By Audra Rose
Summary: Jim. Blair. Snow. Difficulties.
Notes: First it was gonna be a "snowed-in" challenge response for MakeBelieve, but it was taking too long. Then it was gonna be a zine story, but I really started hating it. I'm posting it b/c this is its only chance to see daylight. Not that it deserves that *slinks away in shame*
"No," Blair said softly, coaxing the engine with a little more pressure on the gas pedal. "Come on, don't do this."
The hill was steep and slick with heavy, wet snow that dragged at the truck's tires. Blair could feel the tread slipping on the pavement as the engine stalled. No.
"Come on. Come on!" he yelled, stomping hard on the gas pedal.
"You'll flood it," Jim whispered, his eyes shut.
"Thanks for emerging from your coma to tell me that, but I think I know what I'm doing. FUCK!" Blair slammed his palms against the steering wheel as the engine coughed a final time and died. The winter silence rushed in to muffle the last echoes of the dying motor and Blair's shout, and the sudden quiet was shocking. Without the windshield wipers, falling snow crowded the glass in the darkness.
"It's okay," Jim said quietly, touching Blair's wrist. Jim's touch was like fire, and Blair wondered how high his fever would have to be for the tips of his fingers to burn with it. Blair looked over at Jim, who had closed his eyes again.
"It's really, really not okay, Jim," he said, trying to keep his voice even. "Stalled truck, deserted road, blizzard. And that's just off the top of my head."
"No, Sandburg, it really is okay." Jim tried to swallow and Blair saw how difficult it was for him. "We passed a turn-off about 50 feet back. There's a lake that way. I bet there's a cabin."
"Really?" Blair hoped he didn't sound as relieved as he felt. "Okay, I'll go back and see if anyone can help us."
"I'm coming with you."
"You can barely walk -"
"It's a blizzard, Sandburg. You won't even be able to see the road."
"Damn it all to hell," Blair muttered, reaching over to unbuckle Jim's seat belt. "Fine. But I'm going to help you, so don't argue." He reached into Jim's shoulder holster and removed his pistol, holding it up to make sure the safety was on.
"No one followed us," Jim said softly.
"Yeah? Well, I'm not taking any chances." Blair shoved the gun into his coat pocket, then pulled an over-stuffed back-pack out of the well and put the straps over his shoulders. "Sit there until I come around to your side."
The world outside the cab of the truck was a wind-driven blur, and Blair had to stand still for a moment just to take in the shock of it. Blair knew they were in the middle of what may as well be an endless forest, but with the thickly falling snow and pressing darkness closing his world down to the few feet in front of him, he felt like he was on a stage, as if the world simply stopped past his line of sight.
With the first step he sank into snow over his ankles. It dragged at his boots as he held onto the truck and made his way around the front. He thought briefly of lifting the hood, but it would only have been for show. He had no idea what a functioning engine was supposed to look like, and Jim was in no condition to appreciate the gesture.
Jim was sitting upright by the time Blair made it to the passenger side door. They might be able to make it, Blair thought, but as soon as Jim stepped down onto the shoulder of the road his legs buckled. Only Blair's arms around his waist stopped him from going down into the snow. Blair tightened his grip and pushed Jim against the side of the truck to keep him standing.
"You can't do this, Jim" he said, his voice ragged in the wind. "You have to wait here."
"You can't do this without me," Jim countered. "Just give me a minute."
They stood there, hanging onto each other and breathing harshly, for a few more seconds before Jim said, "Okay, I'm ready. Let's go."
Before they'd taken 10 steps away from the truck, Blair began to feel desperately grateful that he hadn't tried to make the hike alone. The world had swirled into invisibility; he couldn't even tell if they were walking on pavement or earth. He started to wonder if even Sentinel senses could find the path in the blizzard, and what the hell he would do if Jim wasn't able to keep going.
Then he had to stop thinking, because bearing the partial weight of Jim's body and the full weight of the backpack required total concentration. He focused on putting one foot in front of the other, over and over until his brain became as numb as his hands and feet. When Jim stopped moving he stumbled at the loss of momentum.
"Don't stop!" he yelled over the wind, pulling Jim forward, only realizing as they fell that they'd stumbled into a flight of wooden steps. The snow cushioned his knees as he hit, and he knelt there breathing for a minute, almost helpless with relief, before turning to help Jim. Blair wrapped an arm around his waist.
"Come on, buddy, just a few steps here, help me out," Blair muttered, an endless litany as they made their halting way up to the covered porch. The overhanging roof hadn't sheltered the door at all - in fact, the wind had driven snow against it and Blair's hand stung as he pounded on the panels. Jim was leaning against the wall, his head down, so Blair made a decision, shoving his shoulder into the door until he felt it give.
He nearly fell into the room, bringing a pile of snow with him, and called out, "Anyone here?" He found the mag-lite in his backpack and swung it around the room. That's all the cabin seemed to be, a large room. He caught glimpses of a fireplace, a table, a rolled mattress on a bed. It has a roof, Blair thought. It has walls. It's perfect.
He turned to grab Jim by the front of his jacket and hauled him through the door. Jim immediately sank to the ground, leaning his head on his knees as Blair slammed the door closed. Breathing hard, Blair knelt next to him.
"Stay with me, man. Just a little longer, then you can pass out in bed, okay?" The heat coming off him when Blair pulled the knit cap from his head was touchable - Blair was surprised he didn't steam in the cold.
Blair dropped the back pack and started looking around the room with the flashlight held in front of him. "Okay, this is good, this'll work," he said, not sure who he was reassuring, Jim or himself. "Gonna start a fire, get you under some blankets, it's gonna be fine. You're gonna be fine. You still with me, Jim?" Blair asked as he piled wood in the fireplace, struck a match to the tinder beneath.
"Yeah, Sandburg, I'm here," Jim muttered, as Blair pulled him to his feet. "Hate running," he mumbled.
"We're not running," Blair answered, dragging him toward the wire cot and shoving the bare mattress over the springs. "You're a witness. Think of it as protective custody."
"Could've been in custody at home, maybe?" Jim was trying to unzip his parka with clumsy hands when Blair returned with a sleeping bag from the backpack.
"With Brackett's men trying to kill you and half the force down with this fever thing? No one to do the protecting, man. You're lucky you've got me."
"Lucky," Jim whispered, and it didn't sound as sarcastic as Blair would have expected. He shook out the sleeping bag, and realized Jim had started shivering while trying to unwind his scarf. Blair took care of it with efficiency, pushing Jim's coat from his shoulders and tossing his gloves over toward the fire.
"I'll hang all this stuff up. Your shirt's dry, but your pants are soaked. Better get them off."
Jim had stood still beneath Blair's administrations up until that point, but growled, "I can do it, Sandburg." as Blair reached for his belt buckle. Blair decided to pretend that he couldn't understand Jim through the chattering of his teeth, and unbuttoned and unzipped quickly. He pulled the jeans down, and made Jim sit on the mattress while he removed Jim's boots and slid the jeans off his thighs. Blair decided not to think about what he was doing, either.
"There. Lay down." He pushed Jim onto the mattress and piled the sleeping bag over him. "Better?"
"I'm late," Jim whispered, and for a minute Blair was confused. "I need to testify."
Oh, god. He was getting delirious. Blair reached out a hand and touched Jim's forehead, knowing his ice cold fingers would feel good against that burning skin.
"You're going to testify. In just a couple of days we're going back to Cascade, and you can put those bastards away."
Jim closed his eyes, and Blair stood, pushing down his concern to look around the room. Not much - a stove, most likely propane, a sink, a door that turned out to lead to a small bathroom. Turning the knobs on the stove produced nothing - the tank was either turned off or empty.
Blair set his flashlight on the table, and noticed the lamp hanging over it. A lamp. With a cord that went into the ceiling. That meant electricity, which meant a generator - probably at the back of the cabin, where the propane tank might be as well. Things were definitely looking up.
Blair moved back to Jim's side. "Jim?" he said softly, bending over.
"I think there's a generator somewhere. I'm going to go take a look out back." He pulled the gun from his coat pocket and set it next to Jim's hand. "You keep this, in case you hear anything. Well, anything that isn't me. Okay?"
Before he could turn away Jim's hand closed hard around his wrist, harder than Blair would have thought he was capable of.
"Leave the truck where it is, Chief." Jim was staring at him, his feverish eyes focused and hard. Blair figured he really shouldn't be surprised Jim had picked up on his half-formed thought.
"It's like a flashing neon sign, Jim! 'Hey, we're here! Come kill us!' Besides, we left it in the middle of the road - someone could get killed."
"Yeah, you!" Jim sat partially up, still gripping Blair's wrist. "You'll never even make it back to the road. Leave it!"
"Okay, okay. Just the generator. Lay back down before you pass out again."
"I didn't pass out." Jim mumbled. "Ten minutes, Sandburg. Then I'm coming after you. Just the generator."
"Right, I got it. Be right back. Don't shoot me."
The wind took his breath the second he stepped out the door, flinging icy snow into his face. The idea of trying to push the truck off the road suddenly seemed insane, and Blair wondered it he'd even make it around the back.
The cold was stunning. Think warm thoughts, Blair told himself. Sunshine. Deserts. The few seconds when he was helping Jim out of his clothes. Blair pushed that thought away. It was one thing to lust after his roommate when he was healthy, but quite another when the guy was almost out of his mind with a fever.
The low level panic he'd felt ever since Jim showed signs of the fever that had laid out half the force and most of the city began to rise. This winter's strain of the flu had reached epidemic proportions. The symptoms were intense fatigue and escalating body temperature, reaching dangerous levels for adults. Adults who could take medicine to combat that spiking fever, while Jim could not. Blair just had to hope that Jim's natural immune system could fight this thing alone.
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