OK, I get the message. Blair owies. Apparently there aren't enough of them. You know who you are, at least those of you who have requested that I take Blair out and hurt him, just so Jim can come off all big-brother and protective and all that... hmmmm. Maybe, maybe not. We'll just have to wait and see. My musae are feeling a little playful at the moment. Oh, and Gabrielle? You'll notice that I'm using 'okay' in this. If I'm going to change my style, I'm going to do it slowly, not all at once, okay? ;]

Unfortunately, the standard disclaimers must remain in effect. I don't own them and never will, sad to say. Although, if I did own them, I'd want them to be real. Since they're not, I'm not too upset about it. Like the rest of the folks who write fanfic, I get no monetary gain from this. Of course, I have a couple of people who keep nagg, um encouraging me (yeah, that's the word) to write a real book. I wonder if it could actually be profitable?

As always, thanks to Wolfpup and her wonderful home on the web, and what wonderful roommates I have there. Here's to the lot of you, ladies.

If A Tree Falls.


[ Reader comments ] [ Add your comments ]

The rainy season had been later than usual, this year. La Nina, or so they said. Luckily, the extended fire season hadn't been too bad. Unfortunately, when it did start to rain, it came down hard and fast; the dry, hard-packed ground had been unable to absorb much of the water and there had been a great deal of erosion.

It was still raining when the area-wide call came in. A group of campers, taking advantage of the extended dry season, were lost somewhere in the Cascade Forest. Search and Rescue were already on the scene, but the heavy rains were making the search difficult and they put the call out for any assistance. When the information trickled down to the Captain of Major Crime, he hung up his phone and immediately called through his open door.

"Ellison, my office." He remembered, for a change, that he didn't need to shout to gain the man's attention. Jim didn't even glance up, merely hit 'save' on his computer and rose to walk the short distance across the bullpen to his boss's office. His partner, Blair Sandburg, looked up from his own computer, where he was typing up his version of their report, and watched curiously.

"Yes, Sir?" Jim asked, pausing in the doorway.

"Come in, Jim." When Jim had fully entered the room, the captain motioned him to a chair. Once the detective was seated, he began, "I just got a call. Seems that Search and Rescue is putting out a call for help. A group of campers in Cascade Forest have managed to get themselves lost. With the weather like it is, they're having trouble and are asking for anyone with tracking experience to come and help."

"All right. I can go as soon as I finish my report, probably be another half hour. Maybe a bit longer, waiting for Sandburg to finish his novelization."

"You're going to take him with you?" Simon's surprise was palpable.

"Of course," Jim replied in a slightly puzzled tone of voice.

"We are talking about the guy who sent us forty miles in the wrong direction, right? Who doesn't know North from East, and thinks the sun rises in the South?"

Jim smiled, "That would be him, Sir. He might not know his north from his south, but I still can't think of anyone I'd rather have with me in a tough situation. He's my partner, Captain."

Simon Banks smiled. He could remember the time when this man would have been grudgingly going out to help search, not wanting anyone along with him, the ultimate loner. Now, after four years, he'd mellowed to the point that he seldom considered any action without the younger man who had become first his guide, then roommate, then friend, and now partner.

"You sure you want to take him out in the woods in this?" 'This', meaning the weather.

Jim smirked, "And what do you think he'd say if I tried to leave him behind?"

"Good point. So, shall I call Search and Rescue and let them know that you're coming?"

"Yeah, I'll try to get Sandburg to hurry up on his report, maybe he can leave out a few descriptive phrases."

"Well, at least the DA's office never has to ask for clarification on the kid's reports!" Simon said, rather pointedly.

"I'm not going to start writing my reports with a thesaurus, Simon."

"Thank God for that," Simon intoned. "I don't think I could handle it if you did. Besides, you writing like Sandburg would only provide comic relief." At Jim's confused expression, he explained, "Both of you write like you talk, you're brief and concise; Sandburg's, well, Sandburg's verbose, to say the least. Just as accurate, in fact, he includes a great deal more detail, which is what the DA's office loves, but it can be a little hard to try and read through, if you know what I mean."

"Yeah. I've noticed. When he was just helping me with my reports, he'd change them a bit, make them better, but now that he's got his own reports to write, I swear he's trying for a Pulitzer for novelization, sometimes." Both men chuckled at the analogy.

"I have to agree with that, but that's okay, I don't really mind. Well, you'd better get going. The sooner you get out there, the sooner you'll find the campers and get back."

"Yes, Sir," Jim replied with a smile.

"Hurry it up, Chief. We have some OT to work," Jim said, sitting back down at his desk and turning his attention back to his computer and the report he'd been in the midst of.

"What do you mean, OT?" Blair asked, surprised.

"Search and Rescue asked for some help finding some lost campers out in Cascade Forest. Simon's sending us."

Blair grinned, "Us? You and me?" a little surprised that the captain would include him, knowing how directionally challenged he could be.

"Of course. You don't think I'd go out tracking lost campers without you, do you?"

Blair's response was a huge smile, followed by the quickening of his fingers on his keyboard as he hurried to finish his report. With a smile, Jim hurried through his report, running the spell and grammar checks and then printing it out. He re-read it one last time as he waited for his partner to finish his version, then he took both reports and put them in the captain's secretary's in basket. Returning, he accepted his jacket from Blair and they headed out the door; the Sentinel's attention already gearing toward this next assignment.

Arriving at the rendezvous point, they checked in with the base-ops, getting what was known so far, and getting assigned an area to begin their search. Fortunately, they were assigned to begin from the missing campers' campsite and working their way north.

Once at the campsite, Blair watched as his partner started with the immediate area. Shaking his head, Jim complained.

"Too many people have been through here, Chief. There's no chance of finding anything, between that and the rain."

"Okay, so, let's just try going north a little ways and see if you can find anything there. Maybe we'll get lucky and you'll be able to pick up something," Blair said. Following their instructions, they moved about a hundred yards north, where Jim again extended his senses, trying to find any trace of the missing campers through the myriad smells of the forest, and through the scent and sound of the rain, which was still pouring down. Shaking his head in frustration, Jim began casting about, back and forth, quartering the area, searching for something, anything that would point him in the right direction.

Half an hour later, they stopped to rest. The trail they were on was little more than a deer track. There was a steep hill to the east, and the escarpment continued to their left with an even steeper slope going down into a ravine.

"Catch your breath fast, Chief. I don't want to stay here very long, just in case of a mudslide."

"Got it," Blair took several deep breaths, "How high up are we, Jim?"

"Close to three thousand feet. The air's a little thinner up here." They panted for a few more minutes, then, "Ready?"

"As I'll get, I guess."

It was nearly dark and they had still found no sign of the missing campers. Jim pulled out the hand-held radio they'd been given at the base camp and inquired as to whether or not anyone else had had any luck. They were informed that since it was getting dark, that they were calling in all the searchers, to meet at daybreak the next day, when the search would resume. Even the dogs had given up.

"Well, let's head back, Chief," Jim said, I don't think we can do any more out here, tonight."

"Can we go back a different way? Maybe we'll get lucky?" Blair asked.

"Yeah, we can try further up the ridge, maybe we can see something on our way back," Jim agreed.

"We might find something? I think you mean that you might see something, don't you?"

"Well, yeah, if you want to get technical about it, but you're important to this mission, too, you know."

"Oh? How? I mean, other than keeping you company and freezing my ass off, that is?"

"I can count on you to keep me from zoning out, and if I should zone, I can depend on you to bring me back. Besides, it's safer with two of us out here to watch out for each other, okay?"

"Oookay," Blair replied, not sure whether he should be pleased or not.

Jim chuckled and ruffled his friend's curls and led the way uphill to the nearly invisible trail at the top of the ridge. This path was much rougher than the one they had come up on, so they had to move more slowly. As the afternoon eased into evening, Blair was grateful that they had decided to take the ridge back, as the light lasted quite a bit longer, there. Even so, they still had nearly an hour to go before they would be back to their starting point. As they reached the apex of the ridge, Jim stopped, partly to take a breather, partly to use the vantage-point to look around for signs of the missing campers. As Blair sank down on a rock to rest, he looked up as his partner took a deep, calming breath and extended his vision, searching for anything out of the ordinary, hoping that by some miracle there would be some sign of the missing campers.

"Maybe they got lost and are on the other side of the ridge, Jim," Blair suggested as his friend shook his head in discouragement. With a grin at the younger man's suggestion, Jim turned around and again reached out with his senses, searching...

"Got something, Chief. It's about half a mile down that way, towards their camp," Jim's voice didn't sound too hopeful, however.

"What is it?" Blair asked, rising.

"Looks like a muffler or something. It's fluttering in the wind down there."

"Even with all this rain?"

"Yeah. You want to wait here while I go check it out?"

"No way, man. One, you might need my help in case we find them and they need first aid. Two, I might panic and go after you and get myself lost, which would really piss you off. Three..."

"Two is a good enough reason, Sandburg," Jim laughed. "I was hoping you'd want to come along. Watch your step, though. The ground's pretty slick with all this rain."

"I'm hanging onto your coattails, man. If I fall, we both fall. Besides, this way, I won't lose you in the dark," Blair said, standing up and grasping his friend's jacket in both fists.

Jim chuckled. "Sounds like a plan, Chief. If you're ready, let's go."

The slope was even more slick and treacherous than Jim had indicated. Several times they ended up on their butts, sliding down the slope, but Jim always managed to save them from falling too far or too fast. About halfway down the ridge, they found a narrow trail that led them to the place where Jim had spotted the bright bit of color hanging on the bushes.

The bright yellow muffler had been tied to a branch, apparently to serve as a marker. Looking around, Jim saw some marks on the ground that could be footprints. Following the tracks with his eyes, he spotted what could have been a cave a bit further down the slope. Cupping his hands around his mouth, he shouted.

"Hello! Can you hear me?" They listened, Blair watching his partner, hoping that the Sentinel's acute hearing would be able to hear voices over the noise of the rain... for that matter, that the missing campers could hear Jim's voice... if they were even nearby.

"Got them, Chief," Jim pointed to where he could discern a figure in front of the suspected cave, waving to them and shouting back. "Call it in," Jim said, handing the two-way radio to his partner, as he tried to find a safe way down for them.

"Search and Rescue? This is Sandburg and Ellison. We've found them, do you read?" Blair spoke into the radio. The voice that came back was a bit scratchy from the static, but understandable.

"What's your twenty?"

"Uh, Jim?" Blair needed help giving their location. Jim grinned and took the radio.

"This is Ellison. We're about two miles north of their camp, on the east side of the ridge. It looks like they found a cave. We haven't gone down there, yet, as we'll probably be out of radio range once we do. I can see one camper in front of the cave, waving and shouting to us. They left a yellow muffler on a bush to serve as a marker. We've got some supplies and a first aid kit. We'll do what we can to take care of them until morning. After we assess the situation, we'll come back up the ridge and call you back to let you know what's happening, okay?"

"Roger that. I'll be here waiting for your call."

"Ten-four that. Over and out."

"Roger, over and out."

Placing the radio in his coat pocket, Jim grasped Blair by the arm and began leading the way down the steep slope to the cave with the missing campers.

Somehow, they managed to make their way down without slipping in the rain-slicked mud. They had a couple of close calls, but were fortunate enough that only one slipped at a time and that their balance was such that the non-slipping man was able to stop them both from losing traction completely. Once down, they simply walked up to the man who awaited them.

"You found us!" he shouted as they approached. "I wasn't sure you were real. Did you find the muffler I left out to mark us?"

"Yeah, good move. The yellow color caught my eye from up on the ridge. Are you all right?" Jim asked, looking around curiously for the rest of the missing campers.

"My wife fell down the slope and when we tried to get to her, the rest of us slid down and then we couldn't get back up. My son has a broken arm and my wife a sprained ankle. The rest of us are okay, though. You don't happen to have any water, do you? We hadn't expected to be gone that long, but it's been almost two days since the accident, and I didn't want to leave them..."

"Besides which, you'd gotten turned around and weren't sure which way to go," Jim said softly. The man's blush was visible to Sentinel night vision, and Jim felt compelled to reassure the man, "You did the right thing. You told people where you were going and when to expect you back. When you didn't show up, they called the Forest Rangers, who found your vehicle and camp, they called Search and Rescue, who called us." Jim reached out a hand and lightly touched the camper's temple, "Were you unconscious at any time?"

"Uh, just for a couple of minutes, is all. It's nothing," the man insisted.

"Well, let's get you inside and take a closer look, okay?" Turning to Blair, he said, "Why don't you go in with them, and I'll gather up some wood to build a fire, okay?"

"We've been trying to build a fire, but all the wood's wet," the camper insisted.

"That's okay, Mr.... I'm sorry, I don't know your name, they forgot to tell us," Blair said.

"Avery. Tom Avery. My wife is Michelle, and the kids are Michael, Teresa, and Christine..." Blair glanced back as he herded the man back into the cave, his flashlight in hand, lighting their way. Jim waved and turned back up the slope to make the call in that they had found the entire group and give a preliminary report.

Blair had greeted the rest of the Avery family, pulling granola bars and bottled water from his backpack and handing them to the grateful family. "Jim's got the first aid kit and training as a medic. He'll be back in a few minutes to take care of everybody. In the meantime, let's try to clear a spot for the fire, shall we?" The family had tried to build a fire, but it was too far back from the cave mouth to catch, and the wood they had gathered was pretty wet. Blair brushed out a spot just inside the overhang, far enough out to get a good draft and not smoke them out, yet in far enough to not get rained out should the wind change direction.

When Jim came back with some dry kindling and a few dryer branches, Blair had readied the fire pit and triaged the injured. Mrs. Avery was cradling her twelve-year-old son, providing comfort and support as he cradled his broken arm against his chest. Her ankle was raised and resting in her youngest daughter's lap, while the older girl had helped by passing out the granola bars and water. Seeing that none of the injuries required immediate attention, Jim decided that warming everyone up was his first order of business. From his pack, he pulled several fire-starter sticks, carefully piling the driest wood over the sticks before igniting them with a waterproof match. Once the sticks started, he left Blair to tend the fire, slowly feeding the wetter wood, allowing it to dry before it needed to start burning.

Jim took the first aid kit from his pack and crawled back next to the injured. "Hi. My name's Jim Ellison. That's my partner, Blair Sandburg. I radioed our position to Search and Rescue, but they can't come after us until daylight. I'll do what I can to immobilize your injuries. We've got some gorp, granola bars, and beef jerky, not that it's the best of meals, but at least we won't starve," he grinned in response to the smiles of the children, who were happily munching on the aforementioned granola bars.

"Now, what's your name, young man?" Jim asked as he gently ran his hands over the boy's broken arm, seeking to determine how much damage had been done.

"Michael Avery, Mr. Ellison," the boy gritted his teeth at even the gentle touch of the Sentinel's fingers.

"Well, Michael, as I'm sure you've noticed, your arm is definitely broken. I've got an inflatable splint in here that will help immobilize your arm and a triangular bandage to make a sling for you. It's going to hurt, but I'll be as quick as I can and once I'm through, it should be a little better. At least it won't hurt every time you move, Okay?"

"Y-yes, Sir." He squeezed his eyes closed and lifted his arm away from his body, waiting for Jim to do what he needed to do.

"Okay, Michael, hold still..." Jim slid the splint into place on the boy's extended arm and then had him bend his elbow, "Now, I'm going to inflate it, if it's too tight, let me know, Okay?"


Using the inflation tube, Jim blew gently to slowly inflate the splint. Once it was sufficiently inflated, he tied the tube in a knot that he could remove to adjust the pressure, if needed. Taking out two triangular bandages, he fashioned one as a sling, supporting the injured arm, then used the second one to immobilize the sling and arm by tying it around the boy's body.

"Good man, Michael. I'm all through." He turned back to the first-aid kit and picked out an oral pain reliever and sorted through the various medications, searching, "Are either of you allergic to any medication, like Sulfa or Penicillin?"

"No. None of us are," Mrs. Avery replied. "What are you giving him?"

"Well, I've got some ibuprofen and Tylenol2 for the anti-inflamatorries and pain, I've also got Septra and Penicillin to fight infection. I think the Tylenol2 would probably do the best, it's got some codeine in it, but not too much. It might help him to rest. Let me check out your ankle and see how bad it is, then we can decide on medication, all right?"

"Thank you. I think mine is just a sprain, but I'm not sure."

"Well, let me take a look and I'll let you know." Jim gently lifted the injured limb from the lap of the youngest child, smiling when she scooted back to get out of his way. "What's your name, Sweetheart?"

"Christine. My mom's Michelle and my sister's Teresa and my dad's Tom," the typical eight- year-old resilience bouncing her back. Now that help had come, she could stop having to be a big girl.

"Well, Christine, you've done a great job, here. Keeping your mom's leg elevated is just the right thing to do." While he talked to the child, Jim's sensitive fingers gently probed the swollen ankle. He could feel Michelle tense with his probing. He met her eyes and shook his head slightly.

"I'm afraid it's broken. I can feel the split in the anklebone, here," he pointed to the bulge of bone at the side of her ankle describing the break with his finger, careful not to touch the injury. "I'm going to immobilize it and wrap it for the swelling, but if you notice that your foot or toes go numb, I want you to tell me immediately, all right?"

"Yes. Actually, it's rather numb right now."

"Well, it's pretty cold, too. I'm going to take care of this and then move you closer to the fire. We have a couple of sleeping bags that we'll spread on the ground, then everyone needs to kind of snuggle up together and then we'll use the space blankets we brought to cover ourselves up with." Looking up at Tom, he raised his eyebrows and asked, "Sound all right with you?"

"Hey, I think that it's the best idea I've heard since this all started."

"It was an accident. You had no idea that someone would fall and get hurt, nor that it was going to start raining. Hell, when the news came on yesterday afternoon, they said clear skies and more warm temperatures. Shows how much they know. They were predicting warm and clear for the whole next week, so don't blame yourself for this. You did the right thing. Immobilized the injuries and kept everyone calm. You put that bright yellow scarf on the bushes to attract attention. If in the scramble of the accident you hadn't gotten confused, you might have hiked back to your camp and gotten help, but since you weren't sure, you stayed put. If you'd tried to find your way out, you might have gotten lost even further and gotten yourself hurt... or worse."

Tom nodded, "Okay, that makes me feel a little better. I'm just sorry we even came out here at this time of year."

"Well," Blair chimed in, "Like Jim said, you had no way of knowing that the weather would change like it did; besides, we found you and as soon as it gets light, we'll be getting you out of here, okay?"

"Now that part is very okay." Michelle said, reaching for her husband's hand.

Jim was unwilling to wrap her ankle very tightly, for fear of cutting off the circulation. Instead, he used a towel from his pack and made a stirrup for her foot, and used the elastic bandages to immobilize the entire lower leg and foot. It was tight enough to provide support and loose enough to adjust to any amount of swelling.

As soon as the injuries were tended and the fire was going well, Jim and Blair set about making their communal 'bed' for the night. Blair had wondered why Jim had insisted on taking standard sleeping bags, instead of their mummy bags, but now he understood. A mummy bag is only good for one person, perhaps two, if they're children. The standard rectangular bag, although bulkier and heavier, could be spread out and three to four people could lie tightly together on it. With two of them, there was easily room for the four adults and three children. By pressing close together, they would conserve body heat and with the addition of Mylar space blankets and keeping the fire going throughout the night, they should manage quite comfortably.

Jim pulled a small pot and a tiny Sterno cooker from his pack. Setting it up in the back of the cave, he emptied one of their bottles of water into the pot and set it to heat. When the water came to a boil, he extinguished the Sterno and added hot cocoa mix to the pot. The three children's faces' broke out into wide grins when Blair handed each of them a cup of the hot cocoa. Taking a second bottle, he repeated the process, this time serving the adults. When everyone else had a hot drink, Jim took the pot out into the rain to rinse it out, then he brought it back in and filled it with water once more, this time for instant coffee. He'd wanted the Averys to have the high-sugar content of the cocoa mix, knowing that after two days of no food and only the water they could catch from the rain to drink, that they needed it. Relaxing, finally, with his own cup of coffee, he sorted through the supplies he and Blair had brought. First, he unloaded both packs, sorting as he did so. Gathering up the space blankets, he opened the packages and tossed them to Blair and Tom, who took them and spread them out over Michelle and the children. Then, they wrapped their own Mylar sheets around them and sat down, Blair taking the spot by the pile of wood to feed their fire. Jim then sorted through the rest of their supplies.

"I realize that candy isn't generally considered a good dinner, but it's high in carbs and simple sugar. So," he looked at the children, who were watching his every move. Michael was once again leaning against his mother, while Christine had once again taken up her post supporting her mother's injured foot. "How about some Snickers for desert, after some jerky and gorp?"

He passed out the little half-cup bags of gorp, followed by several sticks of jerky to each person, then finished off with the Snickers bars. There was still enough gorp and jerky for in the morning, along with half a dozen pints of water. More than enough to last until rescue arrived the following day.

Exhausted with fear and worry, the Avery family fell asleep almost immediately after they finished eating. Jim and Blair remained up for a few more hours, feeding the fire and talking. Twice, Jim got up and went back out into the rain to bring back more wood. Around midnight, he told Blair to get some sleep, that he would keep watch for a while. After eliciting a promise that Jim would awaken him in a few hours and get some sleep himself, Blair agreed and settled down and fell quickly asleep.

One of the nice things about pulling watch, was the quiet time of contemplation. For once, he didn't have to worry about some sort of bad guys smashing in on them. No criminals or enemies to attack them; just the maintenance of the fire. Simple duty. The rain continued, unabated, muffling the sounds of the night. Jim sat content. He'd succeeded where others had failed. With the suggestion Blair made to hike back on the ridge, he'd been able to use his enhanced senses to locate the marker the lost campers had put out. Fortunately, their elevation was low enough that they probably wouldn't be getting any snow, although, snow might have made the job of getting them out a little easier. Still...

It was nearly five in the morning when he gently awoke Blair. "You're turn, Chief. It stopped raining about an hour ago. I went out and got some more wood, so there's plenty. Fire's going well and everyone is sleeping just fine." He yawned, "I need to get a couple of hours, so wake me when it gets light."

"Why? You should be able to sleep longer than that, man."

"I want to climb up the ridge and call Search and Rescue at first light. See if they're coming on foot or sending a 'copter."

"Oh. Do you think a helicopter can land here?"

Jim thought about it and shook his head, "You're right. It's too dangerous for a helicopter. They'll have to hike in and carry them out. The boy might be able to hike, but his mother definitely can't. Like I said, we need to call them at first light."

"I can do that, Jim. That way, you can get some more sleep."

Doubtful, Jim frowned; then, "All right, but be careful, it's pretty slippery out there."

"I will, Jim. I promise."

Nodding, Jim finally lay down, smiling when he felt his partner tuck the space blanket around his shoulders to make sure he stayed warm. In moments, he was sound asleep.

Shivering, Blair sat and watched the fire. Even with his coat and the space blanket; even with the thick sleeping bag under him, he was cold. Looking over at the sleepers, he looked for any signs of shivering. The Averys were all snuggled together like puppies in a pile. Jim was curled on his side, his back to the fire. Thinking for a few minutes, Blair eased his way over, working over to his partner and eventually got into position where he could lean back and use Jim's back as a support. Not only did Jim make a good backrest, he was also a warm backrest. Tucking his space blanket around him, he settled in to await the rising sun.

He kept the fire going, just as he was supposed to. Sitting on watch, he found his mind wandering. He was pleased with how Jim had listened to his suggestion that they go back a different way to their starting point. There had been no question, merely a moment of thought and they'd climbed the ridge. The result of which had been the finding of the lost campers. It gave him a feeling of accomplishment that warmed him from inside. When Jim listened to him, he felt like an equal in their partnership, rather than an annoying tag-along. Even though he knew intellectually that those feelings weren't true, in his heart, he still felt the need to prove himself as more than just a superfluous appendage to the ex-Army Ranger Captain/covert ops/Sentinel. So, when the sun rose, he gently nudged Jim's shoulder to awaken him.


Blair smiled, Jim could be so articulate first thing in the morning. "Jim? It's daylight. Give me the radio and I'll climb the ridge, OK?"

"Wait a minute and I'll go with you, Chief," Jim said, the words muffled by his prodigious yawn.

"I can do this, man." Blair had to struggle to keep the whine from his voice.

"Never said you couldn't, Blair. I just thought I'd go with you. That's all right, isn't it?" His brows drew down in concern, wondering why Blair felt he needed to climb the slippery ridge by himself. He knew that if he mentioned that he wanted to go to pinpoint their location for the Search and Rescue people, that he'd hurt his friend's feelings, so he didn't.

"Oh. Okay. I guess. Should we wake anyone else up?'

"Nah. We won't be gone very long. Let's just build the fire up and go, all right?"

"Fine with me, man."

Within minutes, they were on their way. The slope on this side of the ridge was steep and slippery, but they managed, with Jim in the lead determining the safest path, to get to the top of the ridge less than half an hour after sunrise. The cold, clear air was welcome after the previous two days of deluge. Panting a bit from the altitude, the two men looked around.

Pointing, Jim showed his partner the direction of the Avery's campsite. Nodding, Blair turned on the radio and made the call.

"This is Sandburg and Ellison with the missing campers. Come in?"

"Good morning! How are the missing campers?"

"Well, Mrs. Avery has a broken ankle and their son, Michael has a broken arm. Oh, and Mr. Avery hit his head, but seems all right. The other two children are fine. How soon can we expect help?"

"Well, we didn't get your call until after the other searchers had been sent home last night. So, that means that we have sixty volunteers here rarin' to go. All we need is your location."

"That's great. Mrs. Avery will have to be carried, and Michael probably will need to be, too. With that many people, we shouldn't have any problem carrying them out. We're about two miles," he looked at Jim for his confirming nod, "north of the campsite. On the east side of the ridge. Uh, do you want one of us to stay up here and wait for you?"

"Well, it's going to be about an hour before we can get to you, so you might as well go back down and try to keep warm. The weather's clearing is letting the temperature drop."

Jim held up a shiny space blanket. Blair grinned. "Tell you what, we've got a nice, shiny, space blanket. I'm going to tie it up here to mark our location. When you get to the space blanket, just look down the ridge and you'll be able to see our smoke and the cave we're holed up in. Oh, if you could maybe bring some coffee? We used up all of ours last night."

"Coffee. You want donuts with that?" There was laughter in the voice. After all, the lost campers had been found alive; the injuries were minor. This definitely qualified as a success, even though they weren't through, yet.

"Well," he thought for only a moment. Jim was mouthing 'buttermilk'. With a big grin, Blair spoke into the radio, "Buttermilk?"

Through the cheerful laughter, he heard a voice saying, "If they want buttermilk, then they deserve buttermilk. Give us about two hours to get organized and haul the equipment up there. I don't suppose there's any place for a chopper to land?"

"Not safely, and with as slippery as the ground is, it's probably not safe to try to load them dangling."

"Roger that. We'll tell the choppers to stand down. See you in a few."

"Roger. Over and out." Blair was pleased to note the satisfied expression on his partner's face. He thought a moment to figure out what had Jim so happy, the buttermilk donuts? No, the look he had on his face was directed at him. "I remembered the directions, didn't I?"

"Yep. Two miles north, on the east side of the ridge. Good job, Chief." Jim slapped him on the shoulder and then turned to tie the space blanket up high over his head and allowing it to flutter in the breeze. The reflective surface would permit the rescuers to spot it from quite a ways off. Turning from his task, he then led the way back down the ridge to the rest of the group.

The Averys were still sleeping when they returned and Jim indicated that they should just let them sleep. With nothing else to do, the two men lay down in the sunshine and, with their space blankets protecting them from the damp ground, dozed in the mouth of the cave, one or the other of them rousing every few minutes to tend the fire.

Jim was the first to rouse when the rescuers reached the top of the ridge. Nudging Blair awake, he rose and strode toward the slope. Looking up at the dozen or so people at the top of the ridge, he called out, "Be careful! It's pretty slippery!" Unfortunately, the first few people didn't understand what he'd said and ended up sliding down the slope on their butts. Luckily, no one was hurt, merely startled and incredibly muddy.

"Sorry about that, it's pretty slick. The best path down is to go down diagonally, along that little deer-track. He pointed out the route. Of course, the people without his enhanced eyesight were unable to follow the path, and several more people ended up on their backsides, skidding out of control down the muddy slope.

The noise of the arrival of all the Search and Rescue people finally woke up the Averys. The paramedic with the group quickly checked out all their injuries and confirmed Jim's diagnosis and actions. Gently, they loaded the two injured people into carrying baskets and prepared to carry them back to their campsite, where an ambulance would be waiting to transport them to the hospital. It was almost a party atmosphere as the people from Search and Rescue prepared to return to civilization with the rescued family. Watching, Jim and Blair were basically ignored as they started off up the ridge.

"Gee. You're welcome." Blair grumbled good-naturedly as the last of the crowd scrambled up the steep, slippery slope.

"Hey, we did our part. Let them have the fun of talking to the press," Jim replied as he packed up their gear.

"Works for me, man." Blair hoisted his pack to his shoulder and followed his partner, who led them south along the bottom of the ridge, rather than following the others, who had churned up the mud to the point that Jim just didn't want to risk the possibility of his partner or him slipping and falling trying to get back up to the top. Instead, they made their way south until Jim spotted an easier access to the top. Climbing up, they found themselves back at the Avery's camp. Making their wan down, they were a bit surprised to find the ambulance still there, waiting.

Jim frowned. The group of rescuers and the found campers had left nearly ten minutes before they had, and should have already arrived. Glancing at his partner, he sighed and looked back towards where the others should have been. Cocking his head he focused his attention back in the direction the others should be.

"Are they OK?"

"Yeah. Just slipped in the mud some. They should be here in another fifteen or twenty minutes."

"Good. So, now what?"

Grinning, Jim headed toward the ambulance, "We let them know how soon they'll be here and we head on home, Chief."

"Sounds good to me, Jim."

Cutting across below a rather steep hill, there was no warning as an enormous old Digger Pine lost it's footing in the saturated ground and toppled. Jim and Blair didn't have time to escape and there were yells as the media and the rest of the searchers watched in horror as the two men were buried under the branches.

"I don't believe it. It's not fair, man." Blair grumbled as Simon pushed his wheelchair towards the doors of the hospital.

"Only you, Sandburg. Well, you and Jim, that is."

"It's not funny, man."

"I'm not laughing, Blair," Simon struggled to keep the broad grin from his face.

"Take it easy, Chief. At least it's nothing major."

"Oh? Like your dislocated shoulder isn't major?"

"No. It isn't. And it wasn't dislocated, it was 'separated'," came Jim's smug reply.

"Yeah. They won't know if it's going to need surgery for a couple more weeks." Simon added.

"I'll be fine. It's just a pulled tendon, more or less."

"More rather than less, I think." Blair glanced up. "By the way, how come you get to walk out and I have to ride?"

"Because I was released two hours ago and they forgot when I hovered around your room waiting to spring you." Jim reached out to ruffle his partner's curls with his left hand, his right arm immobilized to help his injured shoulder heal.


"No bickering, you two," Simon warned. "Now, I want you to wait right here while I go get my car."

"What about my truck, Simon?" The worry in Jim's voice about his 'sweetheart', causing his friends to grin.

"It's parked out in front of the loft, Jim. Rafe drove it back for you."

"Oh. Thanks."

Simon just waved it off as he headed off to get his car.

"Hey, Jim?"

"Yeah, Chief?" Jim turned to look at his friend and partner.

"Are you feeling as embarrassed as I am?"

"Yeah. Probably. After everything that happened, we manage to get hurt by a stupid tree."

"In front of all the media waiting for the Averys to be brought out. It sucks, Jim."

"Well, the good news is that we managed to get ourselves out and they couldn't tell that we were hurt."

"Yeah, except that I couldn't walk without help."

"The good news is that nothing was broken, Chief."

"Yeah. Nothing broken and no colds or anything."

They watched, waiting for Simon to get back with his car to take them home. Sneaking a sidelong glance at his friend, Jim asked, "Feeling lucky, Chief?"

Blair looked up at his friend. Considering the size of the tree that had fallen on them...

"Yeah. Actually, I do."

"Me, too, Chief." Jim's left hand gripped his partner's shoulder, gently kneading the muscles. Blair reached up to cover his friend's hand, patting it.

When Simon arrived, Jim held the chair steady for Blair to struggle to his feet. Remarkably, he was only suffering from some sprains and bruises. Once they were safely buckled up in Simon's sedan, the captain got in and headed away from the hospital.

"Hey, Simon? This isn't the way to the loft." Blair called out from the back seat.

"Gee, you really are a detective," Simon said, dryly.

"So, where are you taking us?"



"My home, Sandburg. Neither of you is in any shape to take care of yourselves; so, I'm going to do it. God forgive me, but I figured that..."

"Thanks, Simon." Jim interrupted, patting him on his shoulder. We'll be on our best behavior. Won't we, Chief?"

Blair thought about it for a moment, just enough time for Simon to start to squirm, "Yeah. We'll be good, Simon. Thanks."

"You're welcome. Now, what would you like for lunch?"

"Chinese?" Jim and Blair asked, simultaneously.

"Chinese it is."

They only stayed with Simon for a couple of days, but still, it was nice to have someone around to take care of them. They were careful not to cause any trouble for their captain, which kept the poor man frazzled, waiting for his men's normal behavior to surface. The lack of sniping and teasing caused him more stress than any of their usual arguing and wrangling ever could.

After two days, Simon was more than happy to drive them all down to the station. Jim and Blair would be on desk duty until their injuries healed, but even so, both men felt better being back at work. As they entered the bullpen, the other members of the team surrounded them to check them out. Fortunately, they had been injured on Friday and they had the weekend off, for a change. Once everyone had a chance to check out their injuries and satisfy themselves that the pair would be all right, Simon exerted his authority with a growl.

"Don't you people have any work to do?"

The group scattered towards their desks, pretending to be busy. Abruptly, Brown stopped, a beatific smile gracing his face and a mischievous glint in his eyes.

"Hey, guys?" he asked, casting his gaze around to make sure he had everyone's attention.

"Yeah, H?" Simon asked, knowing he was going to regret asking.

"We finally have the answer to the age-old question."

"What question is that?" Megan asked, curious.

"The one about the tree in the woods." Brown was grinning, now.

"What, the one that asks 'if a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?'" Blair asked, a puzzled frown furrowing his brow.

"Well, sort of. In this case, it's 'If a tree falls in the woods, Jim and Blair are liable to be under it!'" He looked around at his groaning colleagues and, laughing, ducked and tried to dodge the sudden barrage of flying pens, pencils, and paperclips his friends were throwing at him.

Shaking his head and chuckling, Simon skirted around his crew as they pelted the hapless Brown with office supplies. Slipping into his office, he watched as even Joel joined in with throwing things at the hysterically laughing detective. Seeing that Joel had already made a pot of coffee, he gratefully filled his cup and sat at his desk. As the noise and hilarity in the bullpen settled down and they began to clean up the mess, he took a sip of coffee and thought about it. The more he thought about it, the funnier it got. Finally...

Jim and Blair exchanged rueful grins when they heard the guffaws coming from their captain's office. Laughter that was quickly added to by their colleagues and, finally, their own.

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to TAE


Search for another story