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AUTHOR'S WEBSITE: http://brothersinarms.tvheaven.com
DISCLAIMER: The characters of The Sentinel are the property of Di Meo, Bilson, Petfly etc. This fanfic was written for my own and others enjoyment. No money has been paid and no copyright infringement is intended.
Part of the Family Tree Series. The other four parts can be found here: http://brothersinarms.tvheaven.com/tsstories.html
and scroll down to Series.
AUTHORS NOTES: I started this series way back in October 2000. In March 2001, I said I didnt think that there would be a follow-up to "Coda", which was the fourth part in The "Family Tree" series. A browse through the themefics sparked an idea, which I began, then put aside when the muse deserted me. After all this time though, it's been persistently knocking at my brain, begging to be let back in. Annie, thanks again for the beta and your support.
Themefic for August 2001. Besterette, this one is for you.
In order to keep this as close to canon as possible, this story takes place after Three Point Shot, around a year and a half after the events in Coda.
Blair Sandburg looked over impatiently as the phone in the living room rang just as he tipped the vegetables into the wok to stir-fry. "Jim? You want to get that?"
"Im upstairs, Sandburg." Jims voice drifted down from above. "Cant you get it?"
"Sure, as long as you dont mind extra crunchy stir-fry with a little charcoal added," Blair retorted. "Im cooking dinner here, Jim."
Blair heard footsteps padding down the stairs from Jims bedroom and watched as the detective lifted the receiver, mouthing an apology at him as he did so. He identified himself, then put his hand over the mouthpiece and held the receiver out toward Blair. "Dont know why I bothered," the sentinel muttered, handing the phone over to his partner and walking into the kitchen to take up wok duty. "Phone calls are never for me anyway."
Blair rolled his eyes at the complaint and greeted the caller. "Hello, this is Blair."
//Blair, its Robert.//
"Hey, cuz, how are you doing?"
//Im good, I guess.// Roberts voice sounded tense and Blair frowned.
"Whats up, man?"
//Grandma and Grandfather were killed in a car accident last night.//
"Oh God." Blair dropped heavily to the couch, his eyes already beginning to tear up. "What happened? Where?"
He barely noticed Jim turn off the hotplate and put down the spoon, coming to stand in front of him, his blue eyes troubled. "Blair? Whats wrong?"
Blair held up a hand to stay Jims questions and focused his attention back on his cousins words.
//Seems like the old man had a heart attack while they were driving back from dinner. Hit a tree.//
Blair closed his eyes tightly. "You say this happened last night? Why am I only being told now? Does Naomi know?"
//Beats me.// Roberts voice sounded too casual now and Blair felt his anger flare, despite his grief. "Jesus, Robert, were family too. We have a right to know."
//Well, it seems youve only just decided to become a part of the family, Blair," Robert answered caustically. "Anyway, funerals tomorrow afternoon.//
"Wait, thats too soon. Naomis in Mexico somewhere. Ill have to see if I can track her down."
Blair heard his cousins sigh. //Fine. If she makes it in time, well see her there, not that mom and dad will be too pleased. By the way, theres a will reading at the lawyer's office tomorrow afternoon. He wants you there. Apparently, they left you a few trinkets.//
"I dont want anything," Blair said, tears finally spilling. "I was just getting to know them."
//Yeah, well, we've all got to go sometime, right? Anyway, whatever they are, youre welcome to them. The stuff in the house was mostly junk anyway. Grandfather promised me the house. Its not worth much either, but the land is prime real estate. Im thinking of putting up apartments.//
"They just died and youre already talking about what to do with their money?"
//Look, its no good to them now, and Ive got debts to pay. Ill see you tomorrow.//
"Wait, Rob," Blair interrupted before his cousin could hang up. "Will you be sitting Shiva?"
Robert snorted. "Come on, Blair, this is the nineties, man. We don't do that sort of thing anymore."
"Grandmother and Grandfather did," Blair replied quietly. "They lived by their faith."
Robert's tone was laconic. "Yeah, well, more power to them, but Dad and I have a business to run, and I've gotta tell you it's not doing so well lately. You want to spend a week sitting on your ass saying prayers and lighting candles, go for it. I'll see you tomorrow."
Blair looked at the now silent phone and allowed Jim to take it from his hand.
"You all right?" Jim asked, crouching down in front of Blair.
Blair shook his head, and in a voice full of emotion, began to recount the terrible news.
"I'm sorry, sweetie, but I really think it's better if I don't come back for the funeral," Naomi said through her tears.
Blair rolled his eyes heavenward, then spoke firmly. "You have to, they're your parents, mom."
"I know that, but we hadn't spoken for fifteen years, Blair, and Helen won't want me there. It would just be uncomfortable for everyone."
"Mom, please "
"I'm sorry, I just can't. I'll call you when I get home, okay? Try to understand, Blair, please."
Blair sighed. "I do, it'll be fine." He hung up the phone and slumped onto the couch, staring at his hands.
"Problem?" Jim asked, coming down the stairs with an armful of laundry.
Blair shook his head. "No, not really. Naomi can't won't be coming back for the funeral." He stood and strode into the kitchen, pulling the refrigerator door open and plucking a beer from the top shelf. The old refrigerator rattled as he savagely slammed the door shut. "Damn it! I thought things were getting better. I thought that pretty soon they'd be talking to each other again."
"Old wounds fester and they're slow-healing, Chief." Jim placed the clothes in the laundry hamper then came into the kitchen and retrieved a beer for himself. "I'd be happy to come to the funeral with you."
Blair gave him a relieved smile. "You would? Thank you, I really don't want to go alone." He frowned then. "What about work?"
"It's a family thing, Sandburg. Simon will understand and I've got nothing major coming up until the day after tomorrow."
"The Slater trial," Blair remembered.
"Yeah, though the DA says I'll only be tied up for a day with that. Maybe we could take off for the weekend, do some fishing."
Blair nodded, his anger at his mother receding in the wake of Jim's offer. "That'd be great, and as a thank you, I won't even hassle you about tests."
Jim took a healthy swig of his beer, then clinked the bottle against his partner's. "You're all heart, Chief."
Jim was surprised at the large number of mourners at the Sandburg's funeral, though he remembered vaguely Blair telling him that his grandmother especially, was involved in fundraising for several charities.
Blair looked solemn, sad, and very un-Sandburg-like in his black suit and matching tie, his curls pulled back with a length of black leather. There was no doubting the family resemblance though, Jim thought, gazing at the first row of people seated behind the ornate coffins. Robert, especially shared Blair's good looks, though his curly hair was worn in a regulation short back and sides, a distinguished goatee adorning his chin.
Once the ceremony was over, Blair nudged Jim and gestured toward his family. "I'd better go pay my respects and pass on Naomi's apologies, though I'm sure they're glad she's not here."
"I can come with you, if you want," Jim offered. He hadn't missed the unveiled caustic glares sent Blair's way when they'd arrived.
Blair squeezed his arm and gave him a small smile. "It's fine, man, but thanks."
"I'll wait for you at the truck then."
"Okay. Oh, wait, I forgot the will reading. Could you drop me off at the attorney's office? I can catch a cab home." Blair jingled the coins in his pocket and shot Jim an embarrassed look. "Or the bus."
Jim pulled his cell phone from his pocket and pressed it into his friend's hand. "Call me when you're done and I'll come pick you up."
"You don't have to do that " Blair began, but Jim gave him a stern mock glare.
"Call me." He patted Blair on the shoulder and hurried back to his truck before the light rain just beginning became a downpour.
Jim was surprised when Blair appeared at the truck a few minutes later. He climbed into the passenger seat and brushed drops of water from the shoulders of his suit jacket, shrugging at Jim's questioning look.
"They didn't seem to have much to say and it started raining."
"You got the attorney's address?' Jim asked, not wanting to interfere in what was obviously an uncomfortable situation for Blair.
Blair fished a soggy piece of paper from his pocket. "Right here."
Jim took it from his hand and read it then started the truck and steered away from the cemetery. The drive was silent, punctuated only occasionally by Blair's complaints of the cold. Glancing over at his partner, Jim took in Blair's pale face, accentuated by the dark shadows under his eyes that hinted at little sleep, and took pity on him, turning up the heat and directing the vents Blair's way.
As they pulled into a park in front of the attorney's office, Blair took a deep breath then let it out slowly.
"I can come in with you, if you want," Jim offered again.
Blair shook his head once more. "It's fine. Go home and get warm, man. It's freezing out here."
"Italian for dinner?" Jim suggested, pleased to see a wide grin grace Blair's face.
"Count me in," Blair replied. He opened the door to the truck, pulling his coat collar up as scant protection against the rain, and giving Jim a wave before scurrying into the building.
Jim watched a moment longer, then headed for home, eager to get the apartment warmed up and order some of Blair's favorite foods to lift his partner's spirits.
Blair hadn't called and when Jim tried his cell phone, he discovered it was turned off. Giving a groan that mixed frustration and concern, Jim put the now cold pasta and garlic bread into the refrigerator. He strode to the door, pulling his keys from the basket and had his hand on the doorknob when it opened.
Blair shuffled inside, looking like the proverbial drowned rat. His hair had come loose from its tie and hung in sopping strands to his shoulders. The legs of his pants were spattered with mud and, like his jacket, soaking wet.
"Where the hell have you been, Sandburg?" Jim fumed, his relief at seeing his partner safe spilling over into anger. "You were going to call. It's almost ten!"
Blair sidled past him, heading straight for the bathroom. "Sorry," he said over his shoulder. His voice sounded raspy and was barely more than a whisper. "I needed to think."
"Couldn't you have thought in the truck?" Jim countered. "Where it's warm and dry."
Blair paused in the doorway, pulling his rumpled tie from his pocket and balling it up in his hand. "Probably," he said flatly. "Sorry, should have called."
With that, he disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door, leaving Jim staring after him in utter confusion.
By the time Blair exited the bathroom some twenty minutes later, looking at least warm and more presentable, Jim had managed to tamp down his anger and reheat the meal. He served up a plate of steaming pasta and sauce and placed the hot bread in a basket on the table while he waited for Blair to dress and come out of his bedroom.
"Here, come on and eat." He gestured at the food when Blair finally shambled out, dressed in faded blue sweats and thick socks, his hair a rather tangled mess around his face. Jim thought he looked less pale but Blair's eyes and nose looked a little too red. "I'll make you some tea, if you'd like."
"Tea would be nice," Blair replied apathetically as he slid into a dining chair.
Jim watched him push the food around his plate for a moment and shook his head. "You going to eat that while it's hot, Chief? You have it on good authority that it tastes lousy cold, unlike pizza."
Blair glanced up at him, a hint of a smile flashing into his tired eyes. "Cold pizza? That's sacrilege, man." He sighed and pushed the plate away. "Sorry, Jim. I know you went to a lot of trouble, but I'm just not hungry."
Jim placed a mug of tea on the table in front of Blair, then sat down beside him. "It's take-out, Chief. Bellini's, as a matter of fact. It's not as though I slaved over a steaming pot." He gave a sigh of his own when Blair didn't respond. "Do you want to talk about what's bothering you."
Blair picked up his tea and took a careful sip, closing his eyes briefly in what looked like utter bliss. Setting the cup back down, he blew idly at the surface and watched the tendrils of steam billow up. "Well, the meeting with my grandparents' executor went well not."
"I gathered they weren't exactly happy to see you," Jim said, reaching out and patting Blair's hand sympathetically.
Blair rolled his eyes. "Yeah, well, the reception at the funeral was a garden party compared to what happened when the will was read."
Jim waited for Blair to continue.
"My cousin, Robert, wasn't very happy about the 'trinkets' they bequeathed me."
"I told you Grandma and Grandfather left Robert their house, right?"
Jim nodded. "Nice place, too."
Blair ran a hand through his hair. 'I can't believe he wants to tear it down and build apartments, man."
"To each his own, I guess. So, what did your grandparents leave you?"
"A cabin," Blair said. He rested his arms on the table and laid his head down on them, looking incredibly tired.
"A cabin?" Jim asked. "Here in Cascade?"
"Well, in the woods, of course," Blair said, his voice muffled by his arms.
"That's pretty neat, Sandburg. Congratulations."
"Right," Blair muttered. He sat up straight and looked at Jim. "That's what I can't figure out. Robert says the place is rundown, a hovel and then he gets all bent out of shape because it's been left to me. I swear, Jim, I thought he was going to punch my lights out."
Jim frowned. "He hit you?"
Blair raised a hand in a halting gesture. "Easy, Jim. I said almost. He didn't get a chance. Uncle Harold dragged him out of there kicking and screaming."
"So, what happens now?" Jim tapped at Blair's hand. "Drink your tea while it's hot, Sandburg."
Blair raised the mug obediently and took a sip. "Now, I get to go take a look at my real estate, I guess."
"We could go this weekend, if you want," Jim replied as Blair stood and carried his plate and cup to the kitchen.
"Actually, I was thinking of heading up there tomorrow," Blair said as he scraped his unwanted food into the bin. "I managed to get a few day's compassionate leave from school "
Jim felt a pang of disappointment. He'd hoped Blair would want him along for company, and frankly, he was curious to take a look at his partner's acquisition. Swallowing, he said, "That's fine, Chief. Hey, take the camera and take some photos to show off when you get back."
Blair stepped back into the dining area. "Oh, Jim, I didn't mean I didn't want you to come! I do! I just knew you couldn't get away until the weekend and I thought you could meet me there on Saturday."
"Why not wait until Saturday then, and we'll drive up together? That car of yours is none too reliable."
"Actually, I would like to have a day of solitude," Blair replied. He looked down and fiddled with the draw cord of his sweatpants. "I know I haven't been a practicing Jew in like forever, but in honor of my grandparents, of us finally having a relationship, I thought I'd go to the cabin and sort of sit Shiva for them for a day anyway."
"That sounds like a really nice idea, Sandburg," Jim said, giving his partner a gentle smile. "You go tomorrow then, take any of the fishing gear or whatever you want, and some food, and I'll see you there bright and early Saturday morning."
Blair grinned, a spark of enthusiasm finally lighting his eyes. "Sounds like a plan. This could be really cool, Jim. Imagine, vacations, weekends spent at *my* cabin. We could ask Simon and Daryl up, and the other guys!"
"Sounds great to me, Chief." Jim stood and walked over to Blair, wrapping one arm about his shoulders and giving them a quick squeeze. "Give me a call if you forget anything. Now, I'm heading to bed. Want to look my best for the judge in the morning."
"Think I'll stay up for a little while, make a list of what I need to take. I'll leave a map of the cabin's location on the kitchen counter for you."
"Good, I'll just steer in the opposite direction and I should find it with no problem," Jim quipped.
Blair flipped him the bird. "Funny, man. You're a real comedian." But the smile on his face erased any sting from his actions.
"Night, Jim, and thanks."
Blair left later in the day than he'd planned, having to sort through a few things that his substitute lecturer needed before leaving. Then in typical Blair fashion, he took a wrong turn and had to backtrack a couple of miles, so it was getting on for lunchtime by the time the Volvo finally rattled up the dirt road toward his grandparents' cabin. Blair shook his head in exasperation. He was keeping his mouth firmly shut about his lack of sense of direction; Jim would dine out on it for a month.
Well, he hadn't expected a palace, but looking at the dilapidated cabin in front of him, Blair wondered again what had prompted Robert's outburst the previous day. Granted, the structure appeared intact, but it looked like it was going to take some elbow grease and good DIY skills to get the place back into habitable condition.
Shaking his head, Blair hefted his bags and climbed the rickety steps to the front door. Pushing it open, grimacing at the rusty squeak of the hinges, Blair stood on the threshold and looked around at his inheritance. It actually wasn't as bad inside as out, he decided. He knew his grandmother had been house-proud, and wondered if the lack of upkeep on the outside could be attributed to his grandfather's failing health. Robert had told him the rest of the family hadn't been here for years, though their grandparents had continued to come for vacations until a few months back when Blair's grandfather had to remain closer to his doctors and medical aid.
Walking into the large combined dining-living room, Blair deposited his bags in front of a rustic fireplace and wandered around the room slowly. The timber floors still shone with polish, despite a fine coating of dust, and beneath some faded dust covers, Blair discovered some old, but clean and still solid couches that could be converted to beds. The kitchen at the back of the cabin held an old, oft-scrubbed wooden table with matching chairs, padded with bright hand-stitched cushions. A quick peek through the remaining rooms revealed three bedrooms, one large, with a double bed, dresser and wardrobe, the others somewhat smaller with two single beds on either side of each room and large dark wood chests of drawers. The bathroom was old-fashioned but adequate for the cabin's needs, and a quick test of the shower indicated the hot water was still connected.
Stepping out the back door, Blair paused for a moment and took in the tranquil beauty of the area. A meandering dirt path led to the woods beyond, the growth of both ground cover and trees lush and inviting. Blair hoped the weather would hold up for the weekend, there was a spot not far off that looked perfect for curling up with a book and a picnic lunch. Nestled a few feet away was a rather slanted-looking woodshed, piled to the roof with cut timber for the fire inside. Deciding to make the most of the opportunity, and detecting an early chill in the air, Blair decided to light a fire first, then unpack before exploring further.
An hour later, Blair was settled and content. The blazing fire looked enticing and Blair briefly debated settling on the couch in front of it with his prayer notes. It had been some time since he'd attended temple and the intricate words and phrases felt somewhat foreign on his tongue.
The lure of the unexplored cabin was too tempting to ignore though and Blair made his way into his grandparents' bedroom. He paused for a moment with his hand on the handle of the dresser. He felt a little uncomfortable going through his grandparents' private things, but tempered that with the thought that there may be things here he could return to his aunt and cousin, and perhaps calm Robert's inexplicable vitriol.
His mind made up Blair pulled open the top drawer. The only item inside was an intricately carved jewelry box. Blair lifted it out carefully and opened the lid. He smiled as the strains of 'Fur D'Elise' tinkled out, pleasantly filling the room. A folded sheet of paper sat inside and Blair picked it up, surprised to see his own name written on the outside in his grandmother's neat script. With his hands shaking a little, Blair slowly unfolded the page.
"My dear Blair,
If you are now reading this letter, then your grandfather and I have gone to a better place. Please don't mourn us. We are old and weary, and life has come full circle for us. My happiest thoughts are that we finally had the chance to get to know you; my saddest, that Naomi and her father were unable to reconcile before now.
I hope that you'll come to love the cabin as much as your grandfather and I did. It's a beautiful, peaceful place. I doubt Robert would have appreciated its charm.
I thought for a long time what to entrust to you but really, in the end, this was the best gift I could give you. We used to tell the children when they were small that there was a special treasure here. I don't think any of them ever realized that the treasure was not gold or silver or jewels, but the beauty, tranquility and peace of mind one gets here.
You will find inside this jewelry box, one small treasure. The pocket watch belonged to my father. When I escaped from Germany during the Holocaust, he entrusted it to me. It was the only tangible link that remained between my parents and me. They perished at Auschwitz, just two weeks after I escaped Germany with my sister.
It is not of great value, except in sentimentality. I had thought to give it to my son, had I had one. Robert would surely have hocked it by now, to pay his gambling debts, but I have no doubt that you will cherish it as much as I did.
I want you to know how very happy you have made your grandfather and myself in this past year or so. I go now to God, at peace.
Your loving grandmother, Esther."
Blair sat for a long time with the letter clutched in his hand, his tears sliding unnoticed down his face. Finally he put it aside and picked up the pocket watch. It was linked to a heavy chain, the etched gold case had faded somewhat over time but it was the connection to his family that made it precious to Blair. After a moment, he laid it back in the jewelry box, placing the letter on top and closing the lid. "Thank you, grandmother," he whispered.
A scraping sound from the other room startled him and he left the box on the bed and hurried into the living room. Perhaps Jim had made it early. There was no one about and Blair stood a little uncertainly, wondering if his ears were playing tricks on him. As he bent to tend to the fire, the sound came again. Blair straightened quickly. The noise seemed to be coming from below and Blair remembered the cellar he'd seen leading down from the kitchen. A wild animal perhaps, he thought, or a burglar assuming the place was deserted. Arming himself with the fire poker, and a heavy-duty flashlight from his bag, Blair made his way cautiously into the kitchen.
"Is anyone there?" Blair called out.
There was no sound now, save the cheerful crackling of the fire in the other room. Fearful but somehow drawn to the darkened cellar, Blair opened the small gate that separated the cellar from the kitchen and stepped onto the narrow stairs. There was a light switch by his left hand and Blair clicked it on, but the room below remained in darkness. "Light bulb's probably blown," Blair muttered, taking some comfort at hearing his own voice.
With his heart pounding painfully in his chest, Blair carefully started down the stairs. He ranged his flashlight around in front of him but could see little. The cellar was concealed by an overhang of the ceiling at the foot of the stairs and the room beyond was couched in shadow.
He was halfway down when his foot skidded on something and he gave a panicked yelp as he felt himself falling. His flashlight and the poker were thrown from his flailing hands as he fell backward, smacking his head hard on the step behind. Agony flared in his skull and his vision abruptly went black. He clattered the rest of the way down the steps, collecting bruises and scrapes as he contacted the walls and stairs. He landed on the concrete floor with a resounding thud that drove the breath from his lungs. Laying there, winded, he struggled to draw breath, wheezing painfully, tears squeezed from beneath his tightly scrunched eyelids. He reached out an arm, moaning at the pain in his shoulder and swept his hand along the ground, searching for his flashlight, but encountered only the rough scrape of the floor.
A noise startled him, footsteps crunching, and he looked up, astounded to see a large shape looming over him and seeming to tip precariously toward him. There was no time to react but Blair tried to shift away, getting up onto shaky knees to throw himself out of the path of whatever was about to crush him.
He was too slow, his injuries weakening him and he screamed as something incredibly heavy smashed onto one outstretched leg. The crushing pain obliterated all thought. He scrabbled in panic at the thing trapping him, ripping fingernails as he fought to free his leg. Adrenaline gave him strength and the weight shifted a little, but before Blair could drag his leg free, his sweat-slick hands slipped and it crashed down again, grating broken bones together, and plunging Blair into oblivion.
The court case finished early, thanks to the intervention of an eyewitness and Jim toyed with the idea of leaving for the cabin that afternoon and surprising Blair with dinner. His friend had said he needed some solitude though, a chance to grieve alone and as much as Jim ached to be there for him, he knew how that felt. When Danny Choi died, Jim had pushed Blair's well meaning attempts at sympathy away, needing to have time for himself to mourn and remember the young man he'd come to love as a brother.
As far as Jim knew, Blair's only real family to now had been his mother, Naomi. He'd been so excited to have his grandparents in his life, after some initial misunderstanding on both parts. Blair had begun to spend quality time with the couple, learning about his family and its history.
It wouldn't be right to intrude on this private time, Jim decided. God, but he missed his hyperactive roommate already. Jim had always thought a silent, well-ordered apartment was bliss. Only now with Blair gone, did Jim realize how much he'd come to enjoy having the young anthropologist in his life.
Deciding to stick to their original plan, Jim picked up a Chinese take-out meal and headed for the empty loft.
Blair awoke to total darkness and agonizing pain in his leg. He opened gritty eyelids and blinked rapidly, trying to bring his vision into some sort of working order. Slowly his surroundings began to take vague shape. He felt disoriented for a moment, unable to remember exactly where he was. He was lying flat on his back, one hand resting against something solid and cold. He tried to shift up and realized in panic that his left leg appeared to be trapped beneath a heavy and completely unyielding object.
He reached up, his breath coming in frightened gasps and tried to push the weight off but was unable to summon the strength to do so. Collapsing back, he heaved in a shaky breath and tried not to cry out at the pain that ripped through his leg and back at the movement. Something dribbled down his face, and he reached up and trailed his fingers over his face, discovering a bloody gash above his eye - and everything came back.
The cellar, something slick on the stairs, the horrifying pain as something smashed into his leg, the agony of fractured bone, and terrifyingly, the sound of footsteps ascending the stairs. He bit back a cry for help, unsure of whether his assailant had left the cabin. Rolling his head to the side, he shifted one arm outward carefully and swept the ground with his hand, searching for his flashlight. His fingertips grazed it then it rolled out of reach. Biting back a sob of frustration, Blair closed his eyes and tried to control the awful throbbing in his leg with even breaths. His body would not cooperate though. Weakened and in shock, the injured leg set up a vicious throbbing that kept a rapid tempo with his aching head and pounding heart. Blair began to shiver, the freezing temperature taking advantage of his inactive state and sending him creeping toward hypothermia. He felt drowsy and chilled to the bone in minutes, and knew unless he could keep awake, the only thing Jim would find in the morning was a body.
Jim! He couldn't keep the sob back. It wrenched from his throat, choking him with its forcefulness. Blair gave a low, keening wail, then ground his teeth together in an effort to remain silent though his chest heaved with silent cries. He concentrated on sending his pleas to Jim, hoping somehow that the bond they now seemed to share as sentinel and guide would somehow alert Jim to his predicament.
His eyes began to drift closed and he shook himself awake, shuddering as pain coursed through him once more. "Can't sleep," he muttered through chattering teeth. "S stay 'wake till J Jim c comes."
Jim gave up procrastinating. He'd driven home with a tempting spicy beef stir-fry that now sat congealing on his plate while he paced the living room, almost wearing a track in the hardwood floor.
Despite his earlier determination to allow Blair some space, something indefinable was pulling at him, an unease that was growing unabated. He knew full well that Blair was capable of looking after himself, had in fact, proven that several times over in his time with Jim. Lash came to mind, but instead of the memory of Blair baiting the serial killer calming him, it merely ignited more of the worry gnawing Jim's gut. Sandburg's handling of the situation had shaken Lash's confidence but not stopped his murderous intent. If Jim had not gone with his instincts, not pushed Simon and Carolyn into going along with his actions that night, Blair would have been dead.
Jim envisioned Blair's reaction to his early, unannounced arrival as he turned onto the highway that led up to the mountains. One eyebrow would quirk upwards, almost disappearing into that mane of unruly hair and a tolerant smile would upturn the corners of his mouth.
"Blessed Protector instinct working overtime, Jim?"
Jim knew he would mutter something benign about not wanting to waste a decent weekend, and knew that Blair would get the true meaning beneath his words and understand and accept. The worry lifted away now that he'd made up his mind and acted upon it. Looking forward to seeing Blair's surprised face, Jim pressed his foot to the accelerator.
A violent muscle spasm in his broken leg brought Blair back to consciousness moaning with pain. He'd been drifting in a sort of twilight zone, somewhere between consciousness and oblivion, but he had no idea of how much time had passed. He was still shaking with cold, despite his wool sweater and sweatpants, but of greatest concern to him was the lack of feeling in his foot. He knew if help didn't arrive soon, he could be facing amputation. The thought brought bile to his throat and he had to force it back, worried he would choke.
The door leading to the kitchen creaked open and Blair looked up, unsure whether to be relieved or afraid. Artificial light spilled partway down the stairs, indicating that night had fallen and Blair bit his lip as he heard a heavy tread descend the stairs.
He couldn't restrain himself any longer. The fear of not knowing seemed worse. "Jim?" Blair whispered.
"'Fraid not," came a familiar voice.
"Robert?" Blair sank back to the floor and gave a sob of relief. "Thank God. My leg is caught, man. I think it's broken."
Robert approached him and shone a flashlight directly into Blair's face, only shifting it when Blair gasped and flung up a hand to shield his eyes. "Looks that way," he replied casually. "Grandfather kept the freezer down here for his fish and bait. Grandmother refused to let him use the one in the kitchen because it would make it smell." He rested a hand casually on the top of the freezer. "They were up here just a month ago. I'd say it's pretty loaded with stuff."
Blair's eyes widened in shock. "Robert, will you stop fooling around and help me out, man? If you can lift this thing, I can probably shift myself back "
"I can't do that, Blair."
Blair's blood ran cold. "What's going on, Rob? Was that you down here?" he asked.
Robert crouched down beside him, keeping the flashlight focused on the lower part of Blair's face. "I came here in the hope of getting what was mine before you managed to get your greedy paws on everything."
"What's yours?" Blair asked, seriously concerned now at the unmasked hatred on his cousin's face. "Whatever it is, you're welcome to it, man. Just, please, call for help."
"There's nothing here, is there?" Robert spat. "Grandmother kept telling us about the treasure that was here, always saying we wouldn't know what it was until we grew up. I believed her, stupid old woman. All the time I was growing up, I thought about how one day the treasure would be mine, being the only grandchild. And then you came crawling into their lives, ingratiating yourself with that little sincere act, and you've got them eating out of your hand. This was supposed to be mine!"
"There's no treasure here!" Blair replied, equally forcefully, biting back a cry as his outburst caused more pain in his leg.
"I know that now," Robert said. "She played me all those years. "You be a good boy, Robbie, and the treasure will be yours." Then she left it to you anyway, and the only thing of any value is this stupid watch." He pulled their great-grandfather's watch from his pocket and tossed it onto Blair's chest.
He ran a trembling hand through his hair. "I'm in deep shit with the business, Blair, and this was going to be my way out. I didn't want to hurt you, I just wanted what was rightfully mine." His voice took on a pleading tone. "I thought I could get here before you had a chance to come up and find whatever was hidden here."
Blair levered himself carefully up onto his elbows. "It's okay, Robert. It was just an accident. You thought I was a burglar and "
Robert shook his head. "It's too late," he whispered. "You'll tell that cop friend of yours and I'll be arrested."
"Robert, please, listen to me," Blair begged. He reached out as his cousin took a step away and snagged his pants leg, but Robert shook him off violently. "No one needs to know. I'll tell them it was an accident."
"You'll know." Robert's face twisted into a mask of fury. "Little bastard! Why couldn't you have stayed away, like that slut mother of yours."
Blair bit back an angry retort at the ugly slight. "You have the house," he said desperately. "You'll make money on the real estate."
"It's not enough!" Robert retorted. "I need to put the money back into the company before Dad knows it's missing. I skimmed it out of company funds. If I hadn't, my debt collector's goons would have killed me by now."
"Gambling," Blair said softly. "How much?"
"That's not important," Robert answered. His face grew hard as though he had steeled his resolve and he pulled a handgun from his pocket. "I'm sorry. There's no other way."
"What are you going to do?" Blair asked fearfully.
"Dont worry, Im not going to shoot you. It would raise too many questions."
"You can't just leave me here. Jim's on his way," Blair blurted. "He'll find me."
"Too late," Robert replied. "An unfortunate accident, you slipped on the stairs and fell. At least I'll get the cabin then. It won't be much but " He stared at Blair unemotionally. "You should have stayed away from my family, Blair." He turned and walked woodenly toward the stairs. "I can't go to jail."
Blair stared after him in mute shock. Then fear lending volume to his voice, he screamed his cousin's name. "Robert! No! You can't do this! Please!" He continued to plead until he was hoarse, his voice and energy quickly depleted by shock, cold and dehydration. Exhausted, Blair sank back onto the cold floor and stared into the inky darkness, silently begging Jim to come.
The sky had just begun to darken when Jim turned onto the dirt road leading to the cabin. The weekender was set on its own, not far from the river, nestled against a stunning backdrop of lush forest and mountains.
Balancing a pizza, still warm in its protective bag, in one hand, Jim pulled a six pack of beer from the back seat, and turned to take his first good look at Blair's cabin. "Could use some work, Chief," he said and smiled. If it was in this beautiful setting, Jim would be more than happy to pick up a hammer and give his friend a hand to spruce the place up.
He hesitated just a moment before rapping on the front door. When no one answered after a few minutes, Jim leaned down and tried to see beneath the curtain shading the front window. He could tell the lights were on inside and a fire blazed in the fireplace but the gap was too narrow to discern anything else.
"Blair? You in there," he called. From the corner of his eye, he detected movement in the bushes that abutted the property some twelve feet away and he turned toward them, his eyesight automatically adjusting to compensate for the lack of light but whatever it was had gone. Probably a rabbit or squirrel, he figured.
Growing concerned now at getting no response, Jim placed the beer bottles on the old wicker chair on the verandah and tried the doorknob. It turned and Jim pushed the door open. Stepping into the cabin, Jim looked around in shock.
The place had been ransacked. Papers were strewn across the floor, the drawers of a small cabinet on the other side of the room had been pulled out and now lay face down on the floor. Jim reached for his weapon, then cursed when he remembered it was packed inside his overnight bag, still in the truck. "Blair," he called again. He extended his hearing, and detected the sound of raspy breathing coming from further inside the house. Cautiously, Jim made his way through the living room and into the kitchen at the back.
The room was empty but the strained breathing Jim could hear was coming from below, and Jim quickly located the cellar door set to one side of the room. He flicked on the light switch but it was apparent that the bulb had blown. He reached out and opened the door, then dialed up his hearing and sight as he walked carefully down the steep steps.
The room was used for storage by the look of it. Old furniture jostled for position with fishing gear, bicycles and tin chests. A huge freezer lay on its side on the far side of the room and it was only when Jim took the final step down that he saw the crumpled body lying beside it.
"Blair!" Jim hurried to his friend's side and knelt beside him. Blair was only semi-conscious, his eyes didn't appear to be focusing at all and he seemed unaware of his partner's presence. Jim quickly realized the problem when he ran careful hands over Blair's body, looking for injuries. Blair's left leg was trapped beneath the freezer. He lay on his back with both hands pressed up against the metal as though he'd been attempting to push the weight away. He had a deep gash above his right eye which had bled profusely though it seemed to have stopped now.
"Blair? Can you hear me?" Jim gave Blair's shoulder a gentle squeeze and was relieved to hear a soft moan from his friend. "Take it easy, buddy. I'll have you out of there in no time." Shrugging out of his jacket, Jim laid it over Blair's chest.
Blair's eyes finally focused on Jim and the detective tried to give the injured man a confident smile. "Can't let you go anywhere on your own, can I, Chief?"
"Jim?" Blair's voice was hoarse and filled with pain. "What doing here?"
"Getting you out of another scrape," Jim said. "I'm gonna lift this thing off you, but I need to know if you're hurt anywhere else first."
Blair shook his head, his eyes beginning to droop shut then they snapped open and he flailed for Jim's hand. "Robert," he gasped, his gaze flitting wildly about the darkened cellar. "Where's Robert?"
"Your cousin?" Jim asked. "There's no one else here, Blair. You want to tell me what happened. The place looks like it's been ransacked."
Blair managed to grasp Jim's hand weakly. "Robert was here. I slipped on the steps. Robert pushed freezer on me."
"Wanted the treasure," Blair whispered, his eyes closing again. "Tried to tell him, but he wouldn't listen."
Jim filed the information away for later. Blair was in shock and somewhat disoriented. The gash on his head could indicate a head injury and it was more important right now to get him to medical help. Gently disengaging his hand from Blair's, Jim stood and hefted an edge of the freezer. It took some effort before he was able to lift it, then move it away. He winced at the hoarse scream of pain from Blair as the weight was lifted from his leg.
Setting the freezer back down, Jim squatted down by Blair once more and ran a careful hand down his leg. "Sorry, Chief," he soothed when his partner moaned and weakly batted at his hands. "I need to check what's going on." His sensitive fingers found the bony deformities quickly and Jim grimaced at the damage done. "Leg's broken in a couple of places, Chief, but I don't think the surrounding tissues too badly damaged."
"Flashlight," Blair grunted through clenched teeth. "Can't reach it."
Jim found the light quickly and switched it on, then played it over Blair, careful to keep it out of the other man's eyes. Blair was pale and sweaty, one eye puffed and bruised beneath the gash. He breathed in rapid, pain-filled grunts, his hands clutching his upper left thigh as though in an attempt to keep it still.
"Can you feel your toes, Chief?" Jim asked, lightly touching Blair's sneaker clad foot.
Blair nodded though his eyes did not open. "Can now. Numb before."
"Good. That's good." Jim lightly squeezed his shoulder. "I'm going to go out to the truck, get my cell phone and call for help, all right?"
Blair's eyes opened at that. "No! Can't! Robert's out there!"
"Is he armed?"
Blair shook his head. "Don't think so." He reached up and grabbed Jim's hand again. "Wait! Yes! He had a gun. Take me with you. I can walk, if you help me."
Jim gave a grunt of frustration, torn between leaving Blair here in relative safety and keeping him at his side. "We'll have to splint your ankle first before you move." He glanced around and spotted a packing crate nearby. "There's an old crate here. I'll see if I can pry some wood loose to use as a splint."
"Poker," Blair said, slumping back down and curling into a ball. "Brought it with me."
The poker lay a few feet away and Jim was quickly able to pry a couple of pieces of wood loose. Removing his belt, he placed wood either side of Blair's ankle and secured it snugly. "You ready?" he asked.
Blair nodded and with Jim's help, managed to get to his feet. His face went even whiter and he swayed for a moment. Jim tightened his grip around Blair's waist and half-carried him to the foot of the stairs. Slowly, painfully, the two men ascended; Blair's breath coming in grunts of pain as each hop upward rattled his leg.
After carefully setting Blair down on the top step, Jim extended his hearing and listened. He heard a rapid heartbeat on the other side of the door. Taking a tighter grip of the poker and wishing he'd brought his gun, Jim reached out and turned the handle. The door wouldn't budge.
"Shit!" Jim put his shoulder against the door and tried to force it but it was barred from the other side. "Robert," he called. "This is Detective Jim Ellison. I'm telling you to open this door."
There was no reply, then Jim heard footsteps moving quickly away. A faint, pungent smell tickled his nose and he swore softly and turned back to Blair, levering the shaky man back up onto his feet. "He's blocked the door, Chief. Do you know if there's another way out?"
Blair shook his head. "No idea. What's up, Jim?"
"I smell smoke," Jim answered, "and I don't think it's from the fireplace."
"Oh God, you think he's torched the place?" Blair grew paler and swallowed convulsively. "What are we going to do, man?"
"Let's get back downstairs and I'll take a look around," Jim said. He helped Blair navigate the steps again and settled him back on the floor. "Some of these places have an external door." He patted Blair's shoulder and began to prowl the perimeter of the room. He'd almost given up when he felt a faint gust of cool air on his face.
The door was boarded up and looked as though it had been for years. Jim put the poker to use, acquiring splinters and tearing several fingernails before he was able to ease the boards away from the opening. Gripping the edges of the frame, he brought up one foot and gave the old door a mighty kick. The wood splintered easily and fell away, letting in a gust of cold air. Returning to Blair's side, he wrapped an arm around the other man's shoulders and lifted him to his feet. "I'm going to go through first," he said, "then when I'm sure the coast is clear, I'll lift you out."
Blair nodded, coughing as thick smoke began to permeate the cellar. Jim climbed through the opening and crouched low. They were at the rear of the cabin. A few feet away Jim could see a path that meandered through the forest. The sky was dark, though a full moon cast enough light for him to see without having to use his enhanced sight. He waited a moment, sending out his hearing but it was difficult to hear much over the crackle of the flames and the sound of crashing timber.
Turning back to Blair, Jim saw that the fire had begun to encroach on the cellar. The steps were already ablaze and Blair was coughing violently, tears streaming down his cheeks. Reaching back, Jim gripped Blair's arms and dragged him forward, muttering quiet apologies at his friend's cry of pain, when the makeshift splint caught on the splintered doorframe. "Sorry, Chief. Nearly there."
Finally, Blair was out. Jim grabbed him by his upper arms and dragged him toward the bushes, so he was far enough away from the danger of the fire and also partly concealed. Blair lay on the ground, shivering, clutching Jim's jacket around him with shaking hands, his coughing punctuated by gasps of pain. Jim rested his hand on Blair's shoulder and waited until he looked at him.
"I'm going to try to get to the truck," he said. "Get the phone and my gun."
Blair seemed about to protest, then nodded. Jim patted his shoulder and handed him the poker he'd brought out of the cellar. Blair took it without speaking and pushed himself up until he was sitting, his head drooping toward his heaving chest. "I'll be okay," he panted finally.
Jim gave his arm a quick squeeze and took off around the corner of the cabin. The interior was fully ablaze now, the flames a brilliant orange against the night sky and Jim could smell the chemical tang of accelerant in the smoke.
He cast out his hearing, though it was an effort to maintain his focus over the roar of the fire, and without Blair there to guide and ground him. He located Blair's rapid heartbeat and raspy breathing, then pinpointed a second heartbeat directly behind him. He turned too late. Something heavy caught him across the shoulder blades, sending shards of pain down his spine and he crumpled to the ground. He struggled back up to his knees and shook his head, trying to dispel the darkness from his vision. By the time he regained his senses, Robert was standing over him, a handgun gripped in one hand. He tossed aside the log he held in the other and shifted it to the gun.
"Don't move, Detective," Robert ordered though Jim detected a waver in his voice. "You shouldn't have come here."
Jim's back was throbbing fiercely, his lungs burning from the acrid smoke. "If we don't get this fire out, it's going to take over the forest," he croaked.
"Not my problem," Robert said. "Where's Blair?"
"Safe," Jim replied. He could hear the sound of something dragging and muffled grunts of pain coming from around the corner of the cabin, and cursed silently, knowing it was Blair. He forced his head up and stared at Robert, not wanting to give Blair away. 'Stay back, Chief,' he thought. 'Let me handle this.'
Robert's face was as pale as Blair's had been, sweat mixed with soot and streaked his face. "I didn't mean for this to happen," he whined. "It just got out of control. I can't go to jail. There was nothing here anyway." His face twisted into a grimace and he began sobbing noisily, the gun seemingly forgotten as the barrel drooped toward the ground. "I can't go to jail."
"Give me the gun," Jim ordered, reaching out one hand. He cursed when Robert appeared to regain control and the weapon came back up to train on him. Before it had completed its arc, Blair seemed to appear from nowhere. He raised up from the ground and with a hoarse scream, lashed out at his cousin with the poker.
Robert collapsed, the gun flying from his hand as he went down with a yelp of pain. Curling into a ball, he clutched his leg. "My ankle," he screamed. "My ankle's broken."
Blair had fallen back, the poker dropping from his hand as he dragged in shaky breaths. His eyes closed and tears ran from beneath the tightly clenched lids as he sobbed his distress. Jim grabbed the gun and hurried to Blair's side. "Blair?"
Blair's eyes opened and he gave Jim a shaky smile through his tears. "I'm okay," he whispered.
Jim turned at the shout from the roadway. Two men ran toward them, one held a phone in his hand.
"You fellas all right?" the man called. "Fire department's on its way."
"We need an ambulance and police," Jim called back. "Can you give me a hand to get these two away from the fire?" He directed the men to carry Robert, who still moaned loudly in pain. Standing, clenching his jaw at the pain that radiated down his back, Jim held out a hand to Blair. "Think you can make it, Chief? I don't think I'm up to carrying you."
"You hurt?" Blair asked.
"I'll be fine," Jim assured him.
Blair studied him carefully for a moment then nodded, apparently satisfied for now. He grasped Jim's hand and hauled himself upright, biting his lip as he did so. He swayed and Jim wrapped a supporting arm about his waist and tried to take as much of Blair's weight as he could. They were almost to the road when Blair became a dead weight, his body sagging against Jim.
Jim lowered him to the ground and sank down beside him. A fire truck approached, with its siren screaming but Jim could see there was nothing of the cabin left to save. Two police cars followed the fire engine with an ambulance close behind and suddenly the area was swarming with people. Robert sat, leaning against Jim's truck, his hands still clutching his leg, his sullen gaze fixed on the fight to extinguish the fire.
A soft moan came from Blair and Jim looked down to see his eyes flutter open. "Hey, Chief. How you doing?"
Blair grimaced. "Hurts," he muttered. His gaze swung to Robert and his face grew sorrowful. "Why, Robert?"
Robert started then turned an angry glare on his cousin. "You had no right," he spat. "It was supposed to be mine."
Blair looked sadly at the blackened ruins of the cabin. "Now we've lost everything," he whispered.
Jim shifted back when paramedics approached and readied Blair for the trip to the hospital. He grieved for Blair, knowing how much his partner had come to love his grandparents, and what it had meant to him to finally have the family he'd wanted all his life.
Blair's hand reached for his as the stretcher was pushed toward the ambulance. "I've still got you and Naomi," he said.
Jim squeezed his hand. "Always," he promised. "Give me a minute," he said to the paramedic. "I'm riding in with him."
Jim turned away and handed Robert over to a uniformed officer then climbed into the ambulance. Blair was already asleep, courtesy of the pain killers injected into his IV, his breathing slow and even, his face finally unlined by pain. Jim leaned back and closed his eyes, giving into his own exhaustion. He didn't hear the vehicle start up and didn't stir until they reached the hospital.
One week later:
Blair was slowly recovering from his ordeal in the cabin, at least physically. His broken ankle was in a cast, his bruises and grazes almost gone. Jim wondered though if his partner would ever fully recover from the emotional trauma caused by Robert's greed and cruelty. Blair put great store in family and friendship, had said as much to Jim on their return from Peru, when he'd turned down the opportunity of a lifetime to remain at his sentinel's side. Seated at Blair's bedside the first night in hospital, while Blair had slept off the effects of the anesthetic used while they set his broken bones, Jim had vowed to attempt to take the place of the family Blair had lost.
"Penny for them."
Jim broke from his reverie at Blair's mildly amused tone. "What?"
"A penny for your thoughts," Blair repeated.
Jim smiled and walked over to join his partner in the living room. "Just thinking about " He lowered himself to the couch with a barely perceptible wince. His back was still bruised from the blow from Robert, though he was keeping that information to himself. One Blessed Protector in the loft was enough. He should have known he couldn't fool his guide.
Blair's forehead creased into a frown. "Back still sore?"
"Nah " Jim sighed and gave in. "A little."
"I'll give you some more of that liniment later," Blair replied. He shifted cautiously on the couch, grinning appreciatively when Jim lifted his broken leg and positioned it on his lap. "You were saying?"
"You haven't talked about what happened at the cabin yet," Jim began. "If you need to I mean, if you'd rather talk to a counselor "
Blair waved the suggestion away. "I don't need a counselor, I've got you, but I'm still processing it all, man. I just can't believe anyone could be so "
"Cruel?" Jim supplied.
"Heartless, unfeeling, greedy," Blair continued. "Family and friends are sacred, Jim. I'll let you know when I'm ready to talk."
"I'll be here. Oh, hey, something was dropped off at the station for you today."
"Yeah." Jim dug into his breast pocket and pulled a small item wrapped in tissue paper from within. He dropped it into Blair's hand. "The firefighters found it in the ruins. It's about all they could salvage, I'm afraid."
Blair unwrapped the paper and stared down at the pocket watch that was revealed. Smiling, he closed his fingers tightly around it. "Thanks. This means a lot."
"Are you sure you want me to stay? I mean, I could go to Simon's for a while."
Blair leaned forward precariously to light the candles, then straightened and smiled at Jim. He nodded. "I'd really like you to be here if you want. I mean, if you feel uncomfortable, that's cool. I understand."
"Not at all. I'd like to be here with you. Your grandparents were good people."
Blair smiled. "They liked you too."
"Do you know what's going to happen with your grandparents' house?" Jim asked.
Blair became suddenly animated. "I had a call from Aunt Helen just before you got home. Poor thing, she's so worried about Robert, and upset over what happened." He shook his head. "They had no idea how deep he'd gotten with his gambling debts. Anyway, my grandma helped run a charity that raises money to support homeless kids who want to go to college. Their aim is to buy housing that can be turned into halfway houses for homeless teens. Robert's agreed to sign the house over to Aunt Helen for that purpose."
"That's great news, Chief. I'm sorry the cabin was so badly damaged."
"There'll be some insurance," Blair said philosophically. "It'll pay for some of my school stuff, maybe a holiday in the mountains next summer. We could rent a place."
"Just let me know when." Jim gently swatted Blair's head. "Next time you don't leave home without me."
"Deal." Blair handed Jim a sheet of paper on which was printed the English translation of the mourner's prayer. Leaning back, Blair closed his eyes and in a melodic, rich tenor began the first prayer.
"Yeetgadal v' yeetkadash sh'mey rabbah Amein
May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified Amen.
B'almah dee v'rah kheer'utey
in the world that He created as He willed.
v' yamleekh malkhutei,b'chahyeykhohn, uv' yohmeykhohn,
May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days,
uv'chahyei d'chohl beyt yisrael,
and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel,
ba'agalah u'veez'man kareev, Amein.
swiftly and soon. Amen.
Amein. Y'hey sh'met rabbah m'varach l'alam u'l'almey almahyah
Amen. May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.
Y'hey sh'met rabbah m'varach l'alam u'l'almey almahyah.
May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.
Yeet'barakh, v' yeesh'tabach, v' yeetpa'ar, v' yeetrohmam, v' yeet'nasei,
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled,
v' yeet'hadar, v' yeet'aleh, v' yeet'halal sh'mey d'kudshah b'reekh hoo
mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One, Blessed is He
Blessed is He
L'eylah meen kohl beerkhatah v'sheeratah,
beyond any blessing and song,
toosh'b'chatah v'nechematah, da'ameeran b'al'mah, Amein
praise and consolation that are uttered in the world. Amen.
Y'hei shlamah rabbah meen sh'mahyah,v'chahyeem
May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life
aleynu v'al kohl yisrael, v'eemru: Amein
upon us and upon all Israel. Amen.
Oseh shalom beem'roh'mahv, hoo ya'aseh shalom,
He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace,
aleynu v'al kohl yisrael v'eemru: Amein
upon us and upon all Israel. Amen.
Blair opened his eyes and stared for a long moment into the flickering candle light, a solitary tear glistening on his cheek. Finally, he leaned forward and blew out the flame, and reaching out his hand, covered Jim's. "Thanks, Jim, for being here."
September 9th 2003
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