This is my second attempt at fanfiction and the first time I have ever posted anything. However, I might eventually post my first attempt if I get the courage. The only reason this is being posted is because my beta readers (you know who you are) twisted my arm. So you can blame them. Thanks a lot you guys because this would never have gotten anywhere without your wonderful suggestions and encouragement.
Disclaimer: The characters aren't mine, they belong to Paramount and Pet Fly Productions. This was simply a stress reliever for me-that quickly became stressful. No money exchanged hands..blah...blah....blah. Can't squeeze money out of a turnip anyway.
Jim was packing the camping gear in the back of the Expedition, while Blair was in the loft trying to get the rest of his gear together. They had decided to take a week off from their busy schedules to go backpacking in the Cascade mountains. A full week of nothing to do except enjoy nature, relax, and spend some time together. Jim really needed the rest and solitude and it hadn't taken much to convince Sandburg that it was a good idea.
Jim finished packing the truck and headed back upstairs to prod Sandburg down to the car. The kid had been running around the loft all morning trying to get his stuff together. Jim had packed his things the night before and was now more than anxious to get started.
"Sandburg, would you come on!" Jim was impatiently waiting by the door, tapping his fingers on the frame.
"Just a sec. I know I'm forgetting something." Sandburg was turning around and around in the middle of the loft, getting more and more frustrated. "I know I'm forgetting something."
Jim stepped into the room and raised his hands counting off his fingers. "Soap, canteen, matches, compass, flashlight, first aid kit, bed roll, food, rope, bug spray, water tablets, map...."
Blair was nodding after each thing Jim mentioned. "I just don't know, it seems like I'm forgetting something important."
"If you would have packed last night, you wouldn't be having this problem now," Jim admonished. "But no you had to wait until the last minute like always."
"O.K. I'm coming," Blair resigned, picking up his backpack and following Jim out the door stealing one more glance into the room before throwing his hands up in defeat.
It took about three hours for them to get to the spot they were looking for. "I can't wait to get up there." Jim said as he opened the door and stepped out. Blair didn't move. "Are you coming Chief?"
Blair was looking up at the mountain chain before them. There was one mountain that seemed to stand over all the others. "We're going up there?" Blair asked, not taking his eyes from the site.
"Yeah, and I can't wait. I've been wanting to take that mountain for a long time." Jim was now looking at the mountain himself, clearly ready to start the excursion.
Blair got out of the truck and went to stand beside him. "That's great man. Just great. You didn't tell me we were going to be so high up."
Jim realized where Blair's thoughts were. "Don't worry about it Chief. It's not as high as it looks. It should only take us three days max to reach the end of the trail. You'll never even know you're up there," he said grinning. "Just don't look down."
"Yeah, just don't look down." Blair walked towards the back of the car mumbling to himself. "Great advise."
"I heard that." Jim joined him to remove their gear. "You're going to love it. You're the one that is always trying to get me to relax and commune with nature more. Just remember," he said wagging his finger at Sandburg. "No tests. We had a deal. No work, no tests."
"I got it Jim. No work, no tests," Blair mocked, shrugging his backpack on and letting his eyes travel up the mountain again.
Jim with his own backpack slung over his shoulder, cuffed Blair on the back of the head as he strolled past him. "Let's get started. I want to cover a lot of ground today."
Blair shook his head and trailed after him. "How do I get myself into these things."
Jim smiled as he heard Sandburg shuffling after him. The kid is going to have a good time he just didn't know it yet.
About noon, they stopped to rest and eat. Jim slung his pack off his arm and sat down on a tree log. "Are you hungry Chief?"
"Yeah, I guess so," Blair said, removing his pack and rummaging through it looking for his trail mix.
Jim was already chewing on some jerky. "You want some?" Jim pushed the baggie containing the rest of the dried meat toward Blair.
"No thanks, man." He continued searching his bag and finally produced the sought after mix. "I've got what I want right here."
"O.K. suit yourself." Jim managed to say while pulling on another piece with his teeth.
After a couple of minutes of enjoying the sounds of nature, Jim rose and stretched his legs. He scanned their surroundings and looked down at Sandburg, who was just finishing off the last of his lunch. "Are you ready? I want to go a few more miles before we set up camp for the night."
"Yeah, yeah. I'm coming. Just give me a minute. I think nature is calling if you know what I mean." Blair sprang to his feet and headed down the trail.
A minute later he came back toward Jim. "Whew, I sure feel better." Blair picked his pack up and slung it on again. "Let's go."
Jim once again started off at a fairly leisurely pace, keeping in mind Blair's much shorter stride. "So Chief, you having fun yet?" Jim asked, peering over his shoulder.
Blair glanced at Jim and nodded. "Yeah. I'm glad you convinced me to come. I think I really needed a break. I feel so relaxed. No need to worry about complaining students, grades, lesson plans...."
"...not to mention bad guys, reports, and the occasional maniac." Jim interrupted.
"Precisely!" Blair chimed in. "Hey Jim! How come this mountain?"
Jim stopped and turned to face Blair. "What do you mean?"
Blair knew that Jim knew what he was referring to but asked again. "Why this mountain Jim? I mean that's all you've talked about since you first mentioned this trip. It's like you have some type of score to settle or something."
Jim sighed and averted his eyes to the sky. "Well, maybe I do."
Jim now had Blair's full attention. Blair could tell there was something important about Jim getting to the top of this particular mountain, and he was more than a little curious to find out what that something could be.
Jim looked back to Blair and noticed that he was waiting for him to continue. Jim didn't really want to talk about it, but he knew that Sandburg wouldn't let go until it was out in the open. "You're probably gonna think this is stupid." Jim turned and squatted down on a nearby rock. "When Stephen and I were growing up, our dad would constantly talk about this mountain." Jim paused rubbing his forehead, reluctantly continuing, "He always said that this mountain could make or break the best of men. He and a bunch of his friends climbed it when he was in his teens, and he was so proud of that fact. He said it was an experience that changed his life." Jim paused again. "I think he just wanted to see which one of us would be the first to attempt it. It was just his way of adding to that competitiveness between us." Jim looked up at Blair. "I guess I just want to prove to him that I can do this. I know it's not a big deal, but I just feel like it is something that I need to do."
Blair stooped down beside Jim. "Jim, I don't think that you want to prove it to him. I think you want to prove it to yourself. You've heard about this mountain so much that it's become a kind of ritual for you. Something to show that you are as strong and capable as your father. Seeing Stephen again after so many years has just brought all this stuff back up. And even though climbing this mountain might not seem like much to a lot of people, even yourself, it's something that was demanded of you when you were younger. There's nothing stupid about trying to fulfill that demand."
Jim couldn't believe that it could possibly make sense to anyone else but him, but once again Sandburg had realized exactly what he was feeling. Maybe he did want to prove it to himself. Jim stood up and grabbed his backpack. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Let's get going before it gets dark."
Blair grabbed his own pack and waited for Jim to make the first move.
Jim reached out and patted Blair on the shoulder. "Thanks for understanding Chief."
Blair motioned for Jim to take the lead, and then followed in step behind him. "Not a problem man."
Amazingly, they managed to cover half the distance up the mountain by the end of the first day and decided to make camp. Jim was starting a fire and Blair was sorting through the instant meals they had brought along. "Oh man, this stuff sounds terrible. Instant turkey and dressing, instant lasagna, instant pot roast, instant scrambled eggs. I knew I should have brought some peanut butter and crackers. You actually eat this stuff?"
Jim grinned and poked the fire. "Sure it's really not that bad. You should have eaten some of the things I had to eat in the army. Besides I would think this would be an improvement over the type of stuff that you usually eat."
"No way man. I think I'm going to stick to my trail mix." Blair set the ready to eat meals out where Jim could have his choice and then slid back with his trail mix in one hand and a canteen of water in the other.
"Suit yourself, Sandburg. But don't come whining to me in the middle of the night because you're hungry. And I don't want your grumbling stomach to wake me up either." Jim picked up the meal on top and set it over the flames of the now blazing fire.
"So Jim do you think we will make it to the top by tomorrow?"
Jim considered the distance they had traveled that day. "That's the plan. Actually we won't be able to go all the way to the top. The trail dead ends before you can get to the summit. The last couple hundred feet is one huge slab of vertical rock. It's pretty much impossible to get up unless you're an expert climber."
"I think I prefer to keep both feet planted firmly on the ground thank you."
"I expected as much." Jim said scooping out the last of his turkey and dressing as Blair watched with a look of disgust on his face. "Well Chief. What do you say we turn in. I know it's early, but I'm beat and we need to get an early start if we want to get to the top by tomorrow."
"Sure thing. I could sleep for three days straight." Blair said, spreading out his bedroll.
Jim had already managed to crawl into his sleeping bag, and was watching as Blair tried to find a nice even spot with no roots or rocks. "Are you comfy there Chief?"
Blair glared at Jim and shifted positions again. "Yeah, all I need now is a pillow, a mattress, and a teddy bear." Blair snuggled down further in his sleeping bed. "Goodnight Jim."
Jim rolled over. "Nite, Nite John Boy."
The next morning Blair woke up to the smell of coffee brewing over the fire. "Oh, man that sure smells good," Blair moaned as he struggled to sit up within his sleeping bag.
"Good morning sleepy head," Jim teased, filling his coffee mug. "I thought we were going to get an early start this morning?"
Blair pulled his arm out from underneath the warmth of the blanket and looked down at his watch. "It's only 6 o'clock, Jim. The roosters aren't even up yet!" he bellowed.
"I'm not worried about the roosters." Jim handed Blair a mug of coffee. "Shake a leg. We need to get going."
Blair warmed his hands around the steaming cup of coffee and stood up to stretch his legs. "Ouch! I think I have a root permanently implanted in my back," Blair groaned.
Jim doused the campfire and started rolling up Blair's sleeping bag until he got to a huge root sticking out of the ground. He looked up at Blair and shook his head. "No wonder," he said as he pointed to the source of Blair's aching back. "Next time why don't you watch where you throw your bedroll."
Blair raised his hands up and shrugged. "How was I suppose to know it was there? It's not like there was enough light for me to see it last night."
Jim finished rolling up the sleeping bag and tossed it to Blair. "Let's get cracking. We've got another long day of hiking ahead of us."
Blair caught it with one hand and managed not to spill the coffee he was still trying to finish off. "O.K. O.K. Geesh! I've only been awake for two minutes. Give me a second." Blair took another swig from the mug and tossed the rest of the contents onto the ground. He hurriedly gathered up the rest of his gear and ran ahead to catch up with Jim who was already starting up the trail.
After about ninety minutes of silence except for the occasional whistling from Jim, Blair could stand it no longer. "So Jim, what are you going to do when you get to the top?"
"I don't know. I haven't really thought about it. I guess I'll just take a deep breath and soak up the scenery."
Blair was surprised. "That's all man. No shouting from the top of your lungs, no dancing a little jig....I think I would try to let the world know I was there."
"Yeah, well I'll know and that's good enough for me," Jim laughed. "But please feel free to do all the dancing that you want."
Jim stopped and looked back at Blair. "Hey Chief be careful here," Jim said, pointing to a washed out place in the trail.
Blair looked at the nonexistent trail in front of them and then let his gaze wonder down the steep embankment beside them. "Oh man."
"It's O.K. Chief. Just watch your footing," Jim reassured him as he stretched his long legs across the hole in the trail.
Blair judged the distance, knowing there was no way he would be able to simply stride across like Jim had done.
"Come on Chief," Jim said, holding out his arms and motioning with his head.
Blair took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and lept across, willing Jim to catch him. He felt Jim latch on to his coat and steady his landing. Opening his eyes, Blair saw Jim grinning down at him. "That wasn't so bad was it?" Jim asked.
Blair shot Jim an incredulous look. "I just don't want to try that on my own."
The trail got significantly more difficult to negotiate due to various narrow passages and obstacles blocking the trail, and by lunch they were both sweaty and tired underneath their coats and heavy packing gear."Well, Chief we're almost there. A couple more hours and we can stop for the day. We made a lot better time than I anticipated."
Blair pulled out another bag of trail mix and gave Jim a nasty glare. "I don't guess a few more minutes in camp this morning would have hurt after all, huh?"
Jim chuckled to himself. "I guess not. I'm sorry I was so short this morning I was just in a hurry to get started. And I wanted to make sure that we got to the top today." Jim turned and picked up his canteen. "I hear a stream just over there." He pointed in the direction behind Blair. "I'm going to go fill up the canteens. I'll be back in a sec."
"Here you go," Blair said as he tossed his almost empty canteen to Jim. "Evian, please. If they have it." Blair ducked just in time as Jim caught the canteen and reached out to smack the top of his head as he went by.
Blair leaned back laughing at the look on Jim's face as he pointed his finger at him in a semi-threatening way and trotted off. Peals of laughter racked Blair's body until gradually his breathing returned to normal. He started to sit up but stopped when he detected a hissing sound by his ear. He slowly raised his eyes toward the sound and froze. A snake. A rattlesnake. Now what! Jim, come on man. I could use a little help here. Blair continued to stare at the snake afraid to move, afraid to breathe. It seemed like an eternity passed before Blair heard Jim coming back through the woods.
"O.K. Chief here's your canteen, but next time....." Jim abruptly stopped when he saw the threat facing his partner. "Just lie still. Don't move," he said softly as he looked around the campsite.
Blair laid perfectly still hoping that Jim would come up with something pretty soon. Snakes weren't one of his favorite things. He had been bitten once when he was a kid. It had only been a black snake, but it had still hurt. And he had no desire to relive the experience again especially not with a poisonous snake.
Jim slowly stalked around and started to remove his coat. "Easy Chief. Just relax and be ready to move," he said as he approached from behind the snake, coat in hand.
Blair tensed slightly as he realized what Jim was about to do. Would it work? It had to. Please...please....please.
Jim quickly slung the coat over the snake as Blair leapt to his feet and dashed to the other side of the camp area. Jim backed off, watching as the snake slithered out from underneath the coat and out of sight. He approached Blair with a look of concern on his face. "Are you O.K.? It didn't bite you did it?" he asked as he scanned Blair for any bite marks.
"Oh man, that was not fun," he stammered as he stared off in the direction the snake had retreated. "What took you so long?" he asked as he slapped Jim's arm.
Jim laughed as he turned to retrieve his coat. "Well, I had a hard time finding your evian."
"Very funny Jim." Blair rolled his eyes and went to fetch his backpack. "By the way, I remembered what I forgot."
"The snake bite kit!"
The next four or five hours were spent trekking up the steepest part of the trail, with Blair doing most of the talking, until Jim abruptly halted. Blair, who was paying more attention to their surroundings then to Jim, smacked into him face first. "Ow! What'd you stop for?"
Jim said nothing and watched as Blair's eyes finally focused on the trail, or the lack of trail, in front of them. "Wow! The last step sure is a doosey," he exclaimed as he peeked over Jim's shoulder at the huge drop in front of them. "I guess that's the end of the line for us,"he said as he pushed a strand of hair behind his ear. He turned to look up at Jim. "So how does it feel to be here man? You did it!"
Jim felt a huge swell of pride wash over him. It seemed like he had been waiting a lifetime for this moment. "Yeah I did it, and it feels great. Would you look at that view!" he said in awe as he stepped closer to the ledge.
"Huh, Jim. Do you mind not getting so close?" Blair asked, nodding his head toward the ledge.
"Don't worry about it Chief," he laughed, then took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "I just want to enjoy this moment. That's what you..."
Blair watched in horror as the ground beneath Jim's feet gave way and he disappeared from sight. "Jim!"
Blair froze. He didn't want to look over the ledge. He didn't want to see his best friend lying broken on the rocks below. He didn't want to look down. But he knew he had to. He had to be sure, even though he knew Jim was dead. He drew in a deep breath and tried to quell the paranoia building in his stomach. He hesitantly made his way toward the edge, shuffling his feet little by little until he could peer over.
"Oh thank you, thank you, thank you," Blair prayed as he dropped to his knees and let out the breath that he had been holding. Jim was lying on a narrow ledge about 15 feet from the drop off. He was unconscious, but Blair was positive that he was O.K. Fate wouldn't be so cruel as to raise his hopes and then vanquish them.
"Think Blair think," he told himself. "There's got to be something..." Blair stopped and grabbed his backpack dumping the contents onto the ground until he found what he was looking for - rope. He looked around for something to anchor the end to. But the only thing he found was a small tree, hopefully strong enough to support him, sticking out of a crack in the cliff. Great! He reluctantly wrapped the rope around the tree and tied it off. He then secured the rope around his waist and once again approached the edge. "Oh man." Blair closed his eyes and swallowed the fear that was threatening to over take him. "Get a grip Blair. Jim needs you. Just picture yourself there. Just picture yourself there. Just picture yourself there." He glanced toward the sky and then slowly backed down, keeping his feet planted against the cliff face and his eyes averted from the large drop beneath him.
It wasn't as bad as Blair had thought it would be. After he started down, he directed all his attention on Jim, and he temporarily forgot about his phobia. He landed on the ledge and quickly knelt by Jim's side to check for a pulse. He was still breathing and his pulse was strong. "Jim...Jim." Blair lightly slapped the side of Jim's face trying to wake him. "Jim come on man. Don't do this to me!" he wailed, slapping him somewhat harder.
Jim moaned and slowly opened his eyes before quickly slamming them shut again. "What happened?" he croaked reaching an arm up to his forehead.
"You scared me half to death, that's what happened! Are you O.K.? Is anything broken?" he asked as he let his eyes roam over Jim's frame looking for any signs of broken limbs.
"I don't think so," Jim replied, pushing himself into a sitting position against the cliff. "Where are we?"
Blair plopped down on the ground. "You fell. One minute you were standing right in front of me and the next thing I knew you had gone over the cliff." No sooner than the words were out of his mouth, Blair realized that he was sitting very close to the ledge himself. He immediately sprung toward Jim, clinging to the safety of the rock behind him.
Jim opened his eyes against the pounding in his head and stared at Blair. Under different circumstances, he would have been amused by the look on Blair's face. But it wasn't funny. Blair was suddenly terrified. He was pressed against the rock, defying the air to try and get between him and the massive cliff. His face contorted in fear. "Blair? Come on now relax," Jim said calmly, noting the rope wrapped around Blair's waist. He followed the rope up the side of the cliff with his eyes and realized for the first time that they were actually on a ledge, with nothing under them but thousands of feet of air. He was impressed that Blair had been able to get to him considering his agoraphobia. He slid over closer to his partner and gently shook his arm. "Blair, we need to get out of here. The rope? What did you anchor the rope to?"
Blair tried to get his lips to move, but nothing came out. Once again Jim shook Blair's arm. "Blair! Snap out of it buddy."
Blair slowly turned his head to face Jim and spoke softly. "Jim, I can't do this man. I can't."
"What are you talking about Chief? You already did it. You got down here to me." Jim looked up to the top of the cliff. "Now we just have to get back up."
Blair was shaking his head diligently from side to side, a look of sheer terror on his face.
Jim rested his hand on Blair's shoulder. "It will be fine Blair. Trust me," Jim said as he fought down a sudden wave of dizziness.
Blair noted the change in Jim's demeanor and was instantly alert. "Are you O.K.?" he asked grabbing at Jim's arm.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. Blair, what did you secure the rope to?" Jim asked again.
"A small tree. It wasn't very sturdy, but it was the only thing I could find close enough to the edge," Blair stammered. "We'll never make it back up," he said panic rising in his voice.
"Sure we will," Jim chuckled trying to ease some of Blair's tension. "Just don't look down."
Jim removed the rope from around Blair's waist and tugged on his end trying to determine if it would hold them both. He could feel quite a bit of give in the rope so he decided that it would be better to go one at a time- if he could get Blair to go at all. He made his way back over to Blair's side and leaned over. Dizziness washed over him again and he slumped down beside his partner. "Whoa!" Jim raised his hand to his head and pulled back fingers sticky with blood.
Blair immediately sprang to his feet to examine the wound. He discovered a huge gash on the back of Jim's head near the base of his skull that was bleeding freely. "Oh man!" Blair looked around frantically and then started ripping at his shirt. He wrapped the pieces of cloth around Jim's head and pushed him back down as he started to rise. "Jim. Just wait for the bleeding to stop. You know that head wounds are the worst to bleed."
Jim reluctantly nodded and leaned back to try and qualm the nausea growing in his stomach. "Chief, we're going to have to climb out of here. I want you to go first and then I'll follow," Jim said matter of factly.
Blair visibly blanched. "No way. I'm not going to do it."
"Blair you have to! What if I go first and make sure that the rope is secure? Will you come up after me?" Jim didn't like the idea of leaving Blair while he went up first, but then again he wanted to make sure the rope was still secure before Blair attempted the climb.
Blair was shaking his head negatively and Jim grabbed his arm. "We're going to do this. And we're going to do it now. Do you understand?" he said forcefully. "I won't let you fall. I promise."
Jim slowly stood and secured the rope around his own waist. He took one last look at Blair before he started his climb. "I'll see you topside."
Jim managed to get to the top without too much difficulty. To his relieve there were plenty of foot and hand holds. He checked to make sure the rope was still securely bound to the tree and then tossed it back over the side. Leaning over the edge, he yelled down at Blair, who was once again huddled against the cliff face. "Blair take the rope and tie it around your waist. There are lots of places to hold on as you climb. Just don't look down."
Blair turned his pleading blue eyes up to clash with Jim's equally piercing gaze. "I can't," he said softly. "I just can't Jim!"
Jim realized that overcoming Blair's fear was going to be harder than he anticipated. And there was no way he was going to leave him down there. He would have to resort to trickery. Blair's regard for Jim's safety had gotten him down the cliff; maybe it would get him back up.
"Blair," Jim said, trying to sound weak. "I don't feel right. Something's wrong."
"What's wrong Jim?" Blair yelled up at him anxiously. "Is it the head injury?"
Jim watched as Blair weighed his options and then slowly pushed himself away from the wall. Jim pulled his upper body back from the ledge out of Blair's sight. He really hated to do this to Blair, but the kid left him no choice.
"Jim? Jim are you O.K.?" Blair shouted, the fear for Jim's safety once again replacing his fear of heights. "Jim answer me...please."
Blair's concern drove him to react. He had to get up to Jim. Something was wrong. Something was really wrong. Jim wasn't answering. The head wound must have been more serious than they had thought. Blair grabbed the dangling rope and wound it around his waist. He swallowed the lump in his throat and started pulling himself up.
Jim forced himself not to respond to Blair's pleas. If he was going to get them both out of there, he didn't have a choice. He felt Blair's tug on the rope and hurriedly wrapped it around his own body to provide an extra anchor.
Blair was making great progress in his climb up the cliff. He didn't even realize what he was doing; he was just doing it. His concern for Jim driving him forward.
Jim was concentrating on tracking Blair's progress, when he heard the straining of wood and then the popping of grains as the tree started to break apart under the burden being placed on it. He braced himself for the extra weight that was bound to follow and prayed that Blair made it to the top before the tree gave way. Too late. Jim heard the tree snap, and he scrunched closer to the ground in order to support his position better.
Blair felt the rope give and in that instant he saw his life pass before his eyes: Naomi, his travels, his sentinel research, Jim.... Jim! Who was going to help Jim now. Jim was going to die on this mountain with him. Jim's father had been right. This mountain could make or break the best of men. Suddenly the rope snagged and Blair was jerked upwards and in. He saw the cliff rushing in toward him and extended his arms to lessen the impact, instantly regretting the reflex action when he felt the bone snap in his right forearm.
Jim strained against the weight he was now completely supporting. "Blair! Blair can you hear me?" Jim yelled as he dug his heels in and started to haul his load up. He had heard and felt Blair's impact with the cliff. "Chief, answer me dammit!!"
"Jim....?" Blair moaned so low that only a sentinel could hear.
"Hang on Blair! I'm going to get you up." Jim hefted with even more determination.
Blair suddenly bolted into consciousness and realized that he was dangling from the end of a rope, suspended above open air- a vast amount of open air. Panic overwhelmed him and he struggled against the rope trying to make his way to the cliff wall. He tried to reach out with his right arm to grab the cliff, and gasped in agony as he remembered his arm was broken and hanging uselessly at his side. Unable to brace himself, he once again smacked into the rock wall. He felt pain shoot through his right shoulder as he fought to maintain his hold on the rope.
As Blair struggled below him, Jim started to feel his grip slip. "Blair stop! Just be still! You're pulling against me," he yelled, holding tenaciously to the lifeline. He felt the collision between his partner and the cliff again. If he didn't get him up soon Blair was either going to knock himself silly or Jim was going to end up loosing his hold on the rope.
"Jim? Jim is that you?" Blair asked with a combination of relief, fear, and confusion. "Are you O.K.?"
Jim ignored the question and gritted his teeth against the rope that was biting into his palms, slicing open the skin. "Blair can you reach the cliff without adding any weight on me?"
Blair calmed somewhat at the sound of Jim's voice and gauged the distance. There was no way he could reach it without swinging on the rope again. "No I don't think so," he shouted back.
"Try to climb up the rope. Slowly," he emphasized, "don't make any sudden moves."
"Yeah right!" Blair mumbled. Then yelled, "Jim, I broke my arm."
The words registered in Jim's mind at the same time that the now bloody rope slipped out of his grip. He fell to the ground, the rope still wrapped around his waist, and was quickly dragged toward the ledge. He grabbed for the rope with his aching hands desperate to reattain his hold as he felt his foot catch on a rock.
Once again Blair felt himself plummeting toward the ground beneath him. He tried to hang on to the rope with his good arm fighting to stay in an upright position, his eyes squeezed tightly shut. This time when the downward motion was jerked to a stop, he didn't try to tune back into his surroundings. He didn't open his eyes. He was dead, and he didn't want to see what was waiting for him.
Jim now had the leverage he needed to pull Sandburg to safety. With his body braced against the rock he started towing the rope in hand over bleeding, aching, hand until Blair's curly brown hair appeared at the ledge. "Blair! Blair are you O.K.?"
There was no response. Jim tuned into Blair's vital signs and found that his heart was racing, but his breathing was O.K. He was just scared or maybe in shock. He put all his strength behind his next pull and breathed a sigh of relieve as Blair's form finally emerged at the end of the trail.
Jim released his hold on the rope and collapsed onto the ground, trying to calm his own racing heart and recover from the adrenaline surging throughout his body. He slowly pushed himself up, grimacing as his hands made contact with the rocky mass beneath him, and made his way towards Blair. "Chief, hey buddy," he said softly, as he grabbed Blair's shoulders and pulled him further from the cliff. "Are you O.K.?"
Blair still had his eyes clenched shut and wasn't responding to Jim's voice. "Blair," Jim said more forcefully, as he smacked his hand across the side of Blair's face.
Blair felt the sting to the side of his face and wondered if it was some type of delayed reaction from being dead. There it was again. Blair cautiously opened his eyes and found himself looking into Jim's concerned blue gaze. Oh God. Jim's dead too. Blair stared dumbfounded. For some reason he thought Jim would have made it. Hadn't he been talking to me right before... He let the thought go not wanting to think about the long drop that had caused his death. Heights. He had always known that was the way he was going to die.
Jim grinned as he looked back into Sandburg's eyes. The kid is coming around. "Hey there, Chief. I told you I wouldn't let you fall."
Blair blinked not fully understanding the implications of what Jim was saying. Jim reached over and gently examined Blair's arm. It was definitely broken, and it needed to be set. The bone had broken the skin, but it wasn't sticking out. Blair winced at Jim's administrations. "That's a pretty nasty break Chief."Jim announced as he started looking around for the first aid kit in the pile of dumped supplies from Sandburg's pack.
Realization swept over Blair's face. "Jim. You're not...not dead?"
Jim turned back to face Blair. "Of course not, Chief. And you aren't either. Although I had my doubts there for a few moments." He found the kit, grabbed a twig from the broken tree, and approached Blair. "Now this might hurt a little bit," he said, placing the twig in Blair's mouth. "I've got to set the arm. O.K.?"
Blair nodded and bit down, bracing himself for the pain. Jim raised the arm, gave Blair a knowing nod, and then jerked. Blair felt the pain vibrate throughout his body and willed himself not to pass out as Jim placed padding against the wound to slow the bleeding and wrapped the small splints from the kit into place.
"There you go Chief. Good as new," he smiled, removing the piece of wood from Blair's mouth. "Just rest there for a minute," he said, as he started bandaging his torn hands. When he was done he flexed his fingers and rose to his feet. "I know it's getting dark, but I think we should go ahead and try to get down as soon as possible."
Jim took a couple of steps and then suddenly bent over, fighting off the dizziness washing over him.
"Jim are you alright?" Blair demanded. "Earlier you said you didn't feel right, that something was wrong. Is it the head injury?"
Blair didn't know that had been a rouse at the time, but now Jim wasn't so sure that there wasn't more truth to his earlier trickery than he had known.
Jim stumbled back over to Blair and sat down beside him. "I just got dizzy all of a sudden. It'll pass just give me a few minutes," he said, wondering who he was trying to convince more.
Blair reached out with his unbroken arm and turned Jim's face toward him. "Jim look at me. How many fingers am I holding up?" he asked as he pulled his hand back and as far away from Jim as he could.
Jim tried to focus on Blair's hand, but he couldn't make out any definite shapes. It was all just a blur. "Three," he guessed.
"You're right," Blair said unconvinced.
"See I told you Chief. I just got dizzy for a moment. I'm fine." Jim pushed himself up and moved down the trail a little ways, trying to focus his vision. There was no way in hell he was going to tell Sandburg about this, not until they were off this mountain. He didn't need his partner worrying about him every step of the way. Jim took a few deep breaths and concentrated on his sight until he managed to clear his vision. Then he headed back to the drop off.
Blair was still seating where Jim had left him, examining his broken arm and grimacing from his own prob. "You ready Chief?"
Blair studied Jim trying to determine if he was really O.K. "Yeah, I'm ready," he said as he placed his feet beneath him and pushed himself up against the rock face behind him.
Jim noticed that he was shaking violently and approached him quickly. "Blair are you sure you're O.K.? You're shaking!"
"No man, I'm fine. Really. I just can't believe it. I'm still trying to convince myself that I'm not actually dead,"he said weakly.
Jim grabbed Blair's shoulder and pulled him in for a hug. "Trust me you're not dead."
The hug startled Blair, but as quickly as it happened, it ended. "What was that for?" Blair asked, even though he knew Jim was just trying to reassure him that he was still alive.
Jim ignored the question as he picked up the scattered supplies and put them back in Blair's backpack. It had felt good to just hold Blair for that one second. He thought he had lost him and he needed to reassure himself, as much as his partner, that they were both still alive. After that reassurance, Jim's focus had immediately turned to their survival and getting the both of them off the mountain in one piece. "Let's go. We might be able to get off this mountain by tomorrow night if we try."
Jim waited for Blair to take the pack from his outstretched hand, and then he picked up his own belongings and started down the trail with Blair toddling behind him.
About 30 minutes into the hike back down the mountain Jim noticed that Blair was lagging further and further behind. "What's up Chief? You O.K.?" Jim asked, stopping to look at his partner.
"Yeah, I'm fine,"Blair answered through clenched teeth. "It just hurts that's all."
"I know it does," Jim said anxiously looking from the trail ahead of him back to Blair. "Do you want to take a break?"
"No man I'm O.K." Blair started moving toward Jim to prove that he was ready to go on, his arm clutched tightly against his chest.
Jim nodded his agreement. The sooner they got off the mountain the better. Blair needed to get his arm looked after. It was a pretty nasty break and it was bleeding through the bandage. And to be honest he didn't feel too hot himself.
Jim patted Blair's shoulder. "Alright, but if you need to stop you let me know." Jim resumed the lead, keeping his senses tuned to Blair's progress behind him.
"No problem," Blair said quickly. He wasn't about to hold Jim up because his arm was throbbing. Jim obviously wanted to get off this mountain as soon as possible. And Blair wasn't convinced that Jim was as O.K.' as he said he was.
Several minutes later Jim heard Blair mutter some silent curses to himself when he tripped over an exposed root. It was getting really dark now, and Jim knew they would have to make camp soon. He could see fine, but Blair was having a hard time negotiating the various rocks, roots, limbs, and shrubbery along the trail. It wasn't worth Blair falling and doing more damage to his arm. "This looks good." Jim stopped, scanning the small open area.
"Are you sure man?" Blair asked as he leaned heavily against the closest tree. "We can keep going if you want."
"It's getting late," Jim said, looking pointedly at Blair. "And we both need the rest."
Jim rolled out his sleeping bag and started gathering wood for a fire. "Why don't you get us something out for supper."
Blair nodded and slid down the tree. He pulled out one of Jim's ready to eat meals- lasagna- and handed it to him. Then pulled out his own endless supply of trail mix.
"Chief, I want you to eat something too," Jim stated. "You need the energy and I don't think trail mix is going to cut it."
"Come on Jim," Blair pleaded. "It's not like I'm not eating anything here."
"No arguments Chief," Jim said firmly. "Eat!"
Blair gave Jim a dirty look and reached back into the pack for the scrambled eggs. How bad could instant scrambled eggs be anyway? Blair handed the meal to Jim and sat back to eat some of his much appreciated trail mix.
Jim placed the two meals over the fire and leaned back against his own tree. He closed his eyes and tried to turn down the pain from his persistent headache.
"Jim, Jim, wake up man!" Blair shouted for the third or fourth time. "The food's ready."
Jim started awake to find Blair squatting next to him with a panicked look on his face. "What's wrong, Chief?" Jim asked as he instantly became aware of his surroundings.
"Geesh Jim," Blair mumbled. "You scared me. I've been trying to wake you up for the last minute or two. And don't tell me nothing's wrong either!" Blair almost yelled.
"I'm just tired Chief," Jim said as he reached past Blair for the meal.
"Yeah right!" Blair said sarcastically. "Whatever man!" Blair removed his own meal from the open flames and made his way back to his tree. He cautiously sniffed a forkful of the eggs and hesitantly took a bite. "Oh yuck! This stuff is terrible," Blair cried as he spat the eggs out.
Jim grinned as he stuck another fork full of lasagna in his mouth. "It grows on you Chief." Blair started to place the offending meal on the ground. "Whoa, there now. I want you to eat that Sandburg," Jim said, a stern look crossing his face. "I mean it. I don't want to have to carry your body down off this mountain tomorrow."
"No buts," Jim interrupted, pointing his finger at Blair.
Blair gave Jim an exasperated sigh and muttered under his breath, "Just what I need - a father. Never had one before but now that I'm older, what do ya know-instant dad."
Jim flinched. Maybe he was being a little on the authoritative side, but dammit the kid had to eat to keep his strength up. He hadn't eaten anything but trail mix since they started. Jim watched as Blair reluctantly stuffed another forkful of eggs in his mouth. Satisfied he continued eating his own supper.
After suffering several minutes of silence, Jim placed his empty tray in the flames. Blair followed suit, tossing his half-eaten meal beside it, daring Jim to say anything about how much he had eaten. Jim shook his head in frustration and nestled into his bed, leaving Blair to watch after the fire.
Blair knew Jim had heard him, but what right did Jim have to boss him around. He had been on his own for a long time, and sometimes Jim made him feel like he was 10 years old.
Blair sat silently staring at the flames for several minutes before he turned to glance at Jim's sleeping form, a smile escaping him. Sure Jim could be infuriating at times, but Blair wouldn't change one moment of it. Jim's fathering' was one of the reasons why Blair felt as close to him as he did. To know that Jim cared enough to insist that he eat something said a lot about their relationship. Blair decided he would apologize to his friend first thing in the morning, but right now he was exhausted. He doused out the flames and curled up in his sleeping bag, trying to find a position that wouldn't send little sparks of agony through his arm.
Something was wrong. Blair didn't know what, but something was definitely wrong. He opened his eyes and squinted against the morning sun. Coffee! There was no coffee brewing. Jim had been up every morning with coffee waiting for him. Blair bolted up, his gaze searching for his partner. He was still asleep. Blair glanced down at his watch. 10:00. Oh, man. Jim never slept late. Blair scrambled to his feet, cringing as he pushed himself up with his right arm, and knelt by Jim's side. "Jim...Jim," Blair stammered, shaking Jim's shoulder roughly. "Jim! Wake up man!"
Jim's eyes squinted tighter. "Sandburg! Stop shaking me! You're giving me a headache," he said softly.
"Jim. We got to get outta here. Get up."
Jim opened his eyes and tried to focus on Blair's face. "Blair?"
"Yeah man it's me." Blair supported Jim's shoulders the best he could while Jim strained to sit up.
"I can't focus on anything," Jim said anxiously, trying to rise. He got about halfway up before he crumpled.
"Whoa!" Blair grabbed for Jim, easing him back to the ground. "Just sit here man." Blair gathered their belongings as fast as he could with the use of only one arm. He decided he would have to leave some of the gear. There was no way he could carry it all and support Jim too. Placing what gear he could manage on his right shoulder, he leaned down to help Jim up. "Let's go. Here lean on me," Blair suggested, giving Jim access to his left shoulder.
"I can do it Chief!" Jim declared, feeling more and more frustrated at his inability to stand without becoming dizzy.
"Sure you can," Blair cajoled. "But humor me anyways." Blair started down the mountain with a reluctant Jim hanging on to his left shoulder, their gear on his right.
It didn't take long for the extra weight to take it's toil. Blair stopped and helped Jim sit down on a log and then leaned against a tree. His arm was killing him. Jim had tried on several occasions to support his own weight, but each time he had stumbled after a few steps. Blair was starting to panic. Jim couldn't focus on anything and each time he tried to stand on his own he would get dizzy. It had to be from the fall. A concussion maybe. All Blair knew was that he had to get them off the mountain as soon as possible. Blair forced his body to move, ignoring it's complaints.
Jim sat still, trying to focus his vision and fight the dizziness that was overtaking him. Blair had to be exhausted. The smaller man had been carrying most of Jim's weight, a good 50 lbs more than Blair's own, in addition to all the gear. Jim knew that Blair's arm had to be causing him extreme pain too. But his legs couldn't support him yet.
"Come on Jim." Blair said leaning down to help Jim up.
Jim pulled himself up and let Blair, once again, support him.
Blair stopped. "Oh man!" Blair looked at the washed out place in front of them that Jim had simply stepped over earlier.
Jim looked out at the small hole in the trail. "O.K. Chief," Jim said, pulling away from Blair's side. "We'll do this same as before."
"No way man. I'm going first. There's no way I'm letting you cross that when you can't even focus...."
"Sandburg!" Jim interrupted irritably.
"How many fingers am I holding up?" Blair asked extending his left arm out with two fingers pointing upwards.
Jim tried to focus and once again decided to guess. "Three."
"No way Jim," Blair said shaking his head. "I'm going first." Blair carefully removed the pack from his right shoulder and tossed it to the other side. He then took a deep breath, said a silent prayer and jumped. He felt his right foot hit the ground and he opened his eyes- eyes he hadn't known he had closed. That was easy enough.
Blair turned back to Jim. "O.K. Jim give me your hand," Blair said extending his left arm out as far as he could.
Jim approached the drop-off and stretched his own arm out to Blair as he started to step across. Blair felt rather than saw Jim miss the edge, and he pulled with all his might, bringing Jim crashing down on top of him, on top of his broken arm. Blair cried out as the pain shot through his right arm and radiated toward his shoulder.
Jim immediately lept off of Blair, his face a mask of concern. "Chief?" he asked, trying to focus on Blair's face. Finding it impossible, he turned his attention to his vital signs.
"I'm O.K.,"Blair gritted through clenched teeth. Blair's heartrate had increased dramatically and Jim was becoming more and more uneasy. "Just give me a second," Blair said, as he shifted positions and stood up shakingly. He stood silently for a few minutes, gaining his composure and then turned to Jim who was leaning against a tree by his side, a concerned look on his face. I can do this, Blair said to himself over and over as he picked up the pack and grabbed Jim's arm. I can't let Jim down.
Gradually Jim started to regain his vision and put less and less weight on Blair. However, about halfway down the mountain, Blair collapsed. "I'm sorry man. I've got to rest," he gasped.
Jim leaned over and placed a reassuring hand on Blair's shoulder, noticing the blood soaking through the bandages on his arm. "That's O.K. Chief. I think I can make it down by myself now. My vision's better and the dizziness isn't as bad as it was."
Blair nodded. He hated to wimp out on Jim, but there was no way he could make it any further supporting both their weight. "Just give me ten minutes."
Two hours later, Jim was once again in the lead. He was actually feeling much better now after their short stop. His vision, for the most part, was clear and the dizziness was abating with only an occasional influence. Jim was carrying most of the gear now after some debate with Blair. He could tell that Blair was getting weaker - lack of decent' food, pain, exhaustion, and blood loss. Three more hours and they would be back at the truck. If I can just stay focused until we get to the.....
"Jim..." Blair's voice interrupted his thoughts.
Jim turned to see Blair's eyes roll up in his head and his pitch forward. He rushed back to catch him and hefted him over his shoulder. "It's O.K. Chief. I've got you. I've got you buddy."
Jim had to stop a couple of times on the way down whenever he got dizzy. But thankfully he was still in control. Blair was still unconscious, and he was just about to the point of exhaustion himself when he spotted the truck in the distance. He was going to get Blair off this mountain one way or another. Even if he had to crawl out with Blair on his back. "Almost there," Jim told himself as he hurried his steps.
Jim opened the passenger's door and gently laid Blair inside.
"Jim..." Blair mumbled.
"Yeah Chief. I'm here," Jim reassured him, as he rushed around the truck and got in. "We'll be at the hospital in a minute. There's one about 5 miles from here."
"Are you O.K.?" Blair asked tiredly.
Jim smiled. Blair was always more concerned about Jim's health than his own. "Yeah, I'm fine," he said as he started the truck and sped toward the hospital.
Jim pulled up in front of the emergency entrance and pulled Blair out of the passenger's seat. Blair was conscious now, and Jim was only half supporting him. But halfway to the door, Jim felt his knees buckle as another wave of dizziness washed over him. "Not now," Jim scolded himself as he crashed to the ground, Blair landing on top of him. Several nurses rushed out to untangle the men and help them into the emergency room.
The next morning:
Jim sat up in his bed flipping through the channels for the hundredth time, half-heartedly trying to find something to watch. He had suffered a concussion. Nothing serious. The swelling had gone down, and everything seemed to be back to normal. However, the doctors had insisted he stay overnight for observation.
Jim felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He had finally done it. Years of feeling like he had failed his father were now gone. Not because he had climbed the mountain, but because he realized he was happy with the person he was and didn't need to live up to his father's impossible standards. He had a career he was devoted to, colleagues he depended on, and a friend who trusted him with his life and that he could trust back with his own. He had known all that before, of course, but now it had a whole new meaning.
He hadn't seen Blair since they had arrived. The nurses told him that Blair's arm had gotten infected, and combined with fatigue, he had developed a rather high fever. But he was going to be fine. However, Jim wanted to judge that for himself. He impatiently clicked off the tv and slipped out of his bed, making his way to Blair's room. He glanced around him as he reached Blair's door and sneaked in to find Blair edging his way out of his own bed.
"Where do you think you're going?" Jim asked.
Blair glanced up to find Jim standing in the doorway. "I was going to see you man. They wouldn't let me see you," Blair said sheepishly. "I wanted to make sure you were O.K."
"I'm fine Chief," Jim reassured him, the corners of his mouth turning up into a small smile before changing into a faint scowl. "Now get back in bed." Jim shuffled over and sat down in the chair beside Blair's bed. "How are you?" Jim asked, concern evident in his voice.
"I'm O.K. I'm still a little tired though." Blair swung his legs back onto the bed and turned to face Jim, happy to see his partner mobile and safely in front of him, the only evidence of his injuries the bandages at the back of his head and those around his palms.
Blair grinned. "Well man. You did it?"
"Did what?" Jim inquired.
"Climbed the mountain. How does it feel?"
Jim rolled his eyes. "It feels like I've been rode hard and put up wet. That's what it feels like."
"Come on man. This was a big deal for you," Blair stated.
"A big deal that almost got us both killed."
"You are now a man," Blair said deepening his voice and laughing.
Jim turned serious. "It's not funny Blair! I could have gotten you killed all because of some stupid suggestion my father made."
Blair flinched at that remark. "By the way Jim I'm sorry about that comment about you trying to be my father."
Jim shrugged his shoulders. "Don't worry about it. I was being kind of bossy."
"Yeah kind of," Jim mocked.
Blair laughed. "Whatever, I'm just glad you were there for me again."
"That goes both ways Chief."
"No really man. I mean you saved my life so many times on this trip that I can't even count them-the snake, the cliff, and then carrying me," Blair stopped, a faint blush appearing on his cheeks. Blair never doubted Jim's ability to get them down safely. But he wasn't sure he could have done the same thing if Jim hadn't regained his senses'.
"What about you?" Jim asked. "I mean you're the one that deserves the praise here. You climbed down that cliff after me despite your fear of heights. That took courage. Not to mention that you pretty much carried me down half the mountain too."
"You mean that?" Blair was grinning from ear to ear. A sense of pride piercing his heart. If Jim believed in him, then nothing else mattered. "You're not disappointed in me for freezing on that ledge?"
"Of course I mean it," Jim assured him. "You acted when it mattered, and you saved my life. I think we both proved something to ourselves out there."
The joy that washed over Blair's face was unmistakable. "You know Jim I think you're right."