Disclaimer: I am *not*
responsible for the rolling blackouts - Jim is.
He has this new - dildo, for Blair and it has these bells and whistles
and you have to plug it in and Blair isn't *NOT* happy about *that* but loves
how it feels, not that it feels better than Jim, just that it does *more* than
Jim but the Edison company got wind....oh, and i'm making no moola off this
Note: I hate everyone who gets to
go to MediaWest. Just thought I'd let you know that <G>. Thank you to
melvin for the beta. Changed it a bit so errors are mine, like that's new.
Well, I could say something about dildos and energy conservation, but Jim
won't listen. And this *is* a story based on Crossroads. That should be warning
*NOTE: Each part opens with a
line or two from Mariah Carey's song *Hero* except part 8, which is not a song
*And then a hero comes along,
with the strength to carry on and you cast
your fears aside and you know you
"Buckle up, Sandburg."
Blair gave a little start and
immediately fastened the belt. "Sorry, Simon."
"Oh, yeah," he
answered, relief evident in his voice.
Simon watched in his rear-view
mirror as Jim walked away, the comely vet by his side. With a sigh, Banks put
the car into gear and headed out.
As Clayton Falls faded from view
he snatched a quick glance at his silent companion and wondered just how soon he
could get down the mountain. Sandburg was still a little pasty looking and the
long trip, with its curves, cliffs and all, would do nothing to help.
"Hey, Sandburg, how 'bout I
take the back way outta here? We'll hit the valley sooner and the grade is
"It'll take longer from the
valley, but yeah, might be worth it. My stomach still feels like three elephants
were inside and stampeding."
"Only three now? That's an
improvement. How many did you have in there before?"
Sandburg made a show of thinking
and counting, ticking off his fingers one by one.
"Um, twenty. Add an
additional ten that hopped on while Jim and I were on that train and yeah, I'd
have to say the three that are left are a definite improvement."
Simon chuckled and as they
approached the crossroads an his option of the *front* or *back* way down the
mountain, he quirked an eyebrow at Sandburg who nodded and jerked his thumb to
the right - the back.
Smiling, Simon turned on his
right blinker and when the logging truck across the intersection made its left,
Simon turned right.
Blair looked at the rear of the
truck and snorted.
"Uh-huh. This is definitely
going to be better, Simon."
"Hey, is it my fault we got
stuck behind *that*?"
Blair smiled as Simon slowed to
fifteen miles per hour.
Twenty minutes later they were
still stuck, the driver of the International having chosen *not* to take any one
of several turn-outs to allow Simon to pass. Behind Simon, as in *right* behind,
sat a red Corvette convertible. So far the driver had tried to pass numerous
times, only to be foiled at each attempt.
Blair could sense the building
impatience in Simon as the older man struggled with the truck ahead and the
thwarted speed demon behind.
"Uh, Simon? Why don't *we*
pull out, let her pass and take a short break?"
"Sandburg, we've only been
on the road thirty minutes. This jerk is bound to turn off on one of the logging
"That's what I like about
you, Simon - always the optimist. Keep the faith, man, keep the faith. But I
should point out that he's from the other side of Clayton Falls. No mill,
"Well, unless he's headed to
the river, yeah."
Ten minutes later the truck did
in fact turn off, proving that the river was indeed his destination. And moments
after that the Corvette whizzed past them. Simon's fingers visibly relaxed on
the steering wheel and the shoulders that had tensed up and rounded forward,
"Wow, Simon, you're actually
speeding up. What're you doing now?
"Har-har, Sandburg, very
funny. Knew there was a reason we kept you around."
The moment the words were out, he
realized they were a mistake. He glanced quickly over but could see nothing.
Blair had his head turned away, his hair obscuring all but the barest of
profiles. Not knowing what to say, he decided to say nothing. An idea that
lasted exactly one minute.
"You know, I really thought
you'd stay and fish with Jim."
"So, why didn't you?"
"Uh, because he didn't want
me to stay?"
"Sure he did,
Blair looked over at his
quasi-boss and frowned in disbelief.
"I could say something about
you being Captain of Major Crime and how you had to be a detective first - but
you might kick me out and make me hitch back to Cascade."
"Um - clues? No. Try actual
*words* and body language. He *so* didn't want either of us to stay and with the
addition of Linda and the promise of her making breakfast, well, duh,
"With what? With the fact
that we intruded? Butted in where we shouldn't have? Or with the idea of Jim
actually having a good time?"
"Right. I have been properly
chastised. Duly noted. And no, I won't make you walk home."
With a sheepish grin on his face,
Blair said, "Sorry, Simon."
Blair once again turned his
attention to the scenery outside - then nodded slowly.
"Yeah, yeah, I think I am.
Or rather, no, not the place downstairs, still too close, you know? But yeah,
I'll start looking when I get home. It's
the right thing to do. It was a mighty long week, you know?"
Voice lowered almost to a
whisper, Blair answered, "almost three years...."
Simon shot him another covert
glance, then turned his attention back to the road. He had a feeling he'd just
blown it again.
It was thirty miles down to the
valley from Clayton Falls, but taking the back way, their travels were cut by
ten miles. They weren't quite halfway down the mountain when they passed the red
Corvette pulled off to the side of the road.
"Think she's in
trouble?" Blair asked.
"Nah, probably checking out
the scenery or using the *facilities*."
They continued the journey down
the mountain in silence, Blair enjoying the view.
The scenery was changing, the
forest next to the road becoming brush, with only glimpses of deep forest
further below. They had ten miles left when Simon spotted the Corvette roaring
up behind them. She honked, gunned her engine and stayed on his tail. Blair
turned to look back, frowning.
"She's crazy, Simon. You'd
better pull over...."
"What do you think I'm
looking to do, Sandburg? Play her a game of Tiddly-winks?"
"Well, from what I can see
of her winks...."
With a smile creeping up at the
corners of his mouth, Simon shook his head at his companion. At that moment, the
woman in the Corvette decided she'd been patient enough and just as they rounded
a particularly sharp curve, she zipped past on the left.
The roar of her engine, a flash
of red, then she was cutting in front of them, her rear-end fishtailing as she
struggled to regain control. The
Corvette swung sharply *back* to the left as they all hit another sharp curve.
Then she skidded to the right - straight across Simon's path.
Simon applied the brakes and
turned the wheel in his attempt to avoid her. The car hit the shoulder, wheels
spun in the gravel and Simon lost all control. Eyes wide with shock, both men
felt the loss of earth, of solid ground as the car went over the edge....
Clayton Falls -
Jim watched the car disappear,
then glanced down at the woman by his side.
"I finally shook them."
Linda laughed up at him and
taking his arm, started to lead him to the diner.
"So what you're telling me,
is that you arranged this whole thing just to get them to leave?"
"Hey, we're talking *trout*
here, *big* trout, you know?"
"And nothing's too devious
to save your favorite fishing spot?"
"You got it."
Before she could answer, one of
the townspeople called out and with an apologetic look, she rushed to Mrs.
Harrison's side, Jim following more slowly.
"Please, come look at
Howard, would you? I know there was no real virus, that we were just made sick,
but he looks awful. Please?"
Jim gave her a nod and together
they walked the short distance to the small cabin that belonged to the Harrison's.
Inside, Mr. Harrison sat in an old rocking chair, his face pale, sweat dotting
his upper lip. His hands were gripping the wooden arms.
"Honey, I brought
Linda knelt by his side and felt
his forehead. He was a bit warm, but not unduly so.
"Stomach is rumbling a bit,
but not near as bad as before. But - still, not feeling as chipper as everyone
Maryann stood by her husband, one
hand on his thin shoulder. "He didn't sleep like the rest of us, Linda. He
said he spit out the stuff they gave them."
Jim's head shot up at that as he
immediately remembered Blair.
"Well, that's probably it
then. Let's get you to bed, Howard. That's all you need now, sleep. Let it get
out of your system." She looked up at Jim and added, "Can you help me,
With care and tenderness, Jim
slipped his arm around the older man's waist, helped him stand, and with Maryann
leading, they made their way to the Harrison's bedroom. A few minutes later,
Howard was tucked in and sleeping like a baby.
Assuring Maryann that Howard
would be fine and encouraging her to call if there were any changes, Linda and
Jim left. As the door closed behind them, Jim said worriedly, "Sandburg
didn't sleep either. Do you suppose he's having - problems now?"
"Jim, your friend is
considerably younger than Howard Harrison. I'm sure he's fine."
"Yeah, but all
"Jim, he's what,
Healthy, young, he's fine. Trust
Jim nodded, but suddenly *finally
shaking them* wasn't so great.
In a way, Simon and Blair were
lucky. If they'd been on the front part of the mountain, they'd have probably
been killed outright. But on the back road, the cliffside involved not a
straight drop of several hundred feet, but rather a rough and bumpy downgrade,
ending at the floor of the forest. The car stayed upright as it was bumped and
tossed over the uneven ground, as it tore through tree branches, over downed
logs and rocks—and as it gathered speed.
Inside, both men held on, Blair
to the dashboard, Simon to the useless steering wheel. Several times the bumps
were bad enough to send Sandburg up against the restraint system, his head
colliding with the roof of the car.
What finally stopped their
descent was a huge, downed tree, a victim of a lightening attack. The front of
the car hit the wide trunk, teetered on its left side, then toppled over.
The forest was once again silent.
The pain woke him. It was sharp
and insistent and he had no choice but to open his eyes, to try to stifle it, to
Simon groaned, turned his head
and saw - brown. He squinted, one hand automatically reaching for glasses that
weren't there. He grappled a bit, fingers digging in and finding - dirt. He
The brown that stared him in the
face was a tree trunk. He tried to move and the pain became murderous. He almost
screamed with it, then his mind whispered one word; Blair.
Simon jerked his head around and
the first thing he saw was his car. On its side several feet from where he lay.
But without his glasses, he could see little else.
"blair," he rasped out,
then stronger, "Blair?"
Glasses, he fucking needed his
glasses. He reached out, dug around, was absently glad that both arms seemed to
work and his hand landed on something thin and smooth....
He lifted his find and smiled.
Well, at least something was going right - his glasses, bent, one lens cracked,
but damn, they were in his hand and now they were on his - face.
As his vision returned, albeit
slightly skewered by the broken left lens,
he could see the bulky figure in the car... hanging from the seatbelt.
Summoning all the strength he
could, he raised his voice and called out commandingly, "SANDBURG!"
The figure moved.
Inside the car, Blair heard the
voice and reacted. He groaned and shifted... only to feel... air. He opened his
eyes and the view that met him was - wrong. Wondering if Hell was even weirder
than long written, he turned his head, expecting to gaze into the eyes of the
Devil. Instead - he saw the back
seat of Simon's car.
Whoa. The backseat of Simon's car
in Hell? No way.
Reason and memory seeped back
into his jangled brain and he realized that he was hanging from his belt and
that the car was on its side. And he too remembered the accident.
Outside, Simon grinned as Blair's
expletive reached his ears. A good sign, Blair cussing.
"It seems I was thrown at
some point. I'm about ten feet from you, off to your left."
Blair stopped struggling with his
seatbelt long enough to search for the voice. He spotted Simon, but didn't like
what he was seeing. He began to struggle in earnest, nervous fingers scrappling
with the belt....
With a sudden snap it opened and
he fell into Simon's seat with a thud and an *oof*. His shoulder hit the metal,
his head bouncing off the steering wheel.
Simon decided that accidents
robbed Sandburg of his usual erudite ways.
He grinned again.
Fighting his way up to the
passenger door, Blair pushed with all his strength and managed to throw it open.
To his amazement, the door stayed ajar and cautiously Blair climbed up. He
rolled over and out, to fall rather unceremoniously to the forest floor.
With another, *well fuck*, he
climbed to his feet and while taking a breather, did a quick inventory of body
Score one for the Sandburg's. He
was at least standing and all limbs seemed intact and working. His torso was
complaining bitterly but that didn't surprise him, not after finding himself
hanging. He expected he was badly bruised, but his body hadn't completely caught
Pushing tangled hair from his
face, he encountered a sticky wetness and did some experimenting. Blood. He
licked his lip and nodded. Split. The right side of his face didn't feel so hot
"Sandburg, you okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, on my way, man.
Keep your pants on."
"Like I have a choice?"
Blair stumbled around the car and
over the logs, using the vehicle to brace himself. As he came around to the
driver's side, he paused.
Simon lay on his back watching
him. But - his right leg was - bent, twisted to the side in such a way as to
tell Blair instantly that it was broken, probably in several places.
"What happened to *well
"Well fuck. Feel better
At Simon's nod, Blair let out a
breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. Simon's neck was okay, judging by
that nod. But his spine?
"Leg, only my leg and the
odd assortment of bruises you'd expect."
Turning his attention to the good
left leg, Blair gently slipped off the shoe and said, "Can you wiggle your
"Since I was a baby,
Sandburg. And if you're worried about my back, it's fine. I moved slightly to
find my glasses. I really think it's just my leg."
Nodding, Blair did a quick
inventory on the older man. As he ran his eyes
over Simon's body, fingers gently probing, he spotted the rip in Simon's
jacket. He leaned across the man and pinched the jacket material, sliding it
around. He winced at the gash in Simon's left arm that was now visible.
"Well, not just your leg.
Nasty gash here on your arm."
"You're kidding? Don't feel
"Not surprised. It's cold
and you're probably in enough pain from your leg. I'm gonna assume you have a
mega first aid kit in the trunk?"
"Yeah, plus water, blankets,
the works. Police issue plus my own stuff."
"Okay then. Let me get you
more comfortable, then I'll get what I need from the car."
Sandburg immediately tore off his
jacket, folded it up and with great gentleness, lifted Simon's head and slipped
the jacket underneath, then just as gently, lowered him back down.
"All right, hang on, be
With some discomfort, he managed
to straighten, make his way back to the car where he had to drop to his knees,
reach in through Simon's window and wiggle the keys out from the ignition. The
engine was long dead so turning it off accomplished nothing. He got to his feet,
swayed a bit, then made his way to the trunk. Luck was on their side. In spite
of the accident, the trunk opened and Blair pulled out everything he could get
his hands on and that could be of use.
His mind, while reeling with the
fact of their predicament, was already planning... and worrying.
*It's a long road when you face
the world alone, no one reaches out a
hand for you to hold....*
Ellison stood silently in the
middle of the road that ran down the center of Clayton Falls and listened - to
"Jim? Did you hear me? How
He shook himself and returned his
attention to Linda.
"I'm sorry, my mind must
"On the trout?"
He smiled in dusky shadows and
"Yeah, on the trout. So you
were asking about?"
Shaking her head, she said,
"Oh, yeah. Sure. Isn't that
where we were headed when," he let the sentence dangle as she nodded and
took his arm once again.
"Yep. The diner. Now let's
get something in our stomachs and you can tell me all about Cascade, what's new,
and your secrets to great trout fishing."
Jim let her lead him to the cafe,
but something felt off....
Jackie, looking a little worse
for wear, but up and serving, smiled at Linda as she showed them to a booth, the
same booth that Jim, Simon and Blair had used so many hours earlier.
"Hey, honey. Some day we've
had, eh? There's life in this town yet."
"Yeah, this was something
for the record books, all right. Something to tell the grandchildren."
Jackie nodded at Linda and handed
them both a menu.
"We don't have much, Linda,
what with Carl feeling less than stellar right now. But he can handle soups,
sandwiches, hamburgers or even a waffle or two." She looked expectantly
from one to the other.
Linda caught Jim's eye and
shrugged. Giving Jackie his best smile, he said, "I wouldn't mind a waffle
for dinner, planned on it for this morning, actually."
Linda nodded her agreement and
Jackie went back to the kitchen.
"Waffles, not exactly the
"No," Jim said with a
grin, then adding, "But somehow fitting."
Playing with her fork, eyes
downcast, Linda asked, "So what time in the morning you heading out?"
"I - I'm not sure. I might -
I might head back."
Her head shot up, surprise on her
face. "Oh? Why?"
"Just - might."
"You're not still worried
about your friend, are you?"
"I, well, actually, maybe a
little. But mostly it's because I'm realizing that this whole *vacation* thing
was a bad idea."
"I'm clueless here."
Jim reached out and placed his
hand over Linda's as he said quietly, "Yeah, I know. Sorry. See, basically
I made a promise once, about the next *vacation* and I broke it. Now - well, now
I'm thinking I want to keep it."
"Oh-kay - now I'm really in
"Yeah, well don't feel bad,
so was I, for a long time. But," he glanced out the window, at the road
leading out of Clayton Falls and finished softly, "not anymore. I'm not in
the dark anymore."
"You know I'll be as careful
as possible, Simon. Just - try to relax."
"Yeah, yeah, just do
Blair started to line up the
branches he'd gathered for the splint when Simon reached out and grabbed his
"Hey, I might not have been
a medic, but as a seasoned traveler and expert on first aid in the jungles of
third world countries, yeah, I know what I'm doing." Then with a smile, he
added, "Sort of."
Simon dropped his head back down
dramatically and muttered, "Well fuck."
Simon squeezed his eyes shut and
waited for the pain....
"You know, to the Cofan
tribe of old, doing something like this would have meant certain death. You know
about the Cofan tribe, right?"
Blair didn't wait for an answer,
just ploughed ahead.
"Ecuador? The guardians of
the rainforest? One of the oldest tribes of the Amazon? Anyway, you broke a leg
with them, and you either got up and took care of business or you, well, you
His voice went on and Simon, eyes
still clenched shut wondered when the kid would get to the business at hand, and
also wondered how he stuffed his brain with so much information....
"... and today, their tribe
leads the conservation efforts. Amazing.
Sometimes progress and
civilization *can* be of assistance. Sometimes.
Of course, if you broke a leg...." he stopped, looked at his
handiwork and said, "Okay, all done."
Shocked brown eyes flew open,
blinked furiously, then....
"Well, I kinda mean - all
done. As in all splinted, you know? Now let me take a good look at that
Darkness was only, at the most,
an hour away and there was still so much for Blair to do. He finally had Simon
patched up and resting comfortably, the move to brace him against a large tree
trunk and on top of his sleeping bag having been the worse of his tasks so far.
But now - warmth.
He stood and stretched slowly,
carefully, winced at the pain, then moved about gathering the necessary twigs
and branches to provide the required fuel.
Ten minutes later, he had fire.
Simon was resting, eyes closed,
his breathing regular. Blair had been worried about shock, but so far, so good.
Getting him fixed up, warm and with liquid had gone far in staving off the more
serious symptoms of shock. With the fire burning brightly, Blair turned his
attention to the task of taking inventory on their supplies.
Water, four bottles. Two bags of
potato chips, (Simon's) and two packages of trailmix, (his). Two candy bars; a
Snickers and a Nestles Crunch, (Simon's) and one apple, (his). Food wise, they
were okay. First aid supplies were great. He had everything, including aspirin
for Simon. They had plenty of
blankets, and all their supplies for a week-end of fishing.
Now for the plan. As Simon slept,
Blair pondered the chances of being found....
First off: The woman in the
Corvette might not have even seen them go over. And if she had, they certainly
couldn't count on her to get help. That
made him feel a whole lot better - Not.
Second: They'd left no real
evidence of their plunge. No guardrail destroyed, no skidmarks, just broken
trees, most of which were out of sight. So chances were that no one would know
what happened until - tomorrow night - when Jim arrived home and found - an
empty loft and the Volvo.
So - Blair had to get them up to
the road first thing in the morning.
And he knew without a doubt that
going *up* was their only chance.
Trying to find their way around
in the dense forest would be impossible. He
didn't have a clue which direction to go, or what lay ahead let alone below. He
could figure that they'd traveled quite a distance down before being halted by
the large trunk. Which meant quite a distance up... with Simon.
And of course, leaving the man
was not a choice. Tonight would be bad enough on the injured man, but leaving
him for God knew how many hours the next day? No. So - litter. He needed to make
a litter tonight.
Blair glanced over at the rope
that had been in Simon's car and nodded in satisfaction. Yep, that would do.
Thank God for his weeks with the Sumaro tribe and their teaching him their
lacing and knotting techniques - now if he could just remember....
"You sure you want to stay
here? You're welcome to stay at my place, Jim."
"No, this is fine, Linda.
Really. Besides, I'll be up before dawn and heading out."
"So I guess this is -
Jim nodded, then said, "But
I'll be back...."
"With your friend?"
Jim blushed a bit and said,
"Um, yeah, with Sandburg. Give the trout a run for their money."
"Well, It's been a pleasure,
in a weird, Daliesque kind of way." She leaned forward and kissed his
cheek, then, "Good-night, Jim."
"Good... night, Linda."
He watched her as she walked down
the street, heading for her home. It was almost dark and a few lights popped on
around the small town. It had been one hell of a day.
With a sigh, Jim turned and
stepped inside. He closed the door and stared at his gear, all in the same
position he'd left them when he, Simon and Blair had headed for the diner that
Running a hand back over his
hair, he walked to the couch and sat down, the darkening room momentarily
What the fuck had possessed him
to come up here? But even as he asked the question, the answer taunted him. He
knew perfectly well what he'd been trying to get away from and said as much
earlier. He just hadn't said it *all*.
He *was* tired. He was tired of
non-stop cases, of constantly straining to *hear* something, or *see* something,
or *feel* something. He was tired of hiding all those senses, of being on guard
almost 24/7. And he was tired of holding back, of being a lab rat for Sandburg
*Yeah, go ahead, say it,
Instead of being - more.
Jim stretched out his long legs,
rested his head back against the rim of the couch and closed his eyes.
The two of them. Ellison and
It had been a hell of a ride,
these last, what, almost three years? One hell of a ride.
Blair had seemed fine when he had
chosen to head back to Cascade rather than take Jim up on his offer of fishing
tomorrow and he seemed over the need to *get out of Dodge*. And yet, who knew
Blair better than Jim? Blair was an
expert at knowing what Jim was really saying. He *would* have refused the offer
to stay, knowing that it was bogus.
Of course, Jim could have done
the really novel thing - he could have told Sandburg the truth.
But why ruin his streak?
He'd let Blair leave. He'd left -
Blair. His friend. His - mentor?
Yeah, basically, his mentor. Blair Sandburg, Jim Ellison's mentor. In the
darkness, Jim smiled. Jim Ellison, thirty-eight years old, had a twenty-nine
year old mentor.
What he wanted was the
twenty-nine year old mentor to be - more. That infamous *more*.
What he wanted was - Blair.
So tomorrow, he'd arrive home and
try - honesty for a change. Yeah, honesty.
How - unique.
And in the meantime? He'd worry
big time that the mentor *didn't* want the mentor*ee*. *That* way.
"I'm here, Simon. How ya
"Thirsty, but okay."
Blair lifted the water bottle,
twisted off the cap and with care, held it to Simon's lips and let him drink.
When Simon was finished, Blair helped him get more comfortable, then settled
back down with his ropes.
As he went back to work, he
asked, "Leg okay?"
"Yeah, just down to a dull
Worriedly, Blair glanced up from
his knots and placed his hand on the older man's forehead.
"You're a bit warm, Simon.
Hang on a minute."
He crawled over to the supplies,
dug into his backpack, pulled out a shirt and began to tear it into strips. When
he was done, he wetted two of the strips down, then placed one behind Simon's
neck and the other on his forehead.
Then he got out the aspirin,
shook out two and placed them in Simon's hand.
"Take those, Simon."
Simon glanced down, blinked
twice, then with Blair's help, brought his hand up and tossed the small, white
pills back. Blair held the water up again and gratefully, Simon took three big
swallows. Blair made sure the strips were back in place before he put everything
away and went back to his work.
"Cell phones are useless,
Without looking up, Blair nodded.
"Yeah, I know. The least little incident and they break."
"Not that it would have
worked down here anyway, but at least it could have stayed in one piece."
They were quiet as Blair's
fingers flew and Simon watched the blaze. After
a few minutes, Simon asked, "So tomorrow you're heading out, right? Getting
"Yep. That's the plan."
Blair kept tying his knots and lacing.
"Good, good. I'll be fine
down here. Won't take you so long, I suspect.
Little worried about that road up there, though. Not much traffic, you
know? At least not normally."
"Sure you'll be fine down
here, Simon. And I suspect everything will be great once - I - get to the
More quiet minutes passed, then,
"Nothing. Just keeping -
"Why don't you try to go
back to sleep, Simon?"
"In a while. This is kind of
"Yeah. Be perfect if a tent
was over there," Blair jerked his thumb to his right, "and the river
were over here and Jim were, say, beside you."
"Nah, we don't need
"Oh, right. Just the river
and a tent."
Blair smirked. Right, like Simon
would be fishing with *just* him? Like - never.
Chuckling, Blair corrected,
"*Cofan*. The Cofan tribe of Ecuador.
They're people of the
"Right, right. *Cofan*. So
tell me more."
"Well, I first visited them
in '90. Not my first expedition, but certainly one of my most memorable. See, in
the 80's, many of the Cofan fled deep into the rainforest to avoid the oil
companies. The village I visited was called Zubalo, in the Lower Cuyabena
Reserve. We're talking, at that time - remote. Hell, fleas had a hard time
finding their village.
"Anyway, this village is
now, today, an actual tourist attraction. You see, the people decided to start
their own ecotourism project to preserve the rainforest and thus their way of
Simon let the magic of Blair's
voice wash over him as he was suddenly transported to Ecuador.
He had to admit - Sandburg could
really spin a tale....
The snoring tipped Blair off that
Simon was no longer listening.
Smiling, he put down his project
and leaned over to test Simon's skin.
Still warm, but better. At least
- not warmer than before.
He got up a bit clumsily, tossed
some more wood onto the fire, picked up his sleeping bag and draped it over
Simon, then sat back down, and pulled his apple out of his pack. He had a long
night ahead of him.
Taking a bite, he thought of
Friday, of his surprise at Jim's announcement, and later his words when
confronted by his unwanted guests.
Shit, that had been stupid. But
damn, when Simon had mentioned that Jim was just protecting some great fishing
hole, well, it sounded like the perfect excuse to - follow. And an excuse was
all that it was. A lame excuse at that. But - he'd been helpless to say no to
his inner voice. A voice that he should have shut up. Stapled shut.
Next time - oh, yeah, staples for
What amazed him was that this
time, for the first time ever, he'd missed the signs. Shit, he had to have been
living in la-la land to have missed them. Sentinel la-la land. Jim Ellison, hunk
supremo la-la land. Yeah, he could admit it now, admit that maybe his healthy,
young libido had interfered with his ability to see the signs. The signs that
he'd finally outstayed his welcome.
Well, no harm, no foul. He'd
rectify pronto. No moss on this stone, no sir. No one could pack faster, or more
cheerily move along.
Except - he'd really thought....
No, no point in going there. Over
and out. Sandburg moves on like all good Sandburg's do.
Had he really treated Jim like a
lab rat? Double fuck.
No more. Jim was his own man, a
sentinel who was up on sentinelism. He had it down pat now.
Felt good to have a plan. Real
good. Plan for tomorrow, plan for the future.
He glanced down and realized that
he'd just tied up his finger.
*So when you feel like hope is
gone, look inside you and be strong and
you'll finally see the truth,
that a hero lies in you....*
Blair checked out his masterpiece
and nodded. It looked good. Of course, how it looked was not the issue. It had
to work and the litter had to be strong enough to carry Simon for God who knew
how long and how far, uphill and over rough terrain. It had to hold.
Taking a few minutes to suck on
his injured finger, he thought of how to make the thing comfortable as well. He
knew if he added anything, he'd be adding to his load, but what would be the
point of getting Simon back to the road and rescue if he ended up in worse shape
than before they'd started?
With that in mind, he spent the
next hour gathering leaves and pine boughs and stuffing the litter with them,
then pulling out all the clothing he and Simon had brought along and laying them
over the *nest*. In the morning
he'd add the final layer; his sleeping bag, and then use Simon's as a cover.
When his task was done, he sat
down next to Simon, took a quick chug from the one bottle of water he was
allowing himself, remoistened the cloth strips, checked Simon's leg for color
and satisfied, settled in for a long night of keeping the fire going and of
watching over Simon.
There would be no sleep for him
As the hours crept by, it never
occurred to Blair Sandburg to wonder if he *could* carry Simon up the mountain.
But he *did* worry - about Jim.
There had been a good many
reasons that Blair had stuck around, remained Jim's roommate. Some of those
reasons had certainly been selfish, but most centered around his concerns for
Jim's well-being and control of his senses.
Blair had always considered the
explosion that sent him to Jim's to be fate. A wonderful fate. An opportune
fate. How else could they really work on the sentinel thing if Blair
*weren't*with the man everyday? At work *and* at home?
Of course, the problem was that
this time, Blair had forgotten. He'd forgotten in his zeal to learn with Jim how
to control wayward senses and emotions, he'd forgotten in his admiration of the
man, in his hero worship, followed by the crush, followed by love, that Jim's
home was not *his* home.
There had been a great many false
positives in his life and he'd finally learned that there was no *home* for
The homes of his childhood had
always been temporary and merely residences as Naomi's wildness surfaced and the
need to move on possessed the otherwise perfect, loving mother. Although
sometimes it would be her need to get away from *he's the one* because the
newest boyfriend no longer *was* *the* one.
Eventually, Blair's own life had
to be lived and while he'd been been at Rainier, he couldn't, in all honesty,
say that he'd had or found a home. What
he'd had were stopping off points.
Mentally, he tried to count them
all...the apartment with Jerry and Cliff. Then the house with, how many other
undergrads? Seven? Yeah, seven. Then the trailer with newlyweds Sam and
Michelle, the walk-up over Steiger's Deli and the job behind the counter that
went with it, his own sweet Corvair when he'd been kicked out of Daphne's place
after her boyfriend had suddenly shown up, and the one semester spent at the Y,
and hadn't *that* been a joy.
Oh, and of course the multitude
of one room apartments that had never even seen the contents of his boxes
unpacked because of *one* more expedition. And how about that one Spring when
returning from the Yucatan he'd discovered that he'd been kicked out of a five
hundred dollar a month hole-in-the-wall and all his belongings confiscated? How
many nights had he slept in his closet of an office? On the floor? And showered
in the gym?
And the warehouse with its rats
the size of horses. Mustn't forget that.
As Blair gazed into the flames,
he smiled. Had those been the *good ol' days*?
No. *These* were the good old
Hey, cheer up, he admonished. At
least he'd now *had* a home. Now knew what it felt like, understood the warmth,
the welcome. Would look for it again. Or not. The bar had been set too high by
How many nights had he been
carefully and gently awakened from an exhausted sleep on the couch by Jim? Or
discovered his favorite food suddenly appearing in a cupboard? Or his cleaning
picked up? How many nights had they sat in the living room, Blair working, Jim
watching television or reading, their companionable silence a cherished silence?
Or how about Jim's version of Spring house cleaning?
"For God's sake, Sandburg,
what *is* this? And how long has it been under *my* couch?"
"Sandburg, what you need is
a small lesson in the fine art of *polishing*. You don't use this spray can
shit, not on *my* furniture. *We*
use the good stuff. And you pour a little on, like this, then rub in gentle
circles, ever widening circles, see?"
"Grout. Got it? Grout.
Toothbrush. And don't forget to pull up the drain. *YOU* shed."
Blair's grin grew in proportion
to his memories. He had to give it
to Jim Ellison. Blair Sandburg *had* learned how to clean. He just wished he
hadn't always been assigned latrine duty.
So - time to start looking again.
Maybe over in the Bryer Woods complex? New,
not too expensive, near the station and... Jim. Walking distance, really.
For a moment he rested his chin
on his pulled up knees and knew true regret. He'd give anything to take back the
last two days. To *not* have given into the urge to follow Jim because of his
own, what? His own - fears? His own needs? God damn it, how stupid could he be?
They had followed and it had
absolutely nothing to do with fishing. He knew damn well that Simon had been
concerned. Jim's actions had been so - not Jim, his words coming out of left
field and unfortunately, Simon and Blair had been in a whole other stadium
No, wait. What he'd really give
anything for was to go back and relive every moment of the last almost three
years. Every. Single. Moment.
Live it again, enjoy it, hold it
to him, cherish it all. From every
*Night, Chief* to every *Good
morning, Dragon Breath*. From every *What
did you do *now*, Sandburg?* to
every, *Get dumped *again*, Chief?*
A soft moan brought him back and
he immediately returned his attention to Simon.
"I don't know, my watch was
shattered in the crash and yours is gone.
But I'd guess - late."
Simon wet his lips and Blair
picked up the bottle of water and held up for the man. Simon drank gratefully
and after swallowing, said, "you know, i'm hungry."
"Well, that's a good sign.
Allow me to share our menu choices for this evening, Monsieur. Ve have ze very
delicious pommes frittes, ve have some delectable choc-o-lat and ve have ze very
healthy and popular bistro item, trail mix. Vhat shall be your pleasure,
A deep chuckle erupted from
Simon, ending with a small cough as he caught his breath. Shaking his head in
wonder, he said, "I'll order the very unhealthy chocolate. Don't *ve* have
a Nestles Crunch bar?"
"Oui, Monsieur," and
with a flourish, Blair pulled out the monster candy bar, unwrapped it and broke
off two squares and handed them to Simon and added, "Excellent choice,
Simon munched contentedly, eyes
closing in rapture. Blair passed him two more squares, followed by more water.
As he got Simon resettled, he asked, "How's the arm? Any burning or much
"Nope. itching a bit, but
"Flex your fingers for
Simon did as asked and Blair
smiled. "Good. I'll change the bandage in the morning."
He removed the cloth on Simon's
forehead and rested his hand against the still warm skin.
"Um, that feels good."
Simon nodded and after
administering the pills, they both settled back down.
Watching the flames, not ready to
sleep again, Simon asked, "suppose jim is still mad at us?"
"Nah. Tomorrow he'll be in
"yeah, suppose so."
"Simon, stop worrying. I'm
betting that by now, Jim's figured it out. He knows why you came up."
Simon turned to gaze up at his
companion. "oh, really? and just why *did* i come up?"
"Because you were worried
about him, of course."
"give me another piece of
chocolate and shut up."
Blair doused the fire, then
covered it with dirt and packed it down. He'd
risen with the sun and everything was ready. He'd consolidated all that they'd
need into his backpack and it was sitting on a stump next to the litter. It was
time to move Simon.
He squatted down and placing a
hand on Simon's shoulder, shook gently.
"Hey, sleeping beauty, time
to rise and shine."
Simon groaned and mumbled out a
"Time to get up, man. I need
to move you, check your arm and rebandage it, and maybe you'd like a little
Swiping a hand over his face, he
grunted and said, "i want strawberry french toast."
"What an amazing
coincidence. Just what we have on our menu this beautiful morning. Of course, in
order to fool the bears, I've disguised your order as a bag of Lay's Potato
Chips, but not to worry, once you eat them, well, you'll swear you're eating
strawberry French toast."
"But of course,
After Blair handed Simon the
water and the bag of chips, he moved to Simon's other side and with the first
aid kit in hand, inspected the injured arm. While the older man munched, Blair
removed the old bandage, noted the healthy pink skin around the wound, applied
another coating of anti-bacterial cream, then quickly and efficiently applied
the new bandage. He then checked the leg again, scrutinized the skin, noted the
additional swelling and sighed.
They needed to get moving.
He stood, walked to his pack,
grabbed the large Cascade Jags sipper bottle, unscrewed the lid, then walked
over to Simon and handed him the bottle.
"Here you go, man."
Wiping his greasy, salt-covered
fingers on his jeans, Simon took the offered container and with a quizzical
expression, quirked one eyebrow.
"Simon, you've been
*holding* it all night. Use that."
"I know. Well fuck. Use
Simon peered at the opening, his
expression clearly saying that Sandburg was crazy.
"Simon, trust me, it'll
work. Unless you're - Godzilla in that department."
He managed not to snort.
Banks made a small twirling
motion with his finger and smiling, Blair turned around, giving Simon his back.
He waited until he heard Simon's zipper, then said, "Fits, doesn't
"You are so dead,
"Hey, you should be grateful
you have male plumbing, Simon."
"Always am, Sandburg. Always
When he heard the zipper going
back up, he turned and took the bottle, walked a few feet into the forest and
emptied it. As he put the lid back on, he quipped, "You owe me a new
"Why? You can use that one
Simon *did* snort.
"Okay, time to move
"What do you mean *move me*?
I'm fine right here."
"No, no you're not. I've
made you a nice little bed, all cushiony, and we're going to get you onto it.
Now give me a minute to add this sleeping bag, and we'll be ready for the
He lifted the bag from Simon's
body and draped it across the litter, smoothing it down before turning back to
"Okay, we'll do this slow
and easy, okay? I've got it lined up right next to you and all we have to do is
- kind of slide - you. Ready?"
"This is stupid, Sandburg.
I'm fine where...."
"Yeah, yeah, humor me, okay?
Now, let's go."
It took effort, care and Sandburg
cushioning the leg before the older man was finally settled. By the time he was
on the litter, Simon was sweating profusely and breathing harshly.
"Great, good job, Simon. Now
just relax, get your breath back, have a bit more water while I take care of
He hurt too much, and he *was*
out of breath or he'd have shared some choice words with the younger man. Stupid
idea, stupid Sandburg.
Fifteen minutes later, the
blankets that had been on top of the sleeping bag were wrapped on and around the
broken leg, and Blair hoped that they would keep the leg motionless while they
trekked up the mountain. He picked up the sleeping bag and laid it over Simon.
"Yep, that's me."
Blair slipped his backpack on,
adjusted the straps, then stepped to the head of the litter, picked up the
makeshift strap that he'd connected to the ropes and tree limbs he'd used for
framing, slipped it over his head and let it settle across his chest, his
fingers wrapped around it. He lifted the litter, gave an experimental tug and he
and the litter moved.
This was going to work. He
"Nothing, Simon. Just moving
you to some place safer, that's all. Just relax, take a nap."
The movement was weird and Simon
found his fingers gripping the edges of his *bed*. But oddly enough - it was -
okay. There wasn't much sway and once over his inital shock, he realized that he
wasn't going to fall off. He dropped his head back down. Moments later, the
gentle sway and his exhastion combined to put him out.
Blair kept moving, following the
trail left by Simon's car.
*There's an answer, if you reach
into your soul, and the sorrow that you
know will melt away*
Step by step.
Eyes never leaving the ground
other than to glance up every so often to ensure that he was still following the
path they'd taken down. He had to watch every rock, every fallen branch and
often maneuver around them to keep Simon steady and safe.
Blair kept walking. Slowly,
plodding, but upward, forward.
It hadn't taken long for his body
to begin to protest, but he walked through it, knowing that he'd reach the wall
and once past that, the pain would recede. The hardest part was when he'd have
to take a hand off of the strap to push his body up or around or away from some
Branches struck his face
repeatedly, but after the hundredth time, he stopped trying to duck.
Time was irrelevant, but he knew
that he had to pace himself.
He wasn't sure how long he'd been
hiking when Simon woke up.
"Right here, Simon."
"i'm moving. why am i
"Well, see," he paused,
tried to catch his breath, but failing that, threw words out around his
"It's like this. If *I*
move... you move. When... I started to drag you... to that safer - place I
mentioned? Well... got stuck. No choice... but to drag your... sorry ass -up
this fucking... mountain."
"Sandburg, stop right
The voice, the command, both
Blair kept going.
"Sandburg, did you hear me?
This is an order. Stop right this minute."
"Well... I'd like to,
Simon... but - I've got this rhythm... going, you know? Hate... to break it
"Yep. The... following Jim -
the lady with the big... winks - in the red... Corvette, the crash... all so
that we could be together - like this. I'm such... a romantic."
"You're fucking insane,
that's what you are."
"Do you have *any* idea how
much I weigh, Sandburg?"
"At... the moment, yeah, I
do. A - ton. And... that's no exaggeration."
"And do you know how much
"Pretend... I'm answering...
"You weigh nothing,
Sandburg, nothing. I'm over six five, Sandburg and you're what, five
"And... one quarter.
Don't... forget the... quarter."
"With or without
"Uh - well fuck."
"Uh-huh. Thought so. You
can't *do* this, Sandburg."
He kept walking, climbing,
"Sandburg, did you hear me?
This is impossible, we'll never make it. You need to stop now, leave me here and
go on alone."
He kept walking, climbing,
"Sandburg, you're not
Simon sighed when Blair failed to
stop. Or even slow down.
This was fucking impossible.
His legs were cramping and the
sweat stung his eyes and he wondered how he could be sweating like this when it
was so cold....
He needed to break, to stop,
catch a breather, rest. He stopped.
Eyes closed, chest heaving, he
waited until he felt he could actually speak, then said, "yeah?"
"you o... kay?"
Slowly he lifted the harness over
his head, turned and carefully set the litter down. He moved to the side so that
Simon could see him. "Yeah,"
he said, his breathing stabilizing.
"Yeah, I'm okay. Of course,
losing my sight and leaving my spleen back there at the wreckage, well, and then
there's this head wound and sometimes I think I'm, like, Shirley Temple and I
have this urge to sing *On the Good Ship Lollipop*, but yeah, I'm fine," he
paused, cocked his head and said cheekily, "What was the question
Simon closed his eyes.
"Well, duh. But really, now
might not be the best time to bring that up, you know? Me being so sensitive
about it and all...."
Simon's eyes flew open and his
mouth started to move, words of apology ready to fly out when he got a look at
Sandburg's sweaty face - and the gleam in his wicked eyes.
Smiling, Blair unhooked his
backpack and crossing his legs Indian style, sat down on the ground next to
Simon. He pulled out two waters, the first aid kit, some trail mix and the rest
of the Nestles bar. He held the bag of mix in his left hand, the candy in the
other, then waved both items back and forth as he waggled his eyebrows.
"Vell, Monsieur, you have
two choices. Vhich shall it be?" He deliberately waved the trail mix close
to Simon's face and whispered, "choose me, choose me," but Simon
reached hungrily for the candy.
"Aw, Simon, you are so
Smiling happily, Simon nodded as
he ate the last of the crispy treat. As he smacked his lips, Blair checked both
the leg and the arm and was pleased to see no significant change from the early
"Is the pain bearable,
Simon? I can always add more cushion and stability to your leg."
"No, no, it's fine. Getting
used to it and quite frankly, the pain tells me... well, it tells me, you know,
that my leg is still --- there...." his voice drifted off as he shifted his
eyes down and to the side.
Understanding his friend's fear,
Blair let his voice dip and unconsciously settle into the voice he often used on
Jim as he said, "It's gonna be okay, man. You're not going to lose it, so
Then with a suppressed laugh, he
added, "Now if you want to talk about your brain and all that goo escaping
from your ears, well, there we might have a problem."
Simon had no comeback remark
because he'd been watching the younger man's expression and the emotion in his
eyes. He felt his throat choke up and in a sudden stubborn cough and throat
clearing, said gruffly, "Yeah, well, unlike you, *Mr.* Sandburg, I can
easily afford to lose some brain power."
Blair let his left eyebrow speak
Jim's eyes flew open and with no
preamble, he sat straight up, fully awake. He'd - heard something. A sound.
There, there it was again....
He climbed from his sleeping bag
and checked his watch. Damn, he'd overslept. He'd planned on leaving at first
light and it was already mid-morning.
Chastising himself, he got
dressed quickly, rolled up his bag, stuffed his dirty clothes into the duffle
without a thought, took his toothpaste and brush into the small bathroom behind
the counter and minutes later, all morning duties attended to, he was ready to
leave Clayton Falls.
He walked out of the inn, tossed
his stuff into the front seat, then jogged around to the driver's side and
jumped in. Without a backward glance, he headed out.
He never noticed Linda, half-way
down the street, watching, never saw her turn around and walk back to her
The sense of urgency he'd felt
last night - returned in full force and he couldn't believe he'd slept the
morning away. Even as he mentally whipped himself, he could hear Sandburg's
soothing voice telling him that he'd had a hell of a day, he'd been exhausted
and he needed those extra hours. He told the man to shut-up and then he pressed
down harder on the accelerator.
"Blair please, reconsider.
This spot is good, sheltered, you can still leave me here and go on."
Simon rolled his eyes as Sandburg
took his position once again, raised the litter and slid the harness down over
"All right, Simon, I'm
"You are some piece of work,
you know that, Sandburg?"
"Can't hear you, Simon, too
far away. You just keep the faith, okay?"
Shaking his head, he settled back
as Blair began to walk, the litter swaying ever so gently....
As they moved up the mountain,
Simon watched the sun glitter through the trees overhead, felt the slow, almost
excruciating movement as they progressed and not for the first time - wondered
about Blair Sandburg.
Just who the hell was he? All
this time, all these days and weeks and months, working side by side with real
cops, facing danger and uncertainty, dealing with Jim's senses, helping the
What fueled him? What kept him
going, like now? What kept the man coming back for more? His doctorate? Did he
think that fame and fortune would be his when he published? Was that what
motivated the man?
Mentally, Simon shook his head.
No. With everything that he *did* know of the man - no.
But - what about his
dissertation? What could something like that really do to Jim?
Hell, it wasn't as if Simon were
going anywhere, why not ask? Here they were - yeah, why not ask?
He cleared his throat and said,
"No, Shirley Temple."
"Ah. Well, *Shirley*, what
do you think will happen when you publish?"
Subtlety had never been his
Concentrating on the rocky path,
Blair asked without thinking, "Publish... what?"
"Your diss. You know, the
little document that allows you to become *Doctor* Sandburg? The thing you've
been working for all these years?"
"Yeah, *that*. Well?"
Counting to ten, Simon held his
breath, then on ten, released it.
Speaking slowly, he repeated,
"What do you think will happen when you publish your dissertation?"
Simon tried to twist his head,
his body, anything, so that he could somehow *see* Sandburg, but the bolt of
pain that ran up his leg squashed that idea almost instantly. He bit back the
groan, waited til the pain receded enough for him to speak, then....
"Nothing, Sandburg? Nothing?
You tell the world that Jim is this, this...."
"He's a Sentinel, Simon. A
Sentinel. S-e-n-t-i-n-e-l. What, even after all this time you can't say
Blair stopped walking and as he
wiped the sweat from his face, he went on.
"Jim Ellison is the Sentinel
of the Great City. He's our guardian, our watchman. He's not Superman, although
he'd like to think he was, considering some of the stunts he pulls. Like, he
thinks what, that bullets are gonna bounce off him? Like *he's* gonna bounce?
And do you have any idea how far he can actually hear? Or see? Do you even now,
understand *what* he is?"
Simon desperately wished he could
see Blair's face because behind the words - behind the words, emotions swirled
and if he could see the face, he'd understand - everything.
But he couldn't, so instead, he
asked again, "What happens when you publish?"
Blair closed his eyes and for a
moment the world spun and he was grateful for the tree next to him as he reached
out and palmed the rough trunk to keep him standing. This conversation shouldn't
be happening. He really didn't need to shatter right now, didn't need... didn't
Simon blew out angry air and
waved his hand dismissively. "Right, me have power over you. Very funny.
You run my department, Sandburg. Hell, you run *me*. I'm beginning to think I
should just retire, live the quiet life."
"You have the power to make
it impossible for me to work with Jim."
The words were spoken so quietly,
so - inevitably, that Simon was stunned. But not for long as he realized this
conversation was heading into deep water... and it was important, vital even,
that Sandburg not drown....
"I would never do that,
Blair. Never. For so many reasons. Not the least of which is Jim himself. But
there is also - you. You're an important part of the team and your
"We've been down this road
"It bears traveling again. I
would never separate you two. And I would fight anyone who tried."
"Even if you knew there
would be no dissertation? That I have no reason to *be* in Major Crime?"
As Jim came to the crossroads, he
flicked his blinker to signal left and without thought - turned right.
Blair once again lowered the
litter and dropped the harness. He walked to the foot of the stretcher and
stared down at Captain Simon Banks.
"I've been lying to myself
for months and lying to Jim for weeks. Which means I've been lying to you. I
scrapped the diss, Simon. Blew the deal. There
is no quid pro quo, no Jim getting his help and me getting my diss, my
doctorate. There's just me, hanging around because I don't want to leave.
somewhere I became this—cop person. And Jim's real partner."
He ran his hand roughly through
his hair, swiping it from his forehead as he gazed down at the ground and
shifted from foot to foot.
"Funny if you think about
it. I'm sunk. Kinda dug my own grave, you know? And now it's over. I'm
losing it all."
He glanced up and favored Simon
with a wry, bitter smile.
"I told Jim not too long ago
that without his senses, there'd be no reason for you to let me hang around and
of course, it goes the other way as well. Without my dissertation and the deal
Jim made with me, there's no reason he has to *let* me hang around. And judging
by the fiasco represented by this weekend - that's where we are."
Blair scratched at the ground
with the toe of his boot, then without another word, walked back, picked up the
litter and harness and started walking again.
Simon had no words.
Jim blinked and wondered why the
road didn't look familiar. This wasn't how he'd come up to Clayton Falls, he'd
remember. Where the hell was he? He
caught sight of a mile marker and the number *88* and realized that he was on
the back side of the mountain....
Step by step, Blair kept walking.
He no longer felt anything in his
arms, shoulders or chest and his mind was completely blank.
Somehow, he didn't think he had
very far to go - the trees seemed to be thinning out and the incline was
steeper. They'd taken two more breaks but no words had been exchanged. Blair
figured it really was over. As he'd continued to walk, his mind had begun to
prepare him. To plan what to do and where to go... but finally gave up and went
totally numb. Like his fingers and feet.
Step by step, Blair kept walking.
Sandburg gazed up at the sky and
squinted. Judging by the sun's position, it was after noon? Like he knew.
It had taken him all morning to
get as far as this. This being near the road. He could see it now. Not much
further, then asphalt and the off chance that a car might come by....
Or else the long walk back to
Grunting with the strain, he
reached a plateau and realized he could go no further the way things were. He
was going to have to go to Plan B, as he'd suspected back at the crash site. He
stopped, but didn't dare rest - he might not get up again. Instead, he drew the
rest of the rope he'd taken from Simon's car, tied it to the harness, lowered
the litter and pulled off the harness.
"yeah, yeah, i'm
"Okay, we're almost at the
road, but from here on, well, I've got to climb up there, *then* pull you, see?
It's too steep to do it any other way. It will be a bit bumpier, but I'll go
slow and try to clear the path as I climb. You understand me?"
"climb, pull, bumpy. got
"Need anything before I head
"couple of aspirin? got a
"Right, aspirin, coming
Blair took out more water,
removed the strips, wet them down, shook out two aspirin and moments later,
Simon was swallowing and the cooling strips were once again in place.
"Here, you keep this water
in case you need it while I'm climbing or pulling. When I get up to the road,
I'll give you warning before I start pulling. Got it?"
"yeah, got it. go."
Blair swallowed a huge gulp of
water, replaced the lid, slipped it back into his pack, picked up the rope
attached now to Simon's litter and started up.
It took him thirty minutes. He
had to pick his path carefully, reroute a few times, but finally - he stood on
the road. He'd made it. He turned and looked back down. And cringed.
Staring at the forest, at the
path the car had taken, at the distance it had traveled... and as he'd figured,
there was absolutely no sign of the bottom, of the spot where they'd finally
come to rest, he realized just how lucky they'd really been....
Cupping his mouth with his hands,
he yelled, "SIMON, I'M UP AND GONNA START TO PULL YOU. ARE YOU READY? WAVE
OR GIVE ME THE FINGER OR SOMETHING!"
One arm rose and Simon gave him
Grinning, Blair took a deep
breath and started pulling.
The process was slow, painful and
the rope was tearing Blair's hands up, but eventually Simon was on asphalt.
With no words, Blair took up the
harness and litter and started walking....
away. Hold on, there will be a
tomorrow. In time, you'll find the way*
Blair couldn't decide if dragging
Simon around on asphalt was easier or more difficult than dragging him over torn
up, rugged dense ground cover in the forest primeval. He was still going up
hill, albeit gradual and steady, but damn, the sound of the litter as it
scratched over concrete was driving him crazy. Maybe the shoulder? Dirt? Nice,
quiet dirt? Hell, why not.
He angled to his right and a few
steps later, was walking on the shoulder.
Yep, definitely easier. But after
several minutes of plodding, Blair noticed that unless he kept checking his
hands and ensuring that he was holding the harness, well, he couldn't *feel* his
fingers. He also couldn't fail to note that the rope was now stained - with
blood. He shrugged and kept moving.
He really expected to see a car
or truck any minute. He really did. He *knew* that this was a little traveled
road, and he *knew* that Clayton Falls was no longer *on* the map, but still...
hadn't there been the Corvette?
He squinted up at the sky, noted
that the sun was now in a definitely more westerly direction, definitely headed
out to dip down below the ocean in a few hours and he tried to figure out how
much longer it would take him to get to the crossroads because there'd certainly
be cars and trucks then, right?
He lowered his head, checked his
fingers again, then went back to watching his feet.
In his imagination, he could see
him trudging into Clayton Falls, dragging Simon down the main road, could see
Jim step out of Linda's office, a line of gigantic trout slung over his shoulder
and when spotting his friends, saying, "You guys will do anything to
discover my secret fishing hole, won't you?"
That idea kept Blair going, a
smile on his face.
"Sandburg? No cars."
"Yeah, I noticed that,
Simon. No cars. No surprise really. But don't worry, we're moving, we're making
headway and we know where we're going."
"*We* know where *we're*
going, do we?"
"And when you finally got us
up here and started walking, did you turn north or south?"
Scratched his head.
"North or south,
"Yeah, Sandburg. North *or*
south. As in, back up the mountain, or down."
Relieved, Blair almost laughed.
"Well, duh, Simon. We *are*
going *up* the road."
"Uh-huh. So you have no clue
as to whether you're going north or south, do you?"
"Listen buster, (he didn't
stop and think about the wisdom of calling Simon, *buster*) I have an IQ over
300, received my Master's in Anthropology at the age of twenty, traveled to over
30 countries, speak three languages, was published at seventeen," his voice
lowered sheepishly, "and so what if I have this tiny, little problem with -
directions. Like, does that diminish me as a man? I mean, it isn't like I don't
know that the sun, for instance, sets in the east, you know?"
Simon's booming laughter echoed
through the mountains. Blair had started walking again, and at the joyful laugh,
he grinned broadly.
"Sun sets in the east, oh,
that's a good one, Sandburg."
"You really have no idea
what direction you're traveling right now, do you?"
"Let me tell you what I *do*
know. I know that in about two minutes, I'm gonna be going in whatever direction
*alone*, after leaving your sorry ass smack dab in the middle of this road.
That's what I *do* know."
"May I ask how the hell you
went on so many expeditions? Sheesh."
"You know, of all the
applications I've filled out over the years - not one of them set a priority on
knowing which way was north."
"Which way *is* north?"
"Simon, you are going to be
The deep chuckles floated up
again and Blair's grin widened.
Simon noticed that they were
approaching a shady turnoff and he figured Blair could use a break about now but
he also knew he wouldn't take one unless....
"Oh, hey, right. Sorry.
Shade, here we come."
Once in the shelter of the trees,
Blair went through his now familiar routine. After checking Simon's injuries and
dispensing more aspirin, he and Simon drank their fill and munched on trail mix
and the last candy bar. When they were done, Blair scooted over and rested his
aching back against a large boulder. He didn't dare close his eyes, knowing that
if he did - he'd sleep, so instead he tried naming all the tribes he'd ever
heard about, visited or studied. Fortunately for him Simon interrupted.
"You said you speak three
languages? Impressive. What three?"
"Um, well, that would be -
English, Spanish and, um, well, Pig Latin."
"Pig Latin? This is now
another language?" Simon asked sarcastically.
"Well sure. Of course I know
a smattering of Russian, Swahili, Jim's teaching me Quechua and I have a few
native dialects floating around inside, but yeah, Pig Latin is one of the major
languages, Simon. I'm surprised you didn't know that."
"Foolish me. Maybe I should
suggest that Daryl pursue Pig Latin as *his* major?"
Simon carefully balled up the
candy bar wrapper and then just as carefully aimed and threw. The wrapper hit
Sandburg square in the middle of his forehead. Simon's good arm shot up as he
boomed out, "SCORE!"
"Hey, when you got it,
flaunt it. And I've got it."
"Yeah, so I've heard. When
we get home, allow me to recommend a good doctor. A few shots of penicilin and
you'll be as good as new."
"You shit." But Simon
was smiling, his eyes bright with affection.
"Well, this shit says it's
time to head 'em up and move 'em out. You ready? Need the little boys room
"I'm fine, but maybe we
should, you should...." but further words were useless. Sandburg was up and
ready and before he could say *Hairboy*, they were on the move again.
Simon smiled at the fact that
Blair had taken the candy wrapper and stuck it in his pocket.
He should have turned around.
This would take him at least an extra forty-five minutes to get home. What had
possessed him to make a right at the crossroads instead of the natural left?
Jim was edgy, antsy and all he
wanted, *needed*, was to walk in his front door and see Sandburg. Not too much
to ask, right? So why had he fucking turned right?
The interior was getting stuffy
and as he finished negotiating one curve, he quickly rolled down his window. The
breeze was nice and the mountain air refreshing. He considered turning on the
radio, but abandoned that thought when he remembered that in his glove box was a
tape. A special tape.
He reached over, popped it open
and plucked out the cassette. He inserted it and settled back to enjoy the drive
as Blair's voice filled the cab.
"The Carib were a tribe of
Native Americans of the Cariban linguistic stock. They occupied various regions
of South and Central America. Of interest to *you* is that the Caribbean Sea is
named after them and that little fact *will* be appearing on the test. Ah,
that's what I like to see, pencils scratching rapidly across your
There was the sound of the class
laughing and Jim grinned with them. It had been sheer luck that he'd come into
possession of this tape, made by one of Sandburg's students, but right now, he
was very glad he had it....
"For you bloodthirsty
students, and yes, I mean you, Carillo, the Carib were a particularly ferocious
tribe that practiced cannibalism. Another test answer coming up folks... In
fact, the word cannibal is derived from the Spanish term for these Native
"Carib men valued exploits
in combat above all else, not unlike our very own Rainier Raiders and yes,
Laughter again interrupted the
lecture, but then Blair's voice brought the students back in line and the lesson
"They were not organized
into a hierarchical structure under a chief, but fought as individual warriors
and raided other peoples. Male captives were tortured and eaten; female captives
became slave-wives. And Rogers, are
you nodding back there? Or just nodding *off*?" "I'm nodding, Mr.
Sandburg. I'm thinking the philosophy of the Carib tribe might not be so very
"I see. Ms. Reynolds, how do
you feel about Steve's - empathy, with the Carib male warriors?"
"I'd like to see him try to
eat Carillo, Mr. Sandburg. And I'm thinking - slave-husbands."
Laughter erupted again and Jim
could hear Blair's as he joined in and started to clap, soon followed by the
rest of the class.
"Yes, Mr. Belding?"
"Do they still exist, these
"Unfortunately, the Carib
were all but eliminated in the 17th century when several European
Blair's voice went on and Jim
felt some semblance of peace for the first time in days.
"I think you should sing,
"Excuse me, Simon? Did I
just hear you correctly? You want me to *sing*?"
"Yeah. Take my mind off of
things, you know?"
"Uh-huh. Sure, of course.
And did we have a request?"
"Um, no, I'll leave that up
Blair shook his head and decided
it was time to get a little back....
In a shrill falsetto, he began to
"On the good ship, Lollipop,
it's a sweet trip to the candy shop where bon-bon's play, on the sunny beach of
"Lemonade stands, everywhere
crackerjack bands, fill the air, and there you are, happy landings on a
The tape was still playing, the
sun was headed west and the earlier fog now a distant memory. As Jim
concentrated on the road and Blair's voice, he caught a snatch of something far
'... on peppermint bay...'
Instinctively, Jim's foot hit the
brake pedal and the truck screeched to a halt in the middle of the road....
'... chocolate bar....'
"What the fuck?" he
He was not going crazy. Okay,
maybe he was.
The Good Ship Lollipop? Being
sung on a mountain road in....
... being sung by... Sandburg?
Later, Jim would never be able to
explain why he did what he did. Of course, no one asked either. Because what he
did - was to jump from the truck and start walking down the road. The truck door
was left open.
As he walked, the singing grew
louder and as the singing grew louder, he walked faster until he was at a dead
The wise thing, he thought as he
ran, would be to get back in the truck and head to the nearest hospital and a
good psychologist. But it was a given that he wasn't always wise.
He ran wide around a bend and
skidded to a stop....
Jim Ellison shook his head. Shut
his eyes. Opened them. The vision was still there and closing fast.
Blair, dragging - Simon.
Blair dragging Simon and singing
'On The Good Ship Lollipop' at the top of his voice.
Jim watched open-mouthed as Blair
plodded along singing, eyes fixed on the road beneath his feet....
This singing shit was good. He
actually had more energy, more momentum.
And of course, it was driving
Simon crazy. In a minute, he'd try his rendition of 'Animal Crackers'.
Guaranteed to send Simon over the edge....
Wait, been there, done that.
Okay, guaranteed to... well, guaranteed to do *something*. His mind was too
tired to come up with something suitable.
Eyes fixed on the road, planting
one foot in front of the other, he kept walking and singing, and smiling because
behind him, Simon was now muttering dire threats and suggesting maybe something
more along the lines of jazz, or even some blues... or maybe surgery, to remove
Sandburg's voice box....
Blair blinked - and stopped. His
voice trailed off and as he lifted his head, he could hear Simon....
"And you know, you're going
to have to explain to the entire Major Crime bullpen just *how* the hell you
know *all* the lyrics to a Shirley Temple song and you'll *never* live that
"Simon, shut up."
Simon shut up because it wasn't
Blair's voice asking - it was....
*There's a hero if you look
inside your heart. You don't have to be
afraid of what you are.*
Blair's brain was as numb as his
fingers. That was the only possible explanation for the fact that when Jim
jogged across the road to stand in front of him, Blair giggled.
Because Jim looked both ways
He *looked* both ways. The man
sees his two bothersome friends, one on a litter, the other dragging said litter
and they're on an empty road that *no one* travels and the guy is a fucking
sentinel and could hear a car coming from what, a hundred miles away? But he
checks both ways before crossing. Sheesh.
"Yes, that would be me. And
behind me, just because, is your friend and captain, Simon Banks."
The uncertain tone held a
multitude of questions so Blair just started answering.
"See, Simon was driving and
he saw this girl with really nice winks so he kinda lost his concentration and
we went for a ride over the cliff and down the mountain and then he decided he
was too tired to actually *walk* back up to the road so being the good, even
though I'm not a cop and he doesn't pay me, employee, I made a litter and he
slept while I toiled away and here we are. And um, Jim, where's the truck?"
Jim blinked, swallowed,
"Perceptive, isn't he,
Simon waved a hand dismissively
and said, "Detective of the Year."
Jim ignored his captain and said,
"And you carried Simon," his head wiggled questioningly, "how
But before Blair could answer,
Simon piped up.
"Jim, Jim, Jim. Your partner
doesn't even know north from south and you expect him to gauge *distances*? Now
if you were to ask him to sing *The Good Ship Lollipop*, well, you'd be in
Jim shook his head a few times,
much like a quarterback that had just been hit by the entire defensive team,
then he moved to the side of the litter. He squatted down and put his hand on
"I'm fine. A doctor and a
hospital would be nice though."
Jim studied the broken leg, the
splint, then pulled gently at the split pant leg. Everything looked surprisingly
good. He did a quick sentinel check and found no other broken bones. He squeezed
the shoulder under his fingers and stood.
Blair hadn't moved, hadn't
lowered the litter, but remained in place - waiting.
Jim's face showed every bit of
his confusion and wonder as he fumbled with his words....
"Um, the truck, it's - back
- there. I'll take the back of the stretcher, okay?"
It was Blair's turn to blink.
"Jim, better idea here? Why
don't Simon and I - stay put - and you jog back to the truck?" He waggled
his eyebrows, his head doing a little Egyptian dance and added, "Then you
bring the truck to us, see?"
"Yes, I - um, yeah, that's a
good one. Good idea. Of course."
Jim turned his head and made a
motion, indicating the direction of the truck and said, "Yeah, I'll just go
back up to the truck and bring it here. Good thinking. Be... um, be right, you
As Blair watched Jim turn and
start to jog away, he said, "Gee, he's a good friend, isn't he,
"One of the best. Not the
brightest bulb in the cupboard, but one hell of a good friend."
They both started laughing. It
was slightly hysterical laughter, but laughter nevertheless.
With effort, the two men managed
to get the litter and Simon into the back of the truck. Blair jumped in beside
him and squeezed himself into the corner as Jim closed the tailgate.
"Looks like we're taking
that trip to the hospital after all, eh, Chief?"
"Yep. And Jim?"
"Anyone tries to stop us
this time - just, like, kill 'em, okay?"
"I can do that."
The drive to the hospital seemed
to take longer than everything that had happened up to Jim's arrival. But Blair
figured that was normal. The end was at hand so of course it would take its own
sweet time. But eventually they *were* pulling up to the small, white building
and Jim was jumping out and running inside and moments later - two men and one
woman were running to the truck, the two men pushing a gurney.
Simon was unloaded and wheeled
inside, Jim and Blair following closely. Through
the doors, the men steered left and the gurney disappeared behind a curtain. The
woman, identifying herself as Nurse White, took Blair's arm and started to guide
him to another curtained-off room.
"Hey," he objected,
pulling his arm away from the rather formidable woman, "I'm not the one
who's hurt, you know? And where's the doctor?"
"The doctor is right here,
All three, the nurse, Blair and
Jim, turned to face the new voice. A man almost as tall as Simon strode toward
them, hand outstretched. Jim took it as the doctor introduced himself.
"I'm Doctor Bryant. Right
now I'm going in and check on your friend, then," his voice took on a
stern, almost fatherly tone, "I'll be with you, young man. Now be good and
follow Nurse White and don't laugh when I tell you that her first name is Betty
and she hates it when people crack jokes about Betty White, about being Nurse
Betty and about wearing white, okay?"
Dumbfounded, Blair could only nod
and allow *Nurse Betty* to propel him into the other cubicle. Jim started to
follow, but the good doctor took hold of his arm and asked, "Shouldn't you
be informing the Highway Patrol, young man?"
"Uh-huh. Phone's that way.
Waiting room is over there. When I'm done, I'll be back to talk to you. Until
then, stay put." Then with a twinkle in his eye, he admonished, "And
don't say the *F* word in front of Nurse White. She's liable to stick a bar of
soap in your mouth."
Pale blue eyes widened in shock.
Stay put? *Him*? And soap? Jim turned and walked to the phone. After making
several calls, he went to the waiting room, sat down, and stayed put.
He also listened. And grinned.
"...now listen here, young
man. I'm twice your size and you *will* strip and you *will* let me look you
over, understood? Cause don't think for a minute you're not too big for me to
put over my knee. Oh, no. Not too big at all."
"What, I've landed in the
Twilight Zone? I know, you're all aliens, right? Hey!! Wait just one minute,
don't, that's my, HEY! THAT'S MY SHIRT!"
There was the sound of ripping
cloth and a light thud that signaled the fact that the nurse from *One Flew Over
the Cuckoos Nest* had pushed her charge down onto the table, then....
Jim could hear material being
pulled down as Blair struggled against the juggernaut that was Nurse Betty
And in the other cubicle....
The sound of rubber soles, the
doctor and another nurse moving around Simon and the kind voice of the doctor
"...so, an accident, eh?
Over the cliff? Sounds like you two men were *very* lucky."
"How is Sandburg? I hope
you're checking him over, I mean, you *do* realize what he's done since
"He's in with my other nurse
and after I finish with you, I'll check in on him. In the meantime, why don't
you tell us while we work?"
"He carried me, dragged me,
God knows how far, been walking and climbing since sunrise. Up the mountain we
came down. He followed the trail we made, you know? I still don't know how he
did it. Do you *know* how big I am? Did you see him? See the difference? He
shouldn't have been able to do what he did, but he did. And he never stopped,
never didn't know what to do. You take good care of him. He was hurting, I could
tell. And you saw his lip? And the side of his face? I mean, I didn't say
anything, but man, that had to have hurt...."
It went on and gradually the
smile faded from Jim's face. He paled as he listened, but under the fear and
concern, there was pride. He wasn't hearing anything about Blair that he didn't
already know, but hearing it from Simon, hearing the pride in Simon's voice, the
immense pride and respect... Jim closed his eyes and rested his head against the
My hero, he thought. Then smiled.
Yep, my hero.
A few minutes later a technician
rolled an x-ray machine into the cubicle and Doctor Bryant exited and made his
way to Blair. Once again, Jim listened.
"is he okay? is his leg
okay? his arm?"
"Please, Mr. Sandburg,
relax. We're taking x-rays now, but I can tell you that his leg looks to be
broken in two places, but their clean breaks. I stitched up his arm, which
looked very good, thanks to your first aid. And may I say, that was one fine
sample of splinting. Now lie back down and let me look you over, all
"oh, okay. and you're sure
"He's fine, Mr. Sandburg. In
fact, once we get his leg in a cast, you can take him home."
Jim could hear Blair's sigh of
relief and he could almost sense the tight knot of worry starting to unravel.
Maybe now he'd let them take care of him.
He listened as Blair's hands were
cleaned and attended to, as his lip and face were checked over and he almost
charged into the room when the doctor checked over some bruising on Blair's back
and waist and his partner hadn't been able to hold back a loud hiss of pain. But
he sat back down, knowing that Blair would prefer he *stay put*.
But finally the doctor came out
and motioned him over.
"You can see Mr. Sandburg
now. When I'm finished with your other friend, I'll be back."
He started to walk away, but
stopped, turned and with a quizzical expression on his face, asked, "Is our
young man in there, is he always this - energetic and - talkative?"
A huge and beautiful grin spread
over Jim's face as he nodded.
"Yep, he is. Great, isn't
Blair was sitting on the edge of
the examining table, his legs restlessly swinging. The minute Jim walked in,
Blair started talking.
"Clothes, Jim. Can you get
me some? From my backpack? And the car, Simon's car, someone needs to go and try
to bring it up or bury it, whatever's fair. And I'll have to tell them where, I
guess and did you hear anything about Simon? Is he all right? Okay? And can you
believe the nurse? Look," he held up his dirty and tattered flannel shirt,
"what she did to my favorite shirt, Jim. Just look at this, will ya? And
she took my pants too, so here I am, practically in my birthday suit and is it
cold in here or what? And do you suppose there's a beer anywhere close? I've
been dreaming of a cold one for hours...."
"I'd give my *soul* for a
cold beer right now, you know? And some clothes and I just *know* Nurse White is
an alien and I'm betting that Doctor Bryant is too, you know, like that movie,
*I Married a Monster*? Or maybe I'm
thinking of *The Body Snatchers*, yeah, pod people, that's what they
"...so you really need to
get me an Simon out of here, pronto, because I *so* don't want to *be* a pod
person, although... I suppose, once you *become* a pod person, it isn't so bad,
and you don't really know what you *used* to be, that you *weren't* a pod
person... uh, Jim? Where ya going? JIM!? HEY!"
He stepped out into the hall and
with his hands braced against the wall, he started - laughing.
Laughing hard. Until tears
streamed down his face and he was choking and somehow the tears turned hot and
the choking sounded more like sobbing, but then the laughter would build again
and the whole last three years seemed to take on a crystal edge, a fine crystal
edge and the clearness of it, the clarity of it almost took Jim's breath away
because, because, he was thirty-eight and the years before he was thirty-five,
they didn't matter at all. Not at all. Nothing mattered except thirty-six,
thirty-seven and thirty-eight.
He couldn't believe he'd tried to
run away from *that*, from what was on the other side of the curtain, from the
voice that even now, even though he was alone, was still talking....
"Gee, what did I say? Jim?
You coming back? Okay, don't come back. When they turn me into a pod person,
it'll be all your fault and don't come crying to me about it, okay? Or maybe
I'll get ravaged. Yeah, Nurse White has been charged with repopulating her
planet and she needs short Jewish guys so she's gonna come in here and ravage
me. Endlessly. And *then* she's gonna turn me into an icky pod person. Mutant
Blair. Mutant Chief. Mutant Sandburg."
Heart nearly bursting, all Jim
could think was, God, how he loved that short Jewish guy.
"....so basically, Captain
Banks is going to be fine. He's casted, the breaks clean. But I'll tell you
this, Detective Ellison, he owes his leg and probably his life, to that young
man in there.
"Not only did he do a fine
job of splinting and cushioning the leg, but he made the right decision *not* to
leave Captain Banks. Between the cold, the wildlife and the fact that he would
have gone into severe shock, well, I doubt we would have found him
Jim nodded, having already come
to the same conclusions himself.
"As to the Roadrunner in
there, he's bruised, the palms of his hands are a bit mangled and to tell the truth,
he's not feeling any pain at the moment, but he will. He's gonna come down off
the adrenalin rush anytime now and when he does, well, watch out for some
delayed shock, all right, Detective?"
Again Jim nodded because again -
same conclusion. Great minds and all that.
"Thank you, Doctor Bryant.
Thank you very much. So I can get these guys home? The drive back to Cascade
won't hurt them?"
"Yeah, I do. I have one of
our friends coming to take Simon back in comfort, so we have a bit of a wait, is
that a problem?"
"No, not at all. We're not
exactly busy. I'll leave Captain Banks in the treatment room then, let him sleep
and when your friend arrives, we can get him up and into a wheelchair. But I
suggest you take Mr. Sandburg over to see him, he won't settle down...."
"I know. And thank you
Doctor Bryant glanced over at the
room that held a certain noisy anthropologist and something glittered in the
man's eyes as he said, "Believe me when I say it was a pleasure, Detective.
And - an honor. I don't see these small miracles nearly enough, you know? Helps
keep a man going."
Then he faced Jim again and said,
"You do realize he shouldn't have been able to do what he did, right?"
"I know. But I suspect he's
had a lifetime of doing what he shouldn't have been able to do. And of people
telling what he couldn't do. I don't think he listens anymore."
"Thank God for the wise man
who refuses to listen to fools."
"Amen, Doctor, amen."
As Doctor Bryant walked off, Jim
made himself a promise - he'd been listening to fools for far too long - but no
As he walked into Blair's room,
he wondered how it was that a twenty-eight year old knew more about *knowing
oneself* than the older guy who'd been around the block more times than he could
He stepped behind the curtain and
prepared himself for the verbal onslaught....
"There you are. Where ya
been? Is Simon okay? Can we go... ho-m, uh...
back? Can I see him? And what about the car? And how will we get Simon
down? He can't go the whole way in the back of the truck, man, you know?
And if I'm a pod person, well, I'm gonna make *you* one, that's for sure.
But maybe we shouldn't leave until Nurse White is done ravaging. I wouldn't want
to be responsible for the end of an entire world, you know? I mean, if they need
short Jewish guys, well, who am I to refuse?
And can you imagine an entire planet of *me's*? God help them...."
Jim let Blair rattle on, waiting
for the voice to wind down, but loving every minute of it....
*You can find love if you search
within yourself, and the emptiness you
"He's really okay, isn't
he?" Blair confirmed quietly.
"Yeah, Chief, yeah he
The two men were standing on the
edge of the cubicle where Simon slept peacefully. His leg was propped up
slightly and Blair suddenly smiled as he looked at the cast.
"I don't think he's seen the
cast yet, do you?"
"No, Chief, I don't. We'd
"Did the doctor tell you
"Yeah, something about a kid
named Timmy Wilkins and only having pink left and the tinted plaster...."
Blair was moving from one foot to
the other and Jim put out a hand and placed it comfortingly on his shoulder.
"Hey, you can relax now.
He's fine, you're fine and we're going home as soon as Joel arrives. Simon's car
was found, you were right on in giving your directions and by now, it's been
"Yeah, you're right. Of
course, you're right."
But he didn't stop his little
foot dance. Adrenalin was a strange thing.
Kinda like Sandburg.
Interest lighting his eyes, Blair
turned to face Jim. "Yeah? What about her? Did they find her? Arrest her?
Throw away the key?"
"She belonged to Fisker. She
was part of it. You two happened to be the unlucky guys that got in her way as
she tried to get down and not get caught. Her name is Melinda Parry. The Highway
Patrol found her about ten miles into the valley - out of gas. She's in
"Well I'll be - whatever.
Eyes wide and a crooked grin on
his face, Jim stared at his partner.
Bitch? From Sandburg?
"Come on, buddy, let's go to
the waiting room and relax. Maybe get you something soothing to drink? You
Blair shook his head and refused
to move as Jim tried to lead him out.
Jim checked his watch and nodded.
"Yeah, maybe, depending on Sunday traffic."
"Okay. I'll just sit over
there," he indicated the stool next to the gurney, then added, "You
could bring in a chair from outside, couldn't you?"
"Yeah, yeah I could."
He stepped out, grabbed a chair
from the waiting room and walked back behind the curtain. He set it down across
from Blair. Who was spinning on the stool.
Jim sighed patiently. Adrenalin.
"I can sit in the front
seat, you know."
"I'm sure you can,
Simon," Joel reasoned, "but you'll be more comfortable in the back.
See? We've got pillows to brace you up and blankets. Daryl will be at your place
by the time we get home and he's prepared to spend the next few weeks with you
until the cast comes off."
Simon stopped fighting the move
into the back of Joel's car and with a huge smile, said, "He is? Daryl's
Jim aimed the larger man at the
back door of the Le Sabre as he answered for Joel.
"Yep. Joan's made all the
arrangements. And Amy will be there too. And don't think you can pull the wool
over any of our eyes, the good doctor told us no work for one week."
As Simon slid clumsily into the
back, completely unaware that he *was* in the back, he said quietly, "Daryl
will be there. And Amy...."
Shaking their heads, they closed
the door on their Captain.
"Okay, Joel, we'll follow
you down. Take it slow and easy."
"Will do. And you heard
Simon earlier? He wants to stop for dinner at The Regal Diner."
"I know. Those famous
hamburgers with a fried egg. But I suspect he'll be dead to the world by
the time we get that far, so let's play it by ear, okay?"
Joel glanced over at Sandburg,
who was talking with Nurse White, then back at Jim.
"Right. By ear. If he's up
and yelling, you'll undoubtedly notice me turning into the place."
"You got it. All right then,
let's hit the road."
A few more thank-you's, followed
by Nurse White engulfing Blair in a giant hug, and they were on their way. Home.
Jim had forgotten the tape.
As he started the engine, Blair's
voice filled the cab. Jim quickly hit the reject button, slipped the cassette
out and tossed it into the glove compartment.
"I was looking for some
music to play and grabbed that. You must have left it in here at some
"Oh. Sure. Must have."
Jim turned out of the parking lot
and followed Joel onto the highway.
From the back window, Simon
waved. Blair waved back.
The drive down was one of the
most nerve-wracking experiences that Blair could remember. Every corner, every
curve sent his heartbeat skyrocketing. He knew that Jim would be aware, so he
worked hard on controlling his breathing and reactions. His mind never stopped
with his mantras, coaching and meditations. And somehow - he made it down
without moving into a full-blown panic attack.
As they hit the interstate that
would take them back to Cascade, Jim's cell rang.
<<He's sound asleep so
unless you two are hungry?>>
Jim glanced over at his companion
and asked, "Chief, you wanna stop for something to eat? Simon's
Blair didn't. Not even remotely.
He wanted this particular journey to end, to be over but....
"Hey, whatever you two want
is fine by me."
Jim might not always see the
signs blinking brightly, but this time - he did.
<<And Jim, when we get into
Cascade, just go straight home. Daryl, Amy
and I can get El Capitan into the
<<Positive, just get the
kid home and tucked into bed>>
Jim chuckled at the idea of
*tucking* Sandburg in as he said, "Right, sure, tuck. Not."
The answering laugh on the other
end of the phone brought forth another chuckle. They hung up and kept driving
The door swung open and both men
walked in, Blair in front. He took a deep breath, then exhaled. Felt good to be
hom... back. Felt good to be back. And as he looked around, he realized that it
felt - off - too.
This wasn't the home he'd left
with Simon to follow Jim. Subtle differences, words ringing in his ears, yeah,
off. Not quite the same.
He gave a start when Jim slipped
his backpack out of his hand and with a grateful look, Blair said, "Man,
I'm gonna go into my room and collapse, sleep for like, *days*, you know?"
Go. You sure you don't want a shower first though?"
Shower. Oh yeah. Definitely a
"You just twisted my arm,
man. But if I go first, I can't guarantee that I'll leave any hot water for
"Go to town, Chief. I'll
take mine in the morning. Go. Use. Enjoy. And I could have some eggs and tea
waiting for you?"
Waving his hand and shaking his
head as he entered the bathroom, he said, "No, no, not hungry. Shower, bed,
days, then when I wake up, I'll eat my way through Cascade."
Jim grinned as the bathroom door
shut behind his partner. He picked up the backpack, carried it into Blair's
bedroom, set it down and opened it up. There wasn't much, but what there was, he
took out, intending to take into the kitchen and either put away or throw out.
Jim put Sandburg's shaving kit on the desk, then dropped the pack on the ground
next to the desk. He moved the foodstuff and first aid kit, turned down the bed,
then carried everything into the kitchen.
The empty wrappers he tossed,
along with the trail mix dregs. He put one unopened bottle of water into the
fridge and set the first aid kit, which had to belong to Simon, on the counter.
Tomorrow, he'd go down and bring
up Sandburg's sleeping bag and the clothes he'd used to cushion the litter and
Simon's leg and wash them for the kid. Jim briefly considered a beer,
remembering Blair's desire for a *cold one*, but it was late and the shower had
just been turned off. He heard the hairdryer come on and with his back to the
counter, he just - listened.
Funny what he could *hear*. What
he could *sense* with his hearing. And how it all combined to give him a vision.
He could see Blair clearly, white towel hanging from his hips, standing before
the mirror and getting his hair dry enough to sleep. He could hear busy fingers
as they moved through the wet hair. Could hear the swishing sound as the dryer
was jiggled and shifted back and forth in order to give the wet hair small
bursts of warm air, and the sound the pushed air made as the bandaged hand
jerked the dryer back and forth, the kind of *whoosh* and *swoosh* sound, and
the hum of the machine itself and they were sounds that Jim never wanted to be
The simple act of Blair Sandburg
drying his hair....
They still had to talk. Jim with
so much to say and Blair with so much to hear, but it would wait until tomorrow,
until Blair had come down a notch or two and it wasn't adrenalin that kept him
going. Tonight, Jim would be content to sleep upstairs and listen.
The dryer was switched off and
after a couple of minutes, Bair exited the bathroom and with a tired grin and a
*good-night, Jim*, he walked into room and shut the French doors.
Jim pushed himself away from the
counter, locked up, shut off lights and walked upstairs.
As his foot hit the top landing,
he heard, "Aw, thanks, Jim."
Smiling, he got undressed and
crawled into bed.
Pacing. Someone was - pacing.
With a groan, Jim rolled over and checked his alarm clock...
God, it was two in the morning.
Who the hell....
Blair. It was Blair.
Covers were thrown off and Jim
was up and moving. He didn't knock, just burst in to find his partner, hair
disheveled, wearing only his shorts and sleeveless undershirt, pacing back and
forth, bandaged hands moving aimlessly about.
"Chief? Are you all
Blair paused, shot Jim a wry
grin, then said as he resumed pacing, "Isn't this silly? I should be dead
to the world, but here I am - *walking*. Like I haven't walked enough?"
There was an edge of hysteria to
Sandburg's voice and Jim remained where he was, in the doorway, wearing only a
pair of navy blue boxers. He watched as Blair walked and he *listened*.
"This is so weird, Jim. I
lie down and I'm, like, still --- *moving*.
Still climbing. Still carrying - Simon. I can't stop the motion. It's
like - being on board a ship and when you finally get off, finally get home, you
still feel it, you know?"
"I know, Chief, I know.
Happened to me the first time I ever rode a horse. Rode all day, got home, went
to bed and I was still riding."
"Yeah, yeah, exactly, man,
exactly." He held up his hands and said, amazed, "I can't, like,
*feel* my hands, you know? Or my body, really.
But I feel the *motion*. And it won't stop and I should be dead to the
world - for *days* dead to the world, but I can't *stop*."
The bit of hysteria was back and
Jim understood that Blair had reached that shocky point but he didn't know what
to do for him, how to help - or did he?
"I keep bending my knees,
Jim, like I'm still climbing and the floor, the floor just keeps moving and I
keep wanting to tell Simon...."
"Whoa, Chief, whoa."
He held up his hands and made a
time-out gesture, then said quietly, "Come on, Chief, take a deep breath,
you know how to do this, one deep, cleansing breath, with me, on three...."
He waited, Blair stopped, nodded,
looked at him expectantly, all the trust in the world shining out of exhausted
"Okay, with me, one - two -
They both took deep breaths and
Jim said, "hold," and they both held as Jim counted down with the
fingers on his right hand....
Five... four... three... two...
They exhaled and as the last of
Blair's breath left his mouth, he closed his eyes and swayed a bit, but
straightened on his own.
"Okay, better now,
"Yeah, better. But I'll
never sleep again. I'm, like, *too* tired."
"Hell, all you need is
something to push you over the edge, that's all."
"Got any ideas," Blair
asked, not really expecting an answer.
"Well, now that you
mentioned it - yeah, I do."
His voice was so quiet, so
gentle, so full of - what, promise? That Blair looked up, puzzled. Jim moved
toward him, kept moving until he was in front of him, their bodies almost
"I think I know just the
thing to get you to sleep, Chief."
The signals were unmistakable.
The pale blue eyes almost midnight blue, the tension in the sculpted body, the
half smile on Jim's lips and the... invitation in those suddenly dark eyes.
They were so close and Jim's eyes
were fixed on his mouth and Jim's mouth was coming closer and they were going to
"It's either that, or
The smile was in Jim's tone and
eyes and Blair smiled back, his eyes now fixed on Jim's mouth.
"Let's save the
mouth-to-mouth for later, okay?"
"Then that means - we're
going to kiss."
Their mouths were centimeters
from touching, eyes watching each other, when suddenly Blair put his hand on
Jim's chest and pushed.
"No! Wait, not like this,
not like I planned...."
He took Jim's hand and dragged
him from the bedroom and over to the stairs, then he moved up on the first step
and positioned Jim in front of him.
"There, that's better. Now
we're even. No strain, no pain."
They were looking at each other -
eye to eye now and Jim found himself grinning like a fool.
Until Blair put his hands on
Jim's hips. And pulled. They stared at each other, smiling, then eyes moved
down, to focus on parted lips and slowly, they moved in on each other....
Lips touched briefly, then
separated. Blair gave a low laugh and moved in again. Neither man shut his eyes.
They tried again, the kiss lasting longer. They parted, changed angles, laughed
softly, planted featherlight kisses, darting in, then out, then back again....
Jim snaked an arm around Blair's
waist, brought his other arm up and slipped his hand under the mass of hair to
capture the younger man's neck and his thumb rubbed the skin as Blair moaned.
Lips parted and tongues were
introduced and suddenly - their bodies caught fire. What had been daring, fun
and experimental, now became - everything. Almost three years of tensions
exploding as without words, both men said what needed saying.
Jim started up, lips still locked
and Blair let him guide him until they were in Jim's bedroom and Blair's legs
came to rest against the bed....
"Now it's time to do
something that will knock you over the edge...."
"Uh, Jim? The kissing was
working pretty good. Just thought I should tell you that."
Jim went to his knees and slowly
put his hands on top of Blair's legs, thumbs resting on the softer, more
sensitive skin of the inner thighs... and
he pulled Sandburg's legs apart....
Blair gave a small jerk and
gasped, but his eyes never left Jim's.
With Blair's thighs parted, Jim
moved in close and kissed him, this kiss going deep. As Blair's arms came up to
wrap around Jim's neck, to smooth through his soft, bristly hair, Jim gently
pulled Blair's shorts off, with not a little help and a few moans from Sandburg.
Jim pulled away from Blair's
mouth and started kissing his way down the trembling body. He spent some time
playing with Blair's chest, wetting the soft curls, suckling on rigid nipples,
letting his tongue *feel* everything, allowing Blair's natural scent to invade
every pore, then he moved to Blair's navel and smiled into skin as the body
below him bucked up....
He pushed Blair back until the
younger man was flat against the bed, then he continued playing....
As he kissed and licked and
tasted, his hands moved, stroked, petted, ran over skin that had been brusied,
felt the many small cuts and abrasions, kissed as many of them as he could and
then he was there - Blair's penis, thick, full, needy, but he deliberately
ignored it, concentrating instead on the area around it, playing with soft, wiry
pubic hair, kissing up the sensitive inner thigh....
*The end is over, everything is
changed, yet the same... as we come full
He brought Blair to the edge,
listened as he begged, watched as the bedspread was bunched up by fingers
needing release, and for the first time - he tasted Blair.
He didn't swipe up the length of
Sandburg's dick, he just - rested his tongue against the tip.
Pre-ejaculate filled his mouth,
his taste buds exploding with the bittersweet, salty fluid. A low, agonized moan
left Blair's mouth and went on and on....
But this was - this was Jim and
Blair's dick. This was tasting to his hearts content. This was taking his time,
taking it into his mouth, a little at a time, savoring, enjoying, using every
technique he knew while *eating* as much as he could, tasting all that he could.
The world, the universe, all
dwindled down to this moment, to this organ, this appendage, and it was silly
really, but damn, Jim was enjoying himself. As he enjoyed, he couldn't help but
remember Blair singing - *The Good Ship Lollipop*....
Sucking, tongue lavishing love
and sensations, Blair's body moving constantly in one way or another, and as Jim
sucked, as Blair's balls drew up and he was about to come, Jim felt his own
balls getting ready and that was - fucking incredible and he swallowed and Blair
came and he was swallowing faster and faster as Blair fucked his mouth in
earnest and then *he* was coming....
Jim drew the warm cloth over his
body and looked at himself in the mirror. He wasn't sure he knew that person
staring back at him. The face looked - familiar, but the expression was
The man in the mirror radiated
happiness. It flowed from him like waves being pulled into the shore.
And he was smiling. Like - stuck
smiling. Like he'd never frown again. Because
he'd sucked off Blair Sandburg? Because he'd made love to the man's dick, to the
man? Because he now knew Blair Sandburg's body, his dick and his mouth more
intimately than he'd ever known his own?
Because just before Blair
Sandburg had drifted off to sleep - a deep sleep, he'd mumbled, "i love
you, jim. but i'll move if you want...."
Tears stung Jim's eyes but he
didn't stop smiling. He was in love. For the first time in his life. And for the
first time - he was truly loved back. By a short, talkative, energetic, Jewish
He had a hero.
Contentment spreading through his
body, he took the other wet, warm towel and walked upstairs. He knelt on the bed
beside Blair and gently washed him. The younger man didn't stir. When he was
done, he took the towel back down, dumped it into the laundry basket and once
more climbed the stairs.
Sliding into bed, he carefully
took Blair into his arms. He didn't know what the future held, but he knew what
he held. And he planned on holding it indefinitely.
Blair slept for thirty-one hours,
most of it deep, unmoving and restorative. Jim went about his business, went
into the station briefly, made sure that his week's vacation was still a go,
that Joel, who was acting captain until Simon's return, wouldn't need him, then
he went to the University, explained the accident and secured a week off for
Blair. He couldn't say he hadn't
learned anything from Sandburg - he'd learned to obfuscate.
Then he went home to wait for
Sandburg to wake up.
He toyed with the idea of getting
on his knee and asking Sandburg to marry him, but then he laughed. No, he'd let
Sandburg propose to *him*.
"How ya feeling?"
Blair looked around him, breathed
deeply and sighed. "Not bad. Not bad at all. How long...."
"Relax, I took care of the
University. They don't expect you back until next Monday. I kind of - well,
stretched the truth a bit. They were very sympathetic."
Jim smiled and held out a cup of
coffee to the sleep-drugged man.
"You're welcome. How are the
"Can you feel your hands,
He wiggled them and picked up the
pen Jim had on the table for his crossword puzzle.
"Yeah, everything seems to
"I can attest to that."
Blair blinked, then sank down
into the chair.
"Oh, wow. That wasn't a
"No, no dream. You woke up
in my bed, didn't you?"
"Yeah, now that you mention
it. Way cool. And you're fine with it?"
"Why do you ask that?"
"Well, I can be kind of
exasperating and we, well, you know, and maybe you don't want...."
"Sandburg, shut up."
"I *did* need the time away
from you *because* of what we did Sunday, or should I say, Monday, morning.
He didn't for a minute think
Blair could see, hell, Jim wasn't even sure of what he'd just said....
"Oh, I get it. So you've
been dealing with these feelings for awhile?
And they finally got to you? My body was just so overwhelming and you
didn't think you could have me and I was driving you crazy, so you needed to get
Blair was looking at him in all
innocence, but the twinkle in his eyes....
"Um, yeah, Sandburg,
something like that. You dickwad."
Blair just smiled at him and took
another sip of his coffee. After a few minutes of companionable silence, Blair
said matter-of-factly, "So you probably don't want me to move, uh?"
"Upstairs, want you to move
"Well, yeah, *that*."
They drank their coffee and
"I'm sorry if I ever made
you feel like a lab rat, Jim."
"You didn't. Not really. I
know what's been going on. I was just confused, trying to *not* live with you,
"Want to live with you now,
More easy silence, then....
"Jim, you should know -
there is no dissertation. I - can't publish it, not and protect you."
Jim put down his coffee cup and
stared at his - other half.
"Blair, what happens now?
What about your doctorate? You can't give that up."
"Sure I can."
"No, you can't."
"Jim, it wasn't really
*about* my doctorate. I'm an anthropologist, but it isn't my field anymore. It
hasn't been, not really, for the last two years."
This can't be happening, Jim
thought. It just can't be happening.
"Blair, I can't let you do
this. I just can't. We're talking your whole life, your career. You can't just
give that up."
"What's with you? People's
lives change all the time. Their direction changes all the time. Okay, so I've
spent the last twelve years at Rainier, so what? The last years with you had me
more alive than the previous twelve. I'm more me now than I've ever been."
It was so like Jim's own thoughts
about his years with Sandburg that he felt his throat close up.
He looked at the dark, brown
swirling liquid in his mug and after swallowing Plymouth Rock, said shyly,
"Well, have you, I mean, would you, consider, maybe, being my official
When there was no immediate
answer, he looked up, afraid of what he'd see. He needn't have been. Blair was
"I'll talk to Simon. We can
arrange it. Might mean some time spent at the Academy, self-defense, firearms
training, that stuff, but you've *been* a cop in all but title, Blair. We just
need to make it - official."
"Yeah," Jim said,
grinning. "Official and permanent."
"Wow, this means I'll have
to carry a gun."
"Scary, isn't it?"
"You don't know the half of
it. Cascade - beware."
"I'm gonna need someone to
watch my back - protect me from *you*."
"Now *that's* low,
"Let's go upstairs and try
out *low*. Whaddya say?"
"Good idea. I'd like to get
a handle on *your* gun. Check out the bullets, the caliber, you know? See out
how it feels in my hand, just get a feel - for it. Then see if it fits in my -
"Uh-huh. Well. Yeah."
Laughing, Blair scooted back his
chair and took off for the stairs - whistling *The Good Ship Lollipop*....
Jim waited a heartbeat, then took
off after the younger man....
Eight weeks later -
"A toast, to the most recent
graduate of the Cascade Police Academy, Detective Second Grade, Blair
Everyone around the table raised
their drinks to join Captain Simon Banks in the toast to their newest member.
Glasses clinked and champagne was
swallowed. The men and women of Major Crime sat down at the large, round table
in the back room of O' Connell's and dug in, enjoying the food, the company, and
listening as their new detective regaled them with stories of the academy. At
the far end of the table sat another new member of the team, an Australian
exchange officer, Inspector Megan Conner.
Simon was free of his cast and
had been back to work for the last six weeks, albeit with a cane. As he looked
around the table, stared at the faces of his team, he thanked God. Then his eyes
lit on Jim and Blair, stayed on Blair and he shook his head.
Never in a million years would he
have ever imagined this day, all those months ago when the kid was brought in by
Ellison to *study* closed societies and mouthed off about *The Thin Blue Line*
crap. Yet, here he was - a cop.
And half of a team that if the
The Sentinel and his what, guide?
Yeah, Sentinel and Guide. The guardians of Cascade.
Blair met his gaze and the two
smiled at each other, a shared smile. Then
Simon lifted his glass and gave Blair a silent salute as he mouthed the words,
*thank-you*. Blair blushed and looked away.
Come to think of it, Simon still
owed Blair for singing Shirley Temple songs....
He pushed back his chair and
rose. Everyone stopped talking and turned their attention to him. He cleared his
throat and in his booming voice, said, "Now that Blair Sandburg is an
*official* and *paid* member of Major Crime - do we all agree that something has
to go? That his current *image* is not quite up to our standards? Don't we all
agree that it's time he... cut his hair?"
Everyone started teasing at once,
yelling out that yeah, he was a *real* cop now and someone needed to get a
*real* cop haircut.
Jim leaned over and ruffled the
hair in question as Blair stood up and dug in his heels.
"No, no way, Simon. I'm am
*not* cutting my hair!"
Under his breath, Jim murmured,
"damn straight, you're not."