Thanks to Janet and everyone who helped out with the MT? Bold means song lyric.

Spoilers: Post SenToo -- spoilers for SenToo Part 2

Warnings: None

PG13 for no particular reason except adult themes and language.


I'LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS



Crowswork






I'll be Home for Christmas: Jim

What were the words from that old song, When a Man Loves a Woman?
...'turn his back on his best friend if he put her down?

For the first time in his life, James Ellison envied women. He'd often heard them offer brutal advice on their friends' love life. A man couldn't tell a friend that his beloved was a cold, calculating bitch without seeming jealous, mean or god-forbid -- sexually confused. You also risked getting a fist planted in your face.

The last had nearly happened when he'd confronted Blair a few days after Thanksgiving.


Leanne Simmons had ruined their holiday meal with her charming 'faint praise'. "Oh Jim, these old buildings are rather cold and creaky, but that view makes it all worth while." Or maybe... "Jim has just been wonderful to Blair. Of course -- he wouldn't do anything to hold Blair back, now that his academic career is taking off." Blair had simply stared raptly at the tall exquisite blond and sighed. Jim could feel -- actually feel -- waves of dislike pouring off the woman. Dislike for him and his perceived power over her lover.

Somehow the woman had taken over his friend's life. She was a visiting professor at Rainier and asked for the grad student as her assistant. Only a year or two older than Blair she had -- thanks to a genus IQ and rich father -- multiple PHDs and assorted other degrees. In the months that followed, Jim had seen less and less of his guide and had turned to Megan as a back up. Jim wondered guiltily if the drowning and his own repulsive behavior with Alex had finally driven Blair away.

At Thanksgiving dinner, Leanne had announced her intentions to lead a three-month expedition into the Brazilian Rainforest. With Blair.

And Blair wanted to go. He was so excited that he could barely hold still. Leanne chose that moment to meet Jim's gaze with a cold blue look of triumph. She smiled and Jim pasted on a big false grin of his own. "Just so you take care of him." The smile never reached his eyes as he kept his tone light. "Because if anything happens to him, you'll have to answer to his Blessed Protector. And that's me."

The woman gave a high pitched giggle and brushed the long golden hair off her cheek. "Of course I'll take care of him." She leaned over and kissed Blair passionately on the lips. "He's the love of my life."

Blair just sat there with that "kicked in the butt by love" expression on his face. Jim knew that this infatuation -- lord, he hoped it was an infatuation -- would burn itself out. That Blair -- he was a bright boy -- would figure out that she was a self-involved, manipulative rich girl. Maybe he'd have to figure it out in Brazil. Princess Leanne had never done fieldwork in a region this primitive and she didn't strike Jim as a gal who enjoyed roughing it.

He'd resigned himself to the fact that Blair was leaving, until the last day of November. Leanne stopped by while Blair was out. "Hello Leanne. Blair isn't here, but come on in."

"I know. Blair is at the University." Leanne walked with a leggy stride across the room. She dropped gracefully to the sofa and shrugged her lamb's wool jacket partially off of her shoulders. "I have to speak to you, Jim."

Jim sat on the arm of the chair across from her and shrugged. "Go ahead."

"I'm going to marry Blair." She leaned back and gave him a faux-kitten smile. "He already asked and I said I'd think about it."

"Best Wishes are in order?"

"I'm not planning on living in Cascade. I'm not sharing my husband with another man."

"Hey, there is nothing..."

"...sexual between you two." She finished with a shrug of her own. "I know. I know everything."

"What?"

"I know that he is your Guide, is that what you call it? And you are his Sentinel, with a capital S."

"That's not true... We're just friends."

"Oh, please! I read his published papers and a few that weren't supposed to be released. It's his obsession. And then he moves in with a cop. A cop with the uncanny ability to see a sniper's face a quarter mile away on a dark night. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out. Of course, I do have a minor degree in astrophysics."

"Do you work for the government?" Jim tried to look like he wasn't going to be sick.

"I don't care about that." She snapped incredulously. "I want Blair with me, forever. And I don't want some third wheel, second rate superman hanging around the fringes of my life."

Jim was so shaken that he didn't hear Blair until he got off the elevator.

Leanne was watching him coolly. "He's coming isn't he?" Her sculpted features transformed into a mask of fear and pain as she shrieked. "NO! Jim!"

Blair's keys rattled in the door as Jim leaped to his feet. He knew that it was a mistake, to Blair he must seem to be towering over the cringing figure on the couch. Her coat fell off her shoulders and he could see the hand shaped bruises on her slim white arms -- marks left by someone very strong.

"Jim!" Blair caught him and spun him around. "What are you doing?"

Jim was stunned as the woman stood up -- and at almost six feet this was a trick -- managed to cower behind Blair. "It was like he went mad. He told me that he was something called a Sentinel and you were his Guide. That you belonged to him and could never leave."

"Jesus, Sandburg." Jim glared at the weeping woman and whispered. "The over-educated bitch -- she guessed -- I'd never tell anyone that."

"He grabbed me, and warned me to stop seeing you." Leanne winced and stepped away, making sure Blair saw the darkening bruises. "I think you should talk to him... Get him some help?" She scurried to the door and fled down the stairs.

"I was only going to be gone a few months." Blair looked horrified. "Jim! How could you do something like that."

"I didn't!" Jim tried not to get angry. "She has something wrong with her. She set this whole thing up. Told me she was going to marry you and cut me out of your life completely."

"So you grabbed her and treated her like a perp."

"I didn't touch her."

"Jim, she was crying." Blair was so angry he wasn't listening. "I saw the bruises."

"I. Did. Not. Touch. Her." The dreaded Ellison temper was rearing its ugly head. "Your sweet professor is a head case. It's not like she's the first woman who's played you for a fool." Jim tried to rein in the words before they left his mouth. "Hell, she isn't even the first tall blond."

"You bring up Alex? Now?" Blair telegraphed his punch a mile away and Jim sidestepped it easily. After taking a few faltering steps, the young man turned and leaned in close to Jim. "You forfeited your right to ever question my choice in women. You let her kill me and tried to screw her as a reward."

Jim staggered as if struck.

Things were going to be said. Things that couldn't be taken back.

Conditioning dating back to his childhood kicked in.

Scenes were bad. Emotional scenes caused people to vanish forever.

"I have to leave -- to be at work." Even as he said the words, he knew Blair wouldn't let him get away with it this time.

Blair will get in my face and make me fight. After all the times we -- I -- let silence and stubbornness come between us. Blair will shout at me and then he'll calm down and listen. He has to.

"I think that's a good idea, Jim." Blair turned his back and went into his room. The double doors closed with a very final sounding click.


You Can Count on Me

Blair was gone when he got home. The bed was made and the floor swept. No trace of Blair remained in the loft. When Jim called the University, he was told that Doctor Leanne Simmons had finished her lecture series and that Blair had already arranged for a leave of absence. They were gone.

A note lay on the narrow futon.

Jim used his badge to discover where Blair had stored his belongings. The rent was paid six months in advance. He tracked Blair and Leanne to her home in Carolina and it was all he could do not to hop on the next plane. After the debacle in the loft, Jim was torn. Blair had reason to fear Jim's erratic temper. After that mess with Alex, Blair had reason to think him capable of anything.

His resolve to leave Blair alone lasted until very, very early the next morning. Leanne had some serious problems and Blair might not survive long enough to find out the truth about her on his own. Jim arrived in Charleston to discover that the couple had left on the first leg of their trip to Brazil the night before.

Leanne had planned well. She wasn't giving Sandburg time to think. Returning to Cascade, Jim got the computer guys to trace the journey. The couple had first class tickets on a commercial flight from Charleston to Houston to Sao Paulo to Brasilia. A number of phone calls to the airport in Brasilia led the information that the pair had left in a small plane for the interior. The local consulate confirmed that there were no government permits for the 'expedition'. The charter pilot's description of Blair and Leanne was dead on, but instinct made Jim fax a photo of Blair to the man.

"Did you get the fax, Senior Garcia." Jim was frustrated by the Portuguese speaking populace and was thrilled to find one witness who spoke Spanish.

"Yes, it very much looks like the young man."

"Looks like?"

"Like brothers maybe." The halting Spanish came over the line. "Close... but not the same... you know?"

Jim knew. He knew that somewhere between Charleston and Sao Paulo, Blair Sandburg and Leanne Simmons vanished and were replaced by a couple of imposters. A few days ago he'd have scoffed at such a fantastic notion. Until he saw the hand shaped bruises that Leanne must have had someone make on her arms. The woman was brilliant and quite insane. She had limitless funds and she had his friend. How long would she be able to hide her plot from Blair and what would she do when he found out.

Jim thought about the note and a coldly resolute look came over his face. Blair said he'd be home for Christmas.

I swear, Chief. I'll find you if it's the last thing I ever do.


I'll be Home for Christmas: Blair

I'll be Home for Christmas

Jim is so going to say I told you so. And I'll deserve it. I really will. I let blond hair and long legs blind me to the truth. Okay -- I'm not that shallow. The blond hair covered a brilliant intellect and the long legs -- well they were just spectacular. And she liked me. It was heady as hell to be loved by someone who turned everyone's head. It was heady to have the guys look at me enviously and wonder what my secret was. Leanne was beautiful but seemed scarcely aware of the fact. She was rich, but lived rather simply. She was smart but she made you feel like you could teach her things.

The only fly in the ointment was Jim. The two of them were like negative poles. They created a wall of tension between them from the moment they met. Jim was at his most sarcastic and Leanne became brittle and coy. It got so I couldn't stand to be around them at the same time. It all came to a head on the day I came home and found Jim looming over Leanne, her arms already black-and-blue from his hands. I couldn't believe it.

I shouldn't have believed it.

Moving out seemed like a good idea at the time -- to give Jim his space and maybe some time to digest the whole back from the dead, merging animal spirits thing. I attributed his strange behavior to guilt, residual 'Alex phobia' and basically, Jim being Jim. I even thought that maybe Leanne reminded him of Alex on some unconscious level. Now, you know why I just minored in psychology.


You Can Count on Me

By the time I left Charlestons' airport, I'd known I made a mistake. Leanne told me that her father's private jet was waiting in Houston to take us to Brazil. Then she started talking about our future. About how we were going to spend our lives together. We had never discussed anything past Brazil and frankly I wondered if she could accept my ties to Jim.

"Jim, Jim, Jim!" Leanne snapped when I told her my doubts. We were sitting in first class and she sat her Bloody Mary down with a clink." A thousand miles away and he's all you can think about."

"I think there's something wrong with him. He's acting strange and I let my anger get out of hand." I knew I was harboring a lot of hurt feelings about Jim and Alex. I think it affected my actions and was part of why I left so abruptly. It was a slap at Jim. A 'how do you like it!' thrown back in his face for tossing me out.

"I suppose you want to go home?" Leanne sighed and I was surprised at how calm she seemed. One of the things I liked about her was her impulsive nature and how she never stayed angry. "We have the private jet waiting. I can call ahead and have the pilot file a new flight plan."

"I'm so sorry, love." Her attitude made me regret my earlier doubts. "Would you mind? I just can't leave things like that."

"I understand what it's like to love someone and to put their happiness above your own." Leanne caressed my cheek and kissed me. "You taught me that."

"It's just him grabbing you like that. It is not like Jim." I whispered as I tried to make her understand. "I've never seen him use his strength against a woman. Even when he's dealing with crooks he controls it. Sometimes, he's so worried about going too far that he gets his ass kicked. I think there's something... I don't know..."

"Maybe I said something that set him off." Leanne shrugged and looked guilty. "You know how we seem to grate on each other's nerves."

"We'll work on that when we get back." I smiled at her and held her hand. "Running away never solves anything. If I never learned that from Naomi, I certainly learned it over the last year."


Please Have Snow

It seemed so simple. We boarded the jet and headed north. There was a freshly delivered dinner from a local Chinese restaurant waiting. Leanne, as usual, had everything covered, each box contained one of my favorites. We sat cross-legged on the plush couch that filled one corner, eating with chopsticks and teasing each other about our messiness. The interior of the aircraft was cool so I drank several cups of the tangy hot green tea. Leanne laughed and wrapped a soft woolen blanket around me as I leaned back and yawned. I'd been so sleep deprived the last few days that I didn't even find the speed with which I passed out suspicious.

Then I woke up in bed. And not just any bed either. It was a huge; four poster with white satin brocade draped everywhere. The thing was piled with feather comforters and giant pillows that seemed about to swallow me whole. It was one of those weird moments when you're trying to remember how you got there. It wasn't like I was tied to a chair or stuffed in a car trunk. In fact, if I were anymore comfortable I'd suffocate.

Never the less, I knew I'd been kidnaped. I was no stranger to being kidnaped and this was just how it always felt.

"Leanne!"

"I brought you breakfast in bed." Leanne trilled as she backed through the door, an old fashioned wooden tray in her hands. "'bout time my old sleepy Blair woke up."

I was about to jump out of bed when I realized I was naked. I jumped out anyway. "Leanne! Where am I? Where are we?" I felt sort of exposed so I grabbed one of the pillows and held it against my hips.

"Daddy's hunting lodge, in Montana." Leanne grinned at the picture I must have made and sat down the tray. "It's very remote, but it has all the comforts of home."

"Leanne, honey." I tried for rational and calm, which is hard when you're dressed in a king-sized pillow, with a cold draft wafting over your ass. "Why aren't we in Cascade?"

"Silly. You said we need some 'alone time'. This is the perfect place." Leanne lifted the silver dome of a platter. "I made these pancakes myself. Low fat, turkey bacon and Vermont maple syrup."

"Yum!" I was losing the battle to remain serene. "Now back to why I woke up in the wrong state."

"Well you were sleeping so soundly..."

"Being drugged does that to me."

"...and I just knew that if I had you to myself with no interruptions -- no Jim -- no Major Crime -- no Rainier -- I could make you see how perfect we are together." She leaned over and kissed my cheek, her blue eyes bright and slightly distracted.

"Sure. That sounds good." I tried not to lean back as I forced a smile. "But I should call... Simon and let him know..."

"No phone. No computer. No transportation." Leanne opened the wall of vertical blinds and exposed a broad deck beyond French doors. "We were brought here by helicopter."

"But what if there's an emergency? A medical emergency?"

"Are you forgetting my medical training?" Leanne took a pair of khakis and a tee shirt out of my bag. "Now get dressed and I'll warm up breakfast. And don't open those doors -- you only have tropical clothing and its ten degrees out there."

Leanne breezed out with the tray and left me standing there like a fool. I threw the pillow at the door and sat on the edge of the bed. I fished out a pair of flannel boxers -- not tropical, I know, but comfortable -- and then pulled on the Dockers and tee. Glancing out at the towering mountains and deep drifts of snow, I fished out a cotton long-sleeved Henley and added it with a shiver.

"Jim is so going to say 'I told you so'." I ventured out of the room and went looking for the kitchen. The lodge was a rich man's notion of a log cabin. 'A' framed with a glass front it had at least two bedrooms and an open living room -- kitchen area. Leather sofas flanked a huge stone fireplace and Native American inspired rugs and floor pillows. The glass wall showed the same view, an endless vista of snow and nothingness.

"I lit the fire, my love." Leanne -- wearing an apron... with ruffles -- waved from the stainless steel and granite kitchen. "I know how cold you get."

I shivered again but it wasn't the cold. Now I know how James Caan felt in that 'Misery' movie.


And mistletoe

There was a Christmas tree in front of the window. It was silvery green and decorated with clear glass bulbs and silver ribbons. The tree was like Leanne. Beautiful, expensive and false.

Last year Jim had grudgingly dragged in a real tree, grumbling about the smell and the fact that he got poison ivy from it. (I still say that he could have gotten poison ivy in his ear in the middle of winter any number of ways) It was a bit lopsided and shed needles all over the loft but it was a great tree. I found some old glass ornaments and bows and added some origami birds and even Jim threw in some candy canes.

It had been a great tree and a great Christmas.

"Oh Blair, darling." Leanne held a sprig of mistletoe over my head. She pressed her mouth over mine and tried to kiss me, her lips soft and warm and open. I didn't move or react in any way. "Are you angry my love?"

"Leanne." I tried again, resisting the urge to wipe my mouth on the back of my hand. "I know you have some way to reach the outside world. I'm not mad -- but I have to insist that you call and get us out of here -- now."

"I couldn't, even if I wanted to." She pouted and coyly took my hand. "We're here for at least three months, so you might as well enjoy yourself."

"This is craz... isn't right." I corrected and let myself be led to the plank table. "There has to be someone near-by? A road?"

"The nearest road is twenty miles away and it's probably buried this time of year. You don't have any winter gear and I sent all the skis and snowshoes back with the chopper." Leanne served my breakfast and poured me a mug of coffee. "And if you think you'll be missed -- Jim has probably already discovered that a couple matching our descriptions arrived in Brasilia and left for the interior. If they search for us anywhere it will be the Brazilian rain forest."

"You thought of everything." I had to admit it. The plan was nuts but it was also brilliant. "It took a lot of planning."

"It's what I'm good at. I'm very intelligent."

"So you are." I ate my breakfast and sighed. It was going to take some planning on my part now.

And presents on the tree...


I'll Be Home For Christmas: Jim & Blair

Christmas Eve Will Find Me...

Jim had been assigned to desk duty and had spent most of his time in the bullpen trying to find Blair. The FBI had been brought in and had enraged Jim with their blase attitude. A young man who left with his lover -- willingly -- and disappeared was low priority. It was only the purposeful deception on Leanne Simmons part, the use of doubles and leaving false trails that made them join the search at all.

Simon sat at his desk and watched his detective worriedly. The man was haunted looking, with dark shadows under his eyes and tension radiating from his entire body. Suddenly, he saw Ellison go statue still, the phone he'd been using, slipping from his hand. He had never seen anyone so deadly pale and white and thought the detective had zoned. "Jim!" Simon sat in the chair Blair usually used and leaned close. "What's going on."

Jim told him how they had been trying to contact Bruce Simmons, Leanne's father for four days before he got through. He discovered the reason why when he finally bullied and threatened his way through several secretaries and nurses. Bruce Simmons was in the early stages of Alzheimer's and knew nothing about his missing daughter's whereabouts. "I kept him talking, hoping to find some clue. Instead he let it slip that this isn't the first time she's done this. She was forced out of two Ivy League universities. She stalked a professor... it was handled... hushed up and she moved on. Next time she became involved with a doctor. When he tried to break it off she cried rape... turned up at the hospital badly beaten and accused the doctor."

"She was abused?" Simon listened to the story with growing dread.

"The doctor was supposed to be home alone. He got called in on an emergency and was in surgery for six hours, during the time she claimed he was attacking her."

"The bruises you told me about." Simon heaved a sigh and slumped forward on his elbows. "She's insane."

"Her dad bought her out of it. Paid off the doctor's loans and got him a cushy job."

"Did you get a name? We should talk..."

"He's dead. A mugging in the garage at his new hospital... two weeks later." Jim's expression showed what he thought of that coincidence.

Just then the elevator doors opened and Jim flinched. Henri gave a booming laugh as he and Rafe exited. Jim cringed and grabbed his ears as the two detectives continued obliviously toward the break room.

"Damn." Simon's exclamation only made Jim back away so he whispered. "Jim... what the hell is going on?"

"Senses... off and on... going crazy." Jim shuddered again. "Megan can't help anymore."

"I'll take you home. You can turn on that white noise thing and get some rest."

"Every night... when I try to sleep. All I see is a snow covered mountain peak where a lone wolf howls. A shadow falls over the wolf... because there's this huge bird of prey circling and watching and waiting."

"Jim?" Simon pushed away the almost superstitious fear that shivered up his spine. His best detective seemed to be lost in another world. "Let's get you home."

"Home?" Jim stood, haphazardly scooped up the papers on his desk and slumped toward the elevator. "I can work at home."

Simon only grabbed his own coat and the one Jim forgot. "Henri... Rafe..." The two detectives looked around the corner. "Hold down the fort for a few minutes." He had to stick his hand in the elevator doors to keep them from closing on Jim. No way Ellison was driving home in the shape he was in. "Hold on, buddy. I'll get you home. And we will find Sandburg, don't worry."


Where the Love Lights Gleam...

Blair was working on his second escape attempt from the Aerie. That was the name of the place. Rich people always named their houses and Blair was sure there was some anthropological reason behind it. Or maybe they were just pretentious.

Leanne had been almost overwhelming in her attention to him and he used every ounce of persuasion, reason and just plain begging to get her to let him go. He had to be the most pampered kidnap victim ever and his helplessness grated on his nerves. He could have fought a man but trapped here with her, he was like some freakin' poodle. Only at night, was he ever alone. The one thing he'd insisted on was that they were not sleeping together. The woman had tried to seduce him... She'd done her best and her best was pretty damn good. The next time Jim accuses me of having no willpower, maybe I'll tell him about this. Maybe not.

After the first few nights, he'd swiped the cell phone out of her purse -- out of range, of course -- but he'd piled on all his clothes and trekked to the top of the nearest hill. Still out of range and half frozen, he'd barely made it back to the lodge. Tropical boots, even lined with plastic bags didn't quite cut it in sub-zero temperatures and six-foot snowdrifts. Leanne caught him coming in and scolded him as she undressed him and pushed him into a warm bath. It was humiliating, but he was so cold he could only let her help him.

He spent the next day on the couch, watching videos and letting her wait on him. But mostly he was looking out of the bank of windows at the endless expanse of snow and trees. At one cluster of pines in particular. The towering trees stood well away from any others, at the edge of the frozen stream, a bit over a hundred yards from the house. Six tall, perfect spruce trees, swept free of snow by the wind.

Blair wondered if the forest service would see if he...


I'll be Home for Christmas

Leanne stayed up the entire night and was waiting when he went to the bathroom. It was two more days before he could implement his plan.

At three AM, Blair tiptoed past Leanne's door and down the steps. He'd already planned what he would use. A laundry basket and a couple of the large cotton bath towels. Several of the huge multi-wick candles and tapers scattered around (Leanne was obviously looking forward to a lot of romantic candle-lit dinners) were added to his loot. The two oil lamps from the pantry and the long fireplace lighter.

He pulled on an improvised poncho made from one of the double sized towels and tugged a cotton sweater over his head. A pair of his flannel boxers with the legs doubled made a hat of sorts. It was the best he could do for now, he thought as he opened the door. The cold hit him like a fist. The wind had died down but the temperature still hovered below zero.

Blair pushed through the drifts toward the grove of trees, sliding the basket on the hip high snow beside him. Suddenly the distance seemed to have doubled. He trudged along, startled to find that he was singing under his breath as he walked. He chuckled bitterly when he realized he was singing 'Rich Girl'. Well, Leanne had certainly gone too far.

When he reached the center of the grove he paused to admire the perfect circle of trees. They must have been planted when the house was built because they were well over thirty feet tall. The limbs in the center of the circle were brown because the trees were too close together. It was perfect.

"Sorry, trees." Blair wrapped the towels around two inner limbs and doused them with lamp oil. He balanced the pedestal candles against the trunks and snapped the tapers in half and draped them over other limbs. Backing out he froze when he heard a scream.

"BLAIR!"

"Shit!" He turned and saw Leanne scrambling toward him, a fur coat over her pajamas. He clicked the lighter and nothing happened.

"Don't do it Blair!" She shrieked as she rushed through the snowdrifts. "I mean it!"

Blair clicked the lighter several times before realizing it had a childproof lock. He flipped the button and was rewarded with a long blue jet of flame. He jabbed it into the center of the trees and caught the edge of one of the towels. In seconds the center of the trees was blazing and the white expanse in every direction was cast in a red light.

His eyes widened as Leanne lifted a chrome plated target pistol and pointed it at him. "You shouldn't have done that, Blair." She smiled and glanced down at the pistol. "I was State Champion two years in a row. It's inscribed."

"It's nice." Blair didn't like the wild look in her eyes as she watched the flames.

"No one will see that." She huffed angrily and raised the weapon. "You have to stop trying to run away."

"Leanne..." Blair's words were cut off by an explosion of sound as his leg was slammed out from under him.

"There now." He heard her words as if from a distance as he lay face down in the snow. "I'll leave you to get back to the house on your own. Maybe if you get cold enough you'll think twice before going out." Her voice faded completely as she walked away.

Blair knew that if he lay there much longer he'd be dead. The cold and shock would kill him. He rolled over and sat up, gasping at the pain in his leg. The bullet had passed though the muscle on the outside of his thigh. There was a small hole in front and a somewhat larger one on the back. "S...same leg... dd... damn it..." Shivering, he tore off his improvised hat and tied the flannel around his leg, crying out in pain as he pulled the knot tight. It was tempting to crawl closer to the fire that was burning bright now. Tempting... but deadly.

He had cut the toes out of a pair of cotton socks and wore them as fingerless gloves. Now he pulled the material over his hands and started to crawl back to the lodge. He stayed in the rough path that he'd broken, crawling through snow, that was as sharp and dry as sand. The inside of his nose felt like he'd snorted ground glass and his hands and feet ached with the cold. Gasping through ice rimmed lips, he inched toward the house, the pain in his lungs reminding him that he'd recently drowned. Glancing back, he saw a tower of flame spearing into the black night sky. "Please..." Blair crawled as he breathed the words like a prayer. "Please somebody... see..."

A lifetime later, he bumped into the snow crusted step and dragged himself up onto the porch. He was so exhausted that he could barely reach the doorknob.

That's just great. Get clear to the door and freeze cause your hands are too cold and you can't reach the damn knob.

With one last burst of anger he raised himself and caught the brass knob with hands that felt like blocks of wood. The door gave way and he tumbled forward onto the hardwood floor. The warmth of the room almost burned as it caressed his face. The sensation drove away the darkness that threatened and gave him the strength to kick the door closed and scuttle toward the fireplace. The fire was banked and glowed cherry red in the dark room. Leanne was nowhere to be seen, the only trace, her fur coat, abandoned on the floor like a dead animal.

Dragging the coat, Blair snagged the cashmere throw off the sofa. Shivering he kicked off his wet boots and crawled as close to the flames as he could without catching fire. Wrapping himself in the coat and blanket, he curled up on the plush heath rug and slept.


If Only in My Dreams

The next morning Blair awoke to the sensation of being dragged. When he tried to speak his words were swallowed by a rasping cough.

"Blair. Bad news, baby. I don't think I love you anymore." Leanne's words came from above him and he struggled feebly to twist his wrists out of her hands. "But since we're going to be stuck here, I thought you'd be happier out here."

He yelped as he was dumped into the unheated mud-room between the kitchen and the back door. The sound of the locks being turned sounded through the solid wood of the door, as the cement radiated cold into his back and made his lungs ache and rattle. Leanne was going to kill him by simply doing nothing. Blair looked around the tiny space and knew she was going to leave him here to die. Pulling himself up, he sat on the dirty old rag rug that was the only thing on the floor. The makeshift bandage on his thigh was blood soaked and the wound was hot and throbbed with every heartbeat. Each breath brought a coughing fit that threatened to tear him apart as he leaned back against the kitchen door.

Jim, please find me. I want to go home now.


I'll Be Home For Christmas

Simon was stunned when he entered the loft. It was a mess -- maybe not by ordinary 'single guy' standards -- but by Ellison standards it was a pigpen. There were papers scattered over every tabletop and a basket of dirty laundry sat by the door. Simon had used his key to get in and looked around for his detective. Jim had been holed up in Blair's room with the white noise machines on for days. He left only to shower and use the bathroom. Megan and Simon delivered food every day and brought him anything he requested.

"Jim!" Simon called ahead, not wanting to startle the edgy detective. The French doors were open and Jim was at the small desk, working on a laptop.

"Hey, Simon." Jim didn't look up from the computer screen. Before he could answer Simon heard a knock at the door. He opened it to discover William Ellison and Sally in the hall, their arms full of bags and packages.

William nodded at Simon and followed him to the small room under the stair. "Jimmy?" The older man asked hesitantly as he stood in the door.

"Dad?" Jim turned and looked up; his beard stubbled face pale and tired looking. "What do you want?"

"I just found out about your friend -- I was out of town -- and I came to see what I could do."

"Nothing!" Jim snapped, then looked chagrined and stood up. "I'm sorry Dad. It's just... I'm tired I guess."

"Did you find anything new?" Simon always asked.

"Each of Bruce Simmons' properties have been checked out. The jet turned up yesterday in Chicago, but the pilot was missing."

"Bruce Simmons?" William asked.

"It was his daughter who kidnapped Blair." Jim explained patiently as he slumped into a chair. "Trouble is -- they seem to have dropped of the face of the earth."

"The Aerie..." William closed his eyes as if trying to remember something.

"The what?" Simon asked.

"An old friend, Burnaby told me about a hunting lodge Simmons had. Must have been twenty-five years ago... Burnaby had us on the floor at the club with his stories about that place. Said it was at the ends of the earth, couldn't be reached by car and the snow socked the place in half the year." Jim was already back in Blair's room, pouring over the papers he'd stacked on every surface. "There's no Aerie listed here."

"Well, he might have sold it." William joined Sally in the kitchen. "I never met Simmons myself. Paths never crossed."

"Where was this place, Dad?"

"Never said." William nodded, and frowned at the memory. "Poor old Burnaby was absolutely traumatized by the experience..."

"Dad!" Jim gently caught his father's shoulders and resisted the urge to shake him as he said with forced calm. "Please. Can you call Barney and ask him?"

"Burnaby? He's in Tokyo, son."

"We can call him, sir." Simon already had the phone in his hand. "It's an emergency."

"Sure Jimmy. I'll be glad to help."

All in all it took over an hour to reach Burnaby and jog his memory about the Aerie. It was in Montana, in the Bitterroot Mountains, near a town called Gosford. While Simon called the state police in the area, Jim had already left and was on his way to the airport. His father arranged for a corporate helicopter to be waiting and he was soon on his way.

The whole time he was in the air, Jim kept up a frantic conversation with the state police in the Gosford area. They knew where the place was; in fact they'd had a strange report of a fire sighting there.

"You had a report of a fire and you didn't investigate?" Jim knew this area was in constant danger of forest fires.

"It's not exactly fire season." The voice on the other end sounded tired. "Besides, a high school class on a cross country ski trip, sixty miles south of here, got caught in this blizzard. There are kids scattered all over a mountain down there and half the state is looking for them. Sorry, Detective but we won't have a chopper available until tomorrow."

Blair would be the first to tell him that the kids came first. "Can you give us the coordinates for the place. We can do a fly over and check it out. It might turn out to be a wild goose chase after all."

They gave the pilot the coordinates, so that he could do the fly over. Jim sat in the front seat and fidgeted, willing the chopper to move faster. He realized his senses were fine and it gave him hope. It was, as Blair would say, an obfuscation about the wild goose chase. Ever since hearing about the Aerie, he'd been sure he'd find Sandburg there.

The flight only took a few hours, but it seemed like a lifetime. Jim saw the thin thread of smoke long before he saw the house. There was a blackened circle with charred tree trunks thrusting out of the endless white of the snow-covered mountaintop. In a slight depression near the fire sat a lodge. Smoke trickled from the chimney and Jim could see tracks in the smooth snow surrounding the place.

He used persuasion, bribery and his badge (he stopped short of pulling his gun) to get the pilot to land. Fortunately, Dave, the charter pilot was often retained by William and Steven and hesitant to annoy the Ellison family. It was a multi-passenger chopper and Dave had to land on a flat area on the other side of the burned out trees. Jim bolted through the doors and toward the house before the machine completely landed. The propellers kicked up a blinding blizzard so he bent double and ran slipping and sliding.

Jim raced past the burned trees without a glance and plowed relentlessly toward the lodge. The door was unlocked so he slammed it open and shouted, "Blair!"

"Jim?" Leanne stood at the top of the stairs in a lacy white nightgown and robe. "What are you doing here?"

"Where's Blair?"

"He went home to Cascade, Jim." The woman's tone was airy and unconcerned as she gathered the sheer robe around her. "...home to you."

"I know that's not true." Jim had looked around the large central room as he spoke. "Where is he?" He took the steps two at a time and pushed past her. It took only seconds to search the bedrooms. He stalked toward the woman with Blair's backpack in one hand. "I'll only ask one more time -- where is he?"

His expression made her back up. "He's downstairs -- in the kitchen." Jim frowned mightily and went down the staircase in four long paces. Leanne called after him, her voice shrill. "He tried to leave me. I could not allow that."

Jim stood in the kitchen and looked around furiously. He'd already searched the Pullman style kitchen and Blair wasn't there. "Blair!" Faint sounds of life drew him to the back door, so he jerked it open. The limp body, seated propped against the door toppled backwards into the kitchen with a gust of chilled air. "Oh god... Blair... buddy."

Jim knelt and touched the cold flesh of his friend's face. Now he could better hear the sluggish heartbeat and labored breathing and it terrified him. "Just hold on Chief." He knew he shouldn't move him, but Blair was dangerously hypothermic. The only injury he could see was a bandage wrapped around his thigh soaked in rusty colored dried blood.

As gently as possible, he lifted the freezing man and carried him into the couch. Leanne had disappeared so Jim wrapped Blair in a soft throw and his own jacket. Mounting the steps again he went into the room where he'd found Blair's backpack and scraped all the covering from the bed. Tossing it over the railing, he got a stack of clean sheets and towels from the linen closet.

He stopped to cover Blair with a quilt, then went into the kitchen and filled the microwave with folded sheets. It was dangerous -- but he really didn't give a crap if he burned the place down. "Hey, Chief." Jim returned to the couch and knelt beside the still form. "I got to get you the hell out of here." Jim lifted the quilt and looked again at the injured leg. He didn't want to start the bleeding again so he just wrapped a strip of sheeting around the old bandage and padded it securely. "Same leg, huh? I'll fix it up better on the chopper, Dave probably has a first aid kit."

As he spoke, Jim spread the king-size satin bed-spread on the floor, with the shiny side down. He folded one of the duvets in half, then went and collected his slightly scorched sheets. The fabric was very warm and smelled like freshly ironed shirts.

"Jim?" The voice was weak but Jim heard it.

"Right here, Chief." Jim took the fluffy quilt off Blair and spread it out, lining it with folded sheets. He paused and brushed the hair off Blair's face, checking to see how chilled he was. His body temperature hadn't dropped too low, but his lungs sounded bad and the leg was warm with infection. "I'm gonna have to move you some. Sorry if it hurts."

"She has... a gun... Jim..." Blair struggled to speak.

Jim cursed his own stupidity as he searched until he found her rapid heartbeat in the other upstairs bedroom. He pulled on his jacket, took the revolver out of his ankle holster and stuck it in the pocket. Then he carefully uncovered Blair and added the fluffy throw to the mat. "I'll take care of her. Are you hurt anywhere but your leg?"

"No... shot my leg... cold... real cold..."

"Let me get you over here. It's nice and warm." Jim lifted his friend as gently as he could and lay him in the center of the blankets. "I'm gonna wrap you up like a burrito here, Chief," he said as he folded the warmed coverings over from each side. Making sure that Blair's face was uncovered, Jim gathered the corners of the bedspread and knotted the opposite corners. "I have to lift you some, here." Opening the front door, Jim lifted the cocoon and half carried, half dragged it outside. Ironically, once he got out to the deep snow, it was easy to slide the wrapped figure on the powdery snow. Jim stayed to one side and guided Blair as if he were on a toboggan, checking every few seconds to make sure he was breathing.

Dave ran toward him and helped lift Blair until he was barely skimming over the snow as they hurried him toward the helicopter. Jim walked backwards, as he became aware of Leanne's presence on the porch. She had a fur coat over her nightgown and slippers on her feet. When they got to the helicopter, Jim and Dave lifted Blair inside, pushed the armrests up and laid him on the back row of seats. Dave slid into his seat and started flipping switches while Jim went back outside. Leanne had followed them and was standing by the burned trees. Jim walked to the edge of the frozen creek and glared at the woman.

"Leanne! Come on. I'm taking you in."

"No!" Standing in snow over her bare knees, she seemed immune to the frigid temperatures as her coat flapped open. Her hand lifted from the folds of the amber fur, a long barreled, \twenty-two caliber target pistol in her fist. "I know your secret. You can't turn me in."

"No one will believe you. Now come on."

"No. I'm staying here." The propeller blades began to turn, speeding up until the area was a white blur. Still Jim heard the shot and saw the bullet chip the ice at his feet as she screamed. "This is my place and I'm staying here."

Jim backed away and ran to the helicopter door. He knew that Leanne was a crack shot and she could nail him if she wished. His last glimpse of her was as she stood in the burned out grove, leaning on one of the jagged, charred tree trunks. She still had the pistol pointed toward them and her face and clothing were streaked with charcoal. He refused to waste another minute on her. The state police could come after her -- she wasn't going anywhere.

Grabbing the first aid kit, Jim went back to Blair. Amazingly, he was asleep in his warm cocoon, oblivious to the noise and motion. Jim opened the covers just enough to expose Blair's leg. Using the scissors from the kit he gently cut the fabric and eased it away from the wounds. "I owe you a pair of flannel boxers." He flinched at the angry looking bullet holes and covered them with clean medicated gauze pads. Then he wrapped the leg with wide bandage. "That'll have to do till we get you to the hospital." Laying his hand on his friend's chest, he was satisfied with how warm he'd become. His breathing was still rough though so Jim lifted his shoulders and slipped into the seat behind him. Elevated somewhat, Blair breathed easier and Jim could monitor his vitals.

Dave called ahead and was directed to the air rescue base where an ambulance was waiting when they landed. Jim filled the paramedics in on Sandburg's history on the way to the small local hospital. Blair was rushed into the ER and Jim was hustled to a waiting room by a State Police Officer. He and Dave gave their statements to the youthful officer Tressler, who promised to send the first available Snow-cat to pick up Leanne.

"Tell your officers that she's armed." Jim leaned back in the plastic chair and closed his eyes. "She's also a champion shot."

"What the heck did your friend do to piss her off -- if you don't mind my asking?"

"He wanted to leave her, apparently." Jim tried to hear what was going on with Sandburg in the treatment room. "She's kinda nuts."

Tressler left with Dave and Jim lost himself in the hum of the doctor's voices in the nearby room.

"MR. ELLISON!" The shout bought him to awareness with a start. "You were sleeping very soundly. I'm Dr. Lee."

"Guess I'm sort of tired." Jim shook his head and stood up, towering over the slight Asian man. "How's Sandburg?"

"He must have been hit with something like a 22. The wound itself isn't that bad but there is an infection from being untreated. His core temperature is up and we're giving him fluids. I'm most worried about his lungs. You told us about the drowning and I think that's part of his problem."

"He has Pneumonia, right?"

"Yes, but we got him in time, I think."

"You think?" Jim glowered at the doctor to hide his panic. "Is he on a respirator?"

"No. He's doing all right with the oxygen mask. We also have him on a broad spectrum of antibiotics -- right now it's the best we can do."

"Can I see him?"

"Of course." Dr. Lee gestured for him to follow. "He is in a double room, but the other bed is not being used."

Jim ignored the doctor when they got close to Sandburg's room. He strode to the bed and studied his partner intently. A touch told him of a rising fever. His hearing picked up congestion in the lungs and he sniffed as the scent of infection threatened to turn his stomach. "I'm staying with him."

Dr. Lee started to say something, then smiled. "Take the other bed and lay down for a while." The doctor left with a chuckle and a shake of his head.

Blair was almost sitting up in the bed as the mask covering his mouth and nose puffed oxygen and some sort of medicated vapor. Whatever it was, it made him breathe easier, and that was okay by Jim. The leg was heavily bandaged and elevated also.

Jim smoothed the thick hair back and heaved a weary sigh. "God Chief. You can never catch a break, can you. You're like a magnet for needy, neurotic nutcases. And I count myself in there too." Blair groaned and shifted, a small shiver rippling over him. Jim tucked the cotton blanket high around his shoulders and added the folded one off the other bed. "And you're right about hospital blankets. They suck."

Jim looked at the molded plastic chair and the flat smooth empty bed. I won't sleep. I'll just rest for a while. Jim stretched out on his side, one arm curled under his head in lieu of a pillow and watched his friend. He felt his eyes drifting shut and decided that a brief nap wouldn't hurt. Soon the dream came again, but this time the wolf was curled in a warm ball against the side of the Panther. The big cat's eyes were narrowed as the broad head rested on the soft gray fur of it's sleeping companion.

When he woke, he was sprawled on his back, a pillow under his head and a blanket tucked under his chin. William Ellison was sitting between the beds and a moment of confusion shook Jim. "Dad?"

"Jimmy. We were wondering how long you were going to sleep."

"We? My god, Sandburg?" Jim jumped out of the bed, and realized that someone had removed his shoes, when his stocking feet slid out from under him. William caught him and Jim's gaze met Blair's as the other man grinned behind the mask.

"Jeez, I guess if you're going to... break your neck... this is the right place."

"Are you all right?" Jim could hear the improved breath sounds. "How long was I asleep?"

"About ten... eleven hours." William grinned.

"I'm okay, Jim." Blair paused and took a deep breath. "I told them to let you sleep."

"You told them..."

"You were restless so I told you..." Blair took another slightly rattled breath. "...it was ok to sleep, that I was safe."

"I'll be damned." Jim stomped off to the bathroom, unaccountably annoyed but not sure at whom. "I was supposed to be taking care of you."

When he got back, Blair was asleep. "Hey, Dad. When did you get here?"

"A few hours ago." Before Jim could speak his father held up his hands in surrender. "I was under strict orders not to disturb you. Even half-dead he's very persuasive."

"Did he give you that wounded puppy look?"

"Oh yes." William grinned. "By the way, the doctor is very encouraged with his progress."

"That's good." Jim's senses had already told him that Blair's condition was improved. "But of course, Sandburg was more worried about me."

"He said you looked tired." William patted his son's arm. "The good news is they said we can take him back to Cascade in an air-ambulance in a day or so. He'll still have a hospital stay ahead of him, though."

"That's... good." Jim blinked, trying to take in all the details, rattled because he was used to handling everything himself. It seemed odd to rely on his father after all these years. He thought about objecting until he saw the love and compassion in his father's eyes. William was trying to make up for a lot of past mistakes and Jim couldn't find it in his heart to refuse him. "Thanks dad."

"He's a nice young man." William said, watching as his son unconsciously smoothed the crisp sheet under Blair's hand. "He thinks of you as his older brother, you know."

"You two have a nice talk?" Jim softened the words with a smile.

"He woke up a few times." William shrugged, "and we spoke."

"It's good you were here." Jim said and was startled by the sincerity in his own voice.

William almost visibly puffed up with pride and pleasure. "I'll go get you something to eat. Maybe later we can get Blair to eat something. The doctor said it would be all right."

"That would be nice. He likes soup... chicken or vegetable. I'd like a hamburger... anything." Jim watched as his father set off on his quest, then sat down at Blair's bedside. "He's going to be a big hit at the local cafe or fast food place. Dad's trying... oh never mind." Jim whispered to the sleeping figure as he took the warm right hand in his. "'Probably want to adopt you, too."

"S...ok" Blair muttered in his sleep and snuggled deeper into his blankets.

"Go ahead and sleep. I'll watch you now." Jim tucked the hand under the covers and smiled. Trust Blair to worry about him at a time like this. Trust Blair. They were going to have to have a long talk about that when they got home. The distance between them was his fault and he had to do something about it. They had become such strangers that Jim threw Blair out of the loft... that Blair believed him capable of brutalizing a woman.

Why was it only at times like this that he could show how much he cared? I can save your life. Hell, I would die for you... but I can't tell you how much I like you.

"I'll tell you..." Jim whispered. "...when we get home. I'll get you home for Christmas."


Epilogue:

I'll Be Home For Christmas, If Only in My Dreams

"She's dead, Chief." They had been having this argument for the last week. Jim frowned as he stuffed the folded pajamas into Blair's backpack. "Are you okay in there?"

"Yes, Mother. I can put on my pants like a big boy now." Blair's sarcastic reply echoed in the tiny hospital bathroom. "And I still say she's out there somewhere."

"I tell you, some hiker will find her after the spring thaw. There's no way she got out of there. They couldn't find a snow mobile track, or any trace of a helicopter except for the one I came in." Jim had committed the Montana police report to memory. "Unless she flew out on her broom -- she's still up in those mountains."

"The wind could have filled in ski tracks." Blair had read the report too. "She could have had skis hidden somewhere -- buried out in the snow -- I'd have never found them. And she is a competitive skier."

"Is there anything that... woman can't do?" Jim growled in frustration at his helplessness. He'd wanted to fly back to Montana and search the entire Bitterroot range himself, but a second wave of snowstorms the day after he rescued Blair, wiped out any trace of evidence Leanne might have left. She was insane... completely unbalanced. Of course she was also wily enough to purchase the lodge using a sham corporation and bury all her money off shore. Damn! damn! damn! "She was totally irrational by the time I got there. Practically barefoot, single digit temperature, waving that gun around..."

"You're lucky she didn't shoot you." Blair hobbled out of the bathroom on his cane. He'd been stuck in Cascade general for a week for intensive respiratory therapy and a stubborn infection in his leg. "She shot me." He paused and pinned Jim with a sardonic stare. "And she liked me."

"By the time I got there, she seemed to have 'got over' you." Jim shook his head. "If she -- by some miracle survived -- she's too smart to show her face around here. Even to look up an old boyfriend."

"It's this power I have over women." Blair said absently as his lips twisted in a grim little smile. Jim accepted that his friend wasn't in the mood for any deep discussions. He'd joked and made self-deprecating comments about everything except Leanne. He was trying to conceal how shaken he was at the thought of her escape. "I don't have a rabbit for them to boil so they zero in on me."

"You're sympathetic and... good." Jim searched for a better word, then shrugged. "You attract people who are broken in some way. They think if they can get close to you..."

"I can't even fix my own life. What makes anyone think I have the answers?"

"You usually do." Jim hoisted the backpack and opened the door. A wheelchair was waiting outside. "At least for me."

Blair plopped into the chair and let himself be pushed out to the truck. He was obviously bursting to say something, but reluctant with the patient transport person there. Once they were safely inside the truck he rounded on Jim. "You are not broken. Freakin' Iron-man Ellison is not broken."

"Okay."

"What? Okay? That's no answer."

"Don't get worked up, Chief." Jim said mildly. "It's almost Christmas."

"What the heck does that have to do with anything?"

"I just thought..."

Blair ignored him and continued. "I don't know the answers... the secret to life. I'm nothing special."

"You saved me."

"Hey, it was a garbage truck... if I'd had time to think, I would have..."

"Done the same thing." Jim finished the sentence. "Besides, I wasn't talking about that. I thought I was going crazy and you fixed it. You save me all the time."

"I save you?"

"All the time." Jim knew if he didn't say this now, he'd never get it out. "Maybe it's the season or something but I have to say something to you." Jim's hands tightened on the steering wheel. "I was an ass during that Alex business, and I'd like to say I won't do it again... but, the thing with 'Iron-men'... they don't bend. They have hard heads and cold hearts sometimes."

"But they don't break?"

Oh, we break. Jim glared at the stop sign as if it were public enemy number one. Hard, cold things are the easiest to break. "Just remember that for next time I act like a jerk. I'm no good at this emotional crap."

"Sure Jim." The truck rolled into its parking slot, and Blair was never so glad to see anyplace in his life. Home. "You think there's time to get a tree? Maybe just a little one?"

"Ahh... Dad and Sally sort of wanted to put up a tree for us. I figured you wouldn't mind and they really wanted to."

"That's great." Blair could see that Jim was afraid he'd be disappointed. "Did Sally bake cookies?"

"Does Simon smell like cigars?" Jim laughed and waited for Blair to get into the elevator. "Four kinds... including this one that's got fruitcake fruit in it. They look like stained glass."

"Fruitcake fruit?"

"But in cookies."

"Cool." Blair followed Jim into the loft and felt a warmth wrap around him like a hug. The place was empty, but it was obvious that someone had just left. There was a fire in the wood stove and the live tree provided the only light in the room. All their own ornaments were on the seven-foot pine, with the addition of new, 'old fashioned' bubble lights. The smell of something delicious wafted from the oven and a covered plate of pastries waited on the table. "Holy cow! Who wrapped the presents?" The gifts looked like they had been professionally wrapped in shining foil paper with luxurious green velvet ribbons and bows.

"That would be Dad. It's his thing." Jim looked askance at the stack of gifts. "He buys you stuff, then wraps it so nice -- you're afraid to open it."

"Hey, he just wants to make up for a lot of missed Christmases." When it came to his father, Jim was like a whipped puppy. He was always wary and ready bristle and snap. William had talked to Blair during hospital visits and confided that he knew that the younger man was behind Jim's forbearance toward him. Blair just sighed and buried his impatience with their stiff-necked Ellison pride. If they needed him to be a buffer or conduit between them... so be it. "If he overcompensates -- well, he's you dad -- let him."

"Half those presents are for you," Jim's lips quirked in a sly smile.

"What?"

"Dad likes you." Jim shrugged as he sat beside Blair at the table and helped himself to a cookie. "You're like the son he never had."

Blair had to laugh despite himself. "Hey, it's true... he never had a son like me."

"You're one of a kind, Chief." Jim joined in the laughter and stuck a cookie in Blair's open mouth. "That's why people always want to steal you."

Blair ate his cookie -- turned out, fruitcake fruit was good in cookies -- and let Jim make him some tea. He was safe at home, it was almost Christmas and life was good. Anything else -- and there would always be something else -- could wait until next year.

~The End~

Maybe Leanne is still out there? (i like to think of her buried in a snowdrift, with just her Manolo's sticking out) I don't want to write about her anymore, but if anyone else does help yourself.


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