~What is distressing or painful about a dilemma is having to make a choice one does not want to make.~
Jim wiped the sweat from his eyes; then in afterthought, passed the cleanest part of his sleeve over Blair's damp brow.
“Thanks,” Blair mumbled.
“Welcome, how you doing?” Jim didn't need to ask, the obvious answer practically sat in his lap, leaning heavily against him. They were crammed into an impossibly tiny place between a boulder and an earthen bank with enough overhang to protect them from the rain.
Jim considered them lucky to have found it.
“I'm g-good. You?” Blair answered weakly.
Jim resisted the urge to cuff his friend. Blair could be such a little shit when he tried. Things were far from good. The list of things they needed was long: they needed to get off this mountain, Blair needed a hospital to get that bullet out of his shoulder, and they needed to stop taking leisurely hikes near hidden marijuana fields.
After a firefight and mad dash through acres of Douglas Fir and old-growth cedar, they managed to shake their hunters long enough for Jim to assess Blair's injury. They bandaged it, slowing the blood flow to a sticky oozing that caused Jim to lower his sense of smell. After finding this hidey-hole, Jim decided to wait for nightfall to slip away. Half a dozen men still searched for them, sounding almost militaristic with sophisticated equipment.
Blair shifted, then shivered. In difference to Jim's admonishment he lowered his voice. “Just go on. I'll wait here, y-you come back with help.”
Jim readjusted his parka on Blair's shoulders. “No.”
“But – “
“I'm – “
“No.” Jim gently covered Blair's mouth with his hand, whispering into his friend's ear. “We leave together or not at all.”
Blair seemed to surrender. He dropped his head wearily, his forehead resting on Jim's shoulder. After a few minutes, he fell into an uneasy doze.
Jim knew the real issue was that bullet and what it was doing to his partner. They'd already been playing dodge-the-killers for hours now and had another five or six until nightfall. It would be *another* couple of hours before the risk would be worth it.
He could use his knife to try digging the lead out, but the risk of hitting an artery played in his mind like a bad horror movie, with blood everywhere. Besides, what then? He still didn't have the proper equipment to sterilize the wound. They finished off their water bottle just before finding cover.
Jim checked the back of Blair's neck with his hand, no fever.
He knew one thing; he wasn't going to leave his friend behind. The likelihood of him being found froze Jim's gut. No, they would walk off the mountain together and get Blair to a doctor. Then he'd send the freaking National Guard if he had to, but he was going to see the persons responsible for shooting his friend pay.
An angry voice sounded closer than Jim would have liked. As two men neared, Blair picked that minute to stir.
“Shush!” Jim hissed.
“But – “
This time there was no gentleness, no time to clarify. Jim clamped a hand over Blair's mouth, his other arm circling his ribs. Careful of the injury, he hugged him close. “Sandburg, you shut up or I'm decking you. Got it?” he whispered urgently as he tracked their hunters.
Blue eyes widened. Jim could feel Blair's chin start to shudder as those eyes grew shiny with misunderstanding. The injured man was scarcely conscious and obviously not firing on all cylinders.
Ah, damn it, Sandburg. Jim relaxed the hug and gently rocked his friend, still keeping his mouth covered as he moved back and forth. The bad guys were close, now. Blair still looked as if he wanted to talk and Jim wondered if he was going to have to knock the younger man out. A curse from one of the marijuana growers reached their ears and Blair stiffened with realization.
“This is pointless! Tell Tony we're moving over to the next ridge line.”
After a few minutes Jim relaxed. The men were out of range. He lowered his hand. “Sorry, chief.”
“You'd hit me?”
“Yeah, if I had to.” Jim checked his watch and sighed. “Go back to sleep, Sandburg. I'll wake you when it's time to move out.”
Still looking mildly outraged, Blair settled back into Jim and relaxed. He didn't comment as Jim fussed with the makeshift bandage and rearranged the parka until the younger man was covered.
Blair woke in a warm bed, the strangest dream still ghosting in his mind like an image burned onto an old computer monitor. He moved and froze as he felt an odd heaviness. Something immobilized his shoulder. Faint memories slogged along in a mental quagmire.
Hiding with Jim.
Walking forever in the dark rain.
Flagging down a car driven by an elderly couple.
Warm... in the back seat with Jim.
A bright room with nurses and a doctor asking him questions.
A door opened and Blair's mind returned to the present.
“Hey, you're awake.” Jim walked in looking chipper and clean. He held a cup with a green Starbucks logo and a folded newspaper.
“Mt. Vernon Memorial Hospital. Two days. You'll heal without complications. And we just brought down one of the biggest marijuana farms in Skagit County's history.” Jim dropped into a bedside chair and took a sip. “Any other questions?”
Blair's face felt puffy from too much sleep. His mouth could suck all the water from a river. His head ached with a serious case of medicine head. But the worst was the uncomfortable pull of the catheter.
And Jim looked so... damn healthy.
“What?” Jim asked innocently.
Blair cleared his throat. Damn, that hurt too.
“You really would've *hit* me?”
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