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This is not going to be easy, Blair decided. In fact, it's going to be downright difficult.
He studied the terrain in front of him. Best to pick out an approximate route before committing himself to the trek back to Jim's truck; a few minutes spent now to do that could save wasted hours come the afternoon.
Not that he expected to reach the truck that day - if indeed the truck was still there, and not buried by the massive landslide triggered by the earthquake that had hit the area late the previous day. It had taken them a full six hours to walk in to their camp site, and that was walking up a safe path. He would have to pick his way over rough, uneven, unstable ground. Trek? Ha! 'Trek' implied a steady march over solid ground, not an uncertain scramble over loose rock and soil. But he had no choice; although the earthquake would have been widespread, knowledge of the landslide in this remote area was unlikely. They wouldn't actually be missed for several days, when they failed to report for work.
Simon knew roughly where they were, and when they didn't show up after their week's holiday he would certainly instigate a check on them - but Jim's leg was badly broken, and their first aid kit was totally inadequate to meet the demands of the injury. In this remote area there was no cell phone signal. He had to get back to somewhere he could get a signal.
Of course, even if the truck was all right, the road out could be badly damaged and impassable...
Resolutely pushing that fear away, he continued to study the broken ground in front of him.
At least Jim had shelter, and enough food for the best part of two weeks.
Earthquakes sometimes showed freak patterns of damage and the bit of ground where they had pitched the tent had remained relatively unscathed. They had been within half a mile of it when the earthquake struck - five more minutes and they'd have been safe. As it was... They had been thrown off their feet, and just sheer bad luck that Jim had been hit by a dislodged boulder - though good luck that it had hit his leg, and not his body. They had lain there for what felt like an eternity, but in fact was only some three minutes before the ground steadied.
It had taken him over two hours to get Jim back to their tent, all the time praying that enough of their equipment had survived to let him provide at least minimal first aid. The relief he had felt when he saw that the tent was still standing - a little lop-sided because one of the poles was slightly bent, but otherwise undamaged.
Impossible to set Jim's leg, but he could at least settle him on one sleeping bag with the other spread on top of him; and then during the night he had gathered their things, putting as much as possible of their food and water within Jim's reach, glad that they had decided to carry in cans of cold meat rather than depend on finding fuel, as far above the treeline as they were, to cook with. He had prepared his backpack with the gear he would need to walk out, taking advantage of Jim's concentration on controlling the pain in his leg to hide the fact that he was giving himself only a couple of packets of cookies as supplies. He knew that Jim probably wouldn't feel particularly hungry, but he wasn't prepared to leave the injured man with the cookies while he took the cans; with only one can opener between them, they couldn't both have cans. The can opener joined a knife, fork, plate and mug that he carefully placed beside the food and the bottles of water.
Twice during the night an aftershock hit, but whatever had saved the tent from the actual quake was still in force.
As soon as it was daylight, he set out, making good time for the first hour. There was damage, but not too severe; and then he had reached his present location.
Now, as he tried to choose a route, he began to wonder how Cascade itself had fared. If it was seriously damaged, the welfare of one man lying in the wilderness would be very low priority; all available resources would be aimed at mass rescue. And it wasn't just Cascade, he reminded himself. Bellingham, Everett, even Seattle... and Vancouver to the north... There could be quite a few cities affected.
Well, he couldn't assume anything. The quake might - with luck - have left the coastal cities relatively unscathed, and a helicopter be available to pick up Jim.
If it had been the other way around - if he had been the one injured - Jim would have had a fighting chance of carrying him out, even if they had left most of their supplies behind. But Jim outweighed him by at least fifty pounds, and it had been difficult enough getting him that bare half mile the previous day.
Well, standing here wouldn't accomplish anything, now that he had studied the ground ahead of him and determined that although the surface was broken up, there didn't seem to be any serious barriers to hold him up. Blair took a deep breath and stepped off the solid ground onto the path of the landslide.
The ground slipped a little under his weight, and he froze for some moments.
Gritting his teeth, he forced himself to move on.
There was no way he could maintain an even pace. He managed two or three steps, then the ground gave way under one foot and he had to struggle to keep his balance. A fall could injure him, make it impossible for him to fetch help for Jim...
He struggled on.
Difficult? 'Difficult' would have been easy! This was so far beyond 'difficult' he didn't have a word to describe it. Impossible didn't quite fit the bill... if only because he was managing to to move forwards but very, very slowly. Step... step... slide... fall, luckily uphill... push upright... step...
It was beginning to get dark. He found a semi-solid place just downhill from a boulder that seemed to be set solidly in the ground, opened one of the packets of cookies, ate half a dozen then wrapped the emergency space blanket they always carried around himself and curled up, trying to keep himself warm.
He was tired, but found it hard to sleep; he was, he decided, too tired to sleep. He dozed intermittently, glad during his wakeful spells that it was dry, and as soon as the sky began to lighten he forced himself to eat another half dozen cookies, swallowed a few mouthfuls of water from the one bottle he had allowed himself, rolled up the space blanket and pushed it into his pack, and set off again.
Step... step... step... slide... hand on ground to keep himself upright... step... step...
It had taken them six hours to walk in; well into his second day of picking his way over the broken ground he still could see no sign of where they had left the truck.
Of course, landmarks that had been there before might have been shaken loose by the quake and now be totally altered.
Finding another stable piece of ground, he paused, allowing himself a short break before forcing himself onwards. He covered perhaps another mile before he realized that the ground was becoming firmer; he had crossed the width of the landslide. But once again the light was fading.
If he had been on the path they had followed to get to their camp site, he could have carried on for a little longer, but he wasn't - he was either higher than the path, or - much more probably - lower, because of the way the ground had slid a little further under his weight, too, too often, even though he had tried to compensate by angling his direction upwards. He studied the hillside above him, hoping to see something - anything - that would let him orient himself, but saw nothing.
And he had no idea just how far he had come.
Shaking his head, he found himself a relatively soft bed on a clump of vegetation - he had no idea what kind of plant it was. He ate the rest of the first packet of cookies, washing them down with two or three mouthfuls of water. There was very little water left in the bottle - however, with luck - now that he was past the land slippage - he would find a small stream where he could refill it.
He slept a little better that night, but woke before it was light - although as much of the eastern sky as he could see was brightening - and sat debating his best strategy.
He could head straight uphill, hoping to reach the path, but that wouldn't gain him distance. No, better to carry on, moving uphill at an angle... and hope that he didn't waste time by overshoooting the truck and having to backtrack along the narrow motor road until he reached it.
They had left the main road to drive up the short side road that gave access to the small parking lot that was really intended for the park rangers to leave their vehicles. So, of course...
He could forget about the truck, head downhill and hope to flag down someone when he reached the main road. But that didn't really seem like a good idea.
While he waited for enough daylight to make carrying on less than foolhardy he opened the second packet of cookies, breakfasting on four and then, licking dry lips, finishing the water. Well, at least the most difficult part of the hike was behind him - surely the next bit would be easier!
It was still only half light when he started off, but his anxiety about Jim wouldn't let him wait any longer. He did retain enough sense to maintain a steady, not-too-fast pace to start with, and then as the light improved he speeded up.
Within half an hour he knew he had made the right decision; he reached the path they had followed five days previously, and set off along it at a much increased speed. Before long he came on a small stream and gave himself a short - a very short - break, using the time to refill the bottle before setting off again. A little over an hour later he reached the truck and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that it was undamaged.
He tried the cell phone again, but still failed to get a signal.
Tossing his pack onto the passenger seat, he climbed into the truck, started the engine and set off, watching the road carefully; he didn't want to risk damaging the truck if the road was broken up at all.
After about half a mile, he joined the main road.
He was, he thought, roughly halfway back to Cascade on a totally deserted road when he saw, ahead of him, where another landslide, starting below the road, had carried away at least half the road for a distance of thirty or forty yards. Stopping just before he reached it, he jumped out and walked forward to check what was left of the road.
The edge didn't look too loose, but he went the full distance of the slide, noticing that there was something blocking the road in front of him. He reached it, and discovered that it was a 'ROAD CLOSED' sign. Well, that explained the lack of other vehicles, and just as well he had decided against hoping to flag down someone... But with that sign just there, he decided he could safely assume that the road up to this point was passable. Though why the sign wasn't at the end of the road so that nobody would use it... But then he remembered - the side road they had taken wasn't the only one leading off this main road; all the side roads to this point were probably open.
He checked his phone again. Still no signal. He swallowed.
It would have been so much simpler if there had been a signal... but as it was...
He lifted the sign out of the way, and walked back to the truck.
Wishing he could drive with his eyes closed, he inched the truck forwards, keeping as close to the right as he could, desperately trying not to think of the drop on his left. He held his breath as he concentrated, unsure if the left-hand wheels were even fully in contact with the road. If the edge collapsed under the weight of the truck... He might be lucky and only the wheels drop, rather than the vehicle tipping over and rolling a long way down...
Just watch the road ahead, he told himself. Forget about the left hand side...
It seemed to take forever but finally, finally the road widened again - he was past the narrow bit. He carried on for a few yards and stopped, yanked on the parking brake and then, leaning on the steering wheel, began panting as his lungs demanded the air they had been denied for the past couple of minutes. He was, he knew, close to a panic attack, but he didn't have the luxury of giving in to it. He drew a long, deep breath, held it for a moment, then breathed out; and again; and again. Then he jumped out of the truck, replaced the sign (though he was pretty sure he didn't really need to; only an idiot or someone as desperate as he was would even try to drive over that bit of road!) Returning to the truck he drove on, faster now that he was fairly sure the rest of the road was safe, passing another side road after only a few seconds.
After a while he stopped and once again tried the cell phone. This time he got a signal, and punched the speed dial for Simon.
"Simon, it's Blair."
'You guys okay?' Simon cut in before Blair could say anything more.
"No. Jim's in trouble - when the earthquake hit he broke his leg. Badly. He's stuck at our camp site - no way I could get him back to the truck. It's taken me till now to get to somewhere I could get a signal. Is Cascade badly hit?"
'Not too bad. I'll get a helicopter out.'
"You have the map reference for where we were going. Tell the crew to look out for a bad landslide - he's a mile or so east of it in a bright orange tent."
"I'll come in to the station when I reach Cascade - probably a couple of hours."
'Leave your cell phone on - if there's any news I'll call you.'
"Thanks." Blair hung up and put the phone on the seat beside his pack, then drove on.
Blair reached the PD in just under two hours, swore fluently in several languages as he drove round the garage looking for somewhere to park - it was rarely this busy, and he wondered why - and then as he was beginning to think that he'd have to park elsewhere, two elevators spilled their civilian occupants into the garage and almost at the same time the door to the stairs swung open to allow more people to access the place. They scattered and within moments cars began to move out. He let them go, parked as close to the elevators as he could and went up to Major Crime, still wondering why there had been so many visitors. (He discovered later that a lot of Cascade's businessmen had been at a meeting with the Commissioner, all of them concerned about what the police would do to protect their property from looting in the event of another earthquake.)
"Blair!" Joel moved quickly over to join him. "Simon said Jim's been hurt?"
Joel accompanied Blair across the bullpen as, in a few words, he described what had happened. At Simon's door, Joel gripped Blair's arm synpthetically then turned back to his desk as Blair, with a quick knock on the door, went in to Simon's office.
"Blair! No word yet, I'm afraid, but there is a helicopter on its way."
Blair sank into the visitors' chair. He was beginning to shake, exhaustion and the stress of the last three days catching up now that he no longer needed to keep moving, now that he had done all he possibly could to help Jim. "I just hope Jim's still alive," he began and then, to Simon's horror, Blair suddenly started stammering. "His leg... the b-b-bone's shattered. I m-m-made him as c-c-comfortable as I c-could, left him as w-warm as p-p-possible and with m-m-most of the food and w-w-water, b-b-but shock... And I c-c-couldn't g-g-go fast, the g-g-ground was t-t-too t-t-treacherous... and I c-c-couldn't g-g-get a phone s-s-signal t-t-til I was n-n-nearly b-b-back to C-c-casc-c-cade."
Simon poured a mug of coffee and put it on the desk in front of Blair. "Drink that," he said. "And don't try to talk. Just relax. What is it you do again to... to get your head together? Take some deep breaths... "
Blair obeyed. He took several deep breaths, wrapped his hands around the mug, finally registering just how cold he was, and sipped the coffee. He had drunk about three-quarters of it when he said, "The w-w-worst p-p-part was when I was on the way b-b-back in the t-t-truck. P-p-part of the road had b-b-broken away in ann-nother landslide and there was b-b-barely enough road l-l-left f-f-for me to d-d-drive over. B-b-but I had to. Even in the t-t-truck it was another hour b-b-before I g-g-got a signal... "
"You did everything you could," Simon said. "Nobody could have done more under the circumstances." He studied Blair's face. "Were you hurt at all?"
Blair shook his head. "No. B-b-but... "
"You're worried about Jim."
Blair lowered his head, his lips pressed tightly together, his eyes squeezed shut.
Simon began to reach out, meaning to put his hand on Blair's shoulder, then pulled back, suddenly realizing that sympathy would destroy the last of Blair's control and that the last thing Blair wanted was to break down in front of anyone, even though he would probably spend much of the night, once he got back to the loft, in a total breakdown.
Not sure what to do for the best, Simon was glad when the phone rang.
"Banks... Yes... Yes... We'll be right there." He hung up. "That was Cascade General," he said. "The helicopter dropped Jim off a few minutes ago. He's conscious and asked them to phone me. So let's go - he'll want to see that you're okay."
He paused as they crossed the bullpen. "Jim's been picked up. Joel, take over here for me, will you?"
Simon used lights and siren as he drove to the hospital. Once there, he unhesitatingly swung into a disabled parking bay and headed for reception.
"Jim Ellison - brought in by helicopter a few minutes ago."
"He's in Emergency - "
Blair followed as Simon made his way unerringly to Emergency. As they entered the department, a nurse moved forward. "A doctor is with Mr. Ellison - "
"Please - I n-need to see him." Blair's voice broke.
The nurse was used to dealing with worried relatives, was known for her ability to calm distraught parents, but she had encountered Jim and Blair in the past and knew that either one was the irresistable force that had no difficulty in defeating the immovable object. "Over here," she said, and led the way.
The doctor looked around, frowning at the interruption, then relaxed when he saw who it was - like the nurse, he had met Jim and Blair before. Blair moved past him without really registering his presence.
"You okay, Chief?"
"Yes. But... I'm sorry I c-couldn't g-g-get help to you faster."
"Hey. I knew you wouldn't waste any time. I was just scared that you'd maybe fallen and been hurt yourself." Jim looked over to Simon, who had stopped to speak to the doctor. "Simon, I think Blair needs a quick check - "
"I'm just a b-bit t-t-tired," Blair said.
The doctor broke in. "Mr. Ellison will be going for an X-ray in a few minutes, then he'll need surgery to repair his leg. There's nothing you can do here - and yes, I remember his sensitivities," he added as Blair opened his mouth to speak. "You need to get yourself rested - he'll need you to help him once he gets home."
Blair nodded. Jim's recovery would take time - he could only hope that it would be complete.
"Take him home, Simon," Jim said. "Get some food into him - yes, Chief, I know you left most of the food with me - just how much have you had to eat this last three days, huh? - and put him to bed."
"He can have Daryl's room," Simon said. "No, Blair, I mean that. You're coming home with me. You don't want to be on your own tonight."
Blair looked at him, and nodded again. Now that he had seen for himself that Jim was alive and aware, he knew he couldn't keep going much longer. It would be a relief not to have to take any responsibiity for anything - even deciding what to eat. After the strain of the last three days, making even an easy decision would be difficult.
He had finally reached the end of his rope, and knew he was clinging desperately to the knot. For at least the next twenty-four hours, he would be happy to leave any decision-making in Simon's capable hands.