Disclaimer: See home page.

Warnings: This story contains a few bad words.

Author's Notes:


Trapped
by
Linda3

celticpryde1@insightbb.com

 

Jim Ellison listened to the sounds coming from the bedroom below his as he packed his bags. He had been looking forward to this time off in the mountains for weeks. Now, finally, he, Blair, Simon, Brown and Rafe were leaving soon for their getaway cabin for a week of peace and quiet far from the noise and mayhem of the city. Once Blair had informed Simon when the University's two-week semester break would begin the captain had arranged for himself and his detectives to have a week off during that same time period. It had taken some skillful juggling of schedules to allow all four police officers to be off at the same time but as Simon had said, "What's the use of being the captain if you can't take advantage of it once in a while?" Now Simon would be picking them up soon in his rented Chevy Suburban. They had decided that since there would be five of them and their luggage it would be easier to rent one large vehicle that could carry everyone and everything.

He was especially relieved that Blair was able to go. Their last case, involving savage attacks on young, male, college students, had hit too close to home for Blair. Not only did he fit the profile of the victims but he also knew some of them personally. Eric Wade had brutally beaten his victims then left them at various places throughout the Rainier University campus. Two of Wade's targets didn't survive the assault. Blair never said anything about how it affected him, never tried to avoid working with Jim or be any less involved in the case, even with his busy school schedule. It had been a valiant effort but Jim had watched as, with each attack, the strain of working the case had taken more and more out of his younger partner. By the time Wade had finally been caught, Blair had obviously lost weight and the dark circles under his eyes were a testament to how little he was sleeping. Jim was grateful that they had caught Wade right before the semester break started thereby allowing all of them, especially Blair, the time off to go on the trip. He just hoped that some quiet time spent out in nature, away from everything related to the case, would be just what the exhausted grad student needed to start to forget the horrors of the past few weeks.

Just as he snapped the large lock securing his duffel bag and headed towards the stairs he heard Blair emerge from his room and add what sounded like his backpack to the small pile by the door. Even though it was early spring, Blair had packed like it was the dead of winter, stating that he fully expected it to still be cold up in the mountains, especially at night. Blair's low tolerance to being cold was well known, to the point of making him the butt of many jokes that he usually just laughed off. Jim knew though that now was not the time to make any jokes or comments about what Blair was bringing. If packing a few more sweaters or extra pairs of sweats made him feel better then so be it.

"You about done, Chief? Simon and the guys should be here any time now." He and Blair were going to be the last ones picked up before they headed out.

Blair stood up, looking over the pile of bags. "Yeah, I think so. I can't think of anything else. You did say we would be in a cabin, right? As in indoors, with plumbing and heat?"

They had been over this countless times already, ever since the idea of a vacation in the mountains was first mentioned. "For the hundredth time, Sandburg, we will be in a heated cabin with all the comforts of home. Like I've told you already, they may have been poachers but they obviously didn't believe in roughing it while they broke the law."

Jim saw the grad student's shoulders sag as Blair turned away. "Okay. Sorry."

Dammit. Blair's emotions had been right on the surface for some time now; getting snapped at over nothing was the last thing he needed. One of Wade's victims that hadn't survived had been a close friend of Blair's, one of several brutalized men that Blair knew personally. But Chris had been special to the anthropologist; he and Blair had gone through their Master's programs together and both were working on their Ph.D. in anthropology. He had gone to the funeral with Blair and had seen the almost overwhelming guilt in his partner's eyes as he tried to console the pregnant young widow of his murdered friend.

"Uh, look Chief, I guess we're all still a bit on edge. Hopefully, the farther we get away from here the better we'll all feel. You need any help with anything?"

Smiling his acceptance of Jim's version of an apology, Blair shook his head. "I don't think so. I can't think of anything else. Well, maybe some help in carrying it all down to the car."

"That's why Brown and Rafe are coming." Jim grinned. "Sometimes it's good to be the senior detective." He was pleased to see Blair laugh out loud; it'd been too long since his usually upbeat friend had really laughed.

"You're awful, man, taking advantage of your underlings like that. But hey, if it gets them to help haul all this stuff, well, works for me."

Just then there was a knock on the door accompanied Simon's deep voice. "You guys better be ready, Sandburg."

Blair tried to look injured as Jim opened the door. "How'd you get from 'you guys' to 'Sandburg' in one sentence?"

Simon stepped in followed by Henri Brown and Brian Rafe. "Because I know you, Sandburg." He waved at the pile of bags by his feet with his ever-present unlit cigar. "See? I knew it. You've probably got half the loft packed—" He stopped in mid-sentence when he saw Jim pointedly shaking his head at him. He quickly switched tracks. "Anyway, let's get this stuff to the car and get going. I'd like to get there before dark."

Blair had to hide a smile when Jim picked up the two biggest bags and handed them to Brown and Rafe. "Here you go. Make yourselves useful." It was even harder when Jim turned and winked at him.

With the five of them it didn't take long to load up the Suburban and get on the road. Simon and Jim sat in the front with Blair sitting between Henri and Brian on the large back seat. The rest of the vehicle was filled with luggage. Less than an hour later, Blair was fidgeting. Finally, Rafe had had enough. "Sandburg, what's wrong? Can't you be still for five minutes?"

"Hairboy? Still for five minutes? Never happen." Henri couldn't help chiming in with his opinion.

"Yeah," Jim added. "Last time he was still for that long I was tempted to check to make sure he still had a pulse."

"Oh real funny guys. I guess I'm just used to being by the window. I can't see much from back here. So, Simon, how much longer till we get there?"

Simon stared at Blair in the rear view mirror. "It's going to be a least a couple of hours. And the first time I hear 'Are we there yet?' you will get out and walk the rest of the way." He turned to Jim. "How far 'til we leave the highway?"

"Jeez, you guys are grumpy today. Must not be getting enough fiber in your diets."

Jim ignored Blair, secretly pleased to hear the smart comeback, as he reached in the glove box and took out the pre marked map and a typed set of directions. He studied both for a minute before answering. "Well according this we get off this highway at Exit 23 and get onto Route 4, it looks like we're about three hours or so from the exit. We then follow Route 4 for about 25 miles or so until we get to Jacksonville. A couple miles past Jacksonville there's supposed to be a sign at the turnoff road that leads up to the cabin. It looks like it's about two or three miles up that road to the cabin. I guess these guys really wanted their privacy, understandable considering what they were doing." He refolded the map but left it out.

Blair leaned forward towards Jim and put his arms on the back of Simon and Jim's seats. "Hey Jim, let me have the map. At least it'll be something to do." He reached for the map only to have it snatched out of reach as four voices shouted "No!" simultaneously. Blair sagged back in his seat and crossed his arms. Jim could hear him muttering to himself. "One little mistake and they never let you forget. And we weren't lost, just going the wrong way. There is a difference." He straightened up again. "Well then, at least explain again about this cabin. I never really got the full story. It was used by poachers but now the city owns it? So how come we get to use it?"

Simon spoke up, glad for the distraction from driving. "That's right. Apparently a group of poachers had been quietly working in those mountains for years. The local police didn't even know they were poaching, thought they were just seasonal hunters. They even built themselves a nice home away from home up there. Eventually, they were caught running drugs in Cascade, turns out that poaching was just a way to help finance their drug operation. Anyway, the cabin was confiscated by the city who really didn't know what to do with it. So they removed all the poaching paraphernalia, fixed it up, added a few more modern conveniences and now rent to out to upper level city employees for vacations and such. Which is why we get a nice, three bedroom, secluded cabin in the mountains for a week dirt-cheap. Taggert's brought his family up here before and said it was really quiet and peaceful. Being a captain does have a few advantages. Which reminds me," Simon's voice took on a sterner edge, "Since this cabin is rented in my name, I'm responsible for it. So it had better be in the same pristine condition when we leave as when we arrive or there will be hell to pay—from me. Everybody got that?"

Choruses of "Sure thing" and "No problem" answered him. After that everyone settled in for the long ride. Blair picked up his backpack from the floor and after some digging pulled out his glasses and a book on the ancient tribes of South America. Rafe open the latest issue of GQ while Henri turned on a Gameboy. After a few minutes of quiet, Simon peered at the backseat through the rearview mirror. Looking forward again he whispered to Jim, in a voice only the sentinel could hear, "Looks like the "kids" all found something to amuse themselves with. Wonder how long the peace will last?" Jim turned around to see for himself. As if sensing Jim looking at him, Blair glanced up, smiled, then went back to his reading. Jim turned back around, content that everything was fine for now and opened the newspaper he had brought with him.

For the next two hours, the back seat was quiet except for an occasional page turning and the beeping and chirping of Henri's computerized toy. Gradually, Jim noticed that there had been no noise at all coming from behind him for a while. Turning around, he had to smile at the sight now in front of him. Rafe was still reading his magazine but obviously trying to turn the pages as quietly as possible. Henri was sitting very still, no longer playing his Gameboy, having lost the use of his right arm, thanks to Blair. The grad student was leaning up against him, his curly haired head on Henri's shoulder, glasses slightly askew, sound asleep with his anthropology book still open on his lap.

Rafe tilted his head towards his fellow back seat travelers. "Aren't they just adorable?" He just grinned when his partner slowly turned his head and glared at him.

Jim leaned forward to shake Blair awake. "Sorry about that H. He's been running himself ragged lately; I guess it all just finally caught up with him. I'll wake him up."

Henri Brown was a big man who considered himself a pretty macho guy and quite a ladies' man. He prided myself on the fact that very few perps got past him. But he had a soft spot in his heart when it came to one short, longhaired police observer. They had hit it off almost from the start and were often seen laughing together and trading secrets on how to attract the fairer sex. The fact that Blair seemed to be the only one who could make his old, obstinate computer actually sit up and work right only added to the relationship. More often than not, he called Blair by his personal nickname for him, "Hairboy". So as Jim was reaching over the seat to wake Blair, Henri shook his head and spoke softly. "Nah. Don't wake the boy up. He's cool where he is. We should be stopping soon anyway, he can get up then." Henri looked down, then back up at Jim and whispered, "He looks like he hasn't slept in a week. Is he all right?"

This time, Jim shook his head. "Not really. That last case we worked really got to him, you know, with all the victims being students at Rainier and all. Especially with his friend being one of the two that died. I think he felt like he should have been able to do something to stop Wade before Chris was killed. I don't think he hardly slept at all during that whole time." His eyes softened as he watched his partner. "I'm hoping that this vacation away from any reminders will help him start to put it all behind him."

Rafe and Henri nodded. The South African native spoke for both of them. "Don't worry, we'll all try to help. Right Henri?"

Before the large detective could answer, Simon spoke up, never taking his eyes from the road ahead. "That's right. We take care of our own."

Jim turned a startled face towards his captain. "Thanks Simon. Even though I think Blair would be surprised to hear you say that, I know he'd appreciate it." I know I do.

"Well, considering he's around the station more than some paid cops I know, I think we've all just gotten used to him being there. That's all, got it? I don't need him starting to think he's got special privileges or anything. It's hard enough to get him to listen to me as it is."

Simon's gruff exterior didn't fool Jim for a minute. Ever since Blair had, fear of heights and all, jumped out of a plane to rescue him and his son, Simon's attitude toward Blair had changed significantly. The tall police captain was just leery of letting anyone, especially Blair himself, in on that fact.

"Right Captain, whatever you say."

"Humph. How about we stop when we turn off the highway? We'll take a pit stop and stretch our legs. Some of us may be short enough to be comfortable sleeping in a car but others have longer legs. We can switch drivers then too."

Everyone agreed, then settled back for the rest of the ride. Almost an hour later they reached the exit for Route 4. Shortly after turning onto the new road Simon turned into a large gas station/food mart.

"Okay, everybody out. Do what you've got to do now cause we won't stop again until we get there." He popped the latch to open the gas tank then turned to Jim and handed him the keys. "I'll fill it up, then it's all yours." With that he climbed out and stretched his back complete with audible popping sounds. "Ohh that feels good." He straightened back up and walked to the side of the car and unscrewing the gas cap, proceeded to fill the tank.

Rafe looked at his partner. "So, you gonna wake up Sleeping Beauty now?"

"Yeah. I gotta go if you know what I mean. And I ain't taking him with me." He gently nudged Blair by shrugging his shoulder. "Hey. Hairboy. Time to rise and shine, my man." He shrugged again.

"C'mon Jim, stop it. Five more minutes, man. Really." Blair settled back down on Brown's shoulder mumbling, "Just five more minutes."

Rafe and Henri both looked up at an amused Jim who was watching from the front seat. Henri finally spoke, "Uh Ellison? A little help here if you don't mind, he is your partner after all."

Jim grinned and tilted his head towards Rafe's door. "Get on out, Rafe. I'll get him."

When Rafe was out, Jim slid in next to Blair. Putting one arm around Blair's shoulders, he shifted the younger man off of Henri and onto himself. "C'mon, Chief. Brown needs his arm back now." He jiggled the still sleeping form. "Wake up, Sandburg. We've got to get going again soon." Blair slowly blinked open his eyes and looked up.

"Hey Jim. We there yet?"

Jim shook his head. "Not yet. This is just a rest stop. Come on. Let's get out of the car."

Seeing that Jim had Blair, Henri opened his door and climbed out. "Thanks, Jim. Right now I've got to go see a man about a horse. Come on Bri." Rafe joined him and they started across the parking lot towards the building, Henri rubbing his right arm and flexing his fingers to get the blood circulating again.

Jim slid out and then stepped aside so Blair could get out. He watched as Blair stretched much as Simon had done, put his glasses in his shirt pocket and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. Just then Simon came around the car.

"It lives. Poor Brown will probably never use that arm again."

Blair looked at him. "What are you talking about?"

Jim slapped him on the shoulder and steered him towards the building. "Come on. I'll tell you as we walk."

A short time later after everyone had used the facilities and had gotten a snack, they all headed back to the car. Jim got behind the wheel, starting the engine while waiting for everyone else to get in. When Simon started opening the front passenger door, Brown spoke up. "Hey, Captain, why don't you let Hairboy sit up front. That way when he falls asleep again, he'll just drool on the window." He made a show of examining the shirtsleeve on his upper arm where Blair's head had been resting.

"I don't drool!"

"Doesn't matter anyway. If you think these legs are getting in the back seat, think again." Simon got in the front passenger seat and shut the door with a definitive slam. "You guys work out the back seat seating arrangements yourselves. Just hurry up about it."

Blair looked at Henri. "I didn't really... you know... on your sleeve, did I? I didn't mean to fall asleep on you. Sorry." To Brown, Blair looked far too guilty for such a minor thing.

"Nah. I was just playing with you, Blair. Go on, get in." He made a point of leaning towards Blair and whispered, "But if you get tired again, you just go right on back to sleep. It's no big deal." He was rewarded with a small smile from the tired grad student.

"Thanks, but I think I'm awake now."

Jim watched and listened to the conversation between his partner and the larger, dark skinned detective. Henri Brown had just moved up a few notches on the short list of people he trusted where his Guide was concerned. As soon as everyone was settled, in the exact same seating arrangement as before, Jim pulled the Suburban out onto the road and in the direction of Jacksonville.

It didn't take long before they reached the small town of Jacksonville, WA. They were in a fairly rural area without a lot of traffic, a welcome relief from the usual commuter headaches in Cascade. As they passed through what appeared to be the main drag, Blair couldn't help but make comments about smaller towns in general and how they were slowly being sucked into mainstream culture thanks to mass media and the infiltration of chain stores and restaurants into even the remotest rural areas. Looking at the fast food restaurants, the Wal Mart and Home Depot crowding out the local, one of a kind businesses, it was hard to find fault with the anthropologist's observations. Soon they were passing through the town's outer boundaries. Jim turned to Simon, "Okay, start looking for the sign that shows where to turn off. It should be coming up soon."

A few minutes later Simon pointed to something up ahead. "That must be it." A large sign loomed in front of them almost obscuring the dirt road beside it. Jim stopped so they could read it.

PRIVATE ROAD

PROPERTY OWNED BY
THE CITY OF CASCADE, WA

AUTHORIZED PERSONEL ONLY
NO TRESSPASSING

"Well," Rafe commented, "What a nice, cheery welcome."

"Yeah," Blair chimed in, grinning, "Gives me warm fuzzies just reading it." When they continued to just sit there, he spoke up again. "Uh, Jim? We going up there or what? I hate to think we came all this way just to read this sign, lovely and heartwarming as it is."

"Yeah, Chief, we're going." Jim pulled the large vehicle onto the side road. There was nothing but woods on both sides of the dirt road during the short drive to the cabin. It was a fairly large, one-story building with a covered porch in the front. Five steps led from the walkway up to the porch. A smaller, rutted path led from the road to a large worn area beside the cabin that was obviously meant for parking vehicles. Jim pulled the Suburban into this area, parked and announced, "Okay, I guess this is it. Let's see how it looks inside before we start unloading."

A small parade led by Simon, who had the keys, made it's way from the car, up the stairs, across the porch and finally into the cabin itself. The door opened into a large open living area. A huge stone fireplace took up most the back wall. Several feet back but facing the fireplace was a comfortable looking loveseat with a matching large couch at a right angle to it. A square wooden coffee table sat on a colorful area rug between the couches. Angled directly front of the hearth were two leather recliners. Set against the left wall facing the couch was an entertainment center holding a TV, VCR and stereo system. On either side of the entertainment center was a well-stocked bookcase. To the right of the living area, behind the couch, was the open kitchen complete with a modern looking stove, refrigerator, dishwasher and microwave oven. Between the living area and the kitchen was a rectangular table with six chairs around it. On the far left end of the back wall with the fireplace was a hallway that led to the bedrooms and bathroom. All five stood by the doorway looking over their home for the next week. Blair was the first to speak.

"Wow. This is nice. I'm gonna go check out the bedrooms." He started to walk away but was stopped by Simon's loud voice.

"Sandburg! Stop!"

Turning back around, the younger man looked puzzled. "What?"

"I already know about the bedrooms. There are three. One is the master bedroom with a queen sized bed and private bathroom." He looked around at the others. "Don't any of you even think about it. The other two have two twin beds each. They're directly across the hall from each other and there's a shared bathroom at the end of the hall. I'll let you gentlemen decide who gets which room. I, on the other hand, am going to start unpacking." So saying he turned and went back out the front door. The remaining four men looked at each other then followed their captain back outside to begin bring in their luggage.

Jim and Blair walked down the hallway towards the bedrooms, each carrying two bags. After looking into each room, Jim entered the one on the right. Blair followed and without a word placed his bags on the bed furthest from the door. It was automatic now that he took the back bed and Jim took the bed closest to the door whenever they shared a room away from the loft. After losing several arguments about it, Blair had finally concluded that Jim's insistence on always having the first bed came from an inborn instinct to protect his Guide. If anyone were to get into their room, they would have to deal with the Sentinel first. Now he not only accepted it but secretly cherished the idea that someone thought he was important enough to them to want to protect. A far cry from most the 'uncles' he had lived with growing up. Shaking his head to rid himself of those memories, there was no point in dwelling on the past, he headed out to get the rest of his bags. He left a surprised Jim wondering where the warm smile his partner suddenly gave him on his way out of the bedroom had come from.

Soon all of the luggage was brought in and unpacked. Jim's things were neatly folded away or carefully hung; Blair's were more or less put away. After a light late afternoon lunch everyone decided, even though it was too late to actually do any fishing, to walk down and check out the lake behind the cabin. No point waiting until the last minute to pick out the best spots. An early morning wake up was planned for the next day to begin a full day of angling and casting, officially starting their vacation. Each man had his own reasons for looking forward to the break from work to begin. Simon had a new lure he was dying to try out. Among the many things Blair had brought with him was his prized Cree fishing spear, even if he didn't catch many fish the joy was in the challenge. Henri and Rafe were just looking forward to some seriously relaxing downtime. Besides recharging his own worn down batteries, Jim was hoping Blair could begin healing his battered, guilt-ridden psyche during this quiet time away from everything that had happened during the past few weeks. It had surprised and warmed him when all three of the other supposedly hardened cops had agreed so quickly to help him help Blair. Now he just hoped they could.

The short walk along the dirt path from the cabin to the lake was pleasant and relaxing in itself. Soon the five men found themselves at the edge of a large crystal clear lake. The narrow, rocky shoreline seemed perfect for fishing; numerous natural niches could be seen from where they were standing. The niches were close enough that they could easily be within shouting distance from each other but still far enough away, with trees and rocks between them, to give each person a sense of privacy and seclusion. They spent the next hour walking along the shore arguing and joking as each man picked out 'his' spot for tomorrow. By the time everyone was satisfied he had the best location, there was a noticeable drop in the temperature as the sun started going down. The wind coming in off the lake was getting colder too. Jim was beginning to think that Blair might have been right after all about how cold it might get at night. As if to prove his own point, he watched a shiver run down Blair's spine even though Blair himself hadn't said anything about getting cold. He raised his voice to make sure that everyone could hear him.

"Hey guys! It's starting to get dark. How about we head back now, pop some popcorn and pick out a movie to watch?"

Within a few minutes they had all regrouped and were heading back up the path towards the cabin. By silent, mutual agreement, Jim led the way back in the growing darkness. Simon was right behind him with Blair, Henri and Rafe a few steps back bringing up the rear. He heard Rafe whisper to Henri, "How can he see where he's going? I can barely see what's right in front of me." Blair's voice answered quickly, "Yeah, it used to freak me out too until he told me once it was from night maneuvers training with the Rangers. Taught them how to take advantage of any available light. He doesn't even have to turn the light on when he gets up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom." Henri spoke up, "Now that would be handy to be able to do. I don't know which is worse, that stabbing pain in your eyes when you first turn on the light or stubbing your toe when you don't." Rafe joined in again, "Especially if you're not alone in bed, if you know what I mean, and you're not at your place. You don't want to bother her by turning on the light but you don't know your way around well enough to try to make to the bathroom in the dark." The discussion of turning on the light vs. not turning it on continued between the three younger men. Simon moved up closer to Jim and spoke in a low voice, "Sandburg was pretty slick there. He gave them a somewhat plausible explanation then got the whole conversation off onto a totally different track with them even realizing it. I gotta admit the kid's quick on his feet." Jim sighed to himself as the cabin appeared in front of them. It was nice to hear his captain praise his partner; he just wished he would actually say it to Blair himself once in a while instead of just to him.

It didn't take long for everyone to stake out a seat in the living room. Rafe and Blair claimed the two recliners after turning them to face the television. Simon stretched his long frame out on the large sofa while Jim and Henri each took a corner of the smaller love seat, both with their feet propped up on the coffee table. After each man had gotten a beer and the popcorn was placed in a large bowl on the coffee table, all the movies in the entertainment center were carefully scrutinized with the winner being "Die Hard 2". Blair put the movie in the VCR and turned out most of the lights before raising the footrest and settling back in his big comfortable chair, beer in hand. Jim picked up the remote and hit Play. For a while the only sounds heard came from the TV or an occasional commentary from someone in the room.

About three fourths of the way through the movie, Jim looked around. Rafe was lying full length in his recliner on his back, snoring softly. Blair was on his side, curled up in a ball, totally oblivious to the rest of the world. Turning his head Jim saw that Henri was still awake but not by much. He and Simon looked at each other. Simon shook his head sadly. "Kids today just can't hang like us 'old folk'." He tilted his head towards the movie still playing on the TV. "You want to watch the rest of this?"

"No, I've seen it before." Jim picked up the remote and hit Stop then Rewind. "Besides, I think it's time to put the children to bed."

Henri's sleepy voice piped up. "Hey. Watch who you're calling children, man. Some of us are still up." He sat up and stretched.

Simon watched as Jim got up and starting picking up the popcorn bowl and beer bottles. "Well, since you're still awake, why don't you get your partner up and head off to bed. I plan on getting everybody up bright and early." He stood and stretched himself then turned towards Jim who was in the kitchen rising out the popcorn bowl before putting it in the dishwasher. "That goes for you too, Ellison. Fish wait for no man."

Henri had managed to get Rafe on his feet and both detectives were heading towards the back bedrooms mumbling "G'nights" as they left the room. Jim wiped his hands on a towel and came back out into the living room. He looked over at Blair who hadn't moved. "I'll let H and Rafe finish in the bathroom before I make him get up. Once he hits the bed, he'll be gone for the night."

Simon looked directly at his friend. "How are you doing, Jim? Really. I know you're worried about Sandburg, about how hard he's taking all this, but what about you? This had to be pretty hard on you too. I know how you tend to take this type of crime, like it's a personal affront to how well you can protect your, how does Sandburg put? your... tribe."

Jim turned away from his best friend to his captain. "I'm fine, Simon. And you're right; it was hard. Wade had us chasing our own tails for a long time and that was so damn frustrating. I kept feeling like I was letting everybody down, like I was missing something. In the end, I couldn't believe he hurt all those young men just because his girlfriend dumped him for a student at Rainier. But now that he's behind bars, it's over. I've done my job. I can let it go, but then it wasn't as personal for me as it was for Blair. Some of those students had taken his classes and then Chris... My God, Simon, Chris' dying almost did him in. After the funeral he stayed in his room for the rest of the day. Then he became obsessed with finding Wade. You saw yourself how he was. Thank God we finally caught him because, to tell you the truth, I honestly don't know how much longer he could have kept it up." He paused. "But I'm fine, really. It's not me you have to worry about." Jim tilted his head in the now familiar 'I'm listening to something' position. "Brown and Rafe are both in their room. I'm going to get Blair to bed then turn in myself. See you in the morning, Simon."

Simon watched as Jim knelt beside Blair and gently shook his shoulder. The sleeping observer woke with a start but a few seconds later he nodded at something Jim said, lowered the footrest and slowly got out of the chair. Jim turned him towards the hallway and gave him a small push then followed him through the doorway.

He wondered if Jim was even aware that even though he had asked him how he was doing, the majority of his answer had been about how the case had affected Blair. As he watched them, he was amazed again at how differently Jim acted when Sandburg was hurting physically or emotionally. Gone was the hardened, ex-Ranger cop, gone were the usual macho insults and slaps to the head and back. Instead, Jim would focus solely on Blair's well being, doing whatever he thought was necessary to make his friend feel better and to hell with everyone else. Of course, Sandburg was the same way. Everyone had learned early not to mess with a hurting Ellison when Sandburg was anywhere around. Blair had given Jim the title of Blessed Protector after he had rescued the observer from Lash's warehouse but as far as he could see it definitely worked both ways. He finished turning out the lights and locked the door before heading into his own bedroom. As he had told Jim, fish wait for no man, including sometimes bewildered police captains.


"Let's go Sandburg! I just know there's a big fish out there with my new lure's name on it." Simon grinned at the other three men waiting by the door, fishing gear in hand. "I've been waiting since last season to test this baby out. Probably catch me the biggest fish of the day. Maybe even the whole week."

"No way, Cap'n. My titanium rod and scented baited are guaranteed to have the fish just jumping into my net." Rafe sounded pretty confident.

"Okay, Rafe, if you feel that way, why don't we just have ourselves a friendly little wager. Say, whoever catches the biggest fish today doesn't have to clean any fish for the rest of the trip."

"You're on."

"Hey." Brown jumped in, not wanting to miss out on a good thing. "Can anyone get in on this? I'm feeling kinda lucky myself today."

Simon smiled around his as yet unlit cigar. He knew that between Jim's senses and Blair's lectures, he wouldn't be able to smoke in the cabin, but outdoors was a whole different ballgame. "Sure Henri." He turned towards Jim. "What about you Ellison, you game?"

"Sure, why not? Skill will always win out over fancy gadgets any day."

"Good. One rule though—no cheating."

"How can you cheat at fishing?" Rafe looked at his partner. "I mean you either catch the biggest fish or you don't, right?"

"You'd be surprised what some people can do." Simon looked right at Jim. "Isn't that right, Jim?"

Jim had a look of total innocence on his face. "I suppose some people might have to resort to cheating but not those of us who are just good."

"Uh-huh." Simon looked at the still empty hall doorway. "What is he doing? Sandburg! Get your scrawny butt out here before all the fish decide to go back to sleep."

As if on command, Blair came through the doorway. Jim immediately noticed two things: Blair was carrying his backpack over one shoulder instead of his spear and he had on his brand new hiking boots, which he would never wear if he were going to be fishing all day. Before he could comment, Henri spoke up. "Hey Hairboy, I thought you were going to show us how to catch fish with some kind of spear. Now what, you plan to scoop them up in your backpack instead?"

Blair reached the group and stopped. "Uh, actually, guys, I'm not going fishing today. I thought I'd go for a hike instead."

Jim moved forward until he was standing directly in front of Blair. "You feel all right, Chief? Anything wrong?" He knew that Blair had been looking forward to showing off his native fishing spear so the sudden change in plans was raising an alarm.

"Nothing's wrong, Jim. When we were at the lake yesterday I saw a trail that leads into the woods. I thought I'd take a nature hike today. Do some thinking. I just need some time to, you know, process... stuff."

"You want some company?" He had really been looking forward to a relaxing day of fishing but if Blair was ready to talk then he would be there for him.

He was rewarded with a now rare genuine smile. "Thanks, but no. I think I just need some time alone right now. I don't think I'd be very good company. But..." he turned to the others, "... tomorrow I'll get my spear and show you guys what real fishing is all about."

That broke the tension. "Yeah, right, Sandburg. Like some kind of wooden stick is any match for my hi-tech gear. Guess we know who'll be cleaning the fish for the rest of the week."

"In your dreams, Brian. The Cree were catching fish with this type of spear for thousands of years before any of your fancy 'gear' came along. Obviously, they were doing something right. In fact, did you know that the Cree were among the first to—"

Simon quickly broke in. "Oh Lord, he's going into lecture mode. Let's go now or we'll be fishing by moonlight." He started herding everyone out the door. "And, Sandburg, we're on vacation, no lectures for the rest of the week, got it?"

Blair smiled. "I'll try, Simon, I'll try."

It didn't take long to get to the lake. The early morning sunlight sparkled off the water while a soft breeze rustled through the trees. All five men stopped by the water's edge and unconsciously took deep breaths of fresh air. The peace and quiet alone was enough to start soothing frazzled nerves. After a few minutes Blair broke the silence. "Well, I guess I'll be going. Don't catch all the fish, guys, I still plan on surprising you tomorrow." He had just reached the trail when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He didn't have to turn around to know who was there. "Hi Jim."

Jim walked around until he was standing in front of his partner. Reaching out, he again placed one hand lightly on the smaller man's shoulder. "You sure you're all right, Blair? Maybe wandering out in the woods alone isn't such a good idea. Maybe you should be with other people right now."

"Jim, I'm fine. I need to do this. I just need some quiet time alone... to put everything in perspective. I'll probably be back before you guys are done fishing." His uncertain dark blue eyes looked up into Jim's strong light blue ones. "Maybe... when I get back... we can go somewhere and talk, just the two of us, if, uh, if you don't mind."

A small sense of relief flowed through Jim. Blair wanting to talk was the best sign yet that he was coming to terms with what he had been through. Blair was constantly getting him to open up about anything and everything and the teacher in him could talk for hours about every subject under the sun, except himself.

"Sure, Chief. I'd like that." Jim gave his friend a warm smile then looked up. "You'd better get going. It looks like a storm's coming in later today. If you want that hike and I want to fish we both better start now. But don't go too far, you want to be able to get back before it hits."

"You can tell a storm's coming later today? Oh wow. How can you tell? Can you actually see the storm? Or is there a barometric drop in pressure you can feel? Maybe we should test this."

"You remember what Simon said? This is a vacation, Darwin. No lectures and no tests. There'll be other storms. Now, if you're planning on getting in a hike, you better get going, just don't be gone too long. Don't make me have to go out in the rain to find your lost butt." His voice was gruff but his eyes said that a hurricane wouldn't stop him from coming after his friend.

"Right. See ya later."

The woods soon swallowed up Blair as he followed the trail leading away from the lake. Jim watched until he heard Simon call out to him. "Hey, Ellison! Last I heard there aren't any fish in the woods." Then, in a softer voice that only he could hear, "He'll be all right, Jim. Just let him go." He slowly turned and joined his friends at the lake.


Blair continued to follow what looked like an old deer trail. The weather was perfect, cool enough for a sweater but not cold enough to need a jacket. Until the storm hits. How could Jim tell that a storm was coming? He couldn't wait to test Jim on this new discovery. It seemed as though every time he started to think he knew just about everything about Jim and his senses, something new would pop up and he'd realize once again that he might never learn all there was to know about what a Sentinel could do. For some reason, that thought both pleased and frustrated him at the same time. He continued on, letting the serenity and beauty of the woods act as a balm on his troubled spirit.

Every so often he stopped for a short while just to absorb the healing aura he felt radiating all around him. Other times he'd take a drink from his water bottle while he watched some seemingly oblivious small animals as they went about their daily lives with no greater worry than where to find the next nut or berry. He loved being outdoors, watching nature in harmony with itself. Especially now, when he was so desperate to reclaim some of that harmony for his own aching soul. The deeper he went into the woods, the farther away all the chaos and violence of the city seemed to be. The deer trail was becoming narrower and fainter the farther he got from the lake. When it finally became all but invisible he decided to turn back; the last thing he wanted was to actually become lost, he'd never live it down. He was about halfway back when he saw a large rock a few yards off the trail to his right that he hadn't noticed before. It stuck out from a small hill with the top of it being almost flat. The perfect place to stop for lunch. Climbing up the hill, he was able to walk straight onto the rock itself. Settling himself in the middle he slid off his backpack and leaned back on his arms. The sun was being filtered through the trees but enough shone through and he turned his face up, sighing in contentment as it warmed him more than just physically. God, if only he could stay here and not have to go back to the city with all it's ugliness and brutality. He would never understand how people could do such unspeakable things to each other.

Sitting up, Blair pulled his backpack closer so he could rummage around inside it. Finding the now nearly half empty water bottle, he put it aside and pulled out the sandwich, apple and granola bar he had packed for his lunch. Between the hike and the outdoor air, he had managed to work up quite an appetite. Lunch was gone in no time. Almost too quickly. Now he had no more distractions from what he really came out here to do. Reaching once again into the backpack, he pulled out a new, stiff backed notebook, a pen and his glasses case. After putting on the glasses, he opened the notebook to the first page and stared at it. He had heard years ago that if you were really mad at someone to write them a letter expressing all your feelings, no matter how bitter or angry. Then take the letter and tear it up or burn it. It wasn't about whether or not the other person ever saw the letter; it was the act of writing it, of getting to express how you feel that was so cathartic. He had tried it once and found that it really worked. That's how he had discovered that the best way for him to confront anything that was upsetting him was to write it out, letting out all the feelings and emotions that were so hard for him to express verbally. Now, hard as it would be, he was going to do just that concerning this last case.

Soon the only sounds were the natural bubbling of a nearby stream and the artificial sound of a pen as it quickly scratched its way across paper. Once Blair started, he couldn't stop. The words just flowed out of him as if a dam had finally broken. He poured everything onto the pages of the notebook. Starting with the brutal attack on the first victim then on to the horrifying realization that a serial attacker who only assaulted male Rainier students was loose on campus. His campus. His fear when he discovered that *he* fit the physical profile that the assailant sought. His determination, despite that fear, to continue to working with Jim. The brutalized students he knew from his classes. The first victim to die. Then Chris. Oh God, Chris. They had helped and supported each other all through their Master's programs. Had been there for each other whenever it got to be too much for either of them. He had been the best man at Chris' wedding. Now Pam was pregnant and alone. Another child who would feel the pain of never knowing his father. At least this child would know who his father was, a good man lost to him forever due to senseless violence. The pen point pressed deeply into the paper as he wrote of his total, absolute resolve to catch this person, by himself if he had to. The frustrations with the case. His belief that he wasn't doing something right, that he should have figured things out better. He obviously must not have helped Jim as well as he could have or they would have caught Wade sooner. Rainier was his territory; everyone was counting on him to know what would work best there. What more could he/should he have done? Jim had depended on him and he had let him down. It was his campus and he still hadn't been able to do anything to stop the attacks. He couldn't even protect his own students or his friend. They had counted on him and he had failed them. But worst of all, he had failed Jim. Again. Blair noticed that some of the words were distorted on the page. Water was mixing with the ink. Tears, running down his cheeks and onto the paper. He didn't even know when he had started crying. He carefully laid the open notebook aside and, taking off his glasses, let the tears fall, hoping they could wash away the pain and frustration that still lay deep in his heart.

TrappedWhen Blair next looked up, the sun had changed position in the sky. It was getting dark sooner than he expected. The temperature had dropped too and the wind had picked up quite a bit. Looking at his watch, he saw that he had been gone now for over four hours. Time to head back. He grabbed his backpack and put the notebook, pen and his glasses back inside. Pulling out a large Ziploc plastic bag, he put all his trash from lunch in it and put it in the backpack too. He kept the water bottle out, deciding to refill it from the stream before starting back.

As he packed for the return trip, he took stock of himself. His eyes stung a little from crying but, all in all, he actually did feel somewhat better. Finally letting his feelings out had helped lift some of the heavy weight from his shoulders which, of course, was the whole point of the exercise. He still needed to talk to Jim, let him know how sorry he was for not helping him like he should have, like he was supposed to. He knew that how Jim responded to his apology would determine how soon he could start to get over this. While intellectually knowing that one person's opinion shouldn't matter that much, shouldn't be able to dictate how he should feel about himself, he had long ago conceded that Jim's opinion of him had become paramount in his life. Never before had he wanted someone's approval and respect as much as he wanted Jim's. The thought that he had let his friend and partner down, yet again, was still weighing heavily on him.

Checking once more to make sure he had everything, he slung the backpack over his shoulder and picked up the water bottle. After climbing back down the small hill, he walked around the rock towards the stream on the far side. A few steps past the rock, he heard an unexpected metallic click followed instantly by a sudden, blinding pain starting from his lower right leg and quickly spreading upwards. His vision turned black with bright spots of light shooting in front of his eyes. He wasn't even aware that he had screamed as he felt himself falling backwards towards the ground.


Jim was enjoying the feel of the sun on his tired muscles. He could tell, though, that the storm he mentioned to Blair was approaching fast. He cast his line out again; they still had a little time left before it would arrive. He was feeling so relaxed he almost didn't care about the contest except that he just couldn't let a challenge go unanswered. And the prospect of not having to clean any fish for the rest of the week wasn't too bad either. He already had a few good-sized catches swimming in his cooler but, judging from the shouts he'd been hearing, he wasn't the only one doing well. It'd be interesting to measure the fish and see who won.

He'd feel better if Blair were here fishing with them but he understood his partner's need to be by himself. The younger man still had to work through the problems he was having in dealing with the past few weeks. Blair often closed himself off physically to "process" when he had something he was working his way though. A little meditation and he'd be fine or so Blair would have him believe. Jim didn't mind Blair closing himself off physically; he himself often preferred to think through issues in private. What bothered him was that Blair would close himself off emotionally too. As much as he would badger Jim to open up and discuss personal things with him, he never seemed willing to do the same himself. Jim had gotten the impression that somewhere during Blair's unusual childhood, he was made to believe that his feelings weren't important. Jim thought that Blair had learned to respond to how others were feeling but always careful not to reveal anything about his own demons. That was not going to happen this time. Before the week was over, Jim was going to sit his reluctant partner down and get him to open up about this last case.

A loud "Yes!" from Rafe pulled Jim from his thoughts. He could hear his friends calling back and forth.

"Whatcha got, partner?"

"Oh wow. Wait till you guys see this beauty. I think I've got this contest in the bag or, in this case, in the bucket."

"Not so fast, Detective. You haven't seen what I've got yet. How're you doing, Jim? You've been pretty quiet there lately." Simon shielded his eyes with his hand and peered over at his senior detective.

Before he could answer, a shrill, piercing scream rent the air. Jim felt his blood run cold.

Blair!

"What the hell was that?"

Jim was already heading out of the water, pulling the straps of his waders off his shoulders as he answered his captain. "Sandburg." He could hear the other men also making their way back to the lakeshore, all thoughts of fishing and the contest gone with that one word. It only took a few minutes for everyone to drop their fishing gear on the shore and divest themselves of their awkward waders. In no time, they were following Jim as he raced over the same trail Blair had used just a few hours earlier. Simon motioned for Rafe and Brown to remain quiet, knowing that Jim would have his hearing turned up, listening for any sign of his partner. The captain jogged behind Jim, ready to offer him what support he could.

As Jim quickly but carefully made his way up the narrow trail, he tried to concentrate on his hearing. Now was not the time to lose his focus despite all the worst-case scenarios that were running through his mind. That had not been the startled of cry of someone who maybe fell and twisted an ankle, that was a scream of pure pain and terror. He opened his hearing out a bit further, grateful that Simon had one hand on his shoulder, trying to ground him as he had seen Blair do so many countless times before. It wasn't the same but it helped. Then he heard it, his guide's rambling voice, almost hyperventilating with pain and fear.

"OhGodohGod. Please Jim. Please come find me. Oh God it hurts. Jim? Jim, where are you? Please hear me. Please please please somebody. Jim. Anybody. Help me..."

The voice was getting weaker, sounding shocky; he had to find Blair now. Jim stopped and tried to concentrate on the direction the words were coming from, just as his guide had taught him. Blair was close; he just needed to pinpoint exactly where he was. Come on, Chief. Just a few more words, that's all I need. Instead of words, he heard a sharp intake of breath followed by heavy panting. Finally, after a silence that was long enough to really worry him, Blair's voice was back, even shakier than before. "O-okay... no moving." Pant. Pant. "Oh God that hurt." Pant. "Jim? Guys? Any... anytime now... would be good."

Gotcha.

Jim moved off the trail. "He's somewhere over there, behind that big rock." No one doubted that Jim was right or even asked how he knew, they had all seen him do this too many times to question it now. Rounding the large, flat rock all four men stopped short at the scene in front of them. Sandburg was lying on his back with his eyes closed. His face was white, either from pain or shock or both, beads of sweat trickled across his forehead. But it was his right foot that riveted their stares. It was caught in a medium sized, old fashioned, saw-toothed metal trap. Judging by its size, it was meant to catch deer or other such game. But its smaller size didn't mean it was any less dangerous, just that it didn't reach very high up Blair's leg. The sharp teeth were deeply imbedded in the top of his new high-top hiking boot. It was already heavily stained by the blood oozing from the holes the metal points had made in the tough leather. More blood was spilling out from the top of the boot, mesmerizing sentinel vision. Age and rust had turned the trap's metal a dark brown color, almost the same shade as the dirt in which it was hidden. Heavily overgrown with grass and plants, it would have been virtually invisible even if you knew where to look. Jim was jolted into action by the voices behind him.

"Oh. My. God."

"What the hell...?"

"Oh shit."

He quickly knelt beside Blair, gently putting one hand along side his face. The skin was too cool and clammy; shock was setting in. "Hey there, Chief. Can you open your eyes for me?"

At Jim's voice, Blair's eyes flew open. The relief in them at seeing his friend still couldn't hide the pain and fear. "Jim. You found me."

"Of course I found you." Jim gave him a small smile. "After all I was taught by the best." He was rewarded by a slight widening of Blair's eyes. If Brown and Rafe thought he was referring to his Ranger training, well, who was he to correct them?

Blair's awkward attempt to sit up only served to create a new wave of agony from his ankle outwards. He fell back, closing his eyes with a groan. "Get it off, Jim. Please. It hurts. Please get it off."

Jim placed his hand on his friend's chest. "Don't move Blair. We'll get it off, but let us do all the work, okay?"

Blair nodded weakly. "Hurry."

"We will." Looking up he began to put everyone in place. "Henri, you get behind his head, put your hands under his arms. Be ready to pull him back. Brian, get down by his leg. Simon and I will open the jaws. As soon as his foot's free I want you to carefully lift it up and out. Henri, when he's clear you pull him backwards until he's away from the trap. Brian, keep hold of his leg while Henri's pulling. Everybody got it?" Seeing them nod as they got into position, he turned back to Blair. "You ready, Chief?"

"This is really... gonna hurt... isn't it?"

" 'Fraid so, Chief. But there's no other way to do it. We'll be as quick as we can."

"I know. Okay, do it." Blair's whole body tensed as he steeled himself for what was about to happen. He was determined not to say or do anything that might be taken as a sign of weakness.

Jim and Simon knelt on either side of the trap while Rafe knelt as close to Jim as he could so he would be able to reach Blair's foot once the trap was open. Jim looked over at Simon who nodded that he was ready. They each grabbed a side and slowly began to pry the old trap apart. Blair flinched when it first moved but didn't say anything. Slowly the teeth began to separate. Blair couldn't hold back a cry as the sharp points were pulled back out of his ankle. Blood began to flow more freely from the wounds now left open by the retreating metal. Jim and Simon kept a slow, steady pace. Their biggest fear was to lose their grip and have the metal points snap back into Blair's leg again. As soon as the trap was secured back in its open position, Rafe reached over and carefully picked up Blair's calf with both hands, and gently lifted the injured foot up. Once Henri saw that Rafe was ready, he slowly started sliding Blair back away from the others. Rafe continued to hold Blair's calf up, moving sideways on his knees as he kept pace with Henri's momentum. When Blair was a few feet away from the trap, Henri stopped and Rafe slowly lowered Blair's leg to the ground.

Jim looked over at Blair. Henri was sitting back on his knees with Blair's head resting on his thighs; one large hand was on each of the shaking shoulders, slowly rubbing them. As Jim watched, he leaned over and spoke softly, "It's all over. You did good, babe. Just relax now." His guide looked anything but relaxed. He was even whiter than before; his eyes tightly closed and sweat running down his face into his hair. His heaving chest showed the strain of trying to pull in air through gritted teeth. Both hands had grabbed a fistful of grass. Despite his obvious pain, Blair managed a small nod at Henri's words.

"Okay, Chief. Now that the easy part is done, we have to figure out how to manage the hard part."

Blair's eyes opened as he looked up at Jim. "T—that was... easy part? What—what's the... hard part?"

Jim's face was grim. "Figuring out how to get you out of here without aggravating your foot any more than necessary."

That meant moving him and any movement meant more pain. "Oh."

As if to emphasize Jim's words, a low rumble came from the sky as black clouds starting rolling in. The wind whipped up harder, blowing Blair's hair across his face.

Simon spoke up. "Looks like some nasty weather is moving in fast. And from the looks of it, it's going to be bad. Not to mention he's bleeding pretty badly too. We need to get back to the cabin, now."

Jim laid one hand gently on Blair's leg, above his knee. "I know it's going to hurt, Blair, but we have to get moving."

Blair nodded. Looking past Jim, he saw the still open bear trap. He lifted one arm up and pointed. "What about that? We can't leave it like that."

Simon stood up. "I'll take care of it." Looking around, he found a long, thick branch and picked it up. Holding the branch at one end, he stood over the trap and solidly pounded the bottom end on the pressure plate in the center of the trap between the rows of sharp teeth. Instantly, like a hungry mouth that was just waiting for another bite, both sides sprang forward, snapping the branch in two. Simon flinched at the sound and vibration of the branch breaking and dropped his end onto the ground. "Wow."

Blair's reaction was similar. As the branch broke, he gave an involuntary jerk backwards causing his leg to bang into Jim's knee. The result was pure, fiery agony. His vision blacked out as he arched upwards, not even trying to hold back a loud, pain filled shout. Then he limply fell back onto Henri's legs, blessedly oblivious to everything going on around him.

Simon hurried over. "Is he all right, Jim?"

Jim had moved past Rafe and was now up by Blair's head, pressing three fingers against his carotid artery while also silently monitoring his friend with his senses. "Yeah, Simon, relatively speaking he's all right. He just passed out, which in this case is actually a blessing. It would be pure hell for him to be conscious while we carry him back. Speaking of which..." Jim looked up at the ever darkening sky as a large bolt of lighting streaked through the clouds "... we need get going if we're going to beat that storm." He looked down at the still bleeding injury. "We've got to stop this bleeding before we do anything else. It's too far into town to wait until we can get him there." He turned to Brown. "You and Brian go on ahead and get everything ready. Fix up the couch for him and start boiling some water. Oh yeah, I saw a First Aid kit in the kitchen; get that out too. And a pair of heavy duty scissors if you can find them, a good sized knife if you can't. We'll be coming right behind you." He carefully lifted Blair's head up so Henri could stand up then watched as, after one final look back, the two detectives hurried off back down the trail.

"How do you want to do this?" Simon was now also kneeling beside Blair.

"Since he's already out the easiest and fastest way would be an over the shoulder carry. Help me get him up."

With Simon's help, Blair was soon hanging face down over Jim's shoulder, one strong arm securely holding his thighs against the larger man's chest. "Grab his backpack and let's get out of here."

Simon led the way as the two men made their way carefully down the narrow, uneven trail. They finally left the woods as the trail led them back to the lake. It was extremely dark and the wind was whipping their clothes. Simon was surprised to see Brown and Rafe at the lake, obviously gathering up all fishing equipment that had been hastily left behind when they ran into the woods after Sandburg. Rafe approached the tall captain, watching as Jim continued up the smaller path to the cabin. "How's he doing?"

Simon shook his head. "Still out cold, thank God. What are you two doing?"

"We got everything set up inside so we thought we'd hurry and get all our gear together before the rain hits. We just went ahead and released the fish back into the lake, we didn't think anybody cared about the contest anymore." He had to keep pushing his normally perfectly combed hair out of his eyes due to the fierce wind.

Simon nodded. "Good thinking." He looked up at the almost totally black sky. "Don't take too long. This storm's going to break almost any time now. I'm going to go help Jim." As he turned and hurried to catch up to Jim, he could hear Rafe yelling at Brown to hurry up before they ended up getting soaked.

He caught up to Jim and Blair just as Jim reached the steps leading up to the porch. "Hold up a sec, Jim, I'll get the door."

After holding the door open as Jim passed by him, Simon closed it and followed them into the cabin. Rafe was as good as his word. A sheet had been folded in half lengthwise and now covered the seat cushions on larger couch. A pillow from one of the beds, probably Blair's, was at one end while two towels from the bathroom were folded at the other end. The First Aid kit and a large pair of scissors were on the coffee table. Beside the coffee table a warm blanket was waiting to be used. On the stove he could see two pots with stream rising from them. The care the two detectives put into getting everything ready spoke volumes about how much the young observer had come to mean to them. Unfortunately, the object of all their work was in no condition to appreciate what had been done for him. Simon walked over to Jim as he stood beside the couch looking down at it. "The guys did good."

"Yeah, they did. Help me get him onto the couch."

As Jim bent forward, Simon reached up and took Blair's shoulders and slowly began to pull the unconscious man off of Jim. Jim kept his grip on the injured man's legs and they both carefully lowered Blair onto the couch. Simon arranged the pillow under the limp head while Jim gently propped the mutilated hiking boot on the folded towels. They then removed Blair's heavy sweater, leaving on his t-shirt. Sitting on the edge of the couch just past Blair's feet, Jim started untying the boot on the uninjured foot. He looked up at Simon. "Can you bring out the boiled water and find a washcloth or two, something I can use to clean this with?"

Before Simon could answer there was a loud crash of thunder and the heavens finally unleashed the rain it had been promising all afternoon.

"Jim? Are you all right?" Simon was well aware of how loud, sudden, unexpected noises could affect the sentinel's hearing.

"Yeah, I'm fine. I turned it down as soon as we reached the lake. I had a feeling this was coming. Dammit, what kind of knots does he put in his shoes?"

Simon put his hand on Jim's shoulder as he passed by, knowing full well it wasn't the bootlace that had his friend so upset. "He'll be all right, Jim. He's tough, you, more than anyone, should know that."

"I know, Simon. It's just..."

"It's just nothing for now. All you need to think about right now is taking care of him. Save worrying about anything else for later." Simon walked through the hallway towards the bathroom to get the washcloths. Jim went back to working on the bootlace which now suddenly seemed more co-operative. He was sliding the boot off when Simon passed by again, dropping two washcloths beside the First Aid kit on his way to the kitchen to get the water. He still in the kitchen when the cabin door opened, admitting a gust of wind along with two slightly wet detectives.

"Man, it is really coming down out there. We just barely made it to the porch in time. And you should see the lighting, I've never seen a storm like this before." Henri shook his wet hands and walked over to the couch. "How is he?" The concern in his voice was obvious. As if to answer the question himself, Blair gave a small moan and started moving his head slightly.

"Damn." Jim frowned. "I was really hoping he'd stay out of it for a while longer. At least until I'd finished." He moved forward until he was sitting by Blair's shoulders. Maybe he wouldn't wake up after all.

That hope was dashed when Blair groaned a little louder and tried to move, gasping at the effort. His eyes slowly opened, pain and confusion evident in them. "Jim? Jim?"

Jim leaned over and put one hand on Blair's chest trying to still any more movement. "Right here, Chief. Listen to me, you have to lie still, don't try to move. You hear me, Blair?"

"Leg hurts. Bad. Wha' happn'd?"

"You went for a hike and stepped in a bear trap. Do you remember?"

Blair's eyes squinted for a few moments then opened wide as memory returned. "Bear trap. Caught. Couldn't get out. You came and got me." He looked around at the other men standing nearby. "All of you came."

Jim breathed a small sigh of relief as Blair remembered what happened. He had seemed too disoriented when he first came to for comfort. But now came the really hard part. He patted his friend's chest. "That's right, we all got you out. Now listen to me, Blair. I have to take your boot off and examine your leg. I won't lie to you, buddy, it's gonna hurt like hell but it has to be done. You ready?"

Blair stared at the one person he trusted more than anyone else. Then he nodded, already tensing up at the prospect of his leg being touched.

Jim moved back down to his previous position just past Blair's feet. "Okay, just hang on, Chief, stay with me here." He looked up. "Henri, why don't you kneel by his head and hold his shoulders. Brian, hold his leg still for me." Jim dreaded what he was about to do. With no painkillers, he knew how badly this was going to hurt. As soon as the other detectives were in position, as carefully as he could, he started to untie the other bootlace. Blair flinched as soon as he touched the boot.

"Chief?"

Blair answered through gritted teeth. "It's all right, Jim."

Jim finished untying the laces as quickly as he could, pulling them out to make the boot as loose as possible. Picking up the scissors, he looked at his patient. "Hope these aren't your favorite pair of jeans, Chief."

"I guess... not... anymore."

Glad to see you still have your sense of humor, Chief. You're gonna need it in a minute. He slowly cut up the outside seam of Blair's jeans almost to the knee, trying not to touch him. He could feel the tremors running through Blair even as he tried to lay still.

"All right, Blair, I'm going to take the boot off now. You ready?"

Blair's eyes were closed but he nodded. Jim looked at Henri and Brian and waited until they nodded too. Holding Blair's calf in one hand to steady his leg, Jim firmly grasped the heel of the hiking boot and started to pull it off. Almost immediately, Blair jerked almost upright and tried to pull his leg out of Jim's grip, only Henri and Rafe's hands keeping him on the couch. "STOP! STOP! Oh God, Jim. Stop it!"

Jim stopped and looked into pain-filled eyes. "I know it hurts, Chief, but it has to be done. I have to clean it to see how much damage was done and to prevent infection, you know that. That's just the minimum that needs to be done until we can get you to a doctor. Please, Blair, just lie back and let me do this."

Blair knew he was being irrational but he couldn't help it. Every movement, every touch was like a branding iron burning his leg. "Please Jim. Please don't touch it anymore. It'll be all right, really."

Simon could see the anguish in Jim's eyes as his best friend pleaded for him not to hurt him any more. He hated, really hated, to do this but he didn't see any other way.

"SANDBURG!" Simon's voice was total, don't even think of messing with me, police captain. "You know this has to be done. We're pretty much stuck here for the night thanks to that storm. So unless you want that leg of yours to get infected before we can get you to a doctor just shut up and let Jim do what he has to do without making this any harder on him, or the rest of us, than it already is."

Total silence blanketed the room. Blair's wide open eyes stared at the man who earlier had seemed to be his friend but was now acting, once again, the role he usually took with him, that of a disapproving martinet. This was the Simon Banks that didn't like him and had made no pretense of wanting him around ever since he started working with Jim. For a few moments, surprise overcame pain but then, along with the emotional hurt, came the return of physical pain. Blair closed his eyes as he lay back down and turned his face into the back cushion of the couch.

"Blair?"

The stress evident in Jim's voice almost matched his own new level of guilt. He whispered softly, "Do what you have to, Jim, it's all right. Just do it fast, okay?"

"Okay, Chief. You ready?"

This time Blair just nodded into the back cushion.

Simon watched as Jim once again lifted his guide's leg and quickly pulled the damaged boot off. Blair's body went rigid. Even from across the room Simon could hear the elevated breathing but the younger man never moved or made a sound. Jim talking, softly encouraging his friend even as he continued to cause him pain. After the blood-covered sock was removed, Jim dipped one washcloth into the now warm water and slowly and carefully cleaned the deep puncture wounds. Blair flinched involuntarily and a small, muffled whimper escaped into the cushion. His fingers clawed the sheet he was laying on, curling into fists that remained closed. Simon could only try to imagine what the youngest member of his team was going through. One look at Rafe and Brown showed they were thinking similar thoughts. They were both still kneeling beside Blair although their hands were more to comfort him now than to hold him down. He looked at Jim. As the only one with any real medical training, Ellison was the logical one to treat his partner but the strain of causing Blair so much pain was obvious.

"How's it look?" Simon ventured to ask.

Jim didn't look up from his examination. "Not too good. At least the bleeding's stopped. It's hard to tell with the swelling and all the bruising but it looks like several deep puncture wounds on each side of his leg. The only way to tell if anything's broken would be to manipulate it and probe it with my fingers—" There was an audible intake of breath and increased shaking from Blair, "—but I won't do that to him right now. I can probably tell better when the swelling goes down later." Jim looked up. "Okay, Chief, I'm going to wrap it now and then we'll be done. You doing all right?"

Jim looked worriedly at Simon when no answer came forth.

"Blair, buddy, you still with me?"

A weak, strained voice answered. "J-Just do it. Just please hurry and finish, Jim. It... it hurts."

Jim rubbed his good leg, looking absolutely miserable himself. "Okay, Chief. Last part then we're done."

Opening the First Aid kit he found a tube of antibiotic ointment and lightly coated the injury. Blair's heart rate shot up at his touch and Jim winced in sympathy. Then he tore open a non-stick pad and covered swollen areas, following that by securely wrapping a roll of gauze around the leg and foot. After taping the end of the gauze, he gently lowered Blair's foot onto the folded towels.

"All done Chief, you did good. You can relax now."

Blair just lay there, face still turned towards the back cushion, hidden from the others in the room. The throbbing agony in his leg matched the pounding in his head, moving anything just wasn't an option right now. He knew there were tears in his eyes, he just couldn't seem to stop them, but he couldn't let the others see his weakness.

As Jim started to gather up the supplies, he saw Henri lean over Blair and put a hand on his shoulder. Unconsciously tuning in, he heard large man say softly, "You'll be all right now. You just let me know if you need anything, anything at all." When Blair nodded, he patted the shaking shoulder and, sensing Blair's need to be left alone, stood up and looked around. "Well, since we don't have any fish, how about I make us something else to eat? Come on, partner, let me show you how a real man cooks." He slapped Rafe on the shoulder and, keeping his hand there, herded his partner into the kitchen.

Jim abandoned the medical supplies and sat on the couch beside Blair he had occupied earlier. His guide's continued silence concerned him. Even hurt, Blair usually managed to keep talking. Something else, other than the considerable pain he was in, was bothering his friend. Jim shook his head. As if his current situation wasn't enough. He placed his hand back on Blair's chest, feeling the tremors still coursing through the wry form. Then he smelled it. Saline. Blair was crying, softly, as though he didn't want anyone to hear. "Hey, Chief. I know that was hard. You doing all right?" Once again, Blair just nodded instead of answering.

Liar. For whatever reason, Blair seemed embarrassed by his tears although God knew he had every reason to shed a few right now. What he had just endured would bring tears to almost anyone's eyes. Jim reached down and slowly turned Blair's face until he was facing him again; he could see the tracks the nearly silent tears had made down his cheeks. "Blair, it's all right to be upset. You're hurting, probably pretty bad right now, everyone here understands. No one expects you to be able to just ignore this." He watched as Blair's eyes unconsciously darted to Simon, standing over by the fireplace watching them, then back to Jim. His voice was barely a whisper. "It's all right, Jim. Really. You don't have to stay here with me. Watch TV, play poker, go do whatever you guys would ordinarily be doing." His voice dropped even lower as he lowered his eyes. "Can you tell everyone I'm sorry I messed up their vacation?"

Jim sighed to himself. That was all Blair needed, more guilt to add to the load he was already feeling about the case. Just as he was trying to decide how to approach the subject, Rafe walked up with a white plastic bottle in one hand and a glass of water in the other.

"H and I found these in the kitchen and thought maybe they might help." He held out a large bottle of extra strength ibuprofen to Jim then stood beside the couch looking uncertain. Somehow he got feeling that he had interrupted something. Not sure whether or not he should leave, he was relieved when Jim looked up and smiled as he took the ibuprofen and water.

"This is terrific, Brian. This'll help his leg and any fever he might develop. Thanks." He didn't want Blair to know that his greatest fear right now was infection. Without any antibiotics, there would be little he could do if an infection should develop and with that trap having been outdoors for so long that was a distinct possibility. He just hoped that the storm would break soon so he could get Blair to a doctor.

As he turned back to his patient, he noticed that Blair wasn't looking at the other detective. Once again, his face was turned towards the back of the couch. Rafe was standing there watching Blair with an odd expression on his face. Jim was opening the ibuprofen when Rafe leaned toward him and whispered, "Did I do something wrong? I didn't mean to upset him."

"It's not you, Bri. He's hurting and just really doesn't feel like having anyone around right now." He held up the bottle. "This will really help a lot. Tell H 'thanks' too." Trying to shift the attention away from his obviously uncomfortable partner, he switched to a different track. "So, what are you two cooking up in there?" He smiled. "And should we be worried?"

Rafe held up both hands. "Not 'we', him. Henri's doing his own thing in there; I'm just the hired help. Unless, of course, it turns out to be really good in which case I'll take my full share of the credit. Speaking of which, I'd better get back, God only knows what his idea of edible is." With another worried glance at the unnaturally silent Blair, Rafe headed back into the kitchen.

Jim turned back to Blair. "Come on, Chief, take these. Hopefully, they'll help you enough so that maybe you can go to sleep." He slid an arm under Blair's shoulders and helped him sit up slightly, then handed him four pills. Once he had put them in his mouth, Jim helped him swallow some water. Just that small effort caused Blair to blanch even whiter and sweat to bead across his forehead. Jim slowly lowered him back down. Turning around, he picked up the other washcloth and dipped it into the pot of water. With one hand lightly holding the side of Blair's head, he gently wiped the sweat and dirt off his exhausted friend's face. "There. That should feel better. Now close your eyes; try to sleep. If you need anything you don't even have to raise your voice." He smiled. "I'll hear you."

Instead of closing his eyes, Blair glanced over at Simon again then looked back up at Jim. "I-I guess I didn't handle that real well. Sorry I gave you such a hard time. I, uh, won't be any more trouble, okay?"

Jim looked down, exasperated. No one could do guilt like Blair. He knew why Simon had come down on Blair like he had but it was obvious that Blair was taking it to heart, falling prey to the insecurities that always seemed to lie just below the surface. He knew that Blair was sometimes still uncomfortable about his place at the station; unsure if he would ever really be accepted by the closed society he was allegedly studying. He also knew that Blair especially hated to appear weak in front of the other cops, afraid to give them any reason to say that he shouldn't be there with Jim. So he went to the gory crime scenes, stayed up all night on stakeouts, and often, way too often, disregarded his own safety to back him up in situations he shouldn't even be involved with in the first place. So now it was up to him to convince his partner that no one here thought any less of him.

"Blair, you were in shock and in pain. You reacted like anyone else would under those conditions. No one thinks any less of you, just like you wouldn't think less of anyone else under the same circumstances. It's all right. Now just lie back and let the pills do their thing. As soon as the storm breaks, we'll head into Jacksonville and get you to a doctor. So rest up now, you'll feel better later." I hope. Standing up, he shook open the blanket and laid it over his partner, leaving the injured part of his leg exposed. He lay his hand across the pale forehead, partly as a comforting gesture and partly to check for any sign of fever. He was relived that the skin under his hand did not feel unduly warm at the moment. At Jim's touch, Blair closed his eyes and sank back into the pillow.

Jim slowly straightened up and moved away from the couch. Looking around, he saw three sets of eyes watching him. Tilting his head, he suggested everyone move to the porch. Once the door was closed behind him, Jim leaned straight-armed against the railing, not caring about the rain that was hitting his face. He watched as the rain continued to beat down, the wind bending the tops of the trees. He heard Simon come up behind him.

"So, Jim, how bad is it, really?"

Jim sighed. "Really? It's hard to tell right now. What I'm hoping is that his leather boot kept the teeth from reaching the bone. Thank God he got those new hiking boots, otherwise he would've just been wearing low sneakers. Fortunately it wasn't a full-sized trap, that would have closed either above the boot or definitely all the way through it. There's just no way to tell right now how bad it is." Wiping the rain off his face with one hand, he straightened up and turned around, leaning back against the railing again. "I've heard of people losing their foot after stepping in one of those things." He pounded his fist on the railing behind him. "Dammit, Simon. I thought this place had been thoroughly checked out. I thought it was deemed safe to be up here. Jesus, there have been kids up here, running all through those woods, what if it had happened to one of them? And how many more of those damn things are still out there?"

Simon placed a hand on his upset detective's shoulder, knowing it was fear as well as anger talking. "You're right, Jim, you're right. And as soon as we get back someone's going to hear about this, believe me. You can also tell Sandburg that the city will be picking up the tab for all his medical expenses."

He would have said more but at that moment there was a brilliant flash of lighting followed by a tremendous crack and crash causing all four men to jump. Brown looked over in the direction of the crash. "I know that lighting's been striking all around but damn, that was close."

Simon looked worriedly at Jim who just nodded to let him know he was all right. Jim sighed in relief to himself. Thank God he had turned around before the lighting flashed and because of the earlier thunder he already had his hearing turned down. With Blair not being able to help him, he would have been in a world of hurt if his senses had spiked, never mind trying to explain to Brown and Rafe what was going on with him.

"You think it hit a tree?" Rafe's voice pulled Jim out of his thoughts.

He heard Henri answer. "Sounds like it hit something. At least with all this rain, nothing'll catch on fire. Man, that is one freaky storm going on out there. Speaking of fire, though, we'd better get back in the kitchen before we burn the cabin down around us."

Rafe raised his eyebrows. "What do you mean 'we'? You got a mouse in your pocket?"

"No, but I've got a partner that won't desert me now. Don't I?"

Rafe rolled his eyes but still preceded his partner back into the cabin. Just before he went inside, Brown turned around. "Dinner should be ready soon. You think Blair will feel like eating?"

Jim shook his head. "Actually, I'm hoping he sleeps until the weather lets up. Those pills might take the edge off but nothing short of what a doctor can give him will make it feel much better. By the way, H, thanks for finding those, they will help especially if he develops a fever."

"Yeah." The large detective looked sad. "I just hate to see the boy hurting like that. Man, I mean, did you see how rough that was on him?" He shook his head. "What is it with Sandburg and trouble? That's probably the only trap left and Hairboy found it."

Before anyone could answer, Rafe's hand snaked out of the doorway and grabbed Brown's arm. "Hey! Partner! Dinner. Remember? Fire, food, burning down the house? Let's go before your masterpiece is ruined." He started to pull his cooking partner back into the cabin. "Okay, okay I'm coming." With one final look backward, Henri called out to Jim and Simon, "I'll call you when it's ready," then disappeared inside.

Simon looked at Jim then up at the sky. "Can you tell if this is going to let up any time soon? The sooner we get Sandburg some medical help the better, but we can't risk trying to drive through the woods with all this lighting and wind."

Turning around, Jim scanned the still dark horizon. "I'm not real sure, I've never tried to really sense the weather before. In fact, Sandburg just said today he wants to run some tests on me and storms." He gave a small grin. "Actually, he wants to run tests on me and everything. But my best guess is that it'll last at least most of the night. I don't see any breaks anywhere and the air pressure hasn't changed since it started." He pushed away from the railing and turned back around again. "We might as well go back inside, all we'll get out here is wet."

Once inside, Jim immediately went to check on Blair, relieved that he seemed be dozing, although lines of pain were still evident on his face. As he started to gather up the medical supplies he had used earlier, Simon picked up the phone. His deadpan delivery of "It's dead, Jim" caused everyone to laugh, albeit quietly. Then, trying his cell phone, he announced that they were most likely out of range for any of their cell phones to be working. The mood lightened a bit when Brown announced dinner would be ready in a few minutes. Since Jim was still cleaning up, Simon helped Rafe set the table. Soon they were all sitting around the table appropriately praising the chefs and eating. Even though he fully joined in the various conversations Jim kept partially tuned into his guide, listening for any sign of his waking up or being in distress. As dinner progressed and Blair continued to sleep, he finally began to relax. At one point, as they were talking over coffee, Blair made a small noise that caused all four heads to turn in his direction but he seemed to settle back down without waking.

Henri leaned back in his chair, idly turning his coffee cup around in front of him. "You know, this whole situation really sucks, as Hairboy himself would say. It's like the kid can't catch a break."

"Yeah." Rafe agreed. "At least this time it isn't even remotely Sandburg's fault. It's those damn poachers and the city workers who didn't find that trap."

Glancing out the window at the still raging storm, Simon sighed. "Well it looks like we're pretty much stuck here for the duration. It's pitch black out there and with all that lighting it's not safe to even try to drive down that road." He looked pointedly at Jim. "For anyone." He looked around the table again. "At least we still have power and the wood box is full, so we'll have heat and be able cook even if we lose that." He turned to Jim. "We'll probably have to check the road for debris before we try to drive out of here. Hopefully tomorrow, if the storm lets up. No doubt at least some branches will have been blown down."

Jim knew he couldn't risk using his senses to try to drive tonight, not without his Guide's help. And there was no way he would even think about having Blair try to help him in his condition. "No problem. I'll check it out as soon as the rain stops. I want to leave here as soon as possible after that. Nothing much we can do until then." He raised his coffee cup towards Brown and Rafe. "Gentlemen, that was an excellent dinner. My compliments to the chef, er, I mean chefs."

Brown gave a small bow from his chair. "Thank you. My able assistant and I accept your compliments as well as your generous offer to do the dishes."

Jim started for a moment, then smiled. "Okay, fair is fair. My able assistant and I will handle clean up tonight." He ignored Simon's stare. "So, how does the food supply look in case we're stuck in here for a few days after all?" They had planned on making a trip into town today after fishing to stock up on supplies.

"Actually, pretty good. It looks like they keep this place well stocked. And if you add in some fresh fish, I wouldn't worry about running out of food any time soon."

Simon nodded his approval. "Good. Good. Well, let's clean up and I guess just sit back and try to relax tonight. Nothing we can do now except wait for the storm to pass. Jim, if you want to check on Sandburg, I'll start clearing the table. But you will be in the kitchen as soon as you're finished."

Simon stood and picked up his plate and glass and headed into the kitchen. Following his lead, the others got up and cleared the table. Brown decided he could use a shower while Rafe retrieved the paperback he brought and settled into a recliner. Jim walked over and stood beside Blair. The kid still looked too pale and, even though he was still asleep, looked distressed, as though he were having a bad dream. Kneeling down, Jim carefully adjusted the blanket more securely and laid his palm across the slightly sweaty forehead. Jim knew he didn't need to touch Blair to know that he was now running a low-grade fever; he just wanted the physical contact with his guide. What demons are keeping you from resting now, buddy? Moving to the end of the couch, he focused his vision to examine Blair's leg without having to touch it. Satisfied that the bleeding hadn't started again and noting that the swelling hadn't increased, he straightened back up, and with one last look at his sleeping partner, joined Simon in the kitchen.

"How's he doing? Will he be all right tonight?" Try as he might to maintain a gruff attitude towards Sandburg, Simon couldn't keep the concern out of his voice.

Jim sighed. "Well, he's developed a slight fever but the bleeding hasn't started again and the swelling hasn't increased any." Glancing at Rafe, still engrossed in his book, he leaned closer and all but whispered, "And I don't smell any infection yet. I'll just have to keep an eye on him and hope he doesn't get any worse." Since Simon had almost finished loading the dishwasher, he picked up a sponge and started wiping the counters and stove. "You know, I'd like just one vacation when nothing goes wrong. Just one." He gave an overly dramatically look upwards. "Just one. Is that too much to ask?"

"For you two? Probably." Looking around, Simon proclaimed the kitchen clean and led Jim out to the living room. Settling into the love seat, he picked up the remote and, after a little channel flipping, they settled on an action police show.


Blair slowly became somewhat aware of his surroundings. And immediately regretted it. The pounding in his head matched the rhythm of the intense throbbing of his leg. He tried to sink back into the inviting, painless darkness but instead only managed to remain barely consciousness. Gradually, he became aware of voices speaking somewhere but couldn't make out what they were saying. All he knew right now was that he just wanted the pain in his head and leg to stop. A small groan escaped before he could stop it. The voices stopped for a few moments then resumed. Now he could understand them but they kept fading in and out like an out of tune radio.

... this whole situation really sucks... Henri and he sounded upset. ... Sandburg's fault... Don't say that, Bri, I didn't mean for this to happen. ... looks like we're pretty much stuck here... God, now Simon's really pissed. ... I want to leave here as soon as possible... Oh please, not you too, Jim, not you too. If Jim blamed him for this he didn't know if he could stand it. Not on top of messing up during the Wade case. ... worry about running out of food... Oh God, they were supposed to go into town today for supplies for the week. Now they were all stuck here without any food. And it was all his fault. Again. They all blamed him; even Jim wanted to leave. Damn. Damn. Damn. Couldn't he do anything right? First he messed up with Wade and now he went and ruined everyone's badly needed vacation. So now it would be up to him to fix everything. Somehow. Blair could feel the blackness returning. As he allowed himself to fall back into its welcoming embrace, the one phrase that seemed to sum up the whole situation kept repeating itself over and over in his devastated, fevered mind ... Sandburg's fault... Sandburg's fault...


The next time Blair became of anything, the room seemed darker. The memory of what he heard last time he was awake rushed back at him. How long ago was that? Did everyone go and leave him behind? There were voices again but not any he recognized. TV? Movie? A quick check showed that he felt hot, his head hurt and his lower leg was still killing him; only now the pain was shooting up his leg too. The inside of his mouth felt like he'd been chewing cotton. It was so dry it almost hurt. Jim. Jim would get him something to drink. If he's not still too angry with me for this new mess, if he's even still here.

"J'mm?" God, he could barely croak out the word.

Seconds later, Jim was at his side, one hand across his forehead, the other on his arm. "Hey, Chief. I see you decided to join us again. How're you feeling? You need anything?"

Did Jim sound upset? Angry? Hard to tell. How did he feel? Hot. Weak. Thirsty. In pain. He finally managed to force his eyes part way open. It was darker than before but he could make out Jim, sitting on the edge of the couch facing him. It was hard to see his face clearly, either because it was dark or his eyes were just blurry.

"Wa... wa'dr. Pl'se." Could he sound any more pathetic?

"What did he say?" Simon.

"He wants some water. Can someone bring a glass of water?" Footsteps going away.

"How's his fever?" Fever, did he have a fever now too?

"Higher." Guess so. Jim did not sound happy. Great, one more reason for everyone to be even more upset with him.

"J'm?"

"Shhh. Drink this first." An arm slid under his shoulders, helping him sit up. A glass of cold water appeared in front of him. He grabbed it with both hands, and tried to drink all of it at once. Something was pulling it away. NO!

"Blair, slow down. You'll get sick. Just drink it slow. There's plenty more where that came from."

Okay. He could do slow. He had to show them that he wouldn't be any more trouble. With Jim's help, he eventually emptied the glass, then leaned back against the arm still supporting him.

"Better?"

He nodded. "Much. Thanks." At least he wasn't croaking any more. "Wha time izit?"

"Around ten. You've been asleep for a while. I was hoping you'd sleep all night."

Blair glanced down at his aching limb. "Yeah. Me too."

Jim carefully lowered Blair back down, leaving him a bit more propped up on the pillow than before. "How's the leg feel? You hungry? You missed a great dinner. Brown and Rafe outdid themselves."

Looking around, he saw Rafe and Brown watching him from their seats in the living room. He looked up at Simon then quickly turned away. He still couldn't meet the captain's eyes, could still hear him saying that he was just making everything harder on everyone, especially Jim. Suddenly, he became aware that he was now taking up the entire couch, forcing everyone to find other seating arrangements. God, how much worse could it get? Oh no. This much worse.

"Jim?" It was barely more than a whisper.

"What, Chief? You need something?"

"I-I, uh..." This was so embarrassing. "I gotta go."

"Go? Go where? We can't leave here until the storm lets up. Hopefully, by tomorrow morning."

Hearing snickers coming from behind him, Jim realized what Blair meant. "Oh."

"Yeah. Oh. Help me up. I'll take it from there." Just how he would take it from there, he had no idea. He barely had the strength to sit up.

Jim picked up the blanket covering Blair and dropped it on the floor. Squatting beside Blair, he quickly, before Blair could realize what he was doing, slid one arm behind his shoulders and the other under his knees and stood up, bringing Blair up with him. Blair had to grab Jim's neck with both arms to keep his balance. The indignity and embarrassment of being picked up like a child temporarily overrode how bad he was feeling.

"Jim! Put me down! Right now!"

"Uh-uh. No way, Sandburg. You're not putting any weight on that leg until a doctor's seen it. Deal with it." He started across the living room.

"Hey, Brian." Henri swatted his partner's arm with the back of his hand. "If I hurt my leg, would you pick me up and carry me like that?"

Rafe looked at the large, rotund detective. "Sure H. No problem. If you don't mind having a partner with a hernia."

Henri covered his heart with both hands and tried to look wounded. Rafe ignored him.

As Jim reached the doorway leading to the back rooms, snickering broke out again when Blair asked, "You gonna hold it for me too, Jim?" That turned into full laughter as Jim's answer came back to them from the hallway, "If I have to."

Henri turned back to Rafe again. "Would you do that for me, too?"

Rafe rolled his eyes. "In your dreams. There are some things that are above and beyond the call of duty, even for partners."

"They'd do it for each other."

"They're different."

"Yeah, that's true."

Both detectives turned back to the TV and tried to pick up the show they were watching earlier. Neither had noticed that Simon had not said a word since Blair had woken up.

Simon sat staring at the TV but he had no idea what was happening on the screen. His mind was on his injured man in the other room. Yes, he told himself, he now thought of Sandburg as one of his men. The kid went everywhere, did almost everything any of his other men did, all without the benefit of a badge or a paycheck. That's why it bothered him so much now that Blair wouldn't look at him. He knew he had come down hard on the observer earlier but it had to be done. Jim wouldn't have had the heart to yell at Sandburg and Brown and Rafe just wouldn't, especially with Ellison in the room. As captain, it had become his responsibility to make sure Sandburg let Jim tend to his leg. He hated having to do that but it had worked, Sandburg had immediately calmed down and allowed his injury to be treated. But at what cost to their relationship? The look on his face had been almost heartbreaking. And now Blair wouldn't even look at him. Apparently, he thought he was still angry with him or, worse, that his partner's boss blamed him somehow for what had happened. The few times their eyes met, just for those few brief seconds, he could see shame and guilt in those overly expressive blue eyes. Dammit. Jim had told him how distraught Sandburg already was over the Wade case. Why'd the bastard have to pick Rainier? And why did a close friend of Blair's have to be one of the vics not to make it? It was like Brown had said, the kid just couldn't seem to catch a break. And now this. Well, when Blair was feeling better, maybe he'd have a talk with him; straighten a few things out. Make him see that he only came down on him like that for his own good. Maybe even let him know how much he really respected him and how he was actually highly thought of in the bullpen. Well, maybe not all that; didn't want to give him too much leeway, after all he still a reputation as a hardass captain to maintain. But yeah, they would talk. It always worked with Darryl when they had a fight, no reason it shouldn't work with a bigger kid too. He was pulled out of his musing when Jim's voice called out from the back. But it wasn't from the bathroom, apparently at some point they had moved into their bedroom.

"Can somebody straighten up the couch? We'll be out in a minute. And bring another glass of water too."

Brown got up. "Sure, Jim, no problem." Rafe volunteered to get the water.

After smoothing out the sheet, plumping up the pillow and straightening up the two folded towels at the end of the couch Brown called out, "Ready, Jim."

Jim came out once again, carrying Blair. Instead of his street clothes, Blair was now dressed in a pair of warm sweats with a thick sock covering his good foot. The pant cuff on the injured leg was pushed up above the bandage. But this wasn't the indignant, wisecracking Blair that had just left a few minutes ago. This Blair's face was a decidedly grey color and instead of fighting against being carried, he had his head lying on Jim's shoulder. That and the obvious shaking was enough to show what a strain just taking care of some personal hygiene and changing clothes had been on the young observer. Jim quickly crossed over to the couch and slowly lowered Blair down. He carefully propped up the injured leg on the towels and arranged the pillow under Blair's head. "All right?" At Blair's small nod, he stood up and again covered him with the blanket, making sure that his leg remained uncovered so he could monitor it. Sitting on the coffee table, he picked up the ibuprofen bottle and shook out another four pills. After giving them to Blair, he handed him the refilled glass that Rafe had left there. Watching Blair take the pills without any hesitation told Jim just how badly his friend was hurting.

"The storm's beginning to let up. As soon as it's light out I'll check on the road, hopefully we can get you into town first thing in the morning. Why don't you try to sleep some more before then, okay?"

Oblivion sounded good. Blair was feeling even worse than he had been earlier but he was determined not to say anything. He had just managed to convince Jim not to give up his bed a few minutes ago, no way he would admit to not feeling good. Handing Jim back the half empty glass, he leaned back into the pillow and closed his eyes. A hand started to rub his head, the soft repetitive motion felt good. By concentrating on that comforting feeling, instead of his throbbing leg, he was soon able to fall back into the welcoming blackness.

Jim could feel Blair start to relax as he slowly smoothed the hair back from the now too hot forehead so he kept doing it. It only took a few minutes for his now sick, as well as injured, partner to fall asleep. It didn't take sentinel senses to see how badly his hands had been shaking when he drank the water or to feel how much higher his fever was now. He hoped that Blair wouldn't wake again until it was time to leave. Turning around, Jim faced their friends and sighed.

"He's worse. The fever's climbing; I think an infection's set in. As soon as the storm lets up a little more, I'm going to check the road." He rubbed his face with both hands. "Damn."

Simon crossed over and sat on the wooden table beside his worried friend. "He'll be all right, Jim. He's made it through worse. Remember Quinn? He had to wait all night for help with a bullet wound and a concussion in a cold, wet, dirty mineshaft and he made it through just fine. Here, at least he's warm, dry and you've already treated his injury. This is a cakewalk compared to back then."

Jim looked up. How did know Simon know exactly what he needed to hear? "Yeah, you're right, he is tougher than he looks. I'm just worried about the infection. If we can't get out of here, there's no way to treat it. He's already so run down from overworking and then the Wade case—I just don't think he has anything left to fight this with." He turned back around to Blair and pulled the blanket up a little higher. "This week was supposed to help him start getting over everything, not add more problems."

"I know. Look if you plan on heading out as soon as the weather breaks, why don't you head off to bed now? We'll keep an eye on Sandburg. Speaking of which, why did you bring him back out here? Wouldn't it have been easier to just put him in his bed while you were both already back there?"

Jim swiveled back around to face the living room again. "Slight problem. In fact, it's one more thing to tell the city personnel in charge of this place about. The bedroom roof leaks, right onto what would have been Blair's bed. Not a serious leak, if it weren't raining so hard it might not have even happened. Anyway, Blair refused to take my bed, said he wasn't putting anyone else out. He was getting so upset about it that I finally just gave in and brought him back out here. He can be so damn stubborn when he wants to be." He gave a slight shake of his head. "I think I will go on to bed; at least I'll be able to get a few hours sleep before leaving. Let me know if there's any change at all." Turning his head and doing a final sensory sweep of his partner, satisfied he wasn't getting any worse, he stood up and stretched. With a final nod to everyone in the room, he headed off towards the back rooms.

Henri and Rafe stayed up until the news was over then headed for their own beds. Shortly after that Simon realized that Jay Leno's monologue was over and he couldn't remember hearing one joke. Picking up the remote, he turned off the TV. Then, getting up with a sigh, he locked the front door and turned out the lights. He left one small lamp burning so it wouldn't be totally dark should Blair wake up or someone needed to come out into the living room in a hurry. Even though the most likely person wouldn't even need it. He looked down on the sleeping observer. Even in sleep, Blair looked too pale with deepening lines of pain creasing his forehead and spreading out around his eyes. Hang in there, kid. Jim'll get you out somehow, we all will. Reluctantly he turned away and, glad that this long day was finally over, walked towards his own room.


Something woke Blair up. Struggling back into consciousness was like swimming through molasses. He finally surfaced just enough to crack his eyes open. The room was mostly dark with just a small light coming from somewhere near the fireplace. It was very quiet; it felt like the middle of the night and it looked as if everyone had gone to bed. So what woke him up? He felt more than saw a movement near the kitchen. Someone was moving around the cabin in the dark. He couldn't hold back a startled gasp as his heart started pounding. Within seconds a familiar voice was coming from right beside him. A warm hand was on his shoulder.

"Shhh, Blair. It's just me. It's all right."

"Jimmm?"

"Yeah, Chief. Relax. I didn't mean to scare you, I didn't think you'd wake up. I was just leaving a note for Simon."

Blair forced his tired eyes to open wider. The light was dim but he could see that Jim was wearing his coat and he looked... wet? Reaching out his hand he touched Jim's arm.

"Wet?"

Apparently, anything beyond one-word sentences seemed to be more than he could handle right now. His brain felt fuzzy, he was having a hard time concentrating, while his body felt hot and chilled at the same time.

Jim smiled. "Right again, Darwin. I've been out checking the road." The smile faded. "It's just what I was afraid of, a tree came down totally blocking it less than half a mile from here. It's not that big but the car won't be able to get around it. I'm going to check for a back road. I'm sure that a gang like the one that worked up here must have had more than one way out. Trouble is, even if I find it, I'll have to check it out all the way to the main road to make sure we won't get stuck part way down. It may take me a few hours to get there and back. Can you tell Simon what's going on?"

Blair looked at Jim with barely aware fever-brightened eyes. "... uh-huh..."

Jim watched as Blair tried to follow the conversation. If it were just sleepiness, instead of fever induced grogginess, it would almost be amusing. "Why don't I just finish that note anyway?"

"... 'kay..."

"And why don't you go back to sleep? I'll probably be back before you wake up again." Laying his palm across Blair's forehead, he tried to soothe the younger man back to sleep while frowning at the slightly higher temperature he felt there. He looked down at the injured leg, noting that at some point it had started to swell even more. The odds were leaning even more towards the likelihood that it was broken. Blair needed a doctor, now. He had to get going; one way or another, he was going get his best friend some real medical help. Waiting until the clouded blue eyes closed again, he slowly got up and made his way quietly back to the table and finished writing his brief note to Simon. Placing the note where he was sure it couldn't be missed, Jim stood and glanced back over to the still form on the couch. As necessary as this was, he was reluctant to leave Blair for any length of time. Knowing that the grad student was totally exhausted, as much now from dealing with severe pain as anything else, he was sure that Blair wouldn't stir again for the rest of the night. That thought gave him the needed resolve to go back out and find a way to get his friend to the help he critically needed. With that thought, just as quietly as before, he made his way to the front door and was gone.


When Blair heard the door close, he opened his eyes again. He tried to think, something that was becoming increasingly more difficult. Something wasn't right. Why would Jim go out in the rain just to find a way out of here? What was going on? It was barely light out, what was the big rush? He shifted to get more comfortable and had to grit his teeth to keep from crying out as a streak of blinding pain shot up his leg. Memory came rushing back: stepping into the bear trap, Jim finding him, Simon telling him he was just making it harder on everyone and finally the conversation he had overheard. "... looks like we're pretty much stuck here..." "... worry about running out of food..." "... Sandburg's fault..." No wonder Jim was so adamant about leaving. They were trapped up here without any food. The main way out was blocked. And it was all his fault. Slowly his confused, fevered mind started forming a plan. He was sure Jim had said that the tree blocking the road wasn't big, just too long for the car to go around. He could climb over the tree, make his way to the main road and try to get a ride into town and get help for them. Jim said it would take him hours to check out any back road; he could be in town by then. He got them all into this mess, it was his responsibility to get them out, right? Then maybe they all, especially Simon, wouldn't blame him anymore. Now he had a plan, but how best to execute it?

Even as he was forming his plan a small, logical voice in the back of Blair's mind tried to tell him that what he was doing didn't make any sense. What had happened to him had been an accident, no one would blame him for getting hurt. And certainly trying to hike back into town in his condition was a foolhardy risk at best, another disaster waiting to happen at worst. Almost as quickly as he formed the thoughts, guilt and fever overrode them. No, he had gotten everyone into this mess, it was up to him to make things right. With the single-minded determination of someone convinced he is doing the right thing, he started to put his plan into action.

Listening carefully, Blair made sure that there were no noises coming from either of the back bedrooms. Everyone was still asleep. Okay, he could do this. He really could. He had to. He slowly sat up and pulled the blanket off, letting it drop to the floor. Now for the hard part. Moving very slowly and carefully, he lowered his injured leg to the floor. And almost lost consciousness from the pain. Breathing deeply, he waited for the initial wave of dizziness to pass then slowly forced himself upright, putting most of his weight on his good leg. It wasn't that far to the door, he would make it. Step by agonizing step, he worked his way to the front door, using anything he could reach to support himself. By the time he was finally leaning against the door itself, his face was covered with a fine sheen of moisture and he was trembling.

No stopping... no time.

Opening the door, the first cold blast of wet wind actually felt good on his overheated skin. But by the time he managed to make his way to the bottom of the steps, his shaking was worse. The hard rain had stopped, reduced now to a constant, fine drizzle. Sitting on the bottom step to catch his breath Blair looked around. The ground was covered with downed limbs and branches of all sizes, making his way around them on the road might be harder than he thought. Looking over the obstacle course in front of him, he saw one thing that might make his journey a bit easier. Literally crawling, he made his way over to the long, good-sized branch lying a few yards away. It was slightly longer than he was and just narrow enough for him to get most of his hand around. A good, strong staff, it was just what he needed. Using his new support, he managed to stand up. After a few tentative trial steps, he figured out the best, but definitely not the fastest, way to hobble along. By now, the light rain had plastered his hair to his head and was starting to soak through his sweats. His sock was soaked and muddy but it was the almost unbearable white-hot pain radiating up his leg that stopped him. Shaking, having to use both hands to hold onto the staff, Blair stood still, breathing heavily. If he was this worn out just getting this far, how was he ever going to make it all the way into town? "... Sandburg's fault..." He started making his way down the road.


Simon woke and judging by the sunlight coming in the window, figured it must be almost midmorning. He immediately became aware of two things, the rest of the cabin was very quiet and if he didn't get to the bathroom within the next thirty seconds, Sandburg's bed wouldn't be the only wet one.

A few minutes later he left his room and walked down the hall to Henri and Rafe's room and knocked on the door.

"Come on, ladies, let's get cracking. Rise and shine, people. I'm starting breakfast." When he heard the appropriate getting out of bed grumbling, he turned and stuck his head into the other bedroom. Ellison's bed was empty, no big surprise there. He was probably already outside, checking things out. The surprise came when he discovered that the couch was empty too.

Where the hell is Sandburg? No way he went with Jim. Even if he wanted to go, Ellison would never allow it. He started getting a bad feeling and, after all his years as a cop, he had learned to listen to these feelings. Seeing the note propped up on the table, he quickly retrieved and read it.

Simon,

I've already checked the main road out of here, it's blocked by a tree about a half mile down. I looked around but couldn't find any axes or saws and it's too big to move by hand. I'm going to look for a back road. If I find one, I'll follow it all the way to the main road to be sure it's not blocked too. It's around 7:30 a.m. now, I should be back in a few hours, depending on what I find. I just checked on Blair, his fever's up and his leg is swelling, I think it is broken. Keep an eye on him for me until I get back. Don't let him walk on it no matter what he says. I'll be back as soon as I can.

Jim

Simon looked at his watch, almost 9:30. Jim probably wouldn't be back for at least another hour or so or even longer. No way did he want to try to explain to Jim Ellison that his partner and best friend went missing on his watch. No, make that that his sick and injured best friend and partner went missing. While a police captain and two highly trained detectives were supposed to be watching him, no less. "Brown! Rafe! Get out here, now!"

A minute later the two other detectives came through the hall doorway, Brown still buttoning his shirt. "Shhh, Captain, you'll wake up... Hey, where's Hairboy?"

"That's what we need to find out, before Ellison gets back." He held up the note. "Jim went to check the roads. According to this, he checked on Sandburg around 7:30 this morning as he was leaving. It's now 9:30 and the damn kid is gone. No telling where he is or how long he's been gone. Jim said that his fever's up again and his leg is swelling and probably broken so I doubt if he could have gotten very far. Between the three of us, we should be able to track him down. Unless you want to tell Ellison that Sandburg is missing?" He watched as Brown and Rafe vigorously shook their heads. "I didn't think so. Let's go."

Each man grabbed his jacket and hat, putting them on as they headed out the door. At the bottom of the steps they stopped, looking around for any sign as to which way their wayward charge may have headed.

"Okay, men, I don't think he could have gone far but we should still split up to cover more ground. I'll take the main road. Brown, you and Rafe go down to the lake-"

"Captain," Rafe looked worried, "You don't think he might have... I mean... the lake..."

Simon's face softened a little at his detective's obvious concern for their observer. "I don't know, Brian. There's no telling what his state of mind was when he left. The mere fact that he left says he wasn't thinking clearly. That's why I want both of you down there. If you don't find anything by the lake then start checking the trail he took yesterday. I want every possibility covered. We'll meet back here as soon as each possible route has been thoroughly checked. Any questions?" When both detectives shook their heads, he nodded. "Okay, let's go."

Simon had just started down the now muddy road that they had driven up the other day when he noticed some strange markings not far from the cabin. He turned and called to his men, who hadn't gotten very far due to the debris that covered everything. "Hey, guys! C'mere and look at this." Both men hurried over to their captain. "What! You find something?" H demanded worriedly.

Squatting down, Simon pointed to the ground. "What do you make of these?"

Looking closely at the ground, they could make out narrow grooves and small, circle shaped holes in the mud. There were also odd shaped footprints with the markings.

Rafe was the first to speak. He looked over towards the porch then back to the unusual markings. Then he pointed to the larger drag marks. "I'd say Blair somehow made his way from the steps to here. Then he found a stick or something and started using it like a crutch to help him walk." He again pointed to the ground. "First, he would hold it upright to take the weight off his leg, see the holes? Then, he would drag it until the next step. The footprint looks odd because he's wearing a sock. It's not a bare foot or a shoe. He's heading down this road, probably aiming for the main road. At least, that's what it looks like to me."

Both Simon and Henri stared at Rafe until he became uncomfortable. "What? I used to track animals as a child in South Africa. Everyone learned how to follow a trail."

"We'll talk about this hidden talent later. Right now, you lead the way, we'll follow you." One of Simon's strengths as a captain was knowing when to let someone else lead.

It didn't take long for them to follow the trail to the fallen tree. It lay directly across the road. The trunk wasn't too thick but the length carried it into the woods on both sides of the road. The only way past it was to climb over it. Rafe went over first, followed by Simon then Henri. Just as Brown reached the other side, Rafe reached into a small, leafy branch sticking out and held up Blair's torn, dirty sock. "He definitely came this way."

Spurred on by the discovery, the three men hurried their pace. Just as they rounded a curve in the road, a patch of red caught their eyes. It was Blair, lying face down in the road, the bright red of his sweats standing out from the brown and green of the muddy roadway and the bushes growing alongside it. It took the now running men less than a minute to reach the prone observer. Kneeling down, Simon took a quick inventory of his missing man. Obviously unconscious, Blair was covered in mud, from the hair sticking to his too-white face to his bare feet. The bandage that Jim had so carefully wrapped earlier was filthy and almost completely undone; Simon didn't even want to think about the dirt and germs that now must be covering the exposed wounds. Along with the layer of mud, Blair was also wet, soaked to the skin, his muscles shaking from the cold and his breathing labored. He had a long stick tightly gripped in one hand as if even now he was reluctant to part with it. All in all, Simon thought that if he looked to be in bad shape before, that was nothing compared to now.

"He looks pretty bad, doesn't he?" Rafe's soft observation matched Simon's exactly.

"Yeah." That seemed to sum up the situation for everyone.

After satisfying himself that there were no new hidden injuries, Simon carefully turned Blair onto his back, noting that he kept his grip on his stick. He had to pry the stiff fingers from around it, watching as they immediately curled into a fist as if still looking for something to hold on to. He laid his hand across the dirty forehead, concerned about the heat radiating from it beneath the cold exterior of his face. He didn't think Blair could hear him but he felt compelled to offer some kind of assurances.

"It's all right, son. It'll be all right now. We've got you."

Simon looked up at the other two men. "Come on, let's get him back. Ellison'll go crazy if he gets back first and we're all gone."

Sliding one arm under Blair's back, Simon lifted him into a sitting position and watched as the curly head fell limply against his chest. It scared him how pale and lifeless the usually over exuberant grad student was now. A jacket suddenly appeared in his line of vision, Rafe was handing him his coat to wrap around Blair. Working together, the three men soon had Blair wrapped in Rafe's warm jacket. With Sandburg being held in Simon's arms, they began the trek back to the cabin.

When they reached the fallen tree, Henri and Rafe climbed over first, then Henri silently held out his arms and Simon handed his burden over to him. Once over the tree himself, Simon was ready to take Blair back but Henri shook his head. "I've got him, sir. I can carry him the rest of the way." Understanding this was something Brown wanted to do, Simon just nodded and led the way.

The trip back took longer than expected due to the muddy road and fallen debris scattered about. Once back inside the cabin, Simon quickly removed his coat and hat then led the way back to the bathroom. He had Henri sit on the closed toilet seat, still holding Blair, while he first removed Rafe's jacket then knelt down and finished unwinding the dirty bandage around the now very swollen leg. When it was uncovered and the damage exposed, Simon swore under his breath.

"Shit. I can't believe that the damn fool kid actually tried to walk on this. Or that he got as far as he did."

He turned to Rafe who was standing in the bathroom doorway. "Turn on the water, but just warm and don't stop up the tub yet." When the water was flowing, he rolled up his sleeves and turned Henri until he faced the tub. Reaching out, he picked up Blair's feet and gently held them under the water, letting it wash away the mud and dirt from each foot and the puncture wounds. Even though unconscious, Blair flinched when the water touched his injured leg. Henri held him tighter, trying to let him know that they were only trying to help him. He leaned his head down to the nearest curl-covered ear.

"Hey, Hairboy, it's us. We're just trying to help you. Relax, kid, it's all right." He looked over at Simon. "He's so cold."

"I know. As soon as his feet are clean, we'll put him in a warm bath; that should help raise his body temperature. Although I still can't figure out what in the hell possessed him to even be out there in the first place." When the last of the mud had been washed down the drain, Simon added a little more hot water to the flow and put the stopper in the tub, letting it fill. He addressed Rafe again.

"While Henri and I get Blair cleaned up, I need you to go make a fire and find some more warm clothes for him. Put the First Aid kit back out there too. Then come back in here, it may take all three of us to do this since Sandburg's a dead weight right now."

"You got it, Captain." Rafe turned and left.

"How are your arms doing? You've been holding him for awhile now."

"I'm fine. I've got him. Do whatever you need to do."

"Okay. Just hold him while I get his shirt off." Simon pulled the filthy sweatshirt over Blair's head and tossed it aside. "Raise his hips up a bit." When that was done, he reached up and pulled the waistband of the red sweatpants down to the mid thigh level. When Henri had Blair resting on his lap again, Simon lowered the waistband until it was halfway down Blair's calves. He pulled the cuff over the uninjured ankle until the entire leg was free. Turning his attention to the other leg, he carefully slipped his fingers inside the gathered cuff and spread them. Keeping his fingers wide apart he slowly eased the cuff over the swollen limb, trying not to touch it. With a sigh of relief, he tossed the pants behind him and proceeded to remove the wet boxers. Henri looked down and raised his eyebrows.

"Well, damn. Who'd a thought for a short, skinny white boy... Good thing I didn't nickname him Shorty."

Reaching over, Simon turned off the water. "I'm sure he would have appreciated the joke. Okay, give him to me." Taking Blair from Henri, he slowly lowered the limp young man into the warm tub, keeping one supporting arm across the back of his neck to keep his face out of the water. Dark curls floated in the water behind his arm. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Henri flexing his arms and fingers to restore the circulation. Just then Rafe reappeared in the doorway.

"Everything's ready. I put some clothes on Ellison's bed, figured it'd be easier to dress him there. Need any help in here?"

Without looking away from his charge, Simon answered. "Yeah. Henri, why don't you go take your coat off and give your arms a rest? Rafe, come here and take over holding Sandburg up. I need to start cleaning him up a bit." Rafe stepped back so Henri could get by then knelt down beside Simon. It was a tight fit until Rafe managed to get his arm under Blair's neck as Simon slid his out and moved farther down the side of the tub. He soaped up a washcloth then carefully picked up Blair's injured leg by the calf. His heart skipped a beat when he saw the angry red lines climbing upwards from puncture wounds. He hadn't noticed them earlier. The infection was getting worse. He started to gently clean the wounds as he informed Rafe of his latest finding. "It's definitely infected but least it's not bleeding again." He almost dropped the leg when Blair gave a small whimper and started mumbling.

"... can't stop... gotta... keep... going..."

"What's he saying?"

"I'm not sure. Sandburg? Blair? Can you hear me, son?"

"... my... fault... havta... fix..."

"Nothing's your fault, Blair. Listen to me; it's all right. You hear me, Sandburg?"

The total relaxation of Blair's body told Rafe that he was unconscious again. "He's out again, Captain. What do you think he meant by all that?"

"I don't know, Brian, I don't know. We'll just have to wait until he can tell us. We'll just do whatever we can for him for now and hope that Jim found a way out of here." Rafe nodded in agreement as he watched his normally gruff captain continue to care for the unresponsive observer.

Simon picked up each of Blair's still slightly muddy hands and washed them, noticing the rough patches on one palm, probably from gripping that stick so tightly. Of course that stick was probably the only thing holding him up the whole time he was out there. Using just two fingers inside the washcloth, he gently washed Blair's face, making sure that no soap got in his eyes or mouth. The rest of him had fortunately been covered up and really didn't need to be soaped off right now. As he finished rinsing the lax face, he instructed Rafe to tilt Blair's head back a bit to wet his hair and to use his other hand to try to work out as much mud and dirt as he could. He'd just as soon stop now but he knew that the dried mud and matted knots would drive Sandburg crazy when he woke up. Grabbing the first bottle of shampoo he could reach, he leaned over Rafe and quickly lathered up the long, dark hair and wondered how Sandburg could stand to have to take care of this much hair on a regular basis. Looking around, he pulled the plug then stood up and picked up the ceramic glass from the sink. As the water started going down the drain, Simon turned on the tub's faucet and, using the glass, rinsed Blair's hair with warm, clean water until all traces of shampoo was gone. By then the tub was almost empty. Using the glass he poured clean water over Blair's body just to be sure there were no traces of dirt left from the muddy water.

"Okay Brian, I think we're done here. Hang on to him for one more second." Standing up again, he took one of the long, thick bath towels from the rack on the wall and spread it across both his arms. "Okay. Hand him to me."

Rafe looked up over his shoulder and saw Simon sitting on the closed toilet seat, towel-covered arms ready to take the unconscious observer. Turning back around, keeping one arm under Blair's neck, he placed his other arm under his knees and, with a small grunt, stood up in one smooth motion. He turned and carefully lowered his wet, naked armload into Simon's waiting arms. When he was sure Simon had him, he reached over and closed the towel around the now shivering body. Only Blair's head and the bottom half of his legs and feet were showing.

Simon could feel Blair trembling. "Grab another towel and dry off his legs and feet. Just be real careful of his leg."

Even though Rafe tried to be very careful, the towel still brushed against the swollen, tender wounds. Blair moaned and instinctively turned his face into Simon's chest. Rafe jerked his head up, a stricken look on his handsome face.

"Oh God. I didn't mean to... I'm sorry."

"It's all right, Brian. Just come over here and dry all this hair. It's dripping all over the place. Then we need to get him dressed."

Brown joined them in the bedroom. By the time they got Blair dried off and dressed once again in a clean set of heavy sweats, everyone was more than concerned about his continued unresponsiveness. It was unnerving to see their observer so pale and still. Settling him back on the couch, Simon sat on the coffee table near his feet and opened the First Aid kit. He wasn't nearly as good at this as Ellison was so maybe for right now it was a blessing in disguise that Blair was still pretty much totally out of it. Remembering what Jim had done, he first covered everything with a thin layer of antibacterial ointment, then the nonstick pad. When it came to the roll of gauze, he hesitated. He really wasn't good at this. If he wrapped it too loose it wouldn't be doing much good as support but if he wrapped it too tight it would hurt worse and possibly do more damage. Offering up a silent prayer, he carefully wrapped the foot and leg, hoping he got it right for Blair's sake. He had just finished when a small voice caused his head to jerk up.

"jim?"

Blair's eyes were only half-open but that was enough for Simon to see that he wasn't totally aware of his surroundings.

"Jim's not here, Blair. He should be back any time now. How're you feeling? You want anything?"

"... it still... hurts... jim..."

Blair must have felt him working on the leg and assumed it was Jim. He just wished Jim were there. "Jim's gone right now. It's me, Simon." He moved until he was sitting beside the newly awakened observer and placed his hand across the sweaty forehead. Now that Sandburg was warmed up, the heat radiating off the earlier chilled skin was making itself known. It didn't take a thermometer to know that Blair was now running a high fever. Simon suppressed the urge to demand that Blair tell him what the hell he thought he was doing running around outside in his condition. The unfocused look in those usually keen blue eyes told him he probably wouldn't get a coherent answer anyway. And he didn't want a repeat of Blair's reaction to his earlier gruff orders. He watched as those eyes opened wider.

"... jim's... gone?..." ... I want to leave here as soon as possible... Jim left him. Something about his leaving tickled the back of Blair's mind but he couldn't grasp it. He just knew that Jim had wanted to leave him and he did. He slumped against the pillow. "... i'm sorry... si'mn..."

"Why's he apologizing because Ellison's checking the roads?" Henri's voice, though whispered, carried across the room.

Rafe's answer was just as quiet. "Don't know. In the tub, he was saying that something was his fault."

Blair was still looking at Simon with uncomprehending eyes. After what he'd been through this morning, the captain's patience was wearing thin. "Look, Sandburg, I said that Jim will be back soon and he will." Standing up, Simon looked towards the kitchen. "Now, since none of us have eaten since yesterday, I'm sure we're all pretty hungry by now and I know Jim will probably be starving by the time he gets back. Why don't I—"

The last thing anyone expected was for Sandburg to try to get up. He was already sitting up and trying to get off the couch before Simon finally managed to push him back down. "Dammit, Sandburg! What has gotten into you?"

Blair looked like the weight of the world was on his shoulders. "Hungry..."

"You're hungry? That's fine. I was just getting ready to—"

Blair cut him off. "No." He paused trying to gather his thoughts. It was so hard to concentrate. And why was it so hot in here? "You're hungry." He dropped his eyes. "My fault. I... I... have to... try to... make it right... I... have to... go. Fix it." There. That should explain everything.

Simon looked down. Sandburg wasn't making any sense but even if he were, one thing was certain. He pointed his finger at the younger man to emphasize what he was about to say. "Look, Sandburg, I don't know what's going on in that crazy head of yours but you're not moving from that couch. So just lie there and stay put. Got it?"

Blair's face crumbled. The first thought he could muster up was that he had somehow made Simon angry again. After already driving Jim away. Everything he did was wrong. Even Jim had left. And he was hot and really felt lousy and his leg hurt and Jim was gone and... and... He lay back and closed his eyes, not noticing as the first tear slowly slid down his face.

"Awww damn, Cap'n, you made him cry."

Henri's soft observation made Simon feel even more frustrated about the whole situation. He threw his hands up in resignation. Ellison was the only person who knew how to navigate in the regular Sandburg Zone, so how the hell was he supposed to know how to get around in a fever-ridden Sandburg Zone? Jim had better get back soon before things got any worse. As a captain in charge of a major police unit, he was used to being in command and giving orders, this kind of emotional stuff made him uncomfortable. He was positive that no other captain had to endure what he did on a daily basis. He sighed. "I can see that, Brown." He looked at his two detectives. "Anybody have any ideas on what to do now? I'm open for any and all suggestions here." All he got in response were two blank faces.

It was almost a relief when the door opened just then and let in a tired, wet Jim Ellison. One look at the wary faces looking at him told him something was wrong. Blair. He crossed over to the couch, tossing his jacket aside as he went. Simon quickly moved out of the way. A quick survey told Jim several things at once. Blair was wearing different clothes than when he had left, his bandages had been changed, his hair was damp, there was wheezing in his lungs and, even half asleep, he was losing the battle to stop the tears trickling down his face. The first four things could wait; the last could not. Sitting down beside his miserable-looking guide, Jim put one hand on each side of Blair's face using his thumbs to wipe away the tears. Without using sentinel senses, he still would have been able to tell that the fever had risen even higher since he had left. Even though his eyes never left Blair's face, it was obvious when he spoke that he was addressing the other people in the room. "What happened?"

Simon took charge again, glad to finally be back where he was comfortable. "I'm not really sure to tell you the truth. When I woke up this morning it was almost 9:30. I got these two up and saw that you weren't in bed. I figured that you were already out checking the road."

Jim was nodding his head in agreement to Simon's last statement.

"When I got out here, the first thing I noticed was that Sandburg wasn't on the couch. Then I saw your note. From that I knew you'd been gone for about two hours but I had no idea how long Sandburg had been gone. I got Brown and Rafe and we immediately went out looking for him. We almost split up until Rafe did an amazing job of reading his tracks in the mud out front and not only figured out how he was able to walk but which way he was headed. Saved us a lot of valuable time."

Jim turned his head to look at Rafe who just shrugged and looked down at the floor even as his partner gave him a small shove with his elbow. He'd have to thank the embarrassed-looking detective later. He turned back to his own partner; Blair was stirring a little. "So then what happened?"

Simon, with an occasional additional comment from Brown and Rafe, told Jim the rest of the story of how they found and then took care of Blair, including the strange comments he'd been making.

"He never said why he left or where he was going?"

"No. He just said that something was his fault and he had to fix it, make it right somehow. To tell you the truth, I don't think he was even aware of what was going on or what he was saying."

Jim looked down at the face still cradled in his hands. "Just what was going on in that crazy head of yours, Chief?"

Simon flinched inwardly. That was almost exactly what he had said to Sandburg just before Jim came back but somehow, when he said it, it had sounded insulting. When Jim said it, there was no hint of irritation, just genuine affection. Is that how he came across to Sandburg everyday? Did he unconsciously change the way he spoke when he talked to Blair? Maybe something else to add to that little talk he still planned to have with his one and only observer.

As if hearing the familiar nickname finally allowed Jim's voice to penetrate his fever-fogged mind, Blair opened his eyes.

"... jim?..."

"Right here, Chief. I hear you had yourself a little adventure while I was gone. Want to tell me about it?"

Instead of answering, Blair managed to pull himself upright. Before anyone realized what he was doing, he had put his arms around Jim and lay his cheek on the detective's broad chest. His voice was barely a whisper but everyone in the room heard it. "You came back."

After a few startled seconds, Jim returned the embrace. Blair had never reached out to him before but if this is what Blair had decided he needed right now then this is what he would get. But he was a little puzzled by Blair's comment. "Of course I came back, Chief. You didn't think I'd left for good, did you?"

The curly head nodded, eyes closing.

"Don't you remember our conversation? When I told you I had to check the road but I'd be back later?"

There was a pause then the curls shook back and forth.

Without realizing it, Jim had started slowly rubbing one hand up and down Blair's back. "It's all right, Chief. You were pretty out of it during that time. But why would you think I wouldn't come back?" A small part of him hurt to think that Blair would believe that about him, even if it was a fever-induced notion.

"You said..."

Jim lowered his head until he was practically speaking into Blair's ear. "What did I say?"

"You said... you said... you wanted to get... away from here... from me... as soon as you could." Blair's hands tightly grabbed the back of Jim's shirt as if he was afraid he would still just get up and walk away.

Jim couldn't answer for several seconds. "I said WHAT?" First order of business was to reassure his obviously delirious partner that whatever he thought he heard was wrong. "Blair... you know I would never say that. Never. You thought that I left to get away from you? Why would you ever think that?"

Blair paused again, trying to take a deep breath; his lungs couldn't seem to get enough air. When he spoke, his voice was so soft that Simon, Brown and Rafe had to strain to listen. "... i heard... you talking... said it was all... my fault." A noise that sounded suspiciously like a sniffle was heard. "... said... we're trapped here... no food... i'm sorry... i tried to... fix it..."

Jim kept one hand on Blair's back while his other now gently stroked the long, soft curls. Even through the thick hair, he could feel the heat radiating off of Blair. Not knowing how much his sick friend would be able to comprehend, he still tried to reassure him. "Shhh, Blair. It's all right. Nobody blames you for anything. Nothing's your fault. We're not trapped here and we have plenty of food. I don't know what you thought you heard but it's not true."

Looking up, the confused looks on the other three men's faces made it obvious to Jim that they were as puzzled as he was by Blair's words.

Blair's head was getting heavier and his fists had loosened their tight grip on his shirt. Good. Sleep was just what he needed right now. Jim was glad that Blair had finally turned to him physically for comfort. He'd been trying to teach Blair practically since they met that there was nothing wrong with grown men touching each other, especially when one was hurting, either physically or emotionally. He himself had bought into all that stupid macho crap for years until he joined the Army and saw first hand how even a small touch seemed to ease a wounded soldier's pain. Then, later, he watched as the Chopec men, some of the fiercest warriors alive, had no qualms about hugging or showing any other physical form of expression with each other. Incacha had found it unbelievable and also very sad that Western men were so uncomfortable about touching each other. By the time he left Peru, he had left that particular hang up behind him, even though he had to be very careful again once he was rescued. He learned to use the accepted 'manly' ways to touch even his closest friends—slaps on the back or head, mock punches on the arm or if he felt daring, an arm around the shoulders. He was sure that many of Blair's 'uncles' had drilled that same 'men don't touch' message into him while he was growing up despite Naomi's free-flowing lifestyle. He was also pretty certain that Blair's physical appearance, while definitely quite masculine, probably still caused some men to react negatively to any type of physical contact he may have attempted. So, even though seeing Blair finally reach out to him warmed his heart, he hoped this wasn't just the fever letting Blair's defenses down. But even if that was the case, he didn't want his friend getting teased about his first attempt at opening up physically; it could then very well end up being his last.

Jim looked down then back over at the detectives sitting around the living room. "You know if Sandburg remembers this..." he waved his hand between Blair and himself, "... once he's better, he's gonna be awfully embarrassed."

Brown grinned. "As embarrassed as finding out that the three of us all helped give him a bath and then dressed him afterwards?"

Jim sighed inwardly. This wasn't going to be easy, this was prime teasing and blackmail material that he was going to try to convince the worst joker in the office to give up. And Rafe could usually be counted on to back his partner up in his pranks. Simon would probably be easier to persuade given his rank and standing.

"Yeah. About all this... Look, guys, Blair's hurt, he's sick and it sounds like he's even a bit delusional. Not to mention he already feels bad enough about ruining everybody's vacation. Making fun of him for things that happened when he was feeling his worst and didn't even know what he was doing doesn't seem very fair to me. I can't see him making fun of any of you if you were in his place. None of this was his fault, even if he seems to think it is. I'd really appreciate it if most of what happened up here concerning Sandburg stays between the four of us."

As if to prove Jim's point, Blair spoke up again, never opening his eyes or raising his head.

"... jim?...

"Right here, buddy. What's the matter?"

... i... i... don' feel... so good... and... my leg... hurts..."

"I know, I know. We're gonna take care of that real soon. Why don't you lie back down and try to go back to sleep, okay?"

He took hold of Blair's shoulders and started to pull him away so he could lay his now very sick partner back onto the couch. Blair immediately made a small sound of distress and gripped Jim's shirt again.

"... don' leave..."

Slowly rubbing his friend's too thin, too hot back, Jim leaned down and whispered reassurances that only Blair could hear. Watching their fellow detective calm down his partner, the three other policemen looked at each other and a silent agreement was reached between them. When Jim looked back up at them Henri nodded.

"We won't say anything to him, Jim. It's no fun to rag someone about stuff they don't even remember. Besides, the poor boy's been through enough already. So, how are we gonna get him out of here? Did you find a way out?"

Jim nodded as he laid a more pliant Blair back onto the pillow. He stroked the hot, sweaty head until Blair's labored breathing evened out in sleep. Picking up the blanket, he loosely covered the sleeping figure. Nodding his head in satisfaction, he walked over to the kitchen table and sat down. The others followed him.

As soon as everyone was seated, Simon spoke up. "Okay, Jim, where do we stand right now? What did you find out there?"

Jim scrubbed a hand over his face. He'd been out traipsing through the woods for miles since dawn and he was starting to feel it. Constant worrying about Blair only added to his fatigue. "First off, it's pretty obvious that Blair needs a doctor as soon as possible. His leg's definitely infected and his fever is getting too high. Not to mention he's starting to have some trouble breathing. And if he's hallucinating, too, hearing things that weren't said, then it's even more important to get him into town. Now about that... I did find a back road. It's in bad shape: over grown, deeply rutted and, right now, pretty muddy. It'll be rough but it is drivable to the main road. It stopped raining entirely on my way back and the sun actually came out. I hate to wait but I figure in a few hours the sun will dry the road out enough that it can at least be driven on. The last thing I want is for that heavy car to get stuck in mud halfway down."

Simon nodded. "That does sound like the only way. Unless anyone has any other ideas?" Brown and Rafe both shook their heads. "Okay, that's settled. Listen, Jim, why don't you go take a shower while I fix us all some breakfast. After that, you can grab a few hours sleep until it's time to go."

A shower and food followed by sleep sounded too good to pass up. He stood up and with one last look at his sleeping partner headed for the back bedroom.

The hot water revitalized his tired muscles. Now, as he headed out of his bedroom freshly showered, shaved and dressed in clean clothes, the smell of bacon and eggs started his stomach growling. But it was the heady aroma of fresh brewed coffee that drew him to the coffee maker like a magnet. He didn't say a word until he had fixed a cup and taken his first sip. "Oh man, that's just what I needed."

Simon chuckled. "Breakfast, or I should say brunch, is ready. Everybody grab a plate and help yourself."

Soon, the only sound in the cabin was coming from the kitchen table as four hungry men concentrated on inhaling their food. It wasn't long before each of them sat back with a satisfied sigh.

"That was good, Simon. I didn't even realize how hungry I was 'til I smelled it cooking."

"Glad you liked it. Listen, do you think Sandburg would be up to eating anything? I don't remember seeing him eat anything since breakfast early yesterday morning."

Jim looked over at the couch his partner was lying on. From this angle all he could make out was the top of his head. "You know, you're right. But I don't know if he can handle eating right now. What he does need is fluids to keep from dehydrating." He got up and opened the refrigerator, checking the contents. Seeing what he wanted, he pulled out a carton with a label saying it was an all-natural mixed fruit drink. "Just what the doctor ordered. And it has to taste better than water." Pouring a large glass he headed over to his fever-ridden guide.

Setting the glass on the coffee table, Jim took the opportunity to do a quick sensory check on Blair. Skin too pale and sweaty, and he could feel the heat rising up without even touching him. He looked down at the leg. It was swollen with the red streaks of infection running up under the sweatpants. If he thought there was any chance at all of making it to the main road right now, they'd be gone in a heartbeat. But as badly as Blair needed medical attention and as much as every instinct was screaming for him to take his friend out immediately, he knew it was better to wait a while and be sure they'd make it than to try now and get stuck. Fighting his own urges, he carefully sat down next to Blair and lightly tapped one hot cheek.

"Hey, Chief. How bout waking up for me for a minute? I've got something nice and cold for you to drink."

When that got no response, he shook one shoulder. "C'mon buddy, open your eyes. I need you to wake up now."

Just when he thought he'd have to resort to something more drastic, Blair very slowly cracked his eyes open.

"That's it, Chief. You don't even have to wake all the way up. Just enough to drink this."

Blair looked at him with almost totally blank eyes. Coming from the usually overly intelligent-looking grad student, it was very frightening.

Sliding an arm across his shoulders, Jim helped Blair sit up and realized he was supporting most of his weight. He held out the glass until it was obvious Blair wasn't going to take it on his own. He put the rim to the dry lips and tipped it forward. "That's it, Chief, little sips till it's all gone."

It took a few minutes but finally the glass was empty. Blair still hadn't said a word or looked any more aware of his surroundings. With a small sigh, Jim lay Blair back down and pulled the blanket back up. He watched as the unfocused blue eyes closed and Blair slipped back into sleep without even acknowledging Jim's presence. Jim decided then and there that they were leaving in no more than a few hours if he had to carry his partner into town on his back. Right now, though, he was going need some sleep himself so he would be ready if worse came to worst. Putting action to thought, he got up and, with a wave to the others, slowly walked back into the bedroom.


Jim became aware of a shaking sensation and someone calling his name. Finally opening his eyes, he saw Simon standing beside the bed. His first thought was that something was wrong with Blair.

"Blair!"

Simon held one hand up. "Blair's fine, well, there's no change from earlier anyway. I just thought I should get you up. It's around four now and I figure that in these woods it probably gets dark pretty quick. We should probably leave while we still have plenty of daylight left."

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Jim rubbed his face with both hands. "What do you mean 'we'?" He hadn't planned on anyone else going with him. He considered getting Blair to a doctor to be his responsibility and not anyone else's.

"Yes 'we', Jim. Unless you've figured out a way to concentrate on driving and take care of Sandburg at the same time. And from what you've said about that road, driving is going be a full time job. That's why I'm driving and you're going to tend to your partner." He held up his hand again, this time to stop any forthcoming protests. "Listen, if Blair wakes up during the drive, he's going to need you. This is going to be hard enough on him as it is. Do you want him to wake up disoriented and panicking, not knowing where he is or where you are?" For once, Jim's thoughts were easy to read on the usually stoic face. Simon nodded, "I didn't think so. So finish getting ready, we need to leave as soon as we can." With that, Simon turned and left the room. Jim put his shoes on and walked to the bathroom. After taking care of business and splashing some cold water on his face, he had to admit that, between breakfast and the nap, he felt much better. He headed out to the living room.

Simon was talking with Brown and Rafe. It looked like they were settling something since both Henri and Brian were nodding. As Jim approached, he could hear Henri saying "Sounds good."

"What sounds good?"

"We decided that Brown and Rafe will stay here and start packing everything up while you and I drive Sandburg into town. Actually I'll be driving; you'll be holding Sandburg. Wait, hear me out before you start objecting. If the road is as bad as you said, and I don't doubt that it is, then it's going to be a very bumpy ride. The best way for Sandburg will be if someone holds him still, so his leg won't get jostled any more than necessary. We'll put a pillow under it for padding but he'll have to be kept as still as possible, especially if he wakes up before we get there. Now, who do you think he'll be more comfortable with in that situation—you or me? Besides, this way you can keep an eye on him without having to worry about watching the road." Simon knew he had him when Jim couldn't offer any immediate objections to their plan. "Good. Then it's all settled. I'm going to bring the car as close to the steps as I can. Henri and Brian, help Jim get Sandburg ready." As he headed towards the door, he could hear the others moving towards the couch. Yes, it was good to be the captain.

As he pulled up beside the steps and got out, he could see Jim standing in the open doorway with a well-bundled Sandburg in his arms. Brown was holding Sandburg's backpack and Rafe stood beside him, holding the pillow from the couch. Backpack? For Sandburg's I. D. and insurance info no doubt. Probably didn't feel like digging through God knows what the kid keeps in there looking for it so Brown must have just grabbed the whole bag. Besides, when Sandburg wakes up in the hospital, it'll be the first thing he'll ask for, might as well already have it.

Seeing Simon, Jim slowly descended the stairs and waited while he opened the back passenger side door. With Henri helping him, he carefully managed to slide onto the long bench seat while maintaining his hold on Blair. Then Henri laid the backpack on the floor by Jim's feet. While he was getting in, Rafe opened the door on the other side and slid in. As Jim was getting situated he gently lifted and held Blair's legs. Once Jim was fully seated and had Blair in a comfortable position, he slowly lowered the legs onto the pillow he had placed on the seat, using it to help support the injured leg. After making sure that both of Blair's feet were covered up and that Jim was all right, he backed out, shut the door and walked around to the other side of the car where Simon and Henri were still standing.

Simon looked up as Rafe came around the back of the car. "They in there all right?"

"Yeah, as well as can be expected. I don't imagine it's going to be too comfortable for either one of them. Good thing that town's not very far."

"Which means," Henri added, "that you'd better get a move on. Don't worry, we'll take care of everything here. Just get Hairboy to the doctor."

Simon nodded and walked around to the driver's door and got in while Henri and Rafe made their way back up the stairs to the porch where they waited. Simon started the car then turned around to make sure Jim was ready. Blair was sitting sideways in the detective's lap, totally wrapped up in blankets. The only part visible was his head, which was resting on Jim's shoulder. "All set?"

Jim nodded. "Let's go. I'll tell you how to get to the back road."


The trip was every bit as difficult as they imagined it would be. Only by driving slowly and concentrating on the road was Simon able to avoid the worst of the ruts and potholes that seemed to make up most of the very neglected dirt lane. Fortunately, the sun had dried the mud enough so that getting stuck wasn't a problem. Every so often, after a particularly bad bump or jolt, Simon could hear the small noises that, even practically unconscious, Blair couldn't seem to hold back. And each time Blair reacted, Jim could be heard whispering softly until he quieted back down again. But Jim never criticized Simon's driving or tried to make any suggestions on the best way to navigate, for which Simon was eternally grateful.

After what seemed like hours to both men, the car finally left the dirt road and turned onto the paved two-lane highway heading towards Jacksonville. It was hard to tell who was more relieved.

"Thank God that's over. We should be there pretty soon. How's he doing?"

"Not so good. That really took a lot out of him. Let's just find a doctor as soon as we can."

"Hold on." At that Simon pushed down on the accelerator, wishing now that they had a lighter, faster car instead of the large, heavy and slower Suburban. On the other hand, Simon thought, the powerful car was probably the only reason they'd made it as far as they had. Before long, they were entering the outskirts of the town. Simon pulled into the first gas station he saw, relieved when the attendant, a blond teenager, actually came up to the car.

"What can I do you for today?"

Leaning out of the already lowered window, Simon pointed with his thumb to the back seat. "We've got a hurt man here. Where's the nearest doctor or hospital?"

The attendant peered into the back of the car. "That'd be Doc Washington. He runs the clinic over on Clifton. Go to the second intersection and turn right, it'll be two blocks up on your right."

Simon pulled his head back in and put the Suburban back into Drive. "Thanks, son."

"No problem. I hope he'll be all right."

Only Jim heard the murmuring as he pulled back onto the road. "So do we, kid, so do we."

Following the directions, they soon were pulling up to a building with a sign reading 'Jackson County Medical Clinic'. Simon got out and ran to the front doors and almost cried out in frustration to find them locked. Without raising his voice, he told Jim what he found as he walked back to the car. "The doors are locked. They're closed today." He got in and turned back to Jim. "Any ideas?"

Jim looked through the windshield, past Simon, and almost smiled. "Three more blocks straight ahead is a police station. I'll bet they can locate the doctor or tell us how to find another one."

A few minutes later they were pulling into a parking space almost directly in front of the station door. Simon turned around again. "Stay here. I'll be right back."

"I'm not moving until we find a doctor. But now I know how Sandburg feels when I say that to him."

As Simon pulled on the glass door, he was half afraid it would be locked too but to his immense relief, it opened easily. Inside, he found himself in a small but modern looking police station. He was in an open area with benches in the middle of the floor facing towards the counter that ran the length of the back wall. Scattered against the walls were several chairs; two pay phones were on one side wall. A few small tables held some old magazines. Taped on the wall between the two pay phones was a list of local bail bondsmen. At the moment he was the only one there. Probably a bit busier on Saturday night. He walked to the counter. Behind the counter, set into the back wall, was a set of double doors with beveled glass tops that had the words 'Jacksonville Police Dept' on one door and a seal of some kind on the other. He addressed the uniformed woman sitting behind the counter who was bent over writing something.

"Excuse me."

The officer looked up and smiled. She looked to be in her early forties with a pleasant but very competent look about her that came from years of handling almost every conceivable situation. "Oh. Sorry. Didn't see you there. I swear the State comes out with more forms to be filled out every year. How can I help you?"

Simon could certainly commiserate with her about the State forms. The endless, useless paperwork was the bane of his existence. "I agree with you about the State and mindless paperwork, believe me. I'm Captain Simon Banks with the Cascade P.D." He pulled out his badge and showed it, and his I. D., to her. "Some of my men and I are vacationing here and one of them got hurt. We went to the clinic but it's closed. Is there any way you can get in touch with the nearest doctor or hospital? He's in pretty bad shape." Okay, so technically, Sandburg wasn't a cop but he had just admitted to himself earlier that he did consider the kid one of his men. Close enough. He just hoped his appearance didn't put her or anyone else off. He hadn't shaved in two days and he was still wearing the same clothes he'd had on when he helped carry a very dirty Sandburg back to the cabin.

"Where is he now?" Her voice carried true concern.

He breathed a silent sigh of relief. "In the car right out front. One of my other men is with him. He really needs a doctor right away."

"Right. Let me find out where Doc is." She keyed the mic in front of her. "All Units. Anyone know where Doc Washington is right now? We have a possible medical emergency for him."

A reply came a few seconds later. "Unit 1 to Dispatch."

"Unit 1."

"Yeah, Becky, I think he said they were heading up to Cooper Lake today to get in some fishing."

"Thanks, Joe. Who's the closest to Cooper Lake?"

A different voice answered. "Unit 2. I guess I am. I can be there in about ten minutes."

"Okay, Mike, get up there. Bring them back to the clinic Code 3."

"10-4."

Becky turned back to Simon. "They should be back soon. Cooper Lake's not that far from here."

"Good, but who are 'they'? I thought you were getting the doctor."

Becky smiled. "'They' are Doc Washington and his wife. She's a registered nurse and together they run the clinic. Don't worry, they're good people."

Just as Simon was about to reply the radio crackled. "Unit 3 to Dispatch."

"Unit 3."

"Hey, Becky. How come you never let me run Code 3 anymore?"

"Because Bobby, last time you totaled your cruiser."

Simon had to smile to himself. He could think of another police officer that seemed to have a similar problem with cars.

"But that was almost a year ago."

"Yeah, and we've almost paid off the new car. We want to keep it in one piece at least long enough to get our money's worth." She winked at Simon who, while impatient about getting help for Sandburg, smiled back in total understanding.

"Ha Ha. Very funny, Becks. I'm going to cruise through the business district and see what's shaking out there."

"10-4, Unit 3." Becky bent down and pushed the forms she'd been working on aside then wrote the new info in the logbook in front of her.

"Unit 2 to Dispatch."

"Unit 2."

"I'm at the lake and I see them. I'll let you know when we're heading in."

"10-4, Unit 2. That was quick, Mike."

"Yeah. Not a lot of traffic up here this time of year. And, you know, I found out that if you turn on the lights people get out of your way."

Becky shook her head and gave Simon an encouraging smile. "They'll be here in no time. I'm sure your man will be fine. Doc Washington really is a good doctor."

Nodding, Simon almost went out to update Jim until he realized that he was probably listening to every word. Turning his back to Becky, presumably to look out the window, he barely whispered, "Hang in there, Jim. The doctor will be here soon." He turned back around when he realized Becky was talking to him.

"I'm sorry. What did you say?"

"No, I'm sorry. I know you're worried about your friend. I just asked what happened to him. You said you were on vacation."

"Yeah, some vacation." Simon paused. "Yesterday Sandburg... Blair, was hiking in the woods and stepped in a bear trap. Because of the storm we couldn't get him out until now. Now his leg's infected and he's running a high fever. He really doesn't look too good so the sooner that doctor gets here, the better I'll feel."

Becky's surprise showed on her face. "A bear trap? You must be staying in that cabin that was confiscated from the poachers. That was big news up here. But I thought all the traps and everything else of theirs was cleaned out by the city. I know other people, mostly families with kids, have stayed up there since then."

"We thought so too. Guess everyone thought wrong, huh?" It was hard to keep the annoyance out of his voice but the other police officer seemed to understand that his anger was directed elsewhere and not at her.

"I'd give someone hell over this. It just isn't right letting people stay up there if it isn't safe."

Simon's smile was almost evil. "Oh, believe me, I fully intend to. There will be hell to pay for this."

Just as Becky was about to reply, they were again interrupted by the radio.

"Unit 2 to Dispatch."

"That's Mike. Go ahead Unit 2."

"I've got them and we're heading back into town. ETA is about 20 minutes, give or take." There was a slight pause and when Mike spoke again it was harder to hear over the now wailing siren. "Doc says to go ahead and open the clinic and to put the patient in Room 1. He'll be there shortly, trust me."

"10-4, Mike. He'll be waiting. Dispatch to Unit 1."

The first voice that Simon had heard answered. "Unit 1. Let me guess. Come to the station and get the keys to the clinic."

"I knew there was a reason you made Sergeant, Joseph. How long until you can get here?"

"Less than five minutes. I'm just around the corner."

After making another notation in the logbook Becky stood up and walked over to a two-door cabinet hanging on the back wall. Removing a key ring from her belt, she opened the cabinet to reveal several rows of keys. She started explaining as she took down a set of keys with a tag attached to the ring.

"We keep a set of keys to almost every business in town. And quite a few private homes too. Comes in handy for times like these." She sat back in her seat, placing the clinic's keys beside the logbook. "Listen, why don't you head on back to the clinic? Joe'll meet you there in a few minutes."

Nodding his agreement Simon leaned a bit over the counter. "Good idea. And, Becky, right? Thanks for all your help. We really appreciate it."

"Hey, it's what we do. Now you go take care of your friend. Doc should be here any time now, especially the way Mike's been known to drive. If you would, though, stop by later and let me know how he's doing."

"Will do." Giving Becky a small salute, Simon turned and headed back to the Suburban and his friends. He figured Jim must be climbing the walls by now with nothing to do but wait.

Climbing in, he turned around in his seat. "I take it you heard everything?"

Jim gave him a small, cocky grin. "Yeah." He hefted Blair up a little higher.

"How's he doing?"

"No change. Which I guess could be good."

Turning around, Simon started the car and made a left turn onto the street heading back towards the clinic. In the rearview mirror he could see a police cruiser coming up the street then turn into the police station. Must be Joe getting the keys. It only took a few minutes to reach the clinic and park out front to wait for Joe.

They weren't there long when a police cruiser pulled up beside them. Simon and the officer got out at the same time. Joe was Jim's height and just as muscular with blond hair and friendly green eyes. He walked over to where Simon was standing beside the Suburban.

"Becky told me what happened. A bear trap." He shook his head then peered in the car at Jim and Blair. "Unbelievable. Well, let's get him inside and situated, knowing Mike they'll be here any time now. I'll get the door; you help bring him in." When Simon nodded and answered "Okay" he turned and headed for the locked doors, keys in hand.

Simon opened the car door for Jim and helped him as he awkwardly exited the car carrying Blair. Once standing on the ground he tilted his head back towards the open door. "Can you get his backpack? His wallet's in there somewhere."

Reaching in and grabbing it by a strap, Simon shut the door then hefted the leather pack. "Damn. What all does he carry in here?"

Jim smiled. "You don't want to know. I don't want to know."

Following Simon, Jim carried Blair through the door Joe held open for them into the waiting room of the clinic. Jim looked around. It was small, compared to Cascade General where they usually ended up whenever one of them got hurt, but it was clean and modern looking. Joe led them into a hallway with doors on both sides. Three doors on the right hand side had numbers on them. The police officer took them into the first numbered room. "Not exactly a suite at the Ritz but I think this will do."

He watched as the big detective went directly to the bed and laid the injured man down before removing the blankets from around him. With the blankets gone, Joe could see that the man lying there was short, had long, curly hair and two silver earrings in one ear. Definitely not your typical cop. While Jim was using the manual lever under the head of the bed to raise it up a bit, Simon was watching Joe for his reaction to Blair. To his surprise and approval, the small town cop raised one eyebrow but didn't say anything. They both looked up as Jim spoke.

"Let's go ahead and get his clothes off, it'll save some time once the doctor gets here."

It only took a minute for the three of them to have Blair stripped to his boxers. Jim carefully laid one of the blankets back over him, leaving his injured leg, now red and swollen from his foot almost to his knee, exposed. Jim had already removed the bandage Simon had put on due to the increased swelling. The punctures and bruising stood out on the inflamed skin. If there had been any doubt as to how serious Blair's condition had become, it was gone now.

Joe whistled. "Wow. That trap really did a number on him, didn't it?" He unhooked his radio from his belt. "Let me get an ETA on Doc."

"Unit 1 to Unit 2."

The siren could still be heard in the background when Mike answered. "Unit 2."

"Mike, I'm here at the clinic with the patient. He looks pretty bad. What's your ETA?"

"We're just entering the town. Just a few more minutes."

"We'll be here."

While Joe was talking on the radio, Simon watched as Jim opened drawers, obviously looking for something. Since he seemed to know what he was doing, he didn't try to stop the former medic. Jim finally held up something wrapped in plastic and grinned slightly. Opening it, he unwound the oxygen tubing and placed the two prongs of the nasal cannula in Blair's nose, securing it behind his ears. On the wall behind the bed, there were a number of guages and other equipment ports. Simon had no idea what they were used for, but Jim certainly seemed to know as he reached up to one. It was metal in the middle with a small green knob on one side. On top was an enclosed clear plastic gauge that was marked off with numbers and lines, underneath the metal part was a piece of green plastic that looked very much like an upside down Christmas tree. Jim attached the end of the oxygen tubing to the narrow end of the green plastic 'tree' and turned the knob. There was a slight hissing sound as a small ball inside the plastic gauge began to rise. Jim continued to slowly turn the knob until the ball reached the number four and stayed there.

"There, that should help him breathe a bit easier."

Joe looked nervous. "Hey, I don't think you should be messing around with any of this stuff."

It was Simon who reassured the police officer. "Jim was trained in the Army as a Medic before becoming a cop. He knows what he's doing."

Joe looked impressed. "Yeah?"

Jim gave him a small smile. "Yeah."

"... ehhhh..."

Three pairs of eyes turned downward. Blair was making small sounds and moving his head slightly. "... nahh..."

Jim bent over, his face close to Blair's and spoke softly. "Hey, Chief. You with us?"

"... nooo... leg hurts... gotta gooo..."

Jim patted him on the chest and straightened back up. "The oxygen's helping but he's not really awake."

Sounds coming from the front of the clinic announced the arrival of the doctor. A minute later, three more people crowded into the small examination room. The first was a man who could have been anywhere from mid forties to mid fifties with a full head of salt-and-pepper hair and gold rimmed glasses. He was casually dressed in jeans, plaid shirt and a fishing vest. Behind him was a petite woman with short brown hair who was similarly dressed. The final person was their chauffeur, Officer Mike. The first man walked up the bed and shook hands with Jim and Simon as he spoke.

"I'm Dr. Washington. Becky wasn't very specific about what happened to your friend here. What can you tell me?"

Jim and Simon introduced themselves and Blair to the doctor, then took turns updating him with everything that had happened to Blair. Jim told how they found him caught in the bear trap and everything that they did for him up until he left yesterday morning. Simon picked it from there explaining how he woke to find Blair missing and what had happened since then. While they were talking, Dr. Washington had taken off his vest and placed a stethoscope around his neck. He was rummaging around in drawers, pulling out various instruments and occasionally asking questions. By the time they were finished speaking, he already had done a brief physical exam on Blair.

Turning to his wife, who had also removed her fishing vest, he started with the basics. "He's dehydrated, start an IV with Ringer's. When that's done, get a full set of vitals. He's going to need an antibiotic too." He turned back to Simon and Jim. "He's not wearing any kind of Medic Alert I.D. but do either of you happen to know if he's allergic to any medications? Especially antibiotics."

Jim paused. "I don't think so. Cascade General has all his medical records; they would know what he's been given before."

"Okay, we can contact them if we have to." Straightening back up from where he was leaning over listening to Blair's chest, he turned to the two all but forgotten police officers standing together in the corner. "Can you guys bring the portable X-ray machine in here? I'm going to need to take pictures of his leg and chest. Joe, you know where it is, right? Thanks." He turned back to Jim and Simon as the officers left the room.

"All right, I'm going to do a more through exam now. Why don't you two wait out in our luxurious waiting room? Martha will be out soon to let you know how he's doing and to give you some forms to fill out." He grinned at the look on their faces. "What? You didn't think there'd be any paperwork? C'mon, you're cops; this is a county run clinic—we all live on paperwork. Seriously, either Martha or myself will come out just as soon as we know anything definite about his condition. And try to relax, I'm sure everything will be fine."

Jim wasn't happy about being asked to leave but he knew from way too much previous experience that doctors always wanted people to leave when they examined their patients. He bent over Blair, put his hand on the young man's shoulder and spoke softly, "The doc's kicking us out for now, Chief, so you behave yourself for him, ya hear? If you need anything Simon and I will be right outside, just say the word."

There was no response from Blair but he really didn't expect one.

As he and Simon started walking out, the doctor called out. "Detective?"

Jim turned back around. "Yes?"

"You mentioned medic training earlier. I'm assuming that you're the one who had Mr. Sandburg undressed and put him on O2?"

Jim hesitated. Some doctors didn't like non-medical personnel assuming that they knew how to care for a patient or, as in this case, actually using their equipment. "Yeah, I did."

Dr. Washington smiled. "Good call."

Jim smiled back. "Thanks."

As they left the room, they could see Joe and Mike wheeling the large X-ray machine down the hall towards the exam room. The fact that the doctor wanted chest as well as leg X-rays told them how serious Blair's condition had become. As they entered the large, empty area, they each claimed a seat and began the worst part of having someone they knew in need of medical care—waiting.

A few minutes later Dr. Washington's wife Martha came out from the receptionist's area and sat beside Jim before handing him a clipboard with a number of forms attached to it. "Would you mind filling these out for your friend? Anything pertaining to 'new patient'. And before you ask, there's no new news yet. I can tell you that the IV is in and his vital signs taken. His high fever does indicate an infection and his lungs sound congested too. George is still doing his exam then we'll be taking X-rays, we'll know more when they're developed. Even though we did draw blood, we obviously don't have a lab here so we have to send everything out. That can sometimes take a few days. We probably won't need to in Blair's case but this way if there is a problem we can have a sample ready to go at a moment's notice. But believe me, George will do everything he can to help Blair. Except for not having a lab, we're actually pretty well equipped here. George insisted on updating the facility as a condition to accepting the job here."

Simon couldn't help making an observation. "Let me get this straight. The doctor's name is George Washington and you're his wife, Martha?"

Martha held up her hand as she smiled. "Yes, and believe me, we've heard ALL the jokes. Some people think we're making it up but it just worked out that way. It was easier when we both worked in the same big hospital but in different departments. Here, there's no getting away from it."

"So where did you work before?"

"Cook County General in Chicago. George was an ER doctor and I worked in the OR. I think we both just burned out from the constant parade of beatings, shootings, drug overdoses and so on. When the opportunity came up to run this clinic, it seemed too good to pass up. We've been here just over three years now and wouldn't dream of going back." She stood up. "Listen to me go on. George should be almost done taking the X-rays by now, and I can go develop them to save him some time. I'll pick the paperwork up next time I come out. We should have some news for you soon." She left through the same door they had used when they brought Blair into the back of the clinic.

Jim leaned his head on the wall behind him and closed his eyes. The past two days were starting to catch up with him. The paperwork could wait for a minute. He extended his hearing back into the room with Blair.

"Okay, Mike, that's good. Hold his foot just like that. Aaand click got it. All right, guys, I think that's it unless some of these don't come out. Thanks for your help."

There was the sound of things being picked up.

"Oh Martha, there you are. Why don't you start developing these?"

"Okay. The first ones should be ready in a few minutes."

The sound of her footsteps leaving the room.

"You can just leave the machine in the hallway in case we need it again. I guess you need to back to work."

"We're fine. So, Doc, how is he?"

Jim sat up straight and focused his hearing even more.

"Well, I'll know more, of course, after I see the X-rays, but those puncture wounds are deep and infected and the infection has spread. I won't know for sure if anything's broken until I see the pictures but I suspect that at least one bone is. His lungs are congested but I'm hoping that the antibiotics will help with that. That's all I can say for now. Now, if you gentlemen will get this machine out of the way, I'll get back to my patient."

There was the sound of the large X-ray being rolled towards the door. Then whispering voices.

"Hey, Joe. You think he's really a cop? The other two sure, but all that hair and earrings?"

"I dunno. Maybe he does a lot of undercover work. You know, like Vice or Narcotics. Or maybe they're just a lot looser with the regs over there. The other two seemed plenty worried about him while we were waiting for you and the Doc."

"Okay, let's leave it right here. Either way, I hope he'll be all right. What a lousy thing to have happen to him. Some vacation."

"Yeah. We'd better get back out there before Bobby talks Becky into letting him run the next Code 3 call."

Laughter.

"Right. We can't let that happen, can we? Let me just tell Doc we're leaving.

Jim could hear footsteps heading towards the doorway of the exam room.

"Hey, Doc, unless you still need us for anything we'll be going now."

"No. No. We're fine now. Thanks again for your help, guys. See you later."

"Jim. JIM."

Jim slowly realized that the voice he was hearing was coming from much closer than before. He looked over at Simon. He didn't look happy.

"You back with us, Jim? Damn, that's scary. I don't know how Sandburg does it every day."

"I wasn't zoning, Simon, I was listening."

"Yeah? The point is, you weren't here. Don't do that without Sandburg being around. That's what I pay him for."

"You don't pay him, Simon."

"Whatever. Just don't go flying solo anymore, at least around me." Simon leaned forward. "But since you already did, what'd you hear?"

"Not much more to tell than we already know. The doctor just finished the X-rays; Martha's developing them now. The two locals were wondering about Sandburg; for some strange reason, they don't think he looks like a cop but they still hope he'll be all right. That's it."

Even as he spoke, Mike and Joe came into the waiting room. Joe spoke up first. "Well, some of us have to get back to work. Martha's promised to call Becky with an update later. If it helps, your friend is in real good hands."

Jim and Simon both started to get up but were waved back down by Mike. "Stay put. We know the way out."

Simon spoke for both of them. "Well, we just want everyone to know how much we appreciate what you've all done for Sandburg. Could you tell everyone 'Thanks' for us?"

"No problem. Really. And try not to worry; I'm sure he'll be all right. Doc really is the best." The two officers walked out the front door, a minute later there was the sound of two cars starting up then driving off.

Simon looked off in the direction the two cops had just left. "Well, they were nice enough."

Jim sighed then looked down at the clipboard still in his hand as if seeing it for the first time. "Yeah. Guess I might as well get this done. Hand me Blair's backpack, I'll need his wallet."

Simon handed Jim the pack then picked up one of the magazines lying around, surprised that it was actually a fairly recent issue.

The first thing Jim found was the plastic bag of trash. He smiled to himself. Always the environmentalist. After throwing it away, he put his hand in again and felt around until he found Blair's wallet. As he pulled it out, one of Blair's numerous notebooks fell open on the floor. He was about to pick it up and put it back with the others when the words 'Wade' and 'Jim' jumped out at him. After picking it up and scanning a few lines, he realized that Blair was finally talking about how he had really felt while working the Wade case, even if it was to a notebook and not to him. He decided that, even though Blair might consider it a major violation of his right to privacy, he was going to read then discuss the contents of the notebook with his too silent partner. It was time to bring some of Blair's demons out into the light. But that would have to be later. Right now, though, he had to get Blair's paperwork done; he didn't want any holdups in his medical care. Using the information on Blair's insurance card and driver's license plus what he already knew, he quickly filled in as much of the requested information as he could. He had no qualms putting himself down as Blair's emergency contact but it bothered him somehow to put down Naomi Sandburg, address and phone number unknown, as next of kin. The next of kin should be easy to get hold of during an emergency, not impossible to track down. Finally finished with the paperwork, he laid the clipboard on the empty chair beside him and leaned back. The only thing left to do now was wait. He hated waiting.

A short time later the silence in the waiting room was ended by Simon's voice. "You know, Jim, I hate to say this but I feel better knowing that Dr. Washington worked in a big city hospital ER before coming out here." Simon was looking at him over the top of his magazine.

"You too?"

Simon gave a half smile. "Yeah. Does that make us guilty of small town prejudice?"

"Probably, but I'll try not to hold it against you."

Both heads turned at the new voice as Dr. Washington came into the room. Jim stood up with Simon right behind him. "How's Blair?"

"He's a remarkable and determined young man." He turned to Simon. "You said he actually walked over half a mile by himself the day after he was hurt and even climbed over a tree?"

"Yeah. We didn't think he could even get up by himself. He sure surprised us. For some reason, he apparently got it into his head that he had to get somewhere."

Dr. Washington shook his head. "Remarkable, considering he has a broken leg. Fortunately, it's only a cracked tibia, the larger of the two lower leg bones, it should heal up just fine. Luckily for Blair, it was a smaller trap and he was wearing leather boots, that's what probably saved his leg. A larger one would have gone above the boot and might have crushed the bone completely." He shook his head. "Insidious things. Anyway, I cleaned out the puncture wounds, which were quite deep. A few of the worst ones needed stitches; the others should heal on their own. I also wrapped the leg for support but it can't be put in a cast until the swelling goes down. I want to keep an eye on those punctures too. It's just amazing he didn't cause even more damage by walking on it."

"So his leg will be all right?"

"Yes, eventually. Provided you can keep him off of it long enough for it to heal. Now, I am concerned about the infection. It's spread and that's what's keeping his fever so high. Since we don't know what the source of the infection is, I've placed him on broad spectrum antibiotics. Because of that, I want to keep him here at least overnight where I can monitor him for any reaction. I'm also keeping him on IV fluids for dehydration until we can get his fever down. Because of the multiple problems, the punctures coupled with the broken bone and an infection, I'm thinking about transferring him to J.C. Med, Jackson County Medical Center, our local hospital. But I haven't really decided about that yet. I want to see how he does overnight first."

Jim couldn't help but still sound worried. "What about his lungs? Your wife said that they were congested. How's his breathing?"

"He is congested and having some difficulty breathing but I don't think it's too serious. We're keeping his head raised and leaving him on O2 to make it easier for him but I think that, as the antibiotics start taking effect and clear up the infection, his breathing will improve too."

There were almost twin sighs of relief. "So he's going to be all right?

Dr. Washington removed his glasses and rubbed the inside corners of his eyes before answering. "I'd say so. I'll feel better, of course, when I see the antibiotics start taking effect. Now, keep in mind that he's going to feel pretty weak and tired when he wakes up, not to mention that between the break and those deep punctures, his leg will most likely hurt like the dickens too. In short, he's going to be fairly miserable for a while. I've given him a local anesthetic for pain but that's only temporary. He's definitely going to need someone to look after him once he returns home until he can get up and around on his own."

"Don't worry. He'll have round the clock care." Jim tried not to look too anxious. "Can I see him?"

"Sure, but just one of you. Even if he wakes up, he's going be pretty out of it. I'm going to go check on a few things, you decide who's coming in." He put his glasses back on and headed towards the back rooms.

"Go, Jim. Make sure he's all right. I'll go see if the phone in the cabin is working yet so I can update Brown and Rafe. If he's keeping Sandburg overnight we might as well stay here in town too. No point in driving back up, just to drive back down again in the morning. I'll see about finding us a place to stay while you're in there."

"Thanks Simon."

"Thanks nothing. You'd be miserable company for the rest of the night if you didn't see how he was doing with your own eyes and whatever else you use when you check him out."

Jim started to protest but realized that Simon was right on all counts. So he just smiled, picked up Blair's backpack and walked away, eager to see his friend.

He walked slowly up to the bed, trying to be patient while Martha checked the IV and O2 tubing before adjusting the blanket covering the too still form. Jim was grateful to see that Blair was at least now wearing a hospital gown under the clinic's sheet and blanket. Knowing how easily his partner got cold, he had worried about them leaving him in just his boxers. He noticed the cabin's blankets neatly folded on a rolling stool. He coughed lightly to announce his presence. Not that he wanted to rush her, she was, after all, trying help Blair, but he was impatient to make physical contact with his guide. She turned around at the sound.

"Hi Jim. I take it George has updated you on Blair's condition?"

Stepping up beside the small nurse, he carefully dropped the backpack beside the bed and unselfconsciously picked up Blair's right hand, the one without the IV running into it. With a tenderness few people would ever see, he held the limp hand in both of his, his eyes never leaving Blair's face. "Yeah. He said he was going to keep Blair here at least overnight. He's still worried about the infection and Blair's reaction to the antibiotics."

"That's right, but it's more precautionary than anything else. As you can see, his color is already a little better and he's breathing a bit easier. George also still has to set the break." She turned, looking up at the larger detective standing beside her and placed one hand on his arm. "He's going to be fine, Jim. Mostly because of what you and the others did for him before he got here. He's obviously a fighter too, to do what he did in the shape he was in."

Jim couldn't stop the small grin that slipped out. "Oh yeah, he's definitely a fighter." One thumb began to slowly move back and forth over the rough knuckles. Martha smiled as the still unconscious Blair relaxed ever so slightly. "It's just that he's been through so much lately. This was supposed to be a nice, quiet vacation. A chance to relax and unwind from everything that's been going on."

Martha had a feeling that Jim wasn't just talking about the bear trap any more. She had also been a nurse long enough to know when her nursing skills were no longer needed. She patted Jim's arm as she slipped past him. "I think that right now he just needs to know that his friends are with him. The rest will come later." She dragged a padded chair over to the bed from a corner of the room. "I think he may wake up soon. Let him know he's not alone." With a quick, practiced eye, she took one last look at the medical equipment. Satisfied that her patient was fine for now she quietly slipped out of the room.

Sitting down in the chair while keeping his grip on Blair's hand, Jim barely acknowledged Martha's leaving but he had heard every word she said. He leaned forward a bit. "She's right, you know. You're not alone. And whenever you feel like waking up I'll prove it to you." Not getting a response, Jim settled in to wait for his friend to join him.

After a few minutes Jim remembered Blair's notebook. Slowly sliding his hand out of Blair's, he retrieved the backpack and took out the book. He held in his hands, just looking at it. Part of him knew he shouldn't read it, these were Blair's private thoughts, having nothing to do with the dissertation or even himself as a Sentinel. But another part said that this was probably be the only way to find out what was really bothering his partner, his friend. And as partners he needed to know what was going on inside Blair's head. He needed to know if this last case had been too much, if this was the one that finally pushed his untrained, civilian partner over that edge of finally having seen too much to be able to go back on the street with him. His life, and even Blair's, may depend on his knowing what Blair had written. He glanced over at the sleeping observer. Almost everyone only saw the Sandburg that he wanted them to see. The kid put on a pretty good song and dance routine that kept everyone too entertained to look beneath the surface to the man hiding beneath the razzle-dazzle. It had taken him a while, but he was now able to see through The Blair Sandburg Show and, on occasion, catch glimpses of the man behind the mask. Blair tried to keep all his negative feelings inside as if he were afraid that if anyone saw that part of him, they would reject him just for having those thoughts and emotions. Strange, especially for him, was that he wanted Blair, wanted them to get past that, to be able to open up about anything. Maybe if they could discuss what was in the notebook, it would be a start in getting to the heart of a few other issues too.

A small noise from the bed stopped all thoughts on that subject. Putting the notebook back in the backpack he picked up Blair's hand again as he once more leaned forward. "Hey Chief. You waking up for me now?" He was rewarded with a small squeeze of his hand.

"That's it, Blair. Time to come back."

"... -im?..."

"Right here, Chief. I'm right here."

Blair's head turned toward the sound of Jim's voice. "... wha-?..."

"Everything's all right, Blair. Can you open your eyes?" I really want to see if that spark's back.

"... tr'ng... 'eav'y..."

"I know you're trying and I know they feel heavy but you can do it."

Slowly the heavy eyelids cracked open then blinked a few times, finally staying mostly open. Blair could make out a blurry image beside him. "Hey... J'm." That small sentence set off a slight coughing fit. He closed his eyes again. Then he felt a straw touch his lips. "Here, drink this, it'll help."

A few sips later his raw throat felt somewhat better. He turned his head and the straw disappeared. When he opened his eyes again the blurry image became a bit more focused. He could now make out Jim's smiling face.

"Whas so 'unny?"

"Nothing's funny. Just happy to see you awake and talking. How do you feel?"

"'ousy." He slowly looked around then back at Jim. "Hos'pi'l? Why?"

Jim was a little concerned that Blair still didn't seem to remember anything. Maybe his disorientation in the cabin was a sign of something more serious than just exhaustion pain. A little prodding had helped then; maybe it would again. "Blair. You and I, along with Simon, Henri and Brian came up here on vacation. Remember?"

Blair closed his eyes for a few seconds then opened them again and nodded. "Cabin. In the woods." He thought again. "Long drive. I fell asleep." He had to take a deep few breaths. "On Henri."

Relieved, Jim smiled. "That's right but he didn't mind."

"Okay. But why am I here?" The longer sentence left him even more out of breath. He reached up and felt the nasal cannula as if just becoming aware that it was there. "What... happ'nd?"

Jim gently grabbed the wayward hand. "Leave that alone, it's helping you breathe." He answered the earlier question with one of his own. "Do you remember taking a hike in the woods?" He wanted Blair to try to remember as much as he could on his own.

Neither man noticed Dr. Washington and Martha silently standing in the doorway watching as Jim tried to coach his friend's memory back.

Again, Blair closed his eyes. Then they flew open as he started to breathe rapidly. Jim immediately sat on the edge of the bed and put both hands on Blair's shoulders. He obviously remembered. "Blair. It's all right. Calm down. Take deep breaths, then let them out slowly. Like you're always telling me to do." He watched as Blair tried to comply. "That's it, Chief. In and out. Nice and slow."

Even though his lungs hurt, Blair gradually got his breathing somewhat under control. "It's okay Chief. I take you remember what happened?"

Blair could only nod, still trying to get a handle on breathing in anything resembling a normal fashion. His eyes widened a bit as he looked past Jim to the two strangers now standing near his bed. "j-im. who... are...?"

George gave Blair what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "Try to relax, Mr. Sandburg. I'm Dr. Washington and this lovely lady is my wife and nurse, Martha. We've been treating you here in our clinic. While I'm happy to see that you're awake, you do need to calm down so you can breathe easier. Let me do a quick exam, then we can talk, okay?"

Blair turned confused eyes up to meet his sentinel's. Talking was only slowly becoming an option; catching his breath was still the priority.

"It's okay, Chief. I know you don't remember coming here but believe me, thanks to the Doc and his wife here, you're doing much better now than you were when you got here. When the Doc's finished we'll talk." With a reassuring smile of his own he stepped back so the doctor could exam his patient.


This time Jim stayed in the room while the doctor poked and prodded and asked Blair questions. Even though Blair's heart rate and breathing were returning to normal and he was answering the doctor's questions as best he could, Jim noticed that every few minutes he would look over as if to make sure he was still there. He could tell that Blair was still pretty confused about what all had happened to him. If his just being in the room offered his injured friend any comfort and security then right here he would stay.

As Dr. Washington was finishing his exam, Jim heard the front door of the clinic open and Simon's familiar footsteps as he walked across the linoleum floor. Confirmation of his identity came as he smelled the almost permanent residual odor of the cigars so favored by the Major Crime captain.

"Hey Chief, Simon's here. I'm going to go update him on what's going on and see if he was able to call Brown and Rafe."

As soon as he mentioned he was leaving and started towards the door he heard Blair's heart rate shoot up. "I'll be right back, I promise."

Even though Blair nodded, his heart rate remained too high. Fortunately, Dr. Washington also noticed Blair's increased agitation as soon as the big detective mentioned leaving the room. It was obvious that his presence had a calming influence on his patient. So, naturally, there was only one thing to do. Martha had already clued him in on the positive effect the detective had on the younger man's comfort level. Once again the uncanny accuracy of his wife's observations had been proven correct.

"Martha, hon, we're just about finished anyway, why don't you bring the good captain back here? At this point, I don't see what difference it'll make and this way nobody will have to repeat themselves later."

It was hard to tell who looked more relieved, Detective Ellison or Blair. Either way, George, knew he had made the right decision. He noticed that as soon as Martha left the room, Ellison moved in to where she had been standing changing the IV bags and now stood right beside Blair with one hand on his shoulder. Blair immediately looked more relaxed, leaning back more into the pillow. Having the head of the bed raised, besides helping Blair breathe easier, was also making it easier for Ellison to maintain physical contact with him. A bit unusual but, since he believed that you did whatever worked in the best interest of your patient, he didn't comment on it. A minute later Martha returned, followed by the tall, dark-skinned police captain.

Simon stopped at the foot of the bed. The doctor was on one side of Sandburg, writing something in a file, and Jim was standing on the other with a protective hand on the kid's shoulder. Sandburg was awake though he still looked pale and still seemed to be having some breathing problems. His eyes, thankfully, no longer had that blank look that had worried him more than he wanted to admit. The dark blue orbs were still somewhat confused and just a bit wary as the observer looked up at him.

"How are you feeling, Sandburg?"

Blair looked at Simon. Something didn't feel right. He had the feeling that Simon was angry with him for some unknown reason and it made him uneasy not knowing why. What had he done this time? He kept his answer brief. "Fine."

Simon was a bit startled. A one-word answer from the master of overstatement? And was it his imagination or did Sandburg just move closer to Ellison? What was going on here?

"Okay now." Dr. Washington looked around. "Now that we're all here, let me update everyone on Mr. Sandburg's condition." He looked down at Blair. "Including the patient himself." Looking back up, he resumed. "The most serious injury is the cracked tibia." He looked at Blair again. "That's the large bone in your lower leg." He continued. "That, combined with the deep lacerations right on top of the break, cause some concerns. The fact that the punctures got infected and the infection has spread is another major concern. We're treating the infection with antibiotics and I feel that both the infection and impaired breathing will both improve soon. I'm also hoping that soon the swelling will be reduced far enough for us to decide how best to treat the leg."

"What do you mean 'how best to treat it'? If it's broken, don't you just set it and put it in a cast?" Simon thought that was obvious.

"Ordinarily, yes. But in this case we have a broken bone underneath a severe soft tissue injury. We have to have access to that injury while immobilizing the leg so there's no further damage to the bone either. Not easily done, especially since we don't have all the resources of a large hospital here. Of course, nothing can really be done until the swelling has gone down."

Blair looked down at the injured limb covered by the thin sheet and blanket. "If it's that bad—" deep breath, "—why doesn't it hurt more?" He might not remember much about the last two days but the almost unbearable pain while his foot was still trapped was not something he would ever forget. It was throbbing a bit now but nothing like he remembered.

Dr. Washington turned back towards his patient, relieved to see him becoming more alert and interested. "I thought you'd be a bit more comfortable with a local anesthetic. Especially if you agree to what I have in mind."

This time Jim spoke up first. "And what would that be?" He trusted this doctor but he still wanted to know how he was planning to help Blair before they agreed to anything.

"Well," the doctor rubbed his chin then continued, "If we were at a regular hospital we could place external rods attached to a brace into the leg to hold the bone in place until it could be set and cast. Not having that option, I've had to improvise some other way to achieve the same goal."

"Put rods... in my leg?" Blair paled even more. Jim squeezed his shoulder as he asked the obvious question. "If that's out, what's your next idea?"

"Actually, a much simpler and non-invasive procedure." Walking over to a nearby counter, he picked a heavy textbook and opened it to a marked page. Jim could read the words 'Advanced Pre-hospital Emergency Care' on the cover. "This is a paramedic textbook. What I want to show you is this." Laying the open book on the bed so everyone could see it, especially Blair, he pointed to a page showing several pictures on how to apply a bipolar traction splint. The splint looked like two long, thin, metal poles set slightly wider apart than a man's leg, wider at the top then becoming narrower. The wide top end bent downwards with a rubber pad across it and a Velcro strap attached to the pad. Four wide straps with Velcro fasteners were set at different points from the top of the splint almost to the bottom. At the narrowest part, at the very end, past where the foot would be, was a small winch holding a strap with a 'S' hook attached. According to the pictures, the leg was placed on the splint with the rubber pad going under the uppermost thigh. The straps were fastened across the leg to secure it onto the splint. It showed a separate wide strap being fastened around the patient's ankle which was then attached to the 'S' hook on the winch. There was also a stand that dropped down under the patient's heel that propped the splint up. Jim and Simon leaned over the bed so they could see the pictures better.

"This is primarily used by EMS crews to apply traction in the field, usually in the case of a femur, or thigh bone, fracture. The traction literally pulls the two ends of the broken bone back into alignment. I won't go into great detail here but normally the ankle hitch is placed around the ankle and traction applied until the bone is back in alignment."

Blair's voice was so soft and strained that the doctor and Simon almost didn't hear it. "Y-you want to attach something to my ankle and... and pull on it?" The painful memory of Jim trying to pull his hiking boot off flashed into his mind. His breathing became more rapid. "No. NO!" He turned his face up to Jim. "Jim. Tell him NO. Don't let him do that." Only Jim's hand pushing down on his shoulder was keeping him in the bed.

"Mr. Sandburg. Blair." George sat down on the bed facing Blair and placed his hand on one trembling arm. He hadn't meant to panic his patient, who now seemed on the verge of hyperventilating. "Blair. No one is going to pull anything. That's the last thing we want to do. I was just showing you what this type of traction splint looks like so you'd have a better idea of what I'm talking about. I want to use the splint in a totally different manner than how it's normally used. Believe me, Blair, no pulling, no traction, I promise. Now please, try to calm down and relax your breathing."

It was more Jim's gently massaging the top of his shoulder and softly reassuring him that he wouldn't let anything like that happen to him than the doctor's words that helped Blair calm down. Seeing that his patient had relaxed a bit, Dr. Washington continued. "Sorry about the confusion. Sometimes I get so caught up with what I'm doing, I forget that not everyone has a medical background." He grinned. "If I start to go off again, feel free to get me back on track. Most of my patients have already learned to do that. So, to get back to what I was saying..."

The doctor stood up and turned to Martha. "Why don't you go ahead and make that call we discussed? I'll finish explaining things here." The petite nurse nodded and started toward the door, then turned back towards the room. "Why don't I also call the diner and order us all some dinner? I have a feeling we're going to be here a while. I think tonight's special is a roast beef platter. Sound good to everyone?" Seeing the nods, she turned back to her husband. "So doctor, what's our new resident patient allowed to have?" Her smile took any sting out of her words.

Blair smiled back as he shook his head. "Nothing, thanks. I'm not hungry. I don't think... I could eat... anything right now." He ended his breath-stealing sentence with a large yawn.

Before Dr. Washington could insist that Blair eat, Jim beat him to it. "No way, Chief. You haven't eaten since lunch yesterday. And even that wasn't much. You have to eat something." Trying to stop the protest he saw forming in Blair's eyes, he tried a compromise. "Nothing heavy. How about just some vegetable soup, a few crackers and some nice hot tea? Just eat what you can, okay? You really should have something in your stomach with drugs the doctor has you on." He looked over at the doctor. "Isn't that right?" At the older man's nod, he turned his attention back to Blair.

It was the obvious worry in Jim's voice that caused Blair to change his mind, not the argument itself. He'd put everyone through so much already, he just couldn't bring himself to cause anyone any more grief, especially the big man standing beside him. He forced a small smile up to his friend. "Okay, Jim. You win. I'll try." Having said that he leaned back into his pillow and closed his eyes. If it were up to him, he'd rather sleep right now than eat. A small sigh escaped.

"Getting tired, Chief?"

Blair just nodded.

"Just stay with us until after you eat. Then you can sleep." The hand on his shoulder had moved; it was now lightly tapping his cheek. "C'mon, Blair. Stay awake here." The tapping stopped but not Jim's voice. "Hey, Doc, why don't you finish what you were telling us earlier? About using the splint on Blair's leg." That got Blair's attention. He wanted to hear this. Forcing his eyes open, he was once again the uncomfortable focus of everyone's attention. Well, everyone except Martha who had left the room at some point. He turned his own focus on the doctor. "Go on. Explain what you want to do."

When he was sure that Blair was actually paying attention, Dr. Washington tried to remember where he left off. "As I was saying, I want to use the splint in a different way. As you can see, the leg straps only go down the splint so far, there's nothing where the ankle would be because normally the ankle hitch would be put on and attached to the traction winch. That would hold it in place. Now what I want to do is to strap your leg in the splint to keep it from moving. We can pad the top end to make it more comfortable. Down at this open area, here, where your ankle will be," he pointed with his pen to the bottom end of the splint between the last leg strap and the winch, "I want to use a cloth bandage and some gauze to make a sling of sorts. Your ankle and heel will rest in the sling. We can also use something to rig up another strap closer to your ankle if we need it. The idea is that your leg will be kept as immobile as possible but I'll still be able to monitor the punctures and swelling. It may be a bit uncomfortable but, given our limited resources here, I think this is the best way to go for now. If you do have to be transferred, you can be moved with the splint still in place." He looked directly at Blair. Even though Ellison seemed to have a lot of say regarding Blair, he wasn't the patient, Blair was, and as far as he was concerned the patient had the final word about his treatment. "So, Blair, what do you think? Any questions?"

Blair had picked up the book and was studying the pictures intently. Without his glasses, he had to squint to see clearly. Jim, seeing his problem, briefly left the bedside to retrieve them from the backpack. "Here you go, Chief. I think these will help."

Smiling his thanks, Blair put them on then resumed his scrutiny of the contraption the doctor wanted to put on him. Jim and Simon knew better than to interrupt him. They knew from experience that he would carefully go over everything presented to him, then make his decision. That attention to detail had often allowed the observer to find obscure clues and evidence that had been overlooked or not even considered in many of the cases he had worked on with Jim. Now when Blair read over case files or reports, everyone left him alone until he was finished. They now watched as Blair studied the pictures then flipped the page back and ran his finger down the new page until he apparently found what he wanted and started reading. Dr. Washington noticed the look of intense concentration on his patient's face and saw how the other two men seemed content to just wait, not trying to convince him one way or the other or urge him to hurry. So he waited too.

After a few more minutes studying the book, Blair looked up and over at George. "I... uh... won't be able to walk... in this, will I?"

George was surprised at the change in his patient. Those minutes spent studying the textbook seemed to have calmed Blair down considerably. His breathing had improved, even the lines of pain smoothed somewhat, but it was the look of keen intelligence in his patient's eyes that startled him. He suddenly had the feeling that a recovering Blair was going to keep him on his toes. Shaking his head, he answered Blair's question. "No. Its main use is to provide temporary traction while transporting a patient. It's not made to bear any weight. In fact, Blair, I wouldn't worry about walking or getting out of bed at all, at least until you get a cast put on. Right now, I'm not sure exactly when that'll be." He had to force himself to keep a serious expression on his face as Blair's own face told him exactly how the younger man felt about the prospect of possibly spending a few more days in bed. "It won't be so bad. Tomorrow, our usual small staff of mostly young women will be here and I have a feeling you're going to find yourself with lots of company."

"Which is a good thing since it turns out the main road out of here is closed for at least the next few days."

Everyone turned as Martha walked back into the room.

"Bob told me when I called about..." her eyes dropped to the book Blair was holding, "... getting the traction splint. One of the crews is bringing one over as soon as they can. Anyway, the storm caused a mud slide on Route 4 a few miles outside of town. They're working on it but say it may take a while." She smiled. "But the good news is that dinner will be ready soon."

"So we can't leave here at all? For how long, exactly? What about back roads?" Simon hadn't said much during all the medical talk. He knew that Jim's background as an Army Medic helped him to understand what the doctor was saying but he knew police procedures, not medical procedures. After making his comment about putting on a cast, he had decided to keep his mouth shut. But if they were truly stuck here, he needed to know that, as well as how long until they could leave.

"No, you can't leave heading back south. Not until they reopen the road. But your cabin is north of town; you shouldn't have any problems getting back there. And just so you know, the back roads going south are in worse shape than the main road. I called Becky; she'll let us know when the road is open again. Anything else?"

Simon grinned sheepishly. "No. That should just about cover it for now."

"Hey. C'mon Chief, none of that." Jim's comment made everyone turn and look at the man propped up in the bed. Blair had leaned back into the pillow again, eyes closed with the textbook still open on his lap. Judging by his breathing he was obviously well on his way back to sleep. Jim was torn between letting him sleep and making sure he ate. Both seemed equally important right now.

"No." The doctor's voice interrupted him. "It's all right. He needs to sleep. I'm actually surprised he managed to stay awake this long and was as coherent as he was. I'll have to wake him up to put the splint on anyway; he can eat then. Vegetable soup reheats very well. In fact, why we don't we take this elsewhere so we don't disturb him? We have a small break room down the hall."

While Dr. Washington did a quick final exam of his patient and the medical equipment, Jim picked up the textbook and handed it to Simon. "Here, hold this for a minute." With Simon holding the heavy book, Jim reached down and pulled the sheet and blanket farther up on Blair, tucking them in around him to hold in the heat, not too easy to do since he was practically sitting upright. That done, he then placed the book on a small stand near the bed within easy reach. Both hands then reached over and gently removed Blair's glasses, putting them with the textbook. When he was satisfied that Blair was as comfortable as possible under the circumstances, he stood back up, only to see the other three looking at him with small smiles on their faces.

"What?"

As one, all three just shook their heads, keeping the smiles. Martha finally answered. "Nothing. Come on, the break room's this way." She turned and led the others out of the room.

The break room was small, with a round table in the middle surrounded by four chairs. On one wall was a refrigerator and counter with a sink that also held a small microwave oven and a coffee maker. On another wall was a long coat rack with several empty hangers and a few medical smocks hanging on it. In front of the third unbroken wall were several square metal lockers, most of which had locks on them. On all the walls were various medically themed posters, some serious, some humorous. To Jim, it looked like any small office break room, if perhaps a bit cleaner than most. As Jim, Simon and Martha sat at the table, the doctor started making a pot of coffee. "Martha has me well trained. She told me from day one that she didn't like coffee and if I wanted some, I'd have to make it myself." The obvious affection in his voice offset any assumed bitterness in his statement. Once the coffee started brewing, he joined them at the table. Jim was just asking Simon if he had managed to contact Brown and Rafe.

"Yes, I did. The phone up there is working now. I told them we'd be spending the night here in town. Which reminds me, I also got us a room at a motel not far from here. So now, whenever the Doc here finally throws you out, you'll have somewhere to go."

"So," Washington's voice was bemused, "you think I'll have to resort to that?"

Simon slowly shook his head. "Doc, you have no idea what fits these two give the doctors and nurses back at Cascade General every time one of them gets hurt or sick. I don't think they even bother trying to get the uninjured one to leave anymore."

"Hey!" Jim had an offended look on his face. "We're not that bad." He saw the look Simon gave him. "Are we?"

"Worse. Like when you were blinded by Golden and still insisted on sitting up all night with Sandburg when he was overdosed. Even though he was practically in a coma and on a respirator and wouldn't even know you were there. Or when he—"

"Hold it." George looked at the two detectives. "I think I see a lot of very interesting patient background coming up here. Let's get some coffee and you two can catch me up on Blair's medical history. Especially this overdose you mentioned, Captain." As he got up and started filling coffee cups, Martha put some sugar and powdered creamer on the table then opened the refrigerator and pulled out a can of Coke for herself. Once everyone was seated again, George was back in 'doctor' mode. "Okay, tell me what all my patient has been through."

Jim and Simon looked at each other, then took turns telling and adding details to the stories of Blair's many misadventures since becoming an observer with the Cascade Major Crime Unit. Their audience sat and listened, with Dr. Washington occasionally asking questions. Jim finished by explaining how hard this last case had hit Blair emotionally and how he'd hope a nice, quiet vacation would help get his friend 'centered' again, as he usually put it. Martha broke the ensuing silence first.

"So he does all this, puts up with everything he's been through, just to gather information for his dissertation?"

Jim and Simon looked at each other again. It sounded pretty unbelievable, put that way, but they couldn't explain the real reason Blair stayed by Jim's side—besides the deep friendship between them, Blair was a guide to a sentinel. Nothing would keep him from Jim if he thought he needed his help. They were saved from needing to come up with a plausible explanation by the timely arrival of their dinner. Jim and Simon tried to protest when the doctor had everything charged to the clinic, insisting that the county could easily afford a few roast beef dinners and it was all patient care related anyway. Soon everyone was eating and talking about more general topics, the earlier question seemingly forgotten, much to the two police officers' relief. Just as they were finishing, the clinic's front doors opened and a large, male paramedic and his smaller, female EMT partner entered the break room. The paramedic carried something by the handle of its long, soft plastic case.

"Hi, Doc. Sorry we took so long. There was a fender bender down on Dustin Street." He noticed the food on the table. "Oh man, looks like we interrupted your dinner. Sorry."

Dr. Washington stood up. "No, we were just finishing anyway, don't worry about it, Mark. Was anyone hurt?"

Mark looked relieved. "Good. Believe me, I know what it's like to suddenly have a meal ruined." He grinned. "I think I hold the record for most calls received while eating. And no, no one was hurt. Just a few cuts and bruises. Everyone went home this time. Which reminds me, Bob said to let you know that you'll probably be busier than usual around here for the next few days."

"Why's that?"

"Well, with the road out, all non-life threatening illnesses and injuries are going to brought here for now. The more serious cases will be air lifted to J.C. Med. Here's hoping for a few slow days."

George and Martha looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. Not much they could do about it now. "Okay. You and Nancy come with us to the supply room. I may need your advice in how to rig up a sling on a traction splint."

Nancy looked puzzled. "A sling, Doc?"

"I'll explain it all when we get there." He turned to Jim and Simon. "Why don't you two go wake Blair up? Let him know what's going on. We'll be there as soon as everything's ready."

It only took a few minutes to clean up the dinner mess since everything came in throw away Styrofoam containers and Blair's food had already been put in the refrigerator for later. Once in the hallway, Jim and Simon turned left back towards the exam rooms while the others turned right and entered a room across the hall with a sign reading SUPPLY ROOM on the door.

Entering the exam room, Jim immediately walked over to the bed. He placed his palm across Blair's forehead and smiled. "Fever's already down a bit." His head tilted in the 'listening' position. "The congestion is better too. He may not need the O2 any more. Looks like the antibiotics are working pretty quick." He and Simon both breathed a small sigh of relief.

Even though he was a little better, Jim thought Blair still looked too pale and he still had those dark circles under his eyes. And even practically sitting up straight hadn't been enough to keep him from falling into a deep sleep. "I hate to wake him up. This is probably the most restful sleep he's gotten since it happened. Hell, since the whole mess back in Cascade started."

Simon had stayed at the foot of the bed again, watching. "Yeah, I know. But unfortunately, it has to be done. Think of it this way, the sooner the doctor finishes, the sooner he can go back to sleep, probably for the rest of the night."

Jim sighed. Simon was right of course. The hand that was on Blair's forehead slid down to his shoulder and started gently shaking it. "Hey Chief, time to wake up."

Blair made a small noise and turned his head away from Jim. Keeping his one hand on the shoulder, Jim used his other to turn Blair's face back towards him and lightly tapped his cheek while shaking him again. "C'mon Blair. I don't like this any more than you do but you have to wake up now."

Blair started then opened his eyes. "... wha?... Jim? Did I oversleep again?"

"No, Chief, you didn't oversleep. The paramedics brought over the traction splint. The doc needs you awake now so he can put it on. You with me here, buddy?"

Blair looked around and sighed. "Yeah. I guess it was too much to hope that it was all a bad dream." He leaned back into the pillow and yawned. "So when does the fun begin?"

"As soon as they're ready. How're you feeling? You seem to be breathing easier."

After taking a few experimental breaths, Blair's eyes opened a bit wider and he lay one palm flat against his chest. "Yeah, I am. It's a lot easier to breathe now." He took another semi-deep breath. "Ohhh man, that feels so much better."

"We saved your dinner for you. You can probably have it after the doctor finishes." Blair hadn't even noticed that Simon was in the room until he spoke. Again, that uneasy feeling that something was wrong between them crawled up his spine. "Uh, thanks Si—Captain." Blair knew that the surly captain often made it known that he did not appreciate it when the civilian observer sometimes got too familiar by calling him by his first name, especially if said captain was upset with him for any reason. Even if he couldn't remember just what he had done this time, it was better to play it safe.

Simon frowned at Blair's continued uneasiness around him but before he could say anything, Martha walked in and up to Blair.

"I see you're awake. Good. They're working on the splint. George just wanted me to make sure you were awake and to see how you're doing." She checked the level and the tubing on IV bags as she spoke. "So, how are you doing?" As he answered her, Martha placed the automatic blood pressure cuff around his arm and turned on the machine. She listened to him as she recorded Blair's BP and pulse rate.

"I feel better. It's not so hard to breathe. But my leg's starting to hurt."

Jim frowned at Blair's mention of being in pain.

"Okay. Let me check a few more things then we'll see about your leg." Taking the stethoscope from around her neck, she had Blair lean forward slightly and take deep breaths as she placed the bell on his back and carefully listened to the upper and lower half of each lung then listened to his chest. She noted the information into his chart. Opening a nearby drawer, she removed an ear thermometer and placed it in Blair's ear. When it beeped, she checked the reading and added it to the chart. Lastly, she leaned down a bit to look at something hanging off of her side of the bed that was out of sight of the other three. Making one last entry in the file, she put her pen back in her jacket pocket.

"So." Blair couldn't help but be curious after all her poking and prodding. "How am I?"

Martha put down the chart and patted Blair's arm. "A lot better than you were when you first came in. In fact, I think we can take off that O2 tube now, if you'd like."

"Please. My nostrils feel all dried out. Thanks." The last was said as Martha turned off the oxygen and watched as the little ball dropped to the bottom of its plastic container before removing the nasal cannula.

"If your nose still bothers you, tell me. We can put some ointment on to help with the dryness."

Blair nodded. He gingerly felt the sides of his nose with his index fingers and sniffed of air to test the dryness. Dr. Washington, along with Mark and Nancy, came into the room while Blair was so engaged and hid a smile. Walking up the bed, the doctor laid the splint across the foot. It looked exactly like the one in the pictures except that this one had a few modifications on it. Leaving the splint for the moment, George turned to address his patient. "So, Blair, how are you feeling? Better than before, I hope. I see that you're no longer on O2 so I take that to mean you're breathing easier."

Blair was eyeing the contraption lying across his bed warily. It looked more like some kind of torture device than medical equipment. The fact that his leg was already hurting made him even more leery about having that 'thing' put on him. He answered the questions distractedly. "Yeah. I feel better."

Dr. Washington looked over at his nurse who gave him a slight nod and a small, discreet thumbs up. Smiling now, he picked up the splint and brought it closer to Blair. "Detective, Captain, I'd like you both to move up closer too. I want all of you to know exactly what we're going to do here."

When everyone was situated to the doctor's satisfaction, he placed the splint along the side of Blair's leg on top of the covers. "As you can see, we made a few changes here. We've padded the ischial pad, here at the top, with cotton and gauze to make it more comfortable. Since this part will be right up against your butt for a while, we thought that'd feel better than just the rubber pad." The doctor never saw the grimace that appeared on his patient's face at his words. "Now for the main part." He pointed to the new attachment at the far end. "We used a cloth bandage for the base, covered that with cotton then wrapped it all up in soft gauze. Should be one nice comfy sling. Now, we may have to make one more strap near the ankle and I'm also going to secure your foot once it's in the sling. I just to make sure you don't accidentally flex or move it. I know this isn't high tech or anything but, with the road out, I'm afraid you're going to be here even longer than we expected. I had hoped to send you on to the county hospital so they could look at you; they're better equipped to handle something like this. We are, after all, only a clinic; we're not really equipped for in house patient care, but we've learned to make do with what we have. Do any of you have any questions? Blair?"

"Yeah." Blair looked up. "What's this about the road? We can't leave?"

"You fell asleep just before we found out about it, Chief. There was a mudslide a few miles outside of town. They're already working on it; it should be cleaned up soon. Besides, you have somewhere in particular you need to be any time soon?"

"No, I guess not." Blair lowered his head and started picking at the weave in his blanket. Nope. No more cabin, no more walks in the woods, no spear fishing, no anything. There goes that private talk with Jim too. Jim. Damn. If I'm stuck here, Jim'll probably end up staying in town. Jeez, Sandburg, when you blow a vacation, you really do it up right. Jim really needed this downtime too. He looked back up when he heard Dr. Washington clear his throat, making it a point not to look at Simon or Jim. He was sure Simon would just look pissed and he so didn't want to see the disappointment in Jim's eyes. "Okay, Doc, let's do it."

Jim didn't like the sudden downward turn of Blair's mood. Or the fact that he seemed to be deliberately not looking at him. He needed to have that long talk with his friend and soon. But first things first.

If the doctor had noticed Blair's mood swing, he didn't acknowledge it. "All right Blair, this is what we're going to do. I'm going to pull the covers all the way down; I don't want you to move your leg at all. Mark and Nancy are more experienced with this so they're going to secure your leg in the splint. Remember, let them do all work. Ready?"

"Uhh, can you do something to make it stop hurting first? I mean, won't all this moving around just make it hurt even more?"

Taking a quick look at the round clock on the wall, George walked over to a cabinet on the wall and unlocked it, taking out a small bottle. Opening the drawer under the cabinet, he removed and unwrapped a syringe. "I'm sorry, Blair, I didn't realize that the local could have worn off by now. Usually it lasts a little longer." Inserting the needle into the rubber top of the bottle, he turned both upside down and slowly pulled back the plunger on the syringe, watching carefully as it filled. "I'm going to give you something a bit stronger this time. It'll make you sleepy but that's a good thing. I want you to get a good night's sleep after we're through." Once all the air was removed from the syringe, he walked back over to the bed and injected the medication into the med port on Blair's IV tubing. "Martha, would you mind heating up Blair's dinner while we do this? I want him to try to eat before he feels the full effect of this." He deposited the used syringe in the bright red sharps container on the wall. "Your leg should start to feel better in a minute or so, then we'll start. Next time, tell me if you're in pain or if anything doesn't feel right. Okay, Blair?"

He didn't look too convinced when Blair only nodded.

Concentrating on Blair, neither he nor Jim noticed when Martha caught Simon's eye and tilted her head towards the door. Without a word, he followed her out of the room.

George continued his conversation with Blair. "I know this whole thing isn't very pleasant and the splint's going to feel awkward but we want you to be as comfortable as possible while you're with us. If you need anything, you tell me or Martha or one of the techs who work here, got it?"

Blair managed a small smile. "Got it. Hey, you're the man with the pain meds, I definitely want to stay on your good side."

Dr. Washington smiled back and patted his arm. "I like a man who fully understands the situation. Let's give that another few minutes to start working then get this over with."


Simon followed the small woman down the hall and back into the break room, not sure why she wanted him to come with her. She starting speaking as she took Blair's soup and tea out of the refrigerator and put them in the microwave. "I hope you don't mind my asking you to leave the room but I have a few questions that I wouldn't feel comfortable asking either Jim or Blair directly. But since it does affect my patient, I think it would help if I had the answers." After setting the microwave, she turned around and leaned back on the counter. "I realize of course that you're under no obligation to tell me anything and if you can't or just don't want to that's fine."

The nurse's honesty impressed Simon; he got the impression that it was rare when she didn't get answers to her questions. "What would you like to know? Assuming of course that it's something I can tell you."

"Of course. First, I've noticed that Jim seems to, well, for want of a better word, 'hover' over Blair. And Blair seems to respond to him more than as just a friend. Jim is listed as Blair's emergency contact but not next of kin. So, is there more to their relationship that I should know about? This is mainly so I'll know how to deal with Jim as well as Blair. There is a difference between how a patient's family members and friends are treated."

Simon almost smiled. This question was not uncommon when dealing with his two friends. "If you're asking are they lovers or romantically involved, the answer is no. But they couldn't be any closer if they were. Best friends somehow doesn't seem adequate enough to describe the bond between them but it's the closest phrase that fits." Besides Sentinel and Guide but that's a whole 'nuther ballgame. "If I were you, I would just pretend that Jim is a blood relative because he probably is the closest thing Blair has to a family right now anyway. Also, Blair has been hurt more than a few times since working with Jim and Jim has come to feel rather, well, protective of him. Let him 'hover' and do whatever he feels he has to for Blair; believe me, in the long run it'll make your life a lot easier. Anything else?"

"Let Jim hover, got it. And yes, I do have another question. What about you and Blair? I assume you're friends if you're vacationing together but I sense an uneasiness from Blair when you're around. I don't want to pry but I also don't want anything or anyone around that is upsetting to my patient. Anything I should know about that?"

This was getting personal but he found he had almost no qualms about discussing this with her. Just then the microwave dinged and Martha turned to retrieve the food. It was actually easier to talk to her back. "Well, when Sandburg first started working with Jim, I didn't exactly hide how I felt about having a long-haired, civilian college student riding around with my best detective. And even though since then I've grown to admire and respect and, yes, even like Blair, I still feel the need to maintain a bit of distance, to uphold my position as captain of the Major Crime Unit. Sometimes I don't think he understands that and tends to take things I say a bit personally." Martha had turned around again and was giving him her full attention now. He told her what had happened when Jim first tried to tend to Blair's injury back in the cabin and what he felt compelled to say to Blair to get him to cooperate with his own treatment. Then he thought he hit on the problem. "That's probably the last thing he remembers me saying to him so he probably thinks I'm still angry at him."

"Well, that would certainly explain it. I hope you take the first opportunity to straighten it out with him. I don't like upset patients." She started loading the tea, soup and a few individually wrapped crackers onto a tray, then pointed with her chin to the creamer and sugar from the table. "Can you get those?" She carried the tray out of the room, listening as Simon picked up the items she requested and once again followed her.

They entered the exam room just in time to hear Dr. Washington ask Blair if his foot still hurt.

"Nooo. Nothin' hurts now." His words were already slightly slurred.

"All right then." Having already handed the splint back to Mark, he picked up the top of the covers and carefully pulled them to the end of the bed.

"Hey. Iss cold."

"It's all right, Blair. As soon as we're done, we'll put them back." He motioned for Mark and Nancy to step forward as he stepped away from the bed. "Blair, this is Mark and Nancy, they're going to put the splint on now."

"'kay. Hi guys."

Jim stood on the opposite side of the bed from the EMTs, ready to lend any support Blair might need although the medication the doctor gave him seemed to working just fine. And a medicated Blair was usually pretty entertaining.

Mark laid the splint along the side Blair's leg with the top ischial strap just below his hip. "Okay, Blair, I'm going to lift your leg up and Nancy's going to slide the splint over and all the way up until it's snug under your upper thigh. Then I'll lower your leg onto the splint and we'll strap it down. The main thing is to be sure your ankle is securely in the sling. That part will be a little different for us but we'll manage. Don't try to help or move your leg yourself. Let us do all the work. Here goes."

No sooner had Mark started to lift his leg than Blair felt a draft in a place that wasn't used to being exposed to air. He immediately grabbed the bottom hem of his gown and pulled it down as far as it would go. "Hey! This ain't no peep show!"

Before Jim could do anything, Martha stepped forward. "Blair, I'm a nurse and Nancy's an EMT, you haven't got anything we haven't seen countless times before."

"Yeah? Well, you haven't seen mine. And you're not gonna either."

Martha crossed her arms and raised one eyebrow. "Oh? And just who do you think put in your catheter? And I'm assuming you would also like me to remove it before you leave."

"Huh?" His eyes followed the now exposed thin tube as it ran out from under his hospital gown to near the end of the bed and over the side to the collection bag he knew from experience was hanging there. "Oh." He looked back up at Nancy. "But what 'bout her?"

Knowing it was the medication talking, not Blair himself, Martha knew it would be easier to give in than to try to use logic. She opened a small closet and removed another hospital gown and handed it to Jim. "Here. Why don't you make him 'presentable' so we can get on with this? He's not going to listen to reason right now."

Jim accepted the gown and chuckled as Martha and Nancy both rolled their eyes as they discreetly turned away from the bed. Holding the gown, he faced his partner. "The things I do for you, Chief." Turning the new gown sideways, he arranged it over Blair's abdomen and upper legs, carefully tucking it under the top of the injured leg making sure it was spread out enough to cover Blair even with his leg raised. "There ya go. All prim and proper."

Blair gave him a large if somewhat lopsided smile. "Thanks, Jim."

Jim patted his shoulder. "Anytime, Chief, anytime." He raised his voice a bit louder. "Okay, I think we're ready now."

His modesty now preserved and being very nicely medicated, Blair offered no more resistance as his leg was carefully put into the splint, the heel prop lowered and then the leg securely strapped into place with his ankle and heel snugly inside the impromptu sling. "Okay, Doc, we're finished."

Blair looked up surprised. "Thass it?"

Dr. Washington looked over the arrangement of his patient's leg apparently satisfied with what he saw. "Not quite. I'm going to secure your foot to the splint too so hopefully you won't be able to move it at all." With Mark carefully holding Blair's foot at the angle George wanted, the doctor tied an self-adhering Ace bandage to one of the splint's rods right beside Blair's foot. He then looped the bandage a few times around the instep and carefully making sure it was snug he tied the other end to the other rod. Blair's foot and leg were now immobile.

"Hey, Doc, I can' move m'foot."

"That's the idea, Blair. So you won't accidentally move your leg, remember?"

"Oh yeah."

"So. How does it feel?"

Blair looked at his leg and shrugged. "I dunno. Looks funny but I can' feel anythin'. Can I have my covers back now?"

"Sure." With Jim's help, they slowly pulled the covers back up arranging them around the splinted leg leaving it exposed.

"Aren' you gonna cover m'leg? What if it gess cold?"

Everyone looked at Martha who just sighed and shook her head. "If you get cold we can put some nice warm towels over it, okay?"

Satisfied, Blair leaned back and yawned. "Okay. So now what?"

"Well, since you're obviously feeling no pain right now, this seems like an opportune time to check and see how the object of all this attention is doing. It looks like the swelling has gone down considerably, let's hope that the rest of it looks as good. While I'm doing that I want you to try to eat something before you fall asleep. Martha heated up your dinner, I want you to eat as much as you can."

"Not 'ungry."

"Doesn't matter, Chief, you need to eat." Jim stepped out of the way as Martha wheeled the hospital tray up to the bed and in front of Blair. She starting taking the covers off the food.

"See Blair? It's just some nice vegetable soup, a few crackers and some tea. Not much at all. Surely you can eat at least some of this." She stirred the soup then held the spoon in front of Blair's face. "Hmmm, doesn't this smell good? One bite, just to try it? For me?"

To everyone's surprise, Blair opened his mouth and took the spoonful of soup. Then a few more. It was as if he was trying to make up for the trouble he caused earlier by cooperating now.

"Whoa." Jim and Simon both turned at Mark's exclamation. Dr. Washington had just unwrapped Blair's leg and the EMTs got their first look at what a bear trap could do to human tissue. "This is after you cleaned them up, huh? And it had enough force to crack his tibia too? Damn, that must have hurt."

Jim tuned them out when the doctor started giving a run down on the injuries Blair had received and how they should treat this type of injury in the field. He was sure that if Blair were more awake he'd probably get a kick out of being an impromptu medical lesson. He was just about to suggest to Martha that he take over for her when he heard her name being called by someone else.

"Martha? Can you come over here? Mark and Nancy have to leave now. It's almost shift change and Bob gets real upset when there's no ambulance for the next crew." He turned to the paramedic and EMT. "Thanks for all your help, guys. Tell Bob I'll call him when I'm ready to have the splint picked up. And tell him let's try to do as much catch and release as possible until the road is open again."

Both Mark and Nancy laughed and promised to pass on his message. With a final good-bye to everyone, they left to head back to their station. Simon had to ask. "Catch and release?"

George smiled. "It's a term we use here to mean that the EMS crew treats the patient on scene but doesn't bring them to a medical facility for further treatment. With no one able to get to the county hospital, I'm sure we're going to be plenty busy here with every possible type of medical problem. The fewer non-emergency patients the crews send here the better it will be for now. Now, Martha, if you would step over here I could use your help."

Jim stepped up and took the spoon from her and moved back so she could pass by. He wondered a bit at the smile she gave him and the whispered comment, "He'd probably prefer you do it anyway." With a mental shrug of his shoulders, he turned his attention to his partner, noting that Blair's eyes already had a glazed look to them. He wouldn't be with them for much longer tonight. Turning his head, he watched as Doc and Martha worked on Blair's leg. He remembering too vividly the pain that every little touch or movement caused his friend earlier. Now he didn't even seem to be aware that he had an injured leg. Even though he preferred a more awake and coherent Blair, in this case he was grateful for the medications, no matter how out of it they caused him to become. "All right, Chief, almost done. Just a few more bites."

"Tea?"

"You want some tea?"

At Blair's nod, he prepared the tea the way he knew Blair liked it and handed it to him. As he watched him sip the warm liquid, Jim glanced down at the tray. There was a mangled packet of crackers separated out from the other few still intact ones. Jim held it up.

"Did you want some crackers? Or were you just trying to beat this into submission?"

Blair looked embarrassed. "Couldn' op'n it. Fingers don' work anymore."

Smiling, Jim opened one of the undamaged packets and put the two crackers on the tray. "Here ya go, Champ. Let me know if you want more."

Blair managed to eat one cracker before a large yawn took over. He leaned back into the pillow and rubbed his eyes. "Sorry. Can't seem to... stay awake..." Another yawn followed that statement.

Jim turned to the doctor and nurse. "Hey, Doc, if you need him for anything you'd better speak up now. I don't think he's going to be with us for much longer tonight."

Dr. Washington looked up as he finished rewrapping Blair's leg. He was smiling as he walked up the other side of the bed. "I think you're right, Detective." He addressed his barely awake patient. "Blair?" Watching as Blair slowly turned his head towards him, he waited until he had his full attention, such as it was. "Blair, I know you're tired but once you go to sleep you should be able to sleep through the night. Even though you won't be aware of it, I want you to know that Martha and I will be here all night and every few hours one of us will be in here to check on you. We'll be in my office just down the hall. If you should wake up and need anything, just call, we'll hear you. Do you understand?"

At Blair's nod, he smiled again and patted his shoulder. "All right then, I'll let you say your good-byes before you fall asleep." He looked over at Simon. "If you two would meet me in my office before you go, I'd appreciate it. It's just down the hall past the break room."

"We'll be there."

"Good. Martha?" The doctor grinned and extended his bent arm towards his wife. "Why don't we leave them now and retire to our chamber for the evening?" With that gallantry, they both left the exam room.

Simon looked at Blair, not sure what to say. So he did what he usually did in this type of situation: he reverted to the gruff police captain persona he was most comfortable with. "All right, Sandburg. We're leaving now. I want you to behave and not give the doc any trouble while we're gone."

Blair turned his head in the direction he heard Simon's voice come from. The captain was obviously still upset with him; he just wished he could remember why. It must have been pretty bad for him to still be mad. Or maybe... he was just mad because he ruined his vacation. Simon probably had to go to a lot of trouble to get the cabin on such short notice and was really looking forward to getting in some good fishing. Even with road closed, everyone still could have had a good time. Now look at them. The last thing he wanted to do was to make things any worse. Too tired to think of anything else to say he just lowered his eyes and answered, "Yes, sir."

Jim and Simon looked at each other with slightly widened eyes. Sir?

Simon recovered first. "I'll wait for you in the doctor's office. G'night, Sandburg." At Jim's small nod, he turned and left other two men alone in the room.

Jim turned back to his barely there partner. "Yes, sir? Something going on that I should know about, Chief?"

Keeping his eyes on the blanket Blair shook his head then shrugged. "S'mns mad at me... 'gin. Don' know why. Didn' want to..." YAWN "... make... worse." He leaned back on the pillow again as his eyes slid shut. "Always... mad. Not like... you. You... my... fr'nd..." Blair's half of the conversation had come to an end.

Jim watched as Blair's breathing deepened. Any questions he had would have to wait until tomorrow. He reached up, ostensibly to pat the pale cheek but his hand stayed, cupping one side of Blair's face. "That's right, Chief. I am your friend and whether or not either of you knows it, so is Simon. We'll get this straightened out tomorrow. I'll be back in the morning." After tucking the covers up around the always cold grad student he picked up Blair's backpack and went to join the others down the hall.


When Jim entered the office, he found Dr. Washington sitting behind what looked liked an antique desk. Simon was seated in one of the two comfortable looking chairs in front of it. Martha was sitting with her legs stretched out on a slightly wider than normal sofa that was placed along one wall. He dropped into the empty chair, placing Blair's bag on the floor beside him. The doctor turned his attention from Simon to Jim.

"I take it our patient is all tucked in for the night?"

"Out like a light. I doubt if he'll move a muscle all night."

A smile formed on the older man's face. "Good. Good. A good, restful night's sleep is exactly what he needs right now. And I think the same advice is in order for you two as well. Especially you, Detective, you're looking a bit worn around the edges there yourself. Long day?"

Jim rubbed one hand over his face. He'd been up since before dawn hiking through the woods after getting very little sleep last night. That short nap this afternoon was the only rest he'd had and it was now... he looked at his watch. That can't be right? "Is it really that late?" He turned to his captain. "Simon, what time will they hold our room till? The thought of sleeping in the car really doesn't appeal to me right now."

Simon laughed. "Relax, Jim. Since I didn't know where the motel was, I went back to the police station to ask Becky. She called and talked to the clerk first, basically telling him to give me whatever I wanted. When I told the clerk why we needed the room, he said we could show up any time we wanted, they'll hold it for us."

Martha chimed in. "Once nice advantage of small towns. Friendly, personal service." She ended with a large yawn. "Sorry."

"No, we're sorry." Simon apologized. "This was obviously supposed to be a day off." He looked down at his own watch. "Not to mention this must be way past the clinic's usual hours. Did you say you were going to stay all night?"

George clasped his hands over his head and stretched. "Yes, but don't worry about it." He lowered his hands back to the desk. "It's not our usual procedure to have patients stay overnight but it has happened before. The bathroom has a shower and we always keep at least one change of clothes here. We've got that large couch and we've found that if we snuggle just right, we both fit quite comfortably. By taking turns checking on the patient, we both get enough sleep. So relax and try to get a good night's sleep yourselves. He'll probably sleep through the night; you both should too."

"Okay. You're right. But how's Blair doing, Doc? Really?" Jim's voice was calm but his eyes showed his concern.

Leaning back in his chair with his hands behind his head, George smiled at the nervous detective. Looking at him, you would have thought that big, definitely ex-military, cop would be cold and almost uncaring, especially towards someone who seemed so opposite him in every way. But rarely had he seen one man who, as Martha had already discreetly informed him, was not in a romantic relationship with the other, care so much for another man. And the way Blair responded to and seemed to totally trust him told him that the feelings went both ways. Even among police officers, this was different. He was sure there must be a very interesting story concerning these two but, since he wasn't one to pry into his patients' personal lives, he would just have to wonder. He was just as sure that anything less than the honest truth about Blair's condition wouldn't be tolerated either.

"Blair was in pretty bad shape when he was brought in. His fever was dangerously high due to the infection spreading from his leg wound. That caused him to become dehydrated. That same infection had reached his lungs, resulting in congestion and difficulty breathing. The injury itself is also very serious. The punctures are deep, causing tissue damage. Then there's the broken tibia. Cracked actually, as I explained earlier, but still serious. Of course his walking on it didn't help it any and being out in the cold and rain only made everything else worse too."

"But... I thought he was getting better."

"He is, Jim, he is." Bringing his hands back down, George placed one on Blair's chart lying on the large desk in front of him. "He actually responded to the antibiotics faster than I thought he would. His breathing is already easier, as you know, and the swelling in his leg has gone down even more than I had hoped it would by this time. His urine output is almost back to normal thanks to the IVs so the danger of dehydration and any related kidney problems is gone."

Jim looked confused. "So, he's all right now?"

"No, I didn't say that. He's better but his temperature, while down, is still higher than normal and there is still some congestion in his lungs. That means that the infection is still in his system. We have to keep fighting it or it could take hold again. But it's the original injury to his leg that's the main problem. Without going into any details at this time, let me just say that those trap teeth really tore up his leg and not being able to put on a cast to stabilize and support the bone is going to impede the healing process. He's going to be off that leg for quite a while." He looked back and forth between Jim and Simon. "Then there is his emotional well being to consider as well. That's what I really wanted to talk to both of you about before you left. As I'm sure you both are aware, almost any trauma will have an impact on a person's mental state. It varies of course with each incident and the person involved." Dr. Washington leaned forward on his desk and steepled his fingers. "From what you told me earlier, Blair has quite a history of traumatic experiences, both physical and emotional, and this last case you worked on was especially hard on him. All of that, plus you can now probably add in a good dose of guilt too—this was supposed to be a relaxing vacation for everyone after all, on top of this type of injury and, gentlemen, what I'm worried about now is depression."

Simon gave a small smile. "It's almost hard to think of Sandburg and depression in the same sentence. He is, without a doubt, one of the most energetic and upbeat people I have ever met."

"Not always." Both Simon and the doctor looked up at Jim's soft remark. "I've been worried about him lately." His eyes clouded over momentarily as he recalled the few lines he had read in Blair's notebook. The notebook he was now even more determined to read. "I think he is depressed. Or at least extremely upset... with himself. He thinks he didn't do enough to catch Wade and that he let me, actually everyone, down."

Simon looked as surprised as Jim had been when he first found out how his partner felt. "But Sandburg didn't eat, he didn't sleep. Damn near tried to solve it all by himself. He did more than most of the paid police officers actually assigned to the case." He shook his head in disbelief. "Where would he ever get the idea that he let anyone down?"

"I think it all hit him hardest when Chris died. They were so much alike. You know, together they were going to set the world of anthropology on fire. Then suddenly, there he was at Chris' funeral. Now instead of the two of them making their great plans for the future, he was trying to comfort his co-conspirator's pregnant widow. He really became obsessed after that; it became personal. If we hadn't finally caught Wade... well, I don't really want to think about what that would have done to Blair." Jim looked down, too many emotions welling up inside of him; all of them focused on the young man sleeping in the other room.

Simon reached over and put a hand on Jim's shoulder, not surprised when the detective didn't even look up. "He'll be all right, Jim. He's got you. Hell, he's got all of us. He may not be the exact same person he was before all of this but he will come through it intact."

Dr. Washington interrupted the now more common—ever since a certain curly-haired, hyper observer had entered their lives—emotional moment between the two men. "Thank you, Captain. That's exactly the sentiment I was hoping to hear. I can put the physical pieces back together but it will be up to you, his friends and co-workers, to get him through the mental part of these traumas. And believe me, he will be affected by both incidents. The best thing you can do right now is just be there for him. If he wants to talk about anything, let him. In fact, try to get him to talk but don't pressure him. He'll do it when he's ready." At that, the doctor stood up. "Right now, gentlemen, I think the best thing for all of us is to follow young Mr. Sandburg's, and my wife's, example and get some much needed sleep."

Looking over at the couch they saw that Martha had curled herself into a small ball under the blanket she had spread out and was sound asleep. The gentle smile on George's face as he watched his own best friend sleep spoke volumes about both of them.

Jim and Simon also stood and prepared to leave, Jim picking up Blair's backpack and putting one strap over his shoulder.

"I'll let you see yourselves out. But please don't go into the room with Blair. I doubt that he'd even wake up but I'd rather not risk it. As for you two, I don't want to see either of you until late tomorrow morning at the earliest and even then not till after you've had a good breakfast." He looked directly at Jim. "We'll take very good care of him, I promise."

Despite everything that had happened, a small smile graced Jim's face. "I know you will. I'll be back tomorrow..." He held up his hand, "... after a good night's sleep and breakfast. Good night, Doc."

After Simon added his good-byes, George watched them leave the office. He wondered who he would have the most problems with—his patient or his patient's friend. He silently wished more of his patients had friends like that. Walking to the couch, he joined his wife for a few hours sleep until it was time to check on that fortunate patient again.


All was quiet in the exam turned patient room. Both Jim and Simon wondered how Sandburg could sleep with the head of the bed raised up so high and his leg strapped to that 'thing'. But there Blair was, looking more restful than he had since they'd found him with that damn trap around his leg. The same thought entered both their minds, Must be the drugs.

Simon's whispered voice broke the silence first. "He seems to be sleeping peacefully enough. Though I can't imagine how in that position."

Jim turned his senses on his friend. The rhythmic rise and fall of Blair's chest coupled with the gentle swoosh of air entering and leaving the still congested lungs and the slow but still strong, steady beat of his partner's heart both calmed and convinced the sentinel that his guide was all right for now. "Exhaustion plus drugs can do wonders. I doubt that he can hear us but we'd better leave just the same. He really needs the rest." After one last final sensory sweep just to assure himself that all truly was well, he slowly turned and followed Simon out of the clinic and to the Suburban.

After a mostly silent drive to the motel, each man deep into his own thoughts, Jim waited in the car while Simon went into the office to get their room key. A few minutes later they were in the room, Jim stretched out on top of his bed and Simon sitting on the edge of his, reaching for the phone on the nightstand between the beds.

"I'm going to call Brown and Rafe and update them on Sandburg's condition then I'm hitting the sack. You should too."

Jim looked over at the chair holding the worn leather backpack. Tired as he was, he knew he wouldn't get any sleep until he read what Blair had written in that notebook. After what Doc Washington had said, he knew there was no way that he wasn't going to read it. "Nah. I'm going to stay up for a little while yet. There's something I need to read."

After giving Jim a puzzled look, Simon shrugged his shoulders, picked up the phone and started dialing. If it was important, Jim would tell him.

Seeing Simon on the phone, Jim took the opportunity to use the bathroom and undress for bed. While Simon was taking his turn in the bathroom he pulled the pack onto his bed and retrieved the notebook. By the time he was stretched out with a pillow propped behind him on the headboard, notebook in hand, Simon returned.

"You're going to try to read one of Sandburg's books? If that doesn't put you to sleep I don't know what will."

Not always. "Maybe." Jim picked up the TV remote, and after turning the set on, hit the Mute button. Once Simon was in bed he reached over and turned off the lamp that was sitting on the same table as the phone. The room was immediately plunged into semi darkness with only the flickering of the TV on the dresser across the room providing light.

Simon turned towards the other bed. "Hey. How can you read in this light?"

When Jim just looked at him and raised his eyebrows, Simon has the good grace to look embarrassed. "Never mind. Just forget I even asked that. I must be even more tired than I thought. Night, Jim." He bunched up his pillow and, turning away from Jim, settled himself in for the rest of the night muttering to himself about smart assed Sentinels.

Jim grinned. "G'night, Simon." The grin faded as he opened the notebook to the first page and began reading.

Two hours later, Jim finally put the notebook down. He had read it from beginning to end in one sitting, then went back and reread certain parts over again. He had no idea just how important it was to Blair how he looked in Jim's eyes. His partner hid his apprehensions well. The depth of his feelings during their work on the campus assaults was a revelation, especially for someone who thought he knew Blair well. While he'd known that Blair had been hurting during the case, he'd had no idea just how deeply everything had been affecting him. Blair had never mentioned his fears about fitting the victims' profile so closely. He must have had to almost force himself to go to the University every day, wondering if he was going to be next. And the guilt his partner was feeling. He seemed to think it was his fault every time a new victim was found because he personally hadn't caught Wade yet. But even that was nothing compared to his pain when Chris was killed. By then it was a wonder that Blair didn't just breakdown or quit. Instead, Chris' death seemed to intensify all of the negative things Blair was already feeling about himself. Only serving to compound Blair's idea that he had somehow failed his students, his friend but especially his partner. It didn't take Sentinel vision to see the blurred ink on those pages or to know what caused it. They were stained by the tears of deep, personal anguish. And yet, he had been with Blair every day, knowing he was bothered by what was going on but having no clue as to the depth of his friend's suffering. He resolved right then and there to start paying more attention to Blair, to make sure his emotional as well as physical needs were taken care of.

Jim slowly closed the notebook and placed it on the floor beside his bed. He found himself hurting for his friend as if everything was still happening to him instead of already over. It was no wonder Blair hadn't eaten or slept enough during that time. He and Blair were going to have a serious talk just as soon as his taciturn partner was up to it. He smiled a little thinking about Blair's reaction when he told him that he wanted to initiate a talk. He remembered that Blair had mentioned wanting to talk to him in private just before he went on his hike, maybe he could find out what that was all about too.

Picking up the remote he turned off the TV and slid down under the covers. Hopefully, tomorrow the doctor would have some good news tomorrow about how Blair was doing and when he could leave the clinic. Blair had been through enough already; it was time for things to turn around and start going right for him.


By eleven o'clock the next morning Jim and Simon had showered, eaten breakfast and were entering the clinic doors. Now that it was open there were people sitting in all the waiting room chairs and more sitting or standing against the walls. Most of them were reading or filling out the same clipboard of forms Jim had filled out for Blair the day before. Carefully negotiating through the crowded room, they went straight to the reception desk. A blonde, slightly overweight woman in her twenties wearing a name tag identifying her as Karen was holding the phone to her ear with her shoulder and filling out some paperwork at the same time. She held up one finger when Jim started to speak.

"That's right, Mrs. Fisher, if it's not an emergency, I would really recommend you wait a few days until the road opens. If it's not better by then, you can either come here or go to J.C. Med. If it gets worse or starts swelling then come in immediately." She paused for a minute, listening. "No, no problem, Mrs. Fisher. Yes, I hope that the road is opened soon too. Good-bye." Only Jim heard her mutter as she hung up the phone, "You have no idea how much I want that road re-opened." Looking up, she addressed both of them at the same time.

"Can I help you?"

Jim answered. "Yes. We're here to see Dr. Washington and our—"

"Is this an emergency?"

Jim tried to hide his irritation at being interrupted. "No, but we were—"

"As you can see, we're very busy here this morning. If it's not an emergency, sign in here." She pointed to an almost full sign-in sheet with several names at the top already crossed off; the used pages underneath showed that this was far from the first page. "We're seeing patients by the nature of their complaint first then by who's next on the list." She looked directly at Jim. "It could be a long wait."

By now there were three more people standing behind them. Simon moved closer to the desk and flashed his badge, deciding to take over before a smoldering Jim lost his temper. "Look, we're not here as patients. We're here to see Blair Sandburg. We brought him in yesterday. Dr. Washington knows—" This time the interruption was the ringing telephone. Karen held up her finger again. "Hang on a second." She picked up the phone.

"Jefferson County Medical Clinic. Can you hold please? Thank you." Pushing the 'Hold' button she looked back up at Simon with the first smile they'd seen since coming in.

"You're Blair's friends? Why didn't you say so? Martha said you'd be coming by today. Go right in; Blair's still in the same room. He's probably climbing the walls by now—or would be if he could get out of bed. Go on." She tilted her head towards the door.

Simon tried to smile while muttering "Thanks" then grabbed the still irritated detective's arm and steered them both towards the doorway leading to the back of the clinic. As they left, they could hear the harried receptionist telling the next person in line to wait while she took the holding phone call.

"Whew. When Doc Washington said they'd be busy, he wasn't kidding."

"Yeah." Jim looked worried. "I just hope they haven't forgotten about Sandburg in all this."

Opening the door to the exam room, Jim and Simon stepped in. Blair was sitting up in bed with the paramedic textbook open on the bed table in front of him. Beside the textbook was a yellow legal pad on which Blair was writing furiously, his glasses on, hair hanging down around his face. It was such a typical Sandburg pose that he could have been sitting on his bed at the loft. Except, Jim noted sadly, that at home he didn't have an IV tube taped to the back of one hand or his leg sticking straight out and strapped into a large traction splint. But at least he did look better than he had for the past few days. There was more color in his face and he obviously had a little more energy.

"Hey, Chief. Whatcha doing?"

Blair's head jerked up, his startled expression changing to a large smile when he saw who his visitors were.

"Hi guys. C'mon in. I was wondering when you'd come by. Oh cool, you brought my backpack. It's been so busy here lately, no one has much time to stop in. I was getting bored. Martha said to tell you there's coffee and doughnuts in the break room, just help yourselves. Can you stay for a while?"

Both men smiled at Blair's at least partial return to his usual self. Not quite as animated as usual but a far cry from the past few days.

"Hi yourself, Chief. How're you feeling today?"

Jim kept walking until he was standing beside the bed. Laying the backpack on the far side of the bed from Blair's injured leg, he started his own, personal sensory exam of his partner. Blair tolerated it with the air of a resigned parent indulging a child. "I'm fine, Jim. Really. I feel a lot better today than I did yesterday."

Jim let his senses loose, all focused on the man in the hospital bed. Blair's face, while still paler than normal, did have more color in it; his eyes seemed clearer and more expressive. The congestion was almost gone and his fever had gone down even more, although it was not quite back to normal yet. He noticed that the prop had been raised back up on the splint so now Blair's leg lay flat on the bed. Despite Blair's protests that he was fine and his enthusiastic greeting, there were still fine lines of pain and fatigue around his eyes along with just the slightest trembling in his hands. Just as the doctor had told him last night, his friend was better, but not totally well yet. He just hoped that he hadn't been forgotten in the rush of new patients. "Have you been sitting here by yourself all morning? Has anyone even been in to see you yet? What about breakfast?"

"Whoa, Jim." Blair put down the pen he was still holding and leaned back against the pillow. Even though he was off of the oxygen, the head of the bed was still raised to help his breathing. "Calm down, man. The Doc and Martha have been in here a few times already this morning. Before the clinic opened he did the full poke and prod routine as well as treated my leg. He gave me another local, can't feel a thing, which in my opinion is a good thing. As for breakfast, we ordered from the diner." He grinned. "Best hospital food I've ever had. The two techs, Jennifer and Lisa, stopped in when they could but lately I hear it's gotten really busy out there." He picked up the pen again and pointed to the notepad he'd been writing on when they came in. "Lisa got me this so I could make notes and I've been going through this paramedic book. Of course we don't have all the equipment they do but there's plenty of stuff in here on the basics. I've been taking notes on things like how to stop bleeding, how to splint a bone, signs of a concussion, you know—stuff I think I really should learn hanging with around you." Leaning forward a bit he looked directly at Jim and shook his pen at the bigger man. "So give it a rest, Jim. And don't go bothering Doc Washington either—I'm fine and they're busy." He lowered the pen and smiled. "So don't just stand there, pull up a chair and stay a while."

Jim watched as Blair leaned back again, panting slightly from the longest speech he'd heard from his partner in days. Following orders, he grabbed the nearest chair and placed it next to the bed. "Before I get comfortable, I think I'll get some coffee and maybe check out those doughnuts. You guys want anything while I'm there?"

"Actually, something cold to drink would be nice. And Jim... don't go overboard with the doughnuts."

"Real funny, Chief. You want anything, Simon?"

The thought of being alone in the room with Blair made Simon uncomfortable, knowing that the kid was uneasy around him. "Why don't I go with you, to help carry everything?"

Jim shook his head. "No, I can get it." As he passed Simon he leaned close to Simon and whispered, "You and Sandburg need to talk."

When Jim left the room an awkward silence filled it. Simon broke it first. "So how're you feeling today San—Blair?"

"Better."

"That's good."

Back to the silence.

"Umm, Simon, I mean Captain, do you mind if I ask you a dumb question?"

Relieved to have any kind of conversation going, Simon answered. "No, of course not. Ask whatever you want."

"Okay." Blair glanced down then back up again. "As you probably know, the last few days are kind of fuzzy to me. Can you, uh, would you mind, telling me why you're mad at me? Did I do something wrong?"

Simon looked at the observer. Sitting in a hospital bed, face pale, his hair hanging down and with his glasses on, Blair looked even younger than usual. Wide-eyed and innocent was not a phrase the worldly Captain would normally use to describe Sandburg. He was far too intelligent and by now had seen too much of the dark side of humanity for that to fit him anymore. But right now, the way Blair was looking at him, expectantly and yet unsure if he really wanted to hear the answer, that was how Simon couldn't help but think of him.

"I'm not mad at you, Blair, and you didn't do anything wrong. Well, at least not that you were coherently aware of doing at the time." At Blair's confused look, he continued. "Do you remember, back at the cabin, when Jim tried to take your boot off to examine your leg?"

Ducking his head in embarrassment, Blair nodded. "Yeah, I remember that. It's mostly after that point that things start to get kinda hazy. I acted like a real wuss. Wouldn't let him take the boot off until..." he paused, "... until you yelled at me to let Jim do what he had to do and not make it harder on him than it already was or something like that." He could feel his cheeks burning at the memory. He couldn't bring his eyes up to meet Simon's. "Sorry." It was barely whispered.

"Sandburg, I didn't do that to pick on you or make you feel bad. Everyone there knew you were in shock and in pain and naturally didn't want anything to make it hurt even worse. I would have done the same thing if it had been Brown or Rafe on that couch acting the same way. As captain, I sometimes have to act as the disciplinarian of the men under me. It's my least favorite part of the job but it has to be done. Just remember, I didn't enjoy doing that but I felt I had to, for your own good."

Blair looked up. "Okay. I can understand that." He looked puzzled. "But I still feel like there's something else. Maybe something I don't remember. Did something else happen too?"

Simon wasn't anxious to bring this part up but since Sandburg had asked, he couldn't see anyway to avoid it. "Well, yes, now that you mention it, there was another small incident." Seeing Blair just silently watching him, he knew he'd have to explain it too. "Your fever was pretty high and you were pretty much out of it but, for whatever reason, you got it in your head to leave the cabin. You took off when nobody was around. We finally found you half a mile away, unconscious. We brought you back and cleaned you up." No point in embarrassing him or me by telling him we gave him a bath. "Once you were back on the couch again you woke up and were still insisting you had to leave. When you tried to get up, I got a bit upset and, uh, kind of yelled at you to stay put."

Looking down again, Blair started picking at the weave of his blanket. He was silent for several seconds. "Was Jim mad too?"

"He wasn't there. By 'we' I mean me, Brown and Rafe."

Jerking his head back up, Blair stared at Simon. "He left?" The unspoken 'me' hung in the air.

"The main road out was blocked by a fallen tree. Jim knew we had to get you to a doctor as soon as possible so he was out in the woods looking for a back road."

"Oh." That made sense but he had a strange, vaguely remembered sense of having been abandoned by Jim. Must have been the fever.

"He came back right at that time. He was pretty upset that you were upset. You fell back asleep then and it turned out that Jim had found a back road out. A little while later, we brought you here."

It all sounded so simple when Simon explained it except for the one thing everyone seemed to avoid mentioning. "I really screwed up everyone's vacation, didn't I?" Maybe that's what I'm really feeling from Simon.

So, Simon thought, there's that guilt the doctor was talking about last night. Maybe he could help a little here. "No Sandburg, you didn't screw up at all. If you're going to blame anyone, blame the poachers who put that trap there or the city workers who didn't find it and declared the area safe. With all the people who come up here, it was only a matter of time before this happened to someone. All you did was go for a walk in the woods. I'm really sorry this happened to you but it is in no way your fault." Simon moved forward until he was standing right beside Blair. "If it had been any one of the rest of us this happened to, would you blame him or say that he ruined the vacation?"

"Well no, of course not. It would have been an accident. I'd be more worried about his being hurt than..." He nodded. "Okay, I see what you're saying. But I still feel bad about everything."

"And we feel bad about what happened to you. Feeling bad about something is one thing. Feeling guilty when there's no reason to is something totally different." He looked down directly into Blair's eyes. "So. Are we good here? No more thinking I'm mad at you or blaming yourself for something you had no control over?"

Looking up into the tall captain's dark eyes and only seeing total honesty there, Blair gave a small smile. "Yeah. We're good. Might take a little longer to get over the guilt thing though. Thanks, Simon."

Patting Blair's shoulder Simon smiled back. "Anytime, son." Raising his head, he looked around and raised his voice. "Now where the hell is Ellison with that coffee?"

Picking up Simon's cue that the conversation was over, Blair also looked up and spoke to the air. "Yeah. A person could die of thirst around here before some people get back." There was no animosity in his voice; both men knew exactly why it was taking Jim so long to return with their drinks and they appreciated it.

A minute later Jim appeared in the doorway carrying a loaded tray. "I heard a rumor that there were some thirsty people in here."

Blair removed the textbook and notepad from the table and placed them on the bed beside him as Jim walked over to the bed and deposited the tray on the now clean table. On the tray was a can of Coke with a straw sticking out of it, two mugs of coffee, the creamer and sugar from last night, coffee stirrers and a paper plate holding six assorted doughnuts. Blair picked up the Coke and took a few sips while Jim and Simon fixed their coffee. He looked at the doughnuts.

"What Jim, no buttermilk?"

"I know, can you believe it? Who gets doughnuts and doesn't get buttermilk?" He shook his head as if the notion was just inconceivable.

A few minutes later Jim and Simon were sitting by the bed each with their coffee in hand and two doughnuts on a napkin on the bed beside them.

"So Chief, did the doctor say anything about how you're doing? Maybe even when you can leave?"

Blair had to swallow his bite of doughnut before he could answer. "Yeah. He said I was doing a lot better." He held up the hand with the IV tube attached to the back of it. "He also said I can probably get rid of this later today and if my leg keeps improving like it has, he might be able to put a cast on it tomorrow. I'm hoping that once he does that I can leave." He got a funny look on his face. "Oh man."

"What's wrong?"

"How am I going to get home?"

Jim looked slightly puzzled by the question. "What do you mean 'how are you going to get home?' Same way you got up here. With us. In the car. Why?"

Blair was shaking his head. "I don't think we'll all fit now. I'll have a cast on and probably crutches. I may even have to keep my foot propped up. There won't be enough room."

Jim and Simon looked at each other. Blair had a point. This was something neither of them had thought about. The tall captain spoke first. "Don't worry about it, Sandburg. We'll get you back somehow. We can always pretend you're a prize buck and tie you across the hood of the car."

The brief silence that followed was quickly broken by the sound of two men laughing at the shocked expression of the third as he choked on his soda.

"Well Simon, I'm sure we can think of something a little less drastic. Don't worry Chief, we'll get you home, safe and sound, hopefully with you inside the car."

"Thanks, I think. I just hope I can get out of here sometime soon. I guess it'll all depend on what the Doc has to say. So what are H and Brian doing up there all by themselves?"

Simon smiled. "Well, when I called them last night and told them you were going to be all right, they were both relieved. When I told them that Jim and I were staying in town, at least for today, I believe Brown said something about that leaving more fish for them. Between the fishing, TV, VCR and books up there, I think they'll have themselves a grand time. Don't worry about them."

Blair suddenly found the weave of his blanket very interesting again as he picked at it. "And I suppose you two are having an equally wonderful time hanging around here." He looked up, avoiding eye contact with either one of them. "Look, you guys don't have to stay here. I'm doing fine, the doctor said so himself. Why don't you both go back up to the cabin? You still have a few days left. I know you both wanted to go fishing and just relax and stuff." He looked at Simon, then Jim. "Neither one of you looks very comfortable sitting there. No point in everyone's vacation being totally ruined. Right? You can just pick me up when it's time to go back."

"Blair." Jim got to his feet and stood beside Blair, placing his coffee on the table. "I'm not leaving you alone here. Let's see what the doctor says. If he puts the cast on tomorrow and says you can leave then you'll go back up to the cabin with us. If not, then I agree, Simon should go back but I'm staying here with you. It's that simple."

"But Jim—"

"No buts. Besides, there's no point in even discussing it until we hear from the doctor anyway, is there?"

A disgruntled Blair answered. "Fine."

Smiling Jim reached over and mussed up Blair's hair. He turned to Simon. "Isn't he cute when he pouts?"

Blair's hands flew up to try to smooth his hair back down. "Hey. Leave the hair alone. Although, I'm surprised. It doesn't feel as grungy as it should, considering it hasn't been washed for a few days."

Simon concentrated his eyes on his coffee, grateful that his dark skin didn't show how hot his cheeks were getting at that moment. The fact that he had washed it for him just yesterday was something Blair didn't need to know right now. He was also grateful when Jim kept talking and kept Blair's attention away from him.

"Well, maybe it's the mountain water and less pollution up here, keeps it cleaner longer or something. Anyway, when is the Doc supposed to come back and check on you?"

Blair shrugged. "I guess whenever he gets a chance, considering how busy they are today."

"Maybe I should go remind him or something."

"Jiim."

Conceding defeat, Jim raised his hands up. "All right, all right. I know they're busy but I just don't like the idea of your laying here and no one looking in on you."

Blair snorted. "And just what else do I have to do anyway? It's not like if he doesn't come back by a certain time I can get up and leave. So just chill man, he'll be here." He suddenly grinned. "Besides, isn't that what you're here for? To keep me entertained during my forced convalescence?" He sat up as straight as he could then folded his arms over his chest as he leaned back. "So. Entertain me."

Jim looked back at Simon, who just raised his eyebrows and shrugged. "He's your partner, you do what you think best. Just as long as it doesn't involve me having to fill out any paperwork later."

A small evil grin appeared on the tall detective's face as he turned back around to face his hapless victim trapped on the bed. Curling his fingers, he slowly reached out his arms enjoying the sudden wide-eyed look of alarm on Blair's face as he realized what was about to happen.

Waving his hands in front of him, Blair tried to stop Jim's impending assault. "No. Jim. I was only kidding. Really. You don't have to—" The words were cut off by Blair's sharp intake of air when the fingers found their mark on his sensitive ribs. He tried to stop the torture by ineffectively batting away at the large hands. He could barely get out the words to concede defeat. "Okay... Jim... c'mon man... you win... stop... I give... I... I..." Blair suddenly gave a large gasp and hunched over, wrapping his arms around himself. Chest heaving, he found himself straining to pull air into lungs that suddenly couldn't seem to take in enough oxygen. He closed his eyes as everything else faded into the background except the need to breathe.

"Blair! Blair!" Someone was calling his name, he could feel strong hands gripping his upper arms, but all of his concentration was focused on just trying to draw in another breath. Now those hands were forcing him back against the raised bed as more voices swirled around in the background. "Nonrebreather mask. Fifteen liters." Something hard covered his nose and mouth, blocking what little air he was getting. NO! He tried to pull it away only to find his hands being pulled down. "No Blair. Leave it there. You need it to help you breathe." Before he could reach up again he felt cool air pushing against his nose and mouth. Lying still, he sucked in deep lungfuls of the now continuous flow of oxygen. He could feel his pounding heart start to slow down as it gradually became easier to breathe.

"Blair? Can you hear me, Blair?" Slowly opening his eyes, he saw the doctor and Martha standing beside the bed. The nurse was holding his wrist as she looked at her watch. Standing behind them were Jim and Simon, with Jim looking very worried and very guilty.

"Blair?" He frowned. He heard his name again but Jim's lips never moved. "Blair? Can you hear me?" Turning his head slightly, he saw the doctor looking at him intently. That made more sense. He nodded in response to the question, knowing it was the right answer when the doctor relaxed his features a bit.

"Is it getting any easier to breathe?" Another nod got him a smile and a pat on the shoulder. "Good. Now, do you know what happened? Why you suddenly had trouble breathing?"

Before Blair could answer, Jim spoke up. "It was my fault. I-I wasn't thinking. I can't believe I—"

Lifting up the oxygen mask, Blair interrupted before Jim could admit to causing the incident. "Jim was... trying to make... me feel better. Just made... me laugh. Didn't know... this could... happen. No one's... fault." He looked directly at the detective as he replaced the mask over his face, wordlessly telling him to let the matter drop, at least for now.

Nodding to himself now, Dr. Washington pulled his stethoscope out of his jacket pocket and proceeded to check Blair's lungs, listening to his chest and back. "Just try to breathe normally, don't force anything."

When he finished, he straightened back up and put the stethoscope back in his pocket. "Well, I don't think you're any worse off than before. There's still some congestion, that's probably why you got so short of breath. Just take it easy. I'll keep you on the oxygen for a bit so your lungs won't have to work too hard right now but you should be fine." He turned to Jim. "I can understand your wanting to make him feel better, Jim, but you need to try to keep Blair from getting too excited. His lungs are still weak and he's going to tire easily for a while yet." At Jim's half-hearted nod, he turned back to Blair. "I'm going to go treat some really sick patients now. I'll be back later to check on you." Looking over at his wife, he tilted his head towards the hallway. "When you're done in here, meet me back in Two." With a final look around, he left the room.

Martha observed the people in the now quiet room. Blair was looking at Jim. Jim was looking at the floor. Simon just looked uncomfortable. She suspected that there was more to what had just happened than any of them were letting on but right now that wasn't important. She tried to lift the heavy mood that had drifted in during Blair's brief respiratory emergency.

"Well, Blair, if nothing else your timing was perfect anyway. I was just on my way here to see you when your captain came running into the other exam room and told us you were having trouble breathing. I'm just relieved that it wasn't as serious as it could have been. Still, I'll bet it was pretty scary, wasn't it?"

Lifting the mask up slightly, Blair answered softly. "Yeah." He tried to look at Jim again but the detective still refused to meet his eyes. Trying to hide his disappointment, he turned back to the nurse. "What were you... coming to see me about?" Replacing the mask, he took another deep breath.

"I guess no one noticed but it's after twelve o'clock. I was coming to see what you wanted to order for lunch. Despite what just happened, you still need to eat." She held up one finger warningly. "Don't even try to argue."

Blair managed a small smile. He lifted the mask again. "I'd just be wasting my breath... And I don't exactly have any to waste... right now." He didn't see Jim's slight flinch at his words.

"Uh-huh. Glad to see you still have your sense of humor. Just keep the mask on until you decide what you want. You still have that menu the diner faxed over?"

Looking over at the sink, Blair pointed to the piece of paper on the counter. Martha retrieved it and handed it to him. "Look it over. No restrictions so order what you feel you can handle right now." She jerked her thumb over her shoulder, pointing towards Jim and Simon. "Your two silent partners can add anything they'd like too. I'll be back in a few minutes; I need to go make sure that George hasn't become totally overwhelmed yet." As she passed Jim she paused and put her hand on his arm and leaned in close. "He's going to be fine. Honest. Just don't let him get too excited or upset. Keep his breathing even. Okay?" When Jim nodded, she gave his arm a small squeeze and left the room.

As soon as Martha cleared the doorway Jim started his apology. "Are you all right, Blair? Oh God, Chief, I'm sorry. I had no idea—"

Blair's raised hand stopped him in mid-apology as he lifted the mask again. "Unless you knew this would happen and did it deliberately..." The look on Jim's face at those words told Blair everything he needed to know, "... I didn't think so. So don't worry about it, it's all over and done with. Besides, it's partially my fault anyway." He put the mask back over his face and took a deep breath before continuing. "If I hadn't teased you, you wouldn't have felt the need to retaliate. So, we've both learned something here. You—don't tickle the sick. And me—don't tease unless I'm well enough to fight back." He waved the faxed menu in the air. "So, help me pick something edible for lunch."

Simon smiled. Sandburg, as usual, had said exactly what Jim needed to hear. Oh, he'd still feel guilty, Ellison never gave up guilt easily, but at least now he wouldn't let it overwhelm him and make him constantly worry that Sandburg blamed him. He shook his head. Even hurt, Sandburg looked out for Ellison. It was one of the most unusual yet closest partnerships he had seen since joining the force. Not that he'd ever tell either one of them that. It was hard enough to maintain his stature as The Boss as it was; he wasn't going to give them, especially Sandburg, any reason to think they could get away with anything. Even if he usually found himself giving in to their schemes anyway. He leaned back and waited to see how this latest incident between these two would play out.

By the time Martha returned, lunch had been decided on and Blair was breathing easier, which in turn made Jim breathe easier. When lunch finally arrived, Dr. Washington switched Blair from the nonrebreather facemask back to the nasal cannula he had used earlier. As the afternoon wore on and it became obvious that Blair wouldn't suffer any setbacks from 'the incident,' Jim began to noticeably relax, especially when the IV tubing was removed from Blair's hand later that afternoon. By early evening, Blair was trying to convince Jim to go back to the cabin rather than spend another night in town.

"Look, Jim, what good would spending the night here do? The Doc won't decide about my leg until tomorrow no matter where you sleep." Scrunching up his face, he added his best shot. "Not to mention you and Simon have been wearing the same clothes for two days now." His expression softened. "It's not that I don't appreciate you,..." he looked over at Simon "... both you guys, coming and staying with me but you need to go back. You both need a good night's sleep and a change of clothes. Speaking of which, if the Doc does let me go tomorrow, I'll need some clean clothes too." He looked down at the short hospital gown he was wearing. "Not exactly what I'd pick to wear out of here." He turned his most winning look on the reluctant detective. "So how 'bout it, Jim? Can you go and bring me back some decent, non-drafty clothes? I'd hate to have to go around showing off one of my best assets to a bunch of guys who wouldn't even appreciate it."

Whether it was the pleading look, the usual Sandburg logic or just the bad pun in the last sentence of Blair's short monologue, Simon wasn't sure but he knew the minute Jim caved in. Unless Jim thought it was in Sandburg's best interest not to, he knew that the gruff detective gave in to his partner a lot more than most people realized, including said partner. Usually he disguised his surrender with a lot of grumbling and complaining, but in the end, Sandburg often got what he wanted. Just like now. It was decided that Jim and Simon would go back to the cabin right after dinner and return to the clinic in the morning to hear Dr. Washington's decision about casting Blair's leg. If Blair was released, he would go with them back to the cabin that afternoon. According to the doctor, after he had examined Blair's leg and changed the bandage that afternoon, it looked good for the cast being put on and Sandburg being released tomorrow. Simon was glad Sandburg had talked Jim into leaving for the night; even though Blair hadn't said anything, he was pretty sure that Jim's constant hovering was starting to wear on him. They both needed a short break. However, even after agreeing to leave, it still took Dr. Washington's once again assuring Jim that Blair was fine and hadn't suffered any ill effects from what had happened earlier to convince the Sentinel that his Guide would be fine without him for the night. The only bad note was finding out earlier that with every available person helping to clear the mudslide it would be at least a few more days before the fallen tree on the front road to the cabin could be removed. Meaning, they would have to continue using the rutted back road for now.

Dinner over, Jim and Simon were ready to leave. At least Simon was. Jim, as expected, seemed reluctant. Several large yawns from the obviously tired patient finally convinced him that Blair needed sleep more than company and, after promising to be back first thing in the morning, he allowed Simon to steer him out of the room and into the car. By the time they arrived back at the cabin, both men were concerned about Blair making the trip over the extremely bumpy road with his injured leg. Unfortunately, there was nothing they could do about it except try to make it as easy on him as possible. Once inside, they updated Brown and Rafe on the possibility of Blair's returning the next day. Everyone agreed that with Blair's bed still a bit damp from the leaky roof during the storm, it would probably be easier to just let him stay on the couch again for at least the first night after he returned. Especially since by the time the main road was cleared, hopefully in the next day or two, it would be time for them to head back to Cascade anyway. It was an optimistic group of men who went to bed that night, each hoping that the missing man from their team would back with them by this time tomorrow.


When Jim and Simon walked into the clinic the next morning the first thing they noticed was that while the waiting room looked full, it was nowhere near as crowded as yesterday. Karen was seated behind the counter again but today didn't look quite as harried as she had just the day before. She greeted them with a smile. "Hi guys. Guess you're here to see if Blair will be leaving us today. Actually, Doc's in there with him right now so it might be better if you wait out here until he's finished."

"Do you know how long that's going to be?"

"Hard to say. Doc's pretty thorough. He just went in a little while ago."

Jim sighed to himself. Waiting was not something he did well. He looked around the waiting room again as if that would tell him anything. Simon, sensing his impatience, tried to get a little more information.

"You don't seem as busy as yesterday."

Karen smiled again. "No. The major rush is over, thank God. Happens every time there's a problem getting to J.C. Med. Suddenly everything's an emergency. Everyone wants a refill on their prescriptions, every little ache and pain has to be taken care of NOW. It's like when they forecast snow, everyone runs to the grocery store, even if they just went, and starts stocking up. The first day is the worst then it starts slowing down. By the time they reopen the road, except for any EMS calls, we'll probably be close to business as normal."

"So the doctor has time to thoroughly examine Sandburg? He won't feel rushed or anything?"

"No one rushes Doc Washington. Especially when he's with one of his favorite patients." The receptionist's smile got bigger. "Blair's made quite an impression around here in just a few days. Doc really likes him and Lisa and Jennifer just dote on him. He may be a bit spoiled by the time he leaves."

Jim turned back around and joined the conversation. "I hope he doesn't think that will continue once he's released." A loud snort from his captain got his attention. "You have something to say, sir?"

Simon practically had to bite his tongue to keep from answering. Ellison tending to a sick or injured Sandburg was something you had to see to believe. The poor kid would be lucky if he wasn't carried to the bathroom and back again. Every move Sandburg made had to be approved, every meal prepared by Ellison himself. He decided when Blair could have visitors and for how long. He even set Blair's bedtime. The real fun came when it was time for Sandburg to take his medications. With Blair hating taking any chemical medications, he would always try to talk Jim into letting him use an herbal substitute, sometimes getting very creative with his arguments. Jim would always refuse and then cross his arms and glare at Blair until he finally gave in and took the doctor ordered prescriptions. His impression of Ellison during those times was "Jewish mother meets Drill Sergeant". The only thing worse was Sandburg taking care of Ellison, it was usually best to just avoid the loft entirely then. He looked at his detective, his face a study of total innocence. "Why no, Jim, why do you ask?"

Jim gave Simon a pointed look. "No reason. I thought I heard something. Guess my hearing must be off or something."

They spent the next several minutes talking with Karen, learning more about the area and the better fishing locations should they decide to return someday and try another vacation in the area. Unlike last time, there was only one interruption for a quick phone call. They were almost running out of things to talk about when Martha came into the receptionist area through the back door, carrying some files. Seeing Jim and Simon she gave them a quick nod as she handed the files to Karen.

"These can be re-filed. How are we doing out here?"

Karen gave the nurse a knowing smile. "Steady but a lot better than yesterday. No emergencies. Nothing that can't wait a few minutes longer."

"Good." Turning she crooked her finger at the waiting policemen. "Come on back. George just finished examining Blair a few minutes ago. He'll be right back; you two can keep Blair company. I believe you know the way." Then she turned and walked back through the same doorway. Jim and Simon went around the receptionist counter and through the patient door into the rear of the clinic.

Blair was sitting up reading a magazine when Jim and Simon entered the room. Focusing his vision, Jim zoomed in on the name at the bottom of the page facing him, Cosmopolitan. He couldn't help smiling. "Reading anything interesting there, Chief?"

Hearing his name, Blair looked up and smiled a greeting at the two men. "Actually, yeah. You know a lot of this is pretty interesting. I never thought about it before but, if you skip over all the weight loss and make-up tips, these magazines are a great way to figure out how women think. I think I may be on to something here."

"Uh-huh. Well if you decide to do any more 'research,' just be sure to keep all you reading material in your room. That's all I'd need, to have the guys come over some night and have all these women's magazines all over the place." Jim grinned. "Even if you are becoming a Cosmo girl." He heard Simon snickering beside him.

"Very funny, Ellison. Lisa brought this to read during her lunch break. I was bored and all the decent magazines in the waiting room were already being used. Besides, when I start getting a lot more dates and you're home alone with the TV every night, we'll see who has the last laugh."

By this time, he and Simon were standing beside the bed. "Anyway, Chief, any word yet from the Doc? Did he give you any idea about what he plans to do?" Blair looked better. Just not having the IV tube in the back of his hand or wearing the nasal cannula was an improvement.

Closing the magazine and putting it down beside him, Blair shook his head. "They took more X-rays early this morning and the Doc just examined my leg but no one's said anything to me yet." He sighed. "I am so ready to leave."

"Don't like our hospitality anymore?"

Turning around, Jim watched as Dr. Washington and Martha entered the room and approached the bed. "And here I thought we were being pretty good hosts."

Blair looked embarrassed. "No, it's not that. In fact, as far as hospital stays goes, this has been one of the best, really. I just don't like being in the hospital, that's all. I'm always trying to get the doctors to release me early. Tell them, Jim. Tell them it's not this place; I just don't like hospitals."

Dr. Washington decided to show mercy to his babbling patient. He held up his hand. "Blair, it's all right. I was just kidding. In fact, I'd be more worried if you didn't want to get out of here."

"Oh." Blair's face brightened as he looked at the doctor. "Does that mean you're releasing me today?"

It was almost impossible not to respond to the hopeful look in Blair's eyes. "I went over your X-rays, the traction splint seems to have worked. It stabilized your leg so the crack in your tibia hasn't progressed any further. As for the tissue damage done by the trap, everything seems to be healing nicely. So this afternoon, when it slows down around here, I'll cast your leg and then yes, you can leave here after that." He was rewarded with an almost blinding smile from Blair as well as two large ones from his friends. "But..."

Blair sighed. "There's always a but."

"Yes, there is and this is very important so listen up. Just because I'm releasing you, I don't you to think that you're fully recovered. You've got a ways to go before you're one hundred percent again. The main thing is to stay off your leg. Even with a cast and crutches, I don't want you to try to do much moving around. You'll probably get a bit lightheaded for a little while, partially due to the antibiotics and pain pills I'm going to prescribe for you and partially because you're still recovering. I want you to take it easy. Your body's been through a shock, give it time to heal." He looked over at Jim and Simon, heartened to see that they were both paying close attention to what he had been telling Blair. "I expect both of you to make sure he follows the instructions I'll be sending with him. He needs to take the antibiotics on a regular schedule as well as take the pain pills when he needs them. The body heals faster if it's not in pain. I'll give you a set of written instructions when he's discharged." He was pleased to see Jim nodding to everything he said.

"Ya know 'he's' still right here." The annoyed tone of voice turned everyone's attention back to Blair. He was sitting back with his arms crossed. His face matched his voice.

Martha was the one who answered him. "Yes, but we've heard stories about how well you follow doctor's orders once you get released."

Blair's jaw dropped as his eyes widened. He jerked his chin towards Jim. "From him? He had the nerve to talk about how I don't follow doctor's orders? He has doctors that refuse to treat him because he disregards everything they tell him. His picture is in every ER in Cascade with the word 'Uncooperative' under it." He turned his attention to the so far silent police captain. "Tell him, Simon. Tell him how well Jim follows doctor's orders."

Before Simon could state that he was not about to debate who was the worse patient, it would probably be a tie anyway, Jim spoke up.

"We're not talking about me this time, Chief, we're talking about you. And you will do what the doctor says. We'll all make sure of that." His voice was stern, no nonsense Ellison but there was a sad look in his eyes that made Blair back down.

"Okay." He turned back to the man who held his release in his hands. "So when can we do this?"

It was obvious that he had missed something but as long as his patient agreed to cooperate that was all that mattered. "Later this afternoon. That's when things tend to slow down. Not much for you to do until then but relax and enjoy one more meal on the county. I'll try to look in on you at least once more before then." He turned to his wife. "Why don't you find out how backed up we are for this afternoon then phone us all in a lunch order to be delivered later." At Martha's nod he turned and left.

Walking over to the counter, Martha picked up the menu and held it out to Blair. "Any special requests for your last meal?"

Blair grimaced. "Not exactly a nice thing to say to a person lying in a hospital bed."

Simon looked at his watch then back up again. "Now that we know that Sandburg's getting released today, I think I'll drive back up to the cabin and make sure everything's ready. If his mattress has dried out enough, we can remake the bed before he gets there. I'll also stop by the police station and see if there is any word yet on when they might have main road to the cabin cleared."

"My mattress!" Blair looked mortified. "I did not wet the bed."

Jim couldn't help grinning at the look on Blair's face. What he wouldn't give to have a camera right now. "No, Chief, you did not wet the bed. You were on the couch at the time. Turns out there's a small leak in roof right over your bed. When the storm hit, water dripped onto the bed, through the blankets and into the mattress. We've been airing it out ever since the rain stopped." He turned to Simon. "That's a good idea. Why don't I call you when Blair's almost ready to go and you come and get us then? No point in both of us hanging around all afternoon."

"All right. You have the number to the cabin?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah. I wrote it down before I went to check for a back road in case I made it into town so I could call and let you know the situation."

"Okay. Sounds good." He turned to Blair. "Guess I'll be back later with your limo."

Blair managed a small, if forced, smile. "Thanks, Simon, but why don't you take Jim back with you? No point in either of you just hanging around here all afternoon. Give me or Martha the phone number and we'll call you when it's time to come get me. Get in some fishing or something. This hasn't been much of a vacation for you guys."

Jim winced at hearing Blair saying there was no point in either of them 'hanging around', his own words being thrown back at him. He made it sound as though it were a self-imposed punishment or something.

"Like you're having a great time yourself, Chief."

Blair just shrugged. He had really wanted Jim to be able to relax and have a good time this week. Granted, he never planned on stepping into a bear trap but once again Blair Sandburg, Trouble Magnet extraordinaire, had managed to screw things up. He didn't think any of the guys back at the station were aware that he knew about his newest nickname but he heard the laughing comments made behind his back. Can't wait till this little disaster makes the rounds. "Totally beside the point, Jim. Look, there's nothing you can do here anyway and it's gonna be at least several hours before I'm released. Please Jim. I'll feel better if I know you had at least one good day out of the week. Go to a movie or hang out at the lake or something. Just because I'm stuck here because I was too stupid to see that trap before putting my foot into it doesn't mean you have to spend every waking minute here too. You've already wasted enough time over me. You need a break. So go, both of you. Go do some vacation stuff. Please."

It was hard to miss the sadness and pleading in Blair's eyes. Jim couldn't help but wonder if this was the guilt and depression that the doctor had been talking about the other night finally showing itself. He decided that perhaps, for right now, it might be best to let Blair have his way. After all, he still planned on having that talk with his partner some time before they headed back to Cascade and he could say what he really wanted to then. But there was one thing he had to clear up first.

"All right Blair, we'll go. For a little while. But before we do, I want you to understand one thing—that there was virtually no way you could have avoided that trap. It was practically invisible, even after it was sprung. Anyone of us could have been the one step to in it or anyone else walking in those woods. You were not stupid for having walked where you had every right to walk and to believe it was perfectly safe. I want you to get that notion right out of your head once and for all."

Blair looked a bit startled by the conviction in Jim's voice but a small, more genuine looking, smile slowly appeared. "Okay, Jim. Not my fault. Blame it on the big, bad poachers. Got it. Now go, while you still have time to do something fun and relaxing; you're supposed to be on vacation, remember?"

Somewhat, but not totally mollified by the seeming sincerity of Blair's words—they'd also discuss this later—Jim turned to Simon. "Is your cell phone working now?"

Pulling out his cell phone, Simon turned it on then nodded. "Still seems to be working fine. Might have just been the storm interfering with it before."

Picking up the diner menu, Jim looked at Martha. "Can I borrow your pen?" When she handed it to him, he started writing on the menu. "This is Simon's cell phone number and the number to the cabin. You'll be able to reach either us or Rafe and Brown at one of these numbers." He looked pointedly at the now relieved looking man sitting in front of him. "Call me immediately if anything happens or you need me for anything." As he handed Martha back her pen, he spoke to her. "Call me once the Doc gets started, that should give us enough time to get back by the time Blair is ready to go."

"You probably won't need to rush. George has to prepare the leg first and even when the cast is on it has to harden. Then, of course, there's all the fun paperwork to do. You should have plenty of time. Besides, I don't think Blair will leave without you even if you are a bit late. Relax and have a good time; we'll keep Blair out of trouble till you get back."

Simon gave a short laugh. "A whole department of trained police officers have tried to do that and failed."

Only Jim noticed the shadows that fell over Blair's eyes at Simon's comment. Unfortunately, now wasn't the time to discuss this further. "Okay, we're off to who knows where to do who knows what. Call us so we can finally get this one back where he belongs." Reaching out, he ruffled the dark curls knowing it would get a reaction. He was rewarded with Blair's knocking his hands away and covering his head.

"Hey man. Not the hair." He made shooing motions with his hands. "Get out of here. Now." Picking up the magazine he had laid beside him, Blair adjusted his glasses and opened it to the article he had been reading when Jim and Simon first arrived. "I have things to do too."

Simon poked Jim with his elbow. "I think that's our subtle cue to leave."

"I think you're right. We'll be back later, Chief."

Blair never looked up; he just waved his hand in the general direction of the door. "Later, man."

After getting a smile and nod from Martha, the two men left.

Once the policemen had cleared the doorway Blair lowered the magazine, leaned back and closed his eyes. His "Finally" was barely whispered.

"He's just worried about you, you know."

Blair opened his eyes and turned his head towards the voice. "I know. But Jim really needed this vacation. I was hoping he would have a chance to just relax for a little while. He needs to put that last case behind him and just forget about the things back in Cascade for a while."

And you don't? Knowing continuing this line of conversation would just upset her patient, Martha handed him the menu instead. "Here you go. Pick something so I can put in the lunch order, some of us really do have things to do." Silently she hoped that once Blair left here, somehow, he would find a way to deal with everything that had happened to him lately. She strongly suspected, though, that the only person he would listen to was a large, stoic, no-nonsense cop. Still, stranger things had happened and, unlikely as it seemed, Jim did show all the signs that he really cared for Blair. She just hoped it was enough to work through the younger man's defenses and actually make him talk about how everything had been affecting him. With a silent sigh and a smile for the man in her thoughts, she left the room too.


Jim rolled another strike and after the electronic score board added it to his total, he turned back towards his opponent with a wide grin. Simon scowled as he picked up his bowling ball. "I am never playing another game of any kind with you ever again, Ellison."

"Simon I'm not cheating, I swear. I told you I bowled a lot while in the Army. Some of those smaller posts didn't have much but most of them had a bowling alley or there was one nearby. I got pretty good." But even, so having a slight advantage now doesn't hurt either.

Simon lined up the ball with the pins. "Uh-huh." He released it and watched as it knocked down six pins. "Damn." He turned around. "And do most Army bases also have miniature golf courses? And arcades?" He was still smarting from being trounced at both earlier.

"Oh no. I totally cheated there." Jim was grinning, looking unabashedly unrepentant. Jacksonville wasn't a big town but, since the lake attracted tourists during the summer, they had added a few family style attractions. It didn't seem logical to go back to the cabin and then have to drive back down again so they had decided to see what sights the town had to offer. So far, they had found an arcade, had lunch, played miniature golf and now bowling. Jim had finally found a fun way to practice using his senses. These were tests he could get into to. He definitely had to suggest this to Sandburg. Watching as the automatic pinsetter picked up and reset the four remaining pins while Simon picked up his ball, he wondered once again at how well his guide knew him. He really did need this afternoon. In just these few hours he felt much more relaxed than he had in weeks. While his one regret was that Blair wasn't here to enjoy it with him, just knowing that he was well enough to leave the clinic today was setting his mind at ease too. Glancing at his watch, he noticed it was now late afternoon and wondered how much longer it would be until they would be able to go get him. As if it heard his thoughts, just as Simon managed to knock down three more pins, the cell phone rang.

Simon pulled it out of his jacket that was hung across the back of his chair. He looked at Jim as he opened it. "Just as I was catching up too." He looked away as the phone connected. "Banks. Uh-huh. Okay, great, we'll be there in a few minutes. No, no, we're still here in town. Oh. Okay then, bye." He relayed the message to Jim as he put the phone back. "That was Martha. Everything looked fine and the Doc is just starting to remove the traction splint in order to cast Sandburg's leg. She said since we're already in town there was no rush. Even after it's on, the cast will still have to set and she's just starting on his discharge paperwork." He glanced at the scoreboard. Two frames left in the game. "You up to finishing the game? Of course, now that I'm so close, I can understand if you want to stop."

Much as he wanted to leave and get back to the clinic, the gauntlet had been thrown, no way he would ever live it down if he quit now. "Do your worst, sir."

The last two frames were pretty evenly matched, especially when Jim, his mind elsewhere, overthrew and just missed a gutter ball by barely clipping three pins. He got a spare on his next throw but the damage had been done. Encouraged, Simon rallied and, in the end, Jim managed to squeak by only eight points ahead. They turned in their rented shoes with Simon insisting that Jim was weakening and, if they had had only one or two more frames, he would have caught up if not beaten him. Jim laughed it off, telling him only in his dreams. They entered the clinic still debating.

Entering the exam/patient room, the first thing noticeable was that the large traction splint so prominent for the last few days was gone. Blair was now sporting a new cast from just under his knee to the beginning of his toes. Also different was a change of clothes. Instead of the flimsy hospital gown, Blair was now wearing the clean sweats Jim had brought him. The right pants leg had been pushed up above his knee. Jim spared the new cast and wardrobe only a cursory glance when he saw Blair's face. Even though he smiled when they arrived, it was obvious, at least to him, that Blair was in pain. He was paler than he had been and the lines around his eyes and mouth were tighter. He immediately went to stand beside his friend.

"Blair? You all right?"

Instead of Blair, it was the doctor who answered. Jim hadn't even seen him standing in the room. "I had to give Blair a lower dosage of the pain medication than I've been giving him. It was the only way he could tell me if anything felt worse after I put the cast on. He also needs to know what normal pain feels like so he can be aware if anything changes later. I am giving him a prescription for a fairly powerful painkiller but it will make him groggy so he may want to limit how often he takes it. The good news is, as I've already told Blair, that having a cast on will actually reduce the level of pain since the bone will now be supported. It hurts a lot right now because I had to manipulate the leg while putting the cast on. That pain should gradually fade a bit but I don't want to give him any more medication since he's had one dose already. You can give him a pain pill once he's settled in back at your cabin, it should be all right by then."

"When can he leave?" Seeing Blair in pain again somehow seemed worse after the carefree afternoon he had just enjoyed. Knowing that while he and Simon were bowling those last two frames, Blair was enduring having his leg painfully manhandled while the cast was put on was pushing all his 'protect the Guide' buttons.

"As soon as Martha finishes with the paperwork. I've included two prescriptions: one is the pain medication I mentioned, the second is an antibiotic that I want Blair to continue taking until it's all gone. Try to be sure he doesn't skip any doses. There's a pharmacy just down the street on your way back that you can get them filled at. Tell them I said it's a rush and they'll have you out of there in no time." He looked past Jim towards the door. "Ah good. Here comes Martha now."

The petite nurse laid several papers on the bed table in front of Blair and handed him her pen. "Just sign at the X's. I'm sure you know the drill by now." It didn't take Sentinel vision to see the tremor in Blair's hand as he scrawled his name. As he signed, she handed Jim two smaller papers. "His prescriptions. I heard George tell you where the pharmacy is located. I really suggest you get these filled, especially the pain medication, before you go back up to the cabin. I just talked with Becky, the main road to the cabin still isn't cleared although it should be in the next day or two. But that means you'll have to drive back up that very bumpy road tonight." She pointed to one of the prescriptions. "He'll need this."

Jim nodded, warmed by their concern for his partner's well being. Not anywhere near his own level, of course, but still nice to see.

Just as Martha picked up the now signed paperwork and started to hand it to Jim, a dark hand reached out and took them from her. "I'll take those if you don't mind." As Simon folded them in half and was placing them in his jacket pocket, he explained. "As soon as we get back to Cascade these go straight to the City Manager. I told Sandburg that the city would cover all his bills relating to this and I meant it. Now. Are we ready to go?"

It took a few minutes to get Blair, his backpack, and the pillow and blankets they had brought with them as well as an extra pillow from the clinic all loaded into one wheelchair. Finally, Jim was rolling his partner down the ramp outside the clinic doors and towards the car. Last minute instructions from the doctor and then all the good-byes had taken longer than usual. After thanking Dr. Washington and Martha for all they had done for Blair, they had to stop in the hallway so he could say good-bye to Lisa and Jennifer and then to Karen on the way out. Jim wasn't surprised; people just naturally seemed to gravitate towards his partner. Just the short walk from the car to Blair's campus office would usually involve them getting stopped at least a few times as friends and students were always coming up to say hello. As Jim pushed the wheelchair off the ramp to the waiting car Simon, carrying Blair's crutches, hurried to get the back passenger door open. It took a bit doing but soon Blair was propped up in the corner of the seat behind Simon. His injured leg was lying straight out along the length of the back seat with one pillow lying lengthwise under the cast. The other pillow was behind his back. His good foot was on the floor so he could use it to brace himself during the unpleasant ride ahead. He had one of the blankets draped across his lap covering the leg and cast on the seat.

"All set, Chief?"

At Blair's nod, Jim patted his shoulder as he started to back out of the car door. Much as he would have liked to sit with Blair, the stretched out leg just didn't leave enough room for him too. Noting the pale face and tight mouth of his friend, he didn't think that right now Blair looked much better than the day they brought him here. "One quick stop at the pharmacy and we'll back at the cabin before you know it."

The ride up the back road was every bit as bad as Jim had imagined it would be. More than once he heard a small gasp or hiss from the back seat even though it was obvious Blair was trying hard to be quiet. By the time he was helping Blair from the car, there was a fine sheen of perspiration covering the younger man's face and a decidedly gray cast to it as well. The problem of the front steps was solved when Jim, despite Blair's protests, simply picked him up and carried him up and inside, carefully depositing him onto the couch that had been made back up for him again. He knew it had been the right decision when, while settling him in, Blair whispered "Thanks Jim, I really don't think I could have made it by myself." Once Blair was arranged to Jim's satisfaction, he brought him his pills and a glass of water. The fact that Blair took them without protest told the other men in the room just how bad their friend must be feeling. After a few minutes, the painkiller began to do its job and the tightness around Blair's eyes and mouth began to ease. Tense muscles started to relax as the throbbing in his leg began to slowly ebb. Simon noticed that the better Blair began to feel, the less tense Jim became too. And the less tense Jim became, the more everyone else seemed to relax as well. Soon Henri and Rafe were able to welcome Blair back properly and soon everyone settled in for a quiet night of reading and watching TV. The combination of strain from the arduous ride back to the cabin and the pain medication soon had Blair sound asleep on the couch. Jim let him sleep there until everyone else went to bed then, without a second thought, he carried his partner to their room and quietly put him to bed as if it were something he did on a regular basis. Only when his guide was safely and comfortably set for the night did the sentinel claim his own bed. Lulled by the soft breathing and steady heartbeat he had missed for the past few nights, soon joined the rest of cabin's inhabitants in sleep.


When Blair woke the next morning, the first thing he noticed was that he was lying almost flat instead of sitting up. Also this bed was a lot more comfortable than the one he had been sleeping in. Slowly blinking his eyes open, he looked around. Taking in the rustic wooden planks that made up the walls around him and the furniture decorating the room instead of sterile cabinets and counters, he realized he was at the cabin. In his bed... funny, he didn't remember going to bed last night. But then he didn't remember much of anything after Jim gave him his pills except that his leg had finally stopped hurting so badly. Jim must have put him to bed. That thought left him feeling both touched and embarrassed. Suddenly, he became aware of another feeling that if not taken care of very soon would leave him just embarrassed.

Carefully pushing himself up into a sitting position, Blair looked around for his crutches. Not here. Great. Now how was he supposed to get to the bathroom? He sighed and looked over at the other bed. Jim was still asleep with his back to him. He really hated to wake him but he knew that if he tried to get up on his own and fell, Jim would be all over him for not asking for help. Not to mention, he was reaching the point where he had to do *something* quick. He sighed again in frustration, he really hated feeling helpless, then leaned towards the other bed and whispered loudly.

"Jim? Hey Jim. You awake?"

The lump that was Jim Ellison slowly turned over with a grunt. "I am now. What's wrong?"

"I... uh... I've got a slight problem."

Jim raised himself up on one elbow as he rubbed his other hand over his face. "So which one are we talking about this time?"

Blair made a face at Jim. "Very funny. But really... I need to get to the bathroom, like right now, but I don't see my crutches anywhere." He raised his eyebrows and put a hopeful expression on his face.

Thinking back to last night, Jim remembered seeing the crutches leaning against the back of the couch but it hadn't occurred to him to bring them when he put Blair to bed. Feeling a bit guilty for the oversight, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat on the edge. "Stay put. I'll go get them."

Getting up, he left the room and returned a minute later carrying the crutches. Standing beside Blair's bed, he held out his hand. "Just go slow and take it easy."

Using Jim's support, Blair was soon standing only to almost immediately close his eyes as he swayed, tightening his grip on Jim's arm.

"Blair!" Jim's other arm went around the slightly trembling shoulders.

"I'm all right, Jim. Just haven't been totally vertical for a while. Give me a minute to adjust."

Several seconds later he opened his eyes. "See? All better. Now give me those and get out of my way."

Handing Blair the crutches, Jim followed him as he made his way to the bathroom.

"You going to be able to balance by yourself all right?"

Looking at Jim past the door he was already in the process of closing, Blair had to smile a bit at Jim's hovering. "Yes Jim, it's not like this is the first time I've had to use crutches. I'll be fine. Go, before someone sees you walking around in your underwear."

Looking down, Jim realized that he was standing in the hallway in nothing but the boxers he wore to bed. When he looked back up, the door was shut. He headed back towards his room, keeping his hearing tuned onto his partner, not caring about privacy right now. He had almost finished dressing when Blair entered the room.

"Oh man, do I feel better now."

Despite his claim, Jim noticed that he was a bit paler and moving rather slowly as he worked his way over to his bed and carefully lowered himself to sit on the edge.

"How's the leg?"

There was no point in even trying to lie. "It hurts some but not nearly as bad as yesterday. I guess the Doc was right, having the cast on does seem to help."

Relieved, Jim decided to try to keep things as normal as possible, at least for now. He still intended to make Blair take it easy and stay off his leg and he definitely still intended to have his talk with the kid. Especially now that Blair couldn't avoid any unwanted conversation concerning himself with his usual tactic—getting up and walking away. This time Blair was going to listen to what he had to say and hopefully, finally open up about a few of the things that he'd been keeping to himself all this time. But that was for later.

"You want some breakfast? What do you feel like this morning?"

"What I really want is a shower and to wash my hair." Blair ran a hand through the mass of curls. "Ugh. And some clean clothes would be nice too."

"Let's eat first, you don't want to take your meds on an empty stomach. Plus, you're not ready to stand up long enough to take a shower, especially if you want to wash that mop you call hair. After breakfast we'll figure out a way for you to wash up."

He really wasn't very hungry but he knew Jim wouldn't stop bugging him until he ate something. And something to drink actually sounded pretty good. "Okay. But not much for me. I'm really not that hungry."

Jim grinned. "Let's go see what we can tempt you with."

The smells of food cooking and coffee brewing soon had the other members of the cabin stirring. It wasn't long before all five men were sitting at the table eating. It was a little more crowded than usual since Jim insisted that Blair sit with his leg propped up on the empty chair and the others had to adjust their seats to accommodate him. But no one was complaining.

When it was obvious that Blair wasn't going to eat any more, even though to Jim it wasn't nearly enough, the detective got up and placed the two small, brown, plastic vials of medication in front of him. The look the observer gave the pills left no doubt in anyone's mind what he thought of taking them. Simon leaned back in his chair a bit as he fingered the handle of this coffee mug and tried not to smile. Showtime. Brown and Rafe weren't sure what was going on but, following their captain's lead, they just watched.

"You know, Jim, one of the reasons doctors are having such a hard time controlling a lot of illnesses in the world is the overuse of antibiotics. Studies have shown that the more we use them, the more resistant the diseases become." He looked up to see if his words were having any impact. Jim was standing over him with his arms crossed across his chest, his face impassive.

"Uh-huh."

Encouraged, Blair continued. "If more people used natural remedies to combat these illnesses and such instead of all these chemical filled, man-made poisons then we probably wouldn't have half the medical problems we do now. Right?"

Jim didn't move a muscle. "Uh-huh."

Blair faltered a bit but kept going. "So why don't we see if there's a health food store in town or we'll be back in Cascade soon, I know where to get exactly what I'll need there." He waved his hand at the pill vials. "No need to mess with any of that until then." He sat back with a pleased look on his face. That was easier than he thought it'd be. He watched as Jim picked up the antibiotic and studied the vial for a few seconds then he opened it and smelled inside, making a face at the odor. Maybe Jim was finally starting to agree with him about using herbal medicines. Jim carefully set the open vial back where it had been.

"Two now and two more in a few hours. I'll leave it up to you if you think you need the pain pills right now." He was back to his former immovable position.

Blair sat upright. "What? Jiim, we just agreed..."

"No Junior, you agreed with yourself. I never did. After seeing how sick you were from that infection, if you think you're not taking all of these just as the doctor prescribed, you can just think again. The last thing you need is a relapse. Now you can take them voluntarily or I can help you. Which is it going to be?"

"But Jim..."

"No buts, Sandburg. Or we can see if they work just as well as a suppository."

Rafe sputtered while Brown and Simon just barely managed not to laugh out loud at the horrified look on Sandburg's face.

"You wouldn't."

Jim just continued to glare then he dropped his glance down to the pills and back up to Blair's face and raised one eyebrow in a silent question.

With a look of total defeat, Blair reached out with a shaky hand and shook out two pills and swallowed them with the last of his orange juice. Then he reached down and started to slowly lift his leg off the other chair. When Jim reached over to help him, Blair wordlessly shrugged off the helping hand as he got up, put his crutches under each arm and slowly made his way over to the couch that faced away from the kitchen and lowered himself down. As he picked up the TV remote he whispered, "Thanks for totally embarrassing me in front of the guys, Jim. Way to prove what a big man you are." Turning on the TV, he started flipping through the channels.

Jim sighed when he heard the whispered comment as he was putting the lid back on the medication. Simon looked up at the sound knowing that Sandburg had just said something that only Jim could hear. "I take it he's a bit pissed off right now?"

"Oh yeah. He'll be all right once he cools off." I hope. Picking up his and Blair's plates he headed into the kitchen area. "So what are you guys going do today?"

Sensing the need to change the subject, Simon nodded in the direction of the other two detectives. "I don't know about them but I'm still up for some fishing. You two left any fish in the lake for us?"

"Actually, Cap'n, we didn't do much fishing. Just didn't seem right, ya know?" Brown's eyes slid over to the dark head visible over the back of the couch. He looked at Simon again and shrugged.

"Then I say we all go fishing today. And tonight your captain is taking the two of you out to dinner and then we're going to the arcade or bowling alley. I know I can beat at least one of you at something. Now let's clean up this mess and get going."

It didn't take long before the kitchen was clean and everyone was dressed and ready to head to the lake. Everyone except the man still sitting on the couch watching TV.

"Hey, Sandburg, you going to the lake like that?" Rafe looked at Blair again as another thought struck him. "Or do you need some help getting dressed?" He glanced over at Jim, somewhat surprised that he wasn't helping Sandburg get dressed.

"No, I'm fine. I'm going to take a shower then get dressed. I was just waiting for everyone to finish in the bathroom." He gave the younger detective a weak smile. "I figure it might take me a bit longer than usual and I didn't want to hold you all up. I'll, uh, meet you guys down there when I'm done."

Jim winced. Damn. He had told Blair that he would help him get cleaned up after breakfast. After that stupid battle over the antibiotic, he had completely forgotten about it. Now Blair was going to try to do it all by himself. "Hey, guys, I forgot I'd promised Blair I'd help him. We'll both meet you down at the lake in a little while."

"You sure? I mean we can wait. It's not like the fish are going anywhere."

Jim looked to Simon for help. The man didn't make captain by not seeing the obvious. Jim needed some time alone with Sandburg after their 'discussion' about Blair taking his medication. "C'mon men. I don't think Sandburg needs an audience. We can have a spot all set up for him by the time these two get there. Besides, it gives us a jump on the fish." He looked over at Jim. "I expect to see both of you shortly."

At Jim's nod, the three men gathered up their gear and headed out the door.

Jim watched Blair as he just continued to stare at the television. He would lay odds that Blair didn't even know what he was watching. He knew it was up to him to make the first move. "Look Chief, I'm sorry about the suppository crack. It was probably way out of line."

"Ya think?" The younger man continued to keep his eyes focused on the screen in front of him.

"Yeah, I think. But I'm not sorry about making you take the antibiotic. I don't think you realize just how sick you were when we were stuck up here. I do know I was scared to death that we wouldn't be able to get you to a doctor in time. If taking a few pills, full of 'poisonous chemicals' or not, is going to keep you from getting sick again then, dammit, that's what you're going to take. I won't risk your health over a battle of chemical versus natural."

"I was really that bad?" He only had a few hazy memories of what happened after he was first brought back to the cabin.

Jim sat beside his partner and causally put his arm around his guide's shoulders, glad when Blair made no attempt to move. "Yeah, you were. I was ready to carry you out of here on my back if we didn't find another way out."

Blair wasn't even aware that he was now leaning against Jim. "I'm sorry. I don't why I reacted to that stupid comment like I did. Any other time I would have just said something smart right back. I feel like my emotions are all over the place."

"It's all right, Chief. You've been through a lot..." and we're going to talk about all of it tonight when everyone else is gone "... everyone understands. Why don't we see about getting you cleaned up and down to the lake before Simon sends someone back here looking for us?" Much as he hated to end this rare moment with his friend, he felt it was important that things be as normal as possible for Blair right now. He felt Blair nod and slowly straighten up.

"So, any ideas on how to do this?"

"Let me think for a minute."

"I don't want you to hurt yourself."

The small cuff to the back of Blair's head signaled to both men that things were becoming all right between them again.

In the end, Jim wrapped the cast in Saran Wrap. Taking a small table from the front porch, he had Blair sit on it while he took a shower. A bit awkward but it worked. While Blair showered, Jim took the jeans he had already cut up the leg to get to Blair's injury and made them into cutoffs, easier to fit over the cast. He made a mental note to thank H or Rafe for washing them. He had just finished when Blair yelled that he was ready to get out. Once Blair was dried and dressed in a t-shirt and long sleeved Henley as well as his new cutoffs, they headed out for the lake.

Since Blair had his hands full just trying to maneuver down the path on crutches, Jim carried the extra blanket, a pillow and Blair's backpack. Even so laden, he managed to keep one hand free, ready to grab his partner's arm should he stumble on the uneven ground. Soon they reached the lake and the blanket that had already been spread out on the grass right in front of a large tree. On the blanket was a cooler filled with beer, bottled water, fruit juice and the food they had packed for lunch. Jim's fishing rod, waders and tackle box waited for him. As soon as the two men appeared, the three fishermen called out greetings. As Jim help Blair sit down against the tree trunk, he saw Simon look at him and raise an eyebrow in question. He nodded to let him know that everything was fine between the sentinel and guide, for now. Placing the pillow under the cast and the blanket across Blair's legs to offset the chill in the air, Jim made sure that the cooler and backpack were in easy reach before reaching over to grab his fishing gear.

"You all set, Chief? You need anything?"

Blair was already pulling his backpack towards him. "No Jim, I'm good. Go catch us something for dinner." He grinned up at the larger man still hovering over him. "Better make it something you're familiar with since you'll have to cook it."

Since Blair seemed to be in a much better mood, Jim decided to go along with it. "Gonna try to milk this for all it's worth, aren't you?"

Blair was still digging in his backpack and just shrugged. "If it works... Now go play with your friends."

Shaking his head, Jim gathered his gear and headed for 'his' spot at the lake. He turned up his senses just enough to take in the natural, soothing sounds of the lake and the surrounding woods and to occasionally monitor his recovering partner. For the next hour or so he let the repetitive rhythm of casting and reeling, and sometimes actually catching a fish, drain the tension from his over stressed mind and muscles. Simon, Brown and Rafe seemed to understand his need for solitude right now and let him be. Gradually, he became aware that he wasn't hearing any noise coming from the blanket behind him. Turning around, he looked at the sight back on the grass and couldn't keep a small smile from creeping across his face. Blair was leaning back against the tree, open book on his lap, hands holding his glasses on the open pages. He had his eyes closed with his face turned up towards the sun, soaking in every warm ray. The sunlight turned his just washed hair into a halo surrounding the still too pale face. A careful check of his vital signs told Jim that he wasn't asleep but in a very relaxed state, close to when he was meditating but not quite. He hadn't looked so peaceful or content in weeks. Jim knew that this quiet picture of his best friend and guide finally at rest was the one he would treasure the most from this trip. If it weren't for the lumpy outline of the cast under the blanket, it would almost be easy to imagine that nothing had happened and they were all up here just doing a little fishing.

He slowly turned back around. Blair had an uncanny way of knowing when Jim was looking at him and right now he didn't want anything to disturb his friend's much needed rest. Catching Simon's eye, he pointed to the shore and held his finger to his lips. After seeing Blair for himself, the captain nodded and passed the same silent message to Brown who passed it on to Rafe. Soon after that Jim realized that Blair had now fallen into a natural, healing sleep. He unconsciously breathed a sigh of relief. The next two hours were spent in companionable silence, as each of the fishermen was content to have only his own thoughts for company.

The silence was broken when Blair's clear voice reached them from across the grassy shore. "Hey! You guys gonna fish all day? Some of us are getting hungry here. And we will start eating all this food without you."

The four men smiled at each other then turned as one and headed for the shore. After removing the awkward waders, they soon made themselves comfortable on the blanket. Jim opened the cooler and got himself a beer, handing out three more to his fellow cops and a fruit juice to Blair. It didn't take long to distribute the food and get down to the serious task of eating. Jim watched Blair, gratified to see that he seemed to have a much better appetite now than he did at breakfast.

Soon lunch was finished and the trash bagged to be brought back to the cabin to be thrown away. The policemen were relaxing with their second beer each while Blair had switched to a bottle of water. Almost reluctantly, leery of spoiling the tranquil mood that had taken over the group, Jim unbuttoned his shirt pocket and pulled out the two prescription vials and held them up for Blair to see.

"Do you need to take both?"

There was a tense moment while Blair just stared at the small containers then he relaxed and held out his hand. "No. I've been off my leg for a while now; it feels okay. Besides, the painkiller puts me out. Just the poison pills for now. But keep the other handy for after the walk back, which is all uphill I might add." He washed the pills down with a large swallow of water then leaned against the tree again and closed his eyes.

"You getting tired, Chief? You want to head back up to the cabin?" Jim was already starting to get up when Blair shook his head, rubbing the back of it against the rough bark while keeping his eyes closed.

"No way. This is just so nice, you know? Quiet, peaceful. The sounds of nature the only noise for miles around. No air pollution. No loud city noises. No schedules to keep." He smiled. "No bad guys. At least so far. I could get used to this."

"No women."

Blair smiled again. "Okay, H, so it's not perfect." He sighed. "But you have to admit that it is really nice."

"Yeah, Blair, I will admit it is nice up here." H. looked around. "So what do you guys want to do now?"

Simon spoke up first. "Well, I just know that's there's a big-ass fish out there just waiting for me to catch him. I don't want to disappoint him. I'm going back down there in a few minutes."

"Me too. I didn't buy all that new gear not to use it. You coming, Henri?"

"Yeah, I guess so. Can't let you guys show me up. Jim?"

Jim was taking off his fishing vest and folding it into a neat square. "Not me. I'm going to stretch out and relax. You guys go catch all the fish you want; I'm gonna lie here and enjoy the feel of the sun on my back." So saying, he pushed the cooler out of the way and proceeded to lie down beside Blair so that his head was next to Blair's hip on his uninjured side. Placing the folded vest under his head he wrapped his arms around the outside of his 'pillow' with his wrists crossed above it. "Just fish quietly."

A minute later he heard the other three get up and head back towards the lake. He angled his head a bit more comfortably into his pillow and allowed his body to fully relax for the first time since finding Blair in that god-awful bear trap. The calm, steady beating of his partner's heartbeat was slowly lulling him to sleep. Just before he dropped off he sensed Blair moving slightly. Then he felt a slight, hesitant touch on the top of his head. He forced himself to continue his even breathing, curious to find out what Blair was doing. A few seconds later the touch returned, a bit stronger as he felt Blair stroke his hair. He was glad now that he had let it grow out a bit so that it was no longer his usual buzz cut. A few light strokes later, he heard Blair whisper, "Soft." He could hear the smile in Blair's voice. "Like baby bunny fur." It took every ounce of training and self-control he had not to react to that. He knew that if he moved at all right now, Blair would jerk his hand back in embarrassment and would more than likely never attempt to reach out again. A few soft strokes later, Blair took his hand away and Jim felt a sense of loss at the lack of contact. He heard Blair shift around a bit as he got himself comfortable. Then the hand was back, this time on his shoulder, as the Guide now whispered, "You sleep. I'll watch over you now." The hand remained. Jim felt a warmth spreading throughout his body, radiating out from his shoulder, that had nothing to do with the sun that was beating down on him. A minute later he let that steady drumming finally lure him all the way into a peaceful sleep.

Blair knew that this last case had been especially hard on Jim. The extra long hours, the frustration of not catching Wade in time to prevent the next beating. Two more of his tribe murdered, practically right under his nose. Then coming here supposedly to relax but instead being faced with the new stress of his partner's latest injury. Poor guy must be exhausted. No wonder he wanted to sleep instead of fish. It was time for the Guide to return the favor for all the times the Sentinel had watched over him, especially since that was all he had to offer right now.

A short time later when Simon discreetly turned to check on the two men still on the shore, he saw Sandburg sitting against the tree with his good left leg bent at the knee. The book that he'd been reading earlier was propped up against his thigh. He watched as Blair, now wearing his glasses again, turned the page with his right hand seemingly unaware of anything else around him. Jim was stretched out on his stomach so close to Sandburg they were almost touching. As he looked closer, he could see that they actually were touching. Blair had his left hand on Jim's shoulder and from the way he was only using one hand to hold his book, it was obvious that he had no intention of removing it any time soon. As he watched, Blair lifted his head and looked all around then, after glancing at Jim, resumed reading. It almost looked like the kid was guarding Ellison. Shaking his head at a notion that seemed unlikely and yet right at the same time, Simon turned his attention back to the lake and that granddaddy of all fish that was somehow still eluding him.


The sounds of the others leaving the lake woke Jim from the best sleep he'd had in weeks. He felt totally rested and relaxed. Something niggled at the back of his mind. Blair. Stroking his hair and standing, well sitting, guard over him while he slept. Was that real or did he dream it? Turning up his sense of touch, he could feel the residual heat from Blair's hand on his shoulder and how his hair was slightly mused from his guide's earlier ministrations. It was real. Blair really had reached out on his own and touched him in a way much more intimate than the usual slaps on the back or a punch on the arm. He had to hide his smile as he opened his eyes and slowly sat up stretching his arms straight out in front of him and locking his fingers together.

"Sleep good?"

"Yeah. Real good." Looking up at the sun, he figured it was now late afternoon. Blair had been sitting here most of the day. "How're you feeling? How's the leg doing?"

Blair wiggled around a bit. "Not too bad. Getting a little stiff from sitting all day. And a handy, nearby tree would probably be a good thing some time soon."

"Why didn't you wake me?"

"You were sleeping."

Jim opened his mouth to dispute the logic of that answer but closed it again, realizing that he wouldn't win that debate anyway. Besides a handy, nearby tree sounded like a good idea to him too. Fortunately, the cabin was only a few minutes away.

It didn't take the four able-bodied men long to get everything packed and ready for the trip back to the cabin. All that was left on the ground was Blair and the blanket he was sitting on. Before Jim could help him up the younger man looked up at him questioningly.

"So where's our dinner?"

"Huh?" Always a good answer when you don't know what the other person is talking about.

Blair shook his head. "They..." he waved his hand at Simon, Brown and Rafe, "... are going out tonight. You were supposed to catch us some dinner. Remember?"

Oh yeah. Jim looked over to where he had been fishing earlier. All his fishing gear was here but the fish bucket he'd been using was still by the lake. With his two fish still in it.

"Oh, yeah. Wait here." As he jogged towards the lake he heard Blair mutter, "And just where exactly would I be going, huh?"

Bending over the bucket, he reached in and picked up each wiggling fish by the gills. Turning back towards the shore again, he held them up and yelled, "Pick one."

Blair adjusted his glasses and made a show of looking over each fish.

"Any time now, Sandburg."

Decision made. "The one on the right."

Jim looked at him. "*Your* right or *my* right?"

"My right, of course."

With an exaggerated sigh, Jim placed the chosen fish back in the bucket and released the other back into the lake. "Looks like today's your lucky day, fella. I just hope my luck holds out through tonight."

Once all the gear was put away, Simon, Henri and Brian each cleaned and wrapped their respective catches in plastic and aluminum foil and put them in the freezer for their trip back to Cascade in a cooler full of ice. While they took turns taking showers and changing clothes for their big night out in wild Jacksonville, Jim started preparing his fish to become dinner. Soon Jim and Blair had the cabin to themselves.

Dinner was quiet and relaxed. Blair even took his pills without comment. Afterwards he tried to help Jim with the dishes but having to keep both hands on his crutches made him pretty much useless. Finally, Jim shooed him into the living room to get him out from underfoot and off his leg.

Once the kitchen was spotless, Jim headed for the back bedroom not exactly looking forward to what was coming up. As he passed Blair, he saw that he had propped the cast up on a pillow on the coffee table. Good. That would make it that much harder for his elusive partner to walk away once Jim started 'the talk'. As he went through the door into the bedroom he heard Blair digging through his backpack. Any second now he would notice what was missing. Reaching under the pillow on his bed, he pulled out the notebook. He had quietly removed it from the backpack while Blair was in the bathroom and the others were in the kitchen working on their fish. Right on cue, Blair called out to him just as he was returning to the living room.

"Hey Jim?" He could hear the anxiety in Blair's voice. "Have you seen one of my notebooks? It has a blue cover and..."

Blair faltered and his heart skipped a beat when he saw what Jim was holding. Okay. Calm down. Just because he has it doesn't mean he read it. He probably just found it. Please don't let him have looked through it.

"This one, Chief?" Jim stood in front of Blair just beyond his reach.

"Uh... yeah. Thanks. Can I have it back now?" His hand was shaky as he reached out for the book.

"No."

The dark blue eyes grew wide. "No?"

"Not until we talk about what's in it."

He heard Blair's heart rate almost triple. So much for the small measure of peace his friend had found earlier today. He watched as Blair's eyes narrowed with suspicion.

"How did you get that and when did you have time to read it? I know it was in my backpack this afternoon."

Jim sighed to himself. Confession time. He couldn't very well expect Blair to be honest with him if he wasn't truthful himself. "I read it while you were still in the clinic. And I took it out earlier while you were in the bathroom after we got back from the lake. I needed to find a way to get a discussion going." That sounded lame, even to him.

Blair's face flushed with anger. "You... you... while I was laid up—hurt—you went into my backpack and took out my private notebooks and read them? I don't believe you. Do you search my room too when I'm not home? I told you you could read the diss before I turned it in but I guess you just don't trust me enough, do you?" He struggled to get his leg back onto the floor. "You want a discussion? Fine. How about—ahhhh!" Pain flared up his leg as the pillow slid off the table, causing the heavy cast to drop to the floor. Jim immediately moved in to help until Blair held up his hand. "Don't even."

He was only going to get one chance to explain himself before Blair would manage to get up and walk away. "Blair, just listen to me. Please. I didn't go into your backpack and I've never searched your room. Ever. The notebook fell out when I was getting your wallet to fill out the paperwork at the clinic. I wouldn't even have looked at it but it was already open on the floor. I couldn't help but see my name and then Wade's. I only scanned a few sentences as I put it back but, Blair, that was enough. I could tell how badly you were hurting. So that night in the motel, I read all of it." He held up his own hand to stop what he knew was coming next. "I know I had no right to read it. I know it was an invasion of your privacy. But I... I was already worried about you. I mean even before we got up here." He looked right at Blair and tried to convey with his eyes what he was afraid his words weren't saying. "You were already over worked when the attacks started. But you still put in even more hours working with me. I could see that with each attack you were losing more and more of yourself. Then Chris died." He heard Blair's quick intake of breath but he continued doggedly. "After that you just sort of shut down. You became obsessed with finding whoever was doing it. At one point, I was considering taking you off the case if we didn't catch the prep soon."

Blair tried to stand up but only got partially raised before he had to sit down again. "What! You were going to do what? Why?"

"For your own good. You weren't eating; you weren't sleeping. Even Simon noticed it." His voiced softened as he held up the notebook. "And after reading this, I realize I probably should have done it sooner."

"Why? Because I couldn't, how did you put it when Lash was running around, oh yeah, check my humanity at the door? Because I was letting it all get to me? Or was it really because I wasn't actually helping you much anyway?"

Jim flinched slightly at Lash's name. That was one of the times he felt that he had let his partner down. And almost lost Blair because of it.

"Blair, I don't want you 'checking your humanity' anywhere. That's part of what makes you you. That was a stupid remark and I've always regretted saying it to you. No, I considered it because, even though I only saw some of what you were going through, it was enough to see that the case was having a definite effect on you. I only wish now that I'd paid more attention, realized just how deeply you were hurting. Blaming yourself for every new attack, like it was your fault we hadn't caught the guy yet, even though a whole team of trained police detectives hadn't caught him either. Going on campus every day knowing how well you fit the profile, knowing that you could easily be next. And I am sorry about Chris. I should have been there for you instead of just being so focused on finding his killer. I knew he was your friend but I didn't even try to help you through that."

During his speech, Jim had managed to walk over to the couch and sit down near Blair. He carefully set the notebook on the coffee table in front of them. A small noise made him turn and look carefully at his partner. Blair was sitting hunched over with his head hanging down, a curtain of hair hiding his face. All previous signs of anger were gone; he now had an aura of total despair surrounding him. A second small shake of the too thin shoulders told Jim that he was trying to suppress his feelings again. Not this time. That was exactly what this whole discussion was supposed to be about.

"Blair?"

The grad student just shook his head, causing the long hair to swing back and forth.

"C'mon Chief, tell me."

Slowly Blair raised his face and looked over at Jim. The misery in those now over bright eyes threw him for a second.

"Don't you get it, Jim? If I had just done more, helped you the way I'm supposed to, Chris and Marty might not have died. Rainier is my territory. I should have known where he might strike next. I should have known... well, I just should have known, done... more."

Jim was too stunned to reply. Could Blair really believe that? One look at his face told him that he did. Just as he reached out to put a supportive hand on a still trembling shoulder Blair finally managed to pull himself off the couch and started wandering around the living room. Not even being on crutches could stop his nervous pacing.

"Listen to me, Chief. Nobody did more than you did."

Blair continued as if Jim hadn't spoken. "I just feel... I don't know, responsible somehow. All those attacks, right there on my campus and I couldn't do a damn thing to stop them. Or to help you stop them."

Blair's guilt was way overblown, especially since he had nothing to feel guilty about. He hadn't had any idea that Blair was this eaten up over his perceived lack of help on the case. Jim could see that he was getting more and more agitated the longer he paced. He was stumbling around the cabin at as fast a pace as the awkward crutches would allow, nervous energy not letting him be still for more than a few seconds at a time. Time for the observer to channel all those negative vibes, as Blair would call them, away from himself and towards the person who really deserved them. The real cause of all this misery.

"Tell me Blair, just who do you think is to blame for all this?"

The pacing stopped as Blair stared at his friend, his partner. Now was the time to come clean. To hope that Jim could forgive him for not doing his job as his Guide. It was his responsibility to see that Jim used his senses to his full potential but he had been so caught up in his own agenda that he hadn't been fully focused on his Sentinel. At a time like that, that was unforgivable. He had messed up and others had suffered for it. And now, apparently, Jim realized it too and was ready to call him on it. He dropped his eyes, no longer able to look at his obviously upset partner.

"I'm sorry, Jim. I know I should have done better. I should have concentrated more on helping you than worrying about my problems. You needed me and I wasn't there. Because of that, Wade was able to avoid getting caught longer. Because of me, him, Chris..." A choked noise was all Blair could manage to get out.

Jim was off the couch and in front of his guide in seconds. He carefully wrapped his hands around Blair's upper arms. "You didn't... I mean... did you think I meant you when I asked who was to blame?"

Eyes still downward, Blair nodded. "Who else? I'm the one who—"

"Who else? Who. Else? Sandburg, did you plan any attacks? Did you stalk anybody? Did you beat anybody and then just leave them there to be discovered later? Did you?" He watched as Blair shook his head to each question. That wasn't good enough. He gave Blair a small shake and asked the question again. "Did you?"

Blair finally looked up and whispered, "No."

"Damn straight. So who did? Who is the only person responsible for any of this? Who caused all this to happen?"

"Wade?"

"Who?"

"Wade."

"Again."

Jim could see the fire starting in Blair's eyes. "Wade. Eric Wade. Eric Fucking Wade." The fire was building rapidly as he finally found an outlet for all his suppressed feelings. "Damn him. Damn. Him. What the hell made him think that just because his girlfriend cheated on him he had the right to hurt anyone else? Almost everybody gets dumped on at some time." Blair was getting fully angry now and finally venting at the right person so Jim let go and stepped back. Blair rarely got this mad at anyone and Jim was glad to see him finally turning his anger and frustration on the person who actually deserved it. He was still shocked however when Blair suddenly picked up one crutch and used it to sweep everything off of the coffee table and onto the floor. "How dare he? How dare he use his being hurt as an excuse to hurt other people. People he didn't even know. Innocent people who never did a thing to him." He turned and walked across the room. The cabin was suddenly too confining, too small to hold all the rage and hate he was now experiencing, feeling almost overwhelmed by the rare violent emotions within him. He needed some air. As he flung the door open he yelled, "I hope the bastard rots in Hell for what he did."

Stepping onto the porch, he dropped his crutches and leaned against the railing for support. He really should go clean up the mess he made but not just yet, he was still churning too much inside. He closed his eyes, needing a few minutes alone to try to center himself. Thankfully, Jim wasn't following him out. Eric Wade. Just the name was enough to get him angry all over again. It was his fault. All of it. And it was all so stupid. Stupid. Stupid. All those people hurt because one person was too immature to handle rejection. It wasn't fair. He brought his clenched hands down hard on the railing, almost enjoying the pain it caused. At least he was feeling something now. He continued to pound his fists on the unforgiving wood in time to his new manta. "It's not fair. It's not fair. It's not—" Instead of the expected hardness his hands hit something warm and soft. Gentle fingers surrounded them. Then his hands were opened as fingertips carefully felt the abused edges.

"There may be some bruising but I don't think you damaged anything."

"Jim?" When he opened his eyes again the trees looked blurry. When had he started crying?

"Right here, Chief."

"It still hurts."

"I know."

"What do I do now?"

A heavy arm draped across his shoulders, pulling him close to the solid form beside him. He let Jim take some of his weight. "You let it go."

"How Jim?" He continued to stare out into the woods, his hands keeping a tight grip on the railing in front of him. "I have to go back to school soon. I have to pass by all the places where the victims were found. Where Marty Hudson's body was discovered. Where... where..." his voice dropped to a whisper, "... you know."

Yeah Chief, I know. Where Christopher Dillon was found, brutally beaten to death because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time and he loosely matched the description of Wade's ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend. Where it could have just as easily been Blair. It suddenly occurred to Jim that Blair hadn't had any time to mourn for his friend. Except for the day of the funeral, he'd had been going non-stop right up until they caught Wade. Then they had come up here. "Tell me about Chris."

Blair tensed. "What?"

Jim tightened his arm as he used his other hand to gently turned Blair's face toward him . "I think it'll help if you talk about him. Tell me how you two met."

"Uh..." Blair faltered. "Well, it is kind of a funny story. I mean if you really want to hear it."

At that moment nothing was more important than hearing how Blair Sandburg and Chris Dillon met. "I do."

For almost an hour Blair entertained Jim with 'Chris and Blair' stories, some so outrageous they had both men chuckling out loud. Jim was surprised to learn just how close the two younger men had been; it was no wonder his friend's death had affected him so much. Another important facet of Blair's life that he hadn't even been aware of before. As much as Blair accused him of keeping his past closed off, he was even worse when it came to his past and even his present day life away from anything sentinel related. Apparently, it was time to start paying more attention to what Blair was saying when he talked about what was going on at school.

After a while Jim sensed that Blair was slowing down. The slim body was trembling under his arm. After several minutes of silence, a loud sniff caught his attention.

"Blair? You all right, buddy?"

"I... I don't know. I... I just..." A single tear slowly found it's way down the grieving grad student's cheek.

Without hesitating, using the arm still across Blair's shoulders, the larger detective turned the smaller man until he was pressed against him. When Blair tensed up, he carefully reached up with his other hand and gently pushed the curly head against his chest and just held him there. There was no one else around, no reason for Blair to feel embarrassed about being held. Besides, Jim was thoroughly convinced that this was exactly what the distraught kid needed right now. A few seconds later he was rewarded when Blair relaxed against him, slowly snaking his arms around the larger body. A soft sob made it's way to his sensitive ears. "That's right Chief, just let it go."

"I... I already miss him so much, Jim. He was so excited about becoming a father. Did you know that I was going to be the baby's godfather? Now that Pam's moving back to Indiana, I'll probably never get to do that or even see him."

Damn Wade. Another thing he took away from Blair.

A shudder ran through the thin frame as the hot tears flowed faster. "It's just not fair. That bastard's still alive and well and Chris is... gone." Unable to continue, Blair just held onto his lifeline tightly as all his pent up fears and anger and frustration were finally released. For the victims. For his friend. For himself. No more words were spoken as badly needed comfort and acceptance flowed between the two men.

Gradually, Jim could hear Blair winding down. He softly rubbed his hand up and down the too bony spine as he waited for Blair to gather himself together. A barely whispered voice floated up to him.

"Jim? Promise me something?"

"If I can."

"Promise me you won't die too."

Jerking his head slightly at the unexpected words, Jim had to stop himself from pulling away. "Blair, if I could I would but you know that I can't. Especially with what I do for a living."

He could feel Blair nodding against his chest, the slightly stubbled cheek never losing contact as the hands continued their tight grip on the back of his shirt. The voice was still soft. "I know. But if it hurts this much losing someone like Chris, I don't think I could survive it if something happened to you..." his voice dropped even lower, "... or my Mom."

Jim felt a sense of awe that Blair put him on the same level as his mother, even though there was no question in his mind that he placed the quirky grad student well above his own family when ranking the people he cared about. In fact, if he were honest with himself, Blair was probably on his on own separate list. "Chief, have you ever had someone close to you die before?"

Now the head was shaking back and forth. "I always had friends growing up, but not what you might call a 'best friend'. I never spent enough time in one place to get too close to anyone. No point when we'd just be leaving soon anyway. Rainier's the longest I've ever gone to one school. But as an undergrad, I was too young for most of the other students to want to hang out with. Not to mention people were always transferring, dorm mates changed, every summer a new expedition with a new group of people. Chris was the closest friend I ever had. Until now. As bad I feel right now about Chris, if anything ever happened to you..." Two pairs of arms instinctively tightened until the two almost seemed to be one person.

A few minutes later Jim felt a shiver run down Blair's back. Looking up, he realized it was now pitch black out and the temperature had dropped. "Cold?"

A small shrug. "Maybe, a little."

"A little? Uh-huh." Straightening up, he grasped Blair's arms and stepped back. "C'mon, let's get back inside. How about something hot? Coffee or tea maybe." Picking up the crutches he handed them to Blair.

After putting them under his arms, Blair looked up and managed a smile. "Tea would be good. I could do tea." Turning towards the door he muttered under his breath, "And a pain pill right now wouldn't be a bad idea either."

Damn. He should have known that Blair had been standing on his leg for way too long. But he had really needed to hear everything said to him tonight. And Blair had opened up in a way he rarely did. Maybe his leg was aching but the look in his eyes had said that his heart, his soul and his mind were more at peace now and that was whole idea behind tonight.

Seeing how slowly Blair was moving, Jim suggested that since the painkiller usually made him sleepy anyway, he go get ready for bed. He'd bring him some tea and his pills. Nodding, Blair headed for the bedroom while Jim went straight into the kitchen. Jim heard him detour into the bathroom first. By the time Blair made it into the bedroom, Jim was ready to leave the kitchen with a mug of Blair's favorite tea, a glass of water and the vial of pain medication.

When he entered the room, Blair was sitting on the edge of his bed, his cast straight out in front of him. The fine lines of pain and fatigue had returned around his eyes and the normally mobile mouth was set in a thin line. His Henley and t-shirt were pulled out of the cutoff's waistband but that was as far as he had gotten undressing himself. Putting everything down on the nightstand, Jim knelt in front of his tired partner. First thing he did was to give Blair his medication and the glass of water. "Why don't you take those now so they can start going to work while we get you ready for bed?" Blair looked at the pills in his hand then swallowed them with the water. He passively allowed Jim to undress him and settle him under the covers with both his and Jim's pillows behind his back so he was propped upright. When he was set, Jim handed him his tea. He took a few sips then leaned back with a sigh.

"Sorry I'm not very good company right now, Jim. I just feel totally wiped out."

"Not surprising, Chief. You've had a long day for just having gotten out the hospital late yesterday and on top of that you just went through what could be considered an emotional bloodletting. I think you're entitled to be just a bit tired." He reached for the precariously tipped, almost empty mug. "Finished with that?" It slid easily from the limp fingers. After putting it back on the nightstand, Jim sat on the edge of the bed facing Blair. "Those drugs kicking in yet?"

"Yeah. Can hardly feel my leg now. Can hardly feel anything."

"Good. You should be able to get a good night's sleep then. We can talk some more tomorrow if you want or when we get home, any time you want to."

Blair raised one skeptical eyebrow. "You, Mr. I Don't Want To Talk About It, want me to spill my guts whenever I feel like it?"

"Yeah,Darwin, I do. I know you have a lot to think about already, but we never did talk about what happened to you up here. That was supposed to be part of tonight's little talk too." Jim grinned. "Something for you to look forward to after we get home."

Blair rolled his eyes but the effect was ruined by a large yawn.

"Okay, you need to go to sleep now."

Standing up, he leaned over and pulled the covers up higher then removed his pillow from behind Blair so he could lie down flat. "Comfy?"

"Uh-huh."

"I'll be up for a while so if you want anything, just let me know. No trying to get out of bed, understand? Remember the Doc said that this medication could make you lightheaded; you don't need to fall on top of everything else. Right?" He could see the effects of the painkiller in Blair's already glazed eyes.

"Uh-huh."

Gathering up the tea mug, empty glass and medication vial, he turned to leave. Just as he turned out the light he heard his name softly called. Turning around but staying in the doorway, he answered, "Yeah Chief?"

Unfocused blue eyes tried to see him in the semi-darkness. "I, umm, just wanted to say thanks for talking, for helping me see, I mean for... I guess just... Thanks."

"You're welcome, Chief. I'll see you in the morning." He stood watching until Blair's eyes slid closed and his breathing deepened into a steady rhythm. Even then he watched for a few minutes more before heading back to the kitchen with the used glass and mug.

When the others returned, Jim was sitting on the couch with his feet on the coffee table, absorbed in one of the books from the well-stocked bookcases. He ordinarily never allowed feet on the furniture but what the hell; this was his vacation.

"Hey, where's Hairboy?"

"He had a long day, he's already in bed. Which is where I'm headed off to now. You can tell us all about your big night out tomorrow. Good night, gentlemen." Jim got up and quietly walked back to the room he shared with his soundly sleeping guide.

The next day, Friday, at Jim's insistence, Blair spent most of the day relaxing either inside the cabin or on the front porch. They made time to talk some more. Some of the conversation was still concerning the last case. Some of it was about what had occurred since they had arrived at the cabin. All of which helped the younger partner come to terms with some of the issues still troubling him. Everyone noticed that Blair was smiling more now than he had for the last several weeks and seemed to be slowly returning to the energetic observer they were all used to seeing.

Saturday morning found Jim watching carefully as Blair finished dressing to join everyone else in a trip back into town. Tomorrow, he, Blair and Simon were heading back to Cascade so this would be the last day all of them would be together. The rental car was due back by late Sunday afternoon and he and Simon had to be back at work on Monday. Blair would be on medical leave from both the station and the University until his doctor cleared him to go back to work. Jim sighed to himself. He certainly wasn't looking forward to riding herd on the devious grad student when he eventually got bored just hanging around the loft. Due to the lack of space in the car due to Blair having to keep his healing foot propped up, Brown and Rafe were staying an extra day and were being picked up by a city employee on Monday. Simon had made the arrangements when he had called the City Manager's office on Friday to inform him of Blair's situation. Both he and Blair had an appointment with the man on Tuesday morning.

Dr. Washington had called and said that he wanted to check his patient one more time before he left for the long drive back to Cascade, so now they were all spending the last day together in town. The medical exam went well. The doctor had been very pleased with Blair's physical and emotional recovery. He noticed that there now was a sparkle in his eyes and an energy about him that hadn't been there before. He suspected that neither one had anything to do with how well his leg was healing. After declaring Blair fit to travel, he gave him two copies of his medical records from the clinic. One set was to give to the City Manager on Tuesday; the other was for his doctor to add to his growing medical file and to use during his follow up care. They couldn't leave until everyone at the clinic had a chance to say Good-Bye.

The next stop was the police station where Blair met and thanked Becky and the other police officers that had helped him to quickly get the medical attention he had desperately needed at the time. Becky took in the handsome young man with the long, curly hair and laughing blue eyes and secretly wished she were about fifteen years younger. She had no problem assuring him that she was glad she could help. After promises to try to come back at another time for a more relaxing vacation, they left on their next quest—food.

An early dinner at one of Jacksonville's nicer restaurants left time for a return trip to the bowling ally before they had to head back to the cabin. Since the youngest member of the group couldn't participate, it became a contest of Ellison and Brown versus Banks and Rafe. Blair alternately cheered and jeered both teams equally since he lived with a member of one team and another was technically his boss when he worked at the station. The Ellison/Brown team managed to soundly defeat the Banks/Rafe team causing Simon to give Jim more than one dirty look afterward. Jim just shrugged and grinned, knowing his opponent couldn't say anything about how they might have won so easily.

By the time they returned to the cabin, it was obvious to everyone that Blair was slowing down at least physically. Jim helped him take a shower then into a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt. Blair sat propped up against the headboard of his bed with the covers over his legs while Jim packed their bags. The sound of his roommate rambling from one topic to another was something Jim hadn't even realized he missed until he heard it again. The various subject matters were totally inconsequential; he had just missed having this Blair around after living with the subdued version for weeks. When he returned to the room after taking his shower, Blair's head was barely visible, as he lay snuggled under the covers, sound asleep. Jim smiled as his world finally started to right itself and he soon found himself joining his friend in a deep, peaceful sleep.


Jim glanced up at the sky as he loaded the last of the bags into the Suburban. It looked like it was going to be a nice day after all, a little chilly but at least the sun was shining. He opened the driver's side passenger door and placed Blair's backpack on the floor behind the back seat, where it could easily be reached. Entering the cabin, he could see that both Blair and Simon were ready to go. His perpetually cold partner was wearing a pair of warm sweat pants and a t-shirt under a sweat shirt. Just this morning he had cut a slit in the right leg of the pants from the mid calf to ankle. Grinning, he told Jim while he worked on them that the sweat pants would be warmer and more comfortable during the long drive than the denim cutoffs. The slit made them much easier to fit over the cast. He and Simon were both wearing old, comfortable jeans and flannel shirts, Blair's usual attire. One last check to make sure they hadn't forgotten anything and some last minute instructions from Simon to the two remaining detectives and they were ready to go. At the top of the porch steps, Brown took the crutches as Simon and Jim, on either side of Blair, carefully helped him down the stairs and into the back seat of the car. He was propped up the same way he had been on the ride back from the clinic: sitting in the corner of the back seat behind Simon with his leg straight out across almost the entire seat, the cast resting on a pillow and another pillow behind his back. He could also put his good leg on the seat if he wanted to or brace it on the floor. There was a blanket there too but he opted not to use it yet. The crutches were laid along side the seat on the floor. Even though he was sitting in almost the exact same position as before, it was an almost totally different person that was now riding in the back seat. One quick stop to fill the gas tank before they left town then they would be on the highway heading back to Cascade.

The gas station was busier than they had expected; it was probably the only one open on Sunday around there. As Simon got out to pump the gas, Jim decided to use the restroom before they got started. After Blair insisted he went right before they left and was fine, Jim went inside, not surprised to find a short line in front of the men's room. By the time he finally left the restroom he saw that Simon was standing in line to pay for the gas and he heard him whisper that he too was going to make use of the facilities before leaving. Knowing that he now had a few more minutes, Jim took his time making his way back to the car. He paused to look at a display of magazines but decide against buying one.

Back at the car as he reached for the door handle, he automatically looked into the back seat. The empty back seat. Fighting down his initial panic, he noticed that the crutches were gone too. He hoped it meant that Blair had left on his own. Realizing that he couldn't have gotten far, the still somewhat nervous detective looked around for a clue as to where his wayward partner might have wandered off to now. Directly across the street from the gas station was a small strip mall. Almost in the center of the mall was a pet store with a large poster on the front window proclaiming the arrival of baby rabbits. Something about the sign drew his attention until the phrase, "Soft. Like baby bunny fur," popped into his head. Coincidence? Looking around he couldn't see anything else that would likely draw Blair's attention so he headed for the pet store.

Almost as soon as he entered the store, he found the sound he was searching for, the strong, steady heartbeat that rarely failed to calm him down no matter how angry or upset he was. It worked this time too. Following that now familiar thumping to the middle of the store, he saw a large, solid, square stand in an open area. On top of the stand was an open topped Plexiglas case inside which he could see several small rabbits moving around. Leaning against one side of the case was his missing partner, his crutches propped beside him. Blair's left arm was cradled against his stomach and Jim could just make out a small patch of brown fur resting in his arm. As he got closer, he couldn't help but notice that the rabbit's fur was almost exactly the same shade of brown as his own hair. Resisting the sudden urge to run his hand through his hair, he approached his friend.

"Whatcha got there, Chief?"

Blair looked up and smiled at Jim, he had obviously been expecting him. "Look, Jim. Baby rabbits." His face beamed like he had just discovered a new artifact.

He could hardly keep the smile off his own face just from seeing how happy Blair seemed to be over his 'discovery'. "I can see that. Any particular reason we're in here looking at baby rabbits?" He sensed a rare glimpse into his usually closed off Guide's past coming if he stayed cool and didn't overreact.

Blair ducked his head and petted the small brown bundle he was lovingly holding. "I, uh, I've just always had a thing for baby rabbits. Ever since I was real little."

The Sentinel could almost smell a story just waiting to be told. He just had to be careful. If Blair suspected in the least that he was being laughed at, he would immediately clam up. Jim knew that it would then be a long time before he would dare to open up again with anything about his life before they met. He had learned that lesson the hard way and tried to never repeat that mistake. Reaching out with two fingers, he let them hover just above Blair's new little friend. "Can I?"

Blair smiled again and moved his free hand away. "Sure. They like to be petted."

Gently stroking the soft fur, he watched as the rabbit closed its eyes.

"I think he likes you, Jim."

"Maybe. He is cute." Keeping his voice as casual as he could, he asked, "You know much about rabbits?"

"A little. I learned when I was around five years old."

Jim mentally punched his fist in the air even though his fingers actually never left the rabbit. Yes!

"Naomi and I were living on this large, self-sufficient commune. You know, where they grew most of their own food and stuff. Naturally, they raised a lot of animals. Pigs, cows, chickens. Even had sheep for wool to make clothes and blankets and such. I was always scared of those animals; they looked so big and mean to me. But they also raised rabbits. For the fur and as food and they sold some too." He smiled. "Good thing I didn't know about that back then, I might have been scarred for life. I thought they were all pets. Anyway, I really liked the baby rabbits. They were small, like me, and they didn't kick or bite. I started hanging around the hutches a lot. Heidi, the woman in charge of the rabbits, was real nice. She let me 'help' take care of them. Well, as much as a small five-year-old could help. I would feed them and give them timothy hay." He looked at Jim. "Did you know that you don't feed rabbits alfalfa?" When Jim shook his head, he continued, "It's not good for them. Anyway, my 'reward' for helping was that I got to hold the babies. They were so small and soft. They never once bit or scratched. I just loved them. When they're real young, even smaller than these, their fur is just so soft. Heidi would always say that one of the softest things on earth was baby bunny fur. Even to this day if I feel anything really soft I compare it to baby bunny fur. Of course, after a while we moved on again. I didn't mind leaving any of the people there but it broke my heart to leave the baby bunnies. I remember crying for days afterward. Even now, as you can see, I still can't resist baby rabbits."

Again Jim had to resist the urge to run his hand through his hair. Even though they had talked about a lot of things since that night on the porch, he never told Blair that he had heard his 'baby bunny fur' comment about his hair. That was something he wanted to keep just for himself. And now that he knew the story behind it, it meant even more to him. He wasn't about to do anything that might make Blair even suspect he heard it.

"That was real nice. At least you had them for a little while."

"Yeah, that's what Mom kept saying."

"So, were you thinking of getting one?" The thought of an animal in the loft, even something like a rabbit, made him edgy.

"Nah, it's kind of like what Ogden Nash said, 'The trouble with a kitten is that; Eventually it becomes a cat.' Only with me, it's rabbits. I only like the babies; big ones don't do anything for me at all. Now find a way to stop one from growing and I might have to think about it."

Breathing a silent sigh of relief, Jim was reluctant to end the conversation but he knew they had to leave. "I hate to tear you away but I'll bet Simon is probably about ready to call the cops if we don't get out of here right now."

"Oh jeez. I only meant to stop in here for a minute while you two were busy. Simon's gonna kill me. Here, put him back." He held out the tiny, brown fur ball to Jim. While Jim returned the rabbit to his littermates, Blair managed to get his crutches under him and stand up straight. "Let's go, man."

Keeping one hand on Blair's back, he steered him through the store towards the front door. Once outside, he could see Simon leaning against the car, cigar smoke circling around his head. A glance at Blair and Jim could easily interpret the look on his face. Oh boy.

As they drew near the car, Simon looked straight at Jim. "And where did you find him?"

"In the pet store."

"In the pet store. Of course. We should have been on the road," their captain looked at his watch, "at least twenty minutes ago and he was looking at all the cute, little animals."

"Not all of them, Simon, I just wanted to see—"

"Uh, not now, Chief. Let's just get back in the car so we can get going. You can tell Simon whatever you want then." He knew Simon wouldn't hear the same story that he just had. He would probably get a lecture on domestic rabbits in America or something like that.

Despite his gruff demeanor, Simon was actually very gentle as he helped Jim resettle Blair in the back seat. He didn't return to his own seat until he was sure Blair was comfortable. A few minutes later they were on the highway heading home.

After several minutes of silence, Jim became a little concerned. A quiet Blair was usually not a good thing. Fortunately, since Blair was sitting behind Simon, he only had to turn slightly in his seat to be able to see him. "You doing all right back there, Chief? You need anything?" They had brought the cooler with them filled with ice, bottled water and all the fish since it didn't seem likely that the city would appreciate bringing them back in a city owned car. Even though his leg hadn't bothered him much lately, maybe standing in the pet store had been too much. "You want a pain pill?"

"No Jim, I'm fine. Just doing some thinking." He saw the concerned look Jim gave him. "Some good thinking. Everything's okay, really." He gave him one of his best smiles as proof.

Relieved, Jim turned back around. Blair's heart rate was steady, his breathing even, he really was fine. He probably did have a lot thinking, or as he called it, processing, to do. And a long, quiet car ride was just as good a place as any to do it in. He wondered if Blair would share any of his thoughts with him later. Either way, he could tell that his partner and friend was healing physically and emotionally; that was all that really mattered. He relaxed back into his seat and watched the scenery pass by.

A short time later, Simon turned his head to ask Jim a question only find his detective sound sleep. Listening carefully, he could hear the same deep breathing coming from the back seat too. He realized that, whether consciously or unconsciously, both men were breathing in the exact same rhythm. Even asleep, they were in perfect sync with each other. That alone convinced the police captain that both of his men were well on their way to recovering from everything that had happened to them lately. Putting an unlit cigar in his mouth and tuning the radio into a soft jazz station, Simon had a large smile on his face as he settled back in his seat. Things would start getting back to normal now, well as normal as it got with the most unlikely, mis-matched set of partners ever seen under his command. For now he would enjoy this brief period of relative peace and quiet. But he knew he would be right there with them, ready to lend his support, when the next inevitable crisis hit.

~ End ~


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Page last updated 8/15/03.