Well, that went fast. Now what? Any suggestions? Oh, all right. I'll do the Labor Day one. It's a little early, but once I've got that one done, I can start on the Halloween story. Where the costumes are decided upon by persons not wearing them. Heh heh heh heh heh.

Thanks to Wolfpup for providing my musings a home and particularly for making them look so nice. Bearhugs.

Labor Day


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"You OK, there, Chief?" Jim asked his partner/roommate/friend/guide.

"No. I miss Cecilia." Looking sadly up at his friend. "I know. She's only been gone a week, but I miss her. Why did all the schools decide to start so early, this year, anyway? I mean, sheesh, it isn't even Labor Day, yet. This like, so totally sucks, man." Staring out the balcony doors and across the city.

Jim came up behind his friend and allowed his gaze to cast out over the city as well. Gently placing a hand on Blair's shoulder and squeezing. "I know. Been there. Doing that."

"Yeah, but you get to go to Sacramento to see Ronnie over Labor Day, at least. I won't be able to see Cecilia until Thanksgiving, at the earliest."

"Hey, I haven't seen Ronnie since July. Give me a break here, Chief. You've had almost two months with Cecilia here." He thought about their predicaments, long range relationships traditionally failed. They were both struggling with the pain of separation. Jim felt that Blair was probably more distressed than he was, after all, Blair was used to a constant, frequent turnover of girlfriends. Since meeting Cecilia Taggart back in the spring, his bevy of beauties had disappeared. He still flirted, but the dating had come to a screeching halt. It was different for him. He was used to being alone. Well, not alone, exactly, but without female companionship, at least. Thinking about it, he realized that he had been looking for permanence with a woman. He always had been. Perhaps that was why he so seldom dated anyone more than once. Someone to settle down with. That had definitely not been anywhere on Blair's agenda. "Why don't you come with me to Sacramento for the long weekend, Chief?"

"No way, man. I am so not going to interfere with you and Ronnie. Huh-uh. Not me."

"What if I want you there, Chief?" Blandly, hiding his swirling thoughts.

"Aw, man. Don't do this to me, please? Just leave me here where I can sulk and have a major pity-party, OK?" More than half serious.

Jim's hand on his shoulder tightened. "What if I want you to come, huh?"

"Jim. No. I do not want to go watch you make happy with Ronnie." He turned to face his friend. "Please, man. It would hurt too much. I'd have to pretend that everything was wonderful, while I'm jealous as hell of the two of you. Don't do it, please?"

"Fine. I was hoping you'd come and help me deal with the fair she wants to drag me to. But if you're too full of self-pity to help, fine." Turning away as well, leaving Blair staring after him with a miserable hurt expression on his face.

"Oh, man. You're pretty good at dishing out the guilt, you know that, don't you?" Struggling to keep his emotions from bursting out.

"It's OK. I'll manage. Somehow." Waiting for the capitulation he knew would come. Finally, in a barely audible whisper, Blair answered him.

"If you need me, you need me, Jim. I'll go. I'll be miserable and unhappy, but I'll go."

Jim was careful not to show his glee. His plan was working.

"Oh, man. It's hot. It's hotter than it was back in June, man. This really sucks, you know?" Blair whined. "It's got to be well over a hundred."

"Yeah. Too bad we're going to be on pavement at the fair." Jim muttered, grateful to be able to turn down his tactile senses to help alleviate the distress the heat was causing. They only had their carryon luggage, so they headed out immediately after deplaning. Jim spotted her, first. She stood, dressed in white shorts and a turquoise colored sleeveless blouse, with a broad-brimmed straw hat. She spotted him almost immediately, and waved. He smiled at her and, with a hand on Blair's shoulder, guided him in her direction. She had the back of the van open and waiting for them and their bags. Closing the door, she turned and looked up at Jim. Reaching her arms up to pull him down for a kiss. Blair stood miserably by, the pain was a physical ache and he wasn't sure he'd be able to withstand their happiness.

Pulling away, he looked down at her. "So, did you remember the surprise I asked you for?" Soft enough that Blair couldn't hear. Ronnie nodded.

"He looks absolutely dismal."

"He's seriously in love, probably for the first time in his life and he doesn't know how to handle it. With any luck, they're already good enough friends that they can withstand it until they're both ready to take the final step." He stepped back and turned to his depressed friend. "C'mon, Chief. Let's go." Gently pushing the younger man into the van. Once satisfied that Blair was safely situated, he closed the sliding door and climbed into the passenger side front seat. Ronnie climbed behind the wheel and, after fastening her seatbelt and, making sure her passengers were buckled up as well, started the van.

"Where will we be staying, Ronnie?" Blair asked quietly from the back seat. She smiled and cast a quick glance at Jim.

"My place. I've got a house, four bedrooms, swimming pool, the works."

Blair just closed his eyes and tried to stifle his moan of misery. Not only was he being forced to watch their happiness, he was going to have to suffer through it 24/3. He leaned his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes, letting his misery take over.

Ronnie caught a glance at him in her rear view mirror and cast a concerned look at Jim. She hoped the surprise was worth it. She couldn't remember ever seeing a sorrier looking person in her life. She glanced at Jim, who caught the movement and met her eyes, smiling gently.

The trip was made in silence, no one wanting to break into Blair's funk. It took them just over an hour to drive from the airport to her house. Pushing the button for her automatic garage opener, she finally broke the silence.

"Oh, by the way. I've got someone else staying with us for the weekend. Hope you don't mind?"

"I don't think that will be a problem, do you, Chief?" Jim replied, turning to look at his miserable friend.

"No. No problem." Not even looking around. Totally uninterested. Obviously not wanting to be there.

"Good. Come on in, and I'll introduce you to her."

Oh, great. Her. Just what he needed. He didn't need a matchmaker, he'd found the one he'd been unconsciously searching for. He didn't want to be stuck entertaining some woman he didn't know. His attitude turned sullen. He suspected that this 'woman' was the reason Jim had dragged him along. He swore to himself that no matter how pretty or nice she was, he wasn't going to like her.

They grabbed their bags and followed Ronnie into the spacious house. She led them through the roomy kitchen and down a hallway that had the bedrooms along one side. She stopped at a door, smiled and opened it "Here you go, Blair. I hope you'll be comfortable in here." The room was decorated in cool greens and warm golds and browns. Blair scowled at the heavy bamboo furniture, the almost jungle motif. He'd probably love it, if he wanted to be here. Which he didn't.

"It's fine. Thanks." He missed the exchange of looks Jim and Ronnie shared.

"I'll leave you to get settled in. Whenever you're ready, just continue on down the hallway. The living room is down at the other end." Ronnie pulled Jim out and closed the door behind them. She looked up at him. "He is seriously depressed. How did you convince him to come?" concerned.

"I used guilt. He's a big one for guilt. I told him I needed him to be here when we go to the fair, help me manage the noise and smells." She wasn't aware of his heightened senses, but he wasn't going out of his way to hide his abilities, any more. He was actually hoping she'd figure it out.

"That's mean." Puzzled by his words.

"Not as mean as letting him stew at home all by himself over the holiday. If he's going to be miserable, he might as well have company to try and help him out of it." Jim insisted. Ronnie opened the door to the next bedroom, ushering Jim inside. He stood in awe. The room was various shades of blue, from palest pastel walls to midnight blue carpet. She stood back and watched him. "It's nice." He smiled at her.

"Nice? Man, is that a left-handed compliment, or what?" She looked at him, in his navy dockers and pale blue shirt that was just a shade darker than the walls. The man was made for blue.

Jim chuckled, set down his duffel and drew her into his arms. "OK, it's beautiful. My favorite color, OK?" Leaning down to gently kiss her.

"Much better." She murmured before kissing him again. Drawing apart, she stepped away and started through the door. "See you in the living room. Try to make Blair come make nice with my other guest, will you?"

"I'll drag him screaming and kicking, if I have to." Jim promised, as Ronnie closed the door behind her.

No surprise, Blair refused to join them in the living room, preferring to continue his pity party all alone in his room. He did manage to fall asleep for a short while, but woke up feeling, if possible, worse. His mouth was dry and cottony. He got up and quietly made his way to the kitchen to get a glass of water. From the kitchen, he could see through the dining room and into the living room. He could see Jim and Ronnie talking to someone who was out of his line of sight. Sighing, he looked around for a glass, spotting some sitting in a drain rack. He pulled one out and filled it from the tap. Taking a sip, he was surprised at how good it tasted. Almost good enough to give up bottled water for. He finished his drink and set the glass on the counter. Sighing, he braced himself to meet the 'other guest'. As he entered the living room, Jim looked up and smiled at him. Ronnie, seeing Jim's reaction, turned and smiled at him, as well. Standing, she came to him and led him forward to meet her other guest, who was sitting in a recliner, with her back to him, the tall back of the chair concealing her.

"Blair, I think you know..."


"Um, surprise?" Seeing the shock on his face. She stood up and closed the distance between them. Looking closely at him in concern, "Um, are you mad? Jim called and made all the arrangements, he said you'd be pleased..." Trailing off uncertainly.

Blair turned to look at his partner, prepared to lambaste the man, and saw the expression on his face. Recognizing it as one of the concerned, caring, 'did it for you' expressions. Suddenly understanding, he smiled and turned back to his lady.

"Pleased? I'm ecstatic!" Grabbing her in a hug. "I've missed you so much." She laughed as she returned his ferocious embrace.

"Me, too. I love you, you know that, Blair Sandburg?" He pulled away, but didn't let her go.

"No, I didn't know that. Not for sure, anyway. Did you know that I love you, too?"

"I had a sneaking suspicion." She grinned as she leaned closer to kiss him.

Ronnie had retreated and sat beside Jim on the couch. She shifted to lean against him, his right arm going around her shoulders, and his left reaching across to hold her hand. He gently nuzzled into her hair, inhaling the fragrance of her shampoo and conditioner, the soft, almost herbal scent tickling his nose just a bit, but not enough to make him sneeze.

"So. Was this a good idea?" He whispered in her ear.

"Yes. I think it was. The question now, is, when do you think we'll be hearing wedding bells?"

"That depends on whether they go with their original plan to both finish school, first." They smiled at one another, self-satisfied and smug at the success of their plan.

"What are you doing here?" Blair spluttered, when they finally came up for air.

"Jim invited me. He didn't want you to stay home alone, and I was free this weekend, but couldn't afford to fly home, so..."

"Jim bought your tickets?" Glancing at his roommate cuddling Ronnie over on the couch.

"Uh huh. Oops. I don't think I was supposed to tell you that."

"It's OK. I'd have figured it out, eventually." He turned to his partner. "OK, how come you didn't tell me?"

"And spoil the surprise?" Jim smiled at him. "You love surprises. You couldn't get too much more miserable, the guys at the station were getting close to pulverizing you and your bad mood, so we cooked up this little scheme to get you two together."

"I'm sorry. It was my idea." Ronnie added, leaning her cheek against Jim's chest. "I kind of liked it. How about you?" Smiling.

"Well, except that I think I owe an awful lot of people apologies for my surly disposition for the past two weeks since Cecilia left, I gotta admit that I love it." Laughing for the first time in those two weeks. He hugged his lady again, punctuating it with a kiss.

They had arrived early enough to still have quite a bit of daylight left. They discussed their options and decided to go out to eat, and then take in a movie. Unfortunately, Ronnie got a phone call and had to go to a crime scene. Jim offered to go with her and, thinking of Blair and Cecilia, she decided to take him up on his offer, leaving the younger couple to fend for themselves, much to Blair's glee.

The scene was bad. Apparently, the father had gone off the deep end and murdered his entire family, before killing himself. There was a lot of blood, a lot of trauma to the bodies. Ronnie was looking over the scene. Something was bothering her about the bodies, but she couldn't quite place what it was. Jim was looking over the scene as well. He suddenly cursed, softly.

"Ronnie," he whispered, "the father wasn't the killer. It was the boy, there. Look at the way the adult's hands are on the rifle. He was trying to take it away from the boy, who blew his head off, then took the handgun and killed himself." She looked again at the overall scene, and realized the truth of his statement.

"Oh, my Lord." She turned horror-stricken eyes up to him. He placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, offering his support, as well. It was several hours before they managed to finish with the scene. All the evidence gathered supported Jim's contention that the ten year old boy had been the murderer of the four other members of his family. Unfortunately, there was no evidence to explain why it had happened.

It was after midnight when they returned to Ronnie's house. They were both exhausted. "I've got a solar hot water heater, so there's plenty, and it's instant-on. The full bathroom is between yours and Blair's rooms. I'm really wiped, so I'm just going to take a shower and hit the sack, OK?"

"Yeah. Are you OK?" Jim asked, taking her lightly in his arms. "Pretty rough out there tonight, huh?" His voice soft and soothing, his hands gently rubbing up and down her back. She leaned against him, thrilling to his touch, soaking up his warmth and strength. Sighing, she pushed away.

"I'm really just very tired. All I want is that shower and my bed. I'll see you in the morning?"

"OK. If you need to talk, I'm available."

"Thanks. I'll remember that." Smiling, she turned away and walked down the hall toward her room.

After Jim had showered and gotten ready for bed, he went through the house, checking locks and lights, checked the other occupants of the house to ascertain their well-being. Listened to the sounds of sleep, once reassured that everyone was settled in for the rest of the night, he found his way to his own bed for some sleep.

He started awake at a touch. His nose telling him that it was Ronnie. Reaching for her, he whispered, "What's wrong?" Extending his hearing to check on the others, who were still asleep. She came into his arms, nothing between them but their nightclothes and a light sheet and blanket. He could feel her shivering.

"Sorry. I just needed a hug." She whispered in a faint, thready voice. "I didn't mean to wake you, I just wanted, well I didn't want to be alone."

He shifted, making more room for her. She swung her legs up to lie beside him, snuggling close to him. "Are you cold?" He asked.

"No. Just thinking about that boy, wondering how he could do what he did. It's got me pretty upset." Laying her head on his shoulder and stretching one arm across his chest, holding on.

"So I noticed." Gently, soothingly rubbing her back with one hand, while he sought and held her other hand against his shoulder. "Comfortable?"

"Mmmm-hmmmm. She murmured, already nearly asleep.



"I don't think this is such a good idea." Feeling his body reacting to her close proximity.


"No, it isn't. Please. Don't tempt me like this. Please, babe?" Wanting her in bed with him, with all that might entail.

She pulled away. Realizing what he was talking about. She had to smother a smile. "If I stay on top of the covers, and you stay under them, nothing will happen. Please? I just don't want to be alone, right now. Please?"

He looked at her, able to clearly see how upset she was by the earlier crime scene. Sighing, he pulled her back down against him. "We're probably going to regret this, but..." He closed his eyes, felt her soft, warm body against his. Fighting his baser emotions. He held her, gently rubbing her back; shifting over onto his back and snuggling her against him. Her head on his shoulder and his left hand gently stroking her hair, his right hand holding hers where it lay on his chest. He turned his head to softly nuzzle into her hair, inhaling the subtle aromas of shampoo and conditioner and, beneath everything else, the exclusive scent that was Ronnie. He listened as she fell asleep beside him, relishing the warmth of her body next to his. Listening to her, he never realized when he fell asleep.

He didn't remember dreaming, but when he awoke, he thought that he was. His first sensation was one of warm weight against his body, followed by the scent of what he had come to identify as 'Ronnie', then his ears picked up the sounds of breathing and a heartbeat

He opened his eyes and was, at first, confused. Then the memories of the previous evening came back, and he smiled. They lay on their sides, facing each other. She was curled up in his arms, where he suddenly realized he wanted her to stay. Permanently. His brow furrowed as he thought about it. Finally coming to the painful realization that he didn't see any future for them. Each had a career of which they were justifiably proud, friends and family. He felt the pain of grief in his chest, knowing that there was no way to make a relationship with this wonderful woman work. He felt her stir beside him. He fell back on the old stone face to get him through what he knew was coming. Hiding the hurt.

"Mmmmmmm. Good morning." She smiled at him and stretched, her body coming in even closer contact with his. She stroked one palm up and down his chest. "What a wonderful way to wake up." She purred. She noticed his expression, and withdrew a bit, looking at him, worried. "What's wrong?"

"It's not going to work, is it." Not really a question.

"What isn't?" Confused.

"Us. Together. You have a home, a good career here. I have mine in Cascade. There is no way to make this work." The pain only obvious in his voice.

"Jim, we haven't progressed quite that far, yet. Have we?" Suddenly unsure.

"I know how I feel about you. How I feel about my work, my job, my friends, my-my family. Long-distance relationships are iffy at best. I just don't see how we can work this out. If one of us moves, it will just cause resentment. I-I don't want that. It would kill anything we have." He looked away from her. "I-I-I'm sorry." He rolled over and slid out of bed, making his way silently toward the bathroom.

She lay there in shock. Her mind working furiously. He hadn't actually said the words, but it was pretty obvious. She closed her eyes, wondering why... then the realization came to her. He was afraid that if he asked her to move to Cascade, she'd come to resent him for it. She thought about it. Trying desperately to come to a mutually beneficial conclusion. Understanding his point of view, she slipped from the bed and quietly returned to her own room.

Breakfast was a little strained, which went pretty much unnoticed by Cecilia and Blair, who were oblivious to the tension between the older couple.

"So, what are the plans for today?" Blair asked, back to his usual boisterous self.

"Well," Ronnie began, glancing worriedly at Jim, "I thought we'd go to the State Fair. It's nothing like the L. A. County fair, but it's quite nice.

Blair looked curiously at his partner, noting a bit of distress. "OK. When?"

"Well, the gates open at ten a.m., and there's a lot to see, if you want to go..."

"Sounds like fun. Uh, we've kind of sworn off of the carnival rides. There was almost an accident with the Ferris wheel at our county fair earlier this year, so we avoid all the rides. Well, except for the carousel, that is." His smile was a little weak.

"I'm not much for the rides, either." Cecilia concurred. "I like to look at all the animals and the exhibits. I love the homemaking stuff, the quilting, the wood carving. And any scientific exhibits. I love the ones for the kids, where you can touch and try out stuff." Her enthusiasm matching Blair's. The excitement of the still young.

Ronnie looked askance at Jim, who smiled his agreement with the plans. "Sounds good. What's the temperature going to be like?"

"Hot. With chances of extremely hot. With a warming trend." She smiled. "It's not State Fair without temperatures in the low hundreds." Her smile broadened. "Actually, we're in luck. It's not supposed to go above ninety, this weekend. Quite cool, for us."

"At least it's a dry heat." Jim added, blandly.

"Hey, anything over a hundred is hot. Hot is hot." Blair insisted.

"High humidity with high temps is murder, however. So, be grateful it's as cool as it is. At least there are trees and shady areas at Cal Expo, and all the buildings are air conditioned." Ronnie informed them.

They had fun. Blair won Cecilia a huge stuffed bear at the baseball throw. Jim won a similar toy for Ronnie at the shooting gallery. They wandered through the counties exhibits, wondering at the enormous diversity of the state; from desert to ocean to mountains, to inland valleys; from redwoods to Joshua trees. The state literally offered something for everyone. Walking through the home arts building, the women marveled over the fine needlework on display. Everything from embroidery to doll houses, they spent more than an hour examining and exclaiming over the quilts. They were all magnificent.

"They're all so wonderful. I'm sure glad I didn't have to judge any of them. I could never decide." Ronnie murmured, awestruck by all the different patterns and designs.

"Oh, I know what you mean. I'd love any one of them. I'd make it the centerpiece of my bedroom and design the rest of the room around it. Look at that one, That looks like Jim, don't you think?" Cecilia replied, pointing to a magnificent quilt in blues and greens, with lighthouses in the corners and a compass design in the center.

"Oh, yes. I have to agree, Definitely Jim." She looked over at the two men who were politely looking interested, but obviously not listening to the two women. "Jim?" Ronnie called him over. "What do you think of this one?" Curious.

Jim focused in on the quilt in question. His brow furrowed in surprise. "I have one like that. Blair found it at one of those little, which one was it, Chief?"

"The Harborfest. It's the same pattern, but not the same colors or material. Similar, though." Blair agreed.

"I knew it was you, Jim. I'm amazed that you have one like it, though." Ronnie replied, smiling. Seeing the hurt Jim was trying to hide.

"Yeah. Blair thought so, too, I guess." Returning her smile, but with pain in his eyes.

Finally, the women tired of the exhibit and they moved on to the woodworking displays.

"I can't believe that a sixteen-year-old made this." Blair murmured in awe. I mean, look at this. It's magnificent." They were examining a group of furniture. There was a china cabinet on a credenza with a matching table and four chairs. All with fine carvings taken from turn of the century Victorian pieces, lovingly and exactingly duplicated.

"It's mahogany." Jim announced. "It's beautiful. Exceptional craftsmanship." He agreed.

The ladies were just as fascinated as the men were. "Can you imagine that in your loft, Jim?" Cecilia asked.

"Oh, yeah. Although, I'm not sure where the china hutch would go. It is beautiful." Jim's eyes drifted on to the next display, he couldn't help but smile at the carved pieces. "Look at this." Indicating a full-sized carousel horse. "Where would someone put something like that?"

"In a child's room." Ronnie replied; and felt a stab of pain in her heart. She knew that Jim was withdrawing, distancing himself from her, preparatory to breaking off their involvement. Even though she understood why, it still hurt. She was wishing she could find an equitable way out of their dilemma. She loved her work, but understood his need and desire to remain in his home territory. If only there were some way for her to move....

Cecilia noticed that the older couple were fighting through some difficulty. She didn't know what it could be, but she wanted to help. She could see the hurt each was trying to hide, the way they weren't touching each other anymore. She squeezed Blair's hand and looked at him with concern. Wondering if he knew what was wrong.

Blair didn't know what had gone wrong, either. He turned his concerned gaze on his lady and shrugged, slightly. Indicating his own confusion as to what was wrong. They lagged behind the other couple as they moved along to another building, one housing the rabbits, poultry and reptiles. They stared in fascination at the huge snakes, none willing to take the risk of having their photo taken with one of the monsters, particularly not the twenty foot anaconda.

"Nope. Not me." Blair insisted. "I have no desire to test his aversion to swallowing people. I love hugs, but want them to be from nice, warm-blooded people. Like the present company." Smiling.

"Me, too." Cecilia replied, closing in for a hug. "I love hugs. How about you guys?" Hinting to the other couple.

Jim and Ronnie looked at each other. Ronnie smiled and slipped her arms around an initially unresponsive Jim. But when she lay her cheek against his chest and whispered, his arms went around her and held her tight.

"Can't we still be friends?" She'd whispered. He remembered what Joel and Mable had told him. Friends first, because then, no matter what else happened, they could still care for one another as friends. He realized he didn't want to give her up. If they could only be friends, then they would be friends. He told his heart to settle down and accept what they could have. Not that his heart listened to him. When she touched him, his entire body went on alert and he had to fight for composure.

"I hope so." He whispered back. Holding her like a drowning man with a flotation ring.

"Ooh!" Cecilia exclaimed. "Look, the next building has a hands-on science exhibit. Can we go?" Excitedly urging the others to join her.

They were like four overgrown children, playing with the various exhibits, Jim and Blair went nuts for the drum exhibit, which explained how different tones were achieved, from steel drums to timpani and various types of wood and other materials. Jim demonstrated a surprising skill with the steel drums, eliciting a comment from Blair:

"I didn't know you could play the drums, Jim." Surprised.

"Yeah. It's been a while, though." Smiling. The ladies enjoyed themselves, watching and listening to the two men. Cecilia whispered to Ronnie while the men were busy.

"What's wrong? Is there anything I can do to help?"

Ronnie looked at the younger woman and smiled, but the sadness in her eyes belied the expression. "I don't know. Jim just realized that we each have careers that are important to us, and he doesn't see any way to build a long-term relationship when we live a thousand miles apart. I just wish there were some way to change the logistics. I know he loves me, and I love him, but I don't know how to get past this particular obstacle. I'd be more than willing to relocate, but he seems to feel that I'd come to resent him if I did."

"Too bad you're in such a narrow field. There aren't a lot of jobs out there, are there?"

"Not a lot. Certainly, not very many at my level." She sighed. "Even if I could find something in Seattle or Tacoma, it would go a long way toward making our chances better."

"At least then you could be sure to be able to see each other most weekends." Cecilia agreed. Just then, their attention was drawn by Blair's excited voice.

"Oh, cool. Look at this, Jim. Giant bubbles." Blair grabbed a bubble ring that was a good two feet in diameter. He tried, without success to pull a bubble over himself, but couldn't quite manage it.

"Here, let me try." Jim said, taking the ring from his smaller friend. He sloshed it in the bubble solution and, with his greater height, formed an enormous bubble over the smaller man. Blair laughed with glee.

"Oh, man you have got to try this. The colors, it is, like, so cool." Almost giggling. Jim smiled at his friend's happiness, forgetting his own problems with the joy his friend insisted on sharing. Jim reloaded the bubble ring and pulled a bubble over each of the ladies, who agreed with Blair. Finally, they got Jim to kneel as they took turns trying to form a giant bubble over him. Finally, Ronnie succeeded. For Jim, with his enhanced senses, the tactile stilling of the air within the bubble was interesting. But when he saw the lights reflecting from the inside surface of the bubble, he zoned. Even when the bubble popped, he remained frozen. Ronnie touched his shoulder.

"Jim?" No response. "Jim?" Starting to worry. Blair immediately recognized the problem. Setting the bubble ring down, he moved to crouch by his friend. With one hand on Jim's shoulder, he murmured softly and urgently in his ear.

"Jim." He hissed, "Come on, man. Not now. Not here. Come on back, Jim. It's OK. Come on, Jim. Jim?" With a gasp and a shake of his head, Jim refocused on the three concerned faces focused on him.

"Sorry about that." He said, mildly.

"Jim?" Ronnie asked, "Are you all right?" Worried.

"Yeah, I'm fine." He got to his feet, still a little disoriented, but realizing what he had done wrong when he saw the bubbles that other people were making. His rueful expression told Blair all he needed to know.

"It's OK, man. Why don't we go get something to drink, OK?" Ronnie stopped him before they could make their escape.

"Jim, do you need medical help?" Still concerned.

With an enormous sigh, Jim tried to misdirect her. "I'm fine. I just got caught up in the pretty colors from inside. It's nothing to worry about." He insisted.

"Stress?" She asked, not willing to let it go.

"That's an interesting theory." Blair suddenly responded. Jim could see the wheels turning and groaned.

"Please, Chief. No tests. This is supposed to be a vacation, remember?"

"Yeah, sure. Stress. I'm going to have to go back and check. That might be part of the problem, man. Do you realize how much that could affect...everything?" Realizing that they weren't alone and that the ladies had no knowledge of Jim's special abilities. He was positively bouncing in his excitement.

"Later, Chief. Let's just go on to the next exhibit, OK?"

"Sure, sure. But we have to check this out, later, OK?"

"Yeah, sure. Fine. Let's go." Leading the way to the next exhibit, which featured a plasma ball. Jim refused to get near the thing, as he could feel it's effects from a good ten feet away. Blair was fascinated by Jim's sensitivity. The two ladies started comparing notes. Cecilia knew that there was something special between Jim and Blair and that her parents were quite familiar with whatever it was. She thought back to the night she had met the two men, how her parents had sent her and her brother off to bed so they could talk. How odd she thought they were acting. Something about the way Jim and Blair had found her dad, after the bomb he was attempting to defuse blew up and dropped a four story building on him. She'd heard someone say something about Jim hearing her dad...

Looking with concern at the two men, she drew Ronnie aside and asked, "I know there's something different about Jim. Do you know what it is?"

"What do you mean?" Ronnie replied, concerned.

"Well, he and Blair found my dad in a demolished building. From what I understand, no one held out any hope of his being found alive. They had no idea even where to start to look. Somehow, Jim and Blair pinpointed him and saved him. I heard something about Jim being able to hear my dad, but no one will talk about it. Whatever it is, I'm sure the rest of the people they work with know about it, well, most of them, anyway. My folks and the Captain, for sure. Maybe some of the others, but I'm not sure."

Ronnie looked at her, trying to put the puzzle pieces together. "Your folks told me that there was something special between Jim and Blair, and they were afraid that other relationships might endanger whatever it is. They seemed pleased when I told them I had no intention of coming between him and his friends. My sister told me that Megan told her that Jim's a psychic. I thought he was going to choke. He started laughing in the middle of taking a drink and it went down the wrong way..." her eyes lit up. "He could hear them whispering from across the table." She looked at the younger woman. "When they were down here in June, Jim found a wallet that had been buried with a murder victim, it was in the wall of dirt, almost invisible, but he spotted it."

"So, you're saying he can see and hear better than normal, right?"

"Yeah, that could explain the bubble, if he can see beyond the normal spectrum, it could explain why he froze inside the bubble, the colors were pretty spectacular from in there, imagine if you could see a wider range than normal...you could become easily fascinated and lose track of what's going on around you..." she trailed off, remembering what Jim had told her, that if she guessed his secret, he would tell her. She also realized that now was not a good time to do that, since he was so upset over the possibility of not being able to make their relationship work. "Look, I've got some ideas, but I'm afraid that now is not a good time. We're going through the problem of long-distance relationships, and it's tearing us both apart. Maybe we can compare notes later, and get to the bottom of this, OK?"

"Sure. If you watch Blair, he's kind of like, I don't know, keeper, isn't the right word, but he's definitely Jim's safety net. The way Jim only responds to Blair when he freezes up like that, the way Blair keeps touching him, like to distract him from focusing too hard on something. I think you're right. I just hope they trust us." Lifting her own concerned eyes to the older woman. Ronnie noticed Cecilia's eyes for the first time, the pale ocean green color that contrasted so beautifully with her dark brown skin.

"You know, you have beautiful eyes."

Cecilia laughed at the nonsequitur. "Boy, talk about changing the subject."

"Well, I hadn't noticed them, before. They're the prettiest shade of green, although they probably turn blue when you wear blue."

"Well, blue-green, anyway. My mom has the same color eyes."

"I've met her. You do look a lot like her." Smiling at her success at changing the subject.

"I'm also told I act just like her, too." Smiling back, knowing not to go back to their previous discussion just yet.

"Well, then, Blair knows what to expect from you as you grow older, doesn't he?"

"Yep. He should. I hope I can be just like her. She's a pretty tough act to follow, but eminently qualified to emulate. I want a marriage just like hers. Which is why Blair and I are taking things slowly. Of course, my dad's threats aren't exactly minuscule, either." They both laughed.

"Somehow, I can't quite imagine your dad actually hurting anyone, Not really, anyway."

"You haven't seen him in action, then. He can be quite formidable when he has to be. But you're right. He's probably one of the gentlest men I've ever known. Both Blair and Jim come close, though. Oh, I know, I've heard all the 'Ellison stories' about what a bad-ass he is, how cold and uncaring, but since he teamed up with Blair, he's changed. Become human, according to my dad. I only met him once before, when my brother died. He was, oh, I don't know, like he blamed himself for the accident. All he did was witness it and stop to help. My brother was killed when they hit the tree, Jim kept my mother from bleeding to death. That makes him a hero, in my book. I know it does in my dad's as well. He's just so hard to convince, sometimes, though."

"I take it he was a very different man before Blair?" Curious, now, about the man before she knew him.

"Oh, yeah. My dad was afraid of him. I guess he had a real attitude problem. Cold, uncaring. Seeing him and Blair together? I have a hard time believing it, until someone tries to hurt anyone he knows. Then...look out. He's super protective of everyone. Especially Blair. It's strange, but a good kind of strange."

They suddenly found themselves under Jim's scrutiny. "Oops. Caught." Ronnie murmured. Seeing Jim's concerned look, she smiled. "OK, so we were talking about you. It was mostly good." Ronnie laughed when Blair looked at them in consternation.

"Just comparing notes. Girl talk, guys." Cecilia insisted.

"Uh huh." Was Jim's reply. "Where to, next, ladies?"

"Ooh, how about...the race track?" Cecilia suggested.

"Cool." Blair agreed. "Have I ever told you how I pick the winners?"

After the last race of the day, the two couples made their laughing way to the food stands. Blair smirking at the others amusement at how well his 'system' seemed to work. "Hey, we won, didn't we?"

"Yeah, Chief. We won. Not a whole lot, but we won." Jim answered, still chuckling. "But that's why they're called 'favorites'." He continued.

"Hey, we won on that one long shot." Blair complained.

"I'm sorry, Blair, but I don't consider five to one that long of odds. Not when there are horses in at twenty to one." Ronnie said.

"Yeah, but none of the real long shots came anywhere near close to winning. You have to admit that all my picks came in." Smug.

"Yes, Blair. You make a wonderful race course tout. However, don't quit your day job." Cecilia added.

"Which one?" Blair asked, saucily. Nimbly dodging out of Jim's reach.

"Either of them, Chief." Chuckling.

"OK, guys." Ronnie interrupted the two men's horseplay. "What kind of food? I'm starving."

"Whatever you ladies want." Blair started.

"Well," Cecilia started, "I'm rather fond of those giant curly fries. What?" When she noted Blair's expression.

"Do you have any idea how much grease and cholesterol are in those?" Horrified.

"No cholesterol. They use vegetable oil. As for how much grease, this is a fair. I want fair food. Grease and all." Her chin tilted up obstinately.

Blair looked to Ronnie for help. "Don't look at me. I want either a couple of corn dogs, or maybe some chow mein. How about you, Jim?"

For a change, Jim was with Blair. "Well, Chinese sounds good, but then, it always does. Do they have any place that serves those Greek sandwiches? What are they called, Chief? Yeeros?"

Blair stopped stock still. Staring. "OK, who are you and what have you done with Jim Ellison?" the others stopped and turned back to look at him, puzzled; although Jim was blushing, slightly.

"Well, I liked them. I don't know where else to find them, except at a fair."

"What's a yeero?" Cecilia asked.

"It's beef and lamb, mixed together in a kind of a meat loaf, then it's roasted, sliced off real thin, and put on a pita, with tomatoes and onions and covered with a cucumber/yogurt sauce. It's fairly healthy." Blair explained. Still staring at his uncomfortable friend. "Jim only likes junk food." He added, trying to explain his shock at his friend's choice.

"You mean that this yeero thing he wants is healthy?" Ronnie asked, uncertainly.

"Well, yeah. Relatively. Compared to most of the junk you'll find here."

"So, let's try this out, OK?" Cecilia suggested. The four made their way down the food aisles, finally coming across a blue and white concession stand with the word 'GYROS' prominently displayed.

"I still don't understand how a 'g' can be pronounced 'ye'." Jim muttered.

"It's Greek. The 'g' is silent." Blair tried to explain. The line was relatively short, and they were soon finding a cool spot under a tree to munch down their sandwiches.

"Oh, wow. This is good." Ronnie said, slurping up some dripping sauce from her fingers.

"Mmmm-hmmmm." Cecilia agreed. Swallowing, she asked, "And you say this is healthy?"

"Well, pretty much. The meat is roasted, so most of the grease drips off, the rest is fresh, no preservatives, all natural. And, on top of all that, it tastes good." Blair explained, followed by a huge bite of his sandwich, trying to catch up to the others. Jim never said a word, simply wolfing down his food and licking the bit of sauce off his fingers. Seeing that the others were still eating, he volunteered to go after drinks. Due to the heat, they all opted for bottled water.

"So, what now?" Jim asked, after handing out the bottles of water.

"Well, how about the commercial building? Then we can go and look at the animals, and maybe watch some of the horse things in the cavalcade. Oh, and we can't possibly miss the forestry exhibit, and there's the..."

"Whoa. Easy. One thing at a time, OK?" Jim interrupted her, smiling and giving her a hug. "Let's get a consensus, here." He looked at the younger couple. "So, what do you guys want to do?" His arm still around Ronnie's shoulders.

Blair and Cecilia smiled at one another, recognizing that Jim was unaware that he had lost his standoffishness toward his lady. Blair looked askance at Cecilia, who suggested, "Well," Pulling out the map of the fairgrounds, "If we start at the forestry exhibit and work our way around this way..." pointing the route on the map, "Then we can just make a big circle and wind up at the Cavalcade Arena, where we can sit and watch some of the shows, then, we can either go over to the big arena for the rodeo, or to the concert, over here." Indicating the two locations on the map.

"Sounds like a plan to me." Jim agreed. They enjoyed the quiet solitude of the forestry exhibit. It was a permanent fixture of the fairgrounds; the different trees were labeled and dated. Looking up at the nearly hundred foot tall sequoia, Blair noticed it's age.

"Hey, it's the same age I am." Smiling at his friends.

"Yeah, but it's a lot taller." Jim quipped, then laughingly dodged the mock lunge of his friend. "Seriously, though, you're a lot bigger around than it is." Laughing again, as Blair swung at him, barely avoiding the playful slap.

"Yeah. I can see why the conservationists want to try to save the remaining redwoods. It takes them so long to get any useful size to them. And it's not like they replant redwoods when they cut them down, either."

"It's just that it takes so long for them to grow to any usable size. Look at this one, it's almost thirty years old, and you couldn't get more than what, maybe six two by fours from it? Sure it's a hundred feet tall, but the usable length is only, what, sixty feet?" Jim replied.

"But if they don't plant them, some day the only ones left will be those in parks. They're cutting their own throats, man. They want redwood to build with, they're going to have to tighten their belts and start planting redwoods to replace what they cut down. The longer they delay, the less redwood will be available in the future." Blair insisted.

"I agree with you, Chief. But we're not in charge of what gets planted."

"So, who is?"

"The lumber mills, I guess."

"Guys? Here. Have a sequoia seedling. Plant it someplace it will grow, start your own reforestation project. OK?" Ronnie handed each man a foot-long seedling, roots included. The two men looked from the plants to the nearby tree and laughed.

"OK. But we can't take them home with us. You're just going to have to find a place for them for us, Ronnie." Jim insisted.

"You could always smuggle them home..."

"That would be illegal, and then Jim would have to arrest himself. That would be, like, so uncool." Blair insisted, laughing, as well.

"So, OK. I have a few spots where they can go." Smiling, she leaned closer to Jim, eliciting a quick kiss to the top of her head and a brief hug. They finished their stroll through the trees hand-in-hand. Blair and Cecilia exchanged pleased grins, joined hands, themselves, and followed the older couple.

"Oh, wait a minute. I want to look at this. This is cool, man. Solar cooking. Isn't it neat, Jim?"

"Sure, Chief. But a little impractical, don't you think?" Looking at the solar oven set up. It was simple, made of cardboard and foil, with a glass top, inside the box were a dark two quart casserole, a couple of jars of vegetables, and an oven thermometer.

"Oh, no, man. You can set one of these up and go off for a hike, and it will cook all day and you can come back to camp to a hot meal." Blair enthused.

"It's still impractical." Jim insisted. The man doing the demonstration tried to explain the method. Jim listened, politely, if skeptically. When the man finished his spiel, and Blair asked again if he didn't think it was a neat idea, Jim replied. "I still say it's impractical."

"But, why, sir?" The demonstrator asked, not understanding.

"It's not practical, because I live on the coast of northern Washington State. We have lots more rain and clouds than we have sun. It's a fun idea, but not practical where we live."

Blair was a little deflated as Jim's words sunk in. "Oh, yeah. That is a problem." He looked sadly at the setup. Sighing, he turned away, disappointed. Jim looked over the display again, and, while Blair looked at the produce exhibit, surreptitiously purchased an instruction book and a cookbook for solar cooking. Smiling at the confused man, he explained.

"Well, there are a couple of weeks a year when it's sunny. Besides, he might be able to use it on his next expedition." Smiling as he rolled up the two booklets and followed his friends. Ronnie raised an eyebrow when he returned. Questioning.

"OK, so it's not real practical. It's the kind of thing he loves, so I got him the instructions and a cookbook." He explained.

"That's sweet of you" Ronnie murmured as she pulled him down for a kiss. "Even if it isn't very practical." Grinning and sliding one arm around his waist and giving a quick hug before they sauntered after the other couple.

"They're pretty serious about each other, aren't they?" Ronnie murmured as they wandered through the various vendors in the commercial building.

"Yeah. I think this is the first time he's ever been in love. I mean, more than just the physical part." Jim agreed.

"They're friends, too, though." She glanced up at her companion. "I don't want to give up on us yet. I want to try to find a way to make us work. Please don't quit, yet."

He stopped, turning to look at her, seeing his own hurt and fear reflected back at him from her eyes. "I don't want to quit. But I don't see how we can make it work. I-I-I..." He paused, squeezing his eyes closed, trying to muster his thoughts and the words to explain.

"I don't want to be hurt, either. I think that we're going to hurt each other, no matter what. It's already too late to just call it quits. I want to try for us. I want to find a way to make it work between us. I'd rather try and be hurt, rather than hurt and wonder for the rest of my life if we could have made it work." She peered up at him, her hands absently rubbing up and down from his shoulders to his elbows, then leaned against him and slid her arms around him, drawing him close. Feeling his arms tighten around her.

"Yes." Was all he said. Agreeing with her analysis of where they were and what he wanted. Holding her tight, not wanting to let her go, ever.

Blair and Cecilia, noticing their absence, stopped and turned to look for them. Spotting them almost immediately. Blair grinned at his lady. "That looks like a good idea, don't you think?" Pulling her in for a hug. She giggled as she joyfully took part in the impromptu embrace.

They eventually continued their stroll through the commercial buildings. Jim, of course, fascinated by the displays of camping and fishing gear. He bought a selection of imitation chamois for cleaning. And a sprayer attachment for the kitchen sink, much to Blair's amusement. Ronnie just smiled at Blair's snide comments about how 'domestic' his roommate was.

"Well, that should make him easier to live with." Ronnie said. Blair goggled at her.

"Are you kidding? Mr. Anal-retentive? Mr. House Rules? Did you know that he color codes leftovers?" Amazed that she knew Jim so little.

"What a great idea!" Ronnie exclaimed, smiling. "Does he color code by food group? Or by day of the week the leftovers were from?"

"Nope." Jim said, joining the conversation. "His are red, mine are blue. Some of the stuff he eats..." He shuddered, only half serious, but still...

Ronnie laughed. "OK. So, you keep things spotless, right?"

"Well I try to. I'm still hoping I can housebreak Sandburg by the time Cecilia here decides to take him in." Smiling his insincerity at this.

"Not funny, man." Blair groused, but realized he'd set himself up.

"He's doing better. He has learned that the keys go in the basket, the coats on hooks, at least, most of the time. He manages to leave some room to sit when he's working on a project. And he does cook. A lot more often than I do. He's even good at it." Smiling and placing a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Even some of the weird stuff." His fond expression taking any and all sting from his words.

"Thanks, man. I love you too." Half teasing. Ducking easily from the swipe Jim made at his head. Laughing as he caught the passing hand, moving in and pushing Jim further around, causing the larger man to lose his balance and stumble, laughing.

He avoided falling by deftly twisting his body and taking a couple of steps to remain upright. Laughing harder. He came back for more. They degenerated into a playful shoving match; hands slapping gently and pushing each other. Laughing like a pair of teenagers. The ladies looked on benignly.

"You're going to try to work things out?" Cecilia asked, softly.

"Trying is the operative word, here. He's even more afraid than I am at how this is going. He's right about one thing, though. We need to be geographically closer to each other."

"I don't think he can leave Cascade. His family is there, and...I'm not quite sure how to put it, but his heart is there, too. His focus. It's like we've all been adopted by him as a part of his family. I think he's closer to my father than he is his own. And Blair's more his brother than his real brother is. And the rest of the people he works with...I just don't think he can give it all up."

"Not even for me. I wouldn't want him to. You're right. His place is in Cascade. I don't have any ties to anyone here. My parents live in the bay area, but we don't see each other all that often, Christmas, maybe a birthday, not a lot. The problem is trying to find work in my field. About the only jobs for a Forensics Specialist is in law enforcement. It isn't like there are a lot of openings, you know?"

Cecilia nodded and smiled, a little sadly. "Yeah. I guess not. Too bad you and your sister can't just exchange jobs. Her come here and you go there. That would solve everything."

Ronnie stared at her. "That's a brilliant idea." Suddenly grinning as the thought took hold. "That is an absolutely brilliant idea!" She said again.

"What's a brilliant idea?" Gasped Blair, dodging behind the two women, trying to avoid a very large tickle monster named James Ellison.

"Nothing much. Just an idea Cecilia gave me." Smiling benignly at the two men, and casting a warning glance to Cecilia to keep her from saying anything. She didn't want to get Jim's hopes up, just in case it didn't pan out. Realizing that Blair was using them as a shield from Jim, she suddenly grinned and joined in the fun. She grabbed Blair and started tickling him, while Cecilia went after Jim. Fortunately, they had wandered into a fairly open area behind the building and weren't in anyone's way. When the three smaller people ganged up on Jim and pinned him helplessly to the wall, tickling him unmercifully until he begged them to stop, they noticed the small crowd they had drawn to their horseplay. All four blushed in embarrassment. By unspoken agreement, they quickly made their way to the livestock barns.

"Oh, man. That was, like, so embarrassing." Blair muttered, once they were away from the curious crowd.

"Yeah?" Jim replied, "Seems to me that I was the one begging back there."

"Yeah. But when you consider how easily you could have stopped us, if you really wanted to, I think you showed great restraint." Ronnie said. "Admittedly, you would have hurt one or more of us doing that, but I don't think you have anything to be ashamed of. Personally, I was having fun. If we drew a crowd, that was because they've forgotten how to play and have fun." She chuckled as she slipped an arm around Jim's waist, pulling him closer to her. "I don't ever want to forget how to play." Hugging herself close to him.

He returned the embrace. "Me either." He agreed. Casting an amused, calculating look at the other couple, he added, "I don't think we need to worry about the 'children' forgetting how to play. I'm still working on calming Sandburg down to semi-normal human levels." Smirking.

"Hey. I resemble that remark." Blair whined, grinning.

"Oh, look at all the llamas." Cecilia interjected, pointing. That started them off on their journey through the livestock barns. Jim kept his sense of smell dialed down almost to zero. From the livestock they made their way to the Cavalcade Arena, where various demonstrations with horses took place. They arrived just in time for the Draft horse demonstrations. They were impressed with the eight-horse hitch demonstrating how they used to parallel park freight wagons, and back them up to a loading dock. The teamster handling the rig was impressive, no semi-truck driver could have duplicated his maneuvers any faster. They marveled at the variety of draft horses, from the enormous Shires down to the comparatively diminutive American Cremes (all of eighteen hundred pounds each, and standing nearly seventeen hands high, 68 inches at the shoulder). During the draft horse demonstration, the announcer called out that the next team was the strongest team there. Out came a team of...Shetland Ponies, they were hitched up to a dead-drag, a solid weight with no wheels. The little animals leaned into their collars and dragged the heavy logs around the arena, while the announcer explained that, pound for pound, the Shetlands could out pull any of their larger counterparts, able to pull twice their own weight with ease, where their larger counterparts would be hard pressed to drag even their own weight. The audience laughed at the cute little animals dragging what appeared to be telephone poles well over twice their size with comparative ease.

After the Draft Horses, was a Hollywood show, featuring matched Andelusian stallions and Fresian stallions, along with an Arabian and a National Show Horse. The Arab was a single liberty act, demonstrating how movie horses would rear and walk on their hind legs on command, run in circles like a circus horse, without anything to control him but his handler's voice and long dressage whips to tell him what to do. The National Show Horse did some fancy dressage moves, things like the Lippazanners of Vienna do. After the two in-hand acts, they brought out the two gray Andelusians. They performed the Aires Above the Ground, as made famous by their Lippazanner cousins, including the Spanish Walk, that majestic, slow, exaggerated step that made the horses look like they were dancing, almost. After the Andelusians, came the Fresians. Like Henry's early Fords, they came in any color you wanted...as long as it was black. Even though the Fresians were physically smaller than the Andelusians, because of their long, curling mains and tails, and their 'presence', they were much more impressive. They just had an aura about them that kept every eye fastened on them.

"Wow. How would you like to have one of those?" Blair asked the group.

"They are beautiful." Ronnie agreed. "I like to ride, but I don't really have the need to actually 'own' a horse of my own. How about you?"

"I don't especially like horses." Jim replied.

"I think they're beautiful, but I don't have a lot of experience with them." Cecilia answered.

"I'd like to have one, some day. Maybe. I like to ride, but I've never ridden anything but rental horses. I imagine having one of your own is a lot different." Blair said.

"Why don't you like horses, Jim?" Ronnie asked.

"They smell." Seeing the looks on his companions' faces, he sighed. "I can stay on, but I'm not very comfortable on a horse. They're too unpredictable. I'd rather ride a motorcycle."

"Oh. Well, that sort of makes sense." Ronnie said, accepting his statements at face value. "Maybe you just need to be around the right kind of horses. What say we see what they have here?" She added, then led the way to look at the Breed exhibit surrounding the arena. They looked at all the different breeds represented there. From Miniatures through Shires, from Andelusian to Westphalian. There were examples of at least thirty different breeds represented. It was interesting how Jim kept back from the animals, even though there was no way to reach in and touch the beasts. Ronnie wondered what had caused Jim's fear of horses, because that was the only way to describe his actions.

By the time they left the Cavalcade Arena, it was time to decide what to have for dinner. They opted for Chinese, just to keep Blair from lecturing on the evils of cholesterol and fat. After dinner, they debated the merits of going to the rodeo or the concert. They were walking around, when Blair noticed a band setting up on one of the stages sponsored by a major beer company. He grinned in delight.

"Hey, why don't we go dancing, instead?" He suggested, pointing toward the band setting up. The others looked, and all smiled delightedly.

"Sounds like a plan, Chief." Jim said, looking at Ronnie for her concurrence.

"Oh, yes." Both ladies murmured in agreement.

It was a good dance band, able to play a variety of music, from waltz to tango, from modern to country-western, with a healthy sprinkling of big-band thrown in just for fun.

At ten p.m., there was a fireworks display. They found a spot out in the open to watch from. When it was over, they made their weary way back to Ronnie's van, and Jim drove them back to Ronnie's house.

By the time they arrived, they were all suffering the effects of too long a day in the sun. They all dragged in, gritty, tired, wanting nothing more than showers and bed.

Ronnie couldn't sleep. She was exhausted, but sleep kept evading her. She kept thinking of ways to continue her relationship with Jim. She tossed and turned. Unable to get comfortable. Unable to go to sleep. Finally, she gave up and crawled out of bed. She went outside into her back yard, and looked up at the stars. She was just far enough away from everything that the city lights didn't interfere too much with star-gazing. She wrapped her arms around herself, not cold, at least, not from the temperature. She stared up into the spectacular night sky.

She nearly screamed when she felt someone come up behind her. She jumped away, spinning to look up at...Jim. Smiling, ruefully, she hugged herself a little tighter. "You can't sleep either?" she spoke barely above a whisper.

"No." Was his soft, rumbling reply. "I keep thinking about us. I don't know what to do."

She sighed. "Me, too, I'm afraid." She searched his face. "What do you want to do?"

"I don't want to hurt." He replied, honestly. "I don't want to fail."

She reached out for him. His arms opened and welcomed her and they clung together. "What are we going to do?" He asked.

"Not give up." She replied, clinging tightly to him.

After a while, they let go of one another. They sat on the lawn and gazed at the stars for a while, holding hands. Silent. Finally, still without speaking, they returned to the house and headed for their rooms. Jim stopped at her door and kissed her good-night. She hugged him tightly and then let him go, turning and entering her room, closing the door behind her.

He tiredly dragged himself back to his room and collapsed on the bed. This time, sleep came quickly.

She debated with herself. She desperately wanted to go to his room...but that could be construed as coercion. The thought of lying in his arms again was tempting, but she sighed and settled herself in her own bed. Realizing that it was not the right time to try and move into a physical relationship. She was tired enough, and now, thanks to the time in his arms, peaceful enough to go to sleep. Only to dream of a certain tall, dark-haired, blue eyed detective, who slept just down the hall and out of her reach.

They all slept in late. Cecilia was the first one up and made herself useful by making coffee. Jim wandered out a short time later, looking like he hadn't slept very long, or well. Cecilia handed him a cup of coffee without a second thought.

"Thanks." Jim mumbled as he wrapped his hands around the steaming mug. Taking a sip, he smiled at the young woman. "Good coffee."

"You're welcome, and thank you. Rough night?" nudging a chair out to encourage him to sit.


"Want to talk about it?" Sipping her coffee and not looking at him.

"Taking lessons from your mom?" Just a hint of a smile.

"Well," She looked up into his eyes, "Let's just say I'm going to follow in her footsteps just as much as I can. I can't think of anyone I'd rather be like." Smiling.

"Yeah. Your parents are both pretty special people." He stretched a bit, rolling his head and twisting his neck until the joints popped. "You're good for Blair."

She looked at him, surprised. "Thank you. I think he's good for me, too."

"You've helped him grow up a lot these past few months. He's afraid, you know."

"Afraid? Of what?" Puzzled.

"Oh, commitment, responsibility, things like that. He wants to run, like his mother always does, but he wants to stay, more." Jim confided to the young woman.

"Oh, Jim. You're the one who changed that in him. He stays because you want him to. Maybe you need him to stay, as well, but he stays because of you. I'm just the next step, maybe. I hope so. I want what my parents have and I'm willing to work for it."

"I know. I envy you." Staring into his cup, not looking at her.

"Whatever for?" Surprised.

He looked up into her eyes. "You're young, intelligent, sensitive, caring. You're at just the right age to settle down and raise a family."

"Well, so are you and Ronnie..."

"Not really. I'm almost forty. I've had a couple of chances, but I blew them."

"No, you didn't. The circumstances just weren't right. It takes two to make a marriage work. It takes more than just commitment. It takes luck, it takes determination, it takes a willingness to put someone else first. From both partners." She reached out to touch his hand, "You need to take a little more time, You're not old, Jim. You're..."

"Cecilia, even if I have kids in the next couple of years, I'll be sixty by the time they get out of high school. I don't think..."

"Obviously." The young Miss Taggart interrupted him. "I know people younger than I am who are old. Their attitude is old. They don't do anything but whine and complain. My dad's not old. He's fifty, but he isn't old. If he and Mom were to decide to have another baby, I'd be thrilled. You're strong, healthy, active. There isn't any reason for you to not be able to raise a family. You're just afraid you might screw it up." She realized as soon as the words were out that she had hit the crux of the matter. Her voice softened, and she moved closer to him. "Look, Jim. Take it from someone who has terrific parents, you're going to be a good father. You may be a little strict, but you'll be fair. It's just the way you are. Trust me on this." She smiled and patted his hand. Finally, he looked up and smiled at her.

"Thank you. I'm just not sure how to get past the distance between me and Ronnie. I suppose I could see about transferring to some nearby town, or something." But she could see his heart wasn't in it.

"Why don't you just wait and see what happens? You never know. Something might just come along and work it all out for the two of you."

He raised hopeful eyes to meet hers, seeing the sincerity, the caring. "Yeah. Maybe." He straightened up. "So. You and Blair set the date yet?"

He caught her off guard, taking a sip of her coffee. She managed to swallow it without spitting it all over the place, but she still choked a little. "Uh, no. We're not anywhere near ready for that, yet. Emphasize yet." She smiled.

"You didn't have to live with him since you went back to school. Even your dad was threatening to pulverize him, he was so miserable. I don't know what I'm going to do with him when we get home and he has to wait until Thanksgiving to see you again." Jim declared.

"Well, I guess I'll just have to send him several e-mails every day to make up for it. Why is he so upset?"

"You know his reputation?" Jim asked, softly.

"Oh, you mean a girl in every class on campus? Sure. Not a problem."

"Not any more. He hasn't had a date with anyone but you since the last time you visited before summer break. He's a very social animal. I think he's been suffering withdrawal. All he does is talk about you, worry about you, miss you. He's a pretty miserable man when you're gone."

She could see that he was serious. "I'm sorry. It never occurred to me that this was that hard. I miss him, sure, but I have so much to do, what with classes and studying and such, that I don't really have time to miss him."

"Well, he's pretty hyper. He doesn't seem to be doing much else." He cocked his head in an odd manner she had seen of a number of occasions.

"What is it?" Curious.

"He's coming." He stood up and got another cup, filling it with coffee, ready when Blair shuffled in, barely functioning.

"Oh, man. What were we doing last night? My head is splitting." Blair mumbled, stretching out his shaking hands for the cup Jim was holding out to him. Taking a cautious sip, he smiled at them. "Ahhh. Much better." He pulled out another chair and joined them. "Ronnie still sleeping?"

"No. Came a sleepy voice from the doorway. Smiling as Jim poured her a cup of coffee and handed it to her. "Did you guys overdo it yesterday as much as I did?"

They all agreed that they had overdone it. "What say we just laze around the pool here, today? Maybe barbecue, or something?" She suggested.

"That sounds good to me." Blair agreed, quickly followed by the concurrences of the others. They planned the menu and Ronnie pulled their selections from her well-stocked freezer to thaw.

They spent the day lounging around the pool, talking and relaxing. The two couples found that they enjoyed each other's company immensely. Jim visibly relaxed in their presence, content. They barbecued early in the afternoon, then discussed whether they should go to the movies that night. Ronnie got out the paper, and they looked through the selections. Finally settling on 'Ever After'.

They sat side by side in the theater, with an empty seat between the couples. Both pairs spending more time kissing than watching the movie, just like any adolescent couple. Afterwards, they stopped for coffee, then drove home.

They were already starting to feel the pain of separation. Even though their planes didn't leave until the following afternoon, they all found themselves starting to detach, preparing for the coming splits. They spent every moment touching, talking softly, being as close as they could to their beloved.

They didn't sleep very much that night, instead, cuddling close; the younger couple in the living room, the older pair out on the patio. Blair and Cecilia stretched out together on the couch, kissing, touching, holding, caressing each other. Dozing occasionally, but not wanting to separate to go to bed, despite their tiredness. Jim and Ronnie sharing a hammock, cuddling close, seldom speaking, letting their touch communicate for them. Eventually falling asleep in one another's arms.

She'd awakened when he cautiously climbed out of the hammock some time in the middle of the night. She sat up with an interrogative sound. He turned to her, his hand unerringly reaching out to cup her face and his thumb stroke her cheek. "Sorry. I didn't mean to waken you."

"Where are you going?" She murmured, bereft of his presence. She knew he was embarrassed. "It's OK. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."

"No. It's all right. I was just going to check on Blair and Cecilia."

"You're joking, right?" Shocked, unsure of what he might find.

"No. They're asleep. I just want to make sure they're covered, in case it cools down too much. Blair hates being cold." He lamely explained.

She looked at him in consternation. "What?"

"I'll be right back." He insisted, going in the house. He was back in less than five minutes and sliding back into the hammock beside her. "Sorry. They were asleep. I just covered them with the afghan on the back of the couch." He snuggled close, wrapping his arms around her and nuzzling his face in her hair.

"You don't think they can do that for themselves?" She asked, confused.

"Well, yeah. If they were awake and thought about it. If they woke up, though, they might just decide to go to bed. This way, they can stay with each other and not have to worry about it." Trying to explain.

"Why, you closet romantic, you." She chuckled. Hugging him tight. "What if it gets cold out here?" Pressing herself more tightly against him.

"We'll just have to keep each other warm. They just needed to stay asleep." Cuddling her as close as he could.

"Hmmmm. Sounds good to me." She murmured, relaxing and drifting back off to sleep. He lay awake for a while, enjoying the feel of her in his arms, the gentle breeze drifting past them, the sounds of the night. Focusing his hearing on the sleeping couple inside, realizing just how much he liked being here, like this. He didn't remember falling asleep.

The last day of the holiday weekend. Blair awoke before dawn to find himself snuggled with Cecilia on the couch, an afghan thrown over them and tucked firmly around their bodies. Puzzled as to who...Jim, of course. Smiling as he gently stretched, trying to not disturb the wonderful young woman asleep in his arms. She never stirred as he stretched and shifted, except to smile and make a soft, sleepy noise as she settled herself closer to him. He smiled, foreseeing their life together, the idea of waking up every morning for the rest of their lives like this making him feel almost giddy with the wonderfulness of it. Hugging her tighter to him, he closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep.

It was broad daylight before anyone woke up. Ronnie was having a wonderful dream that she was sailing across the sky on a cloud, warmly cocooned in someone's arms. Smiling as she recognized Jim, even in her sleep. Sighing softly as she awoke to find him blinking sleepily at her. His beautiful smile slowly spreading across his face.

"Good morning." He whispered as she smiled back at him.

"Good morning." She replied, remembering her dream. "This is nice." Reaching over to kiss him.

"Hmmmm. Yeah. It is." They could both feel the other wanting to add that they wanted it to continue like this. But they knew that, for now, at least, they couldn't. He cocked his head, his eyes unfocusing for a moment. "Blair and Cecilia are awake." Smiling at her, nestled close beside him. "I suppose we should get up..."

Sighing, she moved away from him and swung her legs over the edge of the hammock before standing up and stretching. He couldn't tear his eyes off of her as she did so. "What?" She asked, noticing his gaze

"Just thinking how much I'd like to wake up to you every morning, like this." He admitted.

She smiled. "Yeah. Me, too." She took his hand and pulled him up, holding on as he gained his feet and pulling him down to kiss her. "But, it's going to have to wait a while longer, I'm afraid." Sighing.

"That's OK. I can handle waiting. Just as long as some day..." She gave him a brilliant smile.

"Good. We'll find some way to work this out. Just you wait and see." She declared, giving him a fierce hug before turning and heading indoors.

Breakfast was a little subdued. Until the two women started making plans for Thanksgiving with their guys. They soon had the men laughing at their antics. Lightening the mood. When it came time to take them to the airport, Ronnie was fighting tears, as she helped Jim pack the van.

"Hey, it's all right." Holding her. Inhaling deeply and committing her scent to memory, not that he hadn't already done so. "It's only a couple of months. We'll manage, baby. It's OK." Rubbing his face in her hair.

"Promise?" She whispered, suddenly unsure.

"Oh, yeah. I promise." He pulled away a bit, still holding her. Looking deeply into her warm, brown eyes, he said the words, "I'm in love with you, and I don't want to mess this up and lose you. We'll find some way to make this work. We have to."

She understood. Nodding. He kissed her again, before breaking contact with her. She realized, suddenly, that she hadn't answered his unspoken question.

"Jim?" He turned back to her, his eyebrows raising in question. "I love you, too, you know." Holding her breath as a beatific smile spread across his face.

"In that case, we can't lose, can we?"

Both couples had to fight back tears when their flights were called. With one last kiss and a goodbye, the three visitors turned and joined the other passengers in boarding their respective planes to go home.

Ronnie had a very lonely drive home. Walking into her house, she thought how empty it was without the others there. Sitting down on the couch, she let the tears come. When she regained control, she made a phone call, praying that Cecilia's idea might work.

Cecilia was a little depressed, but elated, as well. Her relationship with Blair was going even better than they had hoped. When she got back to school, she immediately sent off an e-mail to Blair, then settled back into her studies.

Jim and Blair were both subdued all the way home. Finally arriving at the loft, Jim simply dropped his duffel bag on the floor at the foot of the stairs, then went to the refrigerator to pull out a couple of beers. Handing one to Blair as he returned from dropping his duffel bag in his room, they settled on opposite ends of the couch.

"I miss her." Blair whispered.

"I know."

"You, too?"


"This sucks."

"It won't be forever, Chief. Some day, it will all work out."


"I can't. But I hope so." Taking another pull at his bottle.

"Me, too. For both of us."

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