This was a March themefic


OUT IN THE COLD



crowswork






Jim stirred and tried to open his eyes.

Cold. It radiated into his back and into his very bones. It offered oblivion and the end of pain if he gave himself over to it.

It was freezing and he was lying on something hard. He rolled over and winced as a board creaked next to his ear. He shook his head and regretted it instantly as his head threatened to fall off his neck and roll away. He was lying on a picnic table. What the hell happened to him.

I was driving. We were going to... we... Blair?

"Blair?" Silence greeted him. He forced his eyes to open and squinted into the darkness around him. A motionless form lay sprawled on an identical table a few feet away. "Blair."

"Jim?" The curly head lifted an inch then fell back to the wooden planks with a painful sounding clunk.

Jim lifted himself to his hands and knees and crawled to his friend. Blair groaned as strong hands ran over his neck and head, searching for injuries. "You hurt anywhere, Chief?"

"Head... right knee..."

Jim touched the heated, swollen knee. "Not dislocated or broken."

"What happened?"

"We were driving and then I woke up here."

"Cold." Blair mumbled as he curled up.

"They took most of our clothes." Jim sat up and folded his long legs against his chest. He was wearing his black boxers and a tee-shirt. Sandburg was garbed in only a gray tank and flannel boxers. Both were barefoot.

"Where are we?"

Jim looked around and saw only an endless expanse of trees and clear blue sky. "Get up." The picnic area hadn't been used for a very long time.

"Head hurts." Blair groaned.

"Tough. We have -- maybe -- two hours of daylight to find some cover and get a fire started."

"Or we freeze?"

"Or we freeze." Jim answered as he helped Blair stand.


"Clear your head." Blair's voice was deep and soothing to Jim's ears. "Let your senses increase gradually. Let them range out until you hear the sounds of human beings."

Jim tried. He filtered out the sounds of the birds and animals. He filtered out the smells of the forest. He could smell no trace of automobiles -- no trace of civilization. "I smell wood fire... damp... greasy... like an old cook stove smells."

"Good."

"There's water near-by."

"Here?"

"No... it's near where the cook stove is." Jim sniffed and tried to visualize the camp ground. "It's about ten miles from here."

"Wow." Blair looked excited for a moment then his face fell. "Ten miles?"

"It's a rough estimate." Jim went back to searching for fire wood. "Grab that rock." Jim pointed to a flat stone mostly covered by leaves.

Blair grabbed the rock and some boughs from nearby pine trees and returned to the picnic tables.

There was a stone ring beside one table and they decided to use that as a camp. While Jim fashioned a crude bow and stick fire starter, Blair layered pine boughs under the table. "It's a shame the tables and benches are all cemented in."

"Get some more pine and cover the far side of the table for a wind-break." Jim placed some dry grass on the piece of wood and began to spin the stick as rapidly as possible. Blair went to gather more pine.

Soon the table was almost covered on three sides and Jim had created smoke if not fire. It was almost dark as Blair scattered fallen leaves as a final layer of bedding. He shivered as he sat next to Jim and fanned the smoking grass gently. "Hurry fire."

At the first lick of flame he added the driest twigs, already shredded and broken. When those flared at last Jim carefully built up the fire with kindling. While Blair soaked up the warmth, Jim broke several sizable pieces of dead fall. He built up the fire, then lined the bench with a few more pieces. "Get inside. We have to sleep while we can."

"Long walk tomorrow?"

"Long walk." Jim agreed as he crawled into the makeshift shelter. Blair backed away from the fire and climbed over the bench.

Jim covered them both with boughs and pulled Blair backwards against him. "Jeeze Jim." Blair said wryly. Does this mean we're engaged?"

"Funny Chief." Jim fidgeted.

"Lean most of your weight on me instead of the pine," Blair instructed. "Dial down your sense of touch."

"It's okay." Jim grumped as he threw his arm over Blair. "I just hope no one ever finds out about this."

"Hell. Half the people who know us think we do this all the time." Blair chuckled as the heat of the fire in front of him and Jim behind made him stop shivering at last.

"That's amusing." Jim growled and slapped Blair on the head. "Go to sleep."


It was morning before Blair stirred. He hadn't even woken up when Jim added wood to the fire and was tempted to go back to sleep now.

Instead he climbed out into the chill air. Jim was sitting on the bench sawing at something with a rock. He had fashioned some rough ropes out of vines. "Come on Chief." Jim held out a handful of nuts. "We got to get going." Jim dragged out the bedding and piled it on the smoldering camp fire. The ring was well clear of the trees and Blair knew Jim was hoping someone would come to investigate the smoke.

Blair read as he munched on a couple nuts. They were waxy but tasted okay. "Det. J Ellison SOS." Jim had scratched the message into the picnic table with the date and an arrow. He'd also made an SOS and arrow from stones on the ground.

Jim handed him two pieces of bark and pointed at his own feet. He had tied the curved bark around his feet.

"They won't last the whole trip but they might protect our feet some."

"Man, I never thought I'd long for sneakers. Shower thongs, anything."

"Tie the front and back. The ropes will last longer if you don't walk on them directly."

"Canoe shoes. This might start a fashion on campus." Blair stood up and winced at the pain in his knee. "Mom would dig these. Organic footwear."

"Here's a stick. Use it."

"I'm okay."

"Use it."

"Let's get moving." Blair shivered. "To cold to stand still."

"Switch shirts with me." Jim took off his tee shirt.

"I'm fine."

"Blair." Jim was giving him that stubborn glare that meant they weren't moving until he obeyed.

"Here." Blair threw him the tank and pulled the heavier tee shirt over his head.

"Tuck it in."

"Okay!" No sooner had he tucked it into his shorts when Jim began to stuff it with handfuls of soft ferns.

"Insulation." Jim did the same with the tank, filling it as much as possible and Blair smiled at the image of Jim's buff form with a paunch before he turned his back. "Stuff some down the back -- it will keep our core temperature up. Kidneys and belly are the most vulnerable."

Blair tucked in the last of the ferns and Jim picked up the fire making tools from the night before. He walked away without a word and Blair followed after, trying not to limp as he used the heavy stick.

The sun was barely on the horizon and it's heat was negligible. Jim set a bruising pace and Blair understood that they had to make time. They had to reach whatever civilization Jim had sensed before night-fall. With no water or food the cold would sap their energy and hypothermia would be a real danger. The ferns were itchy but they did add some warmth. Now if the chilly air would stop whooshing up his shorts with every other step his testicles might stop trying to climb inside his body.

"Berries." Jim stopped and started to pick at something under some brush. Blair snapped off a weed's broad leaf and folded it into a container of sorts. Soon, it was filled with berries that were somewhat withered and dry but still edible. "Eat while we walk."

"We can pretend they're Crasins." Blair rubbed a berry on his shirt to brush off the dirt. "Yum."

"Look for a rotted log." Jim scanned the path as he hiked on. "We can mash up some grubs with them -- add some fat."

Blair chewed another berry and sighed.

"Fat is important. Even if we find some game, the meat's usually too lean. Some nice fat grubs will do the trick."

"I've eaten grubs." Blair grimaced at the memory. "I was invited to dine on them on an expedition. Roasted."

"Good eatin'." Jim sounded sincere but Blair could see him smile. "Come on, Chief. We're almost there."

Blair limped on. If Jim could tease him about eating bugs then things couldn't be that bad. Besides, they were almost there.


"We're almost there." Jim glanced back at his friend.

"You said that five miles ago." Blair bent down to adjust his remaining shoe.

"This time it's true." Jim's 'shoes' had disintegrated hours ago. Fortunately the path was fairly peaty and not too rocky. Jim frowned as he watched Blair limp toward him. He wished he could stop and let his friend rest but he wanted to reach the lake while they still had light. Once they had shelter and water he could find some food. There was quite a bit of game in the woods and the lake looked large and clean, even from the distance. "Look."

From the rise they stood on he could see the flat blue lake, shining amongst the towering mountains. There was a small clearing with a shack and a tiny pier. Jim guessed that the only people who came here were on small planes that could land on the lake. The camping and fishing season were a long time off.

"A cabin!" Blair started walking faster.

"Slow down, Chief." Jim slid down the steep path and caught his friend's arm. "We're almost there."


The 'cabin' really was more of a shack. It had a dirt floor with a pot bellied stove in one corner. The tin roof was rusty but seemed intact, while the door was off it's hinges and laying half-way in the lake. Inside there were two wide wooden bunks -- one upper and lower -- two stacked plastic chairs and an old metal footlocker. Jim pulled open the lid and almost sighed when he saw what was inside.

An iron skillet, a canteen and an old tin dinner set. A beat-up pocket fishing rod. "Look Chief. A tarp."

"A tarp?" Blair picked it up reverently and shook out a long abandoned mouse nest. "A beautiful blue tarp."

Jim watched as Blair began to remove everything carefully and set it on the bottom bunk. "Hey, Jim. Look." He held up a torn pair of rubber waders and an old army blanket. "And a knife." It was a butter knife but it was a knife.

"I'm gonna go get the door and see about some firewood." Jim started toward the door before he was blocked by his friend.

"Put the waders on." Blair pushed them at him. "And this too." Blair enlarged a chewed spot in the center of the blanket. He tugged it over Jim's head as an impromptu poncho. "See, much better."

Jim sneezed violently and went to fetch the door before it floated away. The waders were too big but they felt warm and protected his sore feet.

"Sort through the rest of the stuff and see how we're set. We could be here for a long time." He paced from the shack and headed for the lake.

Jim had known from his first look inside the shack that it hadn't been used for years. It was late autumn and they were literally in the middle of nowhere. It was going to take all their knowledge and skills to survive.

For a moment Jim let his thoughts stray to Cascade. Simon must be going crazy. And his dad and Naomi and the gang.

"No," he whispered. "We survive." He couldn't think of anything else right now.


Simon Banks stood on the bridge and looked at the old blue pick-up, almost obscured by the raging rapids. Firefighters and volunteers searched the banks for his missing men. Henri Brown hustled up to him and shivered. "We've searched for miles in either direction, Cap."

"If the bodies weren't in the truck, then they have to be out there somewhere."

"The windows were busted out, sir." Henri looked at the truck. That water is freezing and real fast moving."

"Jim wouldn't drown. He and Sandburg are out there somewhere."

"They have the dogs looking now." Henri sighed. "One way or another -- they'll find them."

"They're alive." Simon growled. "Until I see their bodies... they're alive."


Blair heard a chuckle behind him. Jim leaned the door against the front of the shack and stepped inside. "So you found some more clothes?"

Blair stood from his inventory and rolled his eyes. "Yes." He gestured at the ratty old crocheted afghan he wore as a shawl. The yarn's Christmas colors contrasted nicely with the hot pink pedal-pushers that were at least a size twenty-two and yellow rubber thongs. "I wished for shower thongs and guess what?"

"Let's get a fire started after I check that stove pipe."

"Fire sounds good." Blair opened the stove and peered inside before standing. "Look, what I found." He reached behind the stove. "A poker and a hatchet. Well a hatchet head... the handle is snapped off.

Jim took the hatchet head and grinned. "That's gonna save our butts."

"Jeeze. I never thought I'd be so happy to see a broken hatchet."

"I can collect enough deadfall for tonight." Jim poked at the interior of the stove, "At least we have shelter, even if the wind blows through the cracks in the walls."

"Hey, Naomi would have considered this to be a fixer-upper." Blair studied the walls. "We can mix some mud and grass and fill in the cracks."

"Later." Jim handed Blair the fire starting tools. "See if you can get a fire started while I collect wood."

Blair tossed Jim the top of a little girls two piece swimsuit. "Earmuffs? Or would you prefer the bottoms as a hat."

Jim pondered the ragged, polka-dot top before he put it on his head and tied it under his chin. He looked down at the green waders that were held up by red suspenders and army blanket. He shook his head. "The minute I hear someone coming I'm stripping back down to my skivies."

"I don't care if they put me on America's Funniest Home Videos -- as long as they come." Blair tugged the swim-suit bottoms onto his head as wild curls erupted from both leg openings.

"You'd win, Chief." Jim smiled. "Hands down."


Blair soaked up the sun as it beat back the cool, morning air. It had rained last night so he took the opportunity to 'spackle' the outside of the shack. Wattle and Daub. He'd studied it's uses -- hell it had gotten most of civilization through the dark ages -- now he got to see it first hand. Literally. He scooped up another hand full and plastered it onto the wall.

Jim had sorted through the tangle of fishing lines he'd found around the lake and repaired the pocket fishing rod. He was fishing from the dock, staring into the glassy water. Blair finished the walls and went salvaging. He saw some cattails by a small stream and went after them. The wide fronds could be woven into baskets and the feathery pods could be used for insulation.

Blair bundled some of the cat tails into the afghan he'd been wearing. He used the poker to dig some of the roots out of the damp ground. They were edible and could be added to whatever Jim managed to catch. He frowned at the dirty afghan. "I got to make a basket quick." And maybe a liner for the wall behind the bed to add more insulation.

The "bed" needed work. They'd decided to pad the lower of the wide bunks and use it alone to preserve body heat. Jim took the outside and lay facing the door as if expecting someone to burst in at any moment. It was the unspoken worry between them. That the people who stranded them would come back

"Hey Chief." Jim came out of the trees with two fish on a line. "I set some rabbit snares. I found a ton of filament in the lake."

"Yay, polluters." Blair shivered and hurried into the shack. "If you get some rabbits we can tan the hides and make some clothes."

"Take a lot of bunnies." Jim smiled as he handed Blair the fish. "I saw some game trails. Maybe -- once I get a handle on the hatchet -- I can make a bow and arrow."

"I found some roots and acorns and four soda cans and a glass jar. Nice aluminum soda cans that are barely dented. I washed them all out with hot water and set them by the stove."

"We can store water in them. That's good."

"Boiled some water and filled the canteen too."

"The lake water is pretty clean. Boiling couldn't hurt though." Jim brought in some firewood and built up the banked fire. "Let's get those fish cooked before I eat them raw."


A man climbed out of the ATV and studied the picnic tables with a smile. He kicked the stone arrow and fire ring apart and frowned at the table. With a vicious snick, the knife in his hand opened and he gouged at the scratches until they were unreadable.

Almost no one used this camp area, especially in the winter but Mr. Reynolds didn't like anyone taking chances.

The man returned to the ATV and began the long trip back to his pick-up.


"Get another continuance." Simon snapped at the young government attorney.

"I will but as soon as the defense finds out that the only two government witness are dead..."

"They are missing, not dead." Simon stood up and towered over the young man. "Hell. Reynolds is probably behind it."

"Prove that and I'll put him away forever."

"We'll prove it when we find Jim and Blair."


"Merry Christmas, Jim." Blair handed his friend the coat. They were sitting in the plastic chairs, bundled up in the tarp and blanket, in front of the stove.

"Merry Christmas Chief." Jim took the gift and looked at the scrap of pine Blair had stuck into a Coke can beside the door. Blair had been marking the days on the doorframe and he'd figured it was Christmas. Jim had seen the jacket before, of course. He'd watched as Blair punched holes in the skins and pieced it together with strips from the pink stretch pants, using bits of yarn and what looked like his own hair. Jim had carved sewing needles and hooks from bone and Blair had gotten really good at making rope and string. "It'll come in real handy when I go hunting."

"Soon as I get that deer hide cut and pieced you'll have leggings too."

"Here." Jim held out a pair of moccasins he'd cobbled out of scraps from the deer hide. He'd gotten the deer a few weeks ago and they had been feasting on venison. For once, they were comparatively well fed and warm. They had even managed to smoke some of the meat. Nothing went to waste. He and Blair had even taken a stab at spinning the hair of various animals into yarn and weaving it.

Jim stood suddenly and opened the door. He stepped out into the still, icy air and listened.

"What is it?" Blair asked.

"The chopper again."

"They are spoiling us, I tell you."

The first time Jim had heard the chopper was when they'd been here for about a week. They'd rushed out with torches and tried to signal it as it hovered over the far side of the lake. The mystery deepened when Jim found the box the next morning. It was a wooden crate really. It held a bow and arrows. A hunting knife, a top of the line first aid kit and assorted toileties. A lighter and four pairs of wool socks and four pairs of gloves.

It was clear that whoever left them here wanted them to survive -- but not escape. There was no way Jim would leave without a clear destination, in the middle of the winter without proper clothing. Alone he might have risked it, but not with Sandburg.

The second box arrived a month ago and contained vitamins, a selection of books, magazines, dried fruit and candles and matches.

"You think they sent Farkleberry Dressing?"

"Maybe Chief. Some boots would be nice."

"Or a razor?" Blair scratched at the surprisingly full beard he'd grown.

"It makes you look like a mountain man. Or a Rabbi. Maybe Santa Claus?"

"Oh no, Santa." Blair laughed. "It's not me who has the gray whiskers."


Jim went out alone to retrieve the crate. It hadn't warmed up and they didn't have enough clothing to protect both of them. He dragged it up to the shack. "I'm home!"

When the heck had this place become home?

He was still frowning when Blair came out with the hatchet. He carefully pried each board loose. He had started making a floor for the shed and saved every nail and bit of wood.

"Hurry." Blair hopped from foot to foot. "At last. What did we get? More toilet paper?"

"Somebody knows you." Jim handed him an old fashioned tea kettle. It was filled with a tea bags. There were two enamel-ware cups and a bag of oranges and boxes of raisins and more dried fruit and bags of M&Ms. And toilet paper.

"Why are they doing this?" Blair looked at the 'manna' that had fallen from the sky. "They strand us here and give us just enough to survive."

"They sent tooth brushes." Jim held up a zipper bag with two new brushes and a large tube of Crest. "And a deck of cards."

"Isn't that just thoughtful as hell."

"And a bunch of MREs." Jim pushed the military dinners aside and frowned at the bottom of the crate. "And this." He lifted a smaller wooden box and slid the top open. Inside, wrapped in foam was a bottle of whiskey. "Good stuff, too."

"And it's a party." Blair lifted one end of the box and dragged it inside.

"Merry Christmas." Jim muttered as he scanned the sky.


"My father is dying!" Jason Reynolds glared at the police officers searching his father's study. "The doctor says he has weeks... maybe a month to live."

"We'll be careful not to upset him." Simon looked at the young man grimly. He knew that the old man had kept Jason, his only son out of the business. The kid was an ecologist, a naturalist. Some kind of genius saint if you believed his file. He worked in the most dangerous parts of the world. It made Simon wonder what Sandburg might have thought of him.

"He doesn't know anything about your missing men. I promise you."

"It's just convenient how they vanished right before his trail."

"Nature has sentenced him. It's a lot worse than anything your people could do to him." Jason turned away and looked out the window at the expanse of lawn and flower beds.


"So read me what you wrote." Jim watched Blair as he wrote in one of the notebooks that he'd discovered in the latest 'Care Package'.

Blair bit the tip of his yellow pencil and peered at the notebook. "I just wrote about how you used your senses to find those wild onions."

"Riveting." Jim yawned as the warmth of the little stove beat back the cold, January blizzard outside.

"I really missed onions." They were sitting, covered up in their latest 'gift'. Two deliciously light, warm, down filled comforters that were great for warmth but useless outside the cabin. Blair smiled as he remembered Jim's expression as he opened the plastic bag and the vacuum packed comforters expanded insanely. Thanks to the lighter, they could sleep through the night between all their covers and let the fire go out.

"I miss donuts." Jim sighed and picked up one of the novels. He'd read them all at least twice, often aloud when it was too dark for Blair to read.

Blair snuffed out the candle and put his notebook away. "I miss my reading lamp." He tried to limit the use of the candles to a few minutes in the evenings. The tiny, crooked window at the back of the cabin barely lit the interior in the daytime, at night, only Jim could see.

"Want to hear that book about the pyramids again?" Jim put down the hardboiled detective novel and looked through the basket that held the reading material.

"Any new magazines?"

"This one promises spoilers for the February Sweeps."

"I miss the February Sweeps." Blair sighed.

"I miss my sheets... on my bed... that nice clean scorched-cotton smell."

"Your sheets only smell like that because you iron them." Blair rolled his eyes. "I miss my flannel sheets. My nice soft, wrinkly flannel sheets. And my nice cozy room."

"I miss sleeping alone."

"Hey!" Blair played along with the long running joke. "Do you know that until the Twentieth Century, men away from home usually slept in the same bed. Abraham Lincoln slept with his friends even when he was the President."

"President couldn't do that now." Jim grinned.

Blair said something rude.

"Now Blair." Jim pretended to be serious. "He's probably doing better since we've been gone?"

"I miss Jon Stewart."

"And my movie collection." Jim leaned back. "And watching Shawshank on TNT once a week. And clean clothes."

"And National Geographic Specials."

"Dum dum dum DUMMMM dum." Jim sang the National Geographic theme and Blair joined in. After several choruses they relaxed. Jim started to read the magazine in question. He even read the Soap Opera Update.


"Shit!" Blair sat on the frozen ground and held his arm. He'd gone out to the makeshift privy and promptly slipped on the ice. His arm felt like it had been ripped off. "JIM!"

He struggled to his feet and stumbled to the cabin. Before he was in the door, Jim came racing out of the forest. "Sandburg?"

"Fell." Blair pointed to his shoulder.

Jim pushed him into a chair and tugged at the motley layers of clothing. "It's not dislocated this time." Jim touched the shoulder, frowned and asked him to lift his arms. The left went up easily but the right stopped at his waist. "The doc warned you about that Rotator Cuff. I think it's torn pretty bad."

Jim gave him three ibuprofen and fashioned a sling out of an ace bandage. "I know some therapy stuff that will get you some use back."

"But?"

"But it will probably stay frozen until we get home."

"Why shouldn't my damn shoulder be frozen?" Blair snapped bitterly. "Every freakin' thing here is frozen and I'm so damned sick of it!"

"Me too." Jim looked helpless for once. "Soon as the weather breaks, we're getting out of here."

"How?" Blair asked. "You've tried to sense civilization a dozen times."

"We use the sun and stars. We follow the creek south until we find a road or I sense something."

"You should go alone. Leave me here with some wood and supplies and take the best gear with you."

"Not gonna happen."

"Like I was saying... we leave as soon as the weather breaks."


"Chopper." Jim looked out of the door.

"Hope they sent more tea."

"Or a couple pair of good insulated boots and some parkas."

"Clothes horse."

"That's me, Chief. Fashion forward."


"The usual stuff." Jim rooted through the crate. "And a laptop?"

Jim placed the ultra thin computer on the bunk. Blair turned it on and the screen came to life. A thin faced young man with dark, weathered features and pale blue eyes spoke. "Professor Sandburg. Detective Ellison. First let me offer my profoundest apologies."

"That's Joshua Reynolds." Blair looked askance at Jim.

The man on the screen continued. "My father's men were determined to stop you from testifying. It was almost too late when I discovered their plans. They had wrecked your truck and were getting ready to dispose of your bodies. I offered them an alternate plan and they seemed to agree. Days later I discovered that they had left you with no protection from the elements hoping you would freeze.

"I had told them to leave you in the old fishing camp we'd used when I was a child. It truly is in the middle of nowhere. When I found out how little you had I ordered them to leave you a couple of crates every month."

"A couple?" Blair glanced at Jim.

"They only ever left one."

"Daddy's goons don't listen very well."

"Please stay where you are." Joshua Reynold's voice became urgent. "My father is dying and you will be rescued shortly. Don't attempt to walk out. Even with Detective Ellison's 'special' gifts... you won't make it. I knew you could survive detective. You see, I've read his original dissertation and I've seen enough in Africa that I know it isn't fiction."

"Crap!" Jim muttered.

"I'm returning to Africa and where I am going no one will find me. This disc is my confession. I've arranged with my lawyers that you will receive whatever damages you wish to ask for as a legal settlement. You will never have to worry about money for the rest of your lives.

"The rest of my father's vast wealth will be placed in a fund to preserve the homelands of indigenous peoples such as the Chopec and the little people of the Kalahari. I would hope that you both serve on the board. Again, my lawyers have all the papers to insure that the money will be well spent, regardless. I will be gone.

"Goodbye, Gentlemen. I am so sorry. Please know that it was all I could think of at the moment. You were not going to stop and neither were my fathers lieutenants. I love my dad, despite his many faults and I would have hated to see his last days be any more horrible than they are." Joshua turned away and then looked back at the screen with a sad smile. "Oh. And ask for a lot of money. You deserve it."

The screen went dark.

"Well I'll be damned." Jim looked at Blair and then at the computer.

"He knows about Sentinels." Blair looked confused. "He could have just blackmailed us."

"How does he think money will make this right." Jim glowered. "How much money would it take to make up for what we've been through."

"I'm thinking three million each." Blair said practically. "After taxes and fees."

"Chief?"

"I didn't grow up rich, Jim." Blair smiled at the shocked look on his friend's face. "I've been in debt my whole life and I have a lot of things I'd like to do without worrying how much they cost."

"I guess I shouldn't have bugged you about money so much."

"Hah, compared to some of the bill collectors I've met you're a fuzzy teddy bear."

"I just had a thought."

"Yeah."

"Reynolds' -- the senior Reynolds -- goons don't always listen to the kid."

"Oh."

"What if they decide to erase the evidence all together."

"Meaning us?" Blair asked with a gulp.

"Meaning us."

"Crap."


One advantage on having your own Sentinel was you always had a lot of warning. Jim heard the ATV's hours before they arrived. He and Blair were deep in the woods, hidden in the spider hole he'd dug and booby trapped long before the men arrived.

"Where are they?" Blair whispered as he crouched among most of their belongings.

"Shhh." Jim tipped his head and let his hearing range out. "They're at the shack. They aren't talking. Big guys from the sound of their crashing around. I smell guns."

"Oh good."

"They'll never find us here." All of the sudden Jim sat bolt upright. He stood and scrambled out of the hole.

"What?" Blair stood and watched as Jim ran toward the lake. Even he could hear the angry, bear-like bellowing in the distance.

When he reached the edge of the trees he was greeted by an amazing sight. Hanging upside down from a tree was Simon Banks. Rafe and Henri were trying to maneuver the big man out of the trap. Jim walked forward with his hunting knife out, ready to help.

Henri and Rafe turned and pointed their guns at him. "Drop the knife. On the ground."

"Hey guys."

"Don't shoot!" Blair ran forward and for an instant stared down a gun barrel himself before it was lowered. "It's us. Jim and Blair."

"Somebody. Get. Me. DOWN!" Simon shouted.

Jim climbed the tree and cut the rope. He looked down at the sprawling Captain. "Hello Sir."

"I missed you yelling at me." Blair grinned and offered Simon his left hand.

Jim dropped silently to the ground and lifted the bigger man to his feet. "Good to see you, sir. I take it Clive Reynolds is dead?"

"You two... You..." Simon grabbed both of them in a crushing embrace and didn't let go for a long time. When he did he had to scuff the tears from his face. "I knew you weren't dead."

"We all did." Henri chimed in as he lifted Blair off his feet in a hug.

"Sore arm." Blair's protests were muffled. "Really sore arm."

"Rafe, Henri, Lets get them home." Simon ordered briskly.

"Lets get our stuff." Jim gestured for the men to follow. "Don't step on that twig or that patch of dirt."

Blair looked into the spider hole -- boy, he hated that name -- and pondered what to take. Most of the treasured belongings were just garbage or dirty beyond saving. He looked at Jim and shrugged.

In the end, Jim returned everything to the cabin. Jim hung his bow and arrows over the bunk. He folded the quilts and left the other meager belongings arranged neatly before closing the door. "Maybe someone will need them someday."

They took only clothing, the computer and the notebooks. Blair snagged his favorite basket. Soon they were wrapped in space blankets and riding on the back of Henri's and Rafe's ATV's.

As they raced away, Blair was torn. He didn't know if he should laugh of cry. It was so... anti-climactic. He leaned against Henri's broad back, covered in an obviously pricey white parka. Blair smiled to himself as he rested his grubby cheek on the coat. It was a good thing he was coming into money because he was going to have to buy Henri a new coat.


Epilog:

"The sky's the limit." Simon looked at the clean and rested partners.

As soon as they reached a town, they had showered and changed into new clothes and eaten hamburgers. Jim had insisted on going to a barber shop. He'd wanted to take Blair to a doctor but Blair wanted to go to Cascade General.

By the time they'd gotten checked out in the ER, arranged for Blair's shoulder to be fixed in the near future, showered and changed clothes again, they'd been exhausted. They returned to the loft, which Simon had ordered opened and cleaned, as soon he'd been told where to find his men. After a night and half a day of sleep, Simon arrived to take them to dinner.

"I might break you, Simon." Jim slapped his shoulder.

"There's a new seafood place..." Simon paused as he noticed their expressions.

"Simon." Blair said quietly. "We've been eating fish and rabbit for months."

"Oh."

"Of course there's lobster." Jim brightened. "Surf and Turf... I wonder if they have Prime Rib?"

"And pasta. And a salad bar with lots of Jello."

"I don't know if this place has Jello?" Simon looked from one man to the other. They were thin and their skin was windburned and red. Both had a strange light in their eyes.

"Jello sounds real good." Jim grinned.

"And ice cream?" Blair offered.

"Ahhh." Jim hurried them toward the elevator. "We have to stop for buttermilk donuts on the way."

"Come on gentlemen." Simon said expansively. "We have a long evening ahead of us."

The End

(The Jello thing is based on fact... rescued after being stranded in snowy mountains the survivors ate all the jello in the hospital cafeteria.)


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