of here in no time, Chief." He turned and climbed back into the wrecker's cab.
Slowly, the weight lessened on Blair's legs as the huge metal girders began to rise. Blair held his breath, waiting. At last, he began to pull himself slowly backward, inch by inch, until he was clear of the beams. "Jim!" he called over the noise of the wench and truck's engine. "I'm out!" Then he felt slightly foolish for shouting to a sentinel who could have heard his slightest whisper.
Jim cut the engine and hurried over to Blair. Quickly, he lifted Blair gently into his arms and carried him to the seat of the wrecker. The younger man's face had gone deathly pale, and his skin felt cold and clammy. "How're your legs, Chief?" he asked, bending over his friend, inspecting the damaged legs.
"Hurt..." Blair answered, breathing heavily, his face contorted in pain. "Now that the weight's gone..."
"Looks like the right one has a clean break; the left looks okay,just bruised and cut, but I'll feel better when you can get it checked out at the hospital. Just hang in there, buddy," Jim said, "We're going to get you out of here. Won't be long until you can see a doctor, and get something stronger to help the pain. For now, take one more of those pills I brought."
Jim reached into his pocket for the bottle, then withdrew his empty hand. He looked at Sandburg, a look of confusion on his face. "Didn't I...?"
Without a word, Blair reached into his own pocket, withdrawing the small bottle and handing it over to Jim. For a moment, Ellison merely stared, stunned, at his partner. Then his face hardened, his eyes turning icy as realization dawned. "What the hell were you planning to do with these, Sandburg?" he asked, his voice rising in anger. "How many have you taken, huh? Answer me!" He grabbed Blair's face, gripping it in a combination of fear and outrage. How dare his guide try to end his life when he was willing to do anything to save it?
Managing to shake his head in denial, Blair croaked out, "None, Jim! I didn't take any more, I swear."
"Then why, Chief? Tell me why you took the damn bottle!" He released his grip on Sandburg's face, letting his hands drop to his shoulders. He stared at Blair is disbelief, already knowing what the response would be, but unable to accept his willingness to make that ultimate sacrifice.
"Because I figured if I were dead, or at least unconscious, then maybe you'd get the hell out of here, all right? I just didn't want you to die, too, Jim!" His voice cracked, and his next words were spoken over the sobs that wracked his body. "I didn't want to die; I was so scared, but I was more afraid of your dying. I...I'm so sorry..."
Unable to stand any more, Jim gathered him into his arms, whispering softly into the curl covered ear, "Shhhh... It's okay, Chief. You just scared the hell out of me, that's all. It's all right. You're free, and neither of us is gonna die here. I promise. Shhhh... Take it easy. Easy, Blair..."
After the sobs had quieted to mere sniffles, Ellison pulled back and held out another of the small white pills. "Go ahead and take one more, okay? The next part's likely to hurt like hell."
Jim watched as Blair followed his instructions, then he asked, "I'll try to immobilize your right leg; that should help some with the pain until we can get you to a doctor. You gonna be all right until then?"
Blair looked up with a forced grin. "Don't have a lot of choice, do I?"
Jim returned his smile and reached out to rumple the already tangled curls. Then, reaching to the truck's floorboard, he took out several short pieces of angle iron he had gathered and strips of fabric torn from clothing in their rental car. As carefully as possible, he immobilized Sandburg's leg. As he worked, he glanced at his friend's face. Still chalky white, Blair was biting his lip in his determination not to let the pain show. Touched by his courage, Jim stopped for a moment, reaching out to squeeze his cold hand. "Sorry, Chief. I know this hurts, but it has to be tight enough to keep your leg from moving." At Blair's stoic nod, he finished the job.
After inspecting his work, Jim retrieved the life jacket and helped Blair into the vest. His partner looked up at him in curiosity. "Just how do you plan on getting us out of here, Jim? Where's your vest?"
Suddenly, the ship gave a heaving lurch toward one side, and Jim grabbed Blair's shoulders to steady him. When the ferry settled at last, listing badly to port, he answered Blair's question, "There was only one vest. I can tread water and kick; you can't. So, you get the vest. As for how we get out, we definitely can't leave the way I got in. You can't stand on your own, much less climb. So, that leaves only one alternative..."
Blair looked at him in disbelief. "You don't expect us to jump into the sea? C'mon, man..."
Jim leaned over, sliding his arms beneath Blair's legs and hoisting him easily into his arms. Automatically, Blair wrapped his arms around Jim's neck and held on, fitting his body securely against his sentinel's. "We have no choice, Chief. Believe me, we're not very far away from the water now anyway. It won't be that far a fall, I promise." He started toward the ragged hole blasted away in the ship's hull.
Looking out at the scene below, Blair shook his head in despair. A few small lifeboats floated on the waves, crowded with passengers. As he watched, more and more heads appeared, bobbing in the water as people leapt from the four decks above into the Irish Sea. At least, it appeared that they had life vests. Looking down, Blair suddenly understood the urgency of their situation. The water was less than two feet away from entering through the perforated hull on Deck B. In a matter of minutes, the deck on which they stood would be flooded by a torrent of encroaching sea water. If Jim had been just a little later finding him... If he hadn't been able to start the wrecker... He shivered at how close it actually had been.
Feeling the tremors shaking the body he held so carefully in his arms, Jim smiled down at Blair and hugged him protectively against his chest. "It's okay, Chief. We're gonna be all right now. Are you ready to go for a little swim?"
"Yeah, I think now's a good time to abandon ship, Captain." The water was only inches from the bottom of the opening now.
Jim grinned at his partner's attempt at humor. "Don't think Simon would appreciate your giving me that promotion, Chief. He kinda likes being the resident Captain."
"We'll just have to keep it between us, huh?" Blair looked up at Jim and winked.
Jim grinned down at him fondly. "Just between us, Darwin. Ready?"
Blair took a deep breath, smiled weakly, then nodded. "Ready as I'll ever be..."
With that, Jim stepped out and into the icy water, holding Blair tightly against his body. The life jacket kept them both from going too far under, and they quickly bobbed to the surface. Immediately, Jim began stroking away from the ship, with Blair tucked under one arm. "I don't want to be too close when that water starts flooding in," he explained. "All we need is to be sucked back inside."
Apparently others had come to the same conclusion, because the water around them was filled with swimming passengers and crew members. Jim counted only four lifeboats and wondered how many others might be on the far side of the ship. Certainly not enough for every passenger and employee. He only hoped there had been enough life jackets.
When they reached what Jim determined to be a safe distance, he stopped swimming and switched to treading water. Keeping Blair trapped against his side, he checked his partner's vital signs. His heartbeat was steady, but his breathing seemed too fast and shallow. He was trembling constantly now, from the cold of the water rather than fear. The blue eyes were shut, and when Jim called his name, there was no response. He's going into shock, Ellison realized. Turning to three men floating nearby, he called out, "Is there any word on a rescue? We were down on one of the car decks, so I haven't heard anything."
One of the men turned to Jim. "There are rescue ships and helicopters on the way. It shouldn't be too much longer now. They contacted them immediately after the explosions. How's your friend there?"
Jim glanced down at Blair. The young man's head rested heavily on Jim's shoulder as he floated on his back, supported by the life vest. He could feel the powerful tremors that wracked his partner's body, even while unconscious. "He needs to get to the hospital. He has a broken leg, and he's in shock."
Another of the men shook his head, frowning. "Hope he makes it."
Jim glared at him, daring the man to doubt Blair's survival. "He's a fighter. He'll make it."
The men drifted further from them, and Jim turned his undivided attention to his unconscious guide. He was feeling the cold now, and he turned up his temperature regulation dial as far as he could, hoping to stave off the cold. He murmured to Blair, wanting to reassure him, in case he could hear Jim in his deep sleep. "You're doing great here, Chief. Help's on the way. We'll get warm and dry, and the doctors can set your leg properly. You just stay with me, okay? Everything's going to be all right."
Ellison glanced back at the ferry, now submerged up to the top two decks. Using his enhanced sight, he searched the decks for any remaining passengers, but it appeared everyone had abandoned ship. Now if only the rescue teams would show up. He felt a small movement and immediately focused back on Blair. The young man was restless, trying to pull away from Jim and moaning when he moved his broken leg. "Easy, Chief. Shhhh... It's okay. I'm here, Blair. You're safe now. I've got you now, and I'm not letting go. Everything's going to be fine. Just take it easy," Ellison whispered. He wished he could do more for his partner, soothe him with his touch, but he needed one hand to keep Blair anchored to him and the other to tread water. For now, his voice alone would have to be enough. Jim continued the litany of soft, calming words, not thinking about what was said, just letting the tone and timbre reach through to bring comfort. At last, Blair relaxed against Jim, returning to a deep, still sleep.
Nearly an hour later, Ellison was the first to hear the approach of the helicopters. "Here they come, Chief," he whispered to the shivering form pressed to his side. "It won't be long now." Watching the skies, he listened to the other survivors cheering the arrival of their rescuers and tightened his grip on Blair.
Later that evening, Jim was allowed at last into the small hospital room. Scanning the familiar equipment attached to his partner, he smiled. Some things never change, whether in the United States or Wales. Same equipment, same basic room, just different voices and faces. He stood quietly, watching his guide breathe, monitoring the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest and his soft breathing, thankful for the continuation of the precious life that had almost been torn from him once again. Instinctively, his hand reached out and found the curls that spread out around the sleeping face on the pillow. He tangled his fingers in the luxurious, twirling softness, grateful to the young nurse who had insisted on washing Blair's hair even before he awakened. With his free hand, Jim touched the unsightly gashes that marred the purity of Blair's face; his touch so light that it barely brushed the skin. The doctors had done an excellent job; any scarring should be minimal. Something else to be thankful for at the end of this long, grueling day.
A terrorist group out for publicity for their cause, Jim thought, suddenly angry. Didn't they care who they hurt, whose lives they destroyed? If those people had killed Blair... Jim closed his eyes, forcing himself to remember that the young man was alive, here with him, and safe.
His eyes moved to the cast covering Blair's right leg up to the knee. Luckily, the left leg had not been seriously injured. When Jim recalled the horrific weight that had trapped his partner, he shuddered to think of the damage that might have been done. More blessings for which to be thankful. Unable to resist the growing need to be closer to Blair, he carefully lowered the bedrail which separated them. Then, pulling up the chair provided for visitors, Jim sat down beside the bed and gently pulled the blanket over Blair's shoulders for maximum warmth. He curved his left arm as a pillow and rested his head on the side of the bed. Under the blanket, his right arm lay across his friend's chest, his fingers still entangled in the long hair. Beneath his arm, he could feel the reassuring heartbeat and breathing of his guide.
Jim studied the face that slept peacefully only a few inches from his own. The long, dark lashes flickered gently in sleep, and the slight motion of his eyes beneath the closed lids indicated that Blair was lost in a dream. A tender smile twitched at Jim's lips as he watched. Wherever your dreams take you tonight, I hope it's a sweet trip, Chief. You deserve it. The sentinel continued his vigil in the semidarkness, until his own eyelids began to tug downward. Satisfied that Blair was safe and all was well, Jim closed his eyes, joining his guide in the respite of sleep.
Later, tired blue eyes flickered open, struggling to focus and overcome the weight of the heavy lids threatening to close once more. In the dim light of the monitors and streetlights outside, he could make out the shape of a head resting on the bed beside him. Glancing down further, he could see the outline of an arm over his chest, which explained the unknown weight bearing down on him. The pulling sensation against his head was Jim's hand curled around his hair. Blair reached out, laying his hand on the short hair, moving his fingers gently over the soft strands. Several minutes later, just as sleep was about to reclaim him, a voice whispered from the darkness, "Sandburg, you okay?"
"Yeah," he responded quietly. "You?"
Jim raised his head, seeking his friend's face in the darkness. Drowsy blue eyes met his under half-closed lids. A loving smile touched his face, and Jim reached out to gently brush his bruised cheek. "I think you're half asleep, kid. Close those eyes and rest now, okay?"
Blair shook his head weakly. "...Mmmm... 'm sleepy, but... I..." His voiced faded away, and his eyes closed.
Jim freed his hand from Blair's curls, moved to sit beside him on the bed, then gently began to stroke his hair. "What is it? Do you need anything, Chief?"
For a moment, Jim thought sleep had reclaimed his partner, but then the sleepy eyes blinked up at him again. "...need to know..."
"What do you need to know, Blair?" Jim's voice had dropped to a whisper, awed at the blinding tenderness which suddenly filled him as he bent close over his injured guide.
Blair's eyes blearily searched Jim's own. "Would you...really have...? You were really...going to stay...?"
Their eyes remained locked together for a long moment as Jim tried to put into words both the feelings he'd had earlier that day on the ship and the overwhelming love that was now making it difficult to speak. Such words were never easy, especially so soon after almost losing the one life that meant more than all others. "Chief," he began, then stopped. His hand stopped the soothing stroking motion in Blair's hair. Capturing one of Blair's hands between both of his, Jim tucked their hands over his heart and closed his eyes.
After several silent minutes passed, he tried again. He looked to find Blair still watching him, his eyes drowsy with sleep, but awake. "Blair... Yes, I was going to stay with you. There was no way I could leave you trapped there to die alone. I never had the words for it before. I mean, we've tried to put it into words...the sentinel/guide bond, Blessed Protector, partners, friendship...but none of them really said it all, did they? Like I told you on the ship, we're anam cara...friends of the soul. That almost captures it...this feeling...doesn't it? How could I let half my soul die without me, Blair? Could you have left me trapped on that deck with the sea pouring in around me? Left me to drown? Could you?" The sentinel's piercing blue eyes probed his guide's for an answer...for the truth.
Tears welled from far away in the blue depths of Blair's eyes. "No," he whispered. "You know... I could never... Jim..." His voice broke in desperation at the image in his mind. Jim...trapped...drowning...alone...helpless.
Leaning forward, Jim slipped strong arms behind his back, sweeping him upward to rest against him. One hand anchored Blair close, while the other gently pressed his head close to his heart. "I know, Blair...I know," Jim breathed. "So you understand why I would have stayed...stayed to die with you, to be with the other half of my soul for eternity?"
The whispered answer was so soft that even sentinel ears could barely hear, "My anam cara... Blessed Protector... Sentinel... My partner...friend...brother..." Jim felt his tired head fight to burrow even closer against his chest. The sleepy voice murmured, "Don't go..."
"You got it, Chief," Jim agreed quietly, carefully shifting Blair so that he could turn around and lean against the back of the hospital bed. He tucked a spare pillow behind his head. After pulling the covers up over them both, he gently pulled the young man up to rest beside him, one arm wrapped around Blair's back, the other holding him close against him. "This okay?" he whispered, bending down to kiss the top of his head.
"Mmmm...'kay," Blair mumbled. His breathing became slow and even, and his head grew heavy as sleep overtook him.
Knowing he should sleep, Jim leaned his head back into the pillow behind him. Closing his eyes, he allowed his mind to wander. Sentinel... Blessed Protector... Partner... Friend... Brother... Am I really all those things to you, Chief? Just as you are my guide, my friend, my brother... Add to that my life, heart, and soul... Anam Cara... Friends of the soul... Yes, Fiora, that says it all. As he drifted into sleep, the sentinel unconsciously tightened his arms around his guide, to protect him even in his sleep. "Blair...my anam cara," he murmured, and the darkness claimed him.
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