"Jim," he said patiently. Again. "We're lost."
"We are not lost, Sandburg," the detective ground out. Again. Not quite as patiently.
"I really think we should've turned left back there," the anthropology student said. Silence met his statement. "We gonna make it back in time for Christmas?" he asked innocently.
"Christmas is still three days away," Ellison reminded him dryly, throwing a glance in his direction.
The gleam of triumph was unmistakable in the younger man's eyes. "Exactly."
"Sandburg " It was a warning.
"We could ask directions," the unrepentant man suggested helpfully.
"If we were lost, we'd ask directions."
"But we're not lost." It wasn't really a statement but he didn't quite make it a question either.
"No, Sandburg. We're not lost." Ellison stared straight ahead, resolutely keeping his eyes on the road.
Sandburg sighed, trying not to feel so smug. He failed miserably and found himself blissfully wondering how much more 'not lost' they were going to get before his ex-army ranger, detective, sentinel partner admitted he didn't know where they were.
Well, the roads were clear and they had plenty of time, no place they really had to be, so why not? If they didn't get that witness tracked down and questioned today, they always had tomorrow, right? Besides, after the ribbing Ellison'd given him a few months back for them getting lost on their way to a camping trip, he was ready for a little payback time. Maybe a few Christmas carols would help, he thought, casting a sideways look at his partner. The younger man almost snickered out loud. Well, then again, maybe not. He settled back to wait. At least the scenery was nice, the snow covered trees glittering in the afternoon sunlight. More miles passed and he was totally unaware when he started an almost whispered hum of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas.'
Rounding a bend in the winding road a breathtaking view spread out before them in the form of a high mountain lake, the sparkling blue water held back by an old earthen dam. The road divided, the right fork crossing over the dam to a tiny village nestled against the curve of the mountain; curling tendrils of pale smoke could be seen rising from the chimneys of most of the two dozen or so houses. The left fork of the road continued on, disappearing into the forest of evergreens. A sudden gust of wind sent a flurry of snow drifting from the trees, causing the water to shimmer like rubies in the burnished light.
"Oh, wow," Sandburg breathed softly.
Jim Ellison slowed the truck as he took in the small valley before them. Unconsciously he took a deep breath, relishing the smell of evergreens that penetrated even the rolled up truck windows. "It looks like one of those sappy Christmas cards I remember when I was a kid," he said, but there was nothing sappy about his voice. It was almost wistful. "The kind of place you always wished you lived but knew, deep down inside, that it didn't really exist. No matter how much you wanted it to."
"Yeah, you almost expect to see a horse drawn sleigh," Sandburg agreed.
Ellison looked at his friend with a grin. "What? No reindeer?" he teased.
"Naw, not anywhere near cold enough here," the younger man grinned back. "And the North Pole doesn't have this many trees."
Ellison's left eyebrow shot up. "Know that for a fact, do you?"
Sandburg nodded knowingly. "Oh, yeah." He held up his first two fingers, the middle crossed over the first. "Me and Santa? Like this, man," he said waving the crossed fingers. "We are tight," he said firmly.
"Yeah, I always did think your ears were just a little too pointy," Ellison informed him with a smirk, as he accelerated again.
"Laugh it up, Jim," Sandburg warned. "Santa has a long memory. You don't even want to get on his bad side. Just wait and see what you get in your stocking."
"I know what I'd like to get in my stocking," he muttered.
"What?" Sandburg looked up in surprise, not sure he'd heard correctly.
"Nothing, Chief," Ellison denied with a satisfied smirk.
Sandburg eyed his friend in suspicion but catching sight of a convenience store further down the road beside the lake, he decided to take pity on his uncharacteristically directionally challenged partner. "You mind stopping up there? I could stand to take a leak."
With a loud, heavy sigh of exaggerated patience, Ellison pulled obediently into the parking lot, waiting while his partner disappeared into the store. He tensed when he saw the younger man slip, his hand automatically reaching for the door handle, then he relaxed again when Sandburg caught his balance, waving back over his shoulder at the truck without ever looking back. Ellison grinned at Sandburg's certainty that he'd be watching. Within minutes the younger man had reappeared crunching through the snow carrying two covered disposable cups. Steam could be seen rising from the small openings in the tops. There was a decided bounce to his walk now in spite of the slippery sidewalk.
The Sentinel's nostrils quivered in delightful anticipation as his friend opened the door and the first smell reached him. "Hot chocolate?" he said, taking the cup being offered to him.
"Well, they had coffee but somehow it just seemed more like a hot chocolate kind of an afternoon," Sandburg said as he climbed into the truck. "I had her put those little marshmallows in yours."
"Ahhh, Chief," the big man said in contentment as he pulled the lid from his cup. "You do know the way to my heart."
"I'm trying." The words came out in a soft exhalation of air as Sandburg blew across his cup to cool the steaming liquid.
"Nothing, Jim," Sandburg said, innocently repeating his friend's earlier denial.
Ellison glared at his roommate in irritation, his left eyebrow lifted in doubt, unsure of his partner's meaning.
Sandburg looked up with a small smile, and watched in satisfaction as Ellison's eyes widened in silent comprehension. He watched the rapid beat of the pulse in Ellison's neck as the Sentinel fumbled for the ignition and he felt his own heartbeat match it, knowing it would be heard. He waited until Ellison had restarted the truck and put it into reverse before adding casually, "The turnoff is about twelve miles back. The guy said it was in the middle of a curve and was hard to see. Watch for the small sign with the red fish on it."
Ellison turned the truck back the direction they'd come from. "You ass," he said fondly. Then he gave his partner a smirky grin. "I wasn't lost," he insisted.
"I know, Jim," his partner agreed, with a satisfied sigh. "I know. Neither one of us was. It's just taken us a while to get pointed in the right direction."