A Crossroads Epilogue
Jim had just gotten back into his book when he heard the sound of Simon's vehicle returning. He tried to sink further into the sofa cushions. The sentinel pretended he didn't hear them until the knock on the door. Jim took his time climbing out of the sofa. He could see Simon's impatience through the glass.
"What'd you forget, Simon?"
"Nothing. It's Sandburg. He needs to lie down for awhile, someplace that's not in motion."
Jim frowned zooming in on the figure still in the vehicle. Blair's eyes were closed, his head back against the headrest. "He get sick?"
"He was doing a pretty good impression on the side of the road. He didn't want to come back but," Simon looked around and shrugged, "there's no where else around here for miles. He didn't want to intrude on your time, Jim. I didn't give him a choice."
"I'll talk to him." Jim headed out to the vehicle mindless of his stockinged feet on the cold ground.
"Chief?" He opened the door, "Come inside, Chief. I've got a nice warm fire going."
Blair shook his head, "This is your time to yourself. We shouldn't be here. Tell Simon I'll be fine now."
His guide's eyes were large and dark circles were plainly visible in sharp contrast to his pale skin.
Jim nodded, "I understand, Chief, but if I send you back to Cascade like this, I'm going to worry about you for the next three days. I'd rather have you underfoot where I won't worry. Now, come on inside."
Blair slid out of the seat and stood leaning against it, "OK, but just for awhile. We're not staying, just until you won't worry anymore."
"Ok, I hear you, Chief. Now let's get inside. This ground's getting kinda cold under my bare feet."
Blair's eyes flew to the ground as he partner steered him toward to the cabin. "Jim, where are your shoes? You'd have my head if I went without shoes."
"I'm on vacation, Chief."
Jim picked up Blair's bag out of the back seat and followed him in. He dropped the bag by the door and tugged off Blair's coat, tossing it to Simon. He gave Blair a shove toward the other sofa in the lobby and knelt down to untie his boots and pull them off.
Blair eased himself down against the pillow with a sigh and closed his eyes. Jim threw the extra blanket over him and joined Simon in the kitchen. The Captain poured him a cup of coffee and refilled his own cup.
"So how sick is he?" Jim asked.
"I think the kid just needs to rest, it's been a rough day and that highway was not conducive to keeping anything down. I've been on dirt roads that were smoother. His stomach just couldn't handle the rough treatment so soon."
Jim nodded, "What did I think I was doing dragging him through the woods after he was so sick this morning? He just keeps going."
"Like the energizer bunny?" Simon chuckled.
Jim returned the smile, "This time he stops. What's good for the Sentinel is good for the Guide, too. Why don't you head back to Cascade. If you leave now you could get in before midnight."
"What about Sandburg?"
"I don't think he's going anywhere tonight. He should take it easy and rest for a day or two. If he goes back to Cascade, he'll spend tomorrow working on his dissertation or researching something. Here, he'll take it easy because there's nothing else to do. Go on back, Simon, Blair's better off here with me."
"But Jim this is your trip. I'll stay tonight and Sandburg and I will leave in the morning."
"I can take care of Sandburg and still have my solitude. Go home Simon." Jim took his captain's coffee cup and gave him a gentle shove towards the door. "We'll see you on Wednesday."
"If you're sure about this."
"I'm sure. Get out of here. Go on, shoo."
Blair felt a hand against his forehead.
Blair opened bleary eyes.
"Come on, Chief. I need you to sit up and eat some of this soup."
"Don't want any, thanks," Blair tried to roll over but a hand on his shoulder stopped him.
"You haven't ate anything all day. You need to try to eat a little and drink some water. You're probably dehydrated. If you don't, you're going to be sick for sure."
Blair pushed himself up against the arm of the sofa and took the offered bottle of water. He downed a third of it and closed the spout setting it beside his leg. Jim handed him the bowl of soup.
"It's nothing fancy, just canned."
Blair nodded and sipped from the spoon. He managed only a few swallows of broth before handing it back.
"You need to eat more than that, Sandburg."
Blair knew that Jim had changed his form of address to show his displeasure but he really didn't care at the moment. He shook his head 'no'. "It's not setting," and this time he succeeded in rolling over and curling around his stomach.
"Ok, Chief, you rest." Jim squeezed his shoulder reassuringly before taking the bowl away.
Blair rolled over to find Jim reading in the overstuffed chair beside him, his feet propped on the coffee table.
"Morning, Chief. Feeling better?"
Blair pulled the pillow up behind him, "Yeah, I think so. I was pretty out of it last night, huh?"
"Yeah," Jim agreed.
Blair looked around, "Where's Simon?"
"I sent him home last night."
"Then, how am I getting home?"
"With me on Tuesday."
Jim closed his book, "Chief, I'm here for some down time, to rest and take it easy. After yesterday, a couple of day's rest won't hurt you either."
Jim reached over and picked up a paperback book off the stack on the table, "Here try this. It's not a heavy duty anthropological journal. It's just fiction. Relax and enjoy it, that's what it's for." Jim opened his book and continued reading.
"So I'm stuck here."
"Looks like it."
"Ok, but Jim, I won't bother you. You can fish or read or stare at the walls whatever you need to do. It's like I'm not even here."
Jim pursed his lips, "Ok, Chief, I'll hold you to that," he replied gently.
Blair picked up the book and examined it, then tossed it down. He got up and pulled his backpack from the door. It felt too light, the grad student was shocked to find it was nearly empty, "Jim, where are my books?"
"Locked in the truck. Don't bother looking for the key, you won't find it."
"Why?" Blair was stunned.
"Because we're here to relax and get away from it all. I mean all. You know when you drug me off to the monastery? It's like that, only this time it's my way."
Blair looked forlornly out the window at the truck a long moment feeling lost and vulnerable without his books, notebooks and research. Finally, he shuffled back to the sofa and crawled in pulling the blanket back over his bare legs to warm them. When had he taken his jeans off? He couldn't remember. He glanced around and didn't see his clothes lying anywhere. It was definitely too cool to be running around in his boxers and t-shirt even with the fire going. He pulled the comforter back up as well. The paperback slid onto his stomach from where it had been tangled up in the blankets. Blair looked at it again, Small Vices by Robert Parker, a Spenser mystery. Blair chuckled, "You're a detective and to relax you read murder mysteries?"
"Hey, I don't have to solve it, besides, I'm not reading a mystery." He turned the book so that Blair could see he was reading "The Postman" by David Brin.
Blair leaned forward trying to see the other three books sitting on the table, "What else you got over there?"
A knock at the door and they both looked up to see a smiling Dr. Conway at the window.
"Good, breakfast's here," Jim bounded out of the chair to open the door.
"Jim, wait, where are my pants?"
Jim stopped, "You're covered, just stay in bed."
"But Jim, that's a woman."
"Yeah, so you'll stay in bed and I'll make good time with our veterinarian friend."
Jim opened the door.
"Good morning. Sorry, I'm late. I got caught up checking on folks. Morning Blair, I thought you went back to Cascade."
"Potholes made you queasy huh?"
She walked over to the bed and felt his forehead, "Well, don't feel bad, they do that to folks who are having good days, too. You're not the only one having residual effects from yesterday. Take it easy today and you can probably join Jim and I fishing tomorrow."
Jim looked insufferably smug as she continued, "Feel up to some breakfast? I've brought plenty. Hungry?"
"Yeah, I'm starved."
All through the meal, Blair threw dirty looks at his partner from the sofa while the detective discussed the day's fishing plans with the pretty doctor. Jim ignored him.
After they left, Blair wrapped himself up in the blankets and hunted high and low for his pants or the truck key. He came up empty.
Jim returned that evening with a nice string of fish to find Blair asleep with a book half read, open, face down on his chest. He brought in more wood and rebuilt the fire for the evening. Jim tried to be quiet as he cleaned his catch in the large sink.
"Those are nice, man."
Jim looked up to find a blanket swathed Blair watching him.
"Yeah, we'll have plenty for the freezer back home, too."
"Why'd you take my pants? You afraid I was gonna follow you. I said I wouldn't, man, I said I'd leave you alone."
Jim sighed flinching at the hurt tone in his guide's voice. "I know that. This isn't a trust issue, Chief. I took your pants because I wanted you to rest today, not spend the day trying to break into the truck. No university, no studying, no researching, no obligations, you relaxed, you took a nap, don't you feel better?"
Blair closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Jim could see the tension leaving his face. Blair nodded, "Yeah," he opened his eyes, "this has been nice."
Jim finished filleting his fish and washed his hands. He retrieved Blair's jeans from his own back pack that he'd taken with him and draped them over the end of the sofa before returning to the kitchen.
"So, Chief, how do you want your trout? Baked, broiled or grilled?"
Blair contemplated, "Grilled."
"You got it. Excellent choice."
"So, how's Dr. Conway?"
"She caught three more fish than I did, bigger too. I think she has better bait, but she won't tell me what it is."
"State secret huh?"
"Or maybe the old Ellison charm is failing you?" Blair had a wicked gleam in his eye.
"You feeling alright, Chief?"
"Cause I just wanted to make sure that you were ok before I made you pay for that. You're gonna pay for that one."
"Oh, I'm soooo scared," Blair danced out of range as Jim swung a playful punch his direction.
"You just wait, Chief. One of these days, I'll get you for that."
"Chief? You want some breakfast?"
"Mmmmm? No, not going fishing, don't havta get up at oh-dark-thirty," with that Blair rolled over onto his stomach and snuggled back under the covers.
Jim glanced up at the woman in the kitchen and grinned, "One day in bed and my partner becomes a lazy bum."
"You betcha," mumbled from under the covers.
"We'll leave him some, he can warm it up later."
"He wouldn't be so tired if he hadn't been up reading half the night."
Blair lay on the sofa, reading. He finished the last page, closed the book, lay it on his chest and sighed. "That was good," he looked around the cabin, "now what?"
It was midafternoon and the sun shown brilliantly through the window. Blair smiled, yeah a walk was just what the doctor ordered. He slipped on his socks and boots and left Jim a note so he wouldn't worry if he got back first and set out.
The air was fresh and crisp in his lungs. Blair strayed further from the cabin than he'd intended but he'd stayed pretty much on a straight path so it shouldn't be too hard to find his way back.
Blair saw a doe grazing while her fawn frolicked in the grass and sat down under a tree to watch. Eventually they moved on and several young squirrels showed up oblivious to the human's presence, as long as he didn't move and spook them. He had to try hard not to laugh aloud at their antics, rolling and tumbling in the leaves. Blair had such a good time, he didn't realize how late it was getting. The sun was setting. He jogged back down the path while the light lasted. Then, walked as carefully as he could, he didn't want to turn an ankle in the dark.
As he neared the cabin, he could see his partner on the porch with a lantern preparing to come looking for him, no doubt.
"Jim," he called out.
The sentinel met him at the edge of the clearing, "Where have you been?"
"Out taking a walk, you forget how to read my notes?"
Jim gave him the once over in the lantern light, not seeing any obvious injuries, "You ok?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, why? I can't take a walk by myself?"
"Well, usually when we go to the woods together...."
Blair laughed, "One of us ends up having to be airlifted out. I'm fine, Jim. I think I met my quota for this trip a couple of days ago."
They walked back to the cabin, "Whoa, look at the size of that trout! Is there room for that in our freezer?"
"I figured we could bum some space in Simon's. I was thinking maybe a Major Crimes fish fry."
"Sounds great. So, where's your Doctor friend? I thought that you two had dinner plans."
"You were sleeping real hard this morning, huh? Her beeper went off middle of the afternoon. She had to go back to town."
"That's what you get for dating a doctor. So, did you get her secret bait first?" Blair had that look in his eyes again.
"I caught the trout didn't I?"
Jim went into the kitchen to finish preparing his prize trout for storage. "You have a nice day, Chief?"
"Yes I did. I finished my book," Blair sat down to remove his boots. "Do you have any idea how long it's been since I read anything just for fun? Not that my research isn't fun, this is different."
Jim thought a moment, "I don't I've ever seen you with anything other than research."
"It's the academic thing, man. You have to do so much heavy reading all the time that you forget how to just read for fun."
"I should give you the one I'm reading. I think the main character might be a sentinel," Jim teased.
"Really? Maybe I should contact the author."
Jim chuckled, "Let's rent the movie first, Chief, and see what we think."
"No, you have to wait until I read the book first and then we can rent the movie."
10 June 2000
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