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EMAIL: Lyn

Many thanks to Annie as always for the beta. Previously published in Chinook 3.

Jim staggered into the camping area and collapsed to his knees beside the truck. He stayed there for a moment, his head hanging, his chest heaving, his leg muscles burning from his enforced run. Rivulets of sweat ran from his brow, stinging his eyes, and he swiped at them with a filthy hand.

Sudden panicked realization had him scrabbling in his jacket pocket for his keys. Shit! Where were they? Surely he hadn't made it this far without them. He sagged against the side of the truck with relief when his fingers touched metal, and he dragged the keys from his pocket, clenching them tightly in a shaking fist.

Blackness threatened to drag him into oblivion, and for a second, he almost surrendered to it, slumping onto his butt on the ground. The cold metal of the truck felt good against his overheated skin, and he turned his cheek to rest against the door, allowing the chill to both soothe and revive him.

Reaching for the canteen clipped to his belt, he sipped the final dregs of water slowly, but nausea still surged, his stomach rebelling against the liquid. He leaned forward and retched, then collapsed back, attempting to catch his breath.

His eyes took in the dirt road that led away from the campsite, no aid visible even to sentinel sight, and he cursed again. Dragging himself up, he fumbled for several anxious minutes to get the key into the lock, and then he yanked the truck door open and all but fell onto the front seat. His cell phone lay on the passenger side, useless, out of range. Starting the ignition, Jim clenched his hands on the steering wheel, unheeding of the pain from his abraded, bleeding hands. His fault! What the hell had he been thinking?

Blair had expressed some concern at the remoteness of the site when they'd first arrived the night before; but Jim, relaxed for the first time in a long while, after weeks of running on fumes, had dismissed the notion. Blair, with his usual solicitude toward Jim's hyper-senses, had immediately agreed.

After the nightmare weekend spent rescuing Simon from Dawson Quinn's clutches, which had ended with Blair shot, and all of them battered and bruised, Jim had jumped at Simon's suggestion that they take a well-deserved weekend off once Blair had fully recovered.

This time it had been Jim who had gotten them into the predicament they were in now.

One Day Earlier:

Blair looked around the secluded camping area as Jim brought the truck to a halt. "Umm, a little secluded, isn't it?"

Jim shrugged. "I like remote, Chief. I need the solitude."

Blair nodded sagely as he opened his door and climbed out of the truck. "I get that, man." He pulled his backpack from the foot well of the cab, then turned to look at their surroundings. "Actually, it's pretty nice. You said there's a river nearby?"

Jim got out of the truck and came around to stand beside his partner, wrapping a companionable arm about his shoulders. "That way," he said, pointing just off to the right. "I can hear the fish jumping from here."

Blair's eyes widened. "You can?"

Jim grinned. "Not really, but you get my drift."

Blair gave him a playful shove. "Right." He rubbed his hands together and shivered a little. "So, what first? We've got to have a fire, man. It's getting cold already."

"Thin-skinned, that's what you are, Chief." Jim turned to the bed of the truck and started hauling out tent, sleeping bags and other camping essentials, too contented to bother ducking the expected swat to his head.

"Unlike some lucky people, I can't dial down my sense of touch," Blair grumbled good-naturedly, grabbing hold of the tent and hauling it across the ground.

"Jealous, Sandburg?"

"No, just realistic," Blair replied with a grin.

And so it went; cheerful, relaxing banter exchanged while they set up their campsite, built a fire and then took a walk down to the river. Jim spotted the hill in the distance and made a note to climb to the top the following day, figuring the scene from above would be spectacular. Blair shuddered theatrically at the mention of heights, as Jim knew he would, and mentioned he had some entries to make in his journal and tomorrow was shaping up to be a good day to do that. Jim called him a spineless goober. Blair, apparently uncharacteristically at a loss for a smart rejoinder, had reverted to his childhood and stuck out his tongue. It should have been Jim's first clue, but, relaxed for the first time in weeks, he missed it.

They cooked a meal of eggs and bacon with bread toasted over the fire, brewed coffee, then sat and watched the stars come out. The night was cold but clear. Blair retired early, and Jim set about cleaning up the campsite before crawling into the tent and sliding into his sleeping bag next to his snoring partner. He was asleep in minutes.

~o0o~

"Are you sure about this, Jim?" Blair asked, his eyes scanning the hillside dubiously. "It looks pretty steep."

Jim paused in his stretching exercises and grinned. "This is an easy climb, Sandburg. A pre-schooler could climb it."

Blair didn't feel convinced. He hadn't planned on accompanying Jim at all this morning, but when the day dawned clear and sunny, without a cloud in the sky, he couldn't resist. Better to enjoy the outdoors while the weather was good, rather than stay cooped up at the campsite working on his journals and planning more research for his dissertation. Besides, he decided, out here in the great outdoors, there were opportunities for some really good tests on Jim's senses, if he could just figure out how to get Jim to do them without realizing he was.

Still… he'd never been one for heights. He had no problems with flying, either in planes, though he had no plans to jump out of another one any time soon, or helicopters, except for that last time when he'd dangled from the bottom of one. He couldn't help an involuntary shudder at that particular memory. But there was just something nerve-wrackingly terrifying about climbing up a cliff,
Jim could call it a hill if he wanted, or standing on a precipice that dropped away beneath your feet.

Okay, fine, he'd climbed that tree for Jim the very first day they'd met, even though he'd promised himself, after falling out of Mrs. Danbush's tree when he was seven, that he would never climb another one. That had been different, though. He could hardly tell his newly acquired Holy Grail that he was scared of heights, and he'd figured out early on, that, if he couldn't cut it riding with Jim, his dissertation would become just a fond memory.

"Having second thoughts, Chief?" Jim's voice, sounding slightly mocking, broke into his musings.

Blair swallowed, then shook his head resolutely, knowing deep down that he was going to regret his next words. "Nope," he said gamely, "let's do it. Whoever gets to the top last has to cook dinner and do the dishes."

"Let's not go too crazy, Chief," Jim replied, his serious-lecture face in place, "It's not a race, just a leisurely hike. Your leg's still healing -"

"Is healed," Blair broke in. "Don't pretend you didn't listen in when the doctor checked it out last week."

Jim had the grace to look a little embarrassed. "Just take it slowly, all right? I don't feel like carrying your sorry ass back to camp."

Blair rolled his eyes. "As if."

Jim immediately turned toward the hill, obviously as eager to get going as Blair was to hightail it back to camp.

~o0o~

It was actually pretty fun, Blair decided as he trudged up the narrow, well-worn path. Jim was a fair way ahead of him already, having decided to jog all the way up. Blair's thigh was already beginning to ache rather badly, but he wasn't about to call for a rest. Jim looked as focused and determined as he did whenever he set himself a task, and Blair had to admit the "spineless goober" remark made the night they'd chased after Dawson Quinn still bothered him somewhat, as the repeat of the comment the previous night had shown. He knew Jim had meant nothing by it, but he'd been having some doubts before then about whether he was slowing Jim down and not performing his duty as Jim's backup.
It might have been meant as a gentle joke that night, but Blair had pretty much lived up to the jibe by screaming like a banshee when he'd been choppered out to the hospital. He'd actually passed out en route, though he'd never shared that information with Jim, and had pretty much managed to convince himself that the cause had been loss of blood, not fear.

Deep down though, he knew he wasn't fooling himself. It was fine to be able to pull solutions for Jim's senses out of a hat, but when Jim needed him to be there physically, it always seemed that he wasn't up to the job.

Still, he was determined not to quit, though he acceded to the pain in his leg by taking the ascent at a moderately fast walk. He had to keep his eyes down, scanning the rough path for loose pebbles. Twice he skidded and almost lost his balance. Both times, Jim had pulled up and waited to be certain Blair was okay.

A shower of dust sprayed his face just as he looked up to check on Jim's progress, and he coughed and wiped at his watering eyes.

"Sorry, Chief," Jim called down to him. "Keep to the far side, all right? The rock here's a little crumbly."

"You all right?" Blair called out, suddenly nervous about his partner's own safety.

"Fine," came the detached voice from above.

They had climbed steadily for the better part of a half-hour and Blair was beginning to get tired. He slowed to a walk and watched as Jim surged up the final part of the path and crested the top. Blair gave a sigh of relief and increased his movements upward.

It was spectacular, even from here. Blair took a quick moment to pause and catch his breath and take in the breath-taking scenery… then committed his biggest mistake. He looked down to see the narrow path dropping away beneath him, the ground a stomach-churning distance away. He froze.

"Sandburg? Blair, what's wrong?" Jim's voice floated down to him.
Too far away.

Blair felt sweat trickling down his face, tickling, but he couldn't seem to lift his hand to wipe it away. He shook his head, suddenly speechless.

"Blair, look at me!" Jim commanded, but he couldn't drag his panicked gaze away from the ground so far below. "Blair!" Jim's order was more forceful. "Look at me!"

Slowly Blair managed to force his eyes upward and saw Jim's worried face above.

"It's not far to go, Chief," Jim urged. "You'll be topside in just a few minutes."

Blair nodded, then wished he hadn't as a wave of dizziness gripped him. He staggered, and a white-hot shaft of pain speared through his left thigh. His feet shot out from beneath him, sliding on loose shale. "Oh God!"

His arms windmilled as he attempted to throw his body back away from the forward momentum of his out-of-control fall.

He landed hard on his back, the breath forced out of him, and then he was sliding in a rapid free-fall, his body tossed about like a sheaf of wheat on the wind, impacting the unforgiving ground before being thrown once more into the air. A scream of fear and pain was torn from his throat, and he heard Jim's panicked cry echo his own a split second before his head slammed into the ground once more and blackness descended.

~o0o~

Pain battered at him, pressing down on him and stealing his breath. He groaned and tried to shift away from the confining hands that held him immobile.

"Easy, Chief. Try to lay still."

His gritty eyelids fought to open and finally succeeded. He blinked slowly, his dull, confused gaze taking in the blurred, worried face of his partner. "Jim," he rasped. "Wha… happened?"

"You fell," Jim replied brusquely. "I need you to stay still. All right?"

The memory of his nightmare tumble down the hill came back in vivid detail, and Blair gasped and tried once more to push away Jim's hands. "Don't," he implored. "You're hurting me."

Jim shook his head. "Your leg is broken, Blair. I need you to stay completely still. I can't tell what internal damage you might have."

"Hurts," Blair whispered.

"I know."

Blair felt something tighten around his legs, and he winced at the sharp agony that sheared through them.

"Sorry," Jim said. His face was white and dirty, and there was a deep gash on his forehead. "I've immobilized the fracture by splinting your legs together and covered the wound to try to stave off infection."

"Wound?"

Jim nodded. "It's a compound fracture. The broken bone was pushed through the flesh."

Blair felt a surge of nausea at the words, and as he started to heave, he was rolled gently to his side. He could feel himself beginning to shake as his stomach contracted over and over, and by the time he was done and Jim had turned him carefully onto his back, he was weak and trembling. He shivered. "Cold," he whispered.

Something heavy descended upon him, and he huddled gratefully into its meager warmth. Jim gave his shoulder a pat, then stood, his eyes casting about their surroundings. "I'll be as fast as I can. Shouldn't be more than a couple of hours."

It took a moment for Blair's confused brain to take in Jim's meaning, then he surged up, grabbing hold of Jim's pants leg, a cry of pain forcing its way past his gritted teeth. "No! Don't leave me here!"

Jim squatted back down and gently eased Blair back. He rested his hand on Blair's chest and began a soothing stroke. "I have to go for help, Chief. We're a ways from civilization, but it won't take me long to get back to the truck -"

"I'll come with you," Blair babbled, his fear of being left alone here overriding his common sense. He tried to struggle up against Jim's constraining hands. "I can walk… hop. I can make it."

Jim shook his head. "No, you can't. Your right leg's too badly broken to risk moving you without medical help, and I can feel some heat in your left thigh. Hopefully, you've just torn some muscles, but I won't take the risk of making it worse."

"Get the truck then," Blair suggested. His teeth were beginning to chatter, striking painfully against each other. "You c… can t… take me in… in the truck."

Again Jim refused, looking away from the plea in Blair's eyes. "You know how rough the road was that we came in on." He cupped Blair's cheek in one hand. "I promise I'll be back before you know it."

He stood again, and this time Blair let him go, recognizing the sense of Jim's plan. Jim reached into the small backpack on the ground and pulled a water bottle from within. "I'll leave this with you, but I want you to only take small sips when you're really thirsty, all right? From the looks of that leg, you're going to need surgery."

Blair nodded. He closed his eyes, suddenly ashamed of the tear that overflowed and ran down his cheek. A callused thumb brushed it away. "Sorry," Blair whispered.

"What for?" Jim asked, and the gentleness in his tone almost made Blair lose it entirely. "If anyone should be sorry, it's me. I shouldn't have goaded you into coming with me."

"Wanted to prove I could do it," Blair replied. "Stupid."

"Plenty of time for recriminations later, Chief. You hang in there. I'll be back before you know it."

~o0o~

Blair wasn't sure how long he'd been awake this time. He'd drifted in and out, dozing fitfully and waking when his shudders of cold sent shards of burning agony through his leg. The jacket that lay over him didn't feel nearly as warm as it had when Jim had first laid it over him.

He looked up at the sky. It appeared to be getting darker. Night-time already? Where was Jim then? He should have been back by now. Blair jumped as a cold raindrop splattered onto his face, followed in rapid succession by more. The sprinkle became a steady downpour, and in moments, Blair was soaked to the skin.

Trying to wipe the water from his eyes, Blair looked around frantically. A small outcrop of trees sat at the base of the hill not far from where he lay. The top layers of branches were bowed over, providing a leafy cave. If he could drag himself over there…

Pushing himself up slowly to rest on his elbows, Blair panted through the inevitable pain the movement caused, then carefully began to haul his body back toward his haven. A low growl came from in front of him and he froze.

Oh shit!

~o0o~

The heavens opened with a fierce downpour just as Jim pulled his truck to a sliding halt in front of the tiny Sheriff's office in Walker Springs. He threw himself from the cab, leaving the engine running, and hurried inside.

A woman was seated at the front desk, her ample breasts straining the material of her uniform shirt. Wiping away the crumbs from her sandwich, she frowned at Jim. "Can I help you, sir?"

"My friend had an accident. Fell while we were out hiking. He has a compound fracture of his right leg." He shook his head, feeling his legs beginning to tremble. "Don't know about internal injuries."

The deputy was immediately all business. Standing, she hurried around the desk and guided Jim into a chair despite his protests that he was fine. "Sit down before you fall down," she ordered in a no-nonsense voice. "Where did your friend fall?"

"We're camped about ten miles south of town near the river. There's a hill -"

She nodded and headed back to her desk. "Swallow Rise. Kids around here ride their trail bikes up it. Their tires have eroded the path pretty badly. We've been trying to get the area sign-posted as hazardous. Your friend's not the first one to get hurt there. I'll have to radio for a rescue chopper. We don't even have a hospital here and the doctor's out at Mandy Kelly's place, delivering her baby."

"Okay."

Jim waited while she put in the call, then radioed for a deputy to come and collect Jim and take him back to where he'd left Blair. Standing, he walked over to the windows and stared out at the rain-lashed vista. He absently accepted a cup of coffee and sipped on it, questioning his decision to leave Blair behind. All he had was Jim's jacket to keep him warm, but he'd already been succumbing to shock when Jim had left.

Of all the stupid ideas, Jim berated himself once more. He should have listened to Blair, camped closer to town and not egged his partner into accompanying him on the climb.

~o0o~

"Shoo!" Blair said the command with as much authority in his voice as he could, but the mangy wild dog simply raised its hackles, bared its teeth and took a step closer.

Blair followed suit, dragging himself back, oblivious to the cold and rain or the agony of his leg, in the face of this new threat. The dog let out a loud yip suddenly and pounced forward. Blair threw himself back, screaming as the broken bones in his leg grated against each other. Desperately, he rolled to his side and threw his arms over his head in a bid to protect himself from attack. He could smell the dog's rancid breath, feel its heat against his neck as it pushed at him, its teeth grazing his cheek.

Blair tried to calm his gasping breath, tried to control the spasms that caused his leg to jerk. The animal stilled, then sniffed at the jacket Blair had managed to keep wrapped around his shoulders.

Blair jumped as the dog tore at Jim's jacket pocket, then ripped it away and he remembered the energy bar Jim had stashed in there earlier that morning.

"Good dog," he whispered. "Go away, huh?"

The dog growled once more, and Blair fought to keep entirely still. Finally the weight was off his back, and he slowly turned his head to check on the animal's whereabouts.

It had trotted several feet away and now stood with its back to him, ravenously devouring the energy bar and Jim's jacket pocket. Blair knew he didn't have a lot of time. Gritting his teeth to prevent crying out at the pain it caused him, he dragged himself backward as fast as he could toward his shelter. He was shaking uncontrollably by the time he made it. Sweat dripped from his face, stinging the grazes on his forehead and cheek, caused by both the fall and the dog. His hands shook uncontrollably as he reached out and dragged the branches closer together, in an attempt to shield him from the keen eyes of the animal.

Leaning back against the tree trunk behind him, Blair's head slumped forward onto his chest in absolute exhaustion. Rain ran in rivulets down his face from his sopping wet hair, and he shivered violently from the cold of his saturated clothing, causing a fiery, throbbing agony to erupt in his leg. He tried to stay conscious, tried to hear past the downpour shaking his tree shelter for an indication that the dog was returning; hoping desperately to hear Jim's voice; but with his energy depleted from shock, pain and cold, he lost the fight and sank into oblivion.

~o0o~

Jim wiped the rain from his face and peered into the gathering darkness. "Sandburg! Blair!" he shouted, trying to make himself heard over the driving rain and wind.

He'd left the Sheriff's office as soon as he knew help was on the way, over the protests of the deputy on duty. Fear and concern for Blair's safety merged with guilt at having had to leave his partner alone for even a few hours.

He should have ensured Blair was under cover before he left, but a check of the sky had showed no inkling of the rainstorm, and he'd been hesitant to move the injured man, for fear of causing further damage. The thought of Blair lying exposed to the rain and wind, already in shock from his injuries, made him oblivious to the deputy's plea that he wait for help to arrive.

He shook his head firmly. "I need to get back to him. Does this deputy know the location?"

The woman nodded. "He'll be here in twenty minutes -"

"Radio him. Tell him to meet me there."

"Sir -"

Jim was already heading for the door. "I'll meet him there."

Jim hurried back to the truck and drove as fast as he safely could in the approaching storm to where he'd left Blair.

Only now there was no sign of the injured man. The thought crossed Jim's mind, that perhaps someone had come across Blair and had taken him into town. But what if they hadn't? The rain had turned the ground into a muddy slush that showed no tracks, no footprints to indicate where Blair could be. Carefully, Jim opened up his hearing, attempting to put his guide's training into practice and hear past the raging storm in search of Blair's heartbeat.

A deafening crack of thunder bellowed overhead, and Jim cringed, dropping to one knee in the mud, hastily dialing back his hearing for just a moment. He was certain he'd heard something. Cautiously, he extended his hearing once more, wincing as he tried to ignore the ringing in his ears.

There!

Squinting through the raindrops clumping his eyelashes together, Jim dialed up his sight and saw a sneaker-clad foot peeking out from an overhang of tree branches at the foot of the mammoth hill.

Relief made his chest tight as he hurried forward and drew aside the curtain of leaves that hid his partner. He dropped to his knees at Blair's side, taking one cold hand in his and searching for the pulse at Blair's wrist.

Alive. Blair was alive. He was unconscious and hypothermic, soaked to the skin, but shivering, at least. Jim checked the wound on Blair's right leg, concerned to see a large bloodstain on the other man's jeans. Moving had aggravated the injury, though a quick check showed that Jim's makeshift splint was still in place. Over the sound of the storm receding once more, Jim could hear the telltale sound of an approaching helicopter. Sagging with relief, he stripped off his spare jacket and draped it over Blair's chest. "Hang in there, Chief," he said, as much for his own peace of mind as Blair's. "Help's on the way."

He reached up and cupped Blair's chin, carefully tipping his head back to rest against the tree trunk behind him. Blair's eyes dragged open at the movement, and he gazed blearily at Jim, although there appeared to be no awareness in his gaze.

Jim smiled at him and squeezed his hand. "Hang in there, buddy. We'll have you out of here in no time."

Understanding seemed to come to Blair, and he gasped, fighting to sit up, straining against Jim's hand as the detective tried to hold him still.

"Easy, easy," Jim soothed. "It's me, Jim."

"Dog!" Blair whispered urgently. His eyes darted around the tiny shelter. "Tore your jacket. Wh - where is it?"

Jim touched a hand to the oozing graze on Blair's face, swallowing dryly when he realized just what his partner had gone through alone. "Jesus, Chief, I'm sorry. I got back as fast as I could."

Blair's eyes had drifted closed again, his energy depleted. "S'okay," he said softly. "Not your fault."

Behind him, Jim heard the running footsteps of several people, and he backed out of the shelter to wave the emergency team in. Standing back, he absently accepted a blanket from a worried-looking deputy, his attention focused completely on his partner. It was only when they had Blair strapped into the stretcher, ready for transport that the thought came to him. The last time Blair had been choppered out when injured, he'd totally lost it. Leaning down, he grasped Blair's hand and squeezed it gently. "You still with us, Chief?"

Blair's eyes opened, and he stared at Jim for a moment as though trying to process the sentinel's words. "Still here," he slurred.

"Listen, buddy, they're going to chopper you to the hospital, okay?"

Blair's eyes widened, and the slightly dazed expression turned to one of alarm. He reached up with his IV-fettered hand and grasped hold of Jim's shirt with a weak grip. "No!"

Carefully, Jim disentangled Blair's fingers from the sodden cloth and tucked his hand back under the blanket. "There's no other way, Blair. I know you're scared, but -"

"It's fine." Blair's eyes closed for a moment, and when he opened them, he stared at a point just over Jim's shoulder, his face drawn with exhaustion and pain, resolve and stoicism tensing his pale features. "I'll - I'll be okay."

"But I'm coming with you this time," Jim finished. He smiled at the confusion on Blair's face. "And this time, we're gonna be inside the chopper."

Blair's gaze slid over to study his face, searching perhaps for some hint of obfuscation. "Really?"

"Really."

Blair's face relaxed as the pain-killing drug injected into his IV took hold. His eyelids fluttered a couple of times, then he let out a slow, deep breath and slept. His hand, though, had now wrapped itself around Jim's, and when the medics came to lift the stretcher, he did not relinquish his hold.

Jim grinned at the lead paramedic. "Looks like I'm coming along for the ride."

The paramedic nodded. "Fine by me, Detective. Let's move it."

~o0o~

"Man, it's good to be home!" Blair propped his crutches by the front door and hobbled into the apartment, heading straight for the couch, where he sank down in relief. He stared at the cast on his leg and grimaced. Green. Who the heck had decided on a green cast? He didn't remember being asked what colour plaster he wanted, but then again, he'd been doped to the gills by the time they'd arrived at the hospital. White would have been just fine… or blue, to match his eyes. He looked up, realizing that Jim had yet to say a word. "Something wrong?" he asked.

Jim was standing in front of the balcony doors. He didn't turn around when he replied. "I'm sorry."

Blair was puzzled by the remark. "Sorry? What for?"

Jim did turn then. "For getting you hurt. For leaving you there alone, in that rainstorm and with that dog…" His voice trailed off and he glanced down at the floor.

"Slow down a minute." Blair reached up and touched the scabbed-over graze on his face. "You did everything right," he said.

He stood and hobbled over to where Jim stood, ignoring the disapproving look on his partner's face.

"You're supposed to use the crutches," Jim said anyway.

"Why'd they put that little walking heel on it then?" Blair replied doggedly, hoping to get Jim out of his guilt funk.

Jim rolled his eyes. "The doctor said you can walk on it after a week."

Blair reached out and touched Jim's arm. "I'm the one who should be apologizing," he said.

Jim raised an eyebrow. "You gonna tell me you fell down that hill on purpose?"

"No, but I am going to confess something to you." Blair turned and mirrored Jim's previous stance, staring out at the horizon beyond the balcony. "The only reason I climbed that stupid hill was because I was too embarrassed to tell you I was afraid." He relaxed a little as he felt Jim's hand come to rest on his shoulder and shifted closer to lean against Jim's body. "After what happened when we went after Quinn and Simon -"

"I was joking when I said you were a spineless goober," Jim protested.

"I know that, but when they winched me up to the chopper and I was screaming at you to get me down, it seemed like that was exactly what I was. A wimp who just slows you down and gets into trouble that you have to get me out of." He looked up at Jim solemnly. "You should have been chasing Quinn, but instead you had to backtrack to check on me. Just like when we went to Peru to find Simon and Daryl… I lied to you about knowing how to skydive. If I'd been hurt, how would you have chosen what to do? Stay with me or go after Simon?"

"But you didn't get hurt," Jim replied softly. He squeezed Blair's shoulder. "Any time I've needed you, you've been there, giving up your time, getting hauled over the coals for absenteeism from your classes, dragging your feet writing your dissertation, and getting hurt in order to help your friends. That's bravery, Sandburg. Laying at the foot of that hill alone, waiting for me to come back, that was brave. Hell, climbing that hill in the first place, overcoming your fears, that's the bravest thing of all." He turned Blair to face him, supporting him when Blair wobbled a little. "Standing up to Simon whenever he reminds you you're not a cop, that's brave. Dumb but brave." He grinned. "Putting up with me, even when I yell at you, when I blame you for these senses of mine not working the way they should, when I call you a spineless goober - for that, you deserve a medal."

A small smile upturned the corners of Blair's mouth. "Thanks," he said softly.

Jim turned Blair back to face the balcony doors and gave him a gentle push. "Go on out. I'll grab us a couple beers. I think I've got a footstool somewhere you can prop your leg up on."

Blair opened the doors to the balcony and stepped out. The sun was warm, and a cool breeze wafted over his face.

"I've got next weekend off," Jim said as he came out. He handed a beer to Blair and set a stool in front of one of the chairs. He waited until Blair sat, then gently lifted his plastered leg and rested it on top of the stool.

"I was thinking," he continued, pulling a woollen sock from his pocket and stretching it over Blair's bare toes, pulling it up to his ankle and giving Blair's foot a satisfied pat, "that we could go -"

"Not camping," Blair interrupted.

Jim gave him a stern glare that Blair knew was mostly for effect. "To the park," he finished. He stood and took a sip of his beer. "The weather's going to be nice. We could take some food, a book or two…"

"Do some tests," Blair ventured casually.

"Don't push it, Darwin," Jim warned.

Blair looked up, shielding the sun from his eyes with one hand to see Jim was smiling. He nodded. "Sure, sounds good. A picnic in the park. Nice place, the park. Flat, no hills…"

The End

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