Gen.  Rated G.  Gratuitous hurt/comfort. 

Most heartfelt thanks to my betas, Trish and Sandy.  I was the last one to read the final version, so any mistakes are mine.





(c) Dec 2004 by Charlotte Frost




“If I should meet thee after long years, how should I greet thee? – with silence and tear s.”  -- Byron



He felt as if he were a part of the rock he was tied against and just as inanimate, though he knew he breathed.  He could shift his legs, which were stretched in front of him, but doing so moved his torso just enough to add to the agony at his back.


He was essentially blind.  What light he’d been able to see before was now the darkness of his tomb.


There were other physical pains and discomfort – especially the cold – but none were as acute as his loneliness.  He still had a voice, but if he cried out yet again – risking even greater thirst – who would hear?



The sense of déjà vu would have been laughable if the situation hadn’t been so serious.


Here he was, listening to the local law enforcement talk about how they were marching off in one direction while, in the dusk of evening, Jim was preparing to march off in another.  Alone.


This time, unlike the situation with Quinn last year, he really couldn’t blame the locals.  The helicopters that had been flying about since the rain ended mid-morning had spotted Masters and Lewis, the two perps who had grabbed Sandburg as a hostage during a confrontation with police four days ago.  So it was only logical, now that the two had been located, that all law enforcement personnel head in that direction.


The problem was that Masters and Lewis didn’t have Blair with them, according to what the helicopters had observed.  That meant Blair had managed to escape into the woods of the Cascades, or been left behind… dead or alive. 


Jim was going to find him.


He was able to be optimistic about the results.  Masters and Lewis had rap sheets a mile long and could be brutal to their victims, but they weren’t cold-blooded killers. 


Jim didn’t even try convincing anyone else that they should follow him in the opposite direction to look for Blair.  They had to focus on the two birds they had in hand, rather than hoping for another in the bush.


Besides, Jim could travel faster alone… especially since that meant he wouldn’t have to answer questions about his “hunches”.  He would have liked to have help from someone in Major Crimes, but a six-month operation to nail a drug lord was expected to reach fruition tonight.  It was only for reasons of friendship that Simon was even willing to take Jim’s name off the roster so he could assist in the search for Blair.


There had been various leads from citizens who had reported seeing three men matching the descriptions of Blair, Masters, and Lewis.  The last had been at a convenience store at the foot of the Cascades, Masters gathering supplies for camping while Lewis waited in the car with Blair.  Therefore, the county sheriff’s department had focused its search on the Cascades and had spotted Masters and Lewis earlier today.


Blair was nowhere to be seen.



It had been dark for nearly an hour.  To spare straining his eyesight, Jim used a flashlight to negotiate through the thick woods. He kept his hearing tuned to the noises of the forest, so he could detect any sounds that didn’t belong. He also kept his sense of smell alert, for he’d smelled peppermint for some time now.  Masters, the more violent of the pair, had a sweet tooth for peppermint candy.


Occasionally, Jim heard noises far in the distance – activity from the others as they closed in on their suspects.


For his own target, Jim went with gut instinct.  Not so long ago, he and Blair had had a conversation about the subject. 


“It’s the biggest crime of child-rearing,” Blair had said.  “’Growing up’ means that you lose all your instincts.  Everything you know, at a gut level, about yourself or the world around you is replaced with logic, facts, and rationale. We lose our sixth sense, in a manner of speaking.  It’s the lucky ones who are able to get that back in adulthood, such as you when you had to survive in Peru.  I was fortunate to grow up with a parent who didn’t believe in stomping out everything that made me unique.  She let me find my own path.”


As he pushed a wet tree branch aside, Jim thought I’m using those instincts now, buddy.  But it would help a lot if you could give me some kind of sign where you are.


It was possible that Blair may have escaped and was going in a completely different direction, and had been unable to find a way to signal the helicopters.


But Jim didn’t think so.  His gut said otherwise.  The faint smell of peppermint had to be leading him somewhere.


Blair was a competent outdoorsman, but more in a jungle situation than rainy, wooded, mountainous terrain.   At night, he would most likely have sought cover until daylight – assuming he was reasonably healthy and able to make choices.


Jim paused and took a water bottle from his backpack.  He spent a moment sipping from it as he carefully listened. 


He could hear an owl in the distance… insects… the trickle of a far-away stream.


He put the water away and continued up the mountain he was climbing, his flashlight showing the way.


Then he heard it… something that didn’t fit the forest noises.


It may have been a gasp, may have been a cough.  The sound had been low and soft, and Jim stopped to listen for a long moment.


He didn’t hear the noise again, but his hearing continued to filter and –




Jim took a few steps forward to give himself something to do so that he didn’t risk zoning.  His conscious attention remained on the noise.


He wanted to make sure that there was only one heartbeat – that somehow Masters and Lewis hadn’t met up with an accomplice or two who had stayed behind with Blair.


The one heartbeat remained steady.


Now a soft moan.


“Sandburg!”  Jim called into the forest.


The heart beat faster.


So did Jim’s.  “I’m close, Chief!  Can you say something so I can find you?” 


The heart beat faster still.  Then, from the same direction – above Jim and to the left – there was a quiet, raspy, “Cave.”


Cave?  Jim moved his flashlight around as he turned in a slow circle, not seeing anything.  “Chief?  Can you come out and raise a hand or throw a rock to signal me?”


Jim had to strain his ears to hear the softly spoken reply. 


Tied up?  He thought that’s what Blair had said. In a cave and tied up.


“Hang on!”  Jim started to the left, though he still wasn’t sure exactly where Blair was.  “I’ll be there in a minute!”


He pointed the flashlight to the ground and used his sentinel sight to study the rock face above him.  The clouds had cleared away since the morning’s rain and stars lit the sky.


He spotted a jagged lip in the mountainside about twenty yards up.  He couldn’t tell what was above it.


He started climbing toward it, fighting steep, damp ground that tended to collapse beneath him.  “Hang on, Chief!”


As he climbed, Jim spotted footprints.  This was definitely the right area. 


The ground leveled out and Jim reached into his backpack for the homing device that the local sheriff had given him.  He switched it on and placed it on the lip of what he could now see was definitely a cave.


The cave wasn’t high enough for him to stand upright, so Jim crouched and shone his flashlight inside.  “Sandburg?” 


He spotted Blair twenty feet inside the darkness.  Even as Jim felt relief that his four-day saga of worry and searching was coming to an end, his heart clenched at the sight before him.


Oh, Chief.


“Hey, there,” he said in his gentlest voice, while removing the backpack from his shoulders.  “I’m right here, buddy.”  He shone the flashlight up at his own face as he approached.  “It’s me.”


Blair tried to look at him through a right eye that was almost swollen shut, and a left one that was watery, heavily squinted, and blinking constantly. 


“Jim?” came the dry, trembling whisper… so full of hope.


“Right here,” Jim said, placing his hand on Blair’s shoulder.  He was concerned with the way Blair’s left eye kept twitching and the way he was shivering.


Blair choked out a sob.


Dear God.  “Easy, easy.  I’m going to get you out of here, Chief.  Just hang on.”  Jim placed the flashlight on the ground and took a hunting knife from his backpack.   He couldn’t begin to evaluate Blair’s condition until he freed him from the rock he was tied against.


While muttering reassurances, he squeezed Blair’s shoulder again.  “Bear with me and I’ll get you loose.”


Jim shifted to one side to get a better look.  He had to make an effort to keep his anger in check.  Not only was Blair tied to the jutting edge of the boulder he rested against, but his hands were also restrained behind his back with more rope.  Where did they think he was going to go?


And… Did those bastards beat him before or after they tied him up?


The first rope fell away.  Two more to go.  Jim sawed at the second one, while his other hand kept squeezing Blair’s shoulder.  He tried to focus as Blair kept murmuring, “Jim, Jim,” as though trying to reassure himself that he was really being rescued.


Jim grew impatient with the third rope and attacked it more fiercely.  “Hang on.”


“My back,” Blair whispered hoarsely, slumping over Jim’s arm.


Jim shifted so that Blair’s forehead could rest against his chest.


Reaching around Blair, he cut the rope binding his hands. Blair gasped as his arms fell to his sides.


Back? Jim wondered.  “Okay,” he said softly, “let me take a look.”


Awkwardly, he moved Blair’s jacket off and away from his dangling arms.  As he did so, he asked in a casual tone, “How long have you been tied up here?”


There was a noise of thick swallowing.  Then, in a strained whisper, Blair replied, “Since yesterday.”


God.  Blair had been like this all through yesterday, all of last night and all of today.


The jacket dropped to the ground.   While looking over Blair’s shoulder, Jim pulled up his shirt and T-shirt with one hand and grabbed his flashlight with the other.  


Most of the center of Blair’s back was bruised, some of it scraped by the rock he’d been resting against, despite wearing the jacket.  In the center of his back, near his spine, the skin had broken and there were rivulets of blood.


The most jutting portion of the rock had dug into Blair’s back every time he’d shifted in all his hours here.




“You’re okay,” Jim said, thinking it probably felt even worse than it looked.  He could imagine how sore Blair’s whole back was. 


He placed his hand against Blair’s skin and began gently rubbing around the bruising, though it was impossible to avoid it altogether.  He hoped the motion soothed sore muscles, helped restore circulation… and provided comfort.


Blair’s weight grew heavier against him even as he took dry, stilted breaths.


Jim let the shirts drop and reached around Blair with both hands to draw his jacket back over his shoulders.  Then he took a moment to place his hand on Blair’s head.  He told himself it was to check for head injuries but he couldn’t stop from pressing Blair closer against him.


Just for a moment, he silently promised them both.


Blair choked out another sob and Jim pressed harder.  “It’s all right.”  He felt his own insides soften as he held Blair.  “You’re going to be fine.”


Jim felt something at his side, beneath his ribs.  He looked down to see that Blair’s right hand had gathered enough strength to take hold of him.


Blair made another noise and then coughed dryly.


“Easy, easy,” Jim said.  “Let me check out the rest of you.”  Using his left hand as support, his right hand pushed against Blair’s chest to straighten him.


Blair winced and made a noise of protest as his head fell back.


“Sorry,” Jim said, stretching to reach for the water bottle near his backpack.  He wasn’t sure if he was apologizing for having pressed on Blair or having made him sit up.


Jim shifted so that he could support the back of Blair’s head.  “Water,” he said, bringing the bottle to Blair’s mouth.


Blair’s jaw opened only a little, and it wasn’t until the first drops went into his mouth that he opened wider and swallowed eagerly. 


“Slow sips.  There’s plenty.”  At least, Jim hoped there was.  Two bottles should be enough until help arrived.


Jim waited until Blair seemed out of breath, then capped the bottle and put it aside.  Since Blair’s head was still tilted back, he took advantage of it and reached for the flashlight.  He placed it on the boulder above Blair, then pointed it down so that it shone on Blair’s face.


“Easy there, buddy. Let me take a look.”


“Can’t see very well,” Blair said with a hint of panic.


“Yeah, your eyelids are swollen,” Jim said as soothingly as he was able.   He had no doubt the right one would be fine when the swelling went down, which was obviously caused by a punch.  But the left… it was so watery and constantly blinking.  Jim studied it a moment, then spotted the source of the problem.


He patted the side of Blair’s head and then reached for his backpack.  “Bear with me, Chief.  I think I can help you out here.”


While Blair’s right hand kept its clutch on Jim, his left now started to reach out, and then dropped as Blair stiffened.


Jim wondered what kind of injury caused that reaction, but for now he was focused on Blair’s eye.


“I’m right here,” Jim continued to soothe as he felt inside his backpack.  He found the first aid kit and pulled it free.


His left arm still supporting Blair’s shoulders, he opened the first aid kit with his free hand.  “Easy, easy.”


He found a pair of tweezers and renewed his grip on Blair.  “Buddy?  I need to let go of you for a moment so I can use both hands to get that splinter out of your eye.  Do you think you can stay sitting up by yourself? 


Blair’s hand released Jim’s middle and traveled up hesitantly until it reached his chest.  He gripped Jim’s shirt there, where his jacket hung open.


“That’s it, hang on to me.” 


Slowly, Jim let go of Blair’s left shoulder. 


Breathing anxiously, Blair tightened his grip on Jim shirt.


“That’s great, Chief.  Easy does it.”  Jim brought the tweezers up.  “I know this is going to be a little uncomfortable, but if you hold still I’m sure I can get that splinter out.  Understand?”


Blair made a soft, indecipherable noise.


“I’ll be as easy as I can but it’s going to feel intrusive for a moment.  Are you with me on this?”


“Please,” Blair whispered.


Damn, but that piece of wood had to be annoying.  The shame of it was that it appeared to be right at the edge of the lower eyelid, so that it probably wouldn’t have taken much for Blair to remove it himself.  But with his hands tied and not even being able to rub his face against his knee or his shoulder….




“Hold still.” Jim pulled down Blair’s lower eyelid with his left hand.  Holding the tweezers in his right, he let his sight focus on the splinter.  He brought the tweezers closer and reached for the sliver of wood.


Blair’s breath was tight and heavy.


It was a blessing that the splinter was large enough to grab.  A quick tug of Jim's wrist and it was gone.


“There you go,” Jim said, dropping the tweezers into the kit.  “Give it a little while to get back to normal, but I think you’ll be seeing out of it before long.”


Blair’s head bowed, brushing against Jim’s chin.  “Thank you,” he whispered softly.


Blair’s words had been so sincere.  Jim circled his arm back around him and pressed Blair’s head closer, so he could rest his chin atop it.  “We’re going to get you out of here, buddy.  You’re going to be fine.”


Blair emitted a choked noise.


Jim’s fingertips furrowed through Blair’s hair in an attempt to be soothing.  He was torn between letting Blair rest against him a while, or proceeding to take care of his physical needs.


That was the problem – he didn’t know whether Blair’s physical or emotional needs had the greatest urgency.  It was just that the emotional would probably improve with the physical, so….


Jim finally raised his head.  “Let’s check the rest of you out.”  He reached for the flashlight and angled it lower, and then started unbuttoning Blair’s flannel shirt.  “You think you’re more than sore and bruised anywhere?  Anything broken or causing you problems?”




“Left one?” Jim guessed, because of Blair’s aborted movement earlier.


Blair swallowed a moment, as though thinking it through, and then, “Yeah.”


Blair needed more water, his voice was so low and thick.  But Jim wanted to first see what the damage was.


He grabbed scissors from the first aid kit and started cutting Blair’s T-shirt from the top.  Once reaching the bottom, he pushed each flap of the shirt aside.




Blair’s torso was covered with bruises.  But what captured Jim’s attention was his upper chest.  His collarbone had a deep splotch of bruising, particularly one spot over the bone itself.  Jim let his sight zero in on it while shifting the flashlight yet again.


It looked broken.


His eyes continued down.  “Easy, buddy,” he said, placing his fingertips against Blair’s belly and feeling along the soft inner tissues.  He couldn’t detect anything that would be reason for concern. 


“How about your legs?” he asked, his hand running along the leg nearest him.  “Anything there giving you a problem?”




As Jim massaged along one, and then the other, his eyes fell on a pile of wood stacked at the edge of the cave.  Obviously, Blair’s captors had planned on staying here a while.  He wondered what made them change their minds, and what made them leave Blair behind when he surely would have been more valuable as a hostage.


Or had Blair simply been too much of a burden, after he was nearly blind and beaten up?


Blair’s head tilted forward so that it rested against Jim’s shoulder.


“Hey there, Chief,” Jim said, stroking along the back of Blair’s hair, “how you doing?”  He reached for the water bottle.  “More water?”


Blair seemed more aware this time around and he drank for a long time, obeying Jim’s directions to take slow sips.


When he was done, Jim pressed Blair’s head against his shoulder again, wanting to both have and give that closeness.


“I pissed my pants.”


Jim continued stroking the dirty, greasy hair.  “Yeah, well, we can forgive that this one time,” he said with gentle amusement. His sense of smell had already figured that out upon first finding Blair.


Since Blair seemed more alert, Jim decided to update him.  “I didn’t bring the cavalry with me.”  He kept his voice cheerful.


Blair’s hand renewed its grip on Jim’s coat.  “The cavalry came.”


Jim’s heart clenched.  “I’ve got a transmitter sending a signal.  The locals are out trying to round up Masters and Lewis, since they were spotted about twenty miles away.  They’ll come back for us, but it might be a good hour or two.  In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to build a fire outside here to help them locate us, and warm you up.  I’ve got a sleeping bag with me that you can rest in.”


Blair’s grip tightened.


“I’m right here, Chief.” 


Jim reached for his backpack again until he found snack bars.  “Can you eat something?  I want to give you some aspirin for the pain and it’ll be easier on your stomach if you have something in it.”


He removed his arm from around Blair and unwrapped the bar, then placed it in Blair’s hand.  “Try eating that.”  His plan was to leave him alone to eat it while he made a fire, but he realized that wasn’t going to work.  He’d have to leave Blair propped against the side of the cave – or back against the rock – and he thought Blair’s back had already been through enough.


While Blair slowly ate the bar, his weight against Jim, Jim massaged his left arm, while not moving it, to help restore the circulation.  He stopped when he got down to the wrist, for it was raw and blistered from Blair having fought with the ropes.


Blair had a difficult time swallowing the last bite of bar.   


Jim gave him more water and was glad when Blair helped hold the bottle.  Then he followed it up with aspirin from the first aid kit and yet more water to wash it down, finishing off the bottle.


Blair again laid his head on Jim’s shoulder.  “Thanks for…coming…,” his trembling voice trailed off.


“Hey, of course I came for you.”  Jim rubbed the back of Blair’s shoulders.  “I found you because of everything you taught me.”


Blair choked out, “Thought I was going to die.”  He pressed his face into Jim as he drew a shuddering breath.




“I’m a mess.”  The stilted sentence came out with a weak chuckle, and then abrupt silence.


“You’re not a mess,” Jim said.  “You’re doing great and you’re going to be fine.”


He spared them a few more moments of quiet closeness.


Though hating to disrupt the intimacy, Jim said, “Chief?  We need to move you to the front of the cave, so I can make a fire.  I know you can’t crawl with that arm, and this cave is too low for walking, so how about we just scoot you a little at a time?”




Jim put the first aid kit in the backpack.  “It won’t take long,” he said, getting one arm under Blair’s legs.  “Keep hanging onto me.”


With one arm beneath Blair’s knees, and the other around his back, Jim lifted, feeling the strain on his own back, and moved them both a few feet forward.  Blair didn’t show much reaction, so Jim took another breath and moved him some more.  The next pause, he reached for the backpack to bring it along with them, so he wouldn’t have to separate from Blair later to retrieve it.


“Here we go,” Jim said, panting, when they had reached the mouth of the cave.  Releasing Blair’s legs, he reached to the stack of firewood and picked up enough to build a sizeable fire.  Then he took the backpack and found his fire-starting materials.


A blaze erupted a few seconds later.


After resting a moment, Jim brought his free hand up and laid it along Blair’s cheek.  “You able to see at all yet?”


Blair’s left eye strained to open.  It blinked a lot, then stilled.  “Yeah,” he said gruffly, his eye studying Jim.


He turned his face into Jim’s shoulder and moved his grip from Jim’s side to circle his hand around his back.  He groaned and seemed to think better of the movement, settling for grabbing the back of Jim’s coat.


“Oh, God,” he said with a sound between a gasp and a sob.


Jim loosely wrapped his arms around Blair, knowing it was his broken collarbone that had aborted Blair’s embrace.  “Easy, buddy, easy.”


Blair turned his head so his mouth could move.  Then words tumbled out.  “I thought I was going to die here.  I didn’t want to die alone.  I begged them not to leave me.”


Damn.  Blair was one who dealt with fear and stress by talking.  If there had been no one to talk to….


Jim closed his eyes and tightened his arms.  “It’s all right,” he said softly.  “I’m here now.  It’s all going to be okay.”   He nuzzled Blair’s forehead, not knowing what other comfort he could offer.  Then he gently asked,  “You didn’t think I’d be looking for you?”


“I didn’t see how you could find me,” Blair said in a tight, choked voice.  Then, obviously in reference to Jim’s tracking Quinn when he had kidnapped Simon, “No cigar trail.”


“Peppermint,” Jim told him.  “I was smelling peppermint.  At one point I found a candy wrapper.”  He allowed himself to kiss Blair’s forehead.  “Like I said, you taught me well.”


Blair was quiet for a long time.  Then, “I always thought, if I knew I was dying, I’d be philosophical about it.  I’m not afraid of what happens after death.” He tilted his head up, his one good eye seeking Jim.  “But I didn’t want to die. Not yet.  Not like this.  Alone.”  His voice grew thicker.  “I just wanted somebody to hold me.” 




Abruptly, Blair looked away.  “Sorry.”


“You’ve got nothing to be sorry for,” Jim said roughly. 


“It was this big joke,” Blair went on.  “I’ve always surrounded myself with people.  Then when it mattered most that somebody be there… nobody was.”  His eyes squeezed shut and his grip on Jim tightened once again.  He sputtered out, “The joke was on me.”


Jim thought his heart would break.  He brought his hand up to Blair’s cheek again.  “Hey.”  Then more firmly, “Hey.”  He waited until Blair’s left eye fluttered open and settled on his face.  Jim leaned closer to him so that he could feel Blair’s stilted exhalations.  “That wasn’t when it mattered most.  What matters most is right now.  I’m here.  Holding you.  You’re going to be fine.”


Jim restrained himself from pointing out that Blair was nowhere near death.  But he knew that wasn’t the point.  The point was that Blair could have suffered, unable to move, for days before his body finally gave out from thirst – and with nothing to do but think about his demise.


He felt a renewed surge of anger.  Those men might not be cold-blooded killers, but it was attempted murder, nevertheless, to leave Blair in such a helpless state.


To distract himself and Blair, he said, “How about we get you stretched out and inside the sleeping bag?  That’ll feel better, won’t it?  I’ll be right here.”  Yet, as he reached to untie the rolled-up bag from his backpack, he realized that between Blair’s broken collarbone and sore back, he would only be able to lie comfortably on his right side.  


Using his one free hand while the other stayed against Blair’s back, Jim unrolled the sleeping bag, placing it between the mouth of the cave and the fire.  He straightened, then shifted so he could use one knee to hold the material in place while he unzipped it as best he could.


“Do you think you’ll be more comfortable with your clothes off?”  Blair had been wearing them for four days.  “They’ll undress you at the hospital, anyway.”


“I’m not sure I can…,” Blair whispered.


“I’ll help,” Jim said, thinking Blair should have realized that.  He bent Blair’s knee so that the laces of his shoe were within reach.  As he worked with the knots, Blair let go of him and reached up to the flap of his open shirt.  He suddenly stiffened and his face cringed, no doubt having felt the movement of the broken bone.


“Hey,” Jim admonished gently, “let me do it, all right?”


As Jim continued to watch Blair from the corner of his eye, he noticed that his expression was still pinched.  Now that he was more alert, Blair was surely feeling the full pain of his broken bone.  “I think your collarbone is fractured, Chief.  I’ll bind your arm to your side so you don’t move it as much.”


Blair swallowed thickly.  “Must have been when I hit the tree.”


“How did you do that?” Jim asked, straightening.  Blair’s feet were now bare.


“They got tired of me mouthing off.  The big guy – Masters – grabbed me by the back of my shirt and shoved me into a tree.” Blair swallowed again.  “My hands were tied behind me and I threw my head back to avoid breaking my nose.   My shoulder took the impact.” 


Jim took a moment to brush his hand along Blair’s cheek.  “That must have been when you got the splinter.”


Blair nodded.  “It fell from higher up.  I kept telling them to untie my hands so I could get it out of my eye but they ignored me.  Was bugging me like crazy all day.  They got tired of me complaining and Masters slugged me in the other eye.”  He paused.  “I shut up then.”




Jim would have liked to have put a cold compress over the black eye, but he didn’t want to risk using the water when he didn’t know how long it would be before help came.  “That seems a bit extreme,” he said, deliberately calm, as he removed the jacket from around Blair’s shoulders.


“I kept trying to talk them into letting me go.” 


Jim put the jacket aside and now pulled the open flannel shirt down Blair’s right arm.  “Easy does it,” he said as he removed it from Blair’s back, and then gently pulled if off.  As for the ripped t-shirt, he took the scissors from the first aid kit and cut it off.


Blair’s upper body was bare and he began to shiver.  Jim brought the jacket back around his shoulders. 


He took the gauze.  “They must have been preparing to stay in this cave a while, if they had this much firewood.”  He held Blair’s left elbow against his side.  “Hold still.”  He started wrapping the gauze around Blair to secure his upper arm to his torso.


“They planned to have it as a hideout.  But they started talking about how maybe our trail would be too easy to track in the mud and they talked themselves out of staying.”


When Jim made his third rotation around Blair’s arm and chest with the gauze, he noticed that Blair had gone quiet.  He cut the gauze from the roll, slit the end, and tied a knot to secure it.  “Why did they leave you behind?”


Blair swallowed.  “I was too much trouble because I was injured.”  He took a deep, shuddering breath.  “I thought they were going to shoot me because I didn’t think it made any sense for them to let me live.”  His breath quickened. “I was tied up… and couldn’t see.  And I wouldn’t even know when it was going to happen… I couldn’t see when the gun would be pointed at me.”


“Blair,” Jim whispered, putting his other arm around him and drawing him close, while being careful not to squeeze.


Blair hadn’t had any way of knowing that his captors’ MO didn’t included murdering in cold blood.  Therefore, he could only wait where he was tied, blind… and wonder when the shot was going to come.


“I wanted them to take me with them, so they wouldn’t shoot me and walk away.”


“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Jim said, reaching beneath the jacket to rub at Blair’s bare lower back. 


More calmly, Blair said, “Turns out, they left me but they didn’t shoot me.”


Thank God for that.


“Do you have any idea what they intended?” Jim asked.  “Why they had your hands tied, even though you were roped to the rock, anyway?”


“They were real paranoid about getting caught.  They argued a lot.  They never felt safe.”


“They had good reason,” Jim said while still rubbing Blair’s back.  “We were on their tail all along and I’ll be surprised if either of them gets away tonight.”  He remembered his prior question.  “So, they were worried you might get loose and alert the authorities in time to catch up to them?”


Blair snorted.  “Yeah, I think so.  They made sure they tied me against the rock so that I couldn’t rub the rope around my hands against it to work it loose.”  Thick swallow.  “I thought I was going to go crazy with that rock digging into my back.”


Jim squeezed Blair’s good shoulder and looked into his good eye.  “You didn’t go crazy.  You answered when I called for you.”


“Couldn’t believe it,” Blair muttered, his face lowered.  “I was afraid I was hearing things.  But I hoped so much….”


Jim pressed Blair’s head against his shoulder.  “I’d been following the trail of peppermint.  Then I heard you groan or something.  Then I heard your heartbeat.”  He paused.  “When I called out, I could hear it beat faster.”


Blair pressed himself even closer against Jim and released a shuddering breath. 


Jim said, “I was relieved to find you too, buddy.”


He reached for the backpack and rummaged through the pockets until he found the second water bottle.  After unscrewing the cap, he said, “Here, I want you to take some sips of this.  Easy does it.”  He helped Blair raise his hand to the bottle.


A breeze blew and Blair shivered beneath the jacket.


Jim waited until Blair was finished.  Then he took a large swallow of water himself before capping it.  “Let’s get you moved into the sleeping bag and then get your pants off.”  He threw the top cover back and encouraged Blair to shift onto the layer beneath.


“How do you want to do this?” Blair asked as Jim reached for the snap to his jeans.


“I don’t want you to do anything until I tell you to raise your ass up.  You can brace yourself with your right hand.”


Jim pushed Blair’s pants and underwear down as far as he could, with Blair sitting up.


“Hang on, Chief.”  Jim took Blair’s hand from its grip on his chest, relieved when it loosened willingly, and laid it on the ground.  “Can you push yourself up?”


Blair closed his eyes, pushing off with his legs while bracing against his good arm.  His butt rose off the ground a few inches and Jim yanked his clothing down his hips.


The smell released made him turn his face away.  “Okay.”


Blair’s bare rear settled back to the sleeping bag.  “It’s pretty bad, isn’t it?”


“Not too bad,” Jim wavered.  He moved down to Blair’s feet and grabbed the ends of his Levis.  He tugged, moving backwards until the denim and cotton underwear slipped free.


Jim tossed them aside and moved quickly to throw the top flap over Blair’s nudity.  ”Time to get warm and comfortable, buddy.  Down you go.”


He wrapped his arm around Blair’s waist, giving extra support, as Blair cautiously lowered himself down on his right side, facing the fire.  “That’s good, that’s good.”  Jim zipped up the front side of the bag, then stepped behind Blair and zipped the other side to his waist.  “I’m not going to close all the way yet because I want to treat the cuts on your back.”


He rummaged through the first aid kit and found what he needed.  The open wound on Blair’s back would likely require a few sutures, and the area would be thoroughly cleaned at the time.  Therefore, Jim decided to merely squeeze a good helping of antibiotic ointment on the injury and tape a gauze pad over it.  For the smaller cuts, he dabbed them with a swab of peroxide.


As he worked he was aware that Blair seemed to have genuinely relaxed and didn’t flinch as he tended to the injuries.  Yet, Blair was unusually quiet, gazing at the fire.


“All done here,” Jim said, zipping that side of the bag up to Blair’s neck.  He shifted near Blair’s head, bringing the first aid kit with him.  “I need to take care of your wrists, Chief.”  He lowered the front zipper a foot, and then took Blair’s jacket and covered his upper body with it, to make up for some of the escaped warmth.


Blair’s right hand extended from the sleeping bag.  Jim sat Indian style and draped it across his knee.  He examined the raw skin, open in many spots, and decided that it, too, was going to require a good scrubbing at the hospital.  Therefore, he decided to simply spread on the ointment and wrap it.


Blair’s attention remained on the fire.  “Jim?”


“Yeah?”  Jim carefully circled gauze around the wrist.


Blair’s voice was shaky.  “Don’t tell anybody what I said before.  All right?”  He tilted his head, his left eye seeking Jim.


Said before…? Jim’s brow furrowed as he finished with the bandage.  Did Blair mean about how “the joke was on me?”  Or “I Just wanted somebody to hold me?”  Or something else?


Jim laid his hand on Blair’s cheek.  “You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of, Chief.  You’ve done great.”  He pushed Blair’s bandaged hand back into the warmth of the sleeping bag.  Then he raised the jacket and found the left wrist.


Jim rearranged Blair’s jacket so that as much of Blair as possible would be covered while he worked on that wrist.


“I don’t feel great,” Blair finally said, his voice flat.  “I -,” he hesitated, then, “I feel disappointed in myself.”


“Why?” Jim demanded, his concern increasing as he wrapped gauze around the left wrist.


“Because I didn’t handle this like I would have thought.”


Jim furrowed his brow and pulled the flap of the sleeping bag over Blair, beneath the jacket.  Zipping it up, he asked, “What more do you think you could have done?”  He made his puzzlement clear.

”Faced the idea of dying with dignity, instead of self-pity.”


Jim slowly sat back on his hunches, the sleeping bag secure.  “Chief, you’ve handled yourself in an exemplary way in every life-or-death situation you’ve ever been in.”  He thought of Lash, of when Blair had caught the detonator to enough C-4 to wipe out two gangs.  “This time, you didn’t have much choice but to think about dying in this cave.  Alone.  Anybody would have been thinking the same thoughts, in the same situation.  If they deny that, they’re lying.”


Blair didn’t respond.


Jim reached for Blair’s shirt and bundled it up.  “Here’s a pillow for you.”  He raised Blair’s head and placed the shirt beneath it.  “How’s that?”

“Thanks,” Blair whispered.


Jim grabbed an armful of firewood and dumped it on the fire, hoping it would last long enough until somebody came.  He extended his hearing out and heard activity the next mountain over but he couldn’t decipher anything specific.


When he turned his attention back to his charge, Blair’s hand had worked its way out of the bag and lay expectantly on the ground.


Jim reclaimed his spot, sitting next to Blair’s head.  He picked up the waiting hand and clasped it.  With his free hand, he stroked along Blair’s hair.


Blair’s hand gripped his.  “Thanks for coming after me.”  His eyes squeezed shut and his lower lip trembled.


Ah, Chief.  Blair seemed to have been fighting to control his emotions ever since Jim found him.


Jim leaned down close to Blair’s ear and whispered, “Hey, you know the wonderful thing about being with friends?”


Blair didn’t reply.  But even with his eyes closed, Jim could tell he was listening.


Jim answered, “You don’t have to be strong when you’re with them.”  The hand that was stroking Blair’s hair slowed its motion.  “You don’t have to put up a tough-guy front.”  Though it was uncomfortable on his back, Jim leaned down until his forehead touched Blair’s.  “I’m right here.”


A gasping sob emerged and Blair’s hand squeezed Jim’s tightly.


Jim thought the best thing he could do was not over react to Blair’s outburst.  Having raised himself up to a more comfortable position, he continued stroking his hair with the same slow motion.


Blair pulled Jim’s hand inside the sleeping bag, until both his hands could enfold Jim’s.  Then he laid his cheek against Jim’s upper arm and cried with minimal tears.


Jim carefully eased himself down to the ground, so that he was resting on his side and both hands could keep their contact with Blair.


He wasn’t sure if Blair’s release was from relief at being found… or his anguish at his self-judgment about how he’d handled his captivity.


With the grip on his hand, he suspected the former.


Yet, when Blair quieted, he rasped, “I don’t ever want to be alone again.”


“You don’t have to be,” Jim said automatically, and then wondered if Blair needed something else from him, though he had no idea what.


Eventually, the tension drained away and Blair’s head grew heavy on Jim’s arm as he drifted into the quiet of a light sleep.


Jim listened while the distant sound of a helicopter grew increasingly closer.  He tried to carefully withdraw his hand from Blair’s relaxed grip, but Blair’s good eye opened part way.


“Hey, Chief,” Jim said, “I hear a helicopter coming.” 


Blair seemed to be listening.


Jim thought back and realized that he didn’t know of any area nearby where the helicopter could land, especially at night.


Suddenly, the engine was blaringly loud.  Jim put a hand to his ear and dialed down his hearing.  The wind kicked up around them, the flames of the fire danced wildly, and a helicopter emerged from the ridge overhead, its searchlight finding them.


Jim was just able to turn his hearing down more when he saw a man in the passenger seat pick up a bullhorn.


“A search team is on the way!” it bellowed.  “They’re on foot.”


With his eyes squinted, Jim gave a thumbs-up at the sky and nodded to show that he understood.


He was relieved when the helicopter took off over the ridge.


Jim cupped the side of Blair’s face that wasn’t bruised.  “You hear that?  A search team is on the way up.”  Still, it would probably be a good hour before the team reached them.


Blair nodded, then he started to shift.


“What is it?” Jim asked.


Blair groaned and rolled partway onto his back.  His expression was one of discomfort.


“You sure you want to do that?” Jim asked, though he could imagine how tired Blair was of lying on his side.


“Yeah,” Blair said with a sigh, his body relaxing.  “It’s not so bad.”


His full weight wasn’t on his back, but still partially on his side.


Blair blinked, his one good eye studying the sky.  “The stars are so beautiful.”


Jim looked up.  “Yeah, the clouds sure cleared out after all the rain today.”  There were a lot of stars out and they were easy to see from where they were on the ledge.


He shifted to grab more wood and throw it on the fire.


Blair continued to study the sky.


“What are you thinking about so hard?”


Blair swallowed.  “About how insignificant I feel, looking at the stars.  And yet, it’s a wonderful kind of feeling.  Like I’m a teeny tiny part of everything – but a part nonetheless.”  He gulped.  “Tied up in the cave, I felt insignificant – but it was a terrible feeling.  Like I was nothing.”  He closed his eyes.


Jim found the bottle of water.  Since help was on the way, he was no longer worried about rationing it.  “Chief?  Water?”


Blair opened his eyes and tilted his head back to find Jim. 


Jim knelt behind him and raised his head with one hand.  Since Blair’s own hands were inside the sleeping bag, Jim did the task of carefully pouring mouthfuls and waiting for Blair to swallow.


Capping the bottle, he said, “Can you eat another energy bar?”




“I’ll split one with you.”  Jim just then realized how hungry he was himself.  He unwrapped the bar and broke off a third of it.  As he chewed, he handed Blair the rest.


After he’d swallowed and taken a few sips of water, Jim crouched over Blair, who was chewing slowly.  “Chief?”  He waited until Blair’s good eye met his own.  “For what it’s worth, you’ll always be significant to me.”


Blair stopped chewing.  His right eye grew shiny.  Then, around a mouthful of energy bar, he said, “It’s worth a lot.” 


He continued chewing.


Jim lightly patted his cheek, thinking he’d finally said something that meant a lot to Blair.  That seemed a good path to follow.  “I love you, you know.”


Blair forced down a swallow.  “You’re just trying to make me lose it again.”


Jim smiled, relieved to hear the humor.   


Blair held out the remainder of the bar.  “Here.”


Jim took it and shoved it into his mouth.  He crumbled the wrapper and placed it in a pocket of the backpack.


He sipped from the remaining water.  Then he asked, “You want another drink?”


Blair shook his head, his gaze settling on the fire.


“Anything you need, Chief, let me know.”  He placed his hand on Blair’s shoulder, careful not to apply pressure to the collarbone.  “Otherwise, it’ll be to your advantage to sleep, if you’re able.”


Blair seemed content to do just that, for he shifted within the sleeping bag, getting back on his side to face the fire, his knees drawing up.


Jim took a moment to look up at the stars.  While doing so, he cast his hearing out but couldn’t detect the rescue team.




Jim looked down at Blair.  “Hmm?”


Blair’s gaze was on the fire.  “I love you too, man.”


Jim grinned warmly, enjoying the feeling that went through him.  “You trying to make me lose it?”


After a moment, Blair glanced up at him and said, “You know the wonderful thing about being with friends?  You don’t have to be strong when you’re with them.”


Jim placed his hand on the back of Blair’s head.  “So a wise man once said,” he joked gently.


Blair grinned.  Then he spent a long moment gazing at the fire.  “Jim?”




“Don’t go anywhere.  All right?”


“I won’t, buddy.  Job number one is staying right here with you.”  Jim realized then what Blair wanted.  He unzipped the front of the sleeping bag a few inches and put his hand inside to take Blair’s.  He held it firmly.  “Sleep if you can.  I’m right here.”


“Thanks,” Blair whispered, letting his eyes drift shut.


A noise in the distance caught Jim's attention and he cocked his head.  He heard voices.


The search team was coming up the mountain.



Five hours later, Jim opened the door to the loft.  With his arm loosely around Blair’s waist, he guided his charge inside, then closed the door behind them.


Blair looked only partially awake.  His left arm was in a small sling to discourage movement that would cause pain to his collarbone.  His right eye had been treated with an ice pack and the swelling had gone down considerably, so that he could see reasonably well out of both eyes.  He was wearing rolled-up sweat pants that the hospital had scrounged up for him.  The matching sweat jacket was draped over his shoulders, as he hadn’t wanted to bother getting his arms into the sleeves, considering the sling.  He’d just wanted to go home.


The hospital staff had made noises about keeping him on an IV for a few more hours, but since his vitals were acceptable, they released him to Jim’s care without much fuss.


It was four o’clock in the morning and Jim was exhausted himself and looking forward to bed.  Yet, as soon as he had hung his jacket on its hook, Blair turned and pressed himself against Jim, his head landing on his shoulder. 


“Feels good to be home.”


Jim didn’t doubt the sincerity, but he also wondered if Blair was delaying the time they would have to separate for bed.  At the hospital, Blair had rallied to answer questions and take part in his treatment.  He’d seemed eager to interact with as many people as possible, as though trying to banish the loneliness he’d suffered the past few days.


Yet, for all his extroverted chatter, there’d been no question that he didn’t want Jim to abandon his post by his side.  When they briefly lost physical contact, Blair hadn’t been shy about making sure they regained it.


Jim guided Blair to his room.  He pulled the covers back on the bed and helped ease him down.  It took a long time to rearrange the blankets and pillows so that Blair was comfortably on his right side.


“Thanks,” Blair whispered, closing his eyes.  “Thanks for everything.”


The words were so sincere.  Jim felt at a loss for a proper response.  He merely nodded, then realized Blair couldn’t see him.


“Sleep well,” he said, wondering why he felt awkward. 


He straightened.


Maybe it was because Blair was home now.  Safe.  On his way to healing.  And Jim wasn’t needed anymore.


He took a step away from the bed and then realized that the fingers of Blair’s right hand were open toward him.


Jim knelt down and clasped it.


He sat back against the wall and held it until he was certain Blair was asleep.


Maybe their closeness from this night would linger after all.





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