Disclaimer: All together now... and a-one, and a-two... They're not mine, never were, never will be shoo-be-do-be-do.

Spoilers for: TSbyBS and Survival.

This story is dedicated to Brenda B. who went to extraordinary lengths to show me that a Caring Jim really does exist. I am now a believer! Care on, dude! I also owe her a great debt for always being eager to beta these ramblings of mine and encouraging me with words of kindness. (You can now call me Caring Sue!)

Thanks also to Shy, who promised not to lose this (again!) even though she is working in the dark. (don't ask!)

Synopsis: A simple transport of a federal witness goes bad, leaving Jim and Blair on the run from a mob hitman.

Milk Run

by Sue Pokorny

******************** Simon Banks stood, hands on hips, gazing silently out into the bullpen from behind the glass window of his office. He watched as Ellison set a cup of hot coffee in front of his exhausted partner, placing a comforting hand on the younger man's shoulder before returning to his own chair on the opposite side of the facing desks. Banks couldn't see Sandburg's face, but the slump of the kid's shoulders and Ellison's worried expression told the Captain the young man was still feeling the effects from his interrogation at the hands of Martin Lawrence's defense attorney.

They had decided to use Sandburg's testimony due to the fact that through his academic experience, he could identify the origins of some of the artifacts Lawrence had been smuggling into the country. Of course, once on the stand, the young man's integrity had been questioned. The attorney had brought up the events surrounding Sandburg's dismissal from his teaching post at Rainier University, not to mention the press conference where he had publicly declared his doctoral dissertation fraudulent in order to save Jim from the media circus that had ensued from the public disclosure of Ellison's Sentinel abilities. It was a tactic they had been expecting - but nothing had prepared Blair for the onslaught of accusations and attacks on his character that the lawyers had thrown at him.

The D.A. managed to voice an objection, stopping them before they could rip the young detective to shreds, but Simon could see the damage had been done.

To the casual observer, Blair Sandburg had held up extremely well under the assault, but Simon knew better. He had seen the pain in the younger man's eyes, even as he answered the accusations in a low, monotone voice. He defended himself, saying he had made a mistake and had been forgiven by those he had hurt. That he regretted the pain he had caused and was determined to put the past behind him and give all he could to his new position with the Cascade Police Department. The sincerity of the former grad-student had swayed the judge who had agreed with the D.A.'s objection and ordered the defense attorney to keep his questions confined to the case.

Of course, the judge would never know just how much integrity Blair Sandburg housed in his compact frame. She would never know he had thrown away everything he had ever dreamed of to save a friend.

Simon had watched Jim throughout Blair's ordeal in the courtroom, not surprised to see the fire of anger in the detective's eyes. Ellison had promised his partner he would not interfere if anything were to happen concerning Blair's integrity as a witness. Blair had argued he had to handle it himself and Simon had backed him up agreeing that he needed to stand up for himself if he was ever going to reestablish his credibility within the department. Jim had reluctantly agreed and Simon was sure the promise was the only thing that had held the ex-Ranger in his seat throughout the testimony.

Now that the trial was over and the conviction made, there was nothing left to do but pick up the pieces and move ahead. Simon opened the door to the office and stepped into the doorway.

"Jim," he called in a tone more subdued than his usual bark. When Jim looked up, he motioned for the detective to meet him in the office. Jim nodded tightly and, with another touch to his partner's shoulder, joined the Captain.

"What is it, Sir?"

Banks motioned for Jim to take a seat, which he did wearily.

"How's Sandburg holding up?" Simon asked.

"As well as can be expected, I guess," Jim's voice held a tinge of anger.

"I know it was hard on him, Jim. But he did good. He stood up for himself and Lawrence's attorney was forced to back down."

Jim sighed and nodded his head. "I know, Simon. I just wish that he didn't have to go through all this crap. He doesn't deserve it."

"No he doesn't," Simon agreed. "But what he went through today was a good first step, Jim. He'll be stronger for it."

"I hope so, sir." Jim rubbed a hand across his face and sat forward in his chair. "Is there anything else?"

"Actually, yes." Simon tossed a file folder onto the desk in front of the detective. "I've got an assignment for you."

The momentary flash of disappointment was quickly covered and the detective took the folder.

"Gina Carter. She's a witness in a federal case concerning the attempted assassination of the Lieutenant Governor. We have her stashed away in a safe house here in Cascade. We have been ordered to turn her over to the Feds tomorrow afternoon at an undisclosed rendezvous outside the city limits. The Feds have requested our cooperation in transporting the girl."

Jim cringed as the Captain explained the assignment.

"Simon, this is nothing but a milk run. Can't you find anyone else to take it?"

"No, Detective," Simon stated harshly. "I can't. The feds think this witness is very important and I have assured them I would put my best team on this detail." He softened his voice a bit before continuing. "Besides, from what I understand, the rendezvous will take place somewhere in the mountains and, whoever takes the assignment just might be able to finagle a few days off from their captain to enjoy some of the scenery."

Jim grinned as he caught Simon's eye, his mind registering the Captain's offer. He glanced back out into the bullpen, his eyes coming to rest on his partner. Blair still sat in front of the computer, his shoulders slumped, his hands moving wearily across the keyboard. Maybe a few days camping would help to restore some of Sandburg's spirit. Jim knew that Blair needed some downtime to process all that had transpired in the courtroom today.

Jim stood and smiled his thanks to the Captain. "Maybe a milk run is just what we need, sir."

********************

Jim tossed the last of the camping gear into the pile by the door and sighed in relief. They had borrowed one of the department's 4x4s for the trip into the mountains just in case. The Feds were to phone Simon in the morning, giving them a location for the rendezvous. After that, Jim and Blair would head over to the safe house, pick up the witness and deliver her to the Feds. Simple.

Jim couldn't help remembering the last time they had been volunteered for a "milk run".

Quinn.

The prisoner transfer had gone bad when Quinn's gang had ambushed the motorcade and escaped in a waiting helicopter with Simon as hostage. Jim and Blair had tracked the criminal through the woods to an abandoned mine where Quinn had hidden the five million dollars he had stolen. After that, things had gone to hell. Some reject from the movie "Deliverance" named Wade had opened fire on them, hitting Sandburg in the leg and forcing them into the mine. When Quinn had made a pact with the new arrival, Jim had been forced to leave his wounded partner behind and follow his sentinel senses to an opening far back in the tunnel. He had managed to stop Quinn by blowing up a shack full of old dynamite. By the time the sheriff and the feds had arrived, Quinn and his cohorts had been secured and read their rights.

Jim turned from the door, his eyes falling on his partner as the young man sat on the balcony watching the sky change from the last pinks of the day into the soft blues of the approaching night. He smiled as he remembered how Blair had trudged after him through the wet forest after Quinn. The kid had taken quite a beating - jumping from a cliff into a raging river, being cold-cocked by Wade and his friend and shot in the leg. But Blair had kept going. He had been determined to help Jim rescue their friend despite a concussion, the rain, the cold, fatigue and gun shot wound. He had managed to bounce back quickly and was right back at Jim's side, watching the Sentinel's back as soon as the doctor gave him clearance.

Jim just hoped he could bounce back as quickly from this.

He moved to the refrigerator and grabbed a couple of beers from the top shelf. Quietly he made his way to the open door of the balcony and leaned against it, gazing out over the city below them.

"I don't think I'll ever get tired of looking at that," he commented, holding one of the beers out to his partner.

Blair took the bottle and opened it but did not drink.

Jim shifted his focus and watched his friend for a few moments, trying to think of something to say.

"You want to talk about it?" he asked, hoping Blair would open up to him. After all the young man had given up for him, the least Jim could do was listen.

Blair sighed deeply and shrugged his shoulders. "There's not much to say." His voice was flat and low, much like it had been in the courtroom earlier. "I knew what to expect, I guess I just didn't expect it to hurt so much."

Jim hunched down next to the chair and placed a warm hand on his partner's arm. "They're wrong, you know."

"I know."

"But it still hurts, right?"

Blair looked down at the beer in his hands and began to tear at the label. "I just wish that everyone would forget what happened. I just want to get on with my life."

"I don't want to forget, Chief."

Blair's eyes were filled with confusion when he lifted them to Jim's.

"What you did for me was the most incredible act of friendship that I have ever seen," Jim explained. "I will never forget what you gave up for me, Blair. Never. I know what you did. Simon knows. Rafe, Megan, Joel - all the men and women who put their lives in our hands every day know exactly what kind of a man you are. They trust you and there is absolutely nothing that you have to prove to them. The rest of the world will see it, too, Chief. It'll just take a little time."

Blair had returned his eyes to the bottle in his grasp, but his hands were now still and a peaceful smile played on his lips.

"Thanks, Jim," he whispered.

"Anytime, partner." He clapped a hand on the smaller man's shoulder as he stood up and stretched his back. "What do you say to Chinese tonight? I'm buying."

"You're buying, huh?" Blair grinned, a familiar twinkle beginning to form in his eyes. "Then I say 'let's eat!'"

********************

Jim pulled the 4x4 into the driveway of the safe house and surveyed the surrounding neighborhood. The house was nestled in a quiet, suburban community with rows of ranch style houses and well manicured lawns.. A couple of boys of about ten or twelve rode by on their bikes, their laughter mixing with the various barks of neighborhood dogs. Satisfied that they weren't being watched, Jim nodded and both men opened their doors and climbed out of the vehicle.

"Ah, suburbia," Blair smiled as he glanced down the street, taking in the uniformity of the scene. Each house sat back the same distance from the sidewalk, surrounded by a rich green carpet of grass, which was only broken by the pristine cement driveways leading up to each garage. "Hey Jim, did you ever see the movie Edward Scissorhands?"

Jim shook his head as he lead the way to the door.

"There was this little community that was supposed to be a caricature of suburbia, but it looked a lot like this." He smiled broadly as he took one last look down the street and followed his partner to the door.

The door opened to reveal a dark skinned man wearing a patterned blue and yellow print shirt and a gun holster across his shoulder.

"Hey, Brown!" Blair waved in greeting. "You and Rafe got stuck with the night shift, huh?"

Brown opened the door and allowed them to enter the house. "Yeah, and let's just say that it hasn't been one of the more pleasant evenings I've had recently."

"What's wrong, H? Are you trying to tell me that you and Rafe couldn't handle one kid on your own?" Jim teased as he ran a practiced eye around the sparsely furnished house.

"Well, we don't have as much practice as you do, Jim." Brown grinned and tilted his head toward the detective's young partner.

Jim had to laugh at that. Although Blair was almost 30 years old, his youthful looks and boundless energy still made him come across as much younger. The detectives of Major Crimes had been referring to Blair as "the kid" since he had first come on board as Jim's observer four years ago. Since then, through his association with Jim and his job, Blair had been witness to more of the dark side of humanity than most men see in a lifetime. But he had somehow managed to retain his air of innocence - a feat that both pleased and amazed Jim.

"Ha ha, Henri." Blair returned the grin. "Maybe you should take that act on the road."

Just then Detective Rafe entered the small living room followed by a teenaged girl. She was about 5'2" with short cropped black hair that flipped up in tufts all around her head. Her big brown eyes were surrounded in black liner which rose at the outside corners giving her face a catlike quality. She wore a white tank top over faded blue jeans and a short black leather jacket.

"Hey guys," Rafe greeted. "Never been so glad to see anyone in my life." The relief in his eyes mirrored his partner's as their shift came to an end. "This is Gina Carter. Gina, this is Detective Ellison and his partner Detective Sandburg."

Blair looked at the girl, who merely glanced at the new arrivals and pulled the small set of headphones that was hanging around her neck up and over her ears. She punched a button on the tape player which was hooked onto her belt, effectively erasing the four detectives from her world.

Rafe and Brown both looked at her and rolled their eyes. It had been an extremely long night and they would be more than happy to pass the package off to Ellison and Sandburg and let them deal with the headache for a while.

Blair saw Jim wince as the girl thumbed the volume on her tape player and stepped a little closer to the Sentinel, laying a light hand on his arm.

"Just dial it down, Jim." he said softly, waiting until the larger man nodded to indicate that he had his hearing under control. Even without Sentinel abilities, Blair could clearly recognize the music coming from the girl's headphones and he smiled as his head began to bop up and down to the beat.

"Hey, that's Rage, right?"

The girl pulled one of the earphones away from her head. "What?"

"The band." Blair pitched his voice a little louder. "That's Rage, isn't it?"

"Yeah," the girl said, her face registering her surprise. "You know them?"

"I just got their new CD last week," Blair's eyes lit up as she pulled the headphones off and offered them to him. He placed one of them against his ear and grinned at Jim as his entire body began to move in time to the music.

Jim shot him an look of exasperation and pulled his cell phone from his jacket pocket. Punching the speed dial for Simon, he placed the phone to his ear and tried to suppress a grin as he watched his partner work his magic with the girl. Both Rafe and Brown were watching in what could only be described as awe as Sandburg managed to slip easily past the girl's defenses in a matter of seconds. By the time Jim had finished his call and received the directions to the rendezvous, Blair had her laughing at one of his stories about a concert he had attended as a kid with his mother.

"Come on, Chief," Jim interrupted. "We've got a deadline to keep."

"Uh, sure, Jim." Blair handed the headphones back to Gina and grabbed the small suitcase that Rafe held out to him.

Gina's smile disappeared as she turned her eyes toward Ellison. "What's his problem?"

Blair's eyes flicked from the girl to his partner as he unsuccessfully tried to hide his amusement. "No problem, man," he said in his partner's defense. "He's just doing his job."

Gina glanced back at him before averting her eyes, but Blair saw the momentary flash of uncertainty before it was quickly schooled away beneath the carefully crafted look of teenaged indifference. He placed a comforting hand on her arm. "Don't worry. Jim's the best. You'll be okay."

Gina smiled shyly at him and nodded.

Rafe and Brown watched in shock as Gina followed Blair obediently to the Bronco, smiling as he opened the back door for her. He waited for Gina to hop into the back seat before setting the suitcase down at her feet and securing the door. As soon as Sandburg was secured in the front seat, Jim opened the driver's door and took his place behind the wheel.

Rafe waved as the Bronco backed out of the driveway and pulled onto the quiet suburban street. He watched as the vehicle moved down the road, turning right at the stop sign at the end of the block. Turning to his partner, Rafe saw the same look of amazement reflected in his partner's eyes.

"How the hell did he do that?" they both asked in unison.

********************

The three occupants of the Bronco remained silent until they hit the mountain highway. By then, the silence had started to wear on Blair's nerves and he turned in the front seat so he could face Gina who was in the back, behind the driver's seat. She was staring out the side window, her head beating in time to the muffled music from her earphones. She was watching the scenery go by, a sad look on her face.

"Are you from Cascade originally?" Blair asked, pitching his voice loud enough to be heard over the music. He knew her entire history from the report that Jim had brought home from the station. He also knew how she had unobtrusively overheard her boss at the music store talking to another man in his office about the hit on the Lieutenant Governor. She had gone to the cops, who had gone to the feds, who had managed to stop the hit by using a decoy. Unfortunately, the shooter got away and now Gina was their best link to him. Her boss had disappeared and Gina was the only person who could identify the shooter from the brief glimpse she had of him in the office.

Blair knew that she must be scared. Hell, if he were in her shoes, he would be. Of course, he would know that Jim would do whatever he could to protect him. Ellison would do no less to assure Gina Carter's safety, but the girl had no way of knowing that. Blair had seen her glance at his partner with trepidation more than once.

Gina turned to look at Blair, a shy smile gracing her pixie-like features. She pulled the earphones from her head and switched off the tape player. "I grew up in California," she explained. "After my parents got divorced, my mom and I moved here. She works a lot so we don't spend much time together. She wanted to come with me, but the cops thought it would be safer if she stayed behind."

Blair nodded, understanding the loneliness of her life all too well.

"I know how you feel. My mom and I only see each other a few times a year. What about your dad? Do you get to see him much?"

She shook her head and returned her gaze to the passing scenery. "Not really. I went to visit last Christmas. Haven't really talked to him much since then." The sadness in her voice was tinged with a bit of anger as she blinked hard and took a deep breath. "What about you?" she asked, abruptly changing the subject. "Where's your dad?"

Blair threw Jim an uncomfortable look before responding. "I never knew my dad."

Gina must have read the look of regret in his eyes, because she changed the subject again. "You don't look like a detective." Her eyes held a hint of mischief and one side of her mouth rose in a grin.

"Oh? Just what should a detective look like?"

"Him." Gina nodded her head toward Jim causing Blair to snort in laughter.

"Yeah," Blair couldn't help the huge smile that appeared on his face. "I suppose he is the perfect image of the tough police detective." He always loved to tease his partner about his image and was thrilled to get the chance to needle the older man.

"At least I'm not a neo-hippie punk," Jim countered smoothly, keeping his eyes on the road ahead.

"That's neo-hippie witch doctor punk to you, Caveman."

"Whatever you say, Darwin."

Gina had been watching the byplay quietly. Blair could notice a subtle change in her guarded expression as she studied Jim's reflection in the rearview mirror. Most people didn't take to the outwardly cold detective right off, but once they spent some time in his presence, they ended up seeing the warm, caring side of the man that he hid away so well.

Blair returned his attention to Gina. "So, tell us about how you got yourself into this mess."

********************

Three hours later, Jim pulled the Bronco onto a small gravel lot next to a clearing in the dense tree-lined road. They had taken a non-direct route to the roadside park, making sure they had not picked up any tails along the way. A dark sedan sat facing them on the other side of the two picnic tables situated in the center of the clearing.

"Hey, Jim." Blair squinted at the sedan. "Why all the cloak and dagger stuff, man? Why didn't the Feds just have us take her to Seattle instead of meeting us way out here?"

Jim shrugged. "That's how they wanted to play it. From what the agent in charge told Simon, they're concerned about the possibility of a leak. They just wanted to play this one close to the vest." He opened the door as two men in long trenchcoats stepped out of the sedan. "I'm going to check their credentials. You two stay here and keep your heads down."

"You got it."

Blair watched as his partner stepped out of the Bronco and closed the door. He moved carefully toward the sedan as the other men began their journey to meet him. They stopped on either side of the picnic tables and the two feds held up their IDs for Jim to see.

"Why do all Feds wear trenchcoats?" Blair mused. "Is it some kind of government dress code or something?"

A giggle from the backseat reminded him that he was not alone.

"They make your partner look almost laid-back," Gina whispered.

Blair couldn't suppress a grin. "Yep. That's my partner. Laid-back Jim."

He turned back to see Gina return his grin.

"Sandburg!"

Blair returned his attention to the front and saw Jim gesturing for him to bring Gina out of the car.

"Here we go." He opened the door and stepped out. Quickly he moved around the Bronco and opened the rear door on the driver's side, helping Gina from the back seat. Giving her a smile of encouragement, he took her arm and led her toward the waiting feds.

Suddenly, Jim's head turned abruptly and Blair could see his eyes searching the bluff across from the park. Blair stopped, pushing Gina around the front of the Bronco, his body tense.

"Jim?" He recognized the tilt of his partner's head and instinctively knew the Sentinel was trying to piggyback his sight on his hearing.

"Get down!" The order was followed closely by the report of gunshots, many of which glanced off the hood of the Bronco. Blair tackled Gina, throwing her to the ground and covering her with his own body. He could hear the pelt of bullets hitting the ground around them and felt a sting as something ripped through his left arm. Almost immediately, he heard the grunts of falling bodies and lifted his head, searching frantically for his partner.

The sight that greeted him made his heart stop. Both Feds were down, bright red stains spreading across their chests. Both stared up at the cloudy sky with unseeing, glassy eyes.

"Jim!" Blair tore his eyes away from the bodies. "Jim!"

"Move it, Sandburg!"

He followed the familiar voice to the figure crouched behind an overturned picnic table. Jim was on one knee, his gun up and firing across the road. He gestured for Blair to move into the tree line directly behind his position and laid down cover fire as Sandburg and Gina crawled to their feet and dashed for the relative safety of the forest. He fired a few more rounds and ran quickly after his partner.

********************

Morgan fired at the tree line where the two cops had disappeared. He swore to himself as he searched for any sign of movement.

Damn! He had had her in his sights! How had that cop known? It was almost as if he had heard the cocking of the gun.

Morgan could have sworn the bigger cop had known exactly where he was hiding. He had looked right at him! Morgan knew that was impossible. He was more than 50 yards away, using a scope. There was absolutely no way anyone could have pinpointed his location from that distance.

But the cop had. And Morgan intended to find out how. He was an experienced tracker and would be able to follow them in the woods no matter where they went. He would find them and eliminate the girl. He would, of course, kill the two cops also, but not before he knew how the bigger one had sensed him.

But first things first.

Now he must track them. It shouldn't be hard. Two big city cops and one teenaged girl couldn't be that hard to find.

He slung the rifle over his shoulder and carefully made his way down the bluff.

********************

Jim led the way deeper into the woods, finally coming to a stop behind a fallen trunk near a particularly dense copse of trees. He motioned for Blair and Gina to hide behind the trees and knelt behind the trunk, scanning the area with his senses. He could hear no signs of pursuit and their own accelerated heartbeats were the only ones he could detect.

Satisfied they were safe for the moment at least, he turned to take stock of his companions. Gina was curled into a tight ball, her arms around her drawn up knees. She gazed at Jim with an expression he had seen on some of the young men in the military after their first taste of battle. Blair sat to her right, his back against a large tree trunk. His head was leaning back against the rough bark, but his eyes questioned Jim's intently.

"We're okay," the older man assured him. "There's no signs of pursuit yet." Although he was confident that would not be the case for long. "Is everyone okay?" He moved a bit closer to Gina who nodded weakly. He ran a sensory check on her anyway, finding her heartbeat and respiration accelerated but steady. He turned up his sense of smell, becoming alarmed when he recognized the coppery scent of blood. "Gina," he said in a soothing voice. "I need to know if you're hurt anywhere?"

Gina closed her eyes and swallowed before shaking her head. "I'm okay," she said in a shaky voice.

"Are you sure? You're not bleeding?"

"Uh, Jim," Blair's voice interrupted. "I'm afraid that's me."

Jim moved from Gina to his partner, taking in the tight lines of pain around the younger man's expressive blue eyes. He quickly found the source of the blood and gently removed his friend's right hand from the wound in his upper left arm. He carefully inspected the wound, eliciting a hiss of pain from his partner as he moved the arm.

"It went through clean," He ripped a strip of cloth from the bottom of his t-shirt. "As long as we get the bleeding stopped, it should be okay." He gently wrapped the cloth around the arm, tying it securely. He patted Blair's cheek and gave him a tight smile. "What is it with you and prisoner exchanges, Chief?"

Blair returned the smile, grimacing as he moved the arm. "Just lucky, I guess." He looked quickly at Gina, then pitched his voice low enough for Sentinel ears only. "Can we call out on a cell phone? Get some help?"

Jim gave him an apologetic look. "Mine's in the Bronco. Yours?"

"Backpack." Which, he didn't feel necessary to add, was also in the Bronco.

Jim pulled his gun and checked the clip. "Empty."

"Where's the extra clip?" Blair asked, his face falling as his partner gave him a resigned expression and jerked his head back toward the road. "Don't tell me," Blair said, the defeat apparent in his voice. "In the Bronco."

Suddenly the Sentinel's head shot up and he scanned the trees behind them.

"Company?" Blair whispered.

Jim nodded and returned his attention back to his friend. "Can you move?"

Blair nodded and allowed the older man to pull him to his feet. Jim steadied his partner and then pulled Gina up to join them. Putting a finger to his lips to indicate that they should remain silent, he swiftly led the way deeper into the trees.

********************

Simon slammed the phone down and glared at the offending instrument. He had been trying to get hold of Jim or Blair for the last hour, but neither detective was answering his cell and Simon was starting to get worried. They were hours overdue for a check-in and it wasn't like Jim to forget to call in to the Captain. Of course the mountains would be playing havoc with the signals and it was very possible they just had not been able to make a connection as of yet. A call to the Feds and hour ago had gotten him no information and now he was starting to let the concern for his men eat away at his control.

"Hey Simon." Joel Taggart smiled as he popped his head through the doorway. "I'm on my way to meet Rafe and Brown at Scarpelli's. You want to join us?"

Simon took a deep breath and shook his head. "No thanks, Joel. I'm not very hungry right now."

Taggart's expression changed to one of concern and he stepped fully into the office. "Trouble?"

Simon sighed and pushed his glasses up to rub the bridge of his nose. "I don't know. Ellison and Sandburg haven't checked in yet and the Feds are being their usual uncooperative selves."

"Did you try their cell phones?"

Simon sat back, giving Taggart a pained look. "Now why didn't I think of that?" He glared at the other captain for a moment before softening his expression. "Of course I tried their cells. I've been trying for the last hour. They just keep ringing and I get no answer."

Joel nodded, not taking Simon's sarcastic tone personally. He knew that Ellison and Sandburg were special to Banks - hell, they were special to everyone in Major Crimes, especially after what Blair had done to save Jim's career after his dissertation was made public. While Blair and Jim continued to stick to the scenario that Sandburg's research was fraudulent, Joel knew the truth. He knew the kid better than that. He knew that, no matter what had been said at that press conference, Blair Sandburg had too much integrity and loyalty to lie about a friend like that. Now lying to save that friend from the nightmare of public exposure was something that the anthropologist would do in a heartbeat.

The dissertation had answered a lot of questions about Jim's amazing detective abilities and Joel, for one, had understood why Ellison had decided to keep his talents a secret. The media frenzy only confirmed the detective's fears of exposure.

It was obvious to anyone who knew Jim and Blair that the kid had sacrificed his own career for his partner's. It was an act that had completely amazed Joel, and his respect for Sandburg had increased dramatically. He had never been witness to such an unselfish act of loyalty in his life. He was also concerned for the two partners, but was confident that between Ellison's Sentinel abilities and Sandburg's quick mind, the two friends could make it through anything.

"Come on, Simon." Joel decided to play devil's advocate. "Didn't you tell me that you gave them some time off? They're probably just out of cell range up in those mountains. You know how the mountains and the trees can play havoc with the signals."

Simon sighed and nodded. "You're probably right, Joel. It was just a simple exchange. What could go wrong?"

Both men exchanged knowing glances before breaking into wide grins. They were both well aware of the duo's penchant for trouble and just as aware of their ability to overcome it.

"Come on, Simon," Joel coaxed. "Let's go get something to eat. After that we'll track them down, even if we have to drive up to the mountains ourselves."

"Careful, Joel," Simon warned, standing and grabbing his overcoat from the hook by the door. "I just might have to take you up on that."

********************

Jim set an brisk pace, keeping his eyes and ears alert to any movement in the woods surrounding them. They had been steadily traveling slightly uphill for the last twenty minutes or so, keeping to the densely wooded areas to maintain cover. Jim could no longer hear any signs of pursuit, but didn't want to chance stopping until he found somewhere that would be safe enough to hole up in for the night.

He turned to look at his companions, who had both remained silent for the last hour or so. Gina was obviously tired and scared, but she had not uttered one word of complaint as she had followed Jim through the trees. The teenager had replaced the headphones and was listening to the music, no doubt in an attempt to keep herself calm. Jim had been distracted by the rock beat that had come from the small headphones, but had managed to filter the noise out, knowing the frightened girl was using the familiar sounds to focus her attention away from her fear.

He let his eyes drift back to his partner and winced when he saw the pain and exhaustion on his friend's face. Blair had pushed himself to keep Jim's pace, but it was clear the young man was nearing the end of his endurance. He held his left arm across his stomach, his right arm cradling it tightly to his body. His eyes were hooded and cast down at the forest floor, and Jim could see the sheen of sweat across his pale skin. He was breathing heavily and Jim knew that he was going to have to take a break soon.

Looking around, Jim noticed a small opening in the woods, mostly hidden behind a dense shroud of trees and bushes. The ground dipped down into a small well and a cache of large boulders hid the area from the rear leaving only one small area open to the trees. The boulders formed a natural overhang which, coupled with the low foliage of the trees supplied a sort of canopy over the area. Jim surmised it was as close to shelter as they were going to find.

"Let's stop here and rest for a while." He motioned toward the natural fortress. Blair looked at him, a small smile of gratitude on his face. He followed Gina into the crevice and carefully lowered himself down against the rocks. He leaned his head back against the cool surface of the large boulder and sighed wearily.

Jim dragged a fallen branch behind him to cover the opening, effectively hiding them from the outside. He moved the few steps across the area and hunched down before his two companions. "How are we doing, kids?"

Blair opened his eyes and glared at his partner, eliciting a soft giggle from Gina.

"We're just peachy, Dad."

Jim allowed himself a smile. He turned to Gina and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Are you okay?"

Gina nodded and ducked her head. "Yeah." She was still uncomfortable in Jim's presence, but didn't pull away from his comforting touch.

Jim squeezed her shoulder lightly, relieved that the young girl was holding up so well. He turned his attention back to his partner and motioned toward the red stain on his arm. "How are you doing, Chief?"

"I'm okay, Jim."

Jim could sense the lie. He placed a hand on his friend's forehead, registering the slight temperature of Blair's skin. Scanning the young man with his senses, he was pleased to note the heartbeat and respiration beginning to slow to normal. Blair just needed a little rest. The wound had stopped bleeding and Jim was sure the younger man would be able to continue after a few hours of sleep.

"Why don't you get some rest, Sandburg? We'll be okay here for awhile."

Blair looked as if he wanted to protest, but luckily, common sense won out before he could voice the words. "Okay." He looked at Jim with a small smile. "I suppose this falls into the spineless goober category."

"A place you should be very familiar with by now, Junior." Jim grinned, touching a hand to his partner's cheek. "Get some sleep."

********************

The sounds of the small creatures scurrying back and forth seemed to grow louder as the darkness crept over them. Gina wasn't sure what time it was, but it had to be past supper time the way the darkness fell like a blanket across their small fortress. She glanced to her right where Blair was curled up on his right side, his left arm still cradled protectively against his body. She could see the lines of pain on his face and knew that he was sleeping fitfully at best.

They had remained quiet, Blair succumbing to his exhaustion almost immediately and Jim keeping his attention on their surroundings. Every once in a while, she would notice him as he watched his partner sleep. It was the only time she could sense any hint of emotion in the stoic cop at all. The way he looked at his friend was almost tender - almost reminding her of the way her parents had looked at her before the divorce. She thought she recognized what could only be described as tenderness in the unguarded moment before Ellison would turn away and once again survey their surroundings.

"He means a lot to you." The statement was the first she had spoken to the larger man and she flinched when the intense blue eyes turned toward her. Ellison stared at her quietly, his stone mask slipping for just a moment.

"He's my partner. And my friend."

Gina nodded, suddenly finding herself not so nervous in his presence. "He must be very special."

"He is."

Gina could see the mask fall back over the cop's face, closing off any emotion that had worked its way through. She smiled sadly in understanding. That was one tactic she could relate to completely. Ever since her parents had divorced she had shut herself off from everyone. If she didn't let anyone get close, there was no way she could get hurt, right? She could see Ellison was the same way and she felt sympathy for the cop. But she also envied him. Obviously, his partner had managed to get through the barriers. She wished she could find someone who cared enough to get through hers.

"Are you scared?"

Gina jumped at the soft sound of Ellison's voice, but managed to shrug her shoulders. "Hungry, cold, tired. Yeah, I guess scared falls in there somewhere."

Ellison nodded, but did not react to the sarcasm in her voice. The man was an enigma as far as she was concerned. On the outside he was tough and all business, but there was obviously more to the tall detective than met the eye.

"I'm going to get us out of this," Jim vowed. "You have my word."

Surprisingly, Gina found herself believing him.

********************

Morgan walked slowly, his eyes searching for some sign of his prey. A footprint here, an overturned stone there - they were leaving a pretty clear trail. He shook his head in disdain. He had hoped they would be more of a challenge. On the other hand, they were making his job much simpler. The further they went into the woods, the less likely someone would find the bodies. Oh, it was possible a search would turn up their bones, eventually. But by then, he would be long gone with his fee safely deposited in his account in the Grand Caymans.

A splash of color against a tree caught his attention and he traced a finger across the substance, smiling as he rubbed the dark crimson liquid between his fingertips. So one of them was wounded. He'd thought he'd seen one of the bullets hit the long haired cop. If he was still bleeding, then he would soon start to slow them down. That made it all the better.

Morgan raised his hand to his lips, his entire body tingling as his tongue tasted the blood. It was cool. They were still far ahead of him, but not for long. A determined smile crossed his face as his eyes once again fell to the ground, searching for the next sign.

********************

Simon leaned back in the booth, pushing the plate of spaghetti away. He had managed to eat half of it, but a growing sense of dread had begun to churn in his stomach making the thought of eating highly unappealing. From the looks of the other plates around the table, he was not alone.

The shrill ringing of his cell phone caused him to jump, and he fumbled in his pocket for the small device.

"Banks," he said gruffly.

"Captain Banks, this is Special Agent Sattler."

"Agent Sattler," Simon rnoted that all action at the table had suddenly stopped at the mention of the Feds name. "What have you heard?"

"I'm afraid I have some disturbing news Captain. The exchange was compromised."

"Compromised?" Banks yelled into the phone. "Just what the hell do you mean by compromised?"

Some of the other patrons in the restaurant had turned at the disturbance, but Banks steadfastly ignored them, keeping his attention focused on the voice on the other end of the line. He had not liked the way the agent had used the word compromised. It had sent a shiver up his spine.

"We found both of our men dead," Sattler explained. "Each killed by one shot through the heart."

"Ellison and Sandburg?"

"We don't know, Captain. There was some blood near their vehicle, but no sign of either your men or the witness. It's too dark to do anything tonight, but we're gong to send out search parties first thing in the morning. I thought maybe you'd like to give us a hand."

"We can be there in a few hours."

********************

The morning light filtered down through the foliage, touching the Sentinel's face with its golden hue. Jim became aware of the warmth on his skin and opened his eyes, surprised to see the dim haze of dawn drive the shadows of the night back into the recesses of the forest. He rubbed a hand over his face and forced himself to awaken fully.

He had wanted to stay awake, but had drifted into a light sleep less than an hour ago. He had kept his senses turned up, confident any sound or movement outside their fortress would be enough to rouse him. He listened intently now, focusing on the sounds of nature, tryng to ascertain if anything was out of place in the harmony of the morning.

There.

A heartbeat.

It was faint - probably still a ways off - ut it was steadily coming their way.

The shooter.

Jim quietly inched his way over to his partner, who still lay against the stone wall. A quick inventory of the younger man's vital signs showed his heartbeat and respiration were still slightly accelerated and his temperature had moved up a notch during the night. Jim knew he had to get Blair's arm treated soon.

"How is he?"

Jim turned and smiled grimly at Gina as she pushed herself up off the ground next to Blair. She rubbed her eyes sleepily and blinked a few times to focus on Jim's face.

"He's starting to run a fever," Jim answered honestly. "I think the wound is infected." Another sound, this time a cracking of a twig made Jim's head shoot up. Whoever was tracking them was still too far off to have detected them, but that would not be the case for long.

"Gina, I'm going to need your help."

Gina nodded. She watched the detective unconsciously lay a protective hand on his partner's head before continuing his instructions in a hushed voice. "We're going to have to get Blair out of here. He needs a doctor. I need you to help me keep him moving once we get started. I think our best bet would be to swing around and head back to the vehicles. If we can make it back, we can probably use either the Bronco or the Feds car to drive out of here. If the vehicles are disabled, my cell phone is still in the car and the Feds may have had a radio that could reach beyond these mountains."

"Why can't we just stay here?" Gina's voice pitched high, transmitting her fear. "They'll come looking for us, right?"

"Yes, they will," Jim replied. "But we may not have that much time. Whoever killed those two Feds is still out there and he's tracking us."

Gina's eyes widened as the detective's words registered in her mind. "He's going to kill me."

Jim leaned forward and placed his hand on her chin, forcing her head up gently until she could meet his eyes.

"I made you a promise, Gina." His eyes blazed with sincerity. "I don't go back on my word."

"He's telling you the truth, Gina."

Jim jumped at the sound of the raspy voice from below and quickly turned his attention to Blair as the young man rolled onto his back.

"Morning, Sunshine." Jim grinned and helped his partner into a sitting position against the boulder. "I hope you feel better than you look."

Blair rolled his eyes in mock annoyance. "We have got to work on your bedside manner, Jim."

Jim chuckled and held a hand to Blair's forehead. "You've got a fever," he said grimly. "How's the arm?"

"It hurts," Blair admitted, drawing the limb closer to his body. "What's the plan?"

"We're going to have company real soon. Think you're up to a little hike?"

Blair nodded slightly. "Just call me Nature Boy. Where to?"

Jim outlined his plan then gently helped his partner to his feet. Blair swayed momentarily before regaining his equilibrium. He still looked pale and tired, but he was on his feet and Jim knew he would make it on sheer determinationand will power if necessary.

He carefully lifted the branch away from the opening and listened for the distant heartbeat he had detected. Their pursuer was slowly closing the distance.

Motioning for Gina to move ahead, he waited for both her and Blair to fade into the trees before following, keeping his ears tuned to the sounds of their pursuer.

********************

Simon Banks parked the sedan behind the Rescue Squad 4x4 and cut the engine. Quickly he unfolded his large frame from the vehicle and scanned the group of men and women scattered across the small roadside park. A short, balding man in jeans and a dark blue FBI jacket noticed them and crossed the distance, holding out his hand as he neared.

"Captain Banks, I presume?"

Simon took the hand and shook it quickly.

"Agent Sattler?"

The balding man nodded and waited as the other three men emerged from the sedan and joined the Captain.

"These are my men." Simon motioned at each man in turn. "Captain Taggart and Detectives Rafe and Brown."

Sattler shook the hand of each of the Cascade officers and motioned them over to a van at the center of the activity. "We've sectioned off the area. From what we could ascertain, the shooter was on that bluff across the road. He managed to take out both of my agents. There are bullet holes on the fender and hood of the Bronco and, as I mentioned earlier, we did find some blood on the ground near the vehicle. Whether it belongs to the witness or one of your men, we can't be sure." He gestured at the overturned picnic table and Simon cringed when he saw how the heavy wood had been riddled with bullet holes. "We figure one of your guys managed to get to the table and lay down enough cover fire to allow them to escape into the woods. The trees are pretty dense in this area so they could have made it pretty far before the perp could make it down from the bluff to pursue."

Simon nodded. He knew that it would have been Ellison behind the table, drawing the fire of the gunman to give Sandburg and the girl a chance to run for cover. That means the blood had to belong to Gina Carter or Sandburg.

"It was probably Ellison returning fire," Simon said out loud. The other three cops voiced their agreements. They all knew that even though Blair had the official capacity to carry a firearm, the young man had never been comfortable with the idea of packing a loaded gun. Even though it was a requirement for all officers to be armed, Simon had understood the kid's reluctance and had not forced the issue, knowing that Ellison would continue to protect his partner like he had done in the past. The time would come when Sandburg would have to make a choice if he wished to remain on the force, but, for now, Simon and the Chief had decided to consider Sandburg's case under special circumstances until the young man could adjust to his new life. It had been a surprise when the Chief had agreed to Ellison's request, but the Chief now understood the importance of Sandburg's connection to Ellison and wanted to do nothing to interfere with the productiveness of Cascade's best team.

"Ellison was a medic once, and an Army Ranger," Taggart offered. "If Blair or the girl was hit, he'd be able to take care of them."

Sattler nodded. "That's a plus. Ellison is good?"

"As good as they come," Simon said with pride. "Especially when Sandburg is threatened."

"Well he'd better be." Sattler produced a folded sheet of paper with a federal seal and blurry snapshot. "We've managed to ID the shooter from the description Ms. Carter gave us of the man she saw in her boss' office. His name is Edward Morgan. He's supposedly one of the top shooters for the Gortelli crime family. Gina Carter's boss is actually Dominic Gortelli. He's been hiding here for the last three years under an assumed identity. We believe he was sent here to set up a northwest headquarters for the Gortelli's drug operation. Killing the Lieutenant Governor was just one step in their bid for control."

"What about Gortelli?"

"We picked him up when he tried to flee the country. He's being held in a Los Angeles cell until we can get him transferred back east. But our entire case against Gortelli hinges on Gina Carter's testimony. I just hope your man is a good as you say he is."

"Ellison is good," Simon assured him. "But Ellison and Sandburg, they are the best." Another thought struck Simon as they followed Sattler to the communications van. "How did Morgan know where the exchange was going to take place? I thought you said that the location was strictly need-to-know."

"It was," Sattler answered grimly. "Only you, I and the four men involced in the exchange knew the location of the meet. We ran a check on all of them..."

"I'll vouch for my men," Simon interrupted. "Neither of them had anything to do with it."

Sattler was nodding in agreement. "I know that, Captain. It seems that one of my agents was responsible. We found a nice little deposit in his account to the tune of $10,000. Agent Andersen just transferred in from the east coast about a month and a half ago. He had an excellent record and I never suspected him of being on the take. I'm sorry."

Simon sighed and nodded in understanding. "Don't take it so hard, Sattler. Sometimes people aren't exactly what they seem."

********************

Blair forced his legs to keep moving. He really wanted to just lie down and sleep for about a week, but he knew that rest was not an option. Time lost all meaning as he concentrated on placing one foot in front of the other. Jim had kept them moving steadily through the trees, pausing only to listen for any signs of pursuit. The thinly veiled look of concern on the Sentinel's face told Blair they had not lost their tail, so Blair had continued to move, even though it had become harder with each passing minute.

He looked up from the forest floor to find Gina at his side. He smiled in what he hoped was encouragement as she wrapped her arm around his waist and offered her support. Blair was embarrassed by his obvious need, but excepted the shoulder gratefully and refocused his efforts.

Suddenly, Jim stopped, motioning for them to get down. They complied, a soft groan escaping from Blair's lips as his arm bumped against a nearby tree trunk. He quickly clamped down on his pain, pushing it into the background for the time being. He looked up at Jim, noting the familiar tilt of the head as his partner focused his senses.

"Jim?"

The Sentinel raised a hand for silence and turned his head, piggybacking his sight on his hearing. Blair placed a hand on his friend's arm, anchoring him as he searched the dense woods for a sign.

"You can hear him, Jim," Blair instinctively dropped his voice into what Jim referred to as his guide-tone. "Just let your hearing guide your eyes. Focus in on the sound then let your eyes follow your ears." Blair let his eyes flicker back toward Gina, who was staring off into the trees. He didn't feel comfortable doing this in front of Gina, but he didn't think the girl was in any shape to notice.

"Got him." Jim said softly. "He's about 100 yards back, but he's moving fast." He shifted his focus to his roommate, seeing the pale skin and pain dulled eyes. "We can't outrun him, Chief."

Blair swallowed, knowing exactly what the Sentinel was saying. It wasn't that they couldn't outrun him. The problem was that Blair couldn't outrun him.

"Get Gina out of here, Jim," he said quickly. "I'll distract him for you and - "

Jim cut him off abruptly. "No. That is not an option here, Sandburg." The look on the Sentinel's face told Blair that the subject was closed.

"Okay." Blair wasn't quite able to hide his relief. He wanted to see Gina safe, and he definitely wanted Jim safe, but he was not thrilled with the idea of sacrificing himself to do it. "I'm guessing you have some kind of plan?"

Jim looked around, his eyes coming to rest on the small silver walkman still attached to Gina's belt.

"May I?" he asked, motioning toward the device. Gina pulled the walkman and headphones from her belt and handed them to the detective, a look of confusion clouding her face.

"You're gonna stop him with rock music?" Blair asked, a glint of amusement in his eyes.

"I usually prefer to use Rap." Jim grinned, squinting up at the muted light that pierced the canopy of trees overhead. "It makes them squirm more."

Blair stifled a laugh and look at his partner with an expression of shock and amusement. "Your bedside manner may suck, Jim, but that sense of humor seems to be coming right along."

He followed Jim's line of sight up, blinking as a shaft of light stung his eyes. Suddenly, Jim's plan became clear. "You're going to blind him." He motioned toward the shiny silver walkman in the detective's hand.

Jim nodded, still gazing up into the tree tops. "By reflecting the light into his scope, I may be able to distract him long enough to get the drop on him. I'm going to have to let him get pretty close in order to make this work." He looked at his partner and placed a hand on the younger man's cheek. "I need you and Gina to go on ahead, Chief. He'll follow your trail and I'll be able to take him by surprise."

Blair shook his head in protest. "No way, Jim. I'm not leaving without you."

"You have to, Chief. We have to protect Gina. And we both know that you're in no shape to be able to help."

Blair flinched at the words, but he knew his partner was right. He couldn't hide the fact his body was growing weaker as his temperature steadily climbed. The slight throbbing of his head had erupted into a full scale headache and the pain in his arm surged in intensity with every movement.

"I'm sorry, Blair, but I can't afford any distractions. If you stay, part of me would be worried about protecting you - a big part of me."

Blair looked up at his friend and nodded his understanding. "I know." His eyes met Jim's, transmitting his concern. "Be careful, Jim."

"You too, Chief."

********************

Blair pulled up short, leaning back against the rough bark of the tree trunk and desperately tried to catch his breath. They had only been moving for a few minutes, but his energy seemed to be draining at an alarming rate.

"Are you okay?" Gina stopped beside him and glancing at him in concern. "Your partner said we had to keep moving."

"I... know," Blair managed to squeak out between gasps for air. "I... just need... a minute. Need to... catch my breath..."

A shot rang out as something ricocheted off the tree about two inches from Blair's head. He instantly reached for Gina and pulled her quickly to the ground.

"Oh my God, oh my God!" Gina's voice was loud in his ear. "He found us!"

"Shh!" Blair gestured with his hand. He lifted his head a fraction and looked around over the foliage, blinking a few times to keep the scene in focus.

He ducked as another shot rang out, this one hitting a tree directly behind them at approximately the same height his head had been a moment ago.

He could hear Gina crying softly beside him and placed a hand over hers. "We'll be okay. Jim's out there."

********************

Ellison heard the soft voice of his partner and smiled at the conviction in the words. Blair's trust in him had never wavered. Even after he had thrown the anthropologist out of the loft right before Alex Barnes had ... even then, Blair had trusted in him enough to follow him to Mexico and help him defeat the other Sentinel. Jim had tried to push him away time after time, but the kid had stuck with him, had even given up his career for him.

Jim always wondered how he would ever repay his debt to Blair Sandburg. After all the kid had given up, after all the abuse he had taken from a fear driven, emotionally challenged cop, why would he want to stay? The answer finally slammed home for Jim as he accepted Blair's words. Blair believed in him. Not just the Sentinel part of him, nor the cop part, but all of him. Jim Ellison. No matter what he said or what he did, Blair's belief in who Jim Ellison really, truly was held firm.

Jim heard the shooter step forward and he quietly moved around to his left. The man was about twenty yards away, a heavy rifle poised on his shoulder, his head tilted with one eye focusing through the long range scope. He leaned across an angled trunk, barely breathing as he waited patiently for his target to lift his head again.

Just keep your head down, Chief.

Jim glanced up and found a slight break in the canopy overhead. A slim ray of sunshine was cascading down a few inches to his right. He pulled the silver walkman from his pocket and slid it into the light. The beam of light reflected toward the shooter and Jim quickly adjusted it so that it hit full bore into the end of the scope.

The gunman pulled his head away from the rifle, covering his eye with his trigger hand as if he had been burned. Seizing the opportunity, Jim charged from his hiding place behind the foliage, a primal scream erupting from his chest.

The assassin recovered his sight just as the Sentinel flew at him, catching him in a full body tackle.

********************

Simon's head jerked to the left as his ears registered the sound of the rifle shot.

"That was a rifle," Rafe supplied.

Simon held up his hand to silence the others, his body tense, his eyes searching the dense foliage for any sign of movement. Another shot rang out and he pinpointed the direction, motioning for his men to follow. "This way!" he called over his shoulder and sprinted into the trees.

********************

"Jim!" Blair shouted as the sounds of the struggle reached across the distance. He had chanced another look and managed to catch a glimpse of his partner's flying tackle. Both men went down behind the trees, out of Blair's direct line of sight. "Jim!"

More noise behind him brought his attention back to his own predicament. He heaved a sigh of relief when the familiar form of Captain Simon Banks came crashing through the underbrush followed closely by Rafe and two other men he did not recognize.

"Simon!" Blair tried to push himself off the ground, but his body betrayed him and he collapsed back down, pulling his wounded arm close to his body.

"Just take it easy, Blair," the Captain soothed. "We've got you."

"Jim," Blair gasped between clenched teeth, "Help Jim."

Simon looked up, his eyes searching for the detective. A smile spread across his face as Ellison came into view, leading a very dazed Edward Morgan. He thrust the prisoner at the two FBI agents and handed over the heavy duty rifle.

"Are you okay?"

Jim nodded curtly to the Captain and kneeled down beside Gina who was seated on the ground, supporting Blair's head in her lap.

"I can't believe that worked, man." Blair looked up at his partner, his relief shining in his eyes.

"Was there ever a doubt?"

Blair and Gina exchanged smiles. "None whatsoever."

********************

"I just wanted to say thanks." Gina stood before Jim and Simon, a blue blanket pulled around her shoulders. She looked up at Jim and smiled widely. "Blair was right about you. You are the best."

Jim graced her with a brilliant smile and leaned forward as she reached up and planted a light kiss on his cheek.

"Thank you," she said softly. "Take care of Blair."

"I will."

Jim watched as she was joined by two FBI agents and led to a beige sedan. She turned as one of the agents opened the back door of the sedan and slid a hand out from under the blanket, giving him a small wave. The agent ushered her into the car, then climbed into the front seat. The driver started the engine and pulled the vehicle out onto the road. Jim waited until the car had disappeared from sight before returning his attention to the Captain.

"Looks like you made a friend," Simon took a drag from his cigar, his eyes showing his amusement at Gina's actions.

Jim just smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

"I'm fine. Really. Just patch my arm up and I'll be as good as new."

Both men turned as the familiar voice floated across the park clearing. They both rolled their eyes, exchanging knowing smiles before moving the short distance to the young man who was lying on the stretcher near the rescue vehicle.

"I'm fine." Blair was trying to convince the EMT with, obviously, unsatisfactory results. "Jim! Simon! Am I glad to see you. Help me out here, will you? I'm fine, really."

"Sure you are, Chief." Jim placed a hand on his partner's shoulder effectively stopping the younger man from attempting to remove himself from the cot. "They're just going to take you to the hospital and check you out."

Blair swallowed and looked around the clearing. "Uh, Jim. They plan on driving me down the mountain, right? I mean in an ambulance? One with wheels?"

Jim gave him a grim smile and raised his eyebrows. "An ambulance would take too long, buddy." He shrugged in apology as the helicopter he had been hearing for the past few minutes came into view over the tree line and began to land about one hundred yards down the road.

"No, no, no, no, no..."

Jim glanced back down at his partner, not able to hide his grin. He raised his voice, pitching it loud enough to be heard over the din of the chopper. "Look on the bright side, Chief. At least this time you get to ride inside." He patted the younger man's arm and stepped back, nodding to the rescue team as they lifted the stretcher and moved toward the chopper.

"That is not a bright side, Jim!" Blair called back. "Don't do this to me, man! Jim! JIM!"

The End

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