So much for resting. My muses are still bashing. I think they liked Wolfpup's challenge. Well, here begins number eleven. I finished number ten less than two hours ago. Sigh.

As usual, I don't make any money from this. I make no claim on the characters, they belong to others, unless Mable makes an appearance, but it's too soon to tell. :) Anyway, here's the third try at getting the guys through that stupid team-building class.

Team Building III


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Once again, they were bound for the team-building seminar. None of them were happy about it. It was getting, had gotten old, very old. Well, they say that third time's the charm. They'd just have to wait and see, now, wouldn't they?

It was a subdued and depressed group who boarded the plane. All of them wondering what was going to happen to them 'this time'. Even Blair was quiet, dragging along. Silently, they took their seats, no jokes, no laughter, no fun. They barely spoke to each other during the four hour flight. They all pretended to sleep, but none of them did, their minds focusing on what could possibly go wrong this time.

They passively filed off the plane, slightly relieved to have made it through the first leg of the trip. But still not wanting to be there. They were met by a representative of the organization putting on the training, loaded in a bus and hauled to their destination, three hours away. The entire trip was made in absolute silence, which did not go unnoticed by the organizer, who erroneously assumed that they disliked one another.

They were assigned a barracks room. They all had to share the facilities. The six men quickly stowed their gear and went outside to look around. Slowly beginning to relax with the realization that they had made it to the actual site. Now all they had to do was survive the training itself. They stayed as a group as they wandered around, seemingly aimlessly, but in reality scoping out the entire compound, noting escape routes, buildings, power lines, everything they might need to be able to escape. Just in case. Their two previous attempts at this had left them all a little paranoid with the project. They met up with a few other groups, some of which were voluble and loud, others reserved and angry, with most falling somewhere in between.

Dinner was served in a huge dining hall, each person seated only with their own group. Upon entering, Jim cast his gaze around, listening for anything untoward. The table next to theirs had a contingent of mounties, Jim smiled and nudged Blair, indicating the group. Blair gave him a questioning glance, to which he only replied:

"Mounties." Which caused Blair to smile in return, reminded of one of their friends. They were still pretty silent throughout dinner, almost as though they were waiting for the other shoe to drop. Convinced that, once again, they would not make it through this.

After dinner, they had an informational briefing, outlining the curriculum for their training. It was as bad as they had feared. They would have to train for a 'team obstacle course', what Blair had called a 'fear camp'. They looked at the materials they had been given, then looked at one another, sighing.

"Now, we understand that some of you are former military, just who would that be?" Simon, Jim and Joel raised their hands. The facilitator made notations in his planner. "And, how long ago was that?"

Joel answered first, "Twenty-two years."

Simon added, "Seventeen years."

And Jim answered last, "Nine years."

"Very good. That was long enough ago for us not to have to worry about an unfair advantage."

"What do you mean?" Blair asked.

"Well, recent military tend to try and take over and run this like boot camp. That isn't the purpose of this. We want you all to succeed, as a team. That is the purpose of all of this."

"Oh." Blair replied. He looked at his friends. "Uh, what if we don't want to do this? Is there any way we can just challenge the course, you know, take the final and if we pass we don't need to go to any more classes and stuff?"

The facilitator laughed. He'd had a few challenges like this, usually from the recently ex-military. Never anyone who looked like this little long-haired man. And no one had ever successfully challenged the final. In fact, most teams could barely pass it after two weeks' training.

"You can try, but no one's ever done it." Still smirking.

Blair looked at the others. His eyes fell on Joel. He cocked his head, silently asking. Joel smiled and nodded.

"OK. I think we'd like to challenge the course. What are the rules?"

"You go through the obstacle course as a group. If you all get through without injury, you pass."

"Is there a time limit?"

"Two hours."

"Two and a half. We're going in blind and deserve the leeway for never having seen the course or obstacles before." Blair was negotiating without consulting the others, but he knew he had their tacit permission. Anything to get this over with sooner.

"All right. Two of us will escort you, but won't be participating in the actual obstacles. You will have one and a half hours to complete the course."

"Will you act as guides from obstacle to obstacle?"

"Yes." Amazed that this little guy, so much younger and smaller than the others seemed to be in charge, or at least, taking charge. He was going to enjoy watching them fall on their faces.

Blair cocked his head to one side, looking at the rest of the team. The question in his eyes.

"Is there any specialized equipment that we will be using?" Joel asked, softly.

"Rappelling equipment."

The team looked at each other, tentative smiles forming. They all met Blair's questioning eyes and nodded, one by one.

"You're on. When and where do we do this?"

"Tomorrow morning, ten o'clock. We'll meet you outside your barracks."

Simon stood up, "Well, men. I suggest we all get a good night's sleep. We have a course to run in the morning."

They were issued two ropes, gloves, and rappelling belts. The facilitators had decided to allow the teams who were about finished with their training to watch, assuming that the six would fail, miserably, just as all previous challengers had.

The first obstacle was a ten foot high wall. They formed a human pyramid, with Blair climbing to the top, securing the rope and cheering them on up it. Joel was second to last up and, although he had some trouble, made it. Of course, Jim behind him encouraging and assisting as needed didn't hurt, either. Once they were all straddling the top of the wall, they pulled up the rope, untied it and dropped it down, then hung from the top before letting go and dropping to the ground. They coiled up the rope and headed off to the next obstacle.

The challenges became progressively more difficult. They had to climb down a cliff face, Jim tied the ropes off and explained how to rappel down the cliff face. They all did quite well. When Jim was the only one left, he untied and dropped the ropes, then free-climbed down to join his friends.

The facilitators were amazed. Even trained teams had to leave at least one rope at the cliff. They were impressed with how well this group worked together. There was minimal discussion, no one person obviously in charge, they truly worked as an extremely cohesive unit, much to their chagrin and awe.

They came to the rope swing across a thirty foot wide river. They were about fifteen feet above the water, and were expected to try and swing across. Jim reached out and stopped Henri Brown from trying the task.

"The water's only about two feet deep in the middle. Why risk injury of falling in when we can just walk across?" Blair blessed the presence of their Sentinel. He wondered how many people got hurt trying to swing across and falling into the too shallow water. Instead, they simply climbed down the steep embankment and waded across.

The facilitators shook their heads. No one had ever figured out that it was easier to just walk across the river. They all tried to swing across, thinking that was the only way. These guys were thinking, as well as working well together. The administrator had joined the group of observers and upon seeing the team's solution to the problem chuckled.

"They should be teaching, not taking this course. Who are they, and where did they come from? This is the group challenging the course, isn't it?"

"Yes, Sir. There's only the canyon left to go. They've done a pretty good job, so far."

"Yeah. And well under time, too." Another facilitator added.

"Well, they'll lose it at the canyon." The first one added, with a smirk. He had taken an instant dislike to this group.

The canyon. One hundred feet across. Sixty feet down. To fall was to die. You hooked your rappelling belt to the pulley and went across, hand over hand. Each man on his own. They looked at the system, and then at each other. Blair was pale. It was very high. Jim, sensing his Guide's distress, patted him on the shoulder.

"You can do it, Chief." He encouraged, stepping up to the starting off point.

"Wait a minute, Jim." Rafe said, softly. "I have an idea." They all stopped and looked at him, curious.

"The ropes we have, they're more than a hundred feet, yes?"

"Yes, so?" Brown answered.

"So, what if we tie the ropes to the pulley, then, only one person will have to pull themselves up the other side." He looked at Blair, then at Jim, passing on the added information that the fear factor would also be alleviated. Jim grinned and slapped him on the back.

"Good idea, Rafe. Let's do it."

They quickly took their two ropes and tied them securely to the pulley. Jim then hooked his safety harness to the pulley as well and, one rope coiled around his chest and the other rope's free end held by Simon, Jim started across. It had been years since he had done anything like this, but the muscle memory was still there. He had to struggle a bit to get up the cliff on the other side, but he made it. Uncoiling the rope from around his chest, he held the end, calling across to the others to pull the device back across.

One by one, they crossed, Blair went second, because of his fear. They all realized that the sooner he was back with Jim, the happier he'd be. Joel came next. Then Brown, then Simon, and, finally, Rafe, who untied and wound the second rope around his chest before heading across.

All back together again, they smiled and looked at the facilitators.

Blair stepped forward. Chin up, head cocked to one side, big smile on his face, bouncing. "Well? Is that the end?"

"Uh, yes."

"Cool. How long did it take us?"

"Uh, one hour, forty-seven minutes." The facilitator was subdued. No one had ever challenged the course and won before. The administrator was impressed.

"Gentlemen, would you mind telling me why you're here?"

"Assigned." Simon replied. "Our mayor sent us on a fake one of these, we were dumped in the mountains, with no supplies. Well, except for what we had in our pockets and Blair had in his backpack. We had to hike out. Then, they decided to send us here, but our plane crashed shortly after take-off. This time, we actually made it here. We didn't think we needed this course, but, we weren't in charge. So, here we are." He turned to Blair. "Thanks for coming up with the idea that we could pass the final without having to bore ourselves with the classes. It would never have occurred to me to challenge it like that."

"That's because I'm an academic. I know how to do that. I've gotten a lot of credits by challenging classes. I just thought it was worth a shot. I'm glad you guys did, too."

The administrator shook his head in awe. "You should be teaching here, not taking the course. I'd like you to do a written survey, if you would be so kind. Then, I can fill out the paperwork and you can all be on your way. Unless you'd care to finish out your week here just as a vacation?"

They looked at each other. Considering the offer. Turning as one, they chorused:

"Nah. We've got criminals to catch back home." Looking at each other again, realizing what they had done, and bursting out in laughter.

Later that evening, once again on a plane, this time headed for home, their moods joyous, laughing and kidding around over having escaped, once again, the dreaded team-building, discussing their success at avoiding the actual training. Never realizing that the only reason they had succeeded, was that they already were a team.

Blair was chuckling, swinging his legs and kicking the seat in front of him.

"Sandburg? Don't you make me come back there and hurt you." Simon snarled, but unable to keep the smile out of his voice.

"You wouldn't hurt me, Simon." Kicking just a little harder.

"Knock it off. Sandburg. I'm warning you." Still smiling.

"You can't make me." Blair taunted, smiling broadly.

Abruptly, Simon was out of his seat and towering menacingly over the much smaller observer. Jim happened to be out of his seat, using the restroom.

"Oh, can't I?" Simon purred, placing one knee on Jim's vacated chair and blocking Blair's escape. Reaching over and tickling the helpless grad student.

"No. No! Please! Don't! Simon? Please? Don't! No! Stop! Jim? Please? Help? Somebody? Anybody?" Laughing uncontrollably as the other members of the team looked on, smiling and ignoring his pleas for help and mercy.

Jim, hearing what was going on, quickly returned to his seat, tapping Simon on the shoulder to get his attention.

"Simon? That's enough." He said softly. Simon stopped immediately.

Simon looked up, "He was kicking the back of my seat." He complained, looking down at the still helpless young man. Realizing he'd almost gone too far; feeling just a little guilty about it, but still needing to push the point. "Now, Sandburg. Are you going to behave yourself, now?"

Gasping for breath, he finally answered. "Y-yes, s-s-sir." Holding his aching sides.

"Good. I'm glad we understand each other." With which Simon returned to his seat.

Jim sat back down beside his partner. "You OK, there, Chief?"

"I'm fine, man. Oh, my ribs ache. That was so not fun." Still gasping, just a little.

"Well, why don't you just relax. We'll be home in a few hours. I'm going to take a little nap. You sure you're OK?" Listening to the still elevated heartbeat and gasping breath.

"Yeah. I'm fine. You go ahead and sleep, man. I'm just going to sit here and think."

"Well, be careful of what you think about." Was Jim's final answer as he dozed off.

"Sure, Jim."

When everyone had settled down again, Blair grinned an evil little grin. And started kicking the seat in front of him, again.

"Sandburg!" Only no one else was awake to hear him.

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