Author's Notes:

A triptych is a piece of art, or a carving (nowadays a photo album can fit the description as well) that is in three panels. Usually there is a large back panel and two side panels which are half its size and fold over to cover the large part. Three individual sections, one picture. Following is a tale, told by three men from three different viewpoints. Three views, one story.

This story did not turn out the way I had envisioned it (soooooo long ago). I think it appeared on my "What's Coming" page back in September or October. Anyway, instead of a mere story told in three parts, it's more of a "what goes on in each of their minds when crap like this happens" story. In other words, it's more psychological than action-oriented. The details aren't sharp because we often don't remember, or notice, the details when we're in the middle of a crisis....

Hope you enjoy!



D.L. Witherspoon

(Posted 07-15-99)

Panel One: Simon's Story

I suspected something was wrong when Jim didn't appear at the station around 8 A.M. He's anally punctual, a trait I find desirable in one of my men. By the time the clock's hand had spun around to 9:00, I was dialing a certain office at Rainier University. Usually only one person could make Jim late without blood being shed.

By 10 o'clock, I was at the loft. Joel Taggert, a fellow captain, a member of Major Crimes, and a good friend of Jim and Blair's, had accompanied me across town. I had tried not to let anyone notice I was worried. I mean, I have a reputation to consider. Most captains would just dock a missing officer's pay, and think nothing more about it. Hell, if it had been one of my other detectives, it would have taken at least till lunch time before I started dialing familiar numbers. But Ellison, and yes, Sandburg too, are special. Is it because Jim Ellison is a Sentinel, a person with the genetic advantage of having all five senses heightened, and Blair Sandburg is his Guide? I would say "keeper", but in their weird relationship, I'm not sure who keeps who. In a way, I guess it is that. I mean, the number of cases these two have put down is incredible. And the criminals they've faced.... Man, I wouldn't wish them on my worst enemy-- but I routinely assign them to two of my friends.

I know that seems inherently wrong, because Jim and Blair really are my friends. It's not just a workplace thing. We go fishing and camping together, sometimes with my son Daryl tagging along as well. But, hey, even if I don't assign the bad guys to them, they seem to find them anyway. Maybe that's a part of what makes them special too. You look at all the shit that happens to them and you just have to feel protective. When it comes to trouble, they're like sugar cubes to ants. I pray so much for the two of them, I'm thinking about going back to church on a regular basis. Of course, my church of choice would have to be the chapel over at Cascade General since Jim and Blair spend so much time there, recuperating from one incident or another. They don't know it, but the only reason the insurance carrier hasn't dropped their policies is because they're cops-- well, one's a cop, and the other is about as close as you can get without a swearing-in ceremony-- and it had been suggested to the company, by parties who wished to remain anonymous, that the public would have a fit if they realized their favorite officers couldn't take risks anymore because the hospital wouldn't patch them up afterwards.

"You have a key, don't you?"

Shit. I realize I'm just standing in the hallway, looking at the door to the loft. I don't want to go in. Trouble has found them again. I know it. I feel it. But Joel is looking at me strangely, and I know I have to face whatever nasty surprise is waiting. Joel heads to Blair's room while I run up the stairs to Jim's. Both beds are empty. That's a relief. I mean, at least we aren't confronted with their bodies, a distinct possibility given the enemies they have accumulated, not only as a team, but individually as well.

"When was the last time you saw them?" Joel asks, sounding like the detective we both are.

The basics. As good a place to start as any. "Sandburg had classes yesterday, so he didn't come in. Ellison checked out about six, I think."

"Did he seem bothered, preoccupied?" Yesterday had been Joel's day off.

"You're asking if the jawbone was protruding?" Jim liked to clench his jaw when he was worried, pissed, scared, or any combination of the aforementioned. Did I mention his dental insurance is hanging on by a thread too? "No. He was his usual self. Since he didn't have a partner, he stuck close to the station, glaring at paperwork and irritating forensics." As a Sentinel, he often figured out things long before their tests came back and confirmed his observations. They were used to him being right, but it still galled them a little.

"Blair's car was in the parking lot," Joel observes, even though he knows that means little. Blair's car isn't the most reliable vehicle in the world.

"But Jim's truck is gone," I say, even though I know that's not a big help either. We are ninety-nine percent sure the two are together, wherever they are. Or if they aren't together, Jim is trying like hell to get to the kid. The kid. The man is nearly thirty years old, yet I still think of him as a kid. It's that expressive face of his, you know, and the eagerness with which he embraces the world. God, after all these years of working with Ellison, you would think he would have lost his innocent optimism, his enthusiasm for life. The things he has experienced, seen, had done to him... Even a veteran officer would have qualms about continuing his line of work. He crumbles sometimes, and I feel a twinge of guilt each time Jim basically picks him up and carries him home to put the pieces back together. But the kid is hardier than he looks, or else Jim recites some magic spell, because as soon as he's needed again, Sandburg is there at his partner's side, sometimes looking the worse for wear, but there nevertheless.

Even after all this time, I still don't quite understand this Sentinel/Guide connection. I had always been taught that every situation was a give-and-take deal; you know the every action has an opposite and equal reaction crap you learn in physics class. That is the way the world works, but not for Jim and Blair. Whatever they need, the bond they have-- this incredibly weird link they share-- gives it to them. Whether it is strength, an edge in dire situations, or the sheer ability to survive when survival seems impossible, the bond provides. But I have yet to see this power "take" from them. It should have. The weight of the world should be on their shoulders, and depression should be their standard mood. But they laugh, joke, smile.... Maybe the balance is maintained by the evil they fight. That's a somber thought.

"You've probably been here since I have. Anything seem out of place, Simon?"

Good ol' Joel. At least one of us is capable of keeping personal thoughts out of this investigation. When had I gotten so close to them that I'm faltering at my job? I look around the loft. Joel's right; I am very familiar with this place. I'm here once a week, usually more. I have my own key-- more for their convenience than mine. How else could I keep an eye on one or both when he is/they are sick, injured, or merely depressed? Sure as hell is easier than breaking down the door, and a lot more cost-effective. "What do we have here?" I question, taking long strides toward the coffee table in front of the sofa.

It's a deep gash in the wood, something I definitely would have noticed during a previous visit. "Knife mark," Joel says knowingly.

I nod and get on the phone to forensics. After I call in an A.P.B. on Ellison's Ford truck, I canvass the rest of the loft. I see Sandburg's battered backpack thrown in its usual place. That means the kid didn't leave voluntarily; he never goes anywhere without the pack. I stand by the door and take in everything. No sign of a struggle. Okay, that left a couple of options: one, either they had taken Jim and Blair at the same time, keeping a weapon on the kid to keep Ellison from fighting back; or two, Blair was gone when Ellison had arrived, and something had given him a clue where to find his roommate, and he had left quickly. Without requesting back up. Without calling me.

As I turn back from the phone, I notice something else that's different about the loft, but I keep the information to myself. An old gym bag is supposed to be sitting over in the corner where Sandburg throws his backpack. But it's missing, and I can't stop the shiver crawling along my spine. On the outside, it's a ratty ol' thing that must have sentimental value, because it appears to have nothing else going for it. Inside, however, is a case that I doubt if dynamite could open. Something state-of-the-art. Something Jim had brought home with him from his "adventures in black ops". Whatever is inside the case also belongs to those days. He's never shared the details of the inventory, and I've never directly inquired. I'm a police captain; there are things I definitely shouldn't know about. But if this bag is missing, my two men are into something deep...and dangerous. Back to muttering prayers, I suppose.

Forensics comes and with them, a couple of my own detectives. I don't even have the energy to yell at them for assuming that they are part of the case. I just assign them to go over to Rainier University and see if they can find out anything about Sandburg. He's an anthropology grad student there. On occasion, problems at the U. have followed him home. Maybe that's the case now. However, my instincts are telling me it's not, so Joel and I head back to headquarters to start running Ellison's case files. It's a lot of work, but at least I'm doing something to find my friends.


Doing something quickly turned into doing nothing. It has been three days and there is no sign of them. The tension in Major Crimes is so thick now, I find it hard to breathe there. The forensics report came back with evidence that makes us all uneasy. Joel was right when he said the gouge was caused by a knife, but what he hadn't known was that the knife had apparently been covered in blood-- Sandburg's. It had taken the lab nearly a day to determine this; with Jim's enhanced senses, it had probably taken less than a minute. Had he come home from work to find his roommate missing and a bloody knife stuck in the table? Had he run off, half wild, in search of his partner, or had someone shown up and escorted him away? I guess the answer really doesn't matter, because the end result is the same. Jim and Blair are both missing, and there is nothing I can do about it, except repeat the prayers I've been saying since day one.

At the end of the day I find myself at the loft. Why? I haven't a clue. I sit on the sofa, and turn on the television. It's on CNN, Jim's favorite channel when a sporting event isn't on. The anchor is talking about some destruction of a village in Central America. I listen vaguely because I have some bitter recollections of a village in South America where my son and I were held captive, until Jim and Blair appeared out of nowhere to save us. They talk about how I come to their rescue all the time, but when I need a rescue, they have always been there for me. I don't think I've realized just how much I count on them to come to the rescue...until now that there's a chance they won't be there. What will Daryl and I do? What will Cascade do?

Suddenly I hear a noise at the door and as I reach for my gun, it swings open.

Panel Two: Blair's Story

God, it's been a long day. All I want to do is crash in front of the TV and veg. As much as I gripe about doing Jim's paperwork, I like having that break in my day where I switch from my work to his. But this semester I have two whole days where I don't have any time to go down to the station. It really sucks. Both Jim and Simon have been very understanding about it, knowing it wasn't what I had planned. Kerry Phillips, a fellow grad student, was supposed to be teaching the classes I have now. A car accident, which left him in a body cast, sort of put that on hold, and since I know, intimately, how the best-laid plans can be thrown asunder in less than a heartbeat, I couldn't refuse when asked to take over his duties.

I let myself into the loft, and take a deep cleansing breath of home. The lemon-scent lingers on my tongue, and I smile. Lemon-scent Jim can deal with. Pine-scent makes him nauseous-- which is weird because he's such a woodsy, outdoor kind of guy. Maybe because it's "fake" pine.... No matter what it smells like, it's home and that's enough to give me a burst of energy. So, instead of crashing, I decide to start dinner. But I'm tired of my own thoughts, so I'll turn on the television anyway-- a cheap, but easy-to-please companion.

I look for the remote, but it's not on the coffee table where it belongs. Damn. Where had I left it? I know I had to be the one to misplace it. I had it last night, watching an anthro documentary on the Learning Channel. Jim had taken one look at the program and escaped to his room. I had actually made it through the first forty-five minutes, and then came the commercial break. I remembered thinking I would close my eyes just for the duration of one of those stupid Old Navy ads, and the next thing I knew, the television was off, the loft was almost completely dark, and an afghan was tossed over me. The Blessed Protector had struck again, I had laughed to myself, and carried my tired ass to bed-- using the lamp which had been turned on in my room to keep me from breaking my neck. Do I have a hell of a roommate or what?

This Blessed Protector thing had just been a joke in the beginning. I had actually slept through the night for the first time since Lash had kidnapped me, so I was in a good mood. Although Jim wouldn't admit it, not back then anyway, that was the reason he was in a fairly decent mood himself. Once the night terrors had dulled to mere bouts of waking up in a cold sweat, as opposed to actual screaming, Jim had been giving me my space, allowing me to deal with the demons the way I had to-- face-to-face and one-on-one-- if I was to totally recover. But he was a Sentinel, and I knew he knew when my sleep was disturbed. So, he continued to be a silent witness to my battles, yet even in his silence, I not only felt his support, but relished the idea that I might get through the situation with at least a shred of my dignity intact. Anyway, as I was saying, we were both in high spirits, and I had teased him about being my Blessed Protector, then he'd made some nasty remark about my nipple ring. Guy stuff. Never crossed my mind that the Blessed Protector bit would turn out to be so accurate.

On a weekly basis I am in awe of Jim Ellison. Not because of what he can do as a Sentinel-- which is totally awesome by the way-- as some may expect. But as incredible as the Sentinel is, he is no match for the man. He loves me as no one else ever has before. I'm not talking about that 90210 love-- I want your body, your car, and your mama, in that order. No, I'm talking about Little House On The Prairie love-- pure, unadulterated, self-sacrificing, don't-die-on-me feelings. He monitors my health and my moods, making me tea when I'm sick, and making me laugh when I'm depressed. He has cried for me and with me. Try putting a price tag on that.

Under the sofa. That's where that remote has to be. I get down on my knees, and balancing with one hand on the coffee table, I sweep my other hand deep under the couch. I guess I'm so intent on what I'm doing that I don't recognize I'm not alone until I feel a razor sharp pain slice through my hand. Automatically, I jerk my hand away... and almost faint when I realize I have left part of it on the table, pinned there by the knife which had caused the pain in the first place. I moan, and cradle my hand close to me.

"Aw, stop your whining. It's merely a surface wound," someone says, and I look up to face my tormentor. He's dressed in military fatigues, and I instantly know this has something to do with Jim. He's really going to hate this. He always takes it so personally when his past reaches out to grab him through me. Well, I guess it is personal, but it's not his fault. I understand that, but he doesn't. He tries so hard to protect me, only to have his enemies come after me....

My duty in this familiar drama is to stay alive in order to keep his guilt from destroying him, so I look up at this guy and ask him what he wants. He answers by pulling out a hypodermic needle. I don't remember much else until I awaken in a rather spacious cell. A quick look around tells me it's one of the better spaces I've been confined to. I mean, there's even a shower curtain around the, ahem, facilities. And there's a cot with reasonably clean sheets. Captive heaven, I think, trying to keep my spirits up. Hearing approaching footsteps, I realize I'm being monitored since they obviously know I'm awake.

"Hello, Mr. Sandburg."

Another man dressed in military green. From the way he walks, or should I say struts, I think this is the leader. "Hi," I reply politely.

"I'm sorry we had to take you from your nice, comfortable apartment, but we require certain expertise which your partner possesses..."

"And you figured he wouldn't do your dirty work unless you had a hostage against him, and I fit the bill," I finish for him. Then I smile and shrug, playing the good captive. "Sorry, it's just that I've, you know, 'been here, done that', a few times."

He returns my smile, and I relax a little. At least this isn't one of those situations where they play 'let's torture the prisoner while we wait.' God, I hate those.

"As long as you cooperate, you won't be harmed. And if Captain Ellison succeeds in his mission, you'll be free to go home."

"How long?" I ask. He looks at me curiously. "How long does Jim have to complete his task? I'm scheduled to take a mid-term in a week. Just wanted to know if I need to worry about studying for it."

"Three days."

I sigh. "Guess I'll have to study then. Your man didn't happen to pick up my backpack, did he?" He shook his head. "Damn. I really need my notes. There isn't a chance you could break into the loft again and get my bag, is there?"

"Sorry, but we can't take the risk that Captain Ellison didn't booby-trap the place before he left. Is there something we could grab out of a library for you?"

I give the name of some text book and he leaves, assuring me dinner will be brought around soon. I perch on the cot and analyze what I've learned. Jim had been contacted, and was already working on getting around the mission. Simon would soon discover that we were missing, and would be on the case. And whoever these people were, they had no idea Jim was a Sentinel, because if they did they would have taken my backpack to search for notes. Now, if he brings me back a book, I'll have some idea of where I'm being held. I smile at my own brilliance, and wonder what's for dinner.


Day three, I wake up thinking. The past two days have been quite boring. True to his word, my captor brought the book I requested. The library name stamped in the back is a small town in the Cascade mountains. Wouldn't have recognized it except that I'd passed through it once on the way to the remains of a small Indian village a few miles away.

I stretch, and turn away from the camera I had finally spotted, before I smile. Jim is coming for me today. Which means I'd better get moving. Whatever evil my captor wanted done, I'm sure Jim didn't do it. Not that he's incapable of killing.... I've made peace with that. In the beginning, although I didn't let it show, I was appalled when I thought of the life Jim had lived. Why would anyone want to become a soldier? Then not just a soldier, but a Ranger, which added a certain level of killing skills. And did my roommate stop there? Oh, no. He had to get dragged into Covert Operations, where anything and everything could happen. The blood that must be on his hands....

Okay, I was naive when I met Jim, but I'm not anymore. I now know some people have to be stopped, and if killing them is the only way, so be it. I've shed a few tears because of what David Lash put me through, and for the victims before me who didn't have Jim to ride to their rescue, but I have never shed a tear for the man himself. In fact, my mind has come up with fantasies where I actually see Jim pump the bullets into him. I see the surprise come over his face, I see his body jerk as the projectiles tear through his flesh, and I smile. I usually wake up about then, drenched in sweat, scared shitless of the person I've become. Then I realize I'm just doing what our species does-- conforming to the world we live in. Maybe it's not pretty, but it's necessary, and as long as I live in Jim's, or maybe I should say, the Sentinel's universe, it's who I am.

Anyway, Jim kills, but he doesn't commit murder, and that's what this person wanted Jim to do. How do I know this? It's like I told him-- 'been here, done that'. Which means Jim is going to show up today and try to rescue me. Being his partner, I figure it would be nice of me to meet him halfway. So, I've been studying the comings and goings of the people who are holding me. My food comes from the left, but the leader-- he never did introduce himself-- arrives from the right. That means escape is definitely to the right... but a kitchen probably has a door to the outside as well. If I have a choice, I think I'd prefer to face an angry cook with a knife, rather than a guard with an automatic rifle. Kitchen, it is.

It's scary how easily I make it out the back door. My guard comes with breakfast, and since I've been so cooperative up till now, he doesn't pay any attention to my movements as I stretch. I see the belated awareness in his eyes as my fist clips him just beneath the chin. He goes down hard, just as I knew he would. There's a nerve in that spot, and if you hit it the right way, it's the only blow you have to make. Jim taught the move to me because he knows I'm the scrappy type of fighter-- fast and furious in the beginning, but I don't last long. That's not a derogatory opinion of me-- it's just a realistic view of my fighting ability. Jim's just the opposite-- trained to go for the long haul, skilled in being the last man standing.

Anyway, I slink through the hallways, dart through the kitchen, and voila, I'm free. I can tell I'm in some kind of compound. There are several buildings, people moving freely between them. I move from shadow to shadow, trying not to call attention to myself. I'm hoping I can make it to the bordering woods before they find out I'm missing. If I can make it to the trees, I can stay hidden until Jim arrives...or maybe I can make it out to a main road.

Just as I slide in behind a huge Douglas fir, the alarm sounds and I know my escape has been discovered. I listen for a few minutes more, relieved that what I don't hear is the baying of dogs. Fooling humans is one thing; animals are another. After a moment, I continue my plunge through the woods.

I know that complete freedom is just moments away when I see the tall fence in front of me. Yes! I can even hear the traffic on the other side of it. Must be a highway. Which meant people, cops.... I reach out to start my climb....

And a hand snakes around me, clamping over my mouth and holding me back.

Panel Three: Jim's Story

No one has gone through the things I've gone through without knowing where trouble waits. Forget the Sentinel thing for a moment, because it has nothing to do with what I'm feeling as I walk into 852 Prospect. This comes from another place, a place ingrained in me by bad situations, betrayals, and set-ups. I have my hand on my gun as I approach my loft-- my home-- and my anger is almost as great as my fear. This is my abode, my shelter, my refuge...and it's been invaded more times than I care to remember. Have I become so predictable that everyone knows where I'm most vulnerable?

Speaking of my weaknesses, I have no sense of Blair inside. It's so easy to call him my weakness, because, hell, he is. I would sell my soul for him. But in the same manner, I am capable of doing the impossible to save his. That's the part the criminals tend to forget. Many a body bag has been filled because of that ignored little tidbit. Note to self: remember to feel bad about that...later.

Use your senses, man. Even when he's not here, I can hear my Guide. I up my hearing, and confirm that no one is in the loft. I up my sense of smell, and recognize a lot of unfamiliar odors, and one very familiar scent. Blair's blood. Damn. He's been hurt. I try the door, and find it unlocked. Regardless of what I know, I still enter cautiously, my gun leading the way. The scent of blood leads me to the coffee table and I grimace. There are only minute traces of blood, so I think he wasn't hurt too badly, but that table is going to be a bitch to repair.

My cell phone rings, and I know it's going to be the people who have Blair. "Where is he?" I bark fiercely.

"Safe, for the moment. However, his continued good health is totally dependent on you."

"Well, from the evidence I'm looking at, his good health is already in question."

"An overzealous employee who has been dealt with. It was truly a minor injury."

"Then let me speak to him."

"His quarters have no phone. Just follow your orders, Captain, and he'll be returned to you unharmed. I would say, 'trust me', but I know how well that would go over, so just know that I know how to play the game. Double-crosses can be deadly."

"Yes, they can be," I hiss. He tells me to go to the airport where the rest of my instructions will be waiting in one of the lockers. He also reminds me that I can't tell anyone-- as if I didn't know that part. I briefly consider calling Simon, but I don't trust that I'm not being monitored...or that he's not. As I worried before, I am pretty predictable.

But so is my captain. I grab the gym bag from the corner, and walk out the door. Simon will notice that it's missing, and put two and two together. That I will actually need the bag is sort of a given. People who refer to me by rank, usually aren't calling me to rescue their cat or marshal a parade. When I think about those days in the service, I shudder at how callous I'd been. Not that I'm not capable of doing the same things now, if the reasons are strong enough, but I think there would be a moment of regret.... Ah, the life-changing influence of the Sandburg era.

For better or worse, we've rubbed off on each other. I'm more mellow, and he's less naive. Geesh. That makes him sound like a little kid, doesn't it? We'll he's not. Trust me. He's intelligent, worldly, and I swear, some of the experiences he's had make me cringe. No, his naivete stems not from innocence, but from ignorance that is sanctioned by every "civilized" nation on the planet. Governments establish armies and police departments to keep the people blind to the real ruthlessness and brutality that man can achieve. I'm not against this practice. Hell, I applaud it. But because I'm one of those who keep the wool pulled over the public's eyes, Blair's eyes have been uncovered. I think I will always feel a bit guilty for that.

At the airport, I study the envelope, then open it and read my orders. I had suspected I was being coerced into a hit of some sort-- maybe a political figure as the target, or a key player in the business (black ops business, I mean). So, I'm surprised to find out I'm supposed to eradicate a town in Central America. An entire village? Why? Somebody didn't like their hospitality? The bathrooms didn't have toilet tissue? Of course, no explanation is included. I'm given a map, some logistics-- population, dimensions of the area, etc.-- and a round-trip plane ticket to and from the nearest airport. An Avis or Hertz rental agency will take care of the rest of the journey I suppose.

I check the departure time, and see that I have a couple of hours to kill. Guess they weren't too sure when I'd get home. So, I check myself into one of those new internet kiosks, and surf the time away. On the plane, I recline my seat, and let the plans formulate on their own. That's the way I do this kind of thing. I gather the facts, then sit back and let them unconsciously assemble into a plan. You see, I knew how to "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff" long before the book. By the time the plane lands, I know what I have to do.


After what I had just done in a country far, far away, getting into the compound is as easy as walking through a gate-- which is exactly what I did. The guard turned to answer the phone, and I slipped inside. I listen to the conversation, and realize Blair has escaped. Good going, my friend. That certainly strikes out a few lines on my "To Do" list.

I send out my hearing, and yes, just as I figured, my Guide is muttering to himself. Using the familiar voice as a trail, I track him just as he's reaching out to a fence. I grab him quickly, sorry for startling him, but not for stopping him. "Relax, Sandburg. It's me," I whisper before he can try to retaliate.

"Damn, Jim! What are you trying to do-- scare me to death?" Blair says, as soon as I remove my hand.

"Actually, I was trying to keep you from frying to death." He gives me this blank stare, then his eyes widen as he realizes what I mean.

"The...the fence is electrified?" I nod, and he reaches for a rock to throw against the fence, just to see if it's true. Good ol' human nature.

"Don't," I say. "That will give them a location on us."

"Right," he replies, dropping the rock and dusting his hand on the back of his pants. "Since you entered, I suspect you know how to exit. So, I'm right behind you, big guy."

I feel myself tensing, but I know what I have to do, what needs to be done. Whoever is behind all this was right; a double-cross in this arena could be deadly...unless you eliminate the other player. Blair and I could leave right now...and constantly look over our shoulders for the rest of our lives. But there are so many people after us, I don't think we can afford to add another one to the list. Not when there is another option. I understand, but can I make Blair see it too? "I have to take him out, Blair. If this was a police case, if this involved an ordinary human being, I could walk away...knowing he would be dealt with eventually. But there are no laws in the world he inhabits. Except one."

He stares at me, and I steel myself for the inevitable argument. "When in Rome," he says with a shrug, and smiles when he sees the stunned look on my face. "My world, my rules. Your world.... What do you need me to do?"

Later, when we're in my truck, headed home, he wipes at a smudge on my face. "You look beat, man. Have you slept at all in the past three days?" I don't answer, so he continues. "For what it's worth, this kidnapping wasn't too bad. Clean sheets, regular meals--"

"You were hurt," I remind him, even now smelling the blood from the wound to his hand.

He looks down, and peeks under the bandage. "Damn, I must have re-opened it when I knocked out the guard. It's really no big deal, Jim. Might have to stay away from doing the dishes for a couple of days...."

He grins, and I know he's trying to put me at ease. The man knows me way too well. "You did good," I tell him, knowing the praise will affect him more deeply than an apology.

"I had a good teacher." When we're well away from the compound, he puts his hand on my arm. "Let me drive, Jim. You're wasted."

I can't argue with that, so I pull to the side of the road, and we exchange seats. He starts chattering about something, and soon I'm in this semi-conscious state that lasts until the truck pulls in beside his car. "Home," I mumble.

"Home," he agrees.

I get out, turning back to get my gym bag from behind the seat, and I spy Simon's car. "We have company."

He smiles as he recognizes the vehicle. "Got an explanation ready for him, Jim?"

"Thought that was your department."

"I don't even know the whole story myself, remember?"

"Guess I forgot to fill you in." I didn't mean to. It had just felt so nice to sit back and listen to him talk.

"Guess you did, but we can wing it for now."

Simon's hand is on his gun as we enter the door. "Gee, not tonight, honey, I have a headache," I drawl, not realizing it's true until I say it. All I want to do is crash.

Simon recovers quickly. I think he's finally getting used to the unpredictable lives Blair and I live. "Okay. Get some sleep...and have that explanation figured out by tomorrow," he says kindly. I nod, and head for the bathroom. A shower is definitely in order.

Even with the shower running, I can hear them talking. "I have no idea what this was about," Blair is saying.

"Watch CNN," Simon replies, and I hear the door close behind him. Blair turns up the volume on the television.

"Senor Rodriguez, your entire village was destroyed. How can you possibly be happy?"

"Because no one was killed. An angel came and told us all to get out before the gas deposit under the town exploded. What we lost, we can regain. Lives would have been impossible to replace."

"The Red Cross is already on the scene, helping the people cope with the devastation. Back to you in the studio, Marv."

There's a soft tap on the bathroom door. "Yeah?"

"You did good too, Jim. Making it appear to be a natural disaster. Everyone will help them now."

Ah. Who knew the internet could be so helpful? "I had to buy time until I could find out where you were."

"I know." I hear him walk away.

When I get out of the shower, Blair has a bowl of soup and a sandwich waiting for me. I eat, then trudge up the stairs to my room. Midway up the staircase, I stop. "Don't you want to hear the whole story?" I ask him, as he picks up a book and flips it open. Oh, yeah. He'd said something about an exam, hadn't he?

"I already know what I need to know, Jim. The rest is for one of those long, dark nights when we're sitting in the truck waiting on the bad guy to show up. Okay?"


I plop onto the bed, and fall asleep.


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