Disclaimer: See home page.

Warnings: This story contains a few bad words.

Author's Notes:




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.




"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.


"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."


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.


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.


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.


"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.


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."


"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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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."


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."


"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.

Continue on to the Conclusion...

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Page last updated 8/15/03.