When it comes to being manipulated, I'm generally fairly immune. However, familially speaking, we all have a hard time refusing a dare. I'm approaching my 100th story (OK, ninety- one have been written, TS stories, that is) and I asked Wolfpup if I needed to write nine more, or thirteen more by 6 January, 2000. That's the anniversary of my first posted story. 100 is a terrific milestone (in my mind, anyway), but 104 would make my average one per week. Tonya had the unmitigated gall to say, "If you write them, I will post them." If? IF? IF!?!?!!! Hmph. If. I'll show you if. (See what I mean about being manipulated?) The funny thing is, I don't think she really meant it as a challenge. At least, not consciously. Maybe. Anyway, I'm suddenly in the mood to write. They may not all be very long, but they will be complete. As I'm not fond of reading in parts, I don't post in parts. (OK, there are exceptions to this, I am reading a few things that are being posted in parts, but they aren't going to find their way into my 'keeper' folders)

With the sad news of the passing of one of our young listsibs over Halloween weekend, I've been feeling this compulsion to write a story. It's not going to be a happy one, but it will be heartfelt.

As always, they aren't mine, but I'm grateful to their creators for the creation and to the actors who brought them to life. I'm also quite thankful that they haven't sued me (and, hopefully, won't).

Finally, this is for Fran, whose cousin Risa brought about the impetus for this story. My deepest sympathies to you and your family, Fran. I haven't the words to tell you how sorry I am for your loss. Marissa Sluder was a bright spot in our little fandom and she will be missed.



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There's simply no justice in this world. If there were, we'd never have to go to funerals for those who died much too young. The trite 'there ought to be a law' doesn't work. There is a law; several, in fact. Unfortunately, the laws don't always do their job. Not when there are judges out there who don't do theirs; and sometimes the cops don't do their job, either. It's been getting better, the last few years, but it's still not enough. Maybe it never will be.

It was raining. Nothing unusual in that. After all, this was Cascade, Washington. Perfect weather, actually. It was supposed to rain at funerals. The little girl standing stolidly by her grieving father was stoic. Her crutches helped support her as she leaned against her daddy for additional support. The minister was talking. Platitudes about life, death, and why things happen. The words were meant to comfort, but only served to depress those in attendance. He must not have known the wonderful young woman that they were burying that day.

Blair Sandburg stood stolidly by. Watching the other mourners. He knew most of them, even though few of them acknowledged his presence. After all, he was no longer a part of their world. But he'd been friends with the deceased and her family. She'd been one of the few of his former colleagues from the university to keep in contact with him after his abrupt dismissal in disgrace the previous spring. He was going to miss her.

After the whole mess over the early and unintended release of his unfinished dissertation, he'd expected to be a pariah with his former friends and colleagues from the university. Vonnie had been a wonderful exception to the general rule. He was going to really miss her. She had made it a point to call him at least once a week with the latest gossip from the U and the happenings with his former friends. And two or three times a month, they'd get together for coffee or lunch or something. Sometimes with her husband and little girl, sometimes just the two of them. He didn't try to hold back the tears that began to trickle from his eyes.

Jim Ellison leaned slightly to the side, pressing his arm against his shorter partner. Quietly, he slid his arm across the barely trembling shoulders, offering support and comfort to his friend. He'd met Vonnie a couple of times. She'd been a lot like Blair, bright, funny, vivacious. He was sure that anyone who had ever met her would miss her. He felt sorrow at her passing; and rage in the manner of that passing. The worst thing was that Blair had been on the scene and Vonnie had died in his arms.

It had been late. They were finally heading home after a late night filling out their reports. They had gotten a break on a case that had led to a late afternoon arrest. Since it was Friday night and they ostensibly had the weekend off, they decided to go ahead and get the forms out of the way. It was a little after nine p.m. when they finally left the station. They were debating whether to stop for Chinese or Italian for dinner, when it happened.

They were sitting at a red light when a small car entered the intersection from their left. Coming towards them at a high rate of speed was another car. He never even tried to stop for the red light, running it at well over the posted speed limit of thirty-five miles per hour. Jim's later estimate, upheld by forensic evidence, was that he was going at least seventy and closer to eighty miles per hour. The little car never saw him coming. The little car was T-boned and pushed across the three lanes of the street, slicing across the lanes and crashing into Jim's elderly blue and white truck. Even with Jim's foot firmly on the brake, they were pushed back and to the side, into another car, which finally stopped their momentum. In all, there were four vehicles involved, and they had been displaced nearly sixty feet from the point of impact.

Badly shaken, but uninjured, Jim had put his truck in park and turned off the ignition. Blair was already out of the truck and checking on the other victims. The driver who had run the red light got unsteadily out of his car and blearily asked, "What happened?" Even without Jim's enhances senses, Blair could smell the reek of alcohol on the man. Ignoring him, he climbed through the wreckage to the little car pinned between the big Lincoln Town Car and Jim's truck.

There was so much blood. At first he didn't recognize her, but she was, miraculously, still conscious and recognized him.

"Blair?" she whispered, meeting his horrified eyes.

"Vonnie? Oh, my God! Vonnie. Hold on, help's on its way. We'll get you out of here as soon as..."

"Blair, stop it. I know there's no hope for me. Get my baby out, please? She's in the back seat. Save her for me. Please, Blair." Her voice was already fading as the flow of blood continued from her shattered body. "Tell Tom that I love him." Her voice trailed off and her eyes lost focus. Blair reached through the mangle of metal that was all that was left of her little car and cradled her head with his hands.

"Hang on, Vonnie. Please. Don't die, please, Vonnie." He felt the soft final exhalation of breath and her eyes glazed over as her spirit fled to a better place. "Vonnie? Oh, no. No." He was sobbing, gently stroking the hair back from his friend's bloodied face. His tears streaming down his cheeks.

A soft whimper finally distracted him from his friend. There, in the crumpled back seat, was Vonnie's little girl, Ruthie. The child was still in her car-seat, but the way the car was crumpled around her, it was difficult for her to breathe. Reaching through the wreckage, he managed to release the buckles and pull the three-year-old- from the tangle. He even managed to keep her from seeing her mother. He realized that the child was hurt when she cried out when he tried to set her down. He immediately picked her back up, talking to her gently, trying to calm and reassure her.

"It's OK, Ruthie. You're going to be just fine. Remember me? Blair?"

"Bear." The small voice repeated, the closest the three-year-old had ever been able to get to his name.

"Right, Bear. I'm going to take you over here, OK? You're going to be fine. I know your leg hurts, but the ambulance is coming to take you to the hospital to fix it, OK?"

"Amb'lance," she repeated. "Mommy?" she tried to look past him, back toward the wreckage.

"I'm sorry, baby, you're mommy's gone. She won't be coming back. I'm sorry, Ruthie, I'm so sorry."

The child gave him a puzzled look and, seeing his tears, leaned into him, placing her little arms around his neck and hugging him. "'S OK, Bear." She tried to comfort him.

Jim had gotten out of the truck and immediately taken out his cell phone and called 911. After giving their location and the number of vehicles involved and how many victims, he turned to see if he could provide any assistance to the other victims. Seeing Blair tending to the little car's occupants, Jim had turned to the people in the car his truck had been pushed into. Other than shock and a few bruises, they appeared to be all right. He told them to remain in their car until the paramedics arrived to care for them, that way preventing them from doing any more damage to themselves. Seeing the driver of the primary vehicle staggering off down the road, he went after him and brought him back. Smelling the reek of the far too many drinks the man had indulged in, he arrested him, read him his rights and handcuffed him to the side-view mirror of his truck. Turning back, he saw his partner, tears running down his face as he cradled a small child in his arms. Jim could see the broken leg even without his enhanced vision. A quick glance at the driver of the little car told him that it was too late to do anything for her.

"Sandburg?" he asked, his brow furrowed down in concern, "You shouldn't have moved her," he admonished, although his voice was gentle, rather than accusatory.

Looking up at his friend, Blair choked back a sob and softly whispered, "It's Vonnie. This is her daughter Ruthie. She was stuck in the back seat and could hardly breathe, so I took her out. I know her leg's broken, but I had to get her out of there before... before she saw..." there was a slight hitch in his breathing as he was unable to finish the sentence.

Remembering when Vonnie had shown up on their doorstep with her daughter in tow one morning shortly after the dissertation fiasco, Jim looked more closely at the child and then her mother. Closing his eyes momentarily in pain, he shook his head and softly touched his friend's shoulder in commiseration. "I'm sorry, Chief," were the only words he had to offer comfort.

When the paramedics arrived, Blair reluctantly gave up his small burden to the EMTs, promising to call her daddy to meet her at the hospital. Taking out his cell phone, he dialed the number, dreading what he would say.

"Do you want me to do that, Chief?" Jim asked gently.

"N-no. I'll do it. I owe Vonnie that much." He turned away as the phone was answered.

"You're late," came the cheerful voice over the phone.

Closing his eyes in anguish, Blair replied, "Tom? This is Blair Sandburg."

"Oh, sorry. I thought you were Vonnie. She's a little late getting home from Ruthie's ballet lesson. What can I do for you?"

Oh, God. How was he going to tell him? "Uh, Tom. There's been an accident. I'm sorry..."

"What? What do you mean, an accident? Vonnie? Ruthie? Oh, my God. What happened?" There was anguish and horror in the shocked voice.

"Ruthie's with the paramedics right now. She's got a broken leg. She was trapped in her car- seat, but I got her out."

"What about Vonnie?" Tom's voice was hushed; bracing himself for what he somehow knew was coming.

Taking a deep breath to try to steady his nerves, Blair replied, "I'm sorry. There was nothing we could do, it was already too late." He held the cell phone away from his ear at the anguished cry from the grief-stricken man at the other end. "I'm so, so, sorry."

"What happened? How? Who..."

"A drunk ran a red light and broad-sided her car. He pushed her across three lanes and into us, then we were pushed back into another car and several more feet back down the street," he explained, his voice soft.

"Are you all right? Was anyone else hurt?" Tom asked, his concern for others momentarily overriding his own grief.

"I don't think anyone else was hurt beyond a few bumps and bruises," Blair replied, concentrating on doing this one thing so that he didn't have to go back to seeing his friend's body being extracted from the demolished car.

"Thank God for that," Tom intoned. "What about the guy who ran the light?"

"Not a scratch," Blair said bitterly. He watched as the paramedics loaded Ruthie in the ambulance, "Tom, they're going to transport Ruthie to the hospital, now. Cascade General. Do you want me to send someone to take you to the hospital, or are you OK to drive?"

"I-I can drive myself. Thank you, Blair."

"Thank me? Whatever for?" How could you thank the man who calls to tell you your wife is dead and your child is going to the hospital?

"For calling me yourself, instead of letting some stranger do it. I... I'll see you later, OK?" Tom's voice was hoarse with the strain and shock of what had happened, not quite believing it just yet.

"OK. If you need anything, you call me, understand?" he demanded.

"All right. I will. I promise," and with that, Tom hung up.

Closing his cell phone and slipping it into his pocket, Blair turned away from the scene and straight into the big, bulky presence of his partner. Looking up, he could see only worried concern in Jim's eyes.

"I'll be OK, Jim," Blair said, backpedaling a bit to get out of his friend's space.

Jim just closed the distance, reaching out to grasp Blair's shoulders. "Eventually, you will be, but for right now, would you like to ride with Ruthie to the hospital? I have to stick around for the clean up. I'll meet you at the hospital, later, or you can catch a ride home, if you prefer," Jim offered.

Looking over at the waiting ambulance, Blair resisted the urge to go, "No. I'll stay here with you. I'm just as much a witness as you are, man." Jim nodded, squeezing Blair's shoulders, reminding his friend that he wasn't alone and that he was there to offer support if he needed it. Blair smiled gratefully up at his friend.

When it was discovered that the driver who had caused the accident had a long history of prior drunk-driving convictions, including several accidents where people had been injured, and that he had been driving on a suspended license, Blair nearly lost control. He wanted to hurt this man, see how he felt being an injured victim. Jim had to hold him back at one point to keep him from attacking the man.

"Jim, he killed her. It might as well have been premeditated murder. He's already had several accidents. 'Accidents' where people were hurt. When does it stop being an accident? He'll probably just get another slap on the wrist and be told not to drink and drive. But this time someone died, Jim. Why? Why, when he'd gotten a suspended driver's license did he do it again? Why?" the final word came out as a sob as Jim pulled his distraught partner into a close embrace, holding him close, Blair's face buried against Jim's chest as he sobbed.

"I don't have the answers, Blair. I'm sorry. I just don't know. I'm sorry." He lay his cheek atop the mop of curls and stood there, absorbing his friend's grief and tears. He watched as the uniformed officers gave the man a field sobriety test and re-arrested him, again reading him his rights before they placed him in the back of a patrol car for transport.

Once the damaged vehicles were towed away, they were offered a ride home one in of the patrol cars, which they gratefully accepted. Dinner forgotten in the stress of the evening, they simply said their good-nights and headed for their respective rooms, where despite the horror and distress they both felt, they slept... but not without dreams.

In the morning, both men were still tired after their restless sleep. Barely functioning, they settled for toast and coffee for breakfast, as neither man had developed an appetite, as yet. Jim tried to get Blair to talk about it, but Blair was trying to work things through on his own and merely snapped at his roommate. Taking the hint, Jim left to take a walk, giving Blair the space he thought he needed to be able to deal with everything. When Jim got home, he allowed Blair his space, deciding that when he was ready, Blair could come to him. Thus, the weekend was spent silent and cold in the loft and neither man got any real rest.

Monday morning, back at the station, they were surprised to hear that the DA was going to press for murder charges on this case, rather than manslaughter, a lesser crime. He planned to argue that anyone who drove drunk even after repeated offenses, accidents and suspended licenses, was no longer innocent of seeking to commit murder. That the blatant disregard for other's rights and welfare deserved the labeling of such a crime as murder. The media was having a field day with the story. No one had ever been hit with anything stronger than manslaughter in a drunk driving death before. The case was bound to set a precedent that would be felt across not only the state of Washington, but all the other states as well.

That did nothing for those who attended Vonnie's funeral, however. Although, with any luck at all, her name would go down in the annals of law as the case that would bring drunk driving from what was once considered a 'nothing' crime into the tragic and devastating crime it truly is. But that still didn't take away one iota of the grief of her friends and family, nor did it do anything to ease the loss of her bright, caring life. Even if it changed forever how the law looked at drunk driving, it wasn't worth it. No one's death at the hands of a self-impaired drunk driver is acceptable, not even if it brings about the changes that are needed. It shouldn't take anyone's death to bring about changes to the way people think about drunk driving, or drugged driving. Anyone who willingly impairs themselves rightfully deserves whatever punishment they get, and the more stringent, the better. One drunk/drugged driving conviction may be punished by a slap on the wrist, a suspended license and community service, but a second deserves jail time, and any accident should be prosecuted at the highest level of injury, from attempted murder to murder one. Perhaps, one day, this will happen, but how many more innocents must die before the courts and the lawmakers realize that the public has had enough and that it's beyond high time for something to be done about it?

As the funeral wound down and the crowd passed by the grieving family to offer their last condolences, Blair trailed along at the end of the line, not wishing to intrude his presence with his former colleagues and friends. As it came his turn, he looked up at Tom and sighed.

"I'm sorry, Tom. I wish..."

"You were there for her when she needed you, Blair. Thank you for that. Thank you for taking care of Ruthie for me. You always were a good friend, and I thank you for that."

Jim softly spoke, "If you ever need anything, any help or babysitting or anything at all, call us."

Blair nodded his agreement with his friend's sentiment. "And anything means just that. Even if it's just to talk to a friendly ear, understand?"

"Yeah. Thanks, Blair." Tom looked down at his daughter as she tugged at his coat for his attention. "What is it Ruthie?"

"Hug Bear." She insisted. With a sad smile, Blair stooped down to the child's level and let her wrap her arms around his neck, exchanging hugs. "Love Bear," She whispered to him as she released him from her grasp.

"I love you, too, Ruthie," Blair whispered softly back to the little girl. "You take care of your daddy, now, OK?" The little girl nodded solemnly, reaching up for her father to pick her up. Rising back up, Blair smiled sadly again, "I'll keep in touch, Tom. Remember to call if you need anything at all."

Tom returned the sad smile. "You know, a lot of those people said the same thing, but somehow I didn't believe many of them really meant it. But I know that you do. Thank you, again. I'm going to be taking Ruthie and staying with my folks for a while, Vonnie's parents are out of the country and couldn't get back in time, but I just need to get away for a while. I'll be sure to call you when we get back."

"Make sure that you do, OK?" Blair pleaded. "I don't want to lose touch, you know?"

"Yeah. I know. It may be a while, but I will get back in touch with you. When I want to remember the good times. I know how much the two of you laughed together, and I will want to remember those times again."

"Take your time, Tom. I'll be here when you're ready," Blair agreed, wondering if he'd be ready when the call finally came.

"I was contacted by the DA, he wants to go for the death penalty on this," he shook his head, "I can't imagine it happening. Somehow, I just figured he'd get another slap on the wrist. I just don't know. It's such a waste, you know?"

Jim nodded, "Yeah. It is. But the DA has decided that enough is enough. He's going at this like we do a career criminal, showing the escalation in his crimes, trying to prove that his pattern matches the classic pattern of any other criminal. I don't know if it will work, but I hope it does. I'm just sorry it had to take your wife's death to bring it about."

"All I know is that if they ever hang him, I want to be one of the witnesses," Tom said. There was real anger in his voice with those words, an anger that hadn't been present at any other time.

"You may be allowed to, but it still won't be enough," Jim warned him.

Looking down at his daughter, Tom sighed, "No. It isn't. Nothing ever could be, could it." There was defeat in his voice.

"You have Ruthie to take care of, Tom," Blair reminded him, "For now, just get through it one day at a time. It's all you can do. It's all any of us can do," and with those final words of advice, Jim and Blair made their way back to Blair's car, as Jim's truck was still undergoing repairs.

The End

Nothing the courts can or will do will ever be enough. Education obviously isn't enough. Ad campaigns aren't enough. Until people take responsibility for their actions, the tragedies will continue. Until it becomes common for everyone to take responsibility for their decisions, it won't get better. If you go to a party, designate a driver or four. If you're the designated driver, don't take the responsibility lightly, it isn't only your friends that you're protecting, it's other people's friends and loved ones. If you have a party, make sure that you make your guests 'check their keys at the door'. That way, if one of them overindulges, you can keep them from stumbling out to their car and possibly prevent a tragedy. If you have a party, expect to have to put up one or two people for the night; or, have a pair of designated drivers, one to drive the guests home, and another to drive their car for them. That way, when they recover, their vehicle will be ready for them, instead of having to find a way back over to your house to get it. You may even decide to have a non-alcoholic party, serving imitation wine or beer, or virgin forms of many popular drinks. Remember, it's your responsibility as the person throwing the party to prevent anyone ending up behind the wheel after they've been drinking. In several states, the laws now state that if you served the person a drink and they then went out and had an accident, that you are just as responsible for their actions as they are. And more states are following in this. Which is a good thing. I realize that I'm probably preaching to the choir, here, but I needed to rant. Too many bright, young, wonderful people are dying on our roadways. Still. Yes, nationally, the statistics are down. But if someone you know and care about dies, that's one too many. They aren't statistics. They're people. People with families, friends, and lives that didn't deserve to be cut off so soon. Enough is enough, and in this case, far more than enough. How many more of our friends and family have to die before they figure it out? Long ago, I made myself a promise that I would never have a drink unless I planned to spend the night there. It's not always the most popular thing to do. I have friends and even relatives, who laugh at my decision. Yet, when any of my acquaintances makes the decision to drink and then decides that they aren't safe to drive home, guess who gets the call? That's right. Me. No matter how late, no matter how tired or sick I may be. I'll be there. I'll see to it that they get safely home. And take them to get their vehicle back when they're sober again. It's the least I can do. What are you doing?

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