1. For Julie by MisElaineous
  2. The Sandburg Zone by Brillig
  3. The Wheel Deal by Laurie
  4. Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut by Red Soprano
  5. Trick, Not Treats by Cheyenne
  6. A Time to Kill by Sammi



From: "ELAINE & CLIFF" <MisElaineous@oakharbor.net>

For Julie from list sib MisElaineous

Blair moved warily about the small section of the academy gym. Other cadets ringed about the large mats marking the area for today's round of defensive tactics. Sgt. Ortego watched from his usual perch on the bleachers right behind the opponents. Blair was partnered today with Jerry McAllister, who had at least 5 inches and a good 50 pounds on Sandburg. McAllister moved forward and Blair found himself in a headlock with McAllister trying to maneuver him down on the mat. McAllister may have been bigger but his opponent was agile and quick and more than determined to mimic the old story of David & Goliath. He slipped from the larger man's grasp and shoved him away. The other cadets watching quickly parted as Jerry stumbled backward, getting out of his way. Blair realized that he was not catching his balance and was headed for the folded section of bleachers. Blair surged forward, caught McAllister by the arm and twisted them both around in an effort to keep him from stumbling head first into the wooden bleacher. His plan worked...well, up to a point. McAllister crashed to the floor, but Sandburg was beneath him and caught a glancing blow to the back of his head on the hard floor. McAllister lay there for a few seconds before realizing Blair was under him and quickly rolled off. Getting to his knees he reached out a hand to help Sandburg up. Blair shook his head a bit and waited for his vision to refocus. By this time Sgt. Ortego was beside them, barking out orders for the other cadets to back off and stop gawking. He knelt down beside Sandburg and held his head still, "Sandburg, just lie still for a minute and tell me, how's your vision?" Blair blinked rapidly, then grinned slightly and replied, "well, I can just see one of you and one of Jerry, so I guess I'm doing okay so far." Sgt. Ortego sat back on his heels, hands on hips and returned the grin, "You're damned straight there's only one of me. Good thing too or none of you guys would have any butt left to run off."

The three made it to their feet, Sandburg standing a little unsteadily between them. He was led to the bleachers and firmly told to, "park it cadet until you hear different from me, got it?" Blair carefully nodded his head and stayed put. McAllister stood in front of him for a minute, shifting from foot to foot. Blair carefully tilted his head to look up at him, "Chill Jerr, I'm fine, just rang my bell a bit there. Bet you never would have thought the floor could be harder than my head, huh?" Sgt. Ortego bellowed at the class to hustle and get to the showers, "and don't forget you will have the physical agility test first thing Monday morning at 0800. Do I make myself clear?" Voices rang out in unison, "Yes, Sgt. Ortego, yes." Feet pounded across the gymnasium as the cadets headed for the showers. He turned again to Sandburg, "Are you sure you're feeling okay, Sandburg? Maybe I should take you over to the infirmary just in case?" Sandburg smiled and reassured him, "I'll be fine, just dizzy there for a few minutes."

Three men entered the gym at that moment and Blair smiled and shook his head (great timing guys, now can I get out of here?) as Sgt. Ortego turned to see Jim Ellison, Simon Banks and Henri Brown approaching. "Who the devil let you people on Academy grounds? I want to see some visitor passes now or be prepared to be escorted outta here!" Ortego moved forward and shook hands with Simon and Jim, looking askance at Henri's ever present beret with a raised eyebrow. Jim and Simon grinned as Henri squirmed a bit under that scrutiny. Simon turned to Henri and said, "Henri, this is Mackenzie Ortego, the toughest, meanest instructor at this academy or any academy in the state! Mac, good to see you again, but I see you've singled out Sandburg here. What's he done now?"

Blair stood and began, "Hey Simon, I haven't done anything...well not today anyway. I was just waiting here for Sgt. Ortego to release me for the day so I can get showered and ready to go with you guys." Simon glared at the young man for a minute, then smugly grinned, "You know Sandburg, it's gotten so easy to get to you since you've been under Mac's gentle and kindly tutelage here. Maybe you should keep him here a couple of extra weeks. What do you think, Mac?" Blair sent a mock glare his way, then turned to Sgt. Ortego. "Is it okay if I head for the shower now, sir? I'm okay, really." Ortego studied him for a minute then nodded his permission. Sandburg grabbed his jacket and turned, "Okay guys, I should be ready in like 15 minutes so don't go anywhere, 'kay?" Jim grinned at his partner, "Sandburg, do you think we would drive all the way down here to pick you up just to leave you behind? Now get out of here and don't make us late!" He gave his partner a gentle shove toward the locker room and smacked him on the back of his head. The soft moan of pain took him by surprise and he grabbed Sandburg by the arm and turned him around.

Blair's face was pale, almost colorless, his lips were pressed tightly together and he wavered unsteadily on his feet. "Chief, I didn't hit you that hard, what's wrong?" Blair looked at his partner's face that was becoming increasingly hard to see and tried to tell him, "I'm okay, just a bit diz...be back in a min..." and suddenly Jim found himself holding 150 pounds of dead weight.

Six hours later, Dr. Oakland found Jim, Simon and Henri anxiously waiting for news. He grinned at the matching expressions of frustration mixed with concern that turned as one when he entered the ER's waiting room. "Okay, the waiting is over gentlemen. Mr. Sandburg has a mild, let me make that clear to you, a mild concussion. He'll be released in a few minutes and you can take him straight home. He needs to rest for the next 48 hours and do nothing strenuous for the next few days, but other than a nasty headache and probably a few bouts with nausea, he should be fine. He's in exam room 3 if you want to see him." Jim thanked him and headed straight for the exam room he had been focused on since they had brought his partner in, Simon and Henri right behind him. He listened and grinned as he heard Sandburg telling the nurse that he didn't need a wheelchair because he felt just fine and could walk out on his own, he'd be fine. Ellison shook his head, planning on a long talk with his hard headed partner about a few things, like how to duck. It looked like it was going to be a very long weekend indeed.

*****Julie, hope this finds you feeling ever so much more better. You're in our thoughts and prayers.*****

END



From: "imbrillig" <imbrillig@mindspring.com>

Great to *hear* your voice again, Julie! Hang in there! You're in the thoughts and prayers of a lot of people *worldwide*.

Not mine but Izzy lets them stop by on occasion when Dawn's not looking.

The Sandburg Zone
by Brillig
////////////////

"It's the next turn, Jim."

Ellison cast a worried eye at his partner as he slewed the blue and white truck onto what passed for a road in the back of beyond area they were camping in. Blair didn't move, not even to grab onto a handhold or complain about his driving as the truck found every bump and pothole.

"You doing okay there, buddy?" Jim couldn't keep the worry from his voice. Blair flashed him a smile. "I'm okay, Jim. Glad we're almost there, though. Rafe really had a disagreement with a beam. Walked right into it."

"Yeah. Should you be talking? Doesn't that, I don't know, use up energy or something?"

Vivid blue eyes got brighter as Blair's face seemed to grow even more translucent. "Everything takes energy, Jim. But I'll be fine. You need to stop up ahead and check out the area. I'd hate for us to walk in on the 'backwoods boys.'

Ellison chuckled, "You do realize that this is blackmail material for the next ten years, don't you, Sandburg? Half of Major Crime letting a couple of hillbilly potheads lock them into a cave."

A bubble of laughter sounded from the passenger's seat. "Hey, don't look at me. I'm just a part-time consultant. Not my job to be suspicious of every Hatfield and McCoy that comes along.Besides its not as if they were on the job. Just hiking."

"Yeah, junior, but you're the one with the PhD... didn't you study people or something?"

"Or something." That came out a little more breathlessly than Ellison was comfortable with. He pulled the truck into a stand of bushes and rolled down the window. Stretching his hearing out he could just barely make out the muffled voices of his Captain and co-workers. "Don't hear anyone but the guys, Blair."

"Not surprised, Jim. They were gonna bug out just as soon as they threw the bolts."

"Should I bring the crowbar, Chief?" Ellison's eyes were busily scanning the run-down cabin and weedy patch of vegetables and hemp that took up most of the small clearing below them.

"Nah, you shouldn't have too much trouble with the bolts. Let's go, Jim. I'm getting tired."

Ellison nodded grimly. The young professor was pratically transparent, the fifteen minute ride from their campsite to the clearing had just about drained his energy.

Jim got out of the truck and waited for Blair to join him. Sandburg was having trouble pacing Jim, as he had never quite mastered the art of walking.

"Can you hear anything, Jim?"

Jim sent his hearing out in the direction of a small shed built into the side of the hill.

"Cripes, he's still out. What the hell do we do now?" That was Brown, worry thick in his voice.

Ellison heard the sound of flesh slapping flesh, softly, rhythmically. His attention was distracted as, beside him, Blair faltered, then steadied.

"Just keep rubbing his hands and feet. Keep his legs elevated. And hope like hell that Ellison decides to come looking for us." Simon Banks said it firmly before adding, "He's tough. He'll come out of this fine."

Taggert said, "It's been a rough couple of months for us all. He's probably just taking some down time. First Zeller, then the dissertation thing... Maybe, he's just in some kind of hysterical fugue or something. See if there's any water in that cistern back there, H. We can see if that would bring him to..."

"Jim? Jim, come on back, big guy. Now is not the time to check out on me." That voice could always reach Jim, ground him.

"Okay, Blair. We can go in. You want to go back now?"

Sandburg shook his head, "It'll be easier if you're there first, Jim."

//////

Banks looked up as someone pounded on the heavy door between his men and escape. Ellison's voice carried easily through the old wood. "Simon? Joel? Can anyone hear me?"

Brown muttered, "I am not gonna be the one to explain this. I'm just not."

Simon shot him a glare and called back, "Yeah, Jim. We can hear you. Can you get us out of here?"

"Working on it, sir. Just a minute."

A couple of thumps later and the door creaked open, letting in the late afternoon sunlight to add to the flashlights of the trapped men. Ellison hurried through the still gloomy interior of the small dugout and swept the group with his eyes. "Everybody, okay?" He went down on his knees next to the young man lying motionless on a makeshift pallet of coats and sweaters. He laid a hand on one slender shoulder before saying, "How's your head, Rafe? Sandburg said you gave it quite a knock."

"Sandburg said?! Jim, how the hell did you know we were here?" Simon's voice was wary.

Brown groaned,"This is gonna be more of that sentinel stuff, isn't it, Jim? You guys should come with instructions."

"My head's fine, Jim. Thanks for asking but we can't get Blair to wake up. One minute he was fine and the next he was out like a light. At first, we weren't even sure he still had a pulse and he's still barely breathing. Been that way for close to a half-hour." Rafe held a wet rag against his forehead but Ellison could see that his eyes were clear.

"Yeah, I know, Rafe. I'll take care of it." Jim bent over and lifted the limp form of his guide until it rested against his chest. Placing one large hand on Sandburg's forehead and one over the young man's heart, he said quietly, "Okay, Chief, I've got you. It's time to come back now. That's it, Chief."

"I knew it," Brown mumbled. Banks shot him a glare but his attention was drawn back to Ellison and Sandburg as the consultant's body convulsed in the sentinel's arms. It scared the hell out of the detectives but Ellison just went on, quietly, firmly, "That's it, Chief. Follow my voice. Breathe, kid. Nice and easy. Do you need to throw-up?" The curly head against his chest moved in a negative. "Well, that's a change." A shaking hand whapped him weakly on his chest. "Okay, junior, you know the drill. Keep your eyes closed and breathe."

"Jim?" Banks asked a dozen questions in that one name.

"Not Sentinel stuff, H. Or at least, not entirely. More like Shaman stuff. Sandburg's more than my Guide, he's also my shaman. I guess you might say his spirit came to get me when you got trapped here. He doesn't do it often because it usually makes him really ill. It's easier on him when I'm here. Which is why he didn't come back as soon as he found me."

"Shaman." Rafe and Brown chorused it. "What the hell is a shaman?"

Ellison said, "They traffic in the spirit world is the best way I know how to describe it. Its part of the reason he can do what he does when he Guides me. Guys, that's an even bigger secret than the enhanced senses were. Those at least can be measured, what Blair does could get him committed."

Simon muttered, "Like there's a major difference between the loony bin and the Sandburg Zone?" The captain shrugged when Ellison glared at him. Then Jim smiled, "Yeah, he is somewhat... unique, isn't he."

Brown got down to brass tacks, "How the hell do we pay out on this one?"

"Pay out?" Ellison raised a brow.

"Yeah. We figured there had to be something going on with the kid, too. Some reason why he tried to make people believe his diss was fraudulent and then hung around to get beat up about it. Figured he had some kind of role in the sentinel stuff besides just studying it but.... no one said anything about shamans. Pot's a couple hundred too."

Ellison said, "Well, we can always blow it on a party. That way everybody wins a little. Nope, not yet, Chief. You just lay there and breathe until I say different." The shudders that had ripped through Sandburg's body were calming. Dazed blue eyes were opening and closing as if he couldn't decide if he were awake or not.

Ellison chuckled softly, "Take your time, Chief." The sentinel ran a hand over his guide's hair and jacket. "How'd you get so wet, kid?"

Taggert answered, " We dumped some water on him hoping to wake him up. He had us scared, Jim. Shaman. That's... spooky, Jim."

"He hasn't changed, Joel." Ellison said calmly. "He's still who he always was."

"Yeah, but I don't know what to say about this, Jim. This is..."

"All wet, man. Sheesh, can't a guy.... even take... a nap without someone giving him a shower? Ji-imm. Let's go back to the tent. I gotta dry off."

Simon asked, gruffly, "How you doing, Sandburg?"

And with his trademark grin and a definitely mischieveous twinkle in his blue eyes, the Sentinel's Shaman answered, "Cold and wet is my world, Simon."

The laughter that rang through the small cave proved that nothing, not sentinel enhanced senses, and no one, not even a Blair Sandburg, was too strange for Major Crime to accept.

///////

Thank you, Doctor Gerry, for taking such wonderful care of our listsib. And thank you Dawn and Beth for the stories behind the story <g>.



From: LSuther569@aol.com

Dear Julie, here's another fic for your toppling pile o' gift fic. Please rest and get better soon, and enjoy all the fic waiting for you when you're ready. You've been in my thoughts all week. It was wonderful hearing your "voice" yesterday. Keep fighting!  Laurie

THE WHEEL DEAL
By Laurie

The Ferris Wheel rose majestically above the amusement park, a circle of multi-colored lights illuminating the night sky. Beneath it, the crew from Cascade PD was finishing up a drug bust. The ringleader and his henchmen had been handcuffed and led away, the park closed, evidence collected, and they had gathered under the big wheel to relax and talk a bit before going home.

"We did good!" Henri high-fived Rafe, Joel and Megan. Simon lit up a cigar and smiled as Jim walked up to the group.

Jim counted heads. "Where's Sandburg?" he asked casually.

Simon looked around. "I don't know. I thought he was with you."

"No, I lost him." He looked around carefully with his sentinel sight, but didn't see his partner. "Blair, you can come out now!" he shouted.

There were laughs from the exhilarated group.

"I last saw him running after that little short guy with the white spiky hair," Rafe volunteered.

"Oh, that would be Sugar. Nasty little creep," Megan added. "I've run into him before. He tried to bite me once."

"They were running toward the Ferris Wheel when I last saw him," Rafe said.

Jim turned toward the wheel. It had been revolving when they entered the park, he recalled, but at some point someone had shut it down. It was silent now, except for the electrical hum of thousands of tiny lights studding its spokes. He extended his sight and hearing in the general area around the wheel, but couldn't find him. Then a small sound caught his attention and he looked up. One of the double chairs at the top of the Ferris Wheel, a hundred feet above their heads, was swinging very slightly. When he focused his sight, he could see part of a sneaker hanging over the edge of the footrest, and, as he watched, the sneaker fell a little further out.

"Oh, no," he gasped.

"What?" Simon asked, looking where Jim was looking.

"He's up there."

"Blair?" Simon squinted but he couldn't see anything.

Megan heard them. "Sandy's up there?" Rafe and Henri looked up. "How in the world did he get up there?"

"I can see his sneaker and a bit of the rest of him, slumped down inside the chair. He must be unconscious. The safety bar isn't fastened, and he just slid a little. We've got to get him down now."

They all ran toward the ride, looking for the controls.

"Does anyone know how to work this?" Simon asked desperately, staring at the levers and control panel.

"No!" they all said in unison.

"Get somebody here who does, fast!" Simon barked, and frantic fingers began punching cellphones.

As Jim watched, Blair shifted a little and his whole foot suddenly slipped into space and hung there, wobbling gently.

Jim's heart turned over. "I'm going up there right now," he said. "I'm afraid he's going to fall out. He's starting to slide, and starting up the ride will just make it worse."

Simon hesitated. "Okay, but be careful," he finally said, but Jim was already beginning to climb.

The metal structure provided good footholds and handholds, and Jim climbed steadily, keeping to the spokes that didn't have the bright lights, and trying to avoid their glare. Soon he was about thirty feet up the side of the wheel. He stopped for a second, listening to the gently swinging chair far above his head. A small rustling sound and a moan reached his ears, and he tried to climb a little faster. He wasn't sure if he wanted Blair to wake up or not. He didn't want him to slide out, but he didn't know what kind of condition he was in, and he knew he was afraid of heights.

The rustling above his head grew louder, the chair creaked and swung, and the crew beneath him began to shout. "Blair, sit down! No!"

Keeping his hands and feet firmly planted on the metal rails, Jim looked up. Blair was trying to stand up in the chair. Jim could hear him mumbling to himself and trying to get to his feet. He resumed climbing, more desperately now.

The voices below rose in horrified chorus as they tried to get through to their apparently addled friend. "Sit down! Sit down!"

Blair lurched to his feet on the seat of the chair, and stood there wavering as the car swung wildly back and forth. Jim could hear him talking.

"Whoa!" he said giddily. "Stop moving around like that. I'm a little dizzy here."

Jim pushed onward quickly, climbing hand over hand, until he was just underneath Blair's chair. He tried to get his friend's attention without spooking him. "Hey," he said quietly, "It's Jim. How you doing here? Maybe you should sit down."

Blair stared down at him vacantly. The chair rocked and he staggered, trying to keep his balance. "Woops," he said brightly.

"Don't rock. Sit down. You've got to sit down. Please."

Blair waved an arm at the sky and leaned out into space. "Look at the stars!" he cried, his voice slurred.

Jim gasped as Blair barely righted himself, and he scrambled up the last little bit until he was standing on a rung next to the swinging car and slightly beneath it.

"Come on, Chief, sit down now."

Blair stared at him blankly, but he stood still and the chair's movements slowed.

Jim edged as close as he could. The night wind was whistling around them and it was a long way down. "Come on." He reached a hand up, almost close enough to touch him.

Blair looked down at him, then looked beyond him toward the ground. He froze.

"No, don't look down. Look at me."

But Blair had seen the ground. His pale face got paler, he swayed, and he put a hand to his head. "Oh, man," he whispered. His eyes rolled up and he crumpled into the seat, then started to slide out.

Jim could hear the screams of the people below as he grabbed him and held on. Somehow he kept hold of him as he clambered into the swaying chair and pulled him up onto the seat beside him. Blair flopped over against him, out cold. Jim sighed in relief and put an arm around his shoulders to support him. "Don't scare me like that," he scolded the unhearing weight at his side. With gentle fingers, he pushed back the dark curls covering his partner's face and then felt the large lump on his skull.

Simon was shouting at him from far below. "Jim! Can we bring it down now?"

Jim pulled the safety bar over their laps and locked it. "Bring us down!" he shouted back.

**********

When Blair opened his eyes, he was lying on the ground looking up at his friends' faces. Paramedics were taking his vital signs. He looked at them in confusion.

"Welcome back, Chief," Jim said. "What's the last thing you remember?"

"I was right by the Ferris Wheel," Blair furrowed his brow. "Ouch," he added, as a paramedic began to examine his head. "It was moving. The ride operator was lying there knocked out."

"Was there a guy with white spiky hair with you?"

"Oh, yeah! That's right. He hit me. Ouch."

"Well, you took a ride in the wheel. He must have pushed you into one of the chairs."

"Don't like Ferris Wheels. Too tall. Don't like the seats rocking." He shuddered. "Why are you all laughing?"

"We'll tell you later. Let's just say you were king of the world on the Ferris Wheel tonight, Chief."

THE END



From: REDSOPRA1@aol.com

Hi guys. For those of you who've been wondering where the heck part three of "Closed Society" is, well... this is the reason it was delayed. Darn plot bunnies. It's not my fault! It was that darn fainting Blair pushbutton. This is also the reason I'm behind on answering my email. So if you sent me an LoC for "Closed Society" and I haven't responded yet, please forgive me! I will!

Anyway, here's my story for the Julie page. It's a bit lighthearted. I hope not too lighthearted, given the sad things that have happened to our listsibs lately. At any rate, I hope it serves to cheer folks up.

There were a few people who responded to my question about the spelling for the niktabi root question and for the life of me I can't remember who they are. Except for Jane. <g> Thanks, Jane. And thanks to the guys I can't remember. Sorry. And thanks to Becky's page for the wonderful transcript that helped. Also, thanks to Jane again for the quick once-over and the kind words of support.

Okay. Enough jabbering. On with the story. (You can post on Julie's page, but hold off on archiving, please. Thanks)

*****************

Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut
by Red Soprano

Ristle-ristle-whish-clinkity-ristle...

"Blue one..."

Tap!.... tap! ... tip-tip-tippy-rrrrrrrollllllll...... <sigh>

Ristle... ristle-ristle-ristle...

"Hmm... running out of blue ones..."

Clinkity-ristle-whish-ristle-whish...

"Ah.... peanut blue one..."

Tap!... tap! ... tip-tip-tippity-tippa-rrrrrrrrollllllllllll.....

"Damn."

Ristle... rist--

"Sandburg?"

"Hm?"

"What are you doing?"

"'m eatin' M&Ms."

Ristle-clinkity-cli--

"Would you mind eating them a little more quietly, please?"

Blair peered at Joel from around the tall stack of case files on Rhonda's desk and favored him with a slightly loopy grin. "Sure, Joel." He then blithely resumed picking through the bowl of M&Ms next to the administrative assistant's pencil holder.

Ristle-ristle...

"'nother blue one..."

Joel watched in tired fascination as Blair tossed the little candy up in the air and leaned his head back to try to catch it in his mouth. Once again he missed ...

Tap!... tap-tap-tippy-rrrrrrollll....

... and the candy bounced off Rhonda's desk to join its dozen or so companions on the bullpen floor.

"Sandburg, we're trying to work here," came an irritable voice from behind another tall stack of files at Rafe's desk. "Which is what you should be doing..." The detective's head appeared over the stack and he looked pointedly at the case files next to Blair.

"You know, Hairboy, I don't think Rhonda's going to be happy with you when she finds you've eaten all her blue M&Ms." Henri closed the file in front of him and reached for another one from the top of his stack.

"Nah, Rhonda likes me. Besides, I haven't eaten that many."

"That's true," Rafe agreed, "most of them have ended up on the floor."

"Red ones are easier to catch," Blair said philosophically. "I've eaten a lot of those. And green ones. You guys know what they used to say about the green--"

"Sandburg! Would you please quit fooling around and get back to work! Simon wants these case audits done and ready for the commissioner's review by 9:00 in the morning."

Blair blinked in surprise at Joel's outburst. "Sure, man. Sorry."

Joel sighed. "It's all right, Blair. Let's just get these files done so we can all go home."

"Okay." Blair meekly took a file from his stack and opened it.

"Dum dum dah dum dada dum..."

"Blair?"

"Yeah, Joel?"

"You're singing."

"I am?"

"Yes. Stop it, please."

"Sure, Joel."

Silence descended on the bullpen as the four men worked. After a few moments, a vaguely tuneful humming resumed from behind the stack of files at Rhonda's desk.

"Dum dum dah dum dada dum..."

Ristle-ristle--

"Sometimes you feel like a nut..." Sandburg crooned softly.

Clinkity clinkity whish...

"...sometimes you don't..."

"SANDBURG!" three annoyed voices chorused.

"WHAT?!" The candy bowl tipped to its side under the startled man's groping fingers and a handful of brightly colored candies skittered across the floor. "Aw, man... look what you made me do."

Joel sighed heavily and rubbed his hand over his eyes. "Blair. I pride myself on my patience."

"You are indeed a patient man, Joel." Blair nodded in solemn agreement. "Patience of a saint--"

"Blair?"

"Yes, Joel."

"Even patient men have their limits."

"Oh." Blair smiled in understanding. "Gotcha."

He dutifully returned his attention to the folder in front of him.

"Remind me again why we have to do this?" Rafe asked. "I mean, just who put the bee in the commissioner's butt about this whole project?"

Joel closed his folder, tagged the tab with a piece of red tape and set it aside. "What can I say. It's an election year."

"What's the red tag for, Joel?" Blair asked.

"Excuse me?"

Sandburg stared blankly at an open folder in front of him. "You just put a red tag on your folder. Am I supposed to be doing that, too?"

"Sandburg..." Joel said, a subtle hint of warning in his tone.

"Weren't you listening earlier, Hairboy?"

"Uh... listening to what, H?"

"Sandburg, you'd better be joking," Rafe muttered.

Joel shook his head and rolled his eyes heavenward. "I don't believe this. What have you been doing over there this whole time?"

"Well, uh..."

"Besides training for the Olympic trials in candy tossing, that is."

"I've been working! I just sort of lost track of what we're doing here." Blair's hand trailed uncertainly over the top of his stack of files.

Joel studied the young man a moment. Blair didn't look quite right. He looked, for want of a better term, 'dopey.' Sort of glassy-eyed and lost.

"Are you feeling all right, Sandburg?"

Blair stared at him dumbly for a moment before answering. "Uh-huh."

"'Cause I know you've been fighting the flu bug all week so if you're not feeling up to this..."

"I feel good, Joel. I been taking some of my niktabi root. Nipped it right in the bud." Blair favored him with a slightly lopsided grin. "I just got a little sidetracked here is all.".

"Okay, then. If you're sure." Joel took a deep breath and explained, "Well, we're supposed to be going through all of these case files from Major Crimes' drug busts for the past three years, remember?" He gestured to the piles of folders scattered about on the desks in the bullpen. "We're looking to see if there is any evidence of irregularities in the arrest procedures, particularly the ones involving underage or college-age kids."

"Right." Blair nodded. "Why?"

"That's what I'd like to know," muttered Henri. "Isn't that what we have Internal Affairs for?"

"The Commissioner wants to see if we catch the same irregularities that IA has caught. Sort of a 'keeping the boys honest' kind of thing."

"Like we don't have better things to do than spend all night doing quality assurance for city hall," Rafe grumbled.

"Okey-dokey." Blair smiled and settled back in his chair with a contented sigh. "No more jokey," he added softly, staring intently at the folder in front of him. "Gonna find out who we locked in the pokey... " He snorted in amusement at his own joke. "Good one Sandburg... 'locked in the pokey...'"

The three other men exchanged curious looks. Joel shrugged in response to Henri's "what the hell's up with him" gesture.

Abruptly, Blair sat forward in his chair. "Guys?"

"What?"

"Where's Jim? Why isn't he helping us?"

Joel frowned slightly at the young man's anxious expression. "Jim was just here, Blair. Remember? He went out for sandwiches."

"He's coming back?" Blair asked hopefully.

"Yes, Blair. With sand-wich-es..." Joel enunciated the words slowly as if speaking to a dim-witted child.

"Kewl." Blair grinned and reached for his coffee mug. "So us guys are gonna pull an all nighter, huh. Better have me some more of my wonder tea." He gave Joel a congenial wink and lifted his mug as if in a toast. Lukewarm tea sloshed onto his hand. "Oops."

"Sandburg, what's in that tea?" Joel asked suspiciously.

Blair lowered his mug and clutched it protectively to his chest. "Nothin,'" he said, his wide blue eyes conveying the absolute innocence of a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

"Blair..."

"Nothin'! Honest. I always used to fix this tea in school when I was tired and had to pull an all-nighter. Jus' ask Jim. He'll tell ya. 's completely natural. 's made from the palamamna root. The palamanamana root. The palamm--this root I buy at the health food store. 's good for you. Honest." He favored the three wary detectives with a brilliant smile. "Jus' ask Jim." His smile wavered a bit. He looked at the mug in his hand then back at the detectives. His smile abruptly faded and was replaced with a look of consternation.

"Joel?"

"What is it, Blair?" Concerned at the sudden change in Blair's demeanor, Joel got up from his desk and walked over to the other man's desk.

Blair didn't respond but simply stared at him, his brow furrowed in intense concentration as if trying to fathom the answer to a particularly troublesome and frightening conundrum.

"Blair," Joel repeated gently, "what is it?"

"I think I screwed up," Blair whispered earnestly.

"What do you mean?" Joel whispered back.

"I forgot."

"What did you forget?"

Blair considered this question a moment before answering. "Huh?"

"Blair," Joel asked calmly, "what did you forget?"

"You're not s'posed to drink this tea when you're takin' niktabi." Blair leaned forward secretively. "It causes *side* effects."

"What? Jesus, Blair! Are you telling me you're having some sort of drug reaction?"

"What?" Rafe and Henri exclaimed in unison. They got up from their desks and hurried over. "What's wrong, Sandburg?"//"What'd you get yourself into, Hairboy?"

"Hey, chill, guys! 's okay! 'm fine. No big deal." Blair's reassurances were undermined somewhat by the subtle slurring which was beginning to creep into his speech. "Jus' that mixin' these roots c'n mess with your short term memory a li'l. Tha's all." Blair gave them what was probably supposed to be a reassuring smile. Instead he came across looking like an intoxicated version of the cat that ate the canary.

"How could you forget a thing like that, Blair?" Joel asked.

"Well, gimme a break, man... It's been a while since I pulled 'n all-nighter. Not countin' stake-outs. Okay, so with stake-outs I still pull a lot of all-nighters, jus' not fer school 'nymore... But I never, never, *ever* drink the tea when I'm takin' the niktabi stuff." Blair nodded once for emphasis then absently brought the cup to his lips to take a sip.

"Dammit, Sandburg, what are we going to do with you." Joel grabbed the mug away before Blair could take a drink and set it aside on the corner of the desk.

"You think maybe he should see a doctor?" Henri asked.

"That might be a good idea." Joel moved around the desk and reached for Blair's arm to help him up. "What do you think, Blair? Think you ought to go to the hospital to get checked out?"

"Nah," Blair waved him away. "I'll be fine. It'll wear off."

"It will?" Joel pulled Blair's chin up to examine his eyes. "When?"

Blair batted his hands away, "C'mon, Joel, cut it out."

"Blair? When?"

"Hmm?"

"When?" Joel repeated insistently.

"When what?"

"When will it wear off?"

Blair blinked. "When will what wear off?"

"Oh for the love of... " Joel threw up his hands in exasperation,

"Jim is gonna kill us," Rafe said mournfully.

"Why would Jim kill us?" Henri asked. "What'd we do?"

"I don't know, but I'll bet he'll think we had *something* to do with this. After all, Sandburg was fine when he left and now he's all..." Rafe waved vaguely toward Blair, who was staring in dazed confusion at the bowl of M&Ms, "... goofy!"

"Why don't we put him in the break room," Henri suggested. "Maybe he'll sleep it off."

"I don't know if that's such a good idea," Joel said, "what if he wanders off?"

"Joel?" Blair interrupted plaintively.

"What, Blair?"

"Promise me somethin', Joel?'

"What?"

"Tell me if I start actin' weird, 'kay?."

"You're going to have to fill us in on your definition of weird, Sandburg," Rafe snorted.

"Yeah, Hairboy," Henri said, "when it comes to weirdness, you sorta blow the whole grading curve."

"Blair," Joel said gently, "I hate to tell you this, but we passed weird some time ago."

"Oh... Bummer... Joel?"

"Yeah, Blair?"

"Have I been eating M&Ms?"

"Yesss," Joel responded warily, "Why do you ask?"

"Uh-oh."

"What uh-oh? Don't say uh-oh, Blair. We don't want to hear uh-oh."

"Sorry," Blair smiled apologetically.

"Should you *not* have been eating M&Ms?"

Blair shook his head gravely. "Huh-uh."

Joel closed his eyes and braced for the worst. "Why not?'

"I forget."

"Ah, dammit, Sandburg. Not with the forgetting again..."

"Don' be mad, Joel." Blair's eyes filled with tears and his lower lip trembled slightly.

"I'm not mad, Blair." Joel patted the young man's shoulder awkwardly. "This is just... frustrating."

Blair's face brightened. "Hey! I 'member now! Something t' do with the choc'late! No wait... " he shook his head and reconsidered, "maybe i's the peanuts.... No!" he nodded emphatically, "'s the chocolate."

"Ah, hell, Blair, are you saying you're allergic to chocolate or something?"

"So we *do* need to get him to the hospital," Rafe said.

"No, no... nothin' like that," Blair assured him, "but when you eat choc'late with the panamamama-- the pamanamm-- "

"The 'wonder' tea?" Rafe supplied helpfully.

"Yeah. If you mix choc'late with wonder tea--"

"Let me guess," Henri said, "you get 'side effects,' right?"

"Right! Wow, you guys're *good*!"

"So, Blair," Joel prompted, "do we need to take you to the hospital or not?"

"Nah." Blair waved his hand airily. "I'll just be kinda loopy for a while. Y'know..."

"But it wears off, right?"

"Oh, sure..."

"How long?"

"How long what?'

"How long before it wears off?"

"How long 'fore what wears off?"

Joel sighed and patted him on the head. "Never mind."

"Guys?" Blair turned pleading eyes on the three detectives. "Promise you won' tell Jim?"

"Uh..." the three men looked at each other uncertainly.

"You think Jim'll notice?" Blair asked, his eyes huge and round with worry.

"Well...."

"I don' wan' him t' see me like this... He'll think I'm ineebihlated. Ineebreelated... innee--"

"Drunk?" James Ellison suggested.

The startled detectives whirled around to face the man behind them. Instinctively, they moved together in a guilty effort to hide Jim's view of his pie-eyed partner.

"Yeah, what he said," Blair continued, oblivious to the arrival of his friend. "I don' wan' Jim t' think I can't handle my roots 'n' verbs. Herbs 'n' boots... you know."

Jim set a large box from Bruno's Deli down on his desk and stepped over to where his colleagues stood an uneasy guard in front of his partner. He paused briefly when his feet crunched over a few stray M&Ms. "What the hell?" he muttered. He frowned at the three men leaning nonchalantly against Rhonda's desk.

"What's going on here, guys?"

"Nothin'" responded the trio of detectives innocently. // "Nope." // "Nothin' going on here, Jim..." // "Just taking a little break." //

"Riiigghht. Would you care to explain how my partner got drunk?"

"I'm not drunk!" came an indignant voice from behind the desk.

Joel stepped in front of Jim as he moved to go around the side of the desk. "Now look, Jim, before you get all excited, there's nothing to worry about here. He's acting a little odd but he swears it'll wear off."

"What will wear off?" Jim moved to the other side of Joel only to be intercepted by Rafe.

"The tea," Rafe hurried to explain. "Or was it that ninja-tah-bee thing?" He looked helplessly at his colleagues. "Help me out here, guys."

"It was the ninja stuff *and* that pajama tea," Henri informed him. "Just, please, Jim... don't go off the deep end here--"

"JIM!!!" Blair spotted his partner through the shifting line of defense in front of Rhonda's desk. "Hiya, Jim!" He beamed delightedly at the detective. "How's it hangin'?"

"Fine, Blair," Jim answered affably. "What's up with you?"

Blair pondered this a moment. "Dunno, man. I'm thinkin' maybe I shoulda skipped the wonder tea."

Jim nudged Henri aside and picked up Blair's mug from the corner of the desk. He sniffed tentatively at its contents.

Henri reached up and hastily put his hand over the top. "Uh, Jim you haven't by any chance had any of Blair's cold remedy lately have you?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact I have. I thought I might be coming down with something. Why?"

"Well, I'd stay away from the tea if I were you."

Jim's eyes narrowed and he asked icily, "Why?"

"Hey, Jim?" Blair asked anxiously, "Am I still gonna get to be a detective? This i'n gonna hurt my chances is it?"

"Blair, you're already a detective."

"I am?"

"Yeah, you got your shield three days ago. Don't you remember?"

"I did? Cool!...Am I on the payroll?" he asked hopefully.

"Guys?" Jim glared at each of the uneasy-looking detectives in turn. "Tell me what's going on here."

"Won'er if it's too soon t' ask for a raise..."

"Did one of you bozos put something in Sandburg's tea?" Jim demanded.

//"No! Jim!"// "Hell, no!" // "What makes you think we'd do something like that?" //

Jim silenced the trio with a stony glare. "Considering all the practical jokes you guys have pulled on my partner since he made detective, it wouldn't surprise me in the least."

Henri shrugged. "We just wanted the little guy to feel like part of the team, Jim."

"...should ask for m'own desk," Blair mused.

"He's been part of the team for four years, H. Why the rookie treatment after all this time?"

"Because, Jim," Joel explained reasonably, "It's a rite of passage. You can ask Blair. He'll tell you..."

"...'tective oughtta have his own desk..."

"Although maybe not at the moment," Joel admitted ruefully.

"This isn't our fault, Jim," Henri said. "You gotta believe us."

"All right," Jim conceded. "Maybe I jumped to conclusions there for a second. But, for Pete's sake... I leave my partner with you guys for twenty minutes and I come back and he's... he's all..."

"Goofy?" Rafe offered.

"Yeah!" Jim agreed. "Damn. Look at him." Blair gazed up at them and smiled sweetly.

Jim sighed, "Okay, so which one of you wants to explain how he got like this?"

"It was the pajama tea--"

"No, H," Rafe interrupted, "it wasn't *just* the pajama tea, it was the tea and the ninja root together, remember?"

"Pajama tea? Ninja root? Joel, what on earth are these guys talking about?"

Joel held up a placating hand and explained, "Blair apparently forgot that he shouldn't be drinking this 'wonder tea' of his at the same time he's taking that niktabi root thingy. He just had a slight reaction is all."

"What? Like a drug interaction? Then we need to get him to a doctor..."

"Jim, he says it's harmless. The combination just makes him a bit, uh, absent-minded for a while."

"This is a little more than absent-minded, Joel. This is downright..."

"Goofy?"

"Could you maybe come up with another adjective besides that one, Rafe?" Jim snapped.

"Sorry."

"You know, Jim," Joel continued, "we might not have noticed anything was wrong at all if it hadn't been for that other thing."

"*What* other thing?" Jim asked, his tone taking on a slightly dangerous edge.

"Well..." Joel hesitated.

"Well, what? What aren't you telling me, Joel?"

"Apparently he also wasn't supposed to combine chocolate with the wonder tea--"

"I thought it was the peanuts," Henri said.

"No," Rafe corrected him, "it was choco--"

Jim held up his hand for silence. "I know I'm going to regret asking this, but what happens when you combine chocolate with the wonder tea?"

"Well, that's sort of where the goofy part comes in," Joel answered sheepishly. "But, hey! That wears off, too! Blair said so. We just have to keep him away from the M&Ms for a while and he'll be right as rain."

ristle-ristle-ristle...

"Ah hell..." Joel muttered.

The four men turned in dismay to the young man behind the desk. Blair had settled back comfortably in Rhonda's chair and was sifting contentedly through the bowl of M&Ms on his lap.

"Sandburg, give me that!" Joel reached over and grabbed the bowl of candy out of his hands.

"Hey! I woulda shared, man..."

"C'mon, Chief." Jim walked around the desk and took his friend's arm to help him up from the chair. "We'd better get you out of here before Simon gets back."

"Oh, geez," Joel slapped his forehead in dismay, "I forgot all about Simon!"

"Uh-huh. And you saw the mood he was in earlier. I really don't want to have to explain *this* to him." Jim readjusted his grip on his unsteady friend.

"Simon's my friend," Blair cheerily informed no one in particular.

"I know, Chief," Jim sighed, "but right now it would help if you'd remember that he's also your boss."

"Riiight... So, he's the one I should ask for a raise?"

"Trust me, Sandburg. Now is not a good time."

"Oh, hey! Sam-iches!" Blair pulled free of his friend's grasp and made a wobbly bee-line for the large carton on Jim's desk.

"Sandburg..." Jim started wearily after him.

"Actually, Jim, maybe food's a good idea," Joel said. "A little something on his stomach could help."

"Or we could have another 'side effect' on our hands," Henri snickered.

"Funny, H. Real funny." Jim stepped over to where his friend was buried elbow deep in the take-out box. "C'mon, Chief, you're making a mess here. Why don't I get our sandwiches; you get your coat on."

"Okey-dokey, Jim," Blair gave him a fond grin and headed for the coat rack, a grease-stained bag still clutched in one hand. He appeared not to notice when Jim reached out and gently retrieved it.

"Jim, you *are* coming back aren't you?" Rafe asked. "After you drop Sandburg off?"

"I don't see how that's possible, guys. I mean, he's obviously not safe to leave on his own."

The four men looked over to where Blair was engaged in an industrious search through the coats. He hummed softly as he tossed Henri's parka over one shoulder and Rafe's overcoat over the other.

"Oh great," Henri moaned. "Now we're stuck here doing Sandburg's work and yours, too. We're going to be here all night!"

Jim shrugged apologetically. "Sorry, guys. Look, if it'll make you feel any better, I seriously doubt I'll get any sleep tonight either. With my luck, I'll have to spend most of the night childproofing the loft."

His three unhappy colleagues exchanged sullen looks.

"Okay, okay," Jim surrendered. "I'll take a stack of files home with me. If I manage to find some way to corral my partner for long enough, I'll go through them and email you a summary in the morning."

"Oh... all right," Rafe agreed begrudgingly, "but make sure you email the case numbers, too."

"No problem. You about ready, Chief?" Jim placed two sandwich bags on top of a medium-sized stack of files and hoisted them under his arm. "Chief?"

The rack by the door stood bare amidst an untidy pile of coats. Sandburg was nowhere to be seen.

********

"Oh, God, where'd he go?" Joel hurried to the doorway and looked both ways down the hallway. "I don't see him."

"He couldn't have gotten far," Rafe said, "could he?"

"Shh!" Jim cocked his head slightly to listen. "Oh no..." He dumped the bags and files back on his desk and hurried out into the hallway, his three colleagues following closely at his heels. They raced down the hallway, rounded the corner and skidded to a halt when they spied their wayward friend. There he was in front of the men's room, wavering unsteadily and speaking in earnest, albeit besotted, tones to their stone-faced captain.

"An' I jus' wan'ed you t' know what an honor an' a pivihlezh 'tis to serve unner yer c'man'." Blair punctuated his last words with a poke to the tall man's chest. "Sir."

Simon stood silent and absolutely still for a moment. Then he slowly and deliberately turned his head and fixed his four hapless detectives with a withering glare.

"Oh, shit..." Henri breathed.

Blair smiled beguilingly up at the tall man. "I was won'ering, Simon... c'n I have a raise?"

"What the hell is going on here?" Simon's voice was low and menacing.

All four men tried to answer at once.

"Simon, I can explain--" // "It's not what it looks like, Captain--" // "It was that damn pajama tea, Simon--" // "--and the ninja root..."

Simon silenced them with a fierce halting gesture of his hand. "I don't want to hear about it."

"But, Simon..."

"Ah, ah, ah.." he cut Jim off sharply. "I don't want to hear excuses, I don't want to hear long drawn-out rationalizations. I just want to know what's going on with my newest detective."

"That's what I'm trying to explain, sir."

"You know, Ellison, I don't believe this. Sandburg's been a detective for what, a week?"

"Three days, sir, and if you'd just let me--"

"Three days as an official member of this team! I won't even mention the four years as an unofficial member of this team! But only three days since he's gotten his shield..."

"Simon--"

"...and you guys have managed to send this poor boy over the edge already."

"Don't be too hard on him, sir, he just--Excuse me?" Jim gaped in confusion at Simon.

The tall man looked down at Blair, his expression softening briefly, then turned his stern attention back to the other men. "Don't you give me that innocent act. I remember what it's like for rookies. I've seen the way you've managed to run this boy ragged with wild goose chases all week. Poor kid."

Blair stood gazing up in rapt attention to every word his captain said. Simon placed a fatherly arm across his shoulder. "I wouldn't be surprised if you haven't had him doing all your case audits for you."

"What?" Rafe and Henri exclaimed indignantly.

"You've got to be kidding!" Rafe protested. "If anything, Blair was--" He stopped abruptly when he caught Jim's warning glare. "--uh... Blair was insistent on taking most of the files for himself. Hardly even let us help. Isn't that right, guys?"

Henri and Joel agreed with feigned enthusiasm.

"Yeah, right. You know, I expected this from you two." Simon scowled at Rafe and Henri. "But, Ellison, I'm surprised at you. And Joel, you oughtta be ashamed of yourself."

Joel and Jim tried to look suitably chastised. Jim muttered something under his breath about "rites of passage."

Blair looked forlornly up at the captain. In a mournful tone usually reserved for when one's dog has died he said, "I don' have a desk..." He wavered unsteadily on his feet.

"Sandburg, I think you need to sit down," Simon said gently.

"Okay." Blair obliged by dropping down limply right where he stood, his butt hitting the floor with a solid thump. "'s no chair," he said, in vague surprise. His friends watched curiously as he listed slowly to the side until he lay curled at Simon's feet. Out cold.

"Blair?" Simon knelt down and patted his cheeks. "Blair? Look at him. He's exhausted."

Jim knelt on the other side of his young partner. "Yeah. I really ought to get him home to bed, Captain. If one of you guys could help me get him to my truck, I'll take care of him from there..."

"Nice try, Ellison," Simon snorted, "but you're not going to get out of work that easily." He stood stiffly and said, "With Sandburg out of commission, we're all going to have to burn the midnight oil to get these case audits done." Stepping over Blair's sleeping form he headed for the bullpen. "Put Sandburg on the couch in my office where I can keep an eye on him. Then the rest of you get back to work. If the commissioner's going to make my life miserable, I intend to share the wealth," he grumbled as he disappeared around the corner.

The four detectives stood for a moment, soberly studying their sleeping companion.

"Rite of passage my eye." Joel muttered.

*****************

Three hours later...

"Would someone mind telling me who's bright idea it was to let Sandburg sack out in my office?"

Jim looked up from the case file he was working on and peered blearily at his captain. Simon stood glowering in the doorway to his office, an empty coffee mug in his hand.

"Uh... I believe it was your idea, Simon."

"It was?" Simon frowned in confusion for a moment. "Well, that must have been before I found out he snores. Jesus, it's like a chainsaw in there. How's a person supposed to get any work done?"

Joel chuckled, "Looks like the wunderkind has fallen from grace..."

"Huh?" Simon gave him a curious look as he walked over to Ellison's desk. "Say, Jim, where's Sandburg keep his stash of tea?"

"In here, Simon," Jim said, wearily pulling open a side drawer at his desk.

Simon started rifling through the drawer. "Why's he keep it in your desk? Where's his desk?"

Jim stared blankly at him.

"You mean Sandburg still doesn't have his own desk?

Jim shook his head slowly, "Nooo... Things are pretty much status quo here, Captain."

"Huh. Have to do something about that." Simon mumbled, digging further into the drawer.

"Simon, what's up with the tea all of a sudden? I thought you were strictly a coffee man."

"I am. Usually. But Sandburg had me try this great tea that helps you stay alert all night. Terrific stuff. Completely safe and natural."

"Uh-huh..." Jim caught Joel's eye and cast him a questioning look.

Simon paused in his search for the wonder tea. "You know what?" he said pleasantly, "You guys can say all you want about Sandburg and his crazy homeopathic remedies, but I'm tellin' ya, that nih-ka-wah-bee stuff he gave me knocked my cold right on its butt."

"You took some of Blair's ninja stuff?" Rafe stared at him incredulously.

"Huh? Oh, yeah. Always believe in trying new things. Now..." he stared in confusion down at the open drawer. "... what was I looking for?

"Tea, Simon?" Jim offered quietly.

"Oh, yeah! Damn. Doesn't seem to be in here. Hmm..." Simon considered this problem for a moment. "Break room! Bet he keeps some in the break room." He stood and started in the direction of the break room when he noticed the M&Ms scattered around Rhonda's desk. "What the hell? I had no idea Rhonda was such a slob." He strode over to her desk and grabbed a handful of M&M's from the bowl.

"Uh, Simon..." Joel said, hesitantly, "I'm not so sure you should--"

"Wha'?" Simon asked, tossing the candies into his mouth.

"Uh... never mind."

Simon turned and headed for the break room. "Back to work guys. DA wants the background for those depositions by 8:00 a.m."

The four men stared silently at the empty doorway for several long moments.

"Joel? What should we do?" Jim asked.

Joel smiled enigmatically and returned to his work.

"Guys?"

Rafe and Henri each buried their heads in their files.

"Maybe we should, uh... you know..."

For a moment his only answer was the soft snores issuing from Simon's office. Then, Joel began to hum quietly. After a few bars, he was joined by Henri, then by Rafe.

"Uh, fellas?"

"Sometimes you feel like a nut..."

"Guys?"

"Sometimes you don't..."

*****************************zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzTHE END



From: dpack@ionet.net

Julie, I hope you feel better soon and I'm sorry it took so long to post this, but as you can verify, RL sucks sometimes.

Get well soon.

Debbie

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Trick, Not Treats
by Cheyenne

Jim Ellison smiled as he surveyed the multitude of black , orange and purple decorations that dominated the bullpen in Major Crimes. His co-workers had done an all-out job of creating a festive atmosphere within the office. And it seemed the holiday celebration wasn't limited to Major Crimes, as every division within the police department was equally decked out.

Halloween was not normally a police officer's favorite holiday. Too many perverted minds took advantage of the day and too many innocents wound up paying the price. But over the last few years, Halloween had come to be a little less frowned upon by Cascade's finest and was being taken in the more fun spirit it was intended.

Jim heard the elevator in the hallway ding. He smiled as Sandburg exited carrying a tray of food, along with a bag from a local discount store. Blair nodded in greeting to his partner as he made his way to the table of food and snacks that sat against the far wall beside Rafe's desk.

Jim couldn't say for certain that his unorthodox partner's arrival several years ago had anything to do with the resurgence of the holiday spirit, but he felt certain it was at least a contributing factor. Before Blair's arrival, there had been only token attempts at any type of celebration, but the first year Sandburg had been at the department as an observer, he had arrived on Halloween with bags of candy and cookies for all.

Each year since that time, it seemed that just about every person contributed and brought some type of food or snack. The amount had increased, until this year there was more food than the entire department could possibly eat. There would be left over cake, cookies, candy, and a variety of finger foods for days. It didn't matter where you went in the building, you could bet someone was going to offer you something to eat.

Jim grinned as he watched Blair proceed to the snack table with a tray he knew contained sandwiches Sandburg had been making that morning. Jim watched quietly for several minutes as his partner sat the tray on one end, the continued to talk and laugh with Detective Henri Brown while they surveyed the laden table. Feeling the desire to join the two men and the need for another of Joel Taggart's wife's cookies, Jim made his way across the room to the table.

"Hey, boys. Find anything worth eating?"

Blair and Henri turned to him with smiles on their faces as both popped the last of different treats into their mouths.

"Not a thing, Jim," Blair grinned at him mischievously. "You wouldn't like anything here. Trust me."

Ellison mock frowned at him and cuffed the back of his partner's head. "You're only saying that so you can keep the lemon bars all to yourself." Jim nodded toward a tray of yellow desert with only one piece missing, as Brown laughed. "What are you laughing at, H?" He reached past Blair and patted Brown's stomach. "Just how many brownies does this make for you this afternoon?"

Henri continued to grin at him, unfazed, as he placed another brownie on a napkin and turned to walk back to his desk. "Doesn't matter. I took these by the chaplain's office and had him bless all the calories out of 'em."

Jim shook his head in amusement as he watched Blair going for another of the lemon bars. "What about you, Chief? I don't think I've every seen you eat more than one helping of sweets at a time. What gives? Did you skip lunch?"

Blair shook his head, his eyes shining as a memory took him to years past. "No. You've just never seen me around lemon bars. Mom always said I could eat my weight in these. She used to make them for me on my birthday. No matter where we were, she always managed to make them for me." He paused as memories continued to flow back to him. "Instead of birthday cake. I haven't had any since last May."

Jim smiled as he remembered the box of desert that had arrived on his partner's birthday. Sandburg had opened the box with an atmosphere of reverence, then he and Jim had eaten the entire contents after supper. As Ellison recalled they had been every bit as good as the ones Sally had made for him and Stephen when they had been children. "So you're gonna try to eat this whole tray in one sitting?" Jim joked, then frowned as he envisioned his partner on a sugar high. Heaven help them. That's all the department would need. Ricochet Sandburg.

"No, I'm not going to..."

A confused look crossed Blair's face, followed quickly by his emitting a half-gasping, half-choking sound.

"Chief?" Jim frowned and caught the younger man as he stumbled forward and clutched at Jim's shirt. "Sandburg?" he called, more urgent. "What's wrong?" Blair's eyes were wild with panic and Jim could feel his heart pounding in his chest as he held onto him. "Sandburg? What's wrong?" he demanded once more.

Blair continued to gasp as he pulled himself away from Jim's hold and fought his way to the nearest trash can. Jim followed close behind, his face still filled with a mix of anger and concern. Sandburg was not above pulling a prank on the other detectives of Major Crimes and if this was one of them, his partner might very well find himself sleeping in his car for the night.

When Blair began throwing up, Jim knew it was not a trick and became worried. The violence of the episode was not something to take lightly.

As unpleasant as it was to witness someone retching, Jim saw the other detectives within the office watching them; distressed by the event, not repulsed. Even Simon Banks had emerged from his office to find out what was wrong with the youngest member of his team.

"I'll get a wet cloth, Jim." Megan Connor told him on her way out the door.

Jim could only nod his thanks as he continued to support his partner. "Blair? You okay, buddy?"

The heaving had stopped, but Sandburg still seemed unable to catch his breath. "I...I'm...sorr..."

"It's okay, Chief," Jim told him, escorting him toward a chair. "Don't worry about it. Here.."

Jim had been supporting Blair as he stood on shaky legs, but he was not prepared for the smaller man's collapse. Jim managed to catch him before he hit the floor hard enough to do further damage, but he knew instantly that Sandburg was unconscious.

Jim swallowed the lump that had risen in his throat. The chaos within the bullpen bypassed him as he held his best friend within the protective circle of his arms. A chill froze his insides as he recalled another time he had held Blair and coaxed him to continue breathing. This was too similar to his partner's overdose with Golden. Jim closed his eyes and prayed that this wasn't related to that nightmare.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jim stared sightlessly out the window of the small waiting room. It had been over three hours since the paramedics had brought Sandburg into the ER.

At the moment, the only consolation Jim could feel was that at least it meant his partner was still alive.

After Blair had collapsed, Jim had held him while Simon had called for an ambulance. The detective vaguely remembered the stunned silence of the entire office as the young man had been checked over by the medics and loaded on to a gurney for the trip to the hospital. Blair had regained consciousness during the process, but he had continued to have difficulty breathing and had remained unaware of his surroundings.

Jim recalled questions being asked of him during the wait from the ambulance, but his attention had remained on monitoring his partner. He had heard Simon's questions to the others as to what had happened, and faintly remembered his captain ordering the tray of lemon bars wrapped up to be brought to the hospital.

Had the food been tainted? And if it had, had it been accidental or intentionally?

Jim turned as the door across the hall opened and a man with greying temples came forward.

"Detective Ellison?" he asked, coming to a stop as Jim nodded. "I'm Dr. Reynolds. I'm handling Mr. Sandburg's case."

Jim shook the hand the man extended. "How is he, doctor?"

"He's doing better now, detective. We pumped his stomach and have him on morphine. It will ease some of the pain and alleviate some of the symptoms."

"Symptoms of what? What caused this?"

The older man studied the chart he carried in his hands. "Are you familiar with Cephaelis ipecacuanha?" Jim thought for a moment, then shook his head. It sounded vaguely familiar but he couldn't place the name. "More commonly known as ipecac," the doctor continued.

Jim frowned in confusion. "You mean that stuff they give you to make you throw up?"

"Basically, yes." Ipecac? In lemon bars? That was no accident. The detective felt his anger heating up at the thought that someone would deliberately tamper with food . "Was it in the lemon bars?"

Dr. Reynolds nodded. "Yes. Our lab found it in the sample that was brought in with your partner."

"But, why did he have such a violent reaction. I thought that stuff of relatively harmless." Jim turned away from the medical man and rubbed at his forehead in confusion. "I mean they give that stuff to kids for God's sake."

"Regular ipecac, yes, detective. But this wasn't the over-the-counter variety you buy from a pharmacy."

Jim froze and turned back to the doctor, his face becoming hard and cold. "What?" he asked in disbelief.

Dr. Reynold's sighed as he continued. "Someone made an extract from the plant and mixed it into that desert. When it's taken in raw form, the drug is much more potent than the refined variety you usually find in household medicine cabinets. Fourteen times more potent."

Jim felt an icy knot form in his stomach.

"Mr. Sandburg is a lucky young man." The doctor continued, then paused as Simon Banks walked up to stand behind Jim. "When taken at that dosage, death can occur within 24 hours. Fortunately, Mr. Sandburg had thrown up most of it by the time he arrived here. His system still absorbed a portion of the drug, but we were able to counteract it."

Jim shook his head in disbelief as he turned away from the doctor. Why? The snacks were supposed to have been part of a holiday celebration. Dammit, they had been in the middle of the police station. How could someone have done something like that. And especially to Sandburg.

Almost as if reading his thoughts, Simon spoke up from beside him. "Jim," he said in a quiet voice that filtered through Ellison's jumbled thoughts. "We have the person responsible."

The detective whirled on his captain, his anger bursting forth again. "Who?" he demanded.

Simon recognized the signs of a building rage in the man before him. Someone had mess with his partner and now they were going to pay. "Easy, Jim," he said, holding up a hand for calm. "We have the responsible party in custody. It was a senseless Halloween prank gone wrong."

Jim sputtered, disbelieving his captain's attitude. "A senseless prank?" his voice rose in anger with each word. It took a moment for him to control his temper enough to speak without shouting. Still, his words contained a razor's edge. "That 'senseless prank' almost cost Blair his life. I'm not goin..."

"I'm not trying to excuse what happened, Jim." Simon visibly held on to his own temper. It wouldn't do anyone any good for the two of them to be at each other's throat and he couldn't honestly fault Ellison for the fury he was feeling. "But, we already have a confession from the guilty party."

Jim clinched his teeth in an attempt to control his anger. "Who was it, Simon?" His tone was still deadly cold.

After a commanding look to remind Ellison who was the captain, Simon finally admitted. "Randall Perkins."

"Perkins?" Jim frowned as he tried to place the name. "Perkins." His eyes widened as he made the connection. "You mean Councilman Perkins' son? " Simon nodded. "But, why?" Jim searched his mind for the reason. A look of disbelief formed on his face. "Not because of that vandalism thing?"

Simon nodded again. "That's it," he confirmed. "The kid was a hotshot football player with a bad attitude. His little transgression at the school got him suspended from class and from the team. He missed the homecoming game. It was just your bad luck to be the one who happened on to catch him."

"But, why Sandburg? He didn't have anything to do with that bust. He wasn't even with me when I caught the kid."

"Perkins wasn't aiming at Sandburg in particular. The kid and a friend of his came up with the idea to get back at you. They wanted to see Major Crimes on their knees, puking our guts out in the middle of the station."

Jim was stunned speechless. It just didn't make sense. Any of it. "How'd he manage to get in and spike the food?"

"He didn't. He bought it at a bakery and brought it in while everyone was out at lunch. With all the lunacy around the station today, no one paid much attention to him and no one noticed one more platter of food. A couple of the uniforms saw him and his accomplice outside Major Crimes when the paramedics arrived for Sandburg and thought they were acting hinkey. When they latched on to them, the other kid started confessing so fast they couldn't get it written down quick enough."

"Did they say where they obtained the extract, Captain?" Dr. Reynolds asked with concern.

"As near as we can tell right now, they made it in the school lab. I've got officers in route to the school to talk to the teacher there."

"Then there's no danger that someone else could accidently get a hold of it?"

"We don't think so, doctor, but we're checking to make sure."

Dr. Reynolds nodded in satisfaction. They certainly didn't want any one else to be poisoned.

"Are they going to be charged?" Jim asked in a quiet voice.

Simon nodded. "I've already talked to the DA. This is only the latest in a long string of incidents involving Perkins. His father's position isn't going to cut him any slack this time. The DA is going to file charges of 'reckless endangerment' on him as an adult and anything else we can scrape up. He won't walk on this, Jim."

Jim nodded, not exactly satisfied, but it would do for now.

The small waiting room was filled with silence as all three men dealt with the senselessness of the action. Finally, Jim gave himself a mental shake and turned back to the doctor.

"Will Blair be okay?" he asked.

"Yes. I want to keep him over night for observation and he'll need to rest for a few days, but he'll be fine."

Jim felt a huge weight lifted from his heart. Silently he nodded his head in gratitude.

"Well. Gentlemen. I have a patient to get back to," the doctor told them, before turning to Simon. "Captain, if you would, please notify me when you've verified there is no more of that poison floating around."

Simon nodded his agreement.

"Detective Ellison. If you'll come with me. You can see your partner now. We're preparing a room for him, but you canwait with him until we're ready to move him."

Simon watched as Jim started to protest before the doctor's words sank in on him. Despite the gravity of the situation, it took all of the captain's willpower not to laugh. Reynold's had thrown Ellison a curve ball.

At the confused look on the detective's face, Dr. Reynolds frowned. "You don't have to go, detective. I just thought..."

"No," Jim hastened to reply. "No, that's alright, doctor. I appreciate it. You just surprised me. That's all."

"So I see." A sly smile crept to the doctor's face.

"You'll have to forgive him, doctor," Simon spoke up. "Jim usually has to glare his way into Sandburg's hospital room." Simon was not doing a very good job of containing his laughter now.

"So I've heard."

Jim's eyes narrowed, his voice tinged in anger and a hint of embarrassment. He did not like to be the object of discussion by third parties. "What exactly have you heard?"

The doctor smiled at him with amusement. "I was warned by the ER staff to be prepared to contend with you regarding visitation with Mr. Sandburg while he was here." He shrugged as Jim's mouth hung opened. "I just thought it would be easier on all concerned if we started out without an argument."

Jim was flustered. He wasn't sure whether he should be indignant or pleased. He settled for a thankful embarrassment and followed the doctor to his partner without a backward glance to Simon.

His best friend would be fine. That was really all that matter at the moment. Everything else would fall into place in its own accord. And if it didn't....well, he'd deal with that down the road.

End



From: Sammi <sammi4@airmail.net>

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

This one is for you, Julie. You have my prayers and best thoughts. We're counting on your strength and determination to pull you through this.

Oh yeah, this is not my usual fare. This one might actually have a happy ending. :-)

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

A Time to Kill
A Giftfic for Julie
By Sammi

"I'm telling you man, this is not your average woman," Blair Sandburg enthused as he, his partner and their boss entered the bullpen of Major Crimes. "We talked for hours about all sorts of subjects and she even showed me her collection of fetishes. She is fantastic!"

"Yeah and I'm sure it doesn't hurt that she's tall, leggy and beautiful," Jim Ellison added wryly as he playfully cuffed the back of his friend's head.

"Forget how she looks, man. She has two Ph.D.s in physics and philosophy *and* she plays the cello. What's beauty compared to that?"

Captain Simon Banks halted midway to his office and stared at his youngest detective in complete bemusement. "Are you feeling okay?" He shot his hand out and felt Blair's forehead. "Do you have a fever? Should I call for a medic? Or better yet, Ripley's Believe It or Not?"

Blair pushed away at the offending hand and hit at it when it threatened to return. "No, I don't have a fever and don't mess up the hair, man." Smoothing out his clothes, he took a step away from his two friends. "All I'm saying is there comes a time in a man's life where he has to stop looking at the outer and focus on the inner."

Neither man could resist, "Yeah, when he's dead."

"Whatever. I can see that I'm wasting my breath on two lost causes. You guys can continue to wander around aimlessly in search of something as fleeting as beauty. I, on the other hand, have found something better." Without another backward glance, Blair continued into Simon's office and grabbed a seat.

Jim cocked his head at Simon and grinned. "Five will get ya ten, he didn't get any last night."

"That's a sucker bet. He's not so impressed with her brains. I think it's more like he's intrigued that after five dates, she's been able to resist his charms." Simon snorted. "Hell, you saw him last night. He was laying it on so thick, women in Russia were swooning, but Ms. Dahl seemed unaffected. I'll give him a week after she finally gives in for him to change his tune."

"But, he has been looking at her kind of differently than his usual dates. What if this one is the one? What if he has finally been snagged by long talks of Kant, Nietzsche and Faraday?"

Simon chuckled, "Boy, that college edumacation really worked for you! A number of cops around here wouldn't know how to pronounce those names let alone know who they were." He frowned slightly. "Do you really think Nietzsche makes good pillow talk? His beliefs always turned my stomach. I had to pop tons of antacids after philosophy class."

"Uh, you're kind of missing the point," Jim responded rolling his eyes. "You know what I'm trying to get at. This is important. We should take this seriously. What if all of his life he's just been searching for someone to stimulate his mind rather than his eyes?"

Again, neither man could resist as they shook their heads, "Nyah."

As the two friends laughed at their little joke, they moved fairly quickly into the office and proceeded to complete their morning ritual with a shared cup of coffee.

This type of scene was becoming more and more common as the weeks went by. Jim and Blair would meet up with Simon on Wednesday and Thursday mornings at their favourite diner and share a leisurely breakfast. They would discuss anything new that was going on or a case that was stumping them or try to figure ways to out-manoeuvre Brown, Rafe and Taggert out of the bi-weekly pool. No matter what they talked about, they always finished up with a cup of flavoured joe back in Simon's office and with a lot of teasing and joking added in for good measure.

None of the other officers in the department questioned why or how the ritual started. They just sat back and enjoyed the lighter atmosphere in Major Crimes cause everyone knew that if Banks, Ellison and Sandburg were happy, the bullpen was a lot better place to be.

This Thursday morning, Simon couldn't believe how quickly the three of them were going through the coffee. They'd only been in his office for a few minutes and they were already on their third round. At this rate, he'd have to make more before they officially started the day. Something about that nagged at him, but he ignored it as his head protested with a slight ache.

Blair had been watching his boss' face and he couldn't miss the grimace that registered on it. Ignoring the slow pound that had taken up residence in his head after his first cup of coffee, he asked, "Are you okay, Simon?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Guess I need to go easy on the caffeine - my head's letting me know I'm not a young man any more."

Jim snickered, "Isn't that supposed to be your bladder letting you know?"

"Ha ha, Ellison. Let me ditch this headache and I'll show you what's funny."

"Oh, I'm shaking."

Blair ignored the little interchange and closed his eyes when the pounding increased. Latching on to something his captain had said, he tried to focus on what was bothering him. "Whoa, you've got a headache too? Well, I hope yours is better than mine. I feel like a drum corps is practising in my head."

Simon nodded and then regretted the action as his head exploded into a riot of pain. "Oh, man, I don't think this is good." Seeing that the Sentinel didn't seem affected by what was bothering him and Blair, Simon reached out a sluggish arm in appeal. "Jim, I think we need some help."

Jim just stared confused at his friends. What was happening? He knew something was wrong, but he couldn't seem to move or yell for help. In horror, he watched as Blair silently slid to the floor in an unconscious heap and Simon dropped to his desk with a groan. He knew he needed to do something, but his mind refused to cooperate and tell him what.

Finally, he managed to will his body to move and he tried to stand. As soon as he was upright, he knew exactly what had felled his friends. His head erupted in pain and before the darkness claimed him, he launched his chair back into the wall with a resounding crash.

The sudden noise from the office alerted everyone in the bullpen that something was very wrong. Joel was the first through the door and what he saw had him quickly yelling to Henri, "We need the paramedics in here now!"

*************

The annoying and steady tap of water hitting what sounded like a window was the first thing Jim was aware of as he fought his way to consciousness. The feeling of cold air pushing up his nose and the rawness of his throat quickly followed. Slowly, he pushed through the darkness and opened his eyes to white tiles. Blinking, he tried to lick his dry lips, but his mouth was equally if not more dry.

"Hey there. Bet you'd like something to drink, huh?" A gentle masculine voice offered. There was movement off to the right and Jim could feel the head of the bed slowly rising. Once a suitable angle was found, the bed stopped and a brown hand holding a cup with a straw came into the injured man's view. "Here you go, Jim. Slightly lower than room temperature just the way you like it."

Jim wasn't sure how exactly the straw made it into his mouth, but he was most grateful when the water started to irrigate the desert it had become. Once he'd had his fill, he pulled back just enough and turned his head to look at his angel of mercy. "Jo'l?"

Joel's face lit up with his best smile. "Hey, buddy. How ya doing? You had us all worried there for a while."

"Wor'eed?"

"Yeah, we thought we'd lost you a couple of times."

"Wh' happened?"

For a second, Joel seemed hesitant to answer, but seeing the confusion in his friend's eyes shattered whatever resolve he had. "The doctors said you were poisoned."

Jim sat up rather quickly startled by what he'd heard. "Poisoned?! How?"

"Whoa, calm down before you have the medicos ready to throw me out," the larger man soothed as he pressed his hands gently on Jim's shoulders. "I should have called for the nurse as soon as you awakened and if we're not careful, I'm gonna get into a lot of trouble."

Ellison sat back, but something kept niggling at the corner of his mind. "You said I was poisoned. How, Joel?"

"Well, what's the last thing you remember?"

"Dinner last night."

"Uh, I hate to tell you this, but that was five days ago."

"Five days? You telling me I've been like this for five *days*?"

"Unfortunately, yeah." Joel sat back a bit and frowned. He didn't like the fact that Jim wasn't asking the obvious questions and he was worried that more damage had been done than they originally thought. "You were barely functioning when they brought you in and you were pretty deep under for two days afterwards."

Jim relaxed a little after hearing that. He could accept the loss of the days since he'd been unconscious. "Okay, so how'd I get like that? Do you know who poisoned me? Why?"

Still not liking how Jim was using the singular, Joel explained what he knew. "After we got you to the hospital and the doctor told us you were critical, but stable, H and I headed back to the station. The scene had been pretty well preserved considering all the personnel that helped you. Anyway, we thought back to that morning and went through your normal Thursday ritual. Looking at the room, our first thoughts went to the coffee. Serena was still working on the lab analysis when we made it down there, but all she'd found so far was an exotic blend of coffee that was loaded with caffeine." Joel shook his head in defeat. "We were stumped. One of you coming into contact with a toxin we could explain, but all three...."

"Three?" A look of confusion fell over the ill detective's face, but it was soon followed by one of fear and pain. "Blair! Is he okay? Where is he? Why isn't he here?" Jim tried to push the covers aside in preparation of getting up, but his arms still felt like mush. Once he realised his actions were futile, he lay back exhausted and anguished. "What about Simon? What's going on with him? Come on, Joel! Please, tell me something!"

Joel had stood at the first sign of distress from his friend and he was silently berating himself for not paying attention to what he was saying. "Calm down, Jim. I promise if you'll just take it easy, I'll tell you everything."

"Starting with how Blair and Simon are," Ellison pushed.

"Starting with how Blair and Simon are," Joel agreed as he nodded. "Both of them were hit harder with this than you. They're both still pretty deep, but the doc says they're following the same road of progression that you did. So, he's confident they're going to be okay - just take a little bit longer. At first, everyone was really worried that we wouldn't be able to help you guys in time because we didn't have any idea how or with what you were poisoned. Like I said, we were stumped - that is until Megan reminded us about the starting point of your rituals."

The smallest hint of a smile could be seen on Jim's face as he picked up where his friend was going with this. "The Diner!"

"Yeah, The Diner. So, H, Megan, Rafe and I decided to take a little trip down there and do a little sniffing around and you won't guess what we found."

"Cut the suspense, Joel, and just tell me. Please."

"Who owns The Diner, Jim?"

"Uh, Shelly Berubi, why?"

"Do you remember what her married name was?"

Jim released a breath in frustration and shook his head, "No, not at this moment."

"It was Gordon. She used to be married to one Nathaniel Gordon to be exact."

"Shelly was married to Nate "The Drill" Gordon? Man, you have got to be kidding me. How can someone so nice have been married to such a sadistic bastard?" Another thought crossed his mind. "Oh, no, Joel. Don't tell me Shelly...."

Joel shook his head, "Relax, Shelly had nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, her brother was a different story."

"Stewart?"

"Yeah, Stewart. Seems that he was really close to Nate when his sister and he were married. Nate helped him through a rough spot and they became friends."

"But I don't understand. Why'd he wait till now? We've been going in there for a couple of months and he always seemed okay to us. A little on the weird side, but okay. What changed?"

"Nate Gordon was knifed to death at Starkville about two weeks ago. We think that Stewart just snapped when he heard, but he couldn't do anything about it until he worked on Thursday. Shelly knew something was up by how he was acting, but she thought it was because he was still mourning Nate. She never thought he would have tried to kill the two officers who put Nate in prison."

"So, why'd he poison Sandburg? He wasn't involved in that."

Joel shrugged. "Nobody knows and Stewart's not talking. We just figured he targeted Blair cause he was friends with both of you. Whatever his reasons, he's gonna have a long time to think about it. As glad as I am about that, I'm just happy it's not for a lot longer a time. I don't think Major Crimes could have handled losing any or all of you guys."

Jim finally set free one of his best Ellison smiles and winked at his friend. "Yeah, like you guys could get rid of us this easily. We're made of sterner stuff, Taggert, and no little poison is gonna take us out."

"I'm glad to hear that, my friend. I'm mighty glad to hear that."

******************

Jim wasn't sure how Joel had managed it, but somehow he'd finagled to get all three men transferred to one of the wardrooms together.

As he sat in his "only temporary" wheelchair as the nurses had informed him, in between the beds where his best friends recuperated, he had to admit that both the men looked a lot better than he'd imagined. Blair actually had some colour in his cheeks and he seemed to be breathing pretty well. Simon still had a few more machines hooked up to various parts of his body, but even with that, he had this aura of peace and health around him.

Their doctor had been amazed at Jim's progress since he'd awakened and he'd assured the detective that he was expecting the same type of results from the other two. That had pretty much made Jim's day because he just couldn't picture his life without his friends. He'd never expected to depend so much on Blair's unique way of looking at things or Simon's to-a-fault practicality, but somehow that was what had happened - and he wouldn't change it for anything.

Needing to feel the life in his friends, he reached out both arms and grabbed one light and one dark hand. Though it didn't seem to be the most comfortable of positions, somehow, Jim fell asleep exactly like that and that's how their nurses found them.

And everything was okay. Just like it should be.

Finito


Page 8