(See Page 1 for Disclaimer, Warning, and Author's Notes)


Trapped (Page 2 of 2)
by Linda3
celticpryde1@insightbb.com

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How are you feeling, Sandburg?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Getting tired, Chief?"

Blair just nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone turned as Martha walked back into the room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why's that?"

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

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

Nancy looked puzzled. "A sling, Doc?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hey. Iss cold."

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

"'kay. Hi guys."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blair looked up surprised. "Thass it?"

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

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

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

"Oh yeah."

"So. How does it feel?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Not 'ungry."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Tea?"

"You want some tea?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We'll be there."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

After giving Jim a puzzled look, Simon shrugged his shoulders, picked up the phone and started dialing. If it was important, Jim would tell him.

Seeing Simon on the phone, Jim took the opportunity to use the bathroom and undress for bed. While Simon was taking his turn in the bathroom he pulled the pack onto his bed and retrieved the notebook. By the time he was stretched out with a pillow propped behind him on the headboard, notebook in hand, Simon returned.

"You're going to try to read one of Sandburg's books? If that doesn't put you to sleep I don't know what will."

Not always. "Maybe." Jim picked up the TV remote, and after turning the set on, hit the Mute button. Once Simon was in bed he reached over and turned off the lamp that was sitting on the same table as the phone. The room was immediately plunged into semi darkness with only the flickering of the TV on the dresser across the room providing light.

Simon turned towards the other bed. "Hey. How can you read in this light?"

When Jim just looked at him and raised his eyebrows, Simon has the good grace to look embarrassed. "Never mind. Just forget I even asked that. I must be even more tired than I thought. Night, Jim." He bunched up his pillow and, turning away from Jim, settled himself in for the rest of the night muttering to himself about smart assed Sentinels.

Jim grinned. "G'night, Simon." The grin faded as he opened the notebook to the first page and began reading.

Two hours later, Jim finally put the notebook down. He had read it from beginning to end in one sitting, then went back and reread certain parts over again. He had no idea just how important it was to Blair how he looked in Jim's eyes. His partner hid his apprehensions well. The depth of his feelings during their work on the campus assaults was a revelation, especially for someone who thought he knew Blair well. While he'd known that Blair had been hurting during the case, he'd had no idea just how deeply everything had been affecting him. Blair had never mentioned his fears about fitting the victims' profile so closely. He must have had to almost force himself to go to the University every day, wondering if he was going to be next. And the guilt his partner was feeling. He seemed to think it was his fault every time a new victim was found because he personally hadn't caught Wade yet. But even that was nothing compared to his pain when Chris was killed. By then it was a wonder that Blair didn't just breakdown or quit. Instead, Chris' death seemed to intensify all of the negative things Blair was already feeling about himself. Only serving to compound Blair's idea that he had somehow failed his students, his friend but especially his partner. It didn't take Sentinel vision to see the blurred ink on those pages or to know what caused it. They were stained by the tears of deep, personal anguish. And yet, he had been with Blair every day, knowing he was bothered by what was going on but having no clue as to the depth of his friend's suffering. He resolved right then and there to start paying more attention to Blair, to make sure his emotional as well as physical needs were taken care of.

Jim slowly closed the notebook and placed it on the floor beside his bed. He found himself hurting for his friend as if everything was still happening to him instead of already over. It was no wonder Blair hadn't eaten or slept enough during that time. He and Blair were going to have a serious talk just as soon as his taciturn partner was up to it. He smiled a little thinking about Blair's reaction when he told him that he wanted to initiate a talk. He remembered that Blair had mentioned wanting to talk to him in private just before he went on his hike, maybe he could find out what that was all about too.

Picking up the remote he turned off the TV and slid down under the covers. Hopefully, tomorrow the doctor would have some good news tomorrow about how Blair was doing and when he could leave the clinic. Blair had been through enough already; it was time for things to turn around and start going right for him.


By eleven o'clock the next morning Jim and Simon had showered, eaten breakfast and were entering the clinic doors. Now that it was open there were people sitting in all the waiting room chairs and more sitting or standing against the walls. Most of them were reading or filling out the same clipboard of forms Jim had filled out for Blair the day before. Carefully negotiating through the crowded room, they went straight to the reception desk. A blonde, slightly overweight woman in her twenties wearing a name tag identifying her as Karen was holding the phone to her ear with her shoulder and filling out some paperwork at the same time. She held up one finger when Jim started to speak.

"That's right, Mrs. Fisher, if it's not an emergency, I would really recommend you wait a few days until the road opens. If it's not better by then, you can either come here or go to J.C. Med. If it gets worse or starts swelling then come in immediately." She paused for a minute, listening. "No, no problem, Mrs. Fisher. Yes, I hope that the road is opened soon too. Good-bye." Only Jim heard her mutter as she hung up the phone, "You have no idea how much I want that road re-opened." Looking up, she addressed both of them at the same time.

"Can I help you?"

Jim answered. "Yes. We're here to see Dr. Washington and our—"

"Is this an emergency?"

Jim tried to hide his irritation at being interrupted. "No, but we were—"

"As you can see, we're very busy here this morning. If it's not an emergency, sign in here." She pointed to an almost full sign-in sheet with several names at the top already crossed off; the used pages underneath showed that this was far from the first page. "We're seeing patients by the nature of their complaint first then by who's next on the list." She looked directly at Jim. "It could be a long wait."

By now there were three more people standing behind them. Simon moved closer to the desk and flashed his badge, deciding to take over before a smoldering Jim lost his temper. "Look, we're not here as patients. We're here to see Blair Sandburg. We brought him in yesterday. Dr. Washington knows—" This time the interruption was the ringing telephone. Karen held up her finger again. "Hang on a second." She picked up the phone.

"Jefferson County Medical Clinic. Can you hold please? Thank you." Pushing the 'Hold' button she looked back up at Simon with the first smile they'd seen since coming in.

"You're Blair's friends? Why didn't you say so? Martha said you'd be coming by today. Go right in; Blair's still in the same room. He's probably climbing the walls by now—or would be if he could get out of bed. Go on." She tilted her head towards the door.

Simon tried to smile while muttering "Thanks" then grabbed the still irritated detective's arm and steered them both towards the doorway leading to the back of the clinic. As they left, they could hear the harried receptionist telling the next person in line to wait while she took the holding phone call.

"Whew. When Doc Washington said they'd be busy, he wasn't kidding."

"Yeah." Jim looked worried. "I just hope they haven't forgotten about Sandburg in all this."

Opening the door to the exam room, Jim and Simon stepped in. Blair was sitting up in bed with the paramedic textbook open on the bed table in front of him. Beside the textbook was a yellow legal pad on which Blair was writing furiously, his glasses on, hair hanging down around his face. It was such a typical Sandburg pose that he could have been sitting on his bed at the loft. Except, Jim noted sadly, that at home he didn't have an IV tube taped to the back of one hand or his leg sticking straight out and strapped into a large traction splint. But at least he did look better than he had for the past few days. There was more color in his face and he obviously had a little more energy.

"Hey, Chief. Whatcha doing?"

Blair's head jerked up, his startled expression changing to a large smile when he saw who his visitors were.

"Hi guys. C'mon in. I was wondering when you'd come by. Oh cool, you brought my backpack. It's been so busy here lately, no one has much time to stop in. I was getting bored. Martha said to tell you there's coffee and doughnuts in the break room, just help yourselves. Can you stay for a while?"

Both men smiled at Blair's at least partial return to his usual self. Not quite as animated as usual but a far cry from the past few days.

"Hi yourself, Chief. How're you feeling today?"

Jim kept walking until he was standing beside the bed. Laying the backpack on the far side of the bed from Blair's injured leg, he started his own, personal sensory exam of his partner. Blair tolerated it with the air of a resigned parent indulging a child. "I'm fine, Jim. Really. I feel a lot better today than I did yesterday."

Jim let his senses loose, all focused on the man in the hospital bed. Blair's face, while still paler than normal, did have more color in it; his eyes seemed clearer and more expressive. The congestion was almost gone and his fever had gone down even more, although it was not quite back to normal yet. He noticed that the prop had been raised back up on the splint so now Blair's leg lay flat on the bed. Despite Blair's protests that he was fine and his enthusiastic greeting, there were still fine lines of pain and fatigue around his eyes along with just the slightest trembling in his hands. Just as the doctor had told him last night, his friend was better, but not totally well yet. He just hoped that he hadn't been forgotten in the rush of new patients. "Have you been sitting here by yourself all morning? Has anyone even been in to see you yet? What about breakfast?"

"Whoa, Jim." Blair put down the pen he was still holding and leaned back against the pillow. Even though he was off of the oxygen, the head of the bed was still raised to help his breathing. "Calm down, man. The Doc and Martha have been in here a few times already this morning. Before the clinic opened he did the full poke and prod routine as well as treated my leg. He gave me another local, can't feel a thing, which in my opinion is a good thing. As for breakfast, we ordered from the diner." He grinned. "Best hospital food I've ever had. The two techs, Jennifer and Lisa, stopped in when they could but lately I hear it's gotten really busy out there." He picked up the pen again and pointed to the notepad he'd been writing on when they came in. "Lisa got me this so I could make notes and I've been going through this paramedic book. Of course we don't have all the equipment they do but there's plenty of stuff in here on the basics. I've been taking notes on things like how to stop bleeding, how to splint a bone, signs of a concussion, you know—stuff I think I really should learn hanging with around you." Leaning forward a bit he looked directly at Jim and shook his pen at the bigger man. "So give it a rest, Jim. And don't go bothering Doc Washington either—I'm fine and they're busy." He lowered the pen and smiled. "So don't just stand there, pull up a chair and stay a while."

Jim watched as Blair leaned back again, panting slightly from the longest speech he'd heard from his partner in days. Following orders, he grabbed the nearest chair and placed it next to the bed. "Before I get comfortable, I think I'll get some coffee and maybe check out those doughnuts. You guys want anything while I'm there?"

"Actually, something cold to drink would be nice. And Jim... don't go overboard with the doughnuts."

"Real funny, Chief. You want anything, Simon?"

The thought of being alone in the room with Blair made Simon uncomfortable, knowing that the kid was uneasy around him. "Why don't I go with you, to help carry everything?"

Jim shook his head. "No, I can get it." As he passed Simon he leaned close to Simon and whispered, "You and Sandburg need to talk."

When Jim left the room an awkward silence filled it. Simon broke it first. "So how're you feeling today San—Blair?"

"Better."

"That's good."

Back to the silence.

"Umm, Simon, I mean Captain, do you mind if I ask you a dumb question?"

Relieved to have any kind of conversation going, Simon answered. "No, of course not. Ask whatever you want."

"Okay." Blair glanced down then back up again. "As you probably know, the last few days are kind of fuzzy to me. Can you, uh, would you mind, telling me why you're mad at me? Did I do something wrong?"

Simon looked at the observer. Sitting in a hospital bed, face pale, his hair hanging down and with his glasses on, Blair looked even younger than usual. Wide-eyed and innocent was not a phrase the worldly Captain would normally use to describe Sandburg. He was far too intelligent and by now had seen too much of the dark side of humanity for that to fit him anymore. But right now, the way Blair was looking at him, expectantly and yet unsure if he really wanted to hear the answer, that was how Simon couldn't help but think of him.

"I'm not mad at you, Blair, and you didn't do anything wrong. Well, at least not that you were coherently aware of doing at the time." At Blair's confused look, he continued. "Do you remember, back at the cabin, when Jim tried to take your boot off to examine your leg?"

Ducking his head in embarrassment, Blair nodded. "Yeah, I remember that. It's mostly after that point that things start to get kinda hazy. I acted like a real wuss. Wouldn't let him take the boot off until..." he paused, "... until you yelled at me to let Jim do what he had to do and not make it harder on him than it already was or something like that." He could feel his cheeks burning at the memory. He couldn't bring his eyes up to meet Simon's. "Sorry." It was barely whispered.

"Sandburg, I didn't do that to pick on you or make you feel bad. Everyone there knew you were in shock and in pain and naturally didn't want anything to make it hurt even worse. I would have done the same thing if it had been Brown or Rafe on that couch acting the same way. As captain, I sometimes have to act as the disciplinarian of the men under me. It's my least favorite part of the job but it has to be done. Just remember, I didn't enjoy doing that but I felt I had to, for your own good."

Blair looked up. "Okay. I can understand that." He looked puzzled. "But I still feel like there's something else. Maybe something I don't remember. Did something else happen too?"

Simon wasn't anxious to bring this part up but since Sandburg had asked, he couldn't see anyway to avoid it. "Well, yes, now that you mention it, there was another small incident." Seeing Blair just silently watching him, he knew he'd have to explain it too. "Your fever was pretty high and you were pretty much out of it but, for whatever reason, you got it in your head to leave the cabin. You took off when nobody was around. We finally found you half a mile away, unconscious. We brought you back and cleaned you up." No point in embarrassing him or me by telling him we gave him a bath. "Once you were back on the couch again you woke up and were still insisting you had to leave. When you tried to get up, I got a bit upset and, uh, kind of yelled at you to stay put."

Looking down again, Blair started picking at the weave of his blanket. He was silent for several seconds. "Was Jim mad too?"

"He wasn't there. By 'we' I mean me, Brown and Rafe."

Jerking his head back up, Blair stared at Simon. "He left?" The unspoken 'me' hung in the air.

"The main road out was blocked by a fallen tree. Jim knew we had to get you to a doctor as soon as possible so he was out in the woods looking for a back road."

"Oh." That made sense but he had a strange, vaguely remembered sense of having been abandoned by Jim. Must have been the fever.

"He came back right at that time. He was pretty upset that you were upset. You fell back asleep then and it turned out that Jim had found a back road out. A little while later, we brought you here."

It all sounded so simple when Simon explained it except for the one thing everyone seemed to avoid mentioning. "I really screwed up everyone's vacation, didn't I?" Maybe that's what I'm really feeling from Simon.

So, Simon thought, there's that guilt the doctor was talking about last night. Maybe he could help a little here. "No Sandburg, you didn't screw up at all. If you're going to blame anyone, blame the poachers who put that trap there or the city workers who didn't find it and declared the area safe. With all the people who come up here, it was only a matter of time before this happened to someone. All you did was go for a walk in the woods. I'm really sorry this happened to you but it is in no way your fault." Simon moved forward until he was standing right beside Blair. "If it had been any one of the rest of us this happened to, would you blame him or say that he ruined the vacation?"

"Well no, of course not. It would have been an accident. I'd be more worried about his being hurt than..." He nodded. "Okay, I see what you're saying. But I still feel bad about everything."

"And we feel bad about what happened to you. Feeling bad about something is one thing. Feeling guilty when there's no reason to is something totally different." He looked down directly into Blair's eyes. "So. Are we good here? No more thinking I'm mad at you or blaming yourself for something you had no control over?"

Looking up into the tall captain's dark eyes and only seeing total honesty there, Blair gave a small smile. "Yeah. We're good. Might take a little longer to get over the guilt thing though. Thanks, Simon."

Patting Blair's shoulder Simon smiled back. "Anytime, son." Raising his head, he looked around and raised his voice. "Now where the hell is Ellison with that coffee?"

Picking up Simon's cue that the conversation was over, Blair also looked up and spoke to the air. "Yeah. A person could die of thirst around here before some people get back." There was no animosity in his voice; both men knew exactly why it was taking Jim so long to return with their drinks and they appreciated it.

A minute later Jim appeared in the doorway carrying a loaded tray. "I heard a rumor that there were some thirsty people in here."

Blair removed the textbook and notepad from the table and placed them on the bed beside him as Jim walked over to the bed and deposited the tray on the now clean table. On the tray was a can of Coke with a straw sticking out of it, two mugs of coffee, the creamer and sugar from last night, coffee stirrers and a paper plate holding six assorted doughnuts. Blair picked up the Coke and took a few sips while Jim and Simon fixed their coffee. He looked at the doughnuts.

"What Jim, no buttermilk?"

"I know, can you believe it? Who gets doughnuts and doesn't get buttermilk?" He shook his head as if the notion was just inconceivable.

A few minutes later Jim and Simon were sitting by the bed each with their coffee in hand and two doughnuts on a napkin on the bed beside them.

"So Chief, did the doctor say anything about how you're doing? Maybe even when you can leave?"

Blair had to swallow his bite of doughnut before he could answer. "Yeah. He said I was doing a lot better." He held up the hand with the IV tube attached to the back of it. "He also said I can probably get rid of this later today and if my leg keeps improving like it has, he might be able to put a cast on it tomorrow. I'm hoping that once he does that I can leave." He got a funny look on his face. "Oh man."

"What's wrong?"

"How am I going to get home?"

Jim looked slightly puzzled by the question. "What do you mean 'how are you going to get home?' Same way you got up here. With us. In the car. Why?"

Blair was shaking his head. "I don't think we'll all fit now. I'll have a cast on and probably crutches. I may even have to keep my foot propped up. There won't be enough room."

Jim and Simon looked at each other. Blair had a point. This was something neither of them had thought about. The tall captain spoke first. "Don't worry about it, Sandburg. We'll get you back somehow. We can always pretend you're a prize buck and tie you across the hood of the car."

The brief silence that followed was quickly broken by the sound of two men laughing at the shocked expression of the third as he choked on his soda.

"Well Simon, I'm sure we can think of something a little less drastic. Don't worry Chief, we'll get you home, safe and sound, hopefully with you inside the car."

"Thanks, I think. I just hope I can get out of here sometime soon. I guess it'll all depend on what the Doc has to say. So what are H and Brian doing up there all by themselves?"

Simon smiled. "Well, when I called them last night and told them you were going to be all right, they were both relieved. When I told them that Jim and I were staying in town, at least for today, I believe Brown said something about that leaving more fish for them. Between the fishing, TV, VCR and books up there, I think they'll have themselves a grand time. Don't worry about them."

Blair suddenly found the weave of his blanket very interesting again as he picked at it. "And I suppose you two are having an equally wonderful time hanging around here." He looked up, avoiding eye contact with either one of them. "Look, you guys don't have to stay here. I'm doing fine, the doctor said so himself. Why don't you both go back up to the cabin? You still have a few days left. I know you both wanted to go fishing and just relax and stuff." He looked at Simon, then Jim. "Neither one of you looks very comfortable sitting there. No point in everyone's vacation being totally ruined. Right? You can just pick me up when it's time to go back."

"Blair." Jim got to his feet and stood beside Blair, placing his coffee on the table. "I'm not leaving you alone here. Let's see what the doctor says. If he puts the cast on tomorrow and says you can leave then you'll go back up to the cabin with us. If not, then I agree, Simon should go back but I'm staying here with you. It's that simple."

"But Jim—"

"No buts. Besides, there's no point in even discussing it until we hear from the doctor anyway, is there?"

A disgruntled Blair answered. "Fine."

Smiling Jim reached over and mussed up Blair's hair. He turned to Simon. "Isn't he cute when he pouts?"

Blair's hands flew up to try to smooth his hair back down. "Hey. Leave the hair alone. Although, I'm surprised. It doesn't feel as grungy as it should, considering it hasn't been washed for a few days."

Simon concentrated his eyes on his coffee, grateful that his dark skin didn't show how hot his cheeks were getting at that moment. The fact that he had washed it for him just yesterday was something Blair didn't need to know right now. He was also grateful when Jim kept talking and kept Blair's attention away from him.

"Well, maybe it's the mountain water and less pollution up here, keeps it cleaner longer or something. Anyway, when is the Doc supposed to come back and check on you?"

Blair shrugged. "I guess whenever he gets a chance, considering how busy they are today."

"Maybe I should go remind him or something."

"Jiim."

Conceding defeat, Jim raised his hands up. "All right, all right. I know they're busy but I just don't like the idea of your laying here and no one looking in on you."

Blair snorted. "And just what else do I have to do anyway? It's not like if he doesn't come back by a certain time I can get up and leave. So just chill man, he'll be here." He suddenly grinned. "Besides, isn't that what you're here for? To keep me entertained during my forced convalescence?" He sat up as straight as he could then folded his arms over his chest as he leaned back. "So. Entertain me."

Jim looked back at Simon, who just raised his eyebrows and shrugged. "He's your partner, you do what you think best. Just as long as it doesn't involve me having to fill out any paperwork later."

A small evil grin appeared on the tall detective's face as he turned back around to face his hapless victim trapped on the bed. Curling his fingers, he slowly reached out his arms enjoying the sudden wide-eyed look of alarm on Blair's face as he realized what was about to happen.

Waving his hands in front of him, Blair tried to stop Jim's impending assault. "No. Jim. I was only kidding. Really. You don't have to—" The words were cut off by Blair's sharp intake of air when the fingers found their mark on his sensitive ribs. He tried to stop the torture by ineffectively batting away at the large hands. He could barely get out the words to concede defeat. "Okay... Jim... c'mon man... you win... stop... I give... I... I..." Blair suddenly gave a large gasp and hunched over, wrapping his arms around himself. Chest heaving, he found himself straining to pull air into lungs that suddenly couldn't seem to take in enough oxygen. He closed his eyes as everything else faded into the background except the need to breathe.

"Blair! Blair!" Someone was calling his name, he could feel strong hands gripping his upper arms, but all of his concentration was focused on just trying to draw in another breath. Now those hands were forcing him back against the raised bed as more voices swirled around in the background. "Nonrebreather mask. Fifteen liters." Something hard covered his nose and mouth, blocking what little air he was getting. NO! He tried to pull it away only to find his hands being pulled down. "No Blair. Leave it there. You need it to help you breathe." Before he could reach up again he felt cool air pushing against his nose and mouth. Lying still, he sucked in deep lungfuls of the now continuous flow of oxygen. He could feel his pounding heart start to slow down as it gradually became easier to breathe.

"Blair? Can you hear me, Blair?" Slowly opening his eyes, he saw the doctor and Martha standing beside the bed. The nurse was holding his wrist as she looked at her watch. Standing behind them were Jim and Simon, with Jim looking very worried and very guilty.

"Blair?" He frowned. He heard his name again but Jim's lips never moved. "Blair? Can you hear me?" Turning his head slightly, he saw the doctor looking at him intently. That made more sense. He nodded in response to the question, knowing it was the right answer when the doctor relaxed his features a bit.

"Is it getting any easier to breathe?" Another nod got him a smile and a pat on the shoulder. "Good. Now, do you know what happened? Why you suddenly had trouble breathing?"

Before Blair could answer, Jim spoke up. "It was my fault. I-I wasn't thinking. I can't believe I—"

Lifting up the oxygen mask, Blair interrupted before Jim could admit to causing the incident. "Jim was... trying to make... me feel better. Just made... me laugh. Didn't know... this could... happen. No one's... fault." He looked directly at the detective as he replaced the mask over his face, wordlessly telling him to let the matter drop, at least for now.

Nodding to himself now, Dr. Washington pulled his stethoscope out of his jacket pocket and proceeded to check Blair's lungs, listening to his chest and back. "Just try to breathe normally, don't force anything."

When he finished, he straightened back up and put the stethoscope back in his pocket. "Well, I don't think you're any worse off than before. There's still some congestion, that's probably why you got so short of breath. Just take it easy. I'll keep you on the oxygen for a bit so your lungs won't have to work too hard right now but you should be fine." He turned to Jim. "I can understand your wanting to make him feel better, Jim, but you need to try to keep Blair from getting too excited. His lungs are still weak and he's going to tire easily for a while yet." At Jim's half-hearted nod, he turned back to Blair. "I'm going to go treat some really sick patients now. I'll be back later to check on you." Looking over at his wife, he tilted his head towards the hallway. "When you're done in here, meet me back in Two." With a final look around, he left the room.

Martha observed the people in the now quiet room. Blair was looking at Jim. Jim was looking at the floor. Simon just looked uncomfortable. She suspected that there was more to what had just happened than any of them were letting on but right now that wasn't important. She tried to lift the heavy mood that had drifted in during Blair's brief respiratory emergency.

"Well, Blair, if nothing else your timing was perfect anyway. I was just on my way here to see you when your captain came running into the other exam room and told us you were having trouble breathing. I'm just relieved that it wasn't as serious as it could have been. Still, I'll bet it was pretty scary, wasn't it?"

Lifting the mask up slightly, Blair answered softly. "Yeah." He tried to look at Jim again but the detective still refused to meet his eyes. Trying to hide his disappointment, he turned back to the nurse. "What were you... coming to see me about?" Replacing the mask, he took another deep breath.

"I guess no one noticed but it's after twelve o'clock. I was coming to see what you wanted to order for lunch. Despite what just happened, you still need to eat." She held up one finger warningly. "Don't even try to argue."

Blair managed a small smile. He lifted the mask again. "I'd just be wasting my breath... And I don't exactly have any to waste... right now." He didn't see Jim's slight flinch at his words.

"Uh-huh. Glad to see you still have your sense of humor. Just keep the mask on until you decide what you want. You still have that menu the diner faxed over?"

Looking over at the sink, Blair pointed to the piece of paper on the counter. Martha retrieved it and handed it to him. "Look it over. No restrictions so order what you feel you can handle right now." She jerked her thumb over her shoulder, pointing towards Jim and Simon. "Your two silent partners can add anything they'd like too. I'll be back in a few minutes; I need to go make sure that George hasn't become totally overwhelmed yet." As she passed Jim she paused and put her hand on his arm and leaned in close. "He's going to be fine. Honest. Just don't let him get too excited or upset. Keep his breathing even. Okay?" When Jim nodded, she gave his arm a small squeeze and left the room.

As soon as Martha cleared the doorway Jim started his apology. "Are you all right, Blair? Oh God, Chief, I'm sorry. I had no idea—"

Blair's raised hand stopped him in mid-apology as he lifted the mask again. "Unless you knew this would happen and did it deliberately..." The look on Jim's face at those words told Blair everything he needed to know, "... I didn't think so. So don't worry about it, it's all over and done with. Besides, it's partially my fault anyway." He put the mask back over his face and took a deep breath before continuing. "If I hadn't teased you, you wouldn't have felt the need to retaliate. So, we've both learned something here. You—don't tickle the sick. And me—don't tease unless I'm well enough to fight back." He waved the faxed menu in the air. "So, help me pick something edible for lunch."

Simon smiled. Sandburg, as usual, had said exactly what Jim needed to hear. Oh, he'd still feel guilty, Ellison never gave up guilt easily, but at least now he wouldn't let it overwhelm him and make him constantly worry that Sandburg blamed him. He shook his head. Even hurt, Sandburg looked out for Ellison. It was one of the most unusual yet closest partnerships he had seen since joining the force. Not that he'd ever tell either one of them that. It was hard enough to maintain his stature as The Boss as it was; he wasn't going to give them, especially Sandburg, any reason to think they could get away with anything. Even if he usually found himself giving in to their schemes anyway. He leaned back and waited to see how this latest incident between these two would play out.

By the time Martha returned, lunch had been decided on and Blair was breathing easier, which in turn made Jim breathe easier. When lunch finally arrived, Dr. Washington switched Blair from the nonrebreather facemask back to the nasal cannula he had used earlier. As the afternoon wore on and it became obvious that Blair wouldn't suffer any setbacks from 'the incident,' Jim began to noticeably relax, especially when the IV tubing was removed from Blair's hand later that afternoon. By early evening, Blair was trying to convince Jim to go back to the cabin rather than spend another night in town.

"Look, Jim, what good would spending the night here do? The Doc won't decide about my leg until tomorrow no matter where you sleep." Scrunching up his face, he added his best shot. "Not to mention you and Simon have been wearing the same clothes for two days now." His expression softened. "It's not that I don't appreciate you,..." he looked over at Simon "... both you guys, coming and staying with me but you need to go back. You both need a good night's sleep and a change of clothes. Speaking of which, if the Doc does let me go tomorrow, I'll need some clean clothes too." He looked down at the short hospital gown he was wearing. "Not exactly what I'd pick to wear out of here." He turned his most winning look on the reluctant detective. "So how 'bout it, Jim? Can you go and bring me back some decent, non-drafty clothes? I'd hate to have to go around showing off one of my best assets to a bunch of guys who wouldn't even appreciate it."

Whether it was the pleading look, the usual Sandburg logic or just the bad pun in the last sentence of Blair's short monologue, Simon wasn't sure but he knew the minute Jim caved in. Unless Jim thought it was in Sandburg's best interest not to, he knew that the gruff detective gave in to his partner a lot more than most people realized, including said partner. Usually he disguised his surrender with a lot of grumbling and complaining, but in the end, Sandburg often got what he wanted. Just like now. It was decided that Jim and Simon would go back to the cabin right after dinner and return to the clinic in the morning to hear Dr. Washington's decision about casting Blair's leg. If Blair was released, he would go with them back to the cabin that afternoon. According to the doctor, after he had examined Blair's leg and changed the bandage that afternoon, it looked good for the cast being put on and Sandburg being released tomorrow. Simon was glad Sandburg had talked Jim into leaving for the night; even though Blair hadn't said anything, he was pretty sure that Jim's constant hovering was starting to wear on him. They both needed a short break. However, even after agreeing to leave, it still took Dr. Washington's once again assuring Jim that Blair was fine and hadn't suffered any ill effects from what had happened earlier to convince the Sentinel that his Guide would be fine without him for the night. The only bad note was finding out earlier that with every available person helping to clear the mudslide it would be at least a few more days before the fallen tree on the front road to the cabin could be removed. Meaning, they would have to continue using the rutted back road for now.

Dinner over, Jim and Simon were ready to leave. At least Simon was. Jim, as expected, seemed reluctant. Several large yawns from the obviously tired patient finally convinced him that Blair needed sleep more than company and, after promising to be back first thing in the morning, he allowed Simon to steer him out of the room and into the car. By the time they arrived back at the cabin, both men were concerned about Blair making the trip over the extremely bumpy road with his injured leg. Unfortunately, there was nothing they could do about it except try to make it as easy on him as possible. Once inside, they updated Brown and Rafe on the possibility of Blair's returning the next day. Everyone agreed that with Blair's bed still a bit damp from the leaky roof during the storm, it would probably be easier to just let him stay on the couch again for at least the first night after he returned. Especially since by the time the main road was cleared, hopefully in the next day or two, it would be time for them to head back to Cascade anyway. It was an optimistic group of men who went to bed that night, each hoping that the missing man from their team would back with them by this time tomorrow.


When Jim and Simon walked into the clinic the next morning the first thing they noticed was that while the waiting room looked full, it was nowhere near as crowded as yesterday. Karen was seated behind the counter again but today didn't look quite as harried as she had just the day before. She greeted them with a smile. "Hi guys. Guess you're here to see if Blair will be leaving us today. Actually, Doc's in there with him right now so it might be better if you wait out here until he's finished."

"Do you know how long that's going to be?"

"Hard to say. Doc's pretty thorough. He just went in a little while ago."

Jim sighed to himself. Waiting was not something he did well. He looked around the waiting room again as if that would tell him anything. Simon, sensing his impatience, tried to get a little more information.

"You don't seem as busy as yesterday."

Karen smiled again. "No. The major rush is over, thank God. Happens every time there's a problem getting to J.C. Med. Suddenly everything's an emergency. Everyone wants a refill on their prescriptions, every little ache and pain has to be taken care of NOW. It's like when they forecast snow, everyone runs to the grocery store, even if they just went, and starts stocking up. The first day is the worst then it starts slowing down. By the time they reopen the road, except for any EMS calls, we'll probably be close to business as normal."

"So the doctor has time to thoroughly examine Sandburg? He won't feel rushed or anything?"

"No one rushes Doc Washington. Especially when he's with one of his favorite patients." The receptionist's smile got bigger. "Blair's made quite an impression around here in just a few days. Doc really likes him and Lisa and Jennifer just dote on him. He may be a bit spoiled by the time he leaves."

Jim turned back around and joined the conversation. "I hope he doesn't think that will continue once he's released." A loud snort from his captain got his attention. "You have something to say, sir?"

Simon practically had to bite his tongue to keep from answering. Ellison tending to a sick or injured Sandburg was something you had to see to believe. The poor kid would be lucky if he wasn't carried to the bathroom and back again. Every move Sandburg made had to be approved, every meal prepared by Ellison himself. He decided when Blair could have visitors and for how long. He even set Blair's bedtime. The real fun came when it was time for Sandburg to take his medications. With Blair hating taking any chemical medications, he would always try to talk Jim into letting him use an herbal substitute, sometimes getting very creative with his arguments. Jim would always refuse and then cross his arms and glare at Blair until he finally gave in and took the doctor ordered prescriptions. His impression of Ellison during those times was "Jewish mother meets Drill Sergeant". The only thing worse was Sandburg taking care of Ellison, it was usually best to just avoid the loft entirely then. He looked at his detective, his face a study of total innocence. "Why no, Jim, why do you ask?"

Jim gave Simon a pointed look. "No reason. I thought I heard something. Guess my hearing must be off or something."

They spent the next several minutes talking with Karen, learning more about the area and the better fishing locations should they decide to return someday and try another vacation in the area. Unlike last time, there was only one interruption for a quick phone call. They were almost running out of things to talk about when Martha came into the receptionist area through the back door, carrying some files. Seeing Jim and Simon she gave them a quick nod as she handed the files to Karen.

"These can be re-filed. How are we doing out here?"

Karen gave the nurse a knowing smile. "Steady but a lot better than yesterday. No emergencies. Nothing that can't wait a few minutes longer."

"Good." Turning she crooked her finger at the waiting policemen. "Come on back. George just finished examining Blair a few minutes ago. He'll be right back; you two can keep Blair company. I believe you know the way." Then she turned and walked back through the same doorway. Jim and Simon went around the receptionist counter and through the patient door into the rear of the clinic.

Blair was sitting up reading a magazine when Jim and Simon entered the room. Focusing his vision, Jim zoomed in on the name at the bottom of the page facing him, Cosmopolitan. He couldn't help smiling. "Reading anything interesting there, Chief?"

Hearing his name, Blair looked up and smiled a greeting at the two men. "Actually, yeah. You know a lot of this is pretty interesting. I never thought about it before but, if you skip over all the weight loss and make-up tips, these magazines are a great way to figure out how women think. I think I may be on to something here."

"Uh-huh. Well if you decide to do any more 'research,' just be sure to keep all you reading material in your room. That's all I'd need, to have the guys come over some night and have all these women's magazines all over the place." Jim grinned. "Even if you are becoming a Cosmo girl." He heard Simon snickering beside him.

"Very funny, Ellison. Lisa brought this to read during her lunch break. I was bored and all the decent magazines in the waiting room were already being used. Besides, when I start getting a lot more dates and you're home alone with the TV every night, we'll see who has the last laugh."

By this time, he and Simon were standing beside the bed. "Anyway, Chief, any word yet from the Doc? Did he give you any idea about what he plans to do?" Blair looked better. Just not having the IV tube in the back of his hand or wearing the nasal cannula was an improvement.

Closing the magazine and putting it down beside him, Blair shook his head. "They took more X-rays early this morning and the Doc just examined my leg but no one's said anything to me yet." He sighed. "I am so ready to leave."

"Don't like our hospitality anymore?"

Turning around, Jim watched as Dr. Washington and Martha entered the room and approached the bed. "And here I thought we were being pretty good hosts."

Blair looked embarrassed. "No, it's not that. In fact, as far as hospital stays goes, this has been one of the best, really. I just don't like being in the hospital, that's all. I'm always trying to get the doctors to release me early. Tell them, Jim. Tell them it's not this place; I just don't like hospitals."

Dr. Washington decided to show mercy to his babbling patient. He held up his hand. "Blair, it's all right. I was just kidding. In fact, I'd be more worried if you didn't want to get out of here."

"Oh." Blair's face brightened as he looked at the doctor. "Does that mean you're releasing me today?"

It was almost impossible not to respond to the hopeful look in Blair's eyes. "I went over your X-rays, the traction splint seems to have worked. It stabilized your leg so the crack in your tibia hasn't progressed any further. As for the tissue damage done by the trap, everything seems to be healing nicely. So this afternoon, when it slows down around here, I'll cast your leg and then yes, you can leave here after that." He was rewarded with an almost blinding smile from Blair as well as two large ones from his friends. "But..."

Blair sighed. "There's always a but."

"Yes, there is and this is very important so listen up. Just because I'm releasing you, I don't you to think that you're fully recovered. You've got a ways to go before you're one hundred percent again. The main thing is to stay off your leg. Even with a cast and crutches, I don't want you to try to do much moving around. You'll probably get a bit lightheaded for a little while, partially due to the antibiotics and pain pills I'm going to prescribe for you and partially because you're still recovering. I want you to take it easy. Your body's been through a shock, give it time to heal." He looked over at Jim and Simon, heartened to see that they were both paying close attention to what he had been telling Blair. "I expect both of you to make sure he follows the instructions I'll be sending with him. He needs to take the antibiotics on a regular schedule as well as take the pain pills when he needs them. The body heals faster if it's not in pain. I'll give you a set of written instructions when he's discharged." He was pleased to see Jim nodding to everything he said.

"Ya know 'he's' still right here." The annoyed tone of voice turned everyone's attention back to Blair. He was sitting back with his arms crossed. His face matched his voice.

Martha was the one who answered him. "Yes, but we've heard stories about how well you follow doctor's orders once you get released."

Blair's jaw dropped as his eyes widened. He jerked his chin towards Jim. "From him? He had the nerve to talk about how I don't follow doctor's orders? He has doctors that refuse to treat him because he disregards everything they tell him. His picture is in every ER in Cascade with the word 'Uncooperative' under it." He turned his attention to the so far silent police captain. "Tell him, Simon. Tell him how well Jim follows doctor's orders."

Before Simon could state that he was not about to debate who was the worse patient, it would probably be a tie anyway, Jim spoke up.

"We're not talking about me this time, Chief, we're talking about you. And you will do what the doctor says. We'll all make sure of that." His voice was stern, no nonsense Ellison but there was a sad look in his eyes that made Blair back down.

"Okay." He turned back to the man who held his release in his hands. "So when can we do this?"

It was obvious that he had missed something but as long as his patient agreed to cooperate that was all that mattered. "Later this afternoon. That's when things tend to slow down. Not much for you to do until then but relax and enjoy one more meal on the county. I'll try to look in on you at least once more before then." He turned to his wife. "Why don't you find out how backed up we are for this afternoon then phone us all in a lunch order to be delivered later." At Martha's nod he turned and left.

Walking over to the counter, Martha picked up the menu and held it out to Blair. "Any special requests for your last meal?"

Blair grimaced. "Not exactly a nice thing to say to a person lying in a hospital bed."

Simon looked at his watch then back up again. "Now that we know that Sandburg's getting released today, I think I'll drive back up to the cabin and make sure everything's ready. If his mattress has dried out enough, we can remake the bed before he gets there. I'll also stop by the police station and see if there is any word yet on when they might have main road to the cabin cleared."

"My mattress!" Blair looked mortified. "I did not wet the bed."

Jim couldn't help grinning at the look on Blair's face. What he wouldn't give to have a camera right now. "No, Chief, you did not wet the bed. You were on the couch at the time. Turns out there's a small leak in roof right over your bed. When the storm hit, water dripped onto the bed, through the blankets and into the mattress. We've been airing it out ever since the rain stopped." He turned to Simon. "That's a good idea. Why don't I call you when Blair's almost ready to go and you come and get us then? No point in both of us hanging around all afternoon."

"All right. You have the number to the cabin?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah. I wrote it down before I went to check for a back road in case I made it into town so I could call and let you know the situation."

"Okay. Sounds good." He turned to Blair. "Guess I'll be back later with your limo."

Blair managed a small, if forced, smile. "Thanks, Simon, but why don't you take Jim back with you? No point in either of you just hanging around here all afternoon. Give me or Martha the phone number and we'll call you when it's time to come get me. Get in some fishing or something. This hasn't been much of a vacation for you guys."

Jim winced at hearing Blair saying there was no point in either of them 'hanging around', his own words being thrown back at him. He made it sound as though it were a self-imposed punishment or something.

"Like you're having a great time yourself, Chief."

Blair just shrugged. He had really wanted Jim to be able to relax and have a good time this week. Granted, he never planned on stepping into a bear trap but once again Blair Sandburg, Trouble Magnet extraordinaire, had managed to screw things up. He didn't think any of the guys back at the station were aware that he knew about his newest nickname but he heard the laughing comments made behind his back. Can't wait till this little disaster makes the rounds. "Totally beside the point, Jim. Look, there's nothing you can do here anyway and it's gonna be at least several hours before I'm released. Please Jim. I'll feel better if I know you had at least one good day out of the week. Go to a movie or hang out at the lake or something. Just because I'm stuck here because I was too stupid to see that trap before putting my foot into it doesn't mean you have to spend every waking minute here too. You've already wasted enough time over me. You need a break. So go, both of you. Go do some vacation stuff. Please."

It was hard to miss the sadness and pleading in Blair's eyes. Jim couldn't help but wonder if this was the guilt and depression that the doctor had been talking about the other night finally showing itself. He decided that perhaps, for right now, it might be best to let Blair have his way. After all, he still planned on having that talk with his partner some time before they headed back to Cascade and he could say what he really wanted to then. But there was one thing he had to clear up first.

"All right Blair, we'll go. For a little while. But before we do, I want you to understand one thing—that there was virtually no way you could have avoided that trap. It was practically invisible, even after it was sprung. Anyone of us could have been the one step to in it or anyone else walking in those woods. You were not stupid for having walked where you had every right to walk and to believe it was perfectly safe. I want you to get that notion right out of your head once and for all."

Blair looked a bit startled by the conviction in Jim's voice but a small, more genuine looking, smile slowly appeared. "Okay, Jim. Not my fault. Blame it on the big, bad poachers. Got it. Now go, while you still have time to do something fun and relaxing; you're supposed to be on vacation, remember?"

Somewhat, but not totally mollified by the seeming sincerity of Blair's words—they'd also discuss this later—Jim turned to Simon. "Is your cell phone working now?"

Pulling out his cell phone, Simon turned it on then nodded. "Still seems to be working fine. Might have just been the storm interfering with it before."

Picking up the diner menu, Jim looked at Martha. "Can I borrow your pen?" When she handed it to him, he started writing on the menu. "This is Simon's cell phone number and the number to the cabin. You'll be able to reach either us or Rafe and Brown at one of these numbers." He looked pointedly at the now relieved looking man sitting in front of him. "Call me immediately if anything happens or you need me for anything." As he handed Martha back her pen, he spoke to her. "Call me once the Doc gets started, that should give us enough time to get back by the time Blair is ready to go."

"You probably won't need to rush. George has to prepare the leg first and even when the cast is on it has to harden. Then, of course, there's all the fun paperwork to do. You should have plenty of time. Besides, I don't think Blair will leave without you even if you are a bit late. Relax and have a good time; we'll keep Blair out of trouble till you get back."

Simon gave a short laugh. "A whole department of trained police officers have tried to do that and failed."

Only Jim noticed the shadows that fell over Blair's eyes at Simon's comment. Unfortunately, now wasn't the time to discuss this further. "Okay, we're off to who knows where to do who knows what. Call us so we can finally get this one back where he belongs." Reaching out, he ruffled the dark curls knowing it would get a reaction. He was rewarded with Blair's knocking his hands away and covering his head.

"Hey man. Not the hair." He made shooing motions with his hands. "Get out of here. Now." Picking up the magazine he had laid beside him, Blair adjusted his glasses and opened it to the article he had been reading when Jim and Simon first arrived. "I have things to do too."

Simon poked Jim with his elbow. "I think that's our subtle cue to leave."

"I think you're right. We'll be back later, Chief."

Blair never looked up; he just waved his hand in the general direction of the door. "Later, man."

After getting a smile and nod from Martha, the two men left.

Once the policemen had cleared the doorway Blair lowered the magazine, leaned back and closed his eyes. His "Finally" was barely whispered.

"He's just worried about you, you know."

Blair opened his eyes and turned his head towards the voice. "I know. But Jim really needed this vacation. I was hoping he would have a chance to just relax for a little while. He needs to put that last case behind him and just forget about the things back in Cascade for a while."

And you don't? Knowing continuing this line of conversation would just upset her patient, Martha handed him the menu instead. "Here you go. Pick something so I can put in the lunch order, some of us really do have things to do." Silently she hoped that once Blair left here, somehow, he would find a way to deal with everything that had happened to him lately. She strongly suspected, though, that the only person he would listen to was a large, stoic, no-nonsense cop. Still, stranger things had happened and, unlikely as it seemed, Jim did show all the signs that he really cared for Blair. She just hoped it was enough to work through the younger man's defenses and actually make him talk about how everything had been affecting him. With a silent sigh and a smile for the man in her thoughts, she left the room too.


Jim rolled another strike and after the electronic score board added it to his total, he turned back towards his opponent with a wide grin. Simon scowled as he picked up his bowling ball. "I am never playing another game of any kind with you ever again, Ellison."

"Simon I'm not cheating, I swear. I told you I bowled a lot while in the Army. Some of those smaller posts didn't have much but most of them had a bowling alley or there was one nearby. I got pretty good." But even, so having a slight advantage now doesn't hurt either.

Simon lined up the ball with the pins. "Uh-huh." He released it and watched as it knocked down six pins. "Damn." He turned around. "And do most Army bases also have miniature golf courses? And arcades?" He was still smarting from being trounced at both earlier.

"Oh no. I totally cheated there." Jim was grinning, looking unabashedly unrepentant. Jacksonville wasn't a big town but, since the lake attracted tourists during the summer, they had added a few family style attractions. It didn't seem logical to go back to the cabin and then have to drive back down again so they had decided to see what sights the town had to offer. So far, they had found an arcade, had lunch, played miniature golf and now bowling. Jim had finally found a fun way to practice using his senses. These were tests he could get into to. He definitely had to suggest this to Sandburg. Watching as the automatic pinsetter picked up and reset the four remaining pins while Simon picked up his ball, he wondered once again at how well his guide knew him. He really did need this afternoon. In just these few hours he felt much more relaxed than he had in weeks. While his one regret was that Blair wasn't here to enjoy it with him, just knowing that he was well enough to leave the clinic today was setting his mind at ease too. Glancing at his watch, he noticed it was now late afternoon and wondered how much longer it would be until they would be able to go get him. As if it heard his thoughts, just as Simon managed to knock down three more pins, the cell phone rang.

Simon pulled it out of his jacket that was hung across the back of his chair. He looked at Jim as he opened it. "Just as I was catching up too." He looked away as the phone connected. "Banks. Uh-huh. Okay, great, we'll be there in a few minutes. No, no, we're still here in town. Oh. Okay then, bye." He relayed the message to Jim as he put the phone back. "That was Martha. Everything looked fine and the Doc is just starting to remove the traction splint in order to cast Sandburg's leg. She said since we're already in town there was no rush. Even after it's on, the cast will still have to set and she's just starting on his discharge paperwork." He glanced at the scoreboard. Two frames left in the game. "You up to finishing the game? Of course, now that I'm so close, I can understand if you want to stop."

Much as he wanted to leave and get back to the clinic, the gauntlet had been thrown, no way he would ever live it down if he quit now. "Do your worst, sir."

The last two frames were pretty evenly matched, especially when Jim, his mind elsewhere, overthrew and just missed a gutter ball by barely clipping three pins. He got a spare on his next throw but the damage had been done. Encouraged, Simon rallied and, in the end, Jim managed to squeak by only eight points ahead. They turned in their rented shoes with Simon insisting that Jim was weakening and, if they had had only one or two more frames, he would have caught up if not beaten him. Jim laughed it off, telling him only in his dreams. They entered the clinic still debating.

Entering the exam/patient room, the first thing noticeable was that the large traction splint so prominent for the last few days was gone. Blair was now sporting a new cast from just under his knee to the beginning of his toes. Also different was a change of clothes. Instead of the flimsy hospital gown, Blair was now wearing the clean sweats Jim had brought him. The right pants leg had been pushed up above his knee. Jim spared the new cast and wardrobe only a cursory glance when he saw Blair's face. Even though he smiled when they arrived, it was obvious, at least to him, that Blair was in pain. He was paler than he had been and the lines around his eyes and mouth were tighter. He immediately went to stand beside his friend.

"Blair? You all right?"

Instead of Blair, it was the doctor who answered. Jim hadn't even seen him standing in the room. "I had to give Blair a lower dosage of the pain medication than I've been giving him. It was the only way he could tell me if anything felt worse after I put the cast on. He also needs to know what normal pain feels like so he can be aware if anything changes later. I am giving him a prescription for a fairly powerful painkiller but it will make him groggy so he may want to limit how often he takes it. The good news is, as I've already told Blair, that having a cast on will actually reduce the level of pain since the bone will now be supported. It hurts a lot right now because I had to manipulate the leg while putting the cast on. That pain should gradually fade a bit but I don't want to give him any more medication since he's had one dose already. You can give him a pain pill once he's settled in back at your cabin, it should be all right by then."

"When can he leave?" Seeing Blair in pain again somehow seemed worse after the carefree afternoon he had just enjoyed. Knowing that while he and Simon were bowling those last two frames, Blair was enduring having his leg painfully manhandled while the cast was put on was pushing all his 'protect the Guide' buttons.

"As soon as Martha finishes with the paperwork. I've included two prescriptions: one is the pain medication I mentioned, the second is an antibiotic that I want Blair to continue taking until it's all gone. Try to be sure he doesn't skip any doses. There's a pharmacy just down the street on your way back that you can get them filled at. Tell them I said it's a rush and they'll have you out of there in no time." He looked past Jim towards the door. "Ah good. Here comes Martha now."

The petite nurse laid several papers on the bed table in front of Blair and handed him her pen. "Just sign at the X's. I'm sure you know the drill by now." It didn't take Sentinel vision to see the tremor in Blair's hand as he scrawled his name. As he signed, she handed Jim two smaller papers. "His prescriptions. I heard George tell you where the pharmacy is located. I really suggest you get these filled, especially the pain medication, before you go back up to the cabin. I just talked with Becky, the main road to the cabin still isn't cleared although it should be in the next day or two. But that means you'll have to drive back up that very bumpy road tonight." She pointed to one of the prescriptions. "He'll need this."

Jim nodded, warmed by their concern for his partner's well being. Not anywhere near his own level, of course, but still nice to see.

Just as Martha picked up the now signed paperwork and started to hand it to Jim, a dark hand reached out and took them from her. "I'll take those if you don't mind." As Simon folded them in half and was placing them in his jacket pocket, he explained. "As soon as we get back to Cascade these go straight to the City Manager. I told Sandburg that the city would cover all his bills relating to this and I meant it. Now. Are we ready to go?"

It took a few minutes to get Blair, his backpack, and the pillow and blankets they had brought with them as well as an extra pillow from the clinic all loaded into one wheelchair. Finally, Jim was rolling his partner down the ramp outside the clinic doors and towards the car. Last minute instructions from the doctor and then all the good-byes had taken longer than usual. After thanking Dr. Washington and Martha for all they had done for Blair, they had to stop in the hallway so he could say good-bye to Lisa and Jennifer and then to Karen on the way out. Jim wasn't surprised; people just naturally seemed to gravitate towards his partner. Just the short walk from the car to Blair's campus office would usually involve them getting stopped at least a few times as friends and students were always coming up to say hello. As Jim pushed the wheelchair off the ramp to the waiting car Simon, carrying Blair's crutches, hurried to get the back passenger door open. It took a bit doing but soon Blair was propped up in the corner of the seat behind Simon. His injured leg was lying straight out along the length of the back seat with one pillow lying lengthwise under the cast. The other pillow was behind his back. His good foot was on the floor so he could use it to brace himself during the unpleasant ride ahead. He had one of the blankets draped across his lap covering the leg and cast on the seat.

"All set, Chief?"

At Blair's nod, Jim patted his shoulder as he started to back out of the car door. Much as he would have liked to sit with Blair, the stretched out leg just didn't leave enough room for him too. Noting the pale face and tight mouth of his friend, he didn't think that right now Blair looked much better than the day they brought him here. "One quick stop at the pharmacy and we'll back at the cabin before you know it."

The ride up the back road was every bit as bad as Jim had imagined it would be. More than once he heard a small gasp or hiss from the back seat even though it was obvious Blair was trying hard to be quiet. By the time he was helping Blair from the car, there was a fine sheen of perspiration covering the younger man's face and a decidedly gray cast to it as well. The problem of the front steps was solved when Jim, despite Blair's protests, simply picked him up and carried him up and inside, carefully depositing him onto the couch that had been made back up for him again. He knew it had been the right decision when, while settling him in, Blair whispered "Thanks Jim, I really don't think I could have made it by myself." Once Blair was arranged to Jim's satisfaction, he brought him his pills and a glass of water. The fact that Blair took them without protest told the other men in the room just how bad their friend must be feeling. After a few minutes, the painkiller began to do its job and the tightness around Blair's eyes and mouth began to ease. Tense muscles started to relax as the throbbing in his leg began to slowly ebb. Simon noticed that the better Blair began to feel, the less tense Jim became too. And the less tense Jim became, the more everyone else seemed to relax as well. Soon Henri and Rafe were able to welcome Blair back properly and soon everyone settled in for a quiet night of reading and watching TV. The combination of strain from the arduous ride back to the cabin and the pain medication soon had Blair sound asleep on the couch. Jim let him sleep there until everyone else went to bed then, without a second thought, he carried his partner to their room and quietly put him to bed as if it were something he did on a regular basis. Only when his guide was safely and comfortably set for the night did the sentinel claim his own bed. Lulled by the soft breathing and steady heartbeat he had missed for the past few nights, soon joined the rest of cabin's inhabitants in sleep.


When Blair woke the next morning, the first thing he noticed was that he was lying almost flat instead of sitting up. Also this bed was a lot more comfortable than the one he had been sleeping in. Slowly blinking his eyes open, he looked around. Taking in the rustic wooden planks that made up the walls around him and the furniture decorating the room instead of sterile cabinets and counters, he realized he was at the cabin. In his bed... funny, he didn't remember going to bed last night. But then he didn't remember much of anything after Jim gave him his pills except that his leg had finally stopped hurting so badly. Jim must have put him to bed. That thought left him feeling both touched and embarrassed. Suddenly, he became aware of another feeling that if not taken care of very soon would leave him just embarrassed.

Carefully pushing himself up into a sitting position, Blair looked around for his crutches. Not here. Great. Now how was he supposed to get to the bathroom? He sighed and looked over at the other bed. Jim was still asleep with his back to him. He really hated to wake him but he knew that if he tried to get up on his own and fell, Jim would be all over him for not asking for help. Not to mention, he was reaching the point where he had to do *something* quick. He sighed again in frustration, he really hated feeling helpless, then leaned towards the other bed and whispered loudly.

"Jim? Hey Jim. You awake?"

The lump that was Jim Ellison slowly turned over with a grunt. "I am now. What's wrong?"

"I... uh... I've got a slight problem."

Jim raised himself up on one elbow as he rubbed his other hand over his face. "So which one are we talking about this time?"

Blair made a face at Jim. "Very funny. But really... I need to get to the bathroom, like right now, but I don't see my crutches anywhere." He raised his eyebrows and put a hopeful expression on his face.

Thinking back to last night, Jim remembered seeing the crutches leaning against the back of the couch but it hadn't occurred to him to bring them when he put Blair to bed. Feeling a bit guilty for the oversight, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat on the edge. "Stay put. I'll go get them."

Getting up, he left the room and returned a minute later carrying the crutches. Standing beside Blair's bed, he held out his hand. "Just go slow and take it easy."

Using Jim's support, Blair was soon standing only to almost immediately close his eyes as he swayed, tightening his grip on Jim's arm.

"Blair!" Jim's other arm went around the slightly trembling shoulders.

"I'm all right, Jim. Just haven't been totally vertical for a while. Give me a minute to adjust."

Several seconds later he opened his eyes. "See? All better. Now give me those and get out of my way."

Handing Blair the crutches, Jim followed him as he made his way to the bathroom.

"You going to be able to balance by yourself all right?"

Looking at Jim past the door he was already in the process of closing, Blair had to smile a bit at Jim's hovering. "Yes Jim, it's not like this is the first time I've had to use crutches. I'll be fine. Go, before someone sees you walking around in your underwear."

Looking down, Jim realized that he was standing in the hallway in nothing but the boxers he wore to bed. When he looked back up, the door was shut. He headed back towards his room, keeping his hearing tuned onto his partner, not caring about privacy right now. He had almost finished dressing when Blair entered the room.

"Oh man, do I feel better now."

Despite his claim, Jim noticed that he was a bit paler and moving rather slowly as he worked his way over to his bed and carefully lowered himself to sit on the edge.

"How's the leg?"

There was no point in even trying to lie. "It hurts some but not nearly as bad as yesterday. I guess the Doc was right, having the cast on does seem to help."

Relieved, Jim decided to try to keep things as normal as possible, at least for now. He still intended to make Blair take it easy and stay off his leg and he definitely still intended to have his talk with the kid. Especially now that Blair couldn't avoid any unwanted conversation concerning himself with his usual tactic—getting up and walking away. This time Blair was going to listen to what he had to say and hopefully, finally open up about a few of the things that he'd been keeping to himself all this time. But that was for later.

"You want some breakfast? What do you feel like this morning?"

"What I really want is a shower and to wash my hair." Blair ran a hand through the mass of curls. "Ugh. And some clean clothes would be nice too."

"Let's eat first, you don't want to take your meds on an empty stomach. Plus, you're not ready to stand up long enough to take a shower, especially if you want to wash that mop you call hair. After breakfast we'll figure out a way for you to wash up."

He really wasn't very hungry but he knew Jim wouldn't stop bugging him until he ate something. And something to drink actually sounded pretty good. "Okay. But not much for me. I'm really not that hungry."

Jim grinned. "Let's go see what we can tempt you with."

The smells of food cooking and coffee brewing soon had the other members of the cabin stirring. It wasn't long before all five men were sitting at the table eating. It was a little more crowded than usual since Jim insisted that Blair sit with his leg propped up on the empty chair and the others had to adjust their seats to accommodate him. But no one was complaining.

When it was obvious that Blair wasn't going to eat any more, even though to Jim it wasn't nearly enough, the detective got up and placed the two small, brown, plastic vials of medication in front of him. The look the observer gave the pills left no doubt in anyone's mind what he thought of taking them. Simon leaned back in his chair a bit as he fingered the handle of this coffee mug and tried not to smile. Showtime. Brown and Rafe weren't sure what was going on but, following their captain's lead, they just watched.

"You know, Jim, one of the reasons doctors are having such a hard time controlling a lot of illnesses in the world is the overuse of antibiotics. Studies have shown that the more we use them, the more resistant the diseases become." He looked up to see if his words were having any impact. Jim was standing over him with his arms crossed across his chest, his face impassive.

"Uh-huh."

Encouraged, Blair continued. "If more people used natural remedies to combat these illnesses and such instead of all these chemical filled, man-made poisons then we probably wouldn't have half the medical problems we do now. Right?"

Jim didn't move a muscle. "Uh-huh."

Blair faltered a bit but kept going. "So why don't we see if there's a health food store in town or we'll be back in Cascade soon, I know where to get exactly what I'll need there." He waved his hand at the pill vials. "No need to mess with any of that until then." He sat back with a pleased look on his face. That was easier than he thought it'd be. He watched as Jim picked up the antibiotic and studied the vial for a few seconds then he opened it and smelled inside, making a face at the odor. Maybe Jim was finally starting to agree with him about using herbal medicines. Jim carefully set the open vial back where it had been.

"Two now and two more in a few hours. I'll leave it up to you if you think you need the pain pills right now." He was back to his former immovable position.

Blair sat upright. "What? Jiim, we just agreed..."

"No Junior, you agreed with yourself. I never did. After seeing how sick you were from that infection, if you think you're not taking all of these just as the doctor prescribed, you can just think again. The last thing you need is a relapse. Now you can take them voluntarily or I can help you. Which is it going to be?"

"But Jim..."

"No buts, Sandburg. Or we can see if they work just as well as a suppository."

Rafe sputtered while Brown and Simon just barely managed not to laugh out loud at the horrified look on Sandburg's face.

"You wouldn't."

Jim just continued to glare then he dropped his glance down to the pills and back up to Blair's face and raised one eyebrow in a silent question.

With a look of total defeat, Blair reached out with a shaky hand and shook out two pills and swallowed them with the last of his orange juice. Then he reached down and started to slowly lift his leg off the other chair. When Jim reached over to help him, Blair wordlessly shrugged off the helping hand as he got up, put his crutches under each arm and slowly made his way over to the couch that faced away from the kitchen and lowered himself down. As he picked up the TV remote he whispered, "Thanks for totally embarrassing me in front of the guys, Jim. Way to prove what a big man you are." Turning on the TV, he started flipping through the channels.

Jim sighed when he heard the whispered comment as he was putting the lid back on the medication. Simon looked up at the sound knowing that Sandburg had just said something that only Jim could hear. "I take it he's a bit pissed off right now?"

"Oh yeah. He'll be all right once he cools off." I hope. Picking up his and Blair's plates he headed into the kitchen area. "So what are you guys going do today?"

Sensing the need to change the subject, Simon nodded in the direction of the other two detectives. "I don't know about them but I'm still up for some fishing. You two left any fish in the lake for us?"

"Actually, Cap'n, we didn't do much fishing. Just didn't seem right, ya know?" Brown's eyes slid over to the dark head visible over the back of the couch. He looked at Simon again and shrugged.

"Then I say we all go fishing today. And tonight your captain is taking the two of you out to dinner and then we're going to the arcade or bowling alley. I know I can beat at least one of you at something. Now let's clean up this mess and get going."

It didn't take long before the kitchen was clean and everyone was dressed and ready to head to the lake. Everyone except the man still sitting on the couch watching TV.

"Hey, Sandburg, you going to the lake like that?" Rafe looked at Blair again as another thought struck him. "Or do you need some help getting dressed?" He glanced over at Jim, somewhat surprised that he wasn't helping Sandburg get dressed.

"No, I'm fine. I'm going to take a shower then get dressed. I was just waiting for everyone to finish in the bathroom." He gave the younger detective a weak smile. "I figure it might take me a bit longer than usual and I didn't want to hold you all up. I'll, uh, meet you guys down there when I'm done."

Jim winced. Damn. He had told Blair that he would help him get cleaned up after breakfast. After that stupid battle over the antibiotic, he had completely forgotten about it. Now Blair was going to try to do it all by himself. "Hey, guys, I forgot I'd promised Blair I'd help him. We'll both meet you down at the lake in a little while."

"You sure? I mean we can wait. It's not like the fish are going anywhere."

Jim looked to Simon for help. The man didn't make captain by not seeing the obvious. Jim needed some time alone with Sandburg after their 'discussion' about Blair taking his medication. "C'mon men. I don't think Sandburg needs an audience. We can have a spot all set up for him by the time these two get there. Besides, it gives us a jump on the fish." He looked over at Jim. "I expect to see both of you shortly."

At Jim's nod, the three men gathered up their gear and headed out the door.

Jim watched Blair as he just continued to stare at the television. He would lay odds that Blair didn't even know what he was watching. He knew it was up to him to make the first move. "Look Chief, I'm sorry about the suppository crack. It was probably way out of line."

"Ya think?" The younger man continued to keep his eyes focused on the screen in front of him.

"Yeah, I think. But I'm not sorry about making you take the antibiotic. I don't think you realize just how sick you were when we were stuck up here. I do know I was scared to death that we wouldn't be able to get you to a doctor in time. If taking a few pills, full of 'poisonous chemicals' or not, is going to keep you from getting sick again then, dammit, that's what you're going to take. I won't risk your health over a battle of chemical versus natural."

"I was really that bad?" He only had a few hazy memories of what happened after he was first brought back to the cabin.

Jim sat beside his partner and causally put his arm around his guide's shoulders, glad when Blair made no attempt to move. "Yeah, you were. I was ready to carry you out of here on my back if we didn't find another way out."

Blair wasn't even aware that he was now leaning against Jim. "I'm sorry. I don't why I reacted to that stupid comment like I did. Any other time I would have just said something smart right back. I feel like my emotions are all over the place."

"It's all right, Chief. You've been through a lot..." and we're going to talk about all of it tonight when everyone else is gone "... everyone understands. Why don't we see about getting you cleaned up and down to the lake before Simon sends someone back here looking for us?" Much as he hated to end this rare moment with his friend, he felt it was important that things be as normal as possible for Blair right now. He felt Blair nod and slowly straighten up.

"So, any ideas on how to do this?"

"Let me think for a minute."

"I don't want you to hurt yourself."

The small cuff to the back of Blair's head signaled to both men that things were becoming all right between them again.

In the end, Jim wrapped the cast in Saran Wrap. Taking a small table from the front porch, he had Blair sit on it while he took a shower. A bit awkward but it worked. While Blair showered, Jim took the jeans he had already cut up the leg to get to Blair's injury and made them into cutoffs, easier to fit over the cast. He made a mental note to thank H or Rafe for washing them. He had just finished when Blair yelled that he was ready to get out. Once Blair was dried and dressed in a t-shirt and long sleeved Henley as well as his new cutoffs, they headed out for the lake.

Since Blair had his hands full just trying to maneuver down the path on crutches, Jim carried the extra blanket, a pillow and Blair's backpack. Even so laden, he managed to keep one hand free, ready to grab his partner's arm should he stumble on the uneven ground. Soon they reached the lake and the blanket that had already been spread out on the grass right in front of a large tree. On the blanket was a cooler filled with beer, bottled water, fruit juice and the food they had packed for lunch. Jim's fishing rod, waders and tackle box waited for him. As soon as the two men appeared, the three fishermen called out greetings. As Jim help Blair sit down against the tree trunk, he saw Simon look at him and raise an eyebrow in question. He nodded to let him know that everything was fine between the sentinel and guide, for now. Placing the pillow under the cast and the blanket across Blair's legs to offset the chill in the air, Jim made sure that the cooler and backpack were in easy reach before reaching over to grab his fishing gear.

"You all set, Chief? You need anything?"

Blair was already pulling his backpack towards him. "No Jim, I'm good. Go catch us something for dinner." He grinned up at the larger man still hovering over him. "Better make it something you're familiar with since you'll have to cook it."

Since Blair seemed to be in a much better mood, Jim decided to go along with it. "Gonna try to milk this for all it's worth, aren't you?"

Blair was still digging in his backpack and just shrugged. "If it works... Now go play with your friends."

Shaking his head, Jim gathered his gear and headed for 'his' spot at the lake. He turned up his senses just enough to take in the natural, soothing sounds of the lake and the surrounding woods and to occasionally monitor his recovering partner. For the next hour or so he let the repetitive rhythm of casting and reeling, and sometimes actually catching a fish, drain the tension from his over stressed mind and muscles. Simon, Brown and Rafe seemed to understand his need for solitude right now and let him be. Gradually, he became aware that he wasn't hearing any noise coming from the blanket behind him. Turning around, he looked at the sight back on the grass and couldn't keep a small smile from creeping across his face. Blair was leaning back against the tree, open book on his lap, hands holding his glasses on the open pages. He had his eyes closed with his face turned up towards the sun, soaking in every warm ray. The sunlight turned his just washed hair into a halo surrounding the still too pale face. A careful check of his vital signs told Jim that he wasn't asleep but in a very relaxed state, close to when he was meditating but not quite. He hadn't looked so peaceful or content in weeks. Jim knew that this quiet picture of his best friend and guide finally at rest was the one he would treasure the most from this trip. If it weren't for the lumpy outline of the cast under the blanket, it would almost be easy to imagine that nothing had happened and they were all up here just doing a little fishing.

He slowly turned back around. Blair had an uncanny way of knowing when Jim was looking at him and right now he didn't want anything to disturb his friend's much needed rest. Catching Simon's eye, he pointed to the shore and held his finger to his lips. After seeing Blair for himself, the captain nodded and passed the same silent message to Brown who passed it on to Rafe. Soon after that Jim realized that Blair had now fallen into a natural, healing sleep. He unconsciously breathed a sigh of relief. The next two hours were spent in companionable silence, as each of the fishermen was content to have only his own thoughts for company.

The silence was broken when Blair's clear voice reached them from across the grassy shore. "Hey! You guys gonna fish all day? Some of us are getting hungry here. And we will start eating all this food without you."

The four men smiled at each other then turned as one and headed for the shore. After removing the awkward waders, they soon made themselves comfortable on the blanket. Jim opened the cooler and got himself a beer, handing out three more to his fellow cops and a fruit juice to Blair. It didn't take long to distribute the food and get down to the serious task of eating. Jim watched Blair, gratified to see that he seemed to have a much better appetite now than he did at breakfast.

Soon lunch was finished and the trash bagged to be brought back to the cabin to be thrown away. The policemen were relaxing with their second beer each while Blair had switched to a bottle of water. Almost reluctantly, leery of spoiling the tranquil mood that had taken over the group, Jim unbuttoned his shirt pocket and pulled out the two prescription vials and held them up for Blair to see.

"Do you need to take both?"

There was a tense moment while Blair just stared at the small containers then he relaxed and held out his hand. "No. I've been off my leg for a while now; it feels okay. Besides, the painkiller puts me out. Just the poison pills for now. But keep the other handy for after the walk back, which is all uphill I might add." He washed the pills down with a large swallow of water then leaned against the tree again and closed his eyes.

"You getting tired, Chief? You want to head back up to the cabin?" Jim was already starting to get up when Blair shook his head, rubbing the back of it against the rough bark while keeping his eyes closed.

"No way. This is just so nice, you know? Quiet, peaceful. The sounds of nature the only noise for miles around. No air pollution. No loud city noises. No schedules to keep." He smiled. "No bad guys. At least so far. I could get used to this."

"No women."

Blair smiled again. "Okay, H, so it's not perfect." He sighed. "But you have to admit that it is really nice."

"Yeah, Blair, I will admit it is nice up here." H. looked around. "So what do you guys want to do now?"

Simon spoke up first. "Well, I just know that's there's a big-ass fish out there just waiting for me to catch him. I don't want to disappoint him. I'm going back down there in a few minutes."

"Me too. I didn't buy all that new gear not to use it. You coming, Henri?"

"Yeah, I guess so. Can't let you guys show me up. Jim?"

Jim was taking off his fishing vest and folding it into a neat square. "Not me. I'm going to stretch out and relax. You guys go catch all the fish you want; I'm gonna lie here and enjoy the feel of the sun on my back." So saying, he pushed the cooler out of the way and proceeded to lie down beside Blair so that his head was next to Blair's hip on his uninjured side. Placing the folded vest under his head he wrapped his arms around the outside of his 'pillow' with his wrists crossed above it. "Just fish quietly."

A minute later he heard the other three get up and head back towards the lake. He angled his head a bit more comfortably into his pillow and allowed his body to fully relax for the first time since finding Blair in that god-awful bear trap. The calm, steady beating of his partner's heartbeat was slowly lulling him to sleep. Just before he dropped off he sensed Blair moving slightly. Then he felt a slight, hesitant touch on the top of his head. He forced himself to continue his even breathing, curious to find out what Blair was doing. A few seconds later the touch returned, a bit stronger as he felt Blair stroke his hair. He was glad now that he had let it grow out a bit so that it was no longer his usual buzz cut. A few light strokes later, he heard Blair whisper, "Soft." He could hear the smile in Blair's voice. "Like baby bunny fur." It took every ounce of training and self-control he had not to react to that. He knew that if he moved at all right now, Blair would jerk his hand back in embarrassment and would more than likely never attempt to reach out again. A few soft strokes later, Blair took his hand away and Jim felt a sense of loss at the lack of contact. He heard Blair shift around a bit as he got himself comfortable. Then the hand was back, this time on his shoulder, as the Guide now whispered, "You sleep. I'll watch over you now." The hand remained. Jim felt a warmth spreading throughout his body, radiating out from his shoulder, that had nothing to do with the sun that was beating down on him. A minute later he let that steady drumming finally lure him all the way into a peaceful sleep.

Blair knew that this last case had been especially hard on Jim. The extra long hours, the frustration of not catching Wade in time to prevent the next beating. Two more of his tribe murdered, practically right under his nose. Then coming here supposedly to relax but instead being faced with the new stress of his partner's latest injury. Poor guy must be exhausted. No wonder he wanted to sleep instead of fish. It was time for the Guide to return the favor for all the times the Sentinel had watched over him, especially since that was all he had to offer right now.

A short time later when Simon discreetly turned to check on the two men still on the shore, he saw Sandburg sitting against the tree with his good left leg bent at the knee. The book that he'd been reading earlier was propped up against his thigh. He watched as Blair, now wearing his glasses again, turned the page with his right hand seemingly unaware of anything else around him. Jim was stretched out on his stomach so close to Sandburg they were almost touching. As he looked closer, he could see that they actually were touching. Blair had his left hand on Jim's shoulder and from the way he was only using one hand to hold his book, it was obvious that he had no intention of removing it any time soon. As he watched, Blair lifted his head and looked all around then, after glancing at Jim, resumed reading. It almost looked like the kid was guarding Ellison. Shaking his head at a notion that seemed unlikely and yet right at the same time, Simon turned his attention back to the lake and that granddaddy of all fish that was somehow still eluding him.


The sounds of the others leaving the lake woke Jim from the best sleep he'd had in weeks. He felt totally rested and relaxed. Something niggled at the back of his mind. Blair. Stroking his hair and standing, well sitting, guard over him while he slept. Was that real or did he dream it? Turning up his sense of touch, he could feel the residual heat from Blair's hand on his shoulder and how his hair was slightly mused from his guide's earlier ministrations. It was real. Blair really had reached out on his own and touched him in a way much more intimate than the usual slaps on the back or a punch on the arm. He had to hide his smile as he opened his eyes and slowly sat up stretching his arms straight out in front of him and locking his fingers together.

"Sleep good?"

"Yeah. Real good." Looking up at the sun, he figured it was now late afternoon. Blair had been sitting here most of the day. "How're you feeling? How's the leg doing?"

Blair wiggled around a bit. "Not too bad. Getting a little stiff from sitting all day. And a handy, nearby tree would probably be a good thing some time soon."

"Why didn't you wake me?"

"You were sleeping."

Jim opened his mouth to dispute the logic of that answer but closed it again, realizing that he wouldn't win that debate anyway. Besides a handy, nearby tree sounded like a good idea to him too. Fortunately, the cabin was only a few minutes away.

It didn't take the four able-bodied men long to get everything packed and ready for the trip back to the cabin. All that was left on the ground was Blair and the blanket he was sitting on. Before Jim could help him up the younger man looked up at him questioningly.

"So where's our dinner?"

"Huh?" Always a good answer when you don't know what the other person is talking about.

Blair shook his head. "They..." he waved his hand at Simon, Brown and Rafe, "... are going out tonight. You were supposed to catch us some dinner. Remember?"

Oh yeah. Jim looked over to where he had been fishing earlier. All his fishing gear was here but the fish bucket he'd been using was still by the lake. With his two fish still in it.

"Oh, yeah. Wait here." As he jogged towards the lake he heard Blair mutter, "And just where exactly would I be going, huh?"

Bending over the bucket, he reached in and picked up each wiggling fish by the gills. Turning back towards the shore again, he held them up and yelled, "Pick one."

Blair adjusted his glasses and made a show of looking over each fish.

"Any time now, Sandburg."

Decision made. "The one on the right."

Jim looked at him. "*Your* right or *my* right?"

"My right, of course."

With an exaggerated sigh, Jim placed the chosen fish back in the bucket and released the other back into the lake. "Looks like today's your lucky day, fella. I just hope my luck holds out through tonight."

Once all the gear was put away, Simon, Henri and Brian each cleaned and wrapped their respective catches in plastic and aluminum foil and put them in the freezer for their trip back to Cascade in a cooler full of ice. While they took turns taking showers and changing clothes for their big night out in wild Jacksonville, Jim started preparing his fish to become dinner. Soon Jim and Blair had the cabin to themselves.

Dinner was quiet and relaxed. Blair even took his pills without comment. Afterwards he tried to help Jim with the dishes but having to keep both hands on his crutches made him pretty much useless. Finally, Jim shooed him into the living room to get him out from underfoot and off his leg.

Once the kitchen was spotless, Jim headed for the back bedroom not exactly looking forward to what was coming up. As he passed Blair, he saw that he had propped the cast up on a pillow on the coffee table. Good. That would make it that much harder for his elusive partner to walk away once Jim started 'the talk'. As he went through the door into the bedroom he heard Blair digging through his backpack. Any second now he would notice what was missing. Reaching under the pillow on his bed, he pulled out the notebook. He had quietly removed it from the backpack while Blair was in the bathroom and the others were in the kitchen working on their fish. Right on cue, Blair called out to him just as he was returning to the living room.

"Hey Jim?" He could hear the anxiety in Blair's voice. "Have you seen one of my notebooks? It has a blue cover and..."

Blair faltered and his heart skipped a beat when he saw what Jim was holding. Okay. Calm down. Just because he has it doesn't mean he read it. He probably just found it. Please don't let him have looked through it.

"This one, Chief?" Jim stood in front of Blair just beyond his reach.

"Uh... yeah. Thanks. Can I have it back now?" His hand was shaky as he reached out for the book.

"No."

The dark blue eyes grew wide. "No?"

"Not until we talk about what's in it."

He heard Blair's heart rate almost triple. So much for the small measure of peace his friend had found earlier today. He watched as Blair's eyes narrowed with suspicion.

"How did you get that and when did you have time to read it? I know it was in my backpack this afternoon."

Jim sighed to himself. Confession time. He couldn't very well expect Blair to be honest with him if he wasn't truthful himself. "I read it while you were still in the clinic. And I took it out earlier while you were in the bathroom after we got back from the lake. I needed to find a way to get a discussion going." That sounded lame, even to him.

Blair's face flushed with anger. "You... you... while I was laid up—hurt—you went into my backpack and took out my private notebooks and read them? I don't believe you. Do you search my room too when I'm not home? I told you you could read the diss before I turned it in but I guess you just don't trust me enough, do you?" He struggled to get his leg back onto the floor. "You want a discussion? Fine. How about—ahhhh!" Pain flared up his leg as the pillow slid off the table, causing the heavy cast to drop to the floor. Jim immediately moved in to help until Blair held up his hand. "Don't even."

He was only going to get one chance to explain himself before Blair would manage to get up and walk away. "Blair, just listen to me. Please. I didn't go into your backpack and I've never searched your room. Ever. The notebook fell out when I was getting your wallet to fill out the paperwork at the clinic. I wouldn't even have looked at it but it was already open on the floor. I couldn't help but see my name and then Wade's. I only scanned a few sentences as I put it back but, Blair, that was enough. I could tell how badly you were hurting. So that night in the motel, I read all of it." He held up his own hand to stop what he knew was coming next. "I know I had no right to read it. I know it was an invasion of your privacy. But I... I was already worried about you. I mean even before we got up here." He looked right at Blair and tried to convey with his eyes what he was afraid his words weren't saying. "You were already over worked when the attacks started. But you still put in even more hours working with me. I could see that with each attack you were losing more and more of yourself. Then Chris died." He heard Blair's quick intake of breath but he continued doggedly. "After that you just sort of shut down. You became obsessed with finding whoever was doing it. At one point, I was considering taking you off the case if we didn't catch the prep soon."

Blair tried to stand up but only got partially raised before he had to sit down again. "What! You were going to do what? Why?"

"For your own good. You weren't eating; you weren't sleeping. Even Simon noticed it." His voiced softened as he held up the notebook. "And after reading this, I realize I probably should have done it sooner."

"Why? Because I couldn't, how did you put it when Lash was running around, oh yeah, check my humanity at the door? Because I was letting it all get to me? Or was it really because I wasn't actually helping you much anyway?"

Jim flinched slightly at Lash's name. That was one of the times he felt that he had let his partner down. And almost lost Blair because of it.

"Blair, I don't want you 'checking your humanity' anywhere. That's part of what makes you you. That was a stupid remark and I've always regretted saying it to you. No, I considered it because, even though I only saw some of what you were going through, it was enough to see that the case was having a definite effect on you. I only wish now that I'd paid more attention, realized just how deeply you were hurting. Blaming yourself for every new attack, like it was your fault we hadn't caught the guy yet, even though a whole team of trained police detectives hadn't caught him either. Going on campus every day knowing how well you fit the profile, knowing that you could easily be next. And I am sorry about Chris. I should have been there for you instead of just being so focused on finding his killer. I knew he was your friend but I didn't even try to help you through that."

During his speech, Jim had managed to walk over to the couch and sit down near Blair. He carefully set the notebook on the coffee table in front of them. A small noise made him turn and look carefully at his partner. Blair was sitting hunched over with his head hanging down, a curtain of hair hiding his face. All previous signs of anger were gone; he now had an aura of total despair surrounding him. A second small shake of the too thin shoulders told Jim that he was trying to suppress his feelings again. Not this time. That was exactly what this whole discussion was supposed to be about.

"Blair?"

The grad student just shook his head, causing the long hair to swing back and forth.

"C'mon Chief, tell me."

Slowly Blair raised his face and looked over at Jim. The misery in those now over bright eyes threw him for a second.

"Don't you get it, Jim? If I had just done more, helped you the way I'm supposed to, Chris and Marty might not have died. Rainier is my territory. I should have known where he might strike next. I should have known... well, I just should have known, done... more."

Jim was too stunned to reply. Could Blair really believe that? One look at his face told him that he did. Just as he reached out to put a supportive hand on a still trembling shoulder Blair finally managed to pull himself off the couch and started wandering around the living room. Not even being on crutches could stop his nervous pacing.

"Listen to me, Chief. Nobody did more than you did."

Blair continued as if Jim hadn't spoken. "I just feel... I don't know, responsible somehow. All those attacks, right there on my campus and I couldn't do a damn thing to stop them. Or to help you stop them."

Blair's guilt was way overblown, especially since he had nothing to feel guilty about. He hadn't had any idea that Blair was this eaten up over his perceived lack of help on the case. Jim could see that he was getting more and more agitated the longer he paced. He was stumbling around the cabin at as fast a pace as the awkward crutches would allow, nervous energy not letting him be still for more than a few seconds at a time. Time for the observer to channel all those negative vibes, as Blair would call them, away from himself and towards the person who really deserved them. The real cause of all this misery.

"Tell me Blair, just who do you think is to blame for all this?"

The pacing stopped as Blair stared at his friend, his partner. Now was the time to come clean. To hope that Jim could forgive him for not doing his job as his Guide. It was his responsibility to see that Jim used his senses to his full potential but he had been so caught up in his own agenda that he hadn't been fully focused on his Sentinel. At a time like that, that was unforgivable. He had messed up and others had suffered for it. And now, apparently, Jim realized it too and was ready to call him on it. He dropped his eyes, no longer able to look at his obviously upset partner.

"I'm sorry, Jim. I know I should have done better. I should have concentrated more on helping you than worrying about my problems. You needed me and I wasn't there. Because of that, Wade was able to avoid getting caught longer. Because of me, him, Chris..." A choked noise was all Blair could manage to get out.

Jim was off the couch and in front of his guide in seconds. He carefully wrapped his hands around Blair's upper arms. "You didn't... I mean... did you think I meant you when I asked who was to blame?"

Eyes still downward, Blair nodded. "Who else? I'm the one who—"

"Who else? Who. Else? Sandburg, did you plan any attacks? Did you stalk anybody? Did you beat anybody and then just leave them there to be discovered later? Did you?" He watched as Blair shook his head to each question. That wasn't good enough. He gave Blair a small shake and asked the question again. "Did you?"

Blair finally looked up and whispered, "No."

"Damn straight. So who did? Who is the only person responsible for any of this? Who caused all this to happen?"

"Wade?"

"Who?"

"Wade."

"Again."

Jim could see the fire starting in Blair's eyes. "Wade. Eric Wade. Eric Fucking Wade." The fire was building rapidly as he finally found an outlet for all his suppressed feelings. "Damn him. Damn. Him. What the hell made him think that just because his girlfriend cheated on him he had the right to hurt anyone else? Almost everybody gets dumped on at some time." Blair was getting fully angry now and finally venting at the right person so Jim let go and stepped back. Blair rarely got this mad at anyone and Jim was glad to see him finally turning his anger and frustration on the person who actually deserved it. He was still shocked however when Blair suddenly picked up one crutch and used it to sweep everything off of the coffee table and onto the floor. "How dare he? How dare he use his being hurt as an excuse to hurt other people. People he didn't even know. Innocent people who never did a thing to him." He turned and walked across the room. The cabin was suddenly too confining, too small to hold all the rage and hate he was now experiencing, feeling almost overwhelmed by the rare violent emotions within him. He needed some air. As he flung the door open he yelled, "I hope the bastard rots in Hell for what he did."

Stepping onto the porch, he dropped his crutches and leaned against the railing for support. He really should go clean up the mess he made but not just yet, he was still churning too much inside. He closed his eyes, needing a few minutes alone to try to center himself. Thankfully, Jim wasn't following him out. Eric Wade. Just the name was enough to get him angry all over again. It was his fault. All of it. And it was all so stupid. Stupid. Stupid. All those people hurt because one person was too immature to handle rejection. It wasn't fair. He brought his clenched hands down hard on the railing, almost enjoying the pain it caused. At least he was feeling something now. He continued to pound his fists on the unforgiving wood in time to his new manta. "It's not fair. It's not fair. It's not—" Instead of the expected hardness his hands hit something warm and soft. Gentle fingers surrounded them. Then his hands were opened as fingertips carefully felt the abused edges.

"There may be some bruising but I don't think you damaged anything."

"Jim?" When he opened his eyes again the trees looked blurry. When had he started crying?

"Right here, Chief."

"It still hurts."

"I know."

"What do I do now?"

A heavy arm draped across his shoulders, pulling him close to the solid form beside him. He let Jim take some of his weight. "You let it go."

"How Jim?" He continued to stare out into the woods, his hands keeping a tight grip on the railing in front of him. "I have to go back to school soon. I have to pass by all the places where the victims were found. Where Marty Hudson's body was discovered. Where... where..." his voice dropped to a whisper, "... you know."

Yeah Chief, I know. Where Christopher Dillon was found, brutally beaten to death because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time and he loosely matched the description of Wade's ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend. Where it could have just as easily been Blair. It suddenly occurred to Jim that Blair hadn't had any time to mourn for his friend. Except for the day of the funeral, he'd had been going non-stop right up until they caught Wade. Then they had come up here. "Tell me about Chris."

Blair tensed. "What?"

Jim tightened his arm as he used his other hand to gently turned Blair's face toward him . "I think it'll help if you talk about him. Tell me how you two met."

"Uh..." Blair faltered. "Well, it is kind of a funny story. I mean if you really want to hear it."

At that moment nothing was more important than hearing how Blair Sandburg and Chris Dillon met. "I do."

For almost an hour Blair entertained Jim with 'Chris and Blair' stories, some so outrageous they had both men chuckling out loud. Jim was surprised to learn just how close the two younger men had been; it was no wonder his friend's death had affected him so much. Another important facet of Blair's life that he hadn't even been aware of before. As much as Blair accused him of keeping his past closed off, he was even worse when it came to his past and even his present day life away from anything sentinel related. Apparently, it was time to start paying more attention to what Blair was saying when he talked about what was going on at school.

After a while Jim sensed that Blair was slowing down. The slim body was trembling under his arm. After several minutes of silence, a loud sniff caught his attention.

"Blair? You all right, buddy?"

"I... I don't know. I... I just..." A single tear slowly found it's way down the grieving grad student's cheek.

Without hesitating, using the arm still across Blair's shoulders, the larger detective turned the smaller man until he was pressed against him. When Blair tensed up, he carefully reached up with his other hand and gently pushed the curly head against his chest and just held him there. There was no one else around, no reason for Blair to feel embarrassed about being held. Besides, Jim was thoroughly convinced that this was exactly what the distraught kid needed right now. A few seconds later he was rewarded when Blair relaxed against him, slowly snaking his arms around the larger body. A soft sob made it's way to his sensitive ears. "That's right Chief, just let it go."

"I... I already miss him so much, Jim. He was so excited about becoming a father. Did you know that I was going to be the baby's godfather? Now that Pam's moving back to Indiana, I'll probably never get to do that or even see him."

Damn Wade. Another thing he took away from Blair.

A shudder ran through the thin frame as the hot tears flowed faster. "It's just not fair. That bastard's still alive and well and Chris is... gone." Unable to continue, Blair just held onto his lifeline tightly as all his pent up fears and anger and frustration were finally released. For the victims. For his friend. For himself. No more words were spoken as badly needed comfort and acceptance flowed between the two men.

Gradually, Jim could hear Blair winding down. He softly rubbed his hand up and down the too bony spine as he waited for Blair to gather himself together. A barely whispered voice floated up to him.

"Jim? Promise me something?"

"If I can."

"Promise me you won't die too."

Jerking his head slightly at the unexpected words, Jim had to stop himself from pulling away. "Blair, if I could I would but you know that I can't. Especially with what I do for a living."

He could feel Blair nodding against his chest, the slightly stubbled cheek never losing contact as the hands continued their tight grip on the back of his shirt. The voice was still soft. "I know. But if it hurts this much losing someone like Chris, I don't think I could survive it if something happened to you..." his voice dropped even lower, "... or my Mom."

Jim felt a sense of awe that Blair put him on the same level as his mother, even though there was no question in his mind that he placed the quirky grad student well above his own family when ranking the people he cared about. In fact, if he were honest with himself, Blair was probably on his on own separate list. "Chief, have you ever had someone close to you die before?"

Now the head was shaking back and forth. "I always had friends growing up, but not what you might call a 'best friend'. I never spent enough time in one place to get too close to anyone. No point when we'd just be leaving soon anyway. Rainier's the longest I've ever gone to one school. But as an undergrad, I was too young for most of the other students to want to hang out with. Not to mention people were always transferring, dorm mates changed, every summer a new expedition with a new group of people. Chris was the closest friend I ever had. Until now. As bad I feel right now about Chris, if anything ever happened to you..." Two pairs of arms instinctively tightened until the two almost seemed to be one person.

A few minutes later Jim felt a shiver run down Blair's back. Looking up, he realized it was now pitch black out and the temperature had dropped. "Cold?"

A small shrug. "Maybe, a little."

"A little? Uh-huh." Straightening up, he grasped Blair's arms and stepped back. "C'mon, let's get back inside. How about something hot? Coffee or tea maybe." Picking up the crutches he handed them to Blair.

After putting them under his arms, Blair looked up and managed a smile. "Tea would be good. I could do tea." Turning towards the door he muttered under his breath, "And a pain pill right now wouldn't be a bad idea either."

Damn. He should have known that Blair had been standing on his leg for way too long. But he had really needed to hear everything said to him tonight. And Blair had opened up in a way he rarely did. Maybe his leg was aching but the look in his eyes had said that his heart, his soul and his mind were more at peace now and that was whole idea behind tonight.

Seeing how slowly Blair was moving, Jim suggested that since the painkiller usually made him sleepy anyway, he go get ready for bed. He'd bring him some tea and his pills. Nodding, Blair headed for the bedroom while Jim went straight into the kitchen. Jim heard him detour into the bathroom first. By the time Blair made it into the bedroom, Jim was ready to leave the kitchen with a mug of Blair's favorite tea, a glass of water and the vial of pain medication.

When he entered the room, Blair was sitting on the edge of his bed, his cast straight out in front of him. The fine lines of pain and fatigue had returned around his eyes and the normally mobile mouth was set in a thin line. His Henley and t-shirt were pulled out of the cutoff's waistband but that was as far as he had gotten undressing himself. Putting everything down on the nightstand, Jim knelt in front of his tired partner. First thing he did was to give Blair his medication and the glass of water. "Why don't you take those now so they can start going to work while we get you ready for bed?" Blair looked at the pills in his hand then swallowed them with the water. He passively allowed Jim to undress him and settle him under the covers with both his and Jim's pillows behind his back so he was propped upright. When he was set, Jim handed him his tea. He took a few sips then leaned back with a sigh.

"Sorry I'm not very good company right now, Jim. I just feel totally wiped out."

"Not surprising, Chief. You've had a long day for just having gotten out the hospital late yesterday and on top of that you just went through what could be considered an emotional bloodletting. I think you're entitled to be just a bit tired." He reached for the precariously tipped, almost empty mug. "Finished with that?" It slid easily from the limp fingers. After putting it back on the nightstand, Jim sat on the edge of the bed facing Blair. "Those drugs kicking in yet?"

"Yeah. Can hardly feel my leg now. Can hardly feel anything."

"Good. You should be able to get a good night's sleep then. We can talk some more tomorrow if you want or when we get home, any time you want to."

Blair raised one skeptical eyebrow. "You, Mr. I Don't Want To Talk About It, want me to spill my guts whenever I feel like it?"

"Yeah,Darwin, I do. I know you have a lot to think about already, but we never did talk about what happened to you up here. That was supposed to be part of tonight's little talk too." Jim grinned. "Something for you to look forward to after we get home."

Blair rolled his eyes but the effect was ruined by a large yawn.

"Okay, you need to go to sleep now."

Standing up, he leaned over and pulled the covers up higher then removed his pillow from behind Blair so he could lie down flat. "Comfy?"

"Uh-huh."

"I'll be up for a while so if you want anything, just let me know. No trying to get out of bed, understand? Remember the Doc said that this medication could make you lightheaded; you don't need to fall on top of everything else. Right?" He could see the effects of the painkiller in Blair's already glazed eyes.

"Uh-huh."

Gathering up the tea mug, empty glass and medication vial, he turned to leave. Just as he turned out the light he heard his name softly called. Turning around but staying in the doorway, he answered, "Yeah Chief?"

Unfocused blue eyes tried to see him in the semi-darkness. "I, umm, just wanted to say thanks for talking, for helping me see, I mean for... I guess just... Thanks."

"You're welcome, Chief. I'll see you in the morning." He stood watching until Blair's eyes slid closed and his breathing deepened into a steady rhythm. Even then he watched for a few minutes more before heading back to the kitchen with the used glass and mug.

When the others returned, Jim was sitting on the couch with his feet on the coffee table, absorbed in one of the books from the well-stocked bookcases. He ordinarily never allowed feet on the furniture but what the hell; this was his vacation.

"Hey, where's Hairboy?"

"He had a long day, he's already in bed. Which is where I'm headed off to now. You can tell us all about your big night out tomorrow. Good night, gentlemen." Jim got up and quietly walked back to the room he shared with his soundly sleeping guide.

The next day, Friday, at Jim's insistence, Blair spent most of the day relaxing either inside the cabin or on the front porch. They made time to talk some more. Some of the conversation was still concerning the last case. Some of it was about what had occurred since they had arrived at the cabin. All of which helped the younger partner come to terms with some of the issues still troubling him. Everyone noticed that Blair was smiling more now than he had for the last several weeks and seemed to be slowly returning to the energetic observer they were all used to seeing.

Saturday morning found Jim watching carefully as Blair finished dressing to join everyone else in a trip back into town. Tomorrow, he, Blair and Simon were heading back to Cascade so this would be the last day all of them would be together. The rental car was due back by late Sunday afternoon and he and Simon had to be back at work on Monday. Blair would be on medical leave from both the station and the University until his doctor cleared him to go back to work. Jim sighed to himself. He certainly wasn't looking forward to riding herd on the devious grad student when he eventually got bored just hanging around the loft. Due to the lack of space in the car due to Blair having to keep his healing foot propped up, Brown and Rafe were staying an extra day and were being picked up by a city employee on Monday. Simon had made the arrangements when he had called the City Manager's office on Friday to inform him of Blair's situation. Both he and Blair had an appointment with the man on Tuesday morning.

Dr. Washington had called and said that he wanted to check his patient one more time before he left for the long drive back to Cascade, so now they were all spending the last day together in town. The medical exam went well. The doctor had been very pleased with Blair's physical and emotional recovery. He noticed that there now was a sparkle in his eyes and an energy about him that hadn't been there before. He suspected that neither one had anything to do with how well his leg was healing. After declaring Blair fit to travel, he gave him two copies of his medical records from the clinic. One set was to give to the City Manager on Tuesday; the other was for his doctor to add to his growing medical file and to use during his follow up care. They couldn't leave until everyone at the clinic had a chance to say Good-Bye.

The next stop was the police station where Blair met and thanked Becky and the other police officers that had helped him to quickly get the medical attention he had desperately needed at the time. Becky took in the handsome young man with the long, curly hair and laughing blue eyes and secretly wished she were about fifteen years younger. She had no problem assuring him that she was glad she could help. After promises to try to come back at another time for a more relaxing vacation, they left on their next quest—food.

An early dinner at one of Jacksonville's nicer restaurants left time for a return trip to the bowling ally before they had to head back to the cabin. Since the youngest member of the group couldn't participate, it became a contest of Ellison and Brown versus Banks and Rafe. Blair alternately cheered and jeered both teams equally since he lived with a member of one team and another was technically his boss when he worked at the station. The Ellison/Brown team managed to soundly defeat the Banks/Rafe team causing Simon to give Jim more than one dirty look afterward. Jim just shrugged and grinned, knowing his opponent couldn't say anything about how they might have won so easily.

By the time they returned to the cabin, it was obvious to everyone that Blair was slowing down at least physically. Jim helped him take a shower then into a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt. Blair sat propped up against the headboard of his bed with the covers over his legs while Jim packed their bags. The sound of his roommate rambling from one topic to another was something Jim hadn't even realized he missed until he heard it again. The various subject matters were totally inconsequential; he had just missed having this Blair around after living with the subdued version for weeks. When he returned to the room after taking his shower, Blair's head was barely visible, as he lay snuggled under the covers, sound asleep. Jim smiled as his world finally started to right itself and he soon found himself joining his friend in a deep, peaceful sleep.


Jim glanced up at the sky as he loaded the last of the bags into the Suburban. It looked like it was going to be a nice day after all, a little chilly but at least the sun was shining. He opened the driver's side passenger door and placed Blair's backpack on the floor behind the back seat, where it could easily be reached. Entering the cabin, he could see that both Blair and Simon were ready to go. His perpetually cold partner was wearing a pair of warm sweat pants and a t-shirt under a sweat shirt. Just this morning he had cut a slit in the right leg of the pants from the mid calf to ankle. Grinning, he told Jim while he worked on them that the sweat pants would be warmer and more comfortable during the long drive than the denim cutoffs. The slit made them much easier to fit over the cast. He and Simon were both wearing old, comfortable jeans and flannel shirts, Blair's usual attire. One last check to make sure they hadn't forgotten anything and some last minute instructions from Simon to the two remaining detectives and they were ready to go. At the top of the porch steps, Brown took the crutches as Simon and Jim, on either side of Blair, carefully helped him down the stairs and into the back seat of the car. He was propped up the same way he had been on the ride back from the clinic: sitting in the corner of the back seat behind Simon with his leg straight out across almost the entire seat, the cast resting on a pillow and another pillow behind his back. He could also put his good leg on the seat if he wanted to or brace it on the floor. There was a blanket there too but he opted not to use it yet. The crutches were laid along side the seat on the floor. Even though he was sitting in almost the exact same position as before, it was an almost totally different person that was now riding in the back seat. One quick stop to fill the gas tank before they left town then they would be on the highway heading back to Cascade.

The gas station was busier than they had expected; it was probably the only one open on Sunday around there. As Simon got out to pump the gas, Jim decided to use the restroom before they got started. After Blair insisted he went right before they left and was fine, Jim went inside, not surprised to find a short line in front of the men's room. By the time he finally left the restroom he saw that Simon was standing in line to pay for the gas and he heard him whisper that he too was going to make use of the facilities before leaving. Knowing that he now had a few more minutes, Jim took his time making his way back to the car. He paused to look at a display of magazines but decide against buying one.

Back at the car as he reached for the door handle, he automatically looked into the back seat. The empty back seat. Fighting down his initial panic, he noticed that the crutches were gone too. He hoped it meant that Blair had left on his own. Realizing that he couldn't have gotten far, the still somewhat nervous detective looked around for a clue as to where his wayward partner might have wandered off to now. Directly across the street from the gas station was a small strip mall. Almost in the center of the mall was a pet store with a large poster on the front window proclaiming the arrival of baby rabbits. Something about the sign drew his attention until the phrase, "Soft. Like baby bunny fur," popped into his head. Coincidence? Looking around he couldn't see anything else that would likely draw Blair's attention so he headed for the pet store.

Almost as soon as he entered the store, he found the sound he was searching for, the strong, steady heartbeat that rarely failed to calm him down no matter how angry or upset he was. It worked this time too. Following that now familiar thumping to the middle of the store, he saw a large, solid, square stand in an open area. On top of the stand was an open topped Plexiglas case inside which he could see several small rabbits moving around. Leaning against one side of the case was his missing partner, his crutches propped beside him. Blair's left arm was cradled against his stomach and Jim could just make out a small patch of brown fur resting in his arm. As he got closer, he couldn't help but notice that the rabbit's fur was almost exactly the same shade of brown as his own hair. Resisting the sudden urge to run his hand through his hair, he approached his friend.

"Whatcha got there, Chief?"

Blair looked up and smiled at Jim, he had obviously been expecting him. "Look, Jim. Baby rabbits." His face beamed like he had just discovered a new artifact.

He could hardly keep the smile off his own face just from seeing how happy Blair seemed to be over his 'discovery'. "I can see that. Any particular reason we're in here looking at baby rabbits?" He sensed a rare glimpse into his usually closed off Guide's past coming if he stayed cool and didn't overreact.

Blair ducked his head and petted the small brown bundle he was lovingly holding. "I, uh, I've just always had a thing for baby rabbits. Ever since I was real little."

The Sentinel could almost smell a story just waiting to be told. He just had to be careful. If Blair suspected in the least that he was being laughed at, he would immediately clam up. Jim knew that it would then be a long time before he would dare to open up again with anything about his life before they met. He had learned that lesson the hard way and tried to never repeat that mistake. Reaching out with two fingers, he let them hover just above Blair's new little friend. "Can I?"

Blair smiled again and moved his free hand away. "Sure. They like to be petted."

Gently stroking the soft fur, he watched as the rabbit closed its eyes.

"I think he likes you, Jim."

"Maybe. He is cute." Keeping his voice as casual as he could, he asked, "You know much about rabbits?"

"A little. I learned when I was around five years old."

Jim mentally punched his fist in the air even though his fingers actually never left the rabbit. Yes!

"Naomi and I were living on this large, self-sufficient commune. You know, where they grew most of their own food and stuff. Naturally, they raised a lot of animals. Pigs, cows, chickens. Even had sheep for wool to make clothes and blankets and such. I was always scared of those animals; they looked so big and mean to me. But they also raised rabbits. For the fur and as food and they sold some too." He smiled. "Good thing I didn't know about that back then, I might have been scarred for life. I thought they were all pets. Anyway, I really liked the baby rabbits. They were small, like me, and they didn't kick or bite. I started hanging around the hutches a lot. Heidi, the woman in charge of the rabbits, was real nice. She let me 'help' take care of them. Well, as much as a small five-year-old could help. I would feed them and give them timothy hay." He looked at Jim. "Did you know that you don't feed rabbits alfalfa?" When Jim shook his head, he continued, "It's not good for them. Anyway, my 'reward' for helping was that I got to hold the babies. They were so small and soft. They never once bit or scratched. I just loved them. When they're real young, even smaller than these, their fur is just so soft. Heidi would always say that one of the softest things on earth was baby bunny fur. Even to this day if I feel anything really soft I compare it to baby bunny fur. Of course, after a while we moved on again. I didn't mind leaving any of the people there but it broke my heart to leave the baby bunnies. I remember crying for days afterward. Even now, as you can see, I still can't resist baby rabbits."

Again Jim had to resist the urge to run his hand through his hair. Even though they had talked about a lot of things since that night on the porch, he never told Blair that he had heard his 'baby bunny fur' comment about his hair. That was something he wanted to keep just for himself. And now that he knew the story behind it, it meant even more to him. He wasn't about to do anything that might make Blair even suspect he heard it.

"That was real nice. At least you had them for a little while."

"Yeah, that's what Mom kept saying."

"So, were you thinking of getting one?" The thought of an animal in the loft, even something like a rabbit, made him edgy.

"Nah, it's kind of like what Ogden Nash said, 'The trouble with a kitten is that; Eventually it becomes a cat.' Only with me, it's rabbits. I only like the babies; big ones don't do anything for me at all. Now find a way to stop one from growing and I might have to think about it."

Breathing a silent sigh of relief, Jim was reluctant to end the conversation but he knew they had to leave. "I hate to tear you away but I'll bet Simon is probably about ready to call the cops if we don't get out of here right now."

"Oh jeez. I only meant to stop in here for a minute while you two were busy. Simon's gonna kill me. Here, put him back." He held out the tiny, brown fur ball to Jim. While Jim returned the rabbit to his littermates, Blair managed to get his crutches under him and stand up straight. "Let's go, man."

Keeping one hand on Blair's back, he steered him through the store towards the front door. Once outside, he could see Simon leaning against the car, cigar smoke circling around his head. A glance at Blair and Jim could easily interpret the look on his face. Oh boy.

As they drew near the car, Simon looked straight at Jim. "And where did you find him?"

"In the pet store."

"In the pet store. Of course. We should have been on the road," their captain looked at his watch, "at least twenty minutes ago and he was looking at all the cute, little animals."

"Not all of them, Simon, I just wanted to see—"

"Uh, not now, Chief. Let's just get back in the car so we can get going. You can tell Simon whatever you want then." He knew Simon wouldn't hear the same story that he just had. He would probably get a lecture on domestic rabbits in America or something like that.

Despite his gruff demeanor, Simon was actually very gentle as he helped Jim resettle Blair in the back seat. He didn't return to his own seat until he was sure Blair was comfortable. A few minutes later they were on the highway heading home.

After several minutes of silence, Jim became a little concerned. A quiet Blair was usually not a good thing. Fortunately, since Blair was sitting behind Simon, he only had to turn slightly in his seat to be able to see him. "You doing all right back there, Chief? You need anything?" They had brought the cooler with them filled with ice, bottled water and all the fish since it didn't seem likely that the city would appreciate bringing them back in a city owned car. Even though his leg hadn't bothered him much lately, maybe standing in the pet store had been too much. "You want a pain pill?"

"No Jim, I'm fine. Just doing some thinking." He saw the concerned look Jim gave him. "Some good thinking. Everything's okay, really." He gave him one of his best smiles as proof.

Relieved, Jim turned back around. Blair's heart rate was steady, his breathing even, he really was fine. He probably did have a lot thinking, or as he called it, processing, to do. And a long, quiet car ride was just as good a place as any to do it in. He wondered if Blair would share any of his thoughts with him later. Either way, he could tell that his partner and friend was healing physically and emotionally; that was all that really mattered. He relaxed back into his seat and watched the scenery pass by.

A short time later, Simon turned his head to ask Jim a question only find his detective sound sleep. Listening carefully, he could hear the same deep breathing coming from the back seat too. He realized that, whether consciously or unconsciously, both men were breathing in the exact same rhythm. Even asleep, they were in perfect sync with each other. That alone convinced the police captain that both of his men were well on their way to recovering from everything that had happened to them lately. Putting an unlit cigar in his mouth and tuning the radio into a soft jazz station, Simon had a large smile on his face as he settled back in his seat. Things would start getting back to normal now, well as normal as it got with the most unlikely, mis-matched set of partners ever seen under his command. For now he would enjoy this brief period of relative peace and quiet. But he knew he would be right there with them, ready to lend his support, when the next inevitable crisis hit.

~ End ~


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Page last updated 8/15/03.