All usual disclaimers apply. They're not mine. I'd only want to claim them if they were real. This one was bashed by Sweetness and Light, my nice muse. I was in the midst of 'You Should Know Me Better Than That', when the first inklings of this story came up. (Snow, heeheehee, snow) It has very little plot. It's the kind of thing that happens when you get an unplanned vacation out of town, you don't have any real plans, you just want to get away from it all and veg. Maybe get a little exercise, turn off your brain and enjoy life for a while, recharge your batteries. Kind of a 'day in the life' piece. Yes, Wolfpup, more fluff. As I'm writing this, Blair is channel surfing. I have no idea where this is going. I'm as much along for the ride as you are. I can't wait to see where it goes. (Snow, heeheehee, snow)

Winter Break


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"I cannot believe that you're actually going to drag me out on a camping trip in the snow." Blair shook his head in disbelief.

"We're going to a cabin, Chief. You know, walls, roof, fire place?" Jim replied with a grin.

"In the snow. In the deep snow. Traveling what, fifty miles in chains to get there? Not my idea of fun, man." Blair shivered, just thinking about it.

"Come on, Chief. It'll be fun. Skiing, snowmobiling, peace and quiet. Give it a chance." He really wanted to go. The city was getting him down and the bad guys had all seemed to have gone south for the winter. It was natural down time and he wanted to take advantage of it. He couldn't understand Sandburg's dislike of the idea. It was a nice cabin, the kind that had all the amenities, central heat, generator, in case the power went out, fire place...everything Sandburg would need to keep warm. All only sixty-two miles from town. It was close. How to convince his guide? "You could run some tests." He said it softly. On the one hand, he would do almost anything to convince the kid to go with him; on the other hand, he really, really hated those tests. "You have two more weeks before your classes begin again, you need this down time. Probably even more than I do." C'mon, c'mon, wait for it, waaiit...

This was starting to sound real interesting. Yeah. It was cold. The snow was deep. They would be far from civilization in some ratty cabin, somewhere. Unconsciously, he started bouncing, "Tests? You volunteered for tests? I did hear you right, didn't I? You did say I could run some tests? Right?"

Bingo! "Some tests, Chief. That means we do other things, as well." Hiking, snowmobiles, snow ball fights... He grinned like a kid who had just been released early from a grounding to go on a family outing.

He had a hard time with it, but he managed a martyred sigh, "OK. I'll go." Then he broke into a mischievous grin. "But I get to pick the tests!" dashing off to his room to start packing.

Jim had a self satisfied smirk on his face. "You're gonna have to catch me, first." He muttered quietly to himself, running up the stairs to start his own packing.

Fortunately, the weather stayed clear for the trip. The snow plows had been through during the early morning hours, so the roads were freshly scraped, making much of the journey quite pleasant. Approximately twenty-five miles from their destination, they were forced to chain up, as the side road to the cabin hadn't been plowed. Luckily, the road wended its way through deep forest, where the snow wasn't very deep. The last part of the trip took twice as long as the first part. Blair worked on his test ideas the entire trip.

"Well, Chief. Here we are." Pulling the truck to a stop in front of the cabin.

Blair gasped. "You call this a cabin?!" awed. "Man, this's a palace, not a cabin!" The building could have been a ski resort, from the size of it. It had to be a good fifty by seventy-five feet, and two stories high, as well. "We're going to be here, just us?"

"Yeah." Jim was enjoying the excitement his friend was exuding. He took a deep breath of the crisp, clean, snow laden air. "Pretty nice, huh?" He started unpacking their gear from the back of the truck.

"Nice? Nice?! Man, How did you get to use it?" Who did Jim know who had access to this kind of place? This kind of money? "Steven." Jim smirked. "He just bought it for his company, as a retreat? He wanted me to check it out, decide what repairs were needed, furniture, stuff like that. In exchange, we get it all to ourselves for the entire week." He handed Blair a box of groceries, picking up several bags of gear, himself, and headed for the building.

An hour later, bedrooms picked out, gear stowed, heating equipment checked and turned on, they descended upon the kitchen to put away the supplies. They were surprised to find the freezer fully stocked, as well as the pantry. There was a note on the island in the centre of the kitchen.

"Enjoy. Thanks for taking care of things for me. Maybe next time I can come along. Steven."

"Oh, wow." Blair had started putting the perishables in the refrigerator. "Jim, look at this."

There was barely any room for the things they had brought, Steven had somehow managed to get someone out here to stock the place for an army. Jim shook his head. "You have the psych minor, what does all this tell you?"

"Uh..." obfuscate? He saw a suspicious look on his Sentinel's face, no. Better not. "He's maybe, like, trying to buy you?" Not the nicest thing to say to a man about his own brother, but...

"Yeah. Looks that way to me, too." He shook his head, sadly. "I need to have a talk with him when we get back." His brother didn't have to buy his attention or affection. Obviously, they needed to have another heart-to-heart talk about their relationship.

They finished putting away the things they had brought. Then Blair almost immediately started taking things out again.

"What are you doing, now? We just put everything away."

"Can't have dinner unless we use some of the groceries." Blair responded. "You want coffee?"

"No. If you're going to be cooking, I think I'll start checking the place out and making a list of what's needed. If you need anything, just call." Jim beat a hasty retreat, before Blair could nail him down to a test.

Blair grinned, knowing perfectly well what his Sentinel was trying to do. "It's not going to work, man." He whispered to himself with a smile. "You're already being tested." He busied himself with the meal preparations.

Jim had done a cursory investigation, finding minor repairs that needed to be made and inventorying the contents of the rooms. There was some minor damage from where the roof leaked in one of the upstairs corners. But until he could get a look at the now snow-covered roof, he wasn't going to try to guess at the repairs that would be required. He then went outside to check the outbuildings and move his truck into one of the five garages. Due to the area that had needed to be cleared to build the place, the snow was much deeper here than any place they had passed through on their way in. He pulled the truck into the nearest garage, then checked out the contents of the rest of the building.

It was big enough to house ten vehicles. In one of the bays, he found four snowmobiles, fuel tanks full and ready to go. There was also a large generator that appeared to be connected by underground cables to the cabin. It was also ready to go. He noticed that the generator doubled as an UPS, an uninterrupted power source. Meaning that if the power went out, it would automatically kick in. There was an underground tank beneath the building, according to the design drawing posted on the wall, with a gas level indicator set at fifteen hundred gallons. That was easily enough to keep the place going for a month, if they were careful and there was a need for it. He checked out the other buildings, noting any damage for his report. Other than minor problems, the entire place appeared to be in good condition. Steven had indicated that the place had been empty for about three years and that he had bought it strictly on the prospectus. There were four hundred acres in addition to the cabin and buildings. All-in-all, a very nice place. It had started out as a lodge, but the only skiing available here, was cross-country. Not the most popular of snow sports.

It was getting dark. Jim decided that he had avoided Blair and his promised tests for long enough. He headed back to the cabin. The wind had picked up, and he could sense that there was another storm on the way.

Blair had been busy while Jim was outside. He had placed a few pebbles under Jim's mattress, kind of a 'princess and the pea' test, just to see if he could feel the tiny bumps in an otherwise smooth sleeping surface. He had then placed a few drops of essential oil, vanilla, on one of the towels in the bathroom, just to see if he noticed. Finally, he had decided to test Jim's sense of smell and taste, an easy one. He was trying a new recipe he'd gotten from one of his students.

Jim sniffed appreciatively when he came in. Whatever Sandburg was cooking, it sure smelled good. He hung his coat on a rack and removed his boots. Blair had started a fire in the enormous fireplace in the main room, it didn't add a lot of heat, but it leant that cozy atmosphere to the room. Jim followed the tempting smells to the kitchen.

"What are you cooking there, Chief?" It was somehow familiar, but, not quite...

"Guess." Blair grinned.

The larger man scowled, knowing he'd been caught, and that this was one of the tests. He closed his eyes and concentrated on his sense of smell. He filtered out the non-food scents, then tried to divide the food smells into categories for classification. "Chicken....some kind of oil, sesame? Olive?" he opened his eyes with a grin of triumph "both."

Blair nodded, encouraging, "What else?"

He closed his eyes again, continuing his examination. "Uh....rice, steamed. Vegetables."

"What kind?"

Sniffing deeply, "I don't know, that Chinese one that looks kinda like celery."

"Bok Choy." Bouncing in excitement. "What else?"

"Bean sprouts. Mushrooms. Some kind of cabbage?" uncertain.

"Napa Cabbage. Right." Quivering in anticipation. "What else?"

"Something, sweet, it came in a can. I don't recognize it specifically. Actually, there is a second one that came in a can as well, not the same thing, though. I can't quite tell." Starting to get a little frustrated.

"That'd be the water chestnuts and bamboo shoots." He could see that the Sentinel was filing the new information away for future use. Good. Bounce, bounce, bounce. "What else?" Bounce, bounce, bounce.


Gotcha! "What kind?"

"Uh...." Trying to filter out all the extraneous smells, "soy sauce? No. Similar, but not quite the same. I don't know. Something else, too. It has garlic in it and....I don't know. It's familiar, but not real familiar." He opened his eyes, focusing on the jittering guide, noticing the smug expression. "So, what is it?" He thought for a moment. "OK, It's something oriental, Chinese, maybe. Since when do you make Chinese, Chief?"

"You remember Joy Sythe?" Blair asked, turning back to his cooking.

"Girl of which week, Darwin?" There was no way he was ever going to even try to keep track of his partner's various girl friends, there were just too many to even count.

Blair grimaced. "Friend, Jim. She was the one I was studying with last semester, that lab course I had to take?"

He remembered. "Cute. Long, curly, strawberry blonde hair? Hazel eyes? About five-four?" Perky and nearly as hyper as Blair himself. Perfect match, and Blair had never even tried to get past the friend stage.

"That's her. Her aunt was visiting last week, and she brought me a sample of this. I had to do some serious begging to get the recipe out of her."

"Joy, or the aunt?" Jim asked, grinning.

"The aunt. She's really nice. Looks more like Joy's older sister than an aunt." He gave Jim a suggestive leer. "Want me to introduce her to you?"

Jim looked at him, suspicious. "Why?"

Blair giggled. "Well, for one, she's tall, red hair, great cook, likes camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding...anything sound remotely interesting here?"

"How tall?" Mildly curious.

"Five-eight-ish. A little on the heavy side, but real muscular. The hard-working kind of muscles, not the pumping iron kind." Well, he had to be honest, Joy's Aunt Terri was no raging beauty, nice looking, though. When Joy had brought her aunt to meet him, they had eaten lunch together, the same recipe he was using now. Terri had an exceedingly dry wit and tended to take things literally. He had told her that the food was really 'bad' and she had apologized. He'd been flustered and embarrassed, until Joy had started laughing and explained how her aunt's mind worked. She told of an incident when Terri had moved and Joy had asked her to give her a call when she got a phone put in. A few days later, She had gotten home to a message on her answering machine "I have a phone now." Her aunt had interrupted with: "You only said to call you and let you know I had a phone. You didn't ask for the number." She whined, then broke into a broad grin. "Besides, I called you back and gave you the number." At which both women had started laughing. They had visited, and Terri had asked him about his work, and listened in fascination as he rambled on about some of his adventures. When he had started talking about Jim, she had perked up, It seemed she had several cop friends, as she was in security work. They had compared notes on cop personalities and methods. They spent over an hour just talking. He begged her for the recipe. She told him that she could give him the ingredients, but that he had to figure how much of each item to use, himself. She didn't have a recipe, she just cooked to the size of the pot. When the list was written, and sources for ingredients found, he had then walked with them to the parking lot. There was someone trying to break into her van. Instead of calling for help, she'd simply gone up to the guy and asked him what he thought he was doing. The punk had been taller than her, but he only got in one punch. She'd taken it like it was nothing, and then proceeded to pound him silly. The campus cops had arrived just in time to handcuff the punk and take the reports. Blair was a little in awe of Joy's Aunt Terri.

Jim watched Blair's reaction to his memories. "What happened?"

Blair grinned. "You hear about the punk that got caught trying to break into a van at the university?"

Jim nodded. "Yeah. The owner of the van caught him and beat him up. Some amazon... You're not telling me that that was Joy's aunt?" Little, petite, size five, Joy? From what he'd heard, she had intimidated the campus cops and the guys from the black and white, insisting on pressing charges. The joke going around ended something about, 'he tried to break into her van. First she beat him up, and then he got arrested and is going to go to jail'. He shook his head. "I don't think so, Chief." Amazons tended to be a little too rough for his tastes.

Blair laughed. "You don't know what you're missing. If I hadn't seen her in action, I would never have believed it. She's so soft-spoken and polite? It just didn't seem like the same woman. Anyway, the recipe. She said she could give me the ingredients, but that I would have to figure out the proportions on my own. This is my first try."

"You still haven't told me what those other things in it are." Back to the test.

"After we eat. I want you to try to figure it out when you taste it." Blair turned back to the stove and served up two plates of his concoction.

It smelled good, similar to some of the take-out Chinese they often had, but not quite the same. The flavour was similar, as well. Whatever the sauce was, it had a lot of flavour, similar to soy sauce.... "Something fermented. Fish?" he asked, trying to separate the flavours.

"Good. It's Oyster Sauce. What else do you taste?" savoring his own serving.

Oyster Sauce. He filed away the flavour. "Garlic and something. I don't know what. It's kind of like the sauce they use on Broccoli Beef, what is that? Black Bean Sauce?"

"Right!" Blair cheered. "I bought them both at an oriental market, thought I'd try the recipe while testing you." They ate in silence for a few minutes; Jim savoring the blend of flavours and textures.

"This is good, Chief. It's different from what we order out, but as good." In fact, it was very good. But no need to stroke Blair's ego too much. Didn't need to make him any cockier than he already was. "I liked this test, Chief." Too bad they all couldn't be this pleasant.

Since Blair had cooked, Jim decided that it was only fair for him to clean up. He was surprised at how much was left over. He stored the extra food in containers in the refrigerator, pulled out a couple of beers and joined Blair in the great room.

Blair had investigated the room, surprised to discover a huge home theater setup complete with satellite dish decoder. He had found the remotes for the system and was sitting on the couch, channel surfing.

Jim handed him a beer, then settled himself on the other end of the couch. Blair smiled his thanks, flipping the channels.

Several minutes passed with Blair surfing the channels. When he came back to the index screen, he grunted in disgust and tossed the remote to Jim. "A hundred and twenty channels, and there's nothing on." He groused.

Jim chuckled and switched to one of the sports channels, which was showing a hockey match. "You're just too hard to please, Chief." Settling back with his beer to watch the game.

The long drive had taken its toll on both men. They ended up making an early night of it. After they had said their good-nights in the hallway outside their rooms, Blair managed to turn away before his smirk could be seen.

Each bedroom had its own attached bath. Jim went into the bathroom to make his ablutions preparatory to going to bed. He noticed a strange odour. He had to close his eyes to concentrate, zoning in on the smell.

Blair had been listening, waiting. After several minutes, he crept into Jim's room, only to find him standing in the middle of the bathroom, head cocked to one side, eyes closed, oblivious to his surroundings. Total zone out. Blair started talking, "Jim. Jim. Come back, Jim." He gently touched Jim's elbow, calling the Sentinel back from his zone out. "Come on, man. What is it?" Of course he knew what it was, he just hadn't expected Jim to zone out on the faint smell of vanilla.

Jim came back into himself, ruefully glaring at his guide. "Good one, Sandburg. How long have I been out?" He picked up the offending towel, "Vanilla." tossing the offending item over Blair's head as he exited the bathroom. Blair snatched the towel from over his face, following his friend.

"Just a few minutes. I was waiting for you to say something, see if you noticed it. When you were quiet for so long - not more than five minutes, honest! I came to check on you. Man were you zoned. Why did you zone on this one, Jim?" Blair babbled, trying to defuse his irate partner.

"My mother wore vanilla." The older man murmured, as he pulled back the covers on his bed. "Good night, Sandburg." He said pointedly, climbing between the sheets.

"Right. OK. G'night. I'll see you in the morning. Sleep well." Blair beat a hasty retreat, turning off the overhead light on his way out.

Back in his own room, Blair suddenly groaned, remembering the three pea-sized pebbles under Jim's mattress. He would be lucky to survive the next day. There was no way he was going to bother Jim again, even if it meant worse trouble later.

Jim had tossed and turned most of the night. He didn't know if he was just over tired, or if it was something else. He just couldn't seem to get comfortable. He'd spent nights on the ground in more comfort. He finally managed to fall asleep at about five in the morning.

Blair slept well, in spite of his worry about Jim and the tests. Maybe this hadn't been such a good idea, after all. When he awoke, it was broad daylight. He stretched, luxuriating in the soft warmth of the enormous, king sized bed. He wondered if Jim had figured out about the rocks? He hoped not. But if he didn't, well, what about his test? Was Jim's subconscious using his senses without Jim being aware? If they were, then Jim would have felt the pebbles, would have eventually found the rocks, and would kill him when he was good and ready. This was not an auspicious start to his day.

He crept down the stairs, careful to not wake Jim. He put on a pot of coffee and sat at the breakfast nook, looking out the window. It had started snowing. He shivered, deciding to go ahead and take a shower and get dressed. He returned upstairs to his bedroom.

When Jim still had not made an appearance by ten thirty, Blair started to get worried. He listened outside of Jim's room, trying to hear anything. Absolute silence. He carefully opened the door. He was surprised to see Jim, curled up in one corner of the bed. Uh oh. Another test passed. As soon as Jim was outside, Blair was going to have to scramble to remove the evidence of his little test.

When Jim finally awoke, it was after noon. He was surprised to discover just how late he had slept. Even more surprised by his position in the bed. Remembering the vanilla, he had a sudden sneaking suspicion. He crawled out of bed, wincing at the pain in his back. He flipped the mattress off the bed and found the three tiny rocks beneath. He started thinking of ways to make Sandburg pay for his little tests, first the zone out on the vanilla, then a lousy night's sleep. He was going to have to get across the point that such tests were not exactly what he had signed up for, when he had promised to let Blair run some tests.

He showered, shaved and dressed, finally coming downstairs. Blair was nowhere to be seen. He extended his hearing, listening for the tell-tale heartbeat that he knew even better than his own. He failed to find it within the cabin. He noticed that Blair's coat was missing from the rack. Putting on his own coat, he headed outdoors to find him.

Standing on the verandah, he looked out at the falling snow. He looked for tracks; whichever way Blair went, it was long enough ago for the falling snow to have obscured the tracks. Extending his hearing, he searched again for any sign of the young anthropologist. Nothing. Using his sense of smell, he managed to track Blair out to the nearest garage. One of the snowmobiles was missing. There was a note on the seat of another one.

Jim, I've gone for a ride up the road, it's 11:00, and I should be back about noon, Coffee's on. Blair.

Jim checked his watch. 1:30. Blair was an hour and a half overdue. Worried, now, he took his gloves from his coat pocket, picked up a helmet and put it on, pushed one of the remaining snowmobiles outside, pulled his gloves on, straddled the machine and started it. He started out slow, getting the feel of the unfamiliar machine. Heading back out the way they had come in, all senses on alert for his missing friend.

Blair couldn't believe he was stuck. What could be so difficult about following a road? Even with the snow, he had been able to follow their tracks from the day before. Once under the trees, it had been simple. Until the deer had dashed in front of him, causing him to try to turn abruptly. He had spun off the road and into deeper snow, rolling the machine. He had landed up against a tree. He was grateful for the helmet, realizing he would probably be dead if not for its protection. Unfortunately, the helmet didn't extend down to his leg. He was pretty sure it was broken. The shoulder on the same side might be, too. He was buried up to his shoulders in snow, sitting on the ground, leaning up against the tree that had halted his fall. The snowmobile nearly invisible in the gloom under the trees, and now, to top it all off, the snow was increasing, along with the wind. He hoped Jim came looking for him, soon. It was cold, and he was hurting.

He kept trying to think of things that would take his mind off the cold. He had found he could use his arms, so he kept brushing the snow away, trying to keep himself uncovered, to be visible when Jim came for him. He was supposed to be back over an hour ago. Please, Jim, come find me. Pleasepleasepleaseplease. The pain in his shoulder had moved to his back. His legs were numb, and he was having trouble keeping his eyes open and his mind alert. Even if Jim got to him in time, how was he going to get him out of this? If he was as bad off as he felt, he might not be able to find him, go for help, and get back in time to save him. He was terrified, but still had the presence of mind to not try to move on his own. Please hurry Jim.

If this was another one of Blair's 'little tests', he was going to be very, very sorry. It was dark and gloomy under the trees, the snow falling from the cloud filled skies further darkening the trail. It was cold, and getting colder, the wind had picked up, and the wind chill had to be below zero.

Something made him stop the snowmobile. He tried to focus in on it, but couldn't decide what it was. He turned the machine off. Then he heard it, "Please, Jim. Come find me. Please." Using his eyes to follow the direction of the sound, he saw....a mound of snow? Dismounting, he went to investigate.

Not realizing what he had done, Blair had kept the snow off of himself, but had put up a berm between himself and the road, effectively masking his presence. He didn't hear the Sentinel coming. Between the pain and the cold he was barely conscious. Only his determination keeping him talking.

Jim circled around the mound of snow and saw Blair. His nose told him that there was no blood. One good sign. He looked around and found the snowmobile on its side, nearby. It didn't appear damaged. He knelt down beside his injured friend. Pulling his gloves off and reaching out to gently touch his face.

"Blair?" he spoke softly, worried by how cold his friend was. "Chief? Come on, wake up. You don't want to sleep here." Afraid to touch him or move him without knowing more. "Blair. Talk to me, buddy. Where's it hurt?"

Blair opened his eyes and looked at the man he had been pleading with to come save him. "I think I'm broken, Jim."

"Where does it hurt?" Don't do this, Chief.

"My shoulder was hurting, but now my back does, instead. And my left leg, I think it's broken." Now that help had arrived, he felt better. Even his back didn't seem to hurt as bad as before. He wiggled his fingers and moved his arms around. Much better. More like knocked the wind out beat up bruised, than broken. He started to shift preparatory to trying to stand.

"Oh, no you don't, Chief. First I check you out. Then we decide whether to move you or not." How to move you, Chief. If you're as bad off as you look, I'm gonna have to leave you here, go back to the cabin and call for a helicopter. I just don't have the equipment to get you out. If, on the other hand, you look worse than you are, we'll see. He gently unbuttoned Blair's coat, reaching beneath it to feel for injuries. For a change, Blair's ribs seemed to be intact. Ever so cautiously, he checked around Blair's sides to his back. He found evidence of some muscle damage, possible tendon and ligament damage as well below his left shoulder blade. There was a knot forming at that location.

"How does your back and neck feel, Chief?"

Now that you're here to save me? "Sore. Like somebody's been beating me with a baseball bat. Not like a whiplash, or anything. I think I landed here, and the tree hit me real hard, knocking the wind out of me."

"Chief, the tree didn't hit you. You hit the tree." With a fond smile at his friend. As long as Sandburg could talk, he would be all right. "Let me get a look at that leg." He moved his hands down Blair's sides, checking out his hips and legs. He had landed awkwardly on the left one, His knee seemed a bit swollen.

"Is it your leg, or your knee that hurts, Chief?"

"Uh," He had to think about it, concentrating on the pain, trying to ignore the cold. "My thigh, just above the knee hurts the most."

Jim stifled a laugh. "That's good, Chief."

"What? Why?" becoming agitated.

"Hold on a minute." Rising to a crouch, he bent and lifted the smaller man from the ground and carried him over to the snowmobile.

"Ow. Ow!......Hey, it doesn't hurt as much. What did you do?" amazed.

"Your leg was doubled up under you, Chief. You were sitting on your ankle. Now, where does it hurt?"

Blair thought. "My back is still pretty sore, but other than that, I guess I feel OK." He smiled in relief up at his friend.

"This rescue wasn't on the agenda, Chief. Just for more tests."

"Aw, c'mon, Jim. That's not fair! You promised. You said some tests."

"Dinner last night, two tests."


"Two. Taste and smell. The vanilla on the bath towel, three. The rocks in the bed, four. That sounds like some tests to me. Add in this little excursion, and I think I've passed enough tests for one week, Darwin." As he spoke, he finished checking out his semi-frozen companion. "Are you up to riding the other snowmobile on your own, or shall I tow it?"

Blair thought about it. It would be much warmer snuggled up behind Jim..."Tow it, please."

Jim left him sitting on the seat of his snowmobile while he manhandled the other one out of the snow and attached the two machines together with the tow strap stowed in the storage compartment. After which, he made sure Blair's helmet was on right, and his coat was buttoned. He knew he needed to get him back to the cabin and warmed as soon as possible, he was shivering like an aspen in a breeze.

He took the trip back to the cabin slow, almost walking speed. He could feel Blair's cold body pressed up against his back sucking the warmth from his own body. With every bump, he could hear Blair's grunt of pain.

"Sorry, Chief. I'm going as carefully as I can."

"I know, man. I think it's the cold, more than anything else." Blair replied, teeth chattering to punctuate his statement.

"When we get back, first thing I want you to do is take a hot shower. Don't come out until you're thoroughly warm. Understand?"

"Yes, Jim." Contrite. Hurting.

"It's OK, Chief. After you get thawed out, I'll check you out again, decide if we need to cancel the rest of the week." Covering his disappointment at the idea of having to cancel their vacation the first day out.

"OK." Snuggling closer, trying to pull more heat from Jim into his own partially frozen form.

Jim stopped by the steps of the cabin, helping Blair dismount, watching him closely as he removed his helmet and turned and went up the steps, moving slowly, carefully, in pain. He turned back to look at Jim when he reached the door.

"I'm fine, Jim. Really." His posture giving the lie.

"I'll get these put away and be in, in a few minutes. Go. Get your shower."

Blair nodded his agreement and went in. Jim returned the snowmobiles to the garage, checking the one that Blair had rolled, finding no damage, not even any scratches.

Blair was still in the shower when he got back to the cabin. He listened, tuning in on the soft groans, muttered oaths, and chattering teeth. Twenty minutes later, he finally heard the water turn off.

He was waiting in Blair's room when he came out of the shower, towel wrapped around his hips.

"I'm much better, Jim." Smiling, trying to hide the pain.

"Uh huh. Let's see your back, Chief."

Blair, shoulders slumped, turned around. The livid bruise on his back telling its own story. He stiffened, involuntarily hissing in pain as Jim's fingers gently probed the area.

"I think you're right, Chief. I can't find anything but the bruised muscles, here. Quite a welt, though. You landed against a knob on the tree trunk, You're lucky it wasn't a couple of inches lower. Could have ruptured a kidney. Fingers seeking any sign of deeper trauma, finding none. He allowed his hands to roam across Blair's back, searching for any other injury. Finding none, he then gently probed his guide's neck and shoulders. There was another heavy-duty bruise under his left shoulder, and what felt like some muscle spasms forming in his neck, indicating a mild whiplash. He massaged the affected areas. Soothing the tenseness away. When he was finished with that, he gently pushed Blair down on the bed and finished checking out his arms and legs. His fingers sensed the sprained tendons and ligaments in Blair's left knee. Nothing that a tension bandage and a week of rest wouldn't cure. Fingers and toes? No sign of frostbite. Finished with his examination, he stood.

"OK, Chief. Nothing major. Mostly just bruises. You were lucky. I'm going to wrap your knee, though. There's some damage, but nothing serious. Just take it easy. No more snowmobiles for you this week." He turned to go and get the first aid kit for the bandage.

"Thanks, man." Blair slowly sat up and started to stand.

"Wait until we get that knee taken care of, Chief. Then you can get up, OK?"

Blair settled back. "Sure. Fine. I'll just..." He was talking to an empty doorway. By the time Jim returned, Blair had fallen asleep, exhausted from his ordeal.

He smiled down at his sleeping guide. He carefully picked up Blair's left foot, sliding under it to sit on the edge of the bed, cradling the leg in his lap, leaving the knee free to wrap. He was gentle, wrapping the injured joint to provide support and relieve discomfort, making sure that it wasn't too tight. When he finished, he gently slid the sleeping younger man beneath the covers, tucking him in.

"Sleep well, Chief. I'll come wake you when it's time for dinner."

Keeping his hearing tuned in to his Guide in case he was needed, Jim went downstairs. It was nearly 3:00 p.m., and he still hadn't had breakfast. He was starving. He stood in the kitchen, trying to decide what he wanted to eat. Checking out the refrigerator, realizing that, although he was hungry, his stomach would rebel at anything he put in it, until his Guide woke up and proved himself whole. He sighed and poured himself a cup of coffee.

Two hours had passed, and there was still no movement from Blair. Jim's stomach was really reminding him of its empty condition, so he decided to start dinner. He selected the ingredients for spaghetti sauce and started the process. He had the sauce simmering on the stove, the vegetables prepared for the salad, and the bread prepared with garlic and other spices ready for the oven. When Blair woke up, all that would be left to do was boil the pasta and toast the bread. Finally, there was a sound from Blair's room. He stopped, frozen in the middle of the kitchen, listening. Waiting. Zoned out.

"Oh, man." Blair moaned. His muscles had had a chance to stiffen while he slept. It really hurt. He was surprised to find himself still wrapped in his towel...and tucked in bed. He smiled. Jim. Mother hen. He stretched, carefully gauging his hurts. Not bad, all things considered. He turned and looked at the clock. "Six o'clock?! Oh, man! Where did the day go?" He remembered getting back, taking a long, hot shower (how good that had felt), Jim checking out his injuries, pronouncing him relatively sound. Jim was going to get a pressure bandage for his knee...Yep. Bandage in place. Must have fallen asleep between Jim telling him to stay there while he got the first aid kit, and returning to wrap his knee. He shook his head in wonder. He'd never felt a thing.

Carefully, mindful of his injuries, he crawled out of bed, put his still damp towel in the bathroom, dug out some sweatpants and a sweatshirt and got dressed. Then, it was time to head back down to the kitchen. Breakfast, toast and coffee, had been a long time ago.

"Jim?" Shuffling into the kitchen, staring at the zoned Sentinel. "Jim?" Touching the human statue. "Jim, C'mon, Jim. Come back. Snap out of it. Come on, Jim?" He noticed the sauce simmering on the stove, went to check it, turned it off, as it was beginning to scorch.

"Jim. Snap out of it. Follow my voice, man. C'mon. Jim? Jim?" Worried now at the lack of response, he shook his Sentinel. Trying to force him back to reality. "Jim!" He noticed that Jim's muscles seemed to be in spasm, all of them hard as a rock. He started with rubbing his friend's shoulders. "C'mon Jim, It's OK. C'mon back. Jim?" Voice low and soothing. His hands working lower, on the tense muscles in Jim's back. Slowly, the muscles began to soften, relax. "C'mon back, Jim. It's OK. Talk to me."

"What? Chief? You OK?" Unsure of how he had come to be here. Confused.

"Yeah. I'm fine. What made you zone, man?" Patting the now relaxed shoulder of his friend.

Jim shook his head. "I was cooking dinner, when...Shit!" He jumped across the room to the stove.

"I already turned it off, man. I even remembered to remove it from the burner, since it's an electric stove." Jim stirred his sauce, satisfied that it had been caught in time. He put the water on for the pasta and turned on the oven.

"I heard you wake up, groaned..." he looked at his long-haired friend. "You sounded so..." He drew a deep breath. "I zoned."

"Oh, man. I'm sorry."

"It wasn't your fault, Chief. I...I guess I was just too concerned with how you were feeling, I know you weren't hurt that badly, I just..." He grinned, shrugging. "My stomach's been upset all afternoon. I should have forced myself to eat, but I was afraid it would only make things worse, so, when I finally started dinner, and you woke up, it was enough to tip me over the edge." He shrugged again. "Dinner will be ready in about half an hour. Why don't you set the table?" Passing off the zone out.

Blair let him off the hook. "Sure. I'm starved."

Dinner made both men feel better. Jim insisted on making it another early night. Even though Blair had had several hours of sleep that afternoon, he agreed, falling asleep almost as soon as his head hit his pillow.

Jim wasn't quite as lucky. He kept wondering; What if he hadn't gone looking for Blair? What if Blair hadn't left the note? What if he'd slept even later? What if...What if...What if... He tossed and turned, berating himself for allowing harm to come to his Guide. Taking the blame for a simple accident that had been no one's fault. He finally gave up trying to sleep and got up. Padding barefoot out to the great room. Switching on the television, keeping the sound turned almost off, so as to not disturb Blair. Surfing the channels. Looking for anything that would distract him from his own dark thoughts. It was nearly dawn, when he finally slipped into a fitful sleep, an infomercial on the television.

Blair awoke, stiff and sore, but in good spirits. Jim had forced some aspirin on him before bed, and it appeared to have helped. He was moving much better this morning. He got up, indulged in another marathon hot shower, it seemed a shame to waste a five hundred gallon hot water tank, then dressed. His back was still a little tender, but the waist of his jeans was just below the bruise. He was shocked to see Jim sleeping on the couch in front of the TV, infomercial silently keeping vigil. He took a good look at his Sentinel. He obviously hadn't slept well, if at all, during the night. The dark circles beneath his eyes told him of a night of distress for his friend. He knew that if he tried to move his friend to make him more comfortable, he'd only serve to wake him up; and he looked as though he really needed the rest. Instead, he quietly made his way to the kitchen and made coffee.

When Jim finally awoke, it was a little after ten. He could hear Blair tapping at the keyboard of his laptop, out in the kitchen. The smell of stale coffee. The wind blowing hard outside. He glanced at a window. Snow. Falling horizontally. He stretched. His neck and back complaining of the position he had slept in. He forced himself up, heading back to his room. Thirty minutes and a hot shower later, he felt almost human again. He dressed. Jeans and a flannel shirt.

Arriving back downstairs, he smelled fresh coffee, bacon, eggs. Blair was fixing breakfast. He wandered into the kitchen. There was a cup of coffee waiting for him.

"Thanks, Chief."

Blair turned from the stove and grinned at him. "Hey, Jim. You may want to check it out. When you turn the shower on and off, you can, I mean I can hear it down here." He turned back to check the eggs. Deciding they were done, he moved to the table and served them both.

"I wondered how you figured it was time to fix breakfast. Maybe you were developing a sixth sense, or something." Surreptitiously listening to the younger man's vital signs to ascertain his health and well-being.

"I'm fine, Jim. I'm a little sore from the bruises. I didn't even catch a cold, man." He smiled across at his Blessed Protector. "It was a minor accident, Jim. Nothing to be done about it. No way for you to have prevented it. Unless, of course, you want to pack me in bubble wrap and keep me locked away in a vault, somewhere. Not my idea of living, man." Understanding.

Jim looked deeply into his friend's eyes. Seeing the truth. Satisfied. Sighing. "I'm sorry, Chief. You reacted by sleeping. I reacted by not sleeping. Nothing unusual there, right?"

"Yeah. Sure. What do you want to do today?" Jim shrugged. "I have some more tests..." Grinning, waiting for his reply.

"What kind of tests, Chief? No more rocks in the bed, OK?"

"Oh, no. No. This is more like a game. I've hidden little things all through this place. I have a list of them in my computer. Your job, Jim should you choose to accept it, is to find all the objects on my list. Without using the list. What do you say?" Please? Jim sighed, resignedly. "I know I'm going to regret this, but, OK."

It turned out to be fun. Some of the objects, like Blair's keys, were visual. Some of them, like their dirty laundry, were olfactory. Still others, like the tiny objects hung from window blinds, were auditory. The clues to the location and type of object were on blank pieces of paper. The faint indentations of writing from earlier sheets testing his tactile acuity. They spent several hours on the test. It was rather like playing 'I Spy', only harder. Some of the items, like the dirty laundry, had been thrown at Blair in retaliation for using them.

The test served its purpose. Jim had passed the tests, and had fun doing it. They settled down to a dinner of leftover Chinese that was even better after having been stored for a couple of days. Jim, however tasted another test.

"You added something, Chief. Ginger, and ...onions." Smirking.

"Close enough. Shallots. I forgot them when I first made this. I hadn't meant it to be a test, again. Sorry about that." Smiling nonetheless.

While Jim had been playing Blair's little hide and seek game, he had also noted other needed repairs and needs. There were a couple of rooms that needed to be recarpeted, furniture replaced, the entire place could use a coat of paint or three. After dinner, Jim used Blair's laptop to write up his report on the cabin itself. He'd work on the outbuildings after the snow stopped.

They finished the evening playing gin rummy. With the score tied at two games each, they decided to call it a night and go to bed. They both slept well that night.

The rest of the week flew past. The only problem was that the snow never stopped for more than an hour at a time. Jim had gone out in the midst of the storm to check out the other outbuildings. In one he found an old tractor with a plow attachment. It took very little time to get it up and running. All it had needed was priming the carburetor with a little gas. He drove out and scraped the compound between the cabin and the garage, making trails to all the outbuildings, even part way down the drive. Using his other senses to make up for the near white-out conditions. When he got back indoors, he was feeling a little hypothermic. A hot shower and he was ready for dinner. Blair had outdone himself. Perfectly seasoned roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, fresh salad, and home made bread.

"I didn't know you could bake bread, Chief." It was wonderful.

"I can't. There's a bread machine. I read the book in with it, used the manual setting, turned it into the pan, let it rise...voila. Bread. Pretty good, too." Blair added as he took another bite. "I figured, this is our last night here. I should pull out all the stops on dinner. We still are going to have leftovers to take home with us."

"OK by me. I just hope the snow finally stops tonight. Otherwise, we're going to have a hard time getting out."

"Even if it stops, aren't we going to have a hard time?"

"No. I can run the tractor out to the highway, first thing in the morning, while you clean up here. Then we can get out with no trouble. Be home late tomorrow afternoon, early evening. That will give us Sunday to recuperate." They were doing their laundry that evening, that way, they would have clean clothes to take home. One less chore to worry about when they got home.

Just as they had wished, the morning dawned bright and clear. They were up early. After breakfast, Jim got out the tractor and started clearing the snow. Blair cleaned the cabin, washed the bedding they had used, folded and put it away. Scrubbed the kitchen, packed up their things and stacked them by the door, for when Jim got back.

It was mid morning when Jim returned. He put the tractor away, made sure all the outbuildings were secure. They had a quick lunch of sandwiches made from the previous evening's left over roast beef. Jim quickly had the truck packed and ready to go. They had just locked up the cabin and were heading for the truck when, "Jim?" Plaintive.

"What?" Turning, wondering what was wrong. Except for the single incident with the snowmobile, the week had been calm and peaceful. What could go wrong now? "You know what we didn't do?" Trying not to bounce in his excitement.


"We didn't build a snowman." Enormous grin. "It was always snowing too much to go outside any more than necessary." Please? He turned his best puppy-dog eyes on his friend.

Jim laughed. "OK, Chief. We've got plenty of time. How many, and how big?" Stooping down to start packing snow into a ball.

It took them almost an hour. There were two snowmen. One, over six feet in height, the other, several inches shorter. Anyone looking at the snowmen would recognize who had been the models for the snow sculptures. They stood back and admired their handiwork. Looked at one another and smiled. Content, happy.

Jim circled around to the far side of the truck, where he had gotten most of the snow he had used in his snowman. He stooped to pick up several items.

"You know what else we forgot to do, Blair?" Innocence itself, in his voice. Blair turned to him.

"No, what?" curious,

"We forgot to...have a snowball fight!" Flinging three snowballs at the startled anthropologist in quick succession, scoring all three shots, one in Blair's face and two on his chest, before ducking behind the protection of the truck.

Blair roared his outrage "No fair!" dropping down to scoop up snow to build ammunition for himself. Jim tried to sneak around the back of the truck, only to be met with a fluff ball in his face for his trouble. Spluttering and wiping the snow out of his eyes, laughing, chasing each other around the truck, using it for protection, dodging in and out, throwing snow at one another, finally ending in a playful wrestling match in one of the plowed drifts by the driveway. Pushing snow in each other's face, down the neck of their jackets.

Finally, exhausted, they lay, side by side, in the snow. Their breath steaming out like race horses, panting. Still laughing and tossing loose snow at one another. Blair stretched out, moving his arms and legs to make a snow angel. Jim watched, amused.

"C'mon, Jim. You make one, too." Blair commanded. With a chuckle, Jim complied. Then, Jim got to his feet, careful to not mar his snow angel. He reached down and helped Blair up. Both men were still panting from their exertions.

"OK. I think we've played in the snow enough for one day, Chief. I think it's time we headed home. Otherwise, we're going to have to spend another night here, and, frankly, I'd like to sleep in my own bed tonight."

Blair smiled up at his friend. "No problem, man. It's been a great week. No phone. No nutcase psychos, no work. It's been great." Then he slapped his friend on the back. "Especially today. Thanks, Jim for making me come." He started shivering. Jim looked closely at him.

"OK, Professor. Into the truck with you. Don't want you to freeze and catch a cold, now." They quickly got into the truck and Jim drove them home.

It had been a great vacation. Peaceful. No serious injuries. No having to rescue or be rescued. A time of bonding, adding to their friendship. A time to play. A time to be a child for a few hours, playing in the snow. Monday was soon enough to come back to the real world. Listening to the soft sounds of his Guide sleeping in the truck on the way home filled the Sentinel with a peace and contentment rare in their existence, and he treasured every moment of it.

OK. OK. I fell into the "let's hurt Blair" trap. But it's so easy. He makes a wonderful victim. I actually thought this one was going to turn out to be a light hearted romp in the snow. Shows you what I know. I hate it when Sweetness and Light morphs into Dark and Gloomy. If you're keeping score, however, I still hurt Jim more than Blair. Jim - 2, Blair - 1, No one - 2. Scary, huh? Maybe next time I should go after Simon? Nah. Well, we'll see. :) As for the recipe? It's real. I gave the list of ingredients. The only one I left out is extra firm tofu. Not everyone likes it, but it adds protein. I usually use pork, instead of chicken. But that's us. Served over rice? Wonderful. With pan-fried noodles? Great. Yes. I do cook to the size of the pan. Anyone want some? I made six quarts, last time. Gotta use a smaller pan. :) R.I.Eaton

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