Jim scowled at the man in front of him. His partner was vaguely surprised the guy didn't shrivel up and die on the spot, such was the venom in the Sentinel's glare.
"Excuse me?" he growled, "I don't believe I heard you correctly. I don't believe I just heard you tell me you gave our tickets back to Cascade to a couple of colleagues on vacation after my partner and I busted our butts to get here and testify in an open and shut case on three hours notice and two hours sleep!"
"Easy Jim," Blair's hands grabbed him and pulled him away. His friend's voice had risen from an incredulous tone to a full-blown shout. Sleep deprivation had muddied Blair's normally clear eyes and roughened his voice a little too, increasing the Sentinel's dissatisfaction with the world in general and the man from the DA's office in particular.
"Go outside and clear your head, partner. I'll deal with this," Blair continued softly, turning the reluctant man and pushing him towards the doors. Blair's hands were massaging Jim's forearms gently and Jim nodded, heading out slowly after shooting a warning look at their current cause of consternation.
"Ok," Blair sighed, running a hand through his hair, "Let's try this again. When can we get back to Cascade?"
"Um, you can wait for a commercial flight which leaves tomorrow night and arrives the day after, or I can charter a small plane for you guys to leave tomorrow morning - take you straight there," the scrawny man smiled in relief, obviously feeling the worst was over. The smile faded at the look Blair shot him.
"Accommodation?" Blair snapped. He was in no mood to be the reasonable one, he had a son waiting back home and a tired Sentinel to control in the meantime.
"There's a Holiday Inn - it's very good, four stars actually. I can get you both a room there for tonight."
Blair nodded sharply.
"Get the details of the charter flight over to the hotel by six. Book us in now and give me the address," Blair held out an impatient hand and watched the other guy scurry.
"This sucks," Jim grumbled as Blair joined him outside to wait for the taxi, "We get pulled off a fourteen hour stake out to grab a suit and some files and head out here to testify. Even though it's a case that we sewed up tightly on our end and the prosecution dropped the ball on. We go straight from the plane to the courtroom, save the goddamn day for them and then find out that some hokey little jumped up pipsqueak has slipped our tickets to someone else. You don't have time to say more than goodbye to your son, I don't have time to talk to Rachael and now we're stuck here for the night."
" ‘Hokey little jumped up pipsqueak'?" Blair smiled, "Man, you are eloquent when you're riled!"
"I hang out with a Ph.D.," Jim grinned tiredly and Blair shook his head, stepping forward as the taxi pulled up. They got in and Blair gave the address before pulling his cell phone and calling home. He left a message for Tommy on the machine, which Jim had to butt in and signed off laughing.
"You sure you'll be ok in a small plane Chief?" Jim asked as the taxi pulled up and Blair let Jim pay before answering on the way to reception.
"I'd grow wings and fly if it got me to Tommy faster," Blair sighed, "Remind me to thank your dad for stepping in like that."
"Yeah, me too," Jim agreed and Blair signed them in. From the deferential treatment they were getting the 'pipsqueak' had passed on a warning about their tempers.
"He's been a real stand up guy for us the past couple of months," Jim continued, "In a funny way it kind of makes it easier to deal with all the crap from before."
"I can't tell you how relieved I was that you two could come together like you have," Blair let Jim open the door and pulled his tie off, followed by his leather jacket, suit coat and leather shoes. He draped his clothes on the bed near the window - knowing Jim preferred to sleep between him and the door. Jim had stripped down too; hanging his discarded clothes in the wardrobe while Blair emptied his trouser pockets into his ever-present backpack. Blair picked everything up and hung it away while Jim used the bathroom and was sprawled on his bed comfortably when his friend emerged.
"It just felt like it was the right time to try, Chief," Jim said as he sat on the edge of his bed, facing his friend. The hotel room was like any other - plain cream walls, dark carpet twin double beds with Aztec patterns on the quilts, a mini bar tucked under a counter that doubled as a dresser and the obligatory landscape picture on the wall. Lamps on the wall above each bed, a reverse cycle air conditioner that would undoubtedly make a lot of noise when they tried to use it.
"As long as you're happy, Jim. If it's ever too much you'll let me know won't you? I don't want to make things hard for you," Blair lifted his head to look at Jim who grinned and leaned over to flick the bottom of his brothers foot, making him yelp.
"Believe me, you'll be the first to know, Chief," Jim replied and got up, "You want to go out for dinner, or should we check out room service?"
"Room service," Blair replied, "If I don't get out of these rumpled clothes I'm going to shoot someone with your gun."
"Left it in Cascade Chief," Jim replied looking for the room service menu. Blair groaned and flopped back onto his bed.
Jim went for a shower while they were waiting and Blair put his shoes back on before heading out to the mall across from the hotel. He returned triumphantly just as Jim was emerging from the bathroom with a package of disposable razors, a deodorant stick, a ‘travel' chess set, two plain T-shirts, a couple of pairs of socks and underwear for them both. Jim grinned his thanks and disappeared back inside the bathroom for a couple of minutes, returning in clean boxers and a T-shirt.
"If the shirt irritates you, let me know, ok?" Blair cautioned and disappeared into the bathroom for his own shower. He found Jim sprawled happily on his own bed, watching the game on TV and heckling the commentary team. Room service arrived at the same time as an envelope with their flight details and they fell on the burgers and fries Jim had ordered for them both. Blair might be a health food junkie on a good day, but today had not been a good day.
The cell phone rang as Jim was putting the tray outside.
"Tommy!" Blair exclaimed, "Hey sweetie!"
"Hi Da!" Tommy's voice was loud and clear to Jim, "Hi Uncle Jim!"
"Hi Tommy," Jim called and then pounced, taking the phone from Blair and running to lock himself in the bathroom.
"I stole the phone from Da, Tommy," Jim ignored Blair's knocking, "Did you have a good day today kiddo?"
"Yep! Miss Truman read a story about camels today and I told her I rode one," Tommy giggled, "I'm going to take the picture in to show her tomorrow. And Poppy and I made dinner together."
"Is Poppy a good cook?" Jim grinned at the low voiced comments his Guide was making. The Sentinel could hear them, but the boy on the phone would not. That was for the best - it was not the sort of language his Guide's son should be listening to anyway. For a man whose voice could cut through the confusion of a recent crime scene, Blair sure could talk dirty when he wanted to.
"He is. We had ice cream for dessert and we're going to go look at the stars with my telescope tonight. We might even see Mars! That's a whole other planet!"
"Wow! When I get back you can show it to me too, huh?" Jim turned and opened the door, making shushing gestures. Blair was glaring at him, but humor twinkled in his eyes and hovered at the corners of his mouth.
"I will," Tommy promised, "Can I talk to Da now?"
"Sure can. Love you short stuff," Jim stuck his tongue out at Blair.
"Love you too Uncle Jim."
"Hi Tommy," Blair slapped Jim's shoulder lightly and went back to sprawl on his bed. Jim turned down his hearing so he could only hear Blair's side of the conversation and unwrapped the chess set. That done he took his own phone into the bathroom to call Rachael.
"Won't be long now. Uncle Jim and I just had to go on this very quick expedition, but we'll be back soon…. I miss you too sweetie…what did you do today? Yes you can take the picture to show Miss Truman. That sounds yummy…we had hamburgers…when we get back Uncle Jim can make some with you, ok? Love you Tommy. Yes I promise. See you soon, ok? Sleep well sweetie. Bye."
"Why didn't you tell him we'd be back tomorrow?" Jim asked absently as he palmed two pawns and held out his hands for Blair to choose. Blair tapped the right one and got the black pawn, before lounging on the bed next to Jim. The TV was a low murmur in the background as they made their first moves.
"I'm not sure," Blair shrugged, "He likes surprises - we'll be home before he is."********************
"You have reached the phone of Sandburg, Sandburg and Ellison. Please leave a message after the beep…"
Hi Tommy it's Da! And Uncle Jim! Shhh Jim! Just ringing to say hello! Hello! Hello! How are you? You can call on my cell phone after dinner. Make him eat brussel sprouts Dad! I'll make you eat brussel sprouts in a minute Jim, now hush! Dad! Blair's picking on me! <Laughter and the sound of a hand impacting lightly on someones head.> Talk to you soon, ok? Bye short stuff! Bye Tommy! Bye Dad!
Jim looked over at Blair who shrugged and moved his knight. Their suit jackets, coats and Blair's bag were piled on the seat behind them, as the interior of the plane was hot. The pilot had explained ruefully that the heater only worked on one setting or not at all, and all three men had decided to be too hot.
"Checkmate," Blair told him and sat back to let Jim examine the small board.
"Thirty moves! Not too shabby!" Blair smiled at Jim who smiled back.
"Considering it's the longest I've lasted since we took off," Jim agreed, conceding the game and setting the board up again. He'd started the chess game in an effort to distract Blair from the flight and it had worked. Blair had focussed everything on the games - beating Jim in a couple of moves the first time out. This was their third game. Jim was no mutt when it came to intelligence, and had beaten Blair fairly regularly in their at home chess games.
"Let's take a break," Blair suggested and looked out of the windscreen at the sky ahead of them before looking down at his lap and settling back with his eyes closed. Jim tuned into his friend and put a hand on his arm to anchor him. Blair hated flying as a passenger - he'd once confided to Jim that he'd flown fixed wing planes when he was fourteen but hadn't kept his license up. His fear of heights was triggered when he wasn't in control of his position. Jim could relate - the Sentinel hated loosing control and Jim wasn't too fond of it either.
The plane shuddered - there was a cross wind that kept dogging them - and then the nose dipped down. Blair's eyes flew open and Jim looked at the pilot in time to see the man slump forward over the controls. Both men leapt forward.
"Chief get the stick!" Jim yelled and Blair took the co pilot's place while Jim pulled the pilot off the controls and back into the tiny aisle behind the cockpit. He heard Blair calling mayday as he struggled to right the plane and fought the buffeting winds. The pilot groaned and Jim realised the man was having a heart attack. He loosened the man's clothes and monitored the fading heartbeat while the plane dipped, evened out and dropped in the wind shears.
"Jim, I can't hold it!" Blair yelled, "We're off course and caught in a wind shear!"
"Can you land us?" Jim called; desperately hoping the answer was ‘yes'.
"The pilot's having a heart attack. We need to get him to help."
Blair swore and Jim hesitated before inching forward to look out and down at the ground. They were over forest - trees as far as the eyes could see.
"What the hell?" Jim looked over at Blair and grabbed the back of the seat for balance as the plane lurched and dove again before Blair could level it off much closer to the ground.
"We're way off course, Jim. I've got no idea where we really are. Best guess - Cascade is that way and Seattle over there," Blair fought the stubborn winds and growled in frustration, "That's the mountain you can see from the roof of Prospect over there."
"Chief, that mountain is at least a hundred miles away from home - we were testing my long distance vision that day remember?" Jim swore and looked back as the pilot moaned and then convulsed. Jim lurched back to the man's side as his heartbeat failed entirely. Checking to make sure his airway was clear, Jim began CPR. He heard Blair calling in again, trying to get directions to the nearest help and battling to keep the plane stable in the vicious winds.
"…Must have been off course for a while…" the phrase struck Jim's ears and he grimaced. If the pilot had been in trouble for a while there was no telling how long they'd been drifting off course. He checked for a pulse, failed to find it and returned to the chest compressions grimly. He had no doubts about the odds of reviving this man without some serious medical intervention - usually a heart attack victim was only revived successfully if CPR was followed by prompt and expert medical assistance, something they were far away from. Still, Jim knew he had to try - had to give the man every chance he could.
Then the engine stuttered. The frantic silence from Blair clued Jim in to how desperate things really were and he swore under his breath as he smoothly breathed for the pilot and then returned to the chest compressions again. The plane lurched and Jim grabbed for the seats for balance, ending up sprawled on his patient as the failing engine and rough conditions sent the plane dropping from the sky. Blair's voice began calling mayday again as he struggled to control the fall and give as much of a clue to their rescuers as he could.
"Jim!" Blair yelled, "Brace yourself! We're going down!"
Jim struggled to get up and secure himself in a seat - or better still get up and get to Blair's side, but the plane lurched sickeningly, throwing him off balance and across the pilot's body again. The world screamed in protest, spun and jolted and winked out as Jim's head hit the edge of the seat.
The sound of the crash sent birds shrieking into the midday sky.
Blair groaned and lifted himself shakily off the console. His head pounded like a second heart and he wiped the blood oozing down his face away impatiently. The plane had skimmed over the treetops and then fallen gracelessly into a clearing when the engine finally cut out after the last wind shear sent them plummeting earthwards. Blair bit down on a groan as his abused body registered multiple protests at moving and turned slowly, favoring just about everything, to look for Jim. He was so dazed he never even noticed his knee popping back into place as he twisted it loose from the wreckage.
The big cop was piled up at the rear of the small craft, buried under the pilot and Blair's backpack - the only luggage they had. Blair moved slowly but surely towards his friend. What would normally have taken him three quick strides took eight slow ones to reach Jim. The pilot was clearly dead - his eyes staring glassily at the ceiling, his flesh already cool. Blair grimaced and pulled the dead man gently to one side.
"Jim?" Blair husked and reached down to check for a pulse with trembling fingers. He sighed in relief when he found one and sat back slowly, his eyes searching over Jim's body for obvious damage.
"Looks like you broke your arm buddy," Blair commiserated, eyeing the ugly bulge beneath Jim's skin and stroking his face with fingers clammy from shock. The poloce consultant gently stroked over the rest of Jim's body, finding a knot on the back of his skull where he'd hit the seat but no other damage. Blair crawled over to the door and managed to open it before dragging the pilot outside with him and locating some suitable wood for a splint for Jim. The Guide eyed the torn pieces of fuselage idly and the severed wing with disfavor before climbing shakily back inside and setting Jim's arm. He used their ties, and strips of seat cover cut with his ever present pocket knife to bind the splint firmly in place, then made Jim as comfortable as possible on the floor, draping their coats and jackets over his friend to combat the cold.
Blair fogged out for a moment and came back to himself as his hands slowly scratched the pilots name, the date of the crash and possible cause of death into the surface of the severed wing. His writing was uneven as his vision ballooned and swam sickeningly. He had somehow managed to drape the wing over the top of the shallow trench he'd dug - or rather, enlarged from the furrow dug out by the plane as it crashed. The wing was now resting over the top of the pilot's shallow grave - the best Blair could do to see that the family had something to bury when help came. Blair stood for a moment, reciting a prayer from Buddhism for the pilot's spirit, and then turned to gather as much wood as he could find. Nights were cool if you were inside, cold if you were outside and they were definitely outside. He'd managed to dump the fuel when the engine cut out for good, turning them into a glider. There was no danger to them now if they had to light a small fire to get warm.
His next coherent moment entailed laying more wood on the small fire burning in a hastily constructed wind shelter near the open door. Jim was carefully positioned to catch the reflected heat and Blair's head buzzed painfully as he lowered himself to lie next to Jim. He appropriated his leather jacket from Jim's legs and snuggled into it, resting one hand on Jim's heart to track his friend's recovery. Someone - Blair wasn't sure whom - was talking in a low voice, urging Jim to find the dials and come back to them. As much as Blair wanted Jim to wake up he also wished the other guy would shut up so he could get some rest.
After a little while Blair thought he heard Jim's voice talking back to the other guy, but it didn't make much sense to him so he went to sleep. Let Jim and the other guy worry about things for a while. He was tired and his body hurt too much to stay awake.
For the man who'd just awoken, time seemed to crawl by at a snails pace.
Jim held his breath as Blair's eyes opened again. The last two awakenings had been dazed, incoherent affairs. Blair's head injury had made him disoriented and disassociated from his surroundings. One minute he'd be talking to his friend, the next he'd be talking to someone who wasn't even there.
Blair had evidently retained enough sense to use pieces of wreckage to make a windbreak for their fire, and he'd also set Jim's broken arm - an injury that was plaguing the Sentinel now. He needed to be mobile and a hundred percent in order to protect his Guide and contribute to their survival.
"Jim?" Blair moved his hand to check out Jim's heartbeat and he smiled gently. He'd wrapped Blair's suit coat awkwardly around his legs, sharing their clothing evenly to keep them both warm.
"Hey, Chief. You with me?" Jim asked and Blair blinked slowly.
"Sure, big guy, I'm right here," he mumbled and went back to sleep. Jim sighed in disappointment. It was an improvement over the last discussion they'd had, but Blair's disorientation was an alarming symptom of his head injury. Jim hadn't even been able to bandage the cut - which was thankfully small and in Blair's hairline. It had stopped bleeding by the time Blair's voice had eased Jim back to consciousness.
Jim had found a bottle of water in Blair's pack as well as a couple of granola bars, so they'd be ok for a day or so in the plane provided they didn't exert themselves. His hearing had spiked a little when he first woke and he'd heard a stream nearby, so they could replenish their water when they needed to.
Jim settled back into his own covering and placed his hand over Blair's, pinning it to his heart. The knot on the back of Jim's head throbbed unpleasantly, but he didn't think he was in too much trouble from the head injury. He vision was clear and he could track events and movement with no problems. Hopefully Blair was not bleeding beneath the skull. Sentinel fingers had found no evidence of a fracture or depression: with a bit of luck and some rest Blair would be back to his normal self soon. Jim would just have to wait.
"You have reached the phone of Sandburg, Sandburg and Ellison. Please leave a message after the beep…"
Hi, Tommy, it's Uncle Simon. I hope you're behaving for your Poppy. Mr. Ellison, I need to talk to you … I'll be over tonight after dinner. About nine o'clock…I…I'll see you then…
Blair opened his eyes slowly and sighed. He was cold, but not unpleasantly so. He reached for the doona and encountered hard floor instead.
"Huh?" Blair lifted his head and focussed his eyes. He was lying on the floor in a…plane?
"How the hell did I get here?" Blair mumbled and spotted a bottle of water nearby. He sat up slowly, feeling a little light headed and reached out, snagging the bottle and taking a small mouthful. A little of his memory returned - he and Jim had testified at the O'Donnell case and then had to spend the night in town, planning on taking a charter flight to Cascade the next morning.
Being a fairly intelligent person, Blair guessed this was the remains of the charter flight. If that was the case, where were Jim and the pilot? Surely Blair wasn't the only survivor? Panic bolted through him and he scrambled stiffly to his feet, cursing the knee that didn't want to support him and lunging for the door.
"Jim!" Blair yelled, "Jim! Where are you?"
He let himself down to the ground stiffly and looked around wildly. The wreckage had been disturbed - part of it to make a windbreak for the fire by the door of the plane and the wing …
With a sob Blair stumbled to the deliberately placed wing and leaned on it for balance, forcing himself to calm down and read the inscription scratched on there. It was a name he didn't know and the words 'heart attack' with a date beneath them. Blair breathed a sigh of relief and began to take slow breaths, calming his heart rate and clearing his head. Jim couldn't be too badly hurt if he'd buried the pilot, though his writing was terrible - worse than usual.
Blair felt dizzy for a moment and grimaced impatiently. He had to stay awake and find Jim. His knee throbbed hard in protest and Blair sighed - there was no point in wandering away from the wreckage to go looking when he had a Sentinel nearby.
"Jim, can you hear me?" Blair yelled, "Jim!"
Blair turned and limped slowly back to the fire, sinking down in the doorway thankfully and looking around again. He pulled on his suit coat and leather jacket before fishing a hair tie out of his pocket and pulling his hair back into a ponytail.
"Ok, Jim, I'm going to assume you can hear me, so as soon as you can, come back to the camp ok? I'd really like to see that you're ok," Blair said to the air and then added a little more wood to the fire. He rubbed at his knee slowly, trying to ease the fierce ache. He'd already found the cut in his hairline and realised that Jim had at least cleaned the worst of the blood off his face, though it was all over his shirt front. His body was also bruised pretty spectacularly, but no ribs were broken and apart from his knee everything else seemed to work.
"Blair!" Jim's voice shouted in the distance and Blair grinned in relief.
"Hey, Jim. Need some help?" he asked at normal level, getting ready to stand again.
"Ok, I'll wait here for you, ok? Want me to keep talking?"
"Not a problem. You know me, always ready to talk…shutting me up is the problem, right? Maybe you can answer some questions when you get here ‘cause I seem to be drawing a mental blank on what happened. I remember testifying and that idiot giving our tickets away. I remember talking to Tommy and playing chess at the hotel, but that's it. I'm guessing we crashed - hey what a leap of deductive reasoning, right? Are you ok? You weren't hurt or anything? Did you really land the plane? How long have I been out? Ok, no more questions until you get here - and no I didn't hear you say that, but I know you well, Ellison, and I know you're growling at me."
Rapid footsteps approached and Blair straightened a little, grinning as a very disheveled Jim hurried into view, dangling a rabbit from one hand. The corpse was dropped to one side of the door as Jim knelt next to Blair, looking up at him anxiously.
"Chief?" he asked tentatively and Blair reached gentle hands to the splinted arm, frowning.
"You broke your arm?" Blair sympathized, "Are you ok?"
"Yeah," Jim dismissed the injury impatiently, "How do you feel? I've been frantic with worry, Chief!"
"I'm fine. Compus mentis once again. I've been out for a while?" Blair leaned over for a gentle hug, easing the tension vibrating through Jim's frame.
"A couple of days," Jim confessed, leaning into the hug a little like Tommy would have, "You kept waking up and talking to someone else. You never made any sense. I was scared your injuries were worse than they appeared. I couldn't keep you awake."
"Hey, a bad concussion will do that," Blair soothed, "I'm sorry I scared you big guy. I'm ok now. My knee is a bit tender, but otherwise I'm fine."
"I think it was dislocated," Jim stroked his fingers over the knee in question lightly, "You hung in there for a while after landing the plane. You came to before I did and set my arm and buried the pilot. You made that windbreak and lit the fire, then lay down next to me. I came to as you passed out. You had your hand over my heart."
Blair rubbed his hand gently over Jim's shoulder, sitting still and letting Jim release the tension he'd been carrying since he came to.
"I got you to take a little water each time you woke up, but you were so disoriented. One time you woke up convinced Tommy had died - you were screaming and crying…I had to restrain you," Jim leaned his head on Blair's chest, "You've been so quiet the last day that I took the chance to refill the water bottle and set a few snares. I was checking them when you woke up. For a moment I thought you were still out of it - I came back as fast as I could."
"I know," Blair smiled, "I freaked at first - I thought you were dead - but it's ok. Once I realised that the pilot was buried there and not you I figured you were nearby. It's why I shouted, I knew the Sentinel would hear me."
"Useful for something at least," Jim grumbled and Blair cupped his other hand over the back of Jim's neck, pulling him closer.
"Don't be angry that you couldn't tell what was going on inside my head," Blair guessed right, "Your senses don't make you omniscient. I'm sorry you were alone for so long. We're ok though, a bit banged up maybe but nothing that won't heal."
"Yeah," Jim sat back and squared his shoulders, as if shrugging off the worry and tension. Blair smiled at the very typical gesture and looked around the camp again.
"So now what? Do we wait here for rescue or try to walk out? Any idea where we are?" he asked and Jim got up to retrieve the rabbit. He pulled Blair's knife from his pocket and selected the large blade absently.
"We should probably wait here a few more days, Chief. There's water and hunting here, and the plane wreckage would be visible from the air. If there's no sign of a search in a few days time we'll think about it again. Besides, your leg isn't ready for much travelling and to be honest my arm bothers me a little," Jim confessed to the rabbit and Blair nodded.
"Ok," he agreed, "Hand dinner over and I'll gut it."
"No, I'll do it," Jim protested, "We could use more wood though, if you're up to it."
"If you're sure," Blair got up, steadied himself and moved slowly away into the clearing. A thought stopped him and he turned back to his friend, "Hey Jim, what's the time?"
"Late afternoon," Jim replied, "My watch stopped in the crash and yours is god knows where."
"Tommy stepped on it by accident just before the stakeout," Blair limped away to the edge of the clearing, "I left it at home."
"Was he upset?" Jim called as Blair moved into the tree line. Blair's voice came back to him easily as his hearing flared out to track his friend.
"Yeah he was. I promised to let him help me pick a new one out when I got home. You have to come too, Jim. Apparently your magic is needed to find the perfect replacement," Blair sounded amused. He kept talking to reassure Jim as he collected dead wood for the fire, "I was planning to go on our next weekend off if you're not busy. I know you were planning to go away with Rachael next chance you had, so let me know ok? By the way, Simon was asking if we planned to join the softball team again this year - he's trying to get the Major Crimes team organized before the season starts. He might have a little trouble including me though - Vice and Homicide have both asked me the same question. Apparently because I consult with all the departments I'm eligible to join their teams as well. I never thought they'd want me around after hours though. I told Simon we'd get back to him - I'd rather join Major Crime's team, but I don't want to alienate anyone. Major Crimes is my unit after all, but this is a big deal in a closed society - it's an important sign of acceptance. Speaking of which, your Dad wants us to come to the Ellison Foundation Annual Family Picnic this year. Steven will be there with Alice and the kids apparently, and William thought you and Tommy and I might like to come too. It's not for a few weeks though, we've got some time if you want to make an excuse."
"Sounds good to me Chief," Jim looked up as Blair limped slowly back into the clearing, his arms full of fuel for the fire and his face a little pale and sweaty. Jim frowned and stood, leaving the rabbit to its own devices as he hurried over.
"You ok?" Jim put his good arm around the other man's waist, "How did you manage to sound so normal when you obviously feel like crap?"
"Jim, if there's one thing being a Guide has taught me, it's how to control my voice for my Sentinel," Blair grinned, "I knew you weren't listening to my vitals so that wasn't a concern."
They were back by the fire and Jim helped position the firewood carefully before Blair lowered himself to sit on the ground. Jim went back to cutting the meat off the rabbit and skewering it to be cooked in the flames.
"In a way this is a perfect time to get some training in Jim. We're back at primitive conditions and struggling to survive. Sentinel and Guide living off the land and depending on each other's skills for survival," Blair mused.
"I depend on you in Cascade too, Chief," Jim looked up, "And you can't say we don't have our struggles back home on the job."
"True," Blair sighed and looked away, "Do you think Tommy is ok? I mean, I know your Dad is looking after him, really, I trust William a lot, but is he ok? What have they told him?"
"I don't know Chief," Jim sighed, "But Dad will stick to him like glue - you know that. We'll just have to make it up to him when we get home."
"You have reached the phone of Sandburg, Sandburg and Ellison. Please leave a message after the beep…"
Jim? It's Rachael…I heard…call me ok? I'm worried…
After five days and no sign of search parties or rescue Jim and Blair decided to walk out. Blair scratched their intentions on the wing of the plane, beneath the pilot's details.
Jim had wrapped Blair's knee for extra support, using strips cut from the plane seats. They'd stripped everything that could be useful from the plane's interior and put it in Blair's pack, which they would take turns to carry. Blair had managed to get Jim to agree to tuck his broken arm inside his jacket for extra support. They both agreed to take it easy and not force the pace.
The plan was to walk during the day, stopping late afternoon to set snares and a campsite for the evening. In the morning they'd clear the snares for that day's rations, eat a fairly large meal for energy and keep hiking. Blair was hoping to spot some edible plants as they moved and Jim was going to track the streams for them so they'd never be too far from water.
"Of course, it would be a better plan if we knew where we were going," Jim mused as he watched Blair scratch the words deep enough to outlast the weather for a while.
"That's why we need to get above the tree line tonight for a little while," Blair looked over at Jim, "We can use your senses to locate the nearest settlement and head towards that."
"Why wait until tonight?" Jim frowned and Blair got up stiffly. He was moving better after five days of comparative rest. He limped over to Jim and smiled. The improvised knee brace was helping and Blair was hoping he'd be able to keep up. Jim was plotting to need plenty of rest breaks.
"The city will send a fair amount of ambient light into the atmosphere," Blair grinned, "Like a glow. You'll be able to pick that up and use it to set a direction for us to travel in. You should also be able to pick up the pollution haze that hangs over Cascade too. There are bound to be towns between here and there, and as we get closer to them you'll be able to find them with your senses. We'll scan each night to check our progress."
"Makes sense I guess - no pun intended," Jim grinned and Blair rolled his eyes, "Where does the tree line end?"
"I'm hoping you can find that too," Blair sighed, "If I got a good look at the area before we crashed I've forgotten it. Sorry, big guy."
"Don't be," Jim put a hand on Blair's' shoulder, "You took care of me and the pilot until I woke up. Seriously, Chief, you only let go when I came around."
Blair nodded and looked down at the wing lying over the pilot.
"It feels kinda wrong to just leave him here. I know we can't carry him with us, but…" Blair trailed off and shook his head to clear it, "C'mon Jim, I want to find the tree line before it gets dark. No point in taking the trip in the dark both ways."
"Maybe you should wait here and I'll do this. Give your knee some more rest before tomorrow," Jim suggested and Blair shook his head.
"After that blow to the head I'm worried that you'll zone. You know you're more prone to it after you've been hurt. If you zone without me nearby you'll never come back. Besides it'll be good practice for tomorrow," he vetoed that idea quickly and Jim resigned himself to giving in. Blair was right, he did zone easily when he was in pain and the ache from his arm just never quit. Blair didn't have any aspirin on him and there was no first aid kit on the plane.
"This way then," Jim sighed and started uphill slowly. He thought about what Blair had been carrying with him and glanced at the man limping beside him.
"Chief, what's that metal cylinder in your pack? It's got another cylinder in it," Jim asked and Blair grinned up at him before concentrating on his path again.
"It's an atropine needle," Blair replied, "You can get them for people with severe allergic reactions - you know like bee stings or latex."
"Why do you have one? How come I never noticed you had an allergy like that?" Jim frowned. After four years surely he'd have noticed Blair having a life threatening reaction.
"It's not for me, Jim, it's for you," Blair explained, "There's one in your desk, one in the loft and Simon carries one in the glove box of his car. I never know how severe your reactions are going to be - you've stopped breathing on me before."
Jim reflected how typical it was that Blair would anticipate this problem and take steps without telling Jim his worries.
"So for the last four years you've been carrying atropine for me?" Jim shook his head, "How do you know I won't be allergic to that?"
"You weren't when the paramedics administered it that time," Blair replied, "And I've only been carrying it for three and a half years. I've used it on you once myself, and you were ok then too. It's ok Jim, I know what I'm doing with it and Tommy knows not to touch it."
"You take good care of me Chief," Jim smiled warmly and Blair smiled back and shrugged.
"So are we heading anywhere particular or just uphill?" Blair changed the subject and Jim was happy to let it go. He'd been reaching the edge of his ‘touchy feely' limit too.
"There's a kind of rocky outcrop up there - I've gotten glimpses of it the last few days. If I get up on top I'll be above the trees," Jim pointed in the right direction out of habit and Blair nodded back, accepting that Jim was looking at something that Blair wouldn't be able to see for another few miles.
Blair put his head down and followed along after Jim, struggling to keep his breathing fairly even as his knee protested every step. From the hunch to Jim's shoulders the broken arm was protesting the movement too, and Blair sighed, lurching forward to latch his hand on Jim's hip. Jim slowed even further and they walked along slowly. The taller man's shoulders straightened a little and Blair smiled to himself - somehow the simple act of connecting eased Jim's pain every time.
"Here it is," Jim stopped and Blair groaned when he realised what he'd have to climb.
"Great. Are you sure your sprit animal isn't a goat, man?" Blair shook his head at the jumble of rocks jutting from the side of the mountain, and Jim laughed unhappily.
"You could stay here while I climb up, Chief," he offered. Blair's face lit up in memory and he nudged Jim's hip gently.
"Would you think less of me if I took you up on that offer?" he grinned and Jim reached out to ruffle his hair.
"I'd probably think you were some spineless self serving goober," Jim's voice was solemn and Blair sighed.
"I can live with that," he shrugged, "C'mon Jim, I'll give you a hand."
He stepped up to the lowest part of the jumble, braced his hands at shoulder height and dragged himself up, kicking with his good leg for a foothold.
"You're tenacious, Chief," Jim shook his head and followed.
"Stubborn too," Blair grunted and Jim huffed in laughter.
"Seriously Chief, will you be able to get back down in the dark?" Jim followed the other man's lead as they scaled the rocks and Blair stopped to look back at him.
"I'm taking the easiest path there is Jim, and between my night vision and your night vision we should be ok. Now can we do this?"
"You're grumpy when you climb rocks," Jim mumbled and Blair chose to go with a mature response - he stuck his tongue out.
They reached the top with a sense of accomplishment and settled down together to watch the sun set over the forest. Twilight faded to true night and the moon rose slowly. Jim took the opportunity to send his senses far and wide, relying on Blair's arm and leg pressed against his to anchor him to his body. Jim didn't ‘fly' often - the experience was exhilarating but also disconcerting. He had tried to explain it to Blair, but didn't know enough words to convey all he wanted to say.
After a while Blair stirred, taking a deep breath like he was surfacing from a deep sleep and Jim stirred too, stretching and grinning at his brother.
"Ready to find Cascade?" Blair asked and Jim nodded, "Ok, so what you need to do is scan the area in front of us. Separate it all into light and dark. Look for a glow, or a haze above the tree line. That's where home is. Once you've found it mark the direction in your memory - make a snapshot of it with your senses so you'll recognize it tomorrow. Don't stretch out to the city, I'll lose you. Take some deep breaths and relax for me, ok. When you're ready, begin."
Jim took a deep breath and let his eyes scan across the view in front of them, separating everything into light and dark. After a few minutes he found the glow and took the snapshot as Blair had taught him - a mixture of mnemonic training and mental imagery designed to work best with his senses and psyche.
"Got it," Jim grinned and looked at Blair, before returning to the glow unerringly. He knew he'd have no trouble finding their way tomorrow.
"I know that as your Guide I should be used to this but…you amaze me every day man. You truly are a fantastic person," Blair grinned back, shaking his head. Jim laughed - a joyful sound and Blair just grinned back, his eyes sparkling in the starlight.
Mr. Ellison? It's Mark Lucas from the firm. I've looked into that matter for you and you are correct. You have clear joint custodial rights with Mr. Banks in the matter you raised with me. I have some documents to review with you but I feel confident there are no legal obstacles to the action you have proposed. The lady in question will find it very difficult to pursue her case in court as it clearly violates the stated wishes of the party concerned. Please contact me at your convenience…
Blair pushed his hair back off his face and tied it back again absently while he watched Jim drink from the stream, doubled over so he could use his good hand to scoop the water up. Jim froze for a moment and then he groaned, sitting up.
"Jim?" Blair scrambled over rapidly, reaching out.
"I'm ok," Jim fended him off, "I just saw breakfast swim by."
"Don't do that!" Blair exclaimed in relief, swatting at his partners' shoulder and sagging to the ground, "Get me a pointed stick and I'll catch it for you."
"Really?" Jim got up quickly, and Blair grinned, pulling off his shoes and socks before taking off his trousers, jacket and suit coat too. He got up and waded out into the cold water gingerly. Jim tossed him a straight stick that he'd quickly carved a point into and Blair widened his stance carefully. The icy water gripped the swollen heat of his injured knee and he sighed in relief.
"Feels good, huh?" Jim sympathized, "I knew we were pushing you too fast. Please Chief, take today off ok?"
Blair shot him a level look and Jim held his hands up in defeat. He knew that Blair didn't want to leave Tommy alone any longer than he had to - even though William Ellison and Simon Banks would take the best of care of their charge. Blair became still and centered, standing up to his thighs in the water, one hand stretched out for balance the other poised with the stick come fishing spear. It wasn't as nicely balanced as the Cree spear that Jim loved to tease him about, but he could compensate for that - especially as it meant a change in diet from rabbit and the fall foliage that Blair had managed to find.
Jim had gathered wood for a fire by now and kindling too. He used the lens from Blair's glasses to start the fire and pushed a fairly flat rock into the fire to heat it. A sharp movement from Blair made him look up and after a moment Blair flicked the fish he'd caught up onto the bank. Jim grinned but stayed quiet as he hurried to kill the flopping meal and gut it with Blair's ever-useful knife.
Both men were almost unrecognizable now as their clothes showed the wear of the last few weeks. They were both tanned lightly from constant exposure to the sun and elements. Jim's one sleeved suit coat - cut by Blair to set his arm after the crash - was tattered and frayed around the edges and cuffs. There was a tear in the knee of his trousers and his brown leather coat was discolored in patches from the abuse it was taking. Jim was bearded pretty heavily - they needed the razors to do more than shave and neither man was too bothered about deodorant. Jim was secretly enjoying the opportunity to breathe in Blair's scent without having to stretch his senses.
Blair's clothes were not much better off, though his suit coat was still intact. He was liberally splattered with mud and the elegant leather shoes he'd brought to wear with his suit were falling apart under their harsh usage. The socks he'd draped over the shoes were rapidly developing holes, but there was no danger of blisters as Blair's feet and the shoes were well molded together by now. Blair's beard was also growing in - combined with the long hair Blair looked like the stereotypical mountain wild man.
A second fish landed on the shore and Jim prepared it quickly, laying them both on the flat rock, to sizzle and spit as they cooked.
"Coming out Chief?" Jim checked the fire and looked over at his friend, who gently shook his head and made an abortive lunge with the spear. Jim used the time to put a sharper edge on the knife with the small piece of whetstone that Blair had been carrying around too. He'd been unable to explain why he carried the thing: 'it's useful' was all Blair had to say with a shrug and Jim had grinned.
Most of the things Blair carried in that pack came under that category. When Blair was with Tommy toys, books and healthy snacks were added to the pack, but Blair had dumped them out in favor of the reports and his usual in-the-field-with-Jim kit. The reports had stayed at the crash site, carefully placed out of reach of the weather and any inquisitive wildlife. Jim and Blair had both added letters to the files - writing on the backs of the pages - for Tommy and their friends. Should the plane be found before they were at least their friends would have some idea of what they were trying to do.
A third fish landed and Jim used one of the knives they'd made from the razors to gut it, not wanting to blunt the bigger blade in Blair's knife again. Their meal was almost ready, but Jim held off cooking the third fish yet. It could cook while they ate the first two, and be ready for them then.
Jim stretched and looked around at the beauty that surrounded him and his Guide. Early morning sunlight slanted down through the trees and touched everything with a gentle glow. The leaves on the bushes were turning and the gentle rippling of the water added a hushed quality to the natural sounds that surrounded the two men. Jim reflected that after hiking through it for three weeks he'd trade it all in for an ugly mile of city streets and a taxi somewhere in that mile. A fourth fish landed and Blair waded slowly out of the water to sit by the fire. His knee had refused to settle - constantly aggravated by the hiking they did every day to get home. On the other hand, Jim's arm was improving slowly - it itched now instead of aching and he could use the hand without enduring too much pain - more discomfort than anything else.
Blair let the warmth from the fire counteract the cold from the water, keeping his knee stretched out to the side so it wouldn't heat up too. Jim prepared the last fish and then ‘dished up' the cooked portions onto some more rocks. He and Blair fell on them ravenously, devouring huge mouthfuls and grinning at each other over the fire.
"Thank God I didn't let you give up on that pointy stick, Sandburg," Jim teased for the heck of it and Blair almost choked on his mouthful. He glared across at his laughing Sentinel and rolled his eyes, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
"Oh yeah, Jim, you're a legend," Blair drawled and took another mouthful, "So how far are you planning on today?"
"Same as yesterday, Chief - this particular stream bends like an 's'. We can make it to the other curve today and spend the afternoon fishing. If the snares were lucky last night we can have a real blowout. I think there are also some blackberry bushes up ahead - I can smell them," Jim replied and Blair nodded, swallowing.
"Your control has improved again," he noted, "You've really isolated that scent well."
"I had motivation," Jim smiled wryly - potential starvation was a great motivator to learning new skills. Blair acknowledged his point with a nod and accepted his second cooked fish.
Once they'd killed their fire entirely and emptied and taken down their snares - it was cruel to leave them up and wasteful of the materials needed to construct them - Jim led Blair through the water carefully. They dressed on the other side - wet clothes were not to be tolerated this far from civilization - and Blair followed Jim along the path the Sentinel chose to forge. He was not unaware that Jim chose the easiest terrain for his leg to travel and smiled to himself. Blessed Protector strikes again, Blair mused and hitched his pace up a little, wanting to get to the halfway point so they could have a break. Jim moved a little faster too, acknowledging the urgency Blair felt to get home.
They walked along in silence. The first week, Blair had talked non-stop in an effort to distract Jim and himself from the pain of walking. By the second week both men had become inured to the pain and conversation had been desultory, but not disinterested. Now they barely needed to speak to know what the other was thinking as they walked along. Gestures, nods and the occasional noise sufficed. They were too comfortable with each other's personality and habits for the silence to be a burden. Jim treasured the friend that knew him so well without speaking - Blair treasured the companion that accepted him without reservation or judgement.
Tommy weighed heavily on Blair's mind at night - would his son be happy? Was he safe and loved? Even though Blair knew Simon and William were fathers with more experience than he in raising a child Blair fretted that his son wouldn't let the two men close enough to supply his needs.
Hi Tommy, it's Uncle Joel. How would you like to come for a sleepover tonight? Simon, we've got action on the Bolt case. If you don't mind, Tommy, I'll borrow Uncle Simon for tonight and you can come over and take care of Auntie Mary and the girls for me while I'm away. Let me know what you two decide, Simon. Bye…
The sound had been teasing the edge of Jim's mind for a few days now, but Blair had been unable to help him isolate it. It was sporadic and varied in volume, pitch and proximity. Jim was certain it wasn't a danger to them, but couldn't say what it was.
They had passed through a rough patch a few days back and Blair had fallen, re-injuring his knee. He was using a walking stick that Jim had fashioned for him to try and take some of the weight off the injured joint. Not long after the noise had started teasing Jim's ears and he'd altered his course a little to take them closer to it. Blair couldn't hear the noise at all, which meant Jim was listening at a Sentinel level, not a Guide level.
When they stopped for the night now Blair sat his knee in the running water for short periods after they'd constructed their snares in an effort to get the swelling back to a manageable level. The fresh pain had left its mark on his face, carving deep lines around his nose and mouth. Jim hovered as unobtrusively as possible, which meant he was all over his friend until Blair told him off with a look or gesture. This earned Blair a short reprieve of about thirty minutes or until he stumbled, whichever came first.
"Want to try fishing again this afternoon?" Jim asked as they neared their camping spot for the night. The two men had been incredibly lucky in their water sources - there was fresh water every day and neither had run the risk of dehydrating through the daily exercise.
"Sure," Blair nodded, wiping some sweat free from his face, "It'll let me give my knee a long soak too."
Which was why Jim had suggested it - as Blair knew full well. He shot Jim a grin and the other man shrugged. Jim left his partner at the edge of the stream while he went to set the evenings snares and forage for whatever edible plants were around. Blair usually found quite a few by the rivers edge, and while the Sentinel wasn't too keen on raw roots it was better than weakness caused by an unbalanced diet - man was not made to live by rabbit alone.
Blair managed to spear two fish and start the evening fire with the last of the sun rays and his glasses by the time Jim returned with his jacket made into a basket and full of blackberries. Blair had found some tuber roots, which he was roasting with the fish.
"Alright! Pig out!" Jim crowed and Blair laughed, settling back on his elbows by the fire. Jim put the berries carefully on the pack and shrugged into his jacket before sliding in behind Blair and snuggling close for the warmth.
"God I'd kill for a beer," Blair sighed, "Or a cushion…you're getting bony back there, Jim."
"We've both lost weight," Jim agreed quietly, "I'm starting to worry Chief. The pain is dragging you down and it's getting colder at night."
"Hey - we've lost fat but not muscle tone. My knee hurts, but I'm not dead yet and we'll be ok out here for a while longer. It's not that cold," Blair dropped his head back to look at Jim, "We couldn't have stayed at the plane Jim, so lets not start second guessing ourselves."
"I know Chief," Jim sighed, "It's just…we've been gone so long and never even seen signs of a search. I'm starting to wonder if anyone is looking."
"Maybe they're looking in the wrong place," Blair suggested, "Didn't you say you thought that the pilot had been in trouble for a while and we were off course? I probably didn't know enough about our location to tell people where to look and if things happened as quickly as you said they wouldn't have had a chance to trace our signal."
"Simon and Dad won't give up," Jim's voice was certain and Blair grinned, leaning forward to snag the cooked food.
"Neither will we," he promised Jim, "If I have to carry you out on my back I will."
Jim snorted in laughter and took his share of tonight's dinner.
The berries disappeared quickly and the two men settled down to sleep as they did every night, spooned up together close to the fire.
Blair managed to catch another two fish for breakfast and Jim revisited the berry patch. They'd caught another rabbit in their snare and decided to keep it for dinner. Once breakfast was over Jim filled the pack with berries and then helped Blair cross the stream and dress.
"I gotta say, Jim, I don't think we'll be camping any time in the near future," Blair grumbled as he bent almost double to retie frayed shoelaces.
"Amen, Buddy," Jim agreed, "I'm not going anywhere that involves roughing it for at least five years."
He steadied Blair, shouldered the pack - he'd taken responsibility for their one burden after Blair's fall and no argument to the contrary would persuade him to give it back - and moved out slowly. It wasn't just Blair's injury that slowed their pace now - both men were weakening slowly as their diet caught up with them.
The noise whispered at the edge of Jim's hearing and he grimaced in frustration. He felt as though he should recognize it straight away.
"Heard it again, huh?" Blair said knowingly and Jim nodded, then glanced back.
"Body language, my friend," Blair shrugged, "And I could hear your teeth grinding. Let me remind you brother, that my doctorate is in Anthropology, not Dentistry."
"Great," Jim grumbled, "What kind of brother are you - at least I can fix a ticket for you. What can you do for me?"
"Stop people from beating your head in with a blunt object?" Blair suggested. Jim pretended to think about it for a moment and then nodded grudgingly.
"I suppose that's useful," he agreed and Blair laughed, a genuine happy sound that had Jim chuckling.
The ground was sloping gently away from them and Jim stepped back to Blair's side to take his free arm. Slopes were difficult for Blair - in fact just about everything was difficult for Blair at the moment but he never complained.
"Have I told you how much I admire your courage Chief? Most people would have quit on me by now. You take it all in stride. And I don't mean your bum knee, I mean the Sentinel crap and the bad moods and the spirit guides. Most people would be encouraging repeated applications of a blunt object to my head, but not you," Jim steadied his friend and tried not to notice the pained gasp as Blair's knee tried to buckle under his weight again.
"Not courage," Blair insisted incoherently, "Just love. My brother."
Jim stopped their slow progress and pulled Blair into a hug. He felt the connection to his Guide open and basked in the simple and unconditional acceptance and love. Blair's head rested against his shoulder and his arms circled Jim's back naturally. Jim buried his face in the dirty hair and just let it all go, let the tension and worry and fear drain away to be replaced by the simple comfort that being close to Blair offered.
After a while they separated and Jim led them on.
Hi Dad! Hi Tommy! I just thought I'd check in and see how you both are. Any word? Tommy is Dad behaving himself? I'll be there to see you both on the weekend. Alice and the kids are looking forward to the picnic - I hope the weather holds for it! See if you can make a sunny day for us Tommy!
Jim froze and turned to Blair.
"That noise!" he exclaimed as Blair's hand latched onto his good arm and rubbed soothingly, "It's a car! The Doppelganger Effect! We're near a road, Chief!"
"Paved or dirt?" Blair pressed, his grip tightening in excitement.
"Paved!" Jim grinned, his hands waving for emphasis in a most un-Jim-like manner, "A real road!"
"How far away from it are we?" Blair tried to calm Jim down and watched him take a few deep breaths.
"A days walk. If we get to our camping place for the night then we can be at the road by tomorrow afternoon!" Jim looked at his brother anxiously and Blair let his own excitement show now that Jim had regained control.
"What are we waiting for then?" Blair stepped away and Jim laughed, keeping pace easily.
Only the fact that Blair's knee couldn't tolerate any more travel that day stopped him from travelling all night. Jim was quick to set up camp for them, rearranging a blackberry patch with windfall branches to form a crude shelter.
"Rain huh?" Blair sighed and started gathering as much dry wood as possible while Jim kindled the fire and moved off to set the nightly snares. He returned as Blair crawled stiffly into the shelter and hurried to join his friend. The close quarters meant they had to snuggle together and Jim took advantage of it shamelessly, making Blair laugh as he was treated more like a teddy than a grown man.
"I'll drop dinner in the fire, Jim," Blair warned and Jim sighed, letting go of his friend.
"In some ways Chief, I think the Sentinel is as touch starved as Tommy was," Jim mused, and Blair glanced under his lashes at Jim. This was not news to Blair.
"I mean think about it. Until you showed up and made it ok for the touching to happen I was a real hands off guy. Unless you made me mad," Jim's hand traced light circles on Blair's back, "Even Carolyn and I didn't touch each other as much as you and I do and I was sleeping with her. After you moved in I started touching everyone - pats to the back, slaps on the arm. No wonder people think we're a couple."
"Jim, do couples share a house? Do they share the chores, know what the other is doing every day? Do they raise children together and share financial responsibility for debts? Do they vacation together, hang out together, plan to spend time with just the two of them as well as with friends?" Blair shook his head, "Believe me Jim, we're a couple."
"So why aren't we sleeping together?" Jim asked curiously and Blair shrugged.
"We're heterosexual men, Jim, though in college I played around with guys too. Neither one of us feels the physical attraction necessary for sex," Blair rotated his skewered meat to cook it evenly.
"But I know you're a handsome man - look at the way the women chase you. And I love you Chief," Jim protested and Blair rolled onto his back so Jim could see his face.
"I feel the same way, Jim. We're just not that way inclined. Maybe in some of the infinite alternate worlds out there we do feel that way, but in this one we don't," Blair's smile was tender and Jim sighed, snuggling in for a moment then leaning over to take over the food prep.
"Just as long as we know who wears the pants in this marriage," Jim joked and Blair rolled his eyes.
"I've been meaning to talk to you about that, Jim. The skirts you've been wearing are just too short. You're gonna get arrested if you keep going out like that," Blair retorted and Jim laughed hard, flopping onto the other man's chest and trying not to drop their dinner into the fire.
"We are seriously messed up here," Jim gasped and Blair grinned, rescuing dinner and patting his friend on the back.
They forced the pace the next morning, eager to end their impromptu hike-cum-survival-course. The road was a dual lane highway that snaked along through the trees quietly. They reached it in late afternoon and Jim decided it was best to sit and wait for a car to come along rather than continue walking. Blair pulled the crude map that he and Jim had been maintaining out and added the day's travel to it, knowing that Jim's decision had been based on the paleness of his face and the pain in his breathing. Jim settled in next to Blair and made comments to assist in the final notations.
They'd drawn this the first night in an effort to ensure that the pilot would be retrieved as well - he deserved a better burial than they had given him, and his family deserved the closure too.
Unwilling to chance their comfort if a car didn't come along in time Jim went back into the woods to collect wood for a fire and berries for dinner. Blair's excited yell had him running back in time to watch a car accelerate past his friend, who was standing on the side of the road, waving his arms.
"Damn," Blair cursed, "Not that I blame them - would you stop for someone looking like I do if you were alone in the car and unarmed?"
"I guess not," Jim glared at the retreating car, "With a bit of luck they'll report you though. Maybe the local highway patrol will come and check us out."
"Leave me the kindling and I'll get the fire started," Blair moved stiffly back to the fire pit he'd dug out with his walking stick, "Give them something else to report."
"Good plan Chief," Jim dropped what he'd gathered next to his friend and hurried back into the forest to complete his evening chores. He doubted that they'd catch much this close to the road - most wildlife preferred to live well away from civilization. He rejoined Blair as another car rounded the curve and ran forward, waving and yelling. The car tooted at them and kept right on going.
"Crap," Jim grumbled and plunked down next to his friend and the fire, "Maybe I should have waved the badge."
"Wouldn't make any difference, man. We just have to be patient," Blair grumbled, "Even though I'm seriously thinking of throwing rocks at the next car. We're so close to being home, Jim."
"I know Buddy," Jim stroked the back of Blair's neck, "If we're still here tomorrow morning we can walk along the road and try to wave someone down again. You're too tired to keep going tonight Chief, and I know you're in serious pain from your knee."
"I'd endure worse to be able to hug my son again," Blair mumbled to his hands and Jim squeezed the back of the neck he was stroking.
"That's another thing, Chief," he added, "We can't go home like this - we'll scare him to death. We need to clean up and let the doctors look us over before we go anywhere near home. We also need to call Simon and find out what they told Tommy so they can prepare him for our return."
Blair nodded without speaking. Neither man bothered looking up when another car engine sounded, resigned to being ignored.
"Can I help you gentlemen?" the woman's voice startled them into looking up. The cop leaned against her open door, the cruiser lights slowly revolving. "You do realize that fires are not allowed on the roadside?"
"Detective Jim Ellison, Cascade PD. This is my partner Blair Sandburg," Jim pulled his badge out of the pack and tossed it to her, "We just hiked out from the wreck of our plane. We'll put the fire out if you give us a lift to civilization."
She caught the ID easily and read it over before looking up at Jim carefully. She was lean and muscled, though there was a comfortable air to her - something that told Jim he was speaking to a competent colleague.
"Damn, you need a new ID photo Detective," she grinned, "Officer Lucas at your service."
"Thanks," Jim caught the ID and tucked it away. Blair had already put the small fire out. The rabbit was cooked so he pulled his share off and passed the stick to Jim.
"Might as well eat it," Blair told Jim, "We haven't had anything since dawn."
Jim glanced at Lucas, who was talking into her radio and grinning, apparently ignoring the skewered rabbit. He nodded and plopped most of his portion into his mouth, chewing quickly and swallowing, reaching eagerly for the next piece. They'd trained their stomachs to expect a varied meal schedule, and take advantage of what they got when they got it. Blair finished his portions and wiped his hands on the grass before dusting them off on his clothes and wiping at his mouth.
"I've got some energy bars in here," Lucas offered, diving into the car and replacing the mike before rummaging around and walking up to the two men. She handed them a bar each and sat down to wait while they ate.
"Yuck," Jim pulled a face, not used to the chemical taste of processed food on his sensitive taste buds. Blair rubbed a hand on Jim's elbow and things settled down for the Sentinel again.
"Yeah I know, but when you've run out of time those things are handy," Lucas shrugged, "And they're always welcome with small kids. You know I thinks it's a law - the minute parents break down the kids turn into starving omnivorous creatures that want food and whine until they get it."
"Tommy's not like that," Blair mumbled. Jim chuckled.
"We haven't broken down anywhere yet with Tommy in the car," he retorted, "Blair's son is four."
"That's a cute age. They're just starting to be really independent but at the same time they want lots of hugging and praise," Lucas grinned, "My twins are four."
"Twins?" Blair marveled, glad of the distraction as he struggled to his feet with Lucas' assistance.
"Uh huh," she nodded proudly, "They're the middle children. My oldest is six and the baby is two. I'm working on another at the moment - twelve weeks gone."
"Really love 'em huh?" Jim grinned and she grinned back.
"Also love the sex."
Blair laughed hard, and the distraction got him into the back seat with his leg raised. Jim was settled in the front seat and Lucas called in to dispatch that they were en-route.
"I've been told to take you straight to the local hospital. They'll check you over and let you clean up. I've got the lady on dispatch tonight raiding the clothes bin for some clean gear, she'll bring it to the hospital for you. My Captain wants to know whom he should call in Cascade for you," Lucas eased onto the road and kept the lights on, accelerating smoothly away from their last camp site.
"Probably be better to call Simon, hey Chief?" Jim glanced into the back seat and got a nod of approval, "Captain Simon Banks - our boss in Major Crimes. You want the number?"
"Sure," Lucas nodded. She glanced at Blair in the rearview mirror, "You want to call your wife, Detective Sandburg?"
"It's Mister - I'm a civilian consultant permanently assigned to Jim and Major Crimes," Blair smiled, "And I'm single - she died."
"I'm sorry," Lucas apologized. Blair shrugged and leaned his head back tiredly, letting his eyes close. Jim smiled reassurance at her nervous glance and leaned back too, letting the motion of the car lull him to sleep.
Oh, sorry, wrong number!
Simon strode into the hospital at top speed. The call had come in just as he was leaving for the night and he'd yelled so loud half the bullpen had come running in concern. It was a one-hour drive from Cascade to this particular town - Simon did it in forty-five minutes, sirens and lights blazing all the way.
A female officer was leaning against the receptionists' desk, chatting idly to the man behind it as Simon strode in. He pulled his badge and held it out to her.
"Simon Banks, Cascade PD. I was told two of my men were here," he looked from the officer to the receptionist and the officer straightened up.
"Officer Lucas," she introduced herself and shook Simon's hand, "I picked them up this afternoon. Detective Ellison is done - they've put him in a room already. This way."
Simon followed closely as she led the way past the almost empty emergency department.
"What's their condition?" Simon asked quietly and she smiled over her shoulder at him.
"You won't know them," she grinned, "A scruffier, more beat up pair I haven't met in a long time. Detective Ellison had a broken arm - the doctors were just casting it again as it was almost healed. Mr. Sandburg is still in evaluation - there's some concern over his knee injury."
She knocked on a door and then stuck her head in.
"Captain Banks is here," she announced and moved out of the way for Simon. He lurched to a stop just inside the door and gaped at the scruffy, bearded man who was smiling Jim's smile at him.
"Jeez Jim!" Simon exclaimed and barged on over to hug his detective, "My God!"
"Hello," Jim's voice was muffled but amused, "Miss us?"
"Damn straight," Simon swore and squeezed hard before letting go and sitting on the edge of the bed, "I can't believe you're here. You look terrible!"
"Thanks Simon. I knew I could count on you to say just the right thing," Jim laughed, "We didn't have time to stop at the salon on the way in."
"Seriously, though, are you ok?" Simon settled himself comfortably and shot Jim the ‘captain's look'.
"I broke my arm when we crashed and hit my head," Jim shrugged, holding up the fiberglass cast, "The Doctors x-rayed it and said they wouldn't have to reset it. Blair did a perfect job. We're both malnourished and a little under weight, but that's understandable. The pilot died before we even crashed."
"Where's Sandburg?" Simon pressed and Jim's face clouded over.
"Still in exam," he sighed, "He dislocated his knee in the crash and then fell real bad on it a couple days ago. We couldn't stop, though. There was no sign of a search and we had to get out before winter."
"Hey, he's getting care now. It'll be ok, Jim," Simon swallowed his own worries to reassure his detective and was rewarded with a smile, "Your Dad was a real trouper while you were missing. He moved in with Tommy - who's fine, gets more intelligent every time he breathes, and you won't believe how he's grown. We arranged a schedule so the kid spent time with us all on the weekends to give your Dad a break."
"Good," Jim relaxed against the pillows and blushed faintly as his stomach growled, "Sorry, Simon. It knows there's food nearby and it doesn't help that the wind is blowing from the local diner."
"You allowed to eat? Any restrictions?" Simon asked and Jim grinned. Before he could place his order they were interrupted by a welcome voice.
"I could eat," said a tired voice from the door and Simon leapt up to help settle Blair in bed, getting in a good hug as he did. The orderlies left, promising to come back with some dinner for the two men. Blair looked just as scruffy as Jim did, though his face was lined with pain. Simon pretended not to notice.
"Tommy's fine, kid. We told him your expedition was going to take longer than we thought and he just accepted it no problems," Simon blurted and was rewarded when the tension drained out of Blair.
"Thanks," Blair hung his head and tried to get control of himself. Simon hugged him again and then moved back to sit on Jim's bed.
"What did the doctors say about your knee?" Jim asked and Blair sighed.
"I'll need some surgery. Basically I have a referral for a surgeon in Cascade," he pulled a face, "They don't think there's any permanent damage to it. I can go home with you tomorrow. Your arm? Did they have to reset it?"
"Nope," Jim grinned proudly, "You did a better job than the doctor could have according to my guy. They just want the cast on for a couple of weeks and then another x-ray."
"Good," Blair smiled, "So Simon, are you coming back to give us a lift tomorrow?"
"Coming back?" Simon shook his head, "Kid, I am here for the duration. No way am I letting you two out of my sight again. Look what happens!"
The orderlies, bearing better than usual hospital fare interrupted them.
"Wow, it looks edible!" Blair exclaimed as the orderlies left and got a laugh from Lucas who was walking in.
"It had better be, my husband cooked it," she retorted, "He owns the diner across the way and I managed to persuade the docs to let you have the house special."
"Definitely edible," Jim said around his mouthful and Blair nodded emphatically. Lucas handed a cup of coffee to Simon and settled on the visitors' chair.
"We'll need to get statements from you both tonight, and of course any information you can about the location of the crash site. My Lieutenant is coming over to see you in an hour's time. He'll bring the clothes with him," Lucas told them and then turned to Simon. If she thought it odd for a Captain to sit on his detective's bed, she gave no sign of it as she inquired about his trip up.
Simon appreciated that she was giving Jim and Blair time to eat and relax, and made small talk happily. Blair dozed off as soon as he finished and Lucas moved the tray away carefully. She adjusted the blankets with a practiced hand and smiled over at Jim's anxious face.
"He was so tired," Jim sighed, "I can't believe he managed to walk for so long on that knee."
"Jim, he's had worse," Simon reminded his detective, "Remember that time with Quinn? He's a trouper, plain and simple. Let him rest until the Lieutenant gets here to take his statement."
"Lieutenant Peters is a good man, Jim," Lucas smiled, "He'll keep it brief and simple."
"If you can fish out our pack there's a map in it - Blair kept it up while we walked so we could find the site again. The pilot was buried, but …"
"His family would like to bury him properly," Simon nodded and Lucas opened the locker between the beds to pull out the battered pack. She handed it to Jim, who rummaged around and pulled out the map for her. Simon leaned over to look at it too, exclaiming in a quiet voice over the distance covered.
Mr. Ellison, it's Joel Taggert. Call me at the office as soon as you can…I've got some good news for you. Some very good news. You can reach me at Simon's desk or my own. I'll be waiting for your call.
Jim grinned as Simon opened the door to 307 Prospect and waited for Blair to swing step slowly past him before stepping inside.
"Home," Jim said simply, taking in the familiar sights and smells eagerly. Simon grinned back at him, watching Jim re-connect to his life. The man was dressed in mismatched sweats - the top too large and the bottoms just a little too small. His leather jacket clashed with the outfit and the hospital slippers only added to the strange look. Blair wasn't much better off, with a leg brace strapped over his clothes. Both men were still bearded.
"I want a shave," Blair announced, "Tommy's at daycare, right? We can pick him up when we want?"
"Yep," Simon confirmed, "Mr. Ellison agreed not to tell Tommy you were coming home. Tommy thinks I'm picking him up tonight."
"Why didn't you tell him we were coming home Chief?" Jim hadn't heard this side of the discussion with his father last night - he'd been in the bathroom after talking to his Dad.
"After our last try to get home I didn't want to promise anything," Blair confessed to the floor, "So I was superstitious."
"I don't blame you," Simon sympathized, and made a move towards the door, "Do you guys need me at all? I'll stay if you like…"
"We're ok, Simon. We'll come in tomorrow ok?" Jim nodded to his boss and grinned, "Thanks for everything Simon."
"You're welcome," Simon hugged both men and headed for the door, rummaging for a cigar as he walked down the corridor happily. Jim shut the door and turned to look at Blair.
"Why don't you head into your bathroom? I'll grab some clothes for you and drop them off before I hit the shower too," Jim suggested, then frowned, "Chief, do you want to sleep in your old room until your knee has recovered?"
"No," Blair smiled, "I'll be fine. I won't say nay to the laundry service though. Do you want a hand shaving?"
"I'll let you know," Jim promised as he followed Blair next door. Little had changed in Blair's half of their home and Jim smiled at the comfortable space as he hurried upstairs. He selected broken in jeans and the usual layers that Blair liked to wear, as well as socks and underwear. He left these things on the cabinet next to the sink and watched Blair swing step his way inside.
"I'll hear if you need me," Jim grinned and Blair nodded, shutting the door.
To Jim's disgust he couldn't trim the beard enough one handed to shave. He gave up and showered with his cast wrapped in a bag, then got into his own jeans and headed next door. Blair was out and dressed, looking like his normal self. The gash in his hairline was healed over, though the scar there was still red. That would fade in time.
"Can't shave?" Blair sympathized and Jim nodded, "Come on then."
He draped a towel around Jim's bare torso and balanced himself on one leg. Jim steadied his friend by putting his hands on Blair's hips and then sat still as Blair first trimmed and then carefully shaved and washed his face, checking for stray bristles with tender fingers before leaning back and grabbing his crutches. Jim smiled his thanks, got dressed and looked in the mirror.
"We look like we did again," Jim sighed in relief and followed Blair to the kitchen. They made a sandwich each and Jim carried them to Blair's table.
"Shall we go get Tommy now, or do you need to rest first?" Jim asked when they had finished their snack in silence. Blair grinned.
"Now," he said firmly and Jim got up, plucking Blair's car keys from the twin basket by the front door. Blair locked up and Jim drove the Subaru to the Cascade Day Care Center. Blair had chosen the center on sight - the colorful building, friendly staff and welcoming garden reassuring him that Tommy would be happy there. The six foot wall surrounding the property had also reassured his concerns about safety.
Jim managed to get a space near the front door, parking illegally in the pick up zone. He followed Blair eagerly to the front door and held it open for his partner. The receptionist smiled broadly and welcomed them back from their expedition.
"Tommy has been so excited about your travels, he tells us about them every day," she picked up the phone and missed Blair's startled look at Jim. Jim shrugged and stretched Sentinel senses for a trace of his nephew. Blair's hand twisted in Jim's sleeve tensely and Jim relaxed when he heard Tommy's voice saying goodbye to his teacher and friends. He tracked the four-year-old easily as he collected his own school bag and walked to reception with the aide.
"Da!" Tommy dropped his bag to throw himself into Blair's outstretched arms. Jim joined the hug unashamedly, listening to the unsteady breathing of his Guide and nephew, ignoring the single tear that tracked down his own face.
Blair propped his leg up comfortably on the couch and opened the scrapbook Tommy had presented to him.
Each page was decorated carefully with Tommy's own version of ideograms - symbols and pictures that represented actions and occurrences.
Every night after dinner Tommy had pulled the scrapbook out and drawn what Da and Uncle Jim had done on expedition that day. Allowing for childish perceptions Tommy was startlingly accurate on their daily activity.
"What gets me is the ideograms he chose for us," Jim plopped down next to Blair, who nodded and touched the two symbols for himself and Jim.
"He's grown," Blair grinned, "He needs more clothes already. And a haircut."
"Dad said he wanted to go shopping last week, but Tommy vetoed the idea. I have a feeling he was pretty spoilt, Chief," Jim chuckled, "Dad wouldn't be able to withstand that Sandburg charm."
"We've already proven that the Ellison stock is notoriously susceptible to Sandburg charm," Blair agreed complacently. Jim slapped his friend on the arm and flipped a few pages of the scrapbook. William Ellison had gone home only half an hour ago - eager to visit with his son and adopted son.
"We have to think of something to do for your Dad, Jim," Blair looked at his friend, "He's done so much for us…even keeping Tommy safe from Naomi."
Jim sobered instantly. Naomi had tried to gain custody of Tommy a week after their plane had gone down. If William hadn't put the law department from his firm on the case she may have succeeded. Blair had no doubt that Naomi would take Tommy from Cascade to travel with her - much as she had taken Blair on her travels when he was a child.
"I can't tell you how sorry I am Blair. I don't understand why she's doing this."
"She's always been a little insecure…" Blair said hesitantly, "When I got older I realised she used the people around her to define herself. That's why she would take me with her sometimes - she needed to be defined as a mother and all the stuff that came with it. When she wanted to be something else she'd leave me with family or friends. I guess my family in Cascade is threatening her. By taking Tommy she can go back to the whole mother identity - she hasn't been able to do that for a while now. I guess I haven't needed her so much lately, even though I miss her and love her."
Jim sat silently and stared at the page Tommy had drawn tonight before going to bed. In the center of the page, it showed a wolf, and black jaguar and a lynx curled up together. Around the edges were Tommy's ideograms for home, travel, safety and love.
Jim couldn't have put it better himself.
…On to Life…
Comments, criticism, suggestions? Please e-mail Shedoc.
Back to Shedoc's page.