Title: Crossroads

Author/pseudonym:   alyjude

Rating:  NC17

Pairing:  J/B

Category: Episode related, first time

E-mail: alyjude@webtv.net

Date:  May 23, 2001


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 stuff.

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.

Warning:  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 enough, right?

Summary:  Wherein Jim says good-bye to Blair and Simon who then try to get off the mountain (without much success) while Jim ruminates over the fact that maybe he wished they were still here - or at least that Blair was still here, er, there, um, with him, you know? He also decides that his mid-thirties have been great. Duh.

*NOTE: Each part opens with a line or two from Mariah Carey's song *Hero* except part 8, which is not a song lyric.



by alyjude


*And then a hero comes along, with the strength to carry on and you cast

your fears aside and you know you will survive*



"Buckle up, Sandburg."

Blair gave a little start and immediately fastened the belt. "Sorry, Simon."

"No problem. You ready to hit the road?"

"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 easier."

"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*?"

"Well, ye-ah."


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 roads, right?"

"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, remember?"

"So you're saying I'm stuck behind him for good?"

"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, eased back.

"All right," he breathed out, "Now this is much better, eh, Sandburg?"

"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, Sandburg."

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."

"Are you saying I missed some clues back there, Sandburg?"

"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, Simon."

"Oh, yeah, guess you're right. You okay with that?"

"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."

"You serious about the place below the loft?"

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?"

"The week that turned into what?"

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.

"What is it, Maryann?"

"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."

Linda knelt by his side and felt his forehead. He was a bit warm, but not unduly so.

"How do you feel, Howard?"

"Stomach is rumbling a bit, but not near as bad as before. But - still, not feeling as chipper as everyone else."

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, Jim?"



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 that...."

"Jim, he's what, twenty-five, twenty-six?

Healthy, young, he's fine. Trust me."


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 remove it.

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 remembered.

The accident.

The cliff.

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.

"Well fuck."

Outside, Simon grinned as Blair's expletive reached his ears. A good sign, Blair cussing.

"Blair, can you hear me?"

"Yeah, Simon, I hear you. Where the fuck *are* you?"

"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.

"Well fuck."

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 parts....

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 up yet.

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 either.

"Sandburg, you okay?"

Shit, Simon.

"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.

"Oh, shit."

"What happened to *well fuck*?"

"Well fuck. Feel better now?"

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?

Kneeling beside the injured man, he asked, "Pain, Simon?"

"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 toes?"

"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 a thing."

"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 right back."

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....*



"How about dinner, Jim?"

Ellison stood silently in the middle of the road that ran down the center of Clayton Falls and listened - to nothing.

"Jim? Did you hear me? How about dinner?"

He shook himself and returned his attention to Linda.

"I'm sorry, my mind must have been...."

"On the trout?"

He smiled in dusky shadows and nodded.

"Yeah, on the trout. So you were asking about?"

Shaking her head, she said, "Dinner."

"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 norm."

"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 the dark."

"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 it."

Blair started to line up the branches he'd gathered for the splint when Simon reached out and grabbed his arm.

"You *do* know what you're doing, right?"

"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 know."

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....

"Uh? Done? What do you mean *all done*?"

"Well, I kinda mean - all done. As in all splinted, you know? Now let me take a good look at that arm...."



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 - good-bye?"

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 morning.

Running a hand back over his hair, he walked to the couch and sat down, the darkening room momentarily soothing.

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 instead of....

*Yeah, go ahead, say it, Ellison....*

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 Sandburg.

Well fuck.

It had been a hell of a ride, these last, what, almost three years? One hell of a ride.

But what now?

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.

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 feeling?"

"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 throb."

"Good. Hungry?"

"Not really."

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, Sandburg."

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 help?"

"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 road."


More quiet minutes passed, then, "Whatcha doin?"

"Nothing. Just keeping - busy."


"Why don't you try to go back to sleep, Simon?"

"In a while. This is kind of - peaceful."

"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 Jim."

"Oh, right. Just the river and a tent."


Blair smirked. Right, like Simon would be fishing with *just* him? Like - never.

"So tell me more about these, what did you call them? Calfghans?"

Chuckling, Blair corrected, "*Cofan*. The Cofan tribe of Ecuador.

They're people of the rainforest."

"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 life..."

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 that voice.

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 tonight.

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 Blair Sandburg.

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 days.

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 Jim Ellison.

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? And Simon?

Well fuck.

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 altogether.

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.

"wha timzzit?"

"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, Monsieur?"

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, Monsieur."

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 pain?"

"Nope. itching a bit, but that's all."

"Flex your fingers for me."

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."

"Still a little warm. Up to taking a couple more aspirins?"

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 trout heaven."

"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 grinned.



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 raspy, "wha'?"

"Time to get up, man. I need to move you, check your arm and rebandage it, and maybe you'd like a little breakfast?"

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."

Grinning, Simon joked back, "with whipped cream?"

"But of course, Monsieur."

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 it."

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 it?"

"You are so dead, Sandburg."

"Hey, you should be grateful you have male plumbing, Simon."

"Always am, Sandburg. Always am."

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 sipper."

"Why? You can use that one again."

Simon *did* snort.

"Okay, time to move you."

"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 move."

He lifted the bag from Simon's body and draped it across the litter, smoothing it down before turning back to his friend.

"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 your leg."

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.

"Okay, comfy?"

"Very funny."

"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 started forward.

"Hey, what's happening?"

"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 obstacle.

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.

"blair? sandburg?"

"Right here, Simon."

"i'm moving. why am i moving?"

"Well, see," he paused, tried to catch his breath, but failing that, threw words out around his strugging pants.

"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 now."

The voice, the command, both unmistakable.

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 now."


"You planned this from the beginning, didn't you?"


"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."

"That too."

"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 *you* weigh?"

"Pretend... I'm answering... you."

"You weigh nothing, Sandburg, nothing. I'm over six five, Sandburg and you're what, five seven?"

"And... one quarter. Don't... forget the... quarter."

"With or without shoes?"

"Uh - well fuck."

"Uh-huh. Thought so. You can't *do* this, Sandburg."

"Oh, okay."

He kept walking, climbing, plodding.

"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."

"Oh, okay."

He kept walking, climbing, plodding.

"Sandburg, you're not stopping."

"You... captain... detective... good."

"Sandburg, stop."

"Oh, okay."

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 again?"

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.

"You bastard."

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 bad."

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 morning.

"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 don't worry."

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 for him.



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....

A howling.

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 office.

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.



"Okay, we ready to continue?"

"Blair please, reconsider. This spot is good, sheltered, you can still leave me here and go on."

"Oh, okay."

Simon rolled his eyes as Sandburg took his position once again, raised the litter and slid the harness down over his chest.

"All right, Simon, I'm leaving now."

"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 man....

So who *was* he?

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, "Sandburg?"

"No, Shirley Temple."

"Ah. Well, *Shirley*, what do you think will happen when you publish?"

Subtlety had never been his strong suit.

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?"

"Oh... that."

"Yeah, *that*. Well?"

"Well, what?"

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 it?"

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 need....

"Do you know how much power you hold, Simon? Over me?"

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 contributions...."

"We've been down this road before."

"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.

"Cause... somewhere, 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 Clayton Falls....

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.

"Simon, you awake?"

"yeah, yeah, i'm awake."

"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 it."

"Need anything before I head up?"

"couple of aspirin? got a killer headache."

"Right, aspirin, coming right up."

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....


One arm rose and Simon gave him the finger.

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....


  *Lord knows dreams are hard to follow, but don't let anyone tear them

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.

Blessed silence.

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?"

"Well, sure."

"And when you finally got us up here and started walking, did you turn north or south?"

Blair stopped.

Scratched his head.

"North or south, Simon?"

"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."

Still grinning, Blair asked, "What, you mean it *doesn't*?"

"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 *so* sorry."

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....

"Hey, Sandburg, look ahead. Shade. I could use some downtime, you know?"

"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!"

"My, my, aren't we the chipper one today?"

"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 first?"

"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 notebooks."

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 Americans, Caníbales.

"Carib men valued exploits in combat above all else, not unlike our very own Rainier Raiders and yes, *you*, Carillo."

Laughter again interrupted the lecture, but then Blair's voice brought the students back in line and the lesson continued....

"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 far off."

"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.

"Mr. Sandburg?"

"Yes, Mr. Belding?"

"Do they still exist, these *Carib*?"

"Unfortunately, the Carib were all but eliminated in the 17th century when several European countries...."

Blair's voice went on and Jim felt some semblance of peace for the first time in days.



"I think you should sing, Sandburg."

"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 to you."

Blair shook his head and decided it was time to get a little back....

In a shrill falsetto, he began to sing....

"On the good ship, Lollipop, it's a sweet trip to the candy shop where bon-bon's play, on the sunny beach of peppermint bay.

"Lemonade stands, everywhere crackerjack bands, fill the air, and there you are, happy landings on a chocolate bar..."



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 off....

'... 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 exclaimed loudly.

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 run.

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.

Very cool.

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 down...."

"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 first.

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, cogitated.

"You crashed?"

"Perceptive, isn't he, Simon?"

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 far?"

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 business."

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 Simon's shoulder.

"You okay?"

"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 know... back."

As Blair watched Jim turn and start to jog away, he said, "Gee, he's a good friend, isn't he, Simon?"

"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, young man."

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?"

"Well fuck."

"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 White.

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 asking questions....

"...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 yesterday, right?"

"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 wall.

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 right?"

"oh, okay. and you're sure he's okay?"

"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 it?"



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 are...."


"...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 alive...."

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?"

  "No, in fact, be good for them both. They need *home*, if you know what I mean?"

"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 again."

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 more.

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 count?

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 felt will disappear.*



"He's really okay, isn't he?" Blair confirmed quietly.

"Yeah, Chief, yeah he is."

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 have *heard*."

"Did the doctor tell you why?"

"Yeah, something about a kid named Timmy Wilkins and only having pink left and the tinted plaster...."

"Goes well with his eyes, dontcha think?"

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 towed up."

"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.

"So Joel is on his way, uh?"

"Yep. And you know the girl with the *winks*? The red Corvette?"

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 custody."

"Well I'll be - whatever. The bitch."

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 hungry?"

Blair shook his head and refused to move as Jim tried to lead him out.

"No, no, let's stay here. Joel should be arriving soon, right?"

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 coming?"

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.

"Uh, Jim?"

"I was looking for some music to play and grabbed that. You must have left it in here at some point."

"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.

"Yeah, Joel?"

<<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 asleep."

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.

"No, Joel, let's just keep going, get these two men home, okay?"

<<My thoughts exactly>>

"Okay, then."

<<And Jim, when we get into Cascade, just go straight home. Daryl, Amy

and I can get El Capitan into the house, okay?>>

"You sure?"

<<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 toward home.



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?"

"I know. Go. You sure you don't want a shower first though?"

Shower. Oh yeah. Definitely a shower.

"You just twisted my arm, man. But if I go first, I can't guarantee that I'll leave any hot water for you."

"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 without....

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 right?"

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 eyes.

"Okay, with me, one - two - three...."

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... one....

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, Chief?"

"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 touching.

"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 kiss....

"Are you going to - kiss me?"

"It's either that, or mouth-to-mouth, Chief."

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....

"Down Chief."

Blair sat.

"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 definitely new.


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 hero.

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...."

"Thirty-one hours. It's ten o' clock Tuesday morning"

"Well fuck."

"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."

"Well fuck."

Jim smiled and held out a cup of coffee to the sleep-drugged man.


"You're welcome. How are the muscles today?"

"Not bad."

"Can you feel your hands, your fingers?"

"Think so."

He wiggled them and picked up the pen Jim had on the table for his crossword puzzle.

"Yeah, everything seems to be working."

"I can attest to that."

Blair blinked, then sank down into the chair.

"Oh, wow. That wasn't a dream then?"

"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."

"Oh, okay."

"I *did* need the time away from you *because* of what we did Sunday, or should I say, Monday, morning. See?"

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 away?"

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 upstairs."

"Well, yeah, *that*."

They drank their coffee and smiled. Then....

"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, you know?"

"I know."

"Want to live with you now, though."

"I know."

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 partner?"

When there was no immediate answer, he looked up, afraid of what he'd see. He needn't have been. Blair was smiling.

"I'd like very much to be your official partner, Jim. But how?"

"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."

"And permanent."

"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, Ellison."

"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 - holster."


"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 Sandburg!"

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 world knew....

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."

~~The End~~