Disclaimer: This story is a work of fan fiction, and is not intended to infringe on the copyright of Paramount, UPN, or Bilson and DeMeo (or anyone else, for that matter). I don't claim the characters, setting, or concept, but the story is mine. I don't receive any profit from it except the enjoyment that comes from writing it, and since that's almost the only profit I receive from my job, there's no point in suing.
Notes: This story was written as a response to a writing exercise on the fanfic writer's list. The prompt was the line "Heaven's not beyond the clouds, it's just beyond the fear." from Belleau Wood on Garth Brooks' album Sevens, which is produced by Capitol Records. Needless to say, I don't own or claim the song, lyrics, singer, album, or company. I used the idea rather than the line itself.
Warnings/Ratings: not beta'd, but proofread several times. PG-sh for mild language.
Constructive criticism, comments, etc. welcome! Use the links at the bottom of the page.
Beyond the Fear
The explosion happened so fast that he wasn't even aware of it. All he was conscious of was the impact of the wall against his back and an instant of almost-pain before whiteness claimed him and turned to black.
Half-awake, Blair stretched and tried to snuggle deeper into his pillow. Seconds later, it occurred to him that he didn't have a pillow and that the bed he was lying on felt rather odd, as well. He opened his eyes reluctantly and was greeted with a green blur that he was certain had no business being in his room. A few blinks took care of the blur, but Blair was less than reassured when it resolved itself into a mass of vines and leaves such as he'd seen no where but the jungles of South America.
What? He sat up, shoving tangled brown curls out of his face and looking around quickly. How the hell did I get here? No way could I go to South America and not remember it.
Standing up proved to be a bit of a challenge, between the aches that came from sleeping on the ground and the vines that surrounded him. He seemed to be in a thicket of greenery. Once on his feet, he could see over it to a significantly clearer area not too far away. With another mystified look around, Blair shoved aside the vines and made his way into the clearing.
"Okay, so maybe I'm dreaming. That'd make sense--except why would I dream about the jungle? That's more Jim's thing than mine. Maybe the whole Incacha thing is getting to me and I'm, like, getting some weird signals from my subconscious. Or I have finally flipped out like Jim kept saying I would and now I'm thinking I'm walking around a South American jungle when, in reality, I'm wondering around the station talking to myself. In fact, all these vines and trees are really the detectives and desk and things." Blair eyed a particularly tall and burly tree and then saluted it gravely, trying to keep a slightly hysterical giggle from coming out. "Hey, Simon, how's it going? Enjoying the fresh air?"
He used the sleeve of his flannel shirt to wipe sweat out of his eyes, then rubbed his temples. The stiffness from sleeping on the ground was beginning to turn itself into a killer headache.
"Okay, Sandburg, get a grip. Just my luck to have a dream about a hot, steamy jungle and wind up dressed like it was winter in Cascade--which it was, last time I checked. I . . . "
Blair froze. "Jim?"
"Just stay were you are and keep talking. I'll find you." Jim shouted.
"Hey, man, any idea what's going on here? What are we doing in the jungle again? Just don't tell me we jumped out of another plane, okay? 'Cause that's one thing I'd rather not remember. I was thinking I must be dreaming or something, but I guess not if you're here. Unless I'm dreaming you, too . . . "
Jim emerged from the foliage, his usually expressionless face and cold eyes lit up with a warm smile.
"I always knew I was a man of people's dreams, but . . ." He gave Blair a light smack on the cheek and ruffled his hair. "I don't know what's happening, Chief. I just woke up here an hour or so ago. I have no idea how we got here."
"Great, just great. So what are we gonna do? We don't even know what country we're in."
"There's a mountain to the north that's not too far from here. I was planning on climbing to the top, see if I can spot a road or anything that could help. I tried climbing a tree, but the foliage is too thick to see anything."
Blair smirked at the thought of Jim in a tree. Usually, he was the one who got to do the squirrel impressions while Jim stood on the ground telling him to be careful.
"Sounds like a plan. You haven't found any water or anything, have you? I'm a little thirsty."
"Sorry, Sandburg. We'll look as we go."
They fell silent as they walked, Blair trying to remember what happened that could have landed them in the jungle. His headache seemed to be growing, making it harder to concentrate. He squinted ahead at the fuzzy shape of the mountain. Damn, it looked far away.
"Hey, Jim, how far do you think we have to go?"
"Sandburg, so help me, if you start asking 'are we there yet' . . ."
Blair couldn't see Jim's face, but he could hear the grin in his voice.
"Funny, Jim. We'll get you a sense of humor yet. How far?"
"A couple of hours, provided there's nothing major in our way. Appearances are deceptive out here. The air's so clear that things look closer than they really are."
Blair squinted doubtfully at the mountain. It didn't look like a couple of hours' walk to him. In fact, the mountain was so far away that he could barely distinguish its outlines. But Jim was the jungle expert here.
Blair stopped abruptly, just in time to avoid running into Jim's chest.
"Blair? You okay? Your heartrate's way to slow, and your temperature's down."
"You know, Jim, I wouldn't mind a little privacy from time to time."
"I'm okay, I just have a headache and I'm a little cold, that's all. I was sleeping funny on the ground. It gave me a stiff neck." Funny that he was cold, after being so hot before, but he wasn't going to tell his partner, the mother hen, that.
"Let me see. You didn't hit your head, did you?" Jim ran his hands lightly through Blair's hair, checking for bumps or cuts. "Were you bitten anywhere? There's some pretty nasty bugs and snakes out here. Take off your shirt."
"Jim, I'm fine. No cuts, bruises, bites, concussions, sprains, breaks, or even gunshot wounds. I just slept wrong. I can still feel the knots in my neck. Quit worrying."
"You just tell me if it gets any worse, okay?"
"Like I'd need to." Blair muttered as Jim turned away.
"I heard that."
The further they walked, the worse the undergrowth got and the worse Blair's headache became. It had started as a dull pain in his neck and the back of his head, but now had spread down his shoulders into his back and seemed to be growing in intensity with every step. By the time they had reached the foot of the mountain--distinguished by a slight lessening in the foliage and a definite incline in the terrain--he had to stop for a moment to catch his breath and try to still the pounding.
"Jim? What do you say to a break?"
The big detective turned to look at him carefully, his blue eyes piercing.
"You're feeling worse."
It was a statement, not a question. Blair nodded, wincing as the movement sent more pain shooting through his skull. It was a little embarrassing. Normally he took pride in the fact that, anthropology student or not, he was still able to keep up with his Army-trained partner. His head was hurting too much to worry about his pride, though.
Jim put a hand on his shoulder to push him down onto a rock, then crouched beside him, the hand that was still on his shoulder massaging gently.
"It shouldn't be that much further. Another couple of hours at most. This is really more of a big hill than mountain, even if it is the tallest thing for miles. We'll rest for a bit, then get going again. I'd like to make it to the top before dark."
"Okay." Blair decided not to tell Jim that the mountain had looked a lot bigger than a hill to him. Most hills didn't have clouds obscuring their tops. Jim was trying to make him feel better, though, and Blair didn't see any harm in making him think he was succeeding.
Jim shifted around so that he was behind Blair and began a more thorough massage, his big hands kneading the muscles in Blair's back and shoulders with a gentle insistence that they relax. Jim's touch alone seemed to ease the pain, and with a sigh, Blair relaxed and leaned into the massage. Somehow he lost track of everything but the sensation of soothing pressure. When he came back to himself, his back was resting against Jim's strong chest and Jim was tracing smooth circles with his thumbs on Blair's temples.
"Hate to tell you this, buddy, but we need to get going again. How's the headache?"
"You need to consider changing your career, man. That was incredible."
Jim chuckled. "I guess that means it's better. Come on, let's go."
They hadn't been moving again long before Blair began to feel the insidious, creeping ache return. He didn't say anything about it, or about the difficulty he was having breathing as the air got thinner. Jim had been more than patient enough about his delays already. He should have known Jim would be aware of his distress, though.
Jim's hands were on his shoulders, stopping him, or else he would have continued walking in the rhythm that was the only thing keeping him going.
"Blair, talk to me. Does your head hurt again?" He started rubbing again, making the pain recede enough that Blair could answer.
"A little. It's just hard to breathe. The air's so thin . . ." He started shivering, wishing he could see Jim's face better through the clouds that surrounded them. How had they gotten that high so fast?
Jim lowered his hands to rub Blair's arms.
"We're not that high up, Chief. There's nothing wrong with the air. I think you're getting a little shocky. Are you sure you didn't hit your head or get bit by anything? I should have made you let me look earlier."
"No, I told you, no bites or anything. Just a headache." Blair gave up on trying to see and simply closed his eyes. The light reflecting off of the clouds hurt them, anyway--except Jim had said they weren't that high. Where were the clouds coming from?
"Damn it, we need to get you to a hospital. Something's wrong, but there's nothing we can do about it here. You think you can keep walking?"
"Why don't you just leave me here and go for help? You can move a lot faster without me."
"No way. You're in no condition to be alone. We'll make it, we just have to get to the top of the mountain. I'll help you."
A strange, cold fear was growing inside Blair's chest, battling with the pain for supremacy. Every step he took had made the ache grow stronger; if he continued on much further, he thought his head would explode. He needed to rest, and he was slowing Jim down. If Jim waited on him, they might never get out.
"Jim, I don't think I can. Go, get help. I'll be okay waiting for you, I just need to lie down for a while."
"No." Jim's hands had changed from rubbing to pulling, forcing Blair to move again. "No, we'll make it together. It's not that far, just to the top of the mountain."
The trek descended into the realm of nightmares. Blair was walking, but he couldn't see beyond the whiteness and the blinding flashes of pain. Only Jim's hand on his arm, and later around his waist, let him know which direction to move in. The air grew thinner and colder with each step, and with it grew the fear, the certainty that he wasn't going to make it and that he'd drag Jim down with him. Jim's voice was his only source of comfort, a steady litany of reassurance and encouragement that promised him rest and relief if they could only reach the top of the mountain.
He wasn't really aware of stopping. It was the silence that caught his attention and terrified him beyond any fear he'd felt before.
"Jim?" He felt a hand touch the top of his head and slide down to cup his cheek, and abruptly realized that he was sitting down on what felt like a large rock.
"Right here, Chief. Looks like we've got a little problem here."
"I thought you'd left." Blair thought vaguely that he sounded a little whiny but hoped Jim would forgive him this once.
"Not without you, buddy. I told you we'd do this together. It's just going to be harder than I thought."
"Well, the good news is, we've almost reached the top. The bad news is, we're going to have to climb over a little bit of a cliff to get there."
"Not too bad. If you were feeling okay, you could do it in a minute. I'm just not sure how I'm going to climb it and get you up at the same time."
With Jim's words, the terror took Blair's breath away. He had to force the next words out around a suddenly tight throat.
"Then leave me here. Jim, man, you've got to go on without me. I'll be all right here, really. Just go and bring back help."
"Not gonna happen, Sandburg, so give it up. Whatever happens, we're a team. We do it together, or not at all."
"No!" Panic lent him enough strength to make his voice strong for an instant, but it faded again before he could continue. "You don't get it, man. I can't keep going, not up a cliff, not even in a straight line." Everything hurts, Jim, a thousand times worse than when I got shot, and I'm so cold and there's no air to breathe, and you're going to die if you stay here with me, I know you are even if I don't know why I know, and you've got to listen to me. "Our only hope is for you to go without me. Please."
"No." A simple, flat denial, and then Jim was pulling Blair to his feet again. "Either you climb that mountain, or we're both going to starve to death down here, 'cause I'm not going anywhere without you."
So Blair climbed. Jim was literally right behind him, coaching him, telling him where to place his hands and boosting him up level by level, somehow managing to hold on for both of them when Blair had to stop and rest. Blair climbed, and climbed, and climbed, tears streaming down his face from the overwhelming pain and the certainty that, if he fell, he'd take Jim down too, and if he stopped, Jim wouldn't move another inch. The fear spurred him on now, forcing him higher and higher even when he couldn't feel the rocks any more, when the only thing letting him know that he wasn't falling was Jim's voice behind him, telling him that they were going to make it.
Then Jim was stopping him.
"Okay, Blair, wait here a minute. We're at the top now. I'm going to climb over you and pull you up, all right?"
Blair didn't answer, just leaned his head against the rock and waited until he heard Jim's voice again.
"Chief? I need you to reach up to me, okay? Give me your hand."
Blair wanted to, he really did.
"Blair! Give me your hand!"
Sure, Jim. His arm moved, sending a spasm of pain through him that was like all the pain he'd felt so far condensed into one instant. If he'd had the breath, he would have cried out.
"Damn it, Sandburg, if you were half a foot taller . . ."
Jim sounded mad. That was the last thing Blair wanted, but he didn't know what he could do to make him happier. He couldn't even move, much less grow six inches. In fact, he wasn't all that sure he could hold on much longer, and the thought of falling while Jim was holding on to him paralyzed him as much as the pain.
"Don't make me come back down there after you, Sandburg."
No! Don't, you'll fall.
"Blair." Suddenly the voice was soft and comforting. "Blair, I know you're scared, and I know you hurt. I promise you, though, if you just give me your hand and let me pull you up, I won't let either of us fall. Trust me, buddy. Don't be afraid. I won't let anything happen to you."
Okay, I'll try. He reached, and it hurt, and there was someone there to grab his hand and pull him up. The clouds chose that instant to part, and he had a clear view of how far it was to solid, non-sloping ground. His hand tightened on Jim's desperately.
"It's okay, Blair. I've got you. You're going to be okay."
He looked up to meet Jim's tender, reassuring gaze.
"Promise . . . "
" . . . you won't let go . . . "
And he was over the cliff and in Jim's arms, and though the pain was still there, the fear was completely gone.
Captain Simon Banks stood at the door of the ICU room, watching silently as his best detective sat guard once again over his partner's still form. The last time it'd been this bad, Blair had been struggling against the poison of the drug Golden, and Jim had only left his side long enough to catch the men who'd caused the overdose. This time, Jim hadn't even left for that long. From the instant the explosion in the warehouse had thrown Blair into a concrete wall, Jim had been beside him, waging a silent battle with the powers of the universe for his partner's life.
The big detective sat now, as he had for more than twenty-four hours, holding Sandburg's hand, rubbing his arm occasionally, constantly touching him as if touch alone could bring him back. Jim hadn't seemed to notice anyone other than his partner. Hospital staff and people from the station had come and gone, and Jim hadn't acknowledged that they even existed. Simon would have worried about a zone-out, but Jim was breathing fine and didn't seem to have lost track of his surroundings. He just wasn't interested in anyone or anything except Sandburg.
When Blair's hand finally twitched, Simon thought he was imagining it. There didn't seem to be any doubt in Jim's mind, however. He tightened his grip and said softly, "It's okay, Blair. I've got you. You're going to be okay."
Blair's eyes dragged open and he focused blearily on Jim. Simon had to strain to hear his words, although he was sure Jim had no problem at all.
"Promise . . . "
" . . . you won't let go . . . "
Jim's hand tightened again, and he smiled tenderly at his partner as he answered in a husky voice, "Never."
Blair's eyes drooped again, and Jim reached over to stroke his face below the bandage that circled his head.
"Get some sleep, Blair, I'll be here when you wake up."
Blair turned toward Jim's hand, a soft sigh escaping his lips, and drifted into sleep. Simon swallowed heavily and turned to go, leaving the two to their privacy and going to tell the crowd in the waiting room that everything would be all right.