Here it is, the final story in the Mad Season Cycle. What a fantastic album to work from.

And just a note from the authors to let you know that in our minds, after the events in the MS cycle, The Sentinel By Blair Sandburg never occurs.

Mad Season

By Suisan "Sue" R. and CarolROI

I feel stupid - but I know it won't last for long
and I've been guessing - and I coulda been guessin' wrong
you don't know me now
I kinda thought that you should somehow
does that whole mad season got ya down

"I do trust you." My words are very quiet, as if I'm afraid to speak too loudly. Every syllable that pours out of his mouth hits me like a barbed arrow, diving deep into my soul, rending my heart to pieces. He's right, he's always right. I just need to hear him.

What was it Gabriel said? "What good does it do for a man to have ears that will hear a thousand miles if he cannot listen to the whispers of his own heart?" Time I listened.

Everything Blair says, every word that falls from his lips rings true. At least he believes them. I can hear the conviction in his voice, the bitter vitriol piercing the air between us. But he's wrong. I've changed. He's just been too busy to notice or maybe I didn't show it well enough.

Too late to tell him now, unless I want to get soaked. I stand up from the chair I fell into earlier and approach the door he left open to see him standing in the field between the bunkhouse and his aunt and uncle's home. His shoulders are slumped, the duffel bag hanging from his hand, the rain pouring over his body, soaking him. Guess it's time to get wet. Turning up the collar of my light jacket, tugging my ball cap lower over my eyes, I step out onto the porch, close the door behind me, and walk out into the storm to face my best friend and my biggest fear.

He doesn't even turn at the squishy sound of my approach. Blair has to have heard me, but he's refusing to acknowledge my presence. "Chief?" No response. Yeah, he's ignoring me. "Blair, I want to talk with you& "

"So talk. It's a free country. At least it was the last time I checked."

Ouch. "It is. Look, how about we take this back inside? Where it's at least dry, if not a little bit warmer?" The rain is actually somewhat warm, but the wind that's blowing is lowering the ambient air temperature by about ten, maybe fifteen, degrees and I know how much Blair hates being cold, let alone being cold and wet.

"I'm fine. The rain's nice. Warm, soothing, calming, kinda like the water of the fountain was after I accepted that I was going to die." Blue eyes, full of resentment, finally glance my way. "You know, the water that I told you was fine?"

Damn, back to that issue. Okay, Ellison, time to suck it up and confess. "Blair, I wasn't ready to take that trip with you, I'm sorry. I'm not sure that I'll ever be ready."

I feel stupid but it's something that comes and goes
and I've been changin' - think it's funny how no one knows
we don't talk about - the little things that we do without
when that whole mad season comes around

I hear Jim coming up behind me, but I pretend he isn't there. See how he likes being invisible. I'm soaked clear through now, but I don't care. The rain is warm on my skin, like the water in the fountain. I find myself saying as much when he asks if I want to go back inside.

And then he says those words again, the ones that cut so deep before. ". . . I wasn't ready to take that trip with you. . . I'm not sure that I'll ever be ready. . ."

The pain I feel is the same, only overlaid with anger now. Why did he bother to come here? After all I've sacrificed, after all we've been through, why can't he give me this one thing? Why can't he accept what we are? That I am his brother, not of blood, but of the heart and of the soul.

I want to know the answer. I want to know why I'm not good enough for him. My voice is harsh as I ask, "Why not?"

so why ya gotta stand there
looking like the answer now
it seems to me - you'd come around

Two words. Two simple words and my world really starts to fall apart. The harsh voice of my father, raised in anger, echoes through my head unbidden and unwanted. Never depend on ANYONE but yourself! The moment you trust someone, they'll turn on you and stab you in the back! No one! I did that, once, and your mother left us. I trusted her and she left.

Shut-up, Dad. You're not standing here in the rain, facing the ONE person I know I can trust, seeing the hurt, anger, and fear in his eyes. "I'm not going to lie to you, Chief, I can't. And I'm not trying to lay blame off on someone else, but Dad raised Steven and I to be totally independent. Not to trust anyone outside our family, and even then, we weren't supposed to be dependent on each other." The memories flood over me and I have to push them aside. "The Army tried to undo the damage my father caused, getting me to trust my fellow team members, but even there I learned that trusting too much, caring for the welfare of others, could really mess a person up." Again, visions of my team, Serris and the others who'd died in Peru for no 'good' reason, flash before my eyes and I push them away. "However, I learned to trust again. Sometimes I don't show it. Bad habits are hard to break, but I've been trying to fix that."

There's that word again. Trust. I'm beginning to think Jim and I have two different definitions of the meaning. Trust to me means, well, trust. The constant, unwavering belief that your friend won't hurt you, that he'll be there to catch you when you fall, that he'll believe the best of you, even when the evidence to the contrary is stacked against you.

What a fool I've been. I put my trust in a man who, when it came down to the wire, when things were looking grim, turned on me and threw me to the dogs. Or, in this instance, cat. I stab at him with words. "Can't tell it from where I'm standing."

He looks frustrated as I refuse to give in that easily, refuse to let him deceive me again. He says, "I learned to trust a certain student from Rainier. One who had the answers I needed when no one else had a clue, and who refused to back off."

I snort in disbelief. "You mean that 'neo-hippy, witch doctor punk'?" The words leave a foul taste in my mouth. If I had known then what I know now, if I hadn't been so desperate to find a Sentinel, I would have listened to the alarms going off in my head.

"Yeah. The one who *almost* called me a throw back to prehistoric man." The look on his face seems to indicate he thinks we're making progress.

"I think the operative word there is 'almost'." I meet his eyes, daring him to contradict me.

Jim doesn't seem to have a response for that line. The sound of the storm flows over us for a few moments as we stare at each other, neither of us ready to concede. Finally, he says, "Blair, I know that things have been a little hectic for both of us recently and the case against Ventriss was probably the last straw for you."

Again, I snort.

"And I will admit, I've pretty much been an ass since we got back from Sierre Verde& " Ass doesn't begin to cover it. "& and, well, I really want to apologize."

"Why?" I feel myself holding my breath, poised on the edge of the moment, wondering if he will find the words to take away the pain, to make me believe things will be different. I so want things to be different, to be better, for us to be what I truly believe we were meant to be.
He takes a deep breath, then finally lets the words escape. "Watching what happened to Alex, the madness that seemed to take over, I wonder if that's going to happen to me. It could."

I want to cry. Some how, some way, this has all gotten turned around again. It's ceased being about us, and once again become about him.

I need you now
do you think you can cope
you figured me out - that I'm lost and I'm hopeless
I'm bleeding and broken - though I've never spoken
I come undone - in this mad season

Sandburg looks like he's just lost his last friend in the world. Maybe he has.

He jumps in before I can fully explain my comment about Alex. "Tell me again, why are you here? And why didn't Owen tell me?" The betrayal he feels at the actions of his family, not to mention the others and myself, cuts deep into my heart.

"To make sure you're okay and that you are going to be happy."

"No, tell me the REAL reason."

Damn, when did Blair start seeing through me like Incacha used to? "Because I feared letting you go, once I learned I depended on you, Chief."

"Yeah, as your guide." He's staring at the ground now, his posture one of defeat.

"No, as my friend." A loud clap of thunder punctuates my sentence and the rain, which had already been heavy, starts to pour down even faster. The drops sting where they hit my body. Looking up towards the sky, the distinctive shade of green tinting the bruised colored clouds grabs my attention and I glance down at my feet. Not just rain, but small, almost pea-sized hailstones are bouncing around. And the wind has picked up, howling across the fields. "Chief? It's hailing in case you didn't notice. Care to go inside now?"

We stand there, getting pummeled by tiny hailstones and rain, for a long and agonizing minute, each lost in our thoughts until he sighs and shrugs his shoulders. "Yeah, I guess." His voice is resigned, like he realizes resisting is futile.

I feel stupid - but I think I been catchin' on
I feel ugly - but I know I still turn to you
you've grown colder now, torn apart, angry, turned around
will that whole mad season knock you down

Blair brushes by me on his way back to the warmth of the bunkhouse. I follow him after a quick glance towards the skies, and gratefully climb up the steps to the relative safety the structure offers. Stepping back inside, I can't help but notice that he's dropped his bag by the door and retreated into the bathroom. His tracks are ridiculously easy to follow on the hardwood floor. I let out a sigh as I hang my head and softly close the door, turning my back slightly toward where he's gone.

"Here." I spin around to barely catch the large towel thrown towards me before it hits the floor. "Dry off, then let's see what we can do about the water on the boards." He's scrubbing his hair furiously, trying to leech out all the moisture he can from his long locks, while dragging a few towels across the floor under his feet, sopping up the water and mud he dragged in.

I remove my jacket and ballcap, tossing them both onto a spare chair, then use the towel to dry what's left of my hair. It doesn't take long, and then I'm on my knees trying to mop up the water that Blair and I shed by the door. The silence doesn't sit well with me, so I break it. "Blair, I'm sorry. I didn't ask your aunt and uncle to keep our presence from you, but they had their own ideas."

"Thought you wanted to talk, and not about my family." He leans against one of the bunk beds, looking as pathetic as a drowned cocker spaniel.

"I do." I sit back on my haunches, towel held loosely in my hands between my knees. "I'm just not sure where to start."

"The beginning would be good."

I snort. He's always been quick. "Not sure I want to go back into history that far." The look he sends my way is telling -- he's not amused. "Fine, the beginning."

I slowly stand up, as if I'm afraid of startling him, and move back to the chair where I sat watching him sleep earlier. "I said before that I need you in my life, not as my "guide" but as my friend. It took me a while to realize this, but the sentinel thing is just secondary." He looks like he's about to protest and I hold up my hand to forestall him. "No, let me finish, Chief." I sit back in the chair, trying to put my chaotic thoughts in order, then give up. "I've never had a friend that I felt truly close with. YOU were the first one to actually break through the wall that I'd built to keep people away. Not even Carolyn got past that wall." God, it hurts to admit that, that I couldn't even let my WIFE inside my walls, but there it is. The truth. And, yes, it hurts.

"The problem is, that when you got past my defensive wall you didn't just pass through it, you shattered it. Completely. Leaving me wide open to everything I fought for so long to avoid. I was, still am in many ways, afraid of that vulnerability. I care about you, Blair, even more than I care about my own family. Yes, I pushed you away, more times than I care to think about, not to protect you, but to try to protect myself."

The post of the bunk bed is sharp and hard against my back, but it's the only thing keeping me from collapsing to the floor. I don't understand him, and part of me doesn't want to. How can Jim say with one breath that I'm the only one he ever trusted enough to let in, and with another, the one he distrusted enough to push away with his harsh words and actions?

The silence grows to monumental proportions between us, the pain inside me leaving no room for words. The only sound filling the bunk house is that of the raging storm, the hail and rain hitting the tin roof, the wind howling through small cracks in the siding and whistling through imperfect seals around the windows. And from the strobing effect of the lightning on the walls and floor, the storm's just now hitting its peak. I move to sit on the edge of the bed I'd slept in, not quite facing Jim, yet not exactly turned away from him either. I bow my head, trying to hide the tears I feel stinging my eyes.

His voice wafts out of the darkness. "Blair? I can't take back all the rude remarks, all the times that I didn't acknowledge your contributions to our friendship. I wish I could. But I need to tell you I appreciate you. And not just because you helped me get these damn senses of mine under control, but because of the person you are."

The tears spill over, tiny rivulets of fire blazing down my cheeks. I can't speak, I can't move, can't even look at him. My insides are all jumbled up with happiness and fear. I'm elated, thinking that maybe he does get it, maybe he does know how I feel, and I'm paralyzed at the same time. It's not real. It's another trick, another bunch of pretty words to get me back, to make me believe in the dream before he throws me out again.

But I'm so tired. Tired of running, tired of fighting, tired of beating myself up. All I want now is to be home, to be that place where I know no matter what storm howls outside, I'll be safe and protected. That place used to be with Jim, and I thought I could find it here, with my family. But now I think it may be lost forever. "I want to go home," I whisper. "I don't want to hurt anymore."

so are you gonna stand there
are you gonna help me out
we need to be together now
-I need you now

I can't really see Blair's face. He's got his head down and the light in here isn't the best, but a couple of brilliant flashes of lightning illuminate the room. And there's something tugging at my nose, daring me to open up and identify what it is I'm smelling, to catalogue it and locate it. But this is a working cattle ranch and I'm not so sure I want to sniff the night air too deeply.

Then I hear it, the soft sound of water hitting cloth, and it's coming from over near him. A leak? I focus my senses before I realize what I'm doing and the salty tang registers on my olfactory receptors just as my vision closes in on his face. He's crying. Silently, but it's true. Damn, I've hurt him and I didn't want to do that.

"I want to go home." His words, so softly spoken, are full to the rim with hidden emotions. "I don't want to hurt anymore." Oh, God. Maybe I was right after all; I shouldn't have come here. I've hurt him more than anyone else I can think of&

"Blair. . ." Is that me? That cracking, baritone voice? "I don't want to& " Yeah, that cracking voice is mine. Damn, toughen up, Ellison. "I don't want to see you hurting, and I sure as hell don't want to cause you any more pain& But I also want you to know, whenever you're ready, if ever, you always have a place to call home." I stand up, this emotional intensity is getting to me. I *need* to do something; I'm just not sure what. I find myself slowly edging my way toward the door. I stop dead in my tracks. I'm doing it again, running away from something I need to face. Coward.

I glance over my shoulder to see Blair looking at me, his face a study of expected emotions. He expected me to cut and run and he was right, I was doing that. "Sorry. Old habits." I cross back over to the chair and sit back down, my hands clenched in my lap. "I'm not leaving, not until we actually talk. But if I get up and wander around, put it down to me not knowing exactly how to handle this." Slowly, I relax my hands, leaving them to fall on my knees, and then, grasping the seat of the ladder-backed piece of furniture, I slide over closer to where Blair is sitting on the bed. "Tell me, what do I have to do to convince you that I'm sincere? That I need you as my friend more than as my so-called Guide?"

do you think you can cope
you figured me out - that I'm lost and I'm hopeless
I'm bleeding and broken - though I've never spoken
I come undone - in this mad season

I look up after wiping at my traitorous eyes. Jim's heading for the door. Figures. When the going gets tough, emotionally speaking, big bad Jim gets going. Kinda like me in a way. Only I ran when I reached the end of my endurance. I stuck it out as long as I could.

Turning back, Jim looks at me, and his expression changes, like he realizes what he's doing. "Sorry. Old habits." He pulls up a chair and sits down saying something about talking. Then he asks me, "Tell me, what do I have to do to convince you that I'm sincere? That I need you as my friend more than as my so-called Guide?"

I tilt my head back, looking at the bottom of the bunk above me, wondering how to answer that, wondering what he wants to hear. Then I realize I'm falling into the trap again, editing my words, my thoughts, by my perception of what I think Jim wants from me. I didn't do that before Alex. Before the fountain.

Taking a deep breath, I gather the tatters of my soul around me, and meet Jim's eyes. "Believe in me. Believe in me the way I believe in you."

Believe in me& I believe in you& Believe...
The words echo around inside my head, ricocheting off the walls I worked so hard to build to hide from the pain, from reality, and to keep anyone from getting too close. Each syllable hits the shields, cracking them, weakening them, until, one by one, layer by layer, they fall. My throat is tight. Unshed tears threaten to break the dam that I put up after reading his letter. Ducking my head into my hands, I collapse, leaning backwards in the chair, the ladder style back creaking in protest even as the first damnable tears start their silent journey down my face. "I do believe in you, Chief." It hurts, getting those words out through a throat so tight that I can't even swallow. I'm not sure he heard me. "I believe in you, it's me I don't believe in."

I can't stop the watershed. The tears are flowing freely and, frustrated by my total lack of control, I scramble to my feet, looking for a physical release to escape this torture. Turning my back to him, I wipe at my face, hoping like hell he doesn't see me crying like a lost child.
now I'm cryin' - isn't that what you want
and I'm tryin' to live my life on my own
but I won't, no
at times - I do believe I am strong
so someone tell me why, why, why
do I feel stupid
and I come undone

It doesn't help. I can't seem to stop the damn emotional roller coaster we're on. And then it hits me. I'm the one running this thing, this relationship. I always have been. I've always had to have the last word, had to be in charge, in control. Or I at least had to act like I was, even if that meant tearing him down to make myself feel powerful.

It's time to let go, Ellison, time to tell the truth, to admit what everyone who was there at the fountain knows but him. That he is my brother, my other half, and the thought of a world without him nearly drove me over the edge. I turn back to face Blair. My voice is hesitant, my words nearly inaudible to my own ears. "I'm sorry, Blair. I pushed you away. When I cut you with my words, with my actions, on some level I knew what I was doing, knew I was hurting you. But I couldn't stop myself."

He looks up at me, his eyes dark and troubled, full of anguish, of pain, which I caused. His question, when it comes, is filled with distrust. "Why would you do that, Jim?"

I slide down the wall of the bunkhouse to squat on my heels, my eyes on the floor. "I was afraid," I whisper.

I think Jim's crying. I can't tell for sure in the darkness, but I've only seen him cry twice before, when Danny Choi, then Lila died in his arms. I'm not sure if he shed a tear for me at the fountain or not. No one ever really wanted to talk about that day, and I was afraid of what I might find if I pushed. Now I realize I should have. I should have fought for the truth, should have badgered Simon, or shook Megan until they told me.

And then he tells me he knew what he was doing, knew he was hurting me, though I doubt he knows how much. The pain I've felt in my heart for days, for weeks it seems, grows stronger, but I force myself to ask the question I fear the most, terrified of the answer. "Why would you do that, Jim?"

Part of me expects him to answer it's because I'm a sniveling little baby, a pansy, a flake, a punk. I steel myself for the verbal blow that never comes. Instead Jim kneels on the opposite side of the room from me, his body posture one of supplication as he whispers, "I was afraid."

I consider those three words for a long moment, wondering what he means, wondering how to reply. I feel the anger surging in me again, and I want to yell at him. I want to tell him fear is a fucking lame excuse. But yelling isn't going to solve anything, and it may just drive him away. I don't want to drive him away. I want us to fix this. For the first time, I have hope we might be able to work this out, that Jim might finally tell me what's in his heart. For good or bad, I need to hear it.

Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, I ask, "What were you so afraid of?"

"Myself." The word, a near silent testimony, escapes my lips before I can even think about calling it back. No. This is the only chance I have to tell the truth of my heart. No more hiding, not from him or from myself. It's long past the time where I should have confronted these fears of mine. Looking up from the spot on the floor I've studied for the past few minutes, I turn my gaze upon Blair. "I nearly lost you once. I don't think I can handle that again. I& " It's too hard. I lean back against the wall, my head contacting the plaster, anything to avoid that deep blue gaze. "Blair, I& damn, how do I tell you this?"

"Tell me what?" I hear the hesitation in his voice. He still fears me, fears what I'm going to say, but he asks for it anyway.

There's no place to run, no turning back. But instincts, born of years of doing just that, propel me to move again. Only instead of standing up, I move my feet out from under me and sit on the hardwood floor. "You're my best friend, Blair, and my guide. But I fear losing you, losing your friendship, your unique presence in my life. But it's more than that."

"Talk to me, Jim."

He sounds like one of the many 'counselors' I've been to in the past. I almost chuckle, only it comes out a half choked and nearly silent cry of despair. "You're the other half of my soul, my brother by choice, and yet, for some reason I kept pushing you away." Once again I'm compelled to look at him, and I mean really look at him. He's so much more than I could ever hope to be. He's wise beyond his years -- next to him, I'm a baby, maybe a toddler, but not much more than that. His waters run deep and still& Water.

The memory I thought I had buried so deeply that it would never surface again blazes across my mind. I see him again, as I saw him when I lay in that damned pool in the temple. I remember hearing Incacha's voice in my head, asking me what I fear. Blair--surrounded by fire and explosions, screaming in pain, then lying cold and still next to the fountain. The wolf runs through the jungle; raising the crossbow I fire, standing over the animal as it dies, becoming Blair. I scream "This is not me!" But I'm wrong. The violence, the pain, the anger--Blair's suffering--it's all my doing. Incacha told me I had to go to the temple alone, that the danger I faced was not to be shared by my *friends*. Even he knew I'd never accepted Blair as more than that, that I denied him his rightful role as my brother, my shaman.

The truth rushes out, the words tumbling over one another. "I've held you back, kept you from your life's path while trying to keep you at arm's length. I never should have left you behind when I followed her into the temple. I was wrong. I was just as responsible for your death at Rainier as she was." I can't speak her name, not anymore.

I feel the darkness closing in around my heart, fogging my brain, as I admit out loud my final feelings. "Maybe more so. I was the one who fired the arrow. I was the one who severed the bond between the jaguar and the wolf. She didn't kill you, I did, as surely as if I had taken your life with my own hands. Only I killed the spirit that *is* you. I destroyed you& " The tears are flowing more freely now than they had been before, and I no longer try to hide them. I can't.

I need you now
do you think you can cope
you figured me out - that I'm lost and I'm hopeless
I'm bleeding and broken - though I've never spoken

I'm stunned. I don't know what to say, what to feel. I try to collect my thoughts, to hold on to my anger, to convince myself he's just telling me what I want to hear, calling me his brother, his soul mate, words I had used to describe him.

He looks at me though, his face wet with tears. And for the first time, I think he really sees me. Then his expression changes to one of pain as he confesses to his part in the disaster surrounding my death at Alex's hands.

". . . I killed the spirit that *is* you. I destroyed you. . . ."

I feel the tears on my cheeks again. Jim's right, and wrong at the same time. Shaking my head, I rise from my seat on the bed and cross the room to drop to my knees beside him. Forcing the words past the mountain in my throat, I tell him, "No. I'm not destroyed. Wounded, battered, scarred maybe, but not destroyed. I would have been destroyed if I'd stayed, Jim."

He looks up at me, his eyes dark and shining, and I hope he understands what I'm about to say. "That's why I ran. I had to protect what was left of me. I felt like all my hope, all my dreams were gone. Hell, I felt that way until a couple minutes ago. But now," I reach out to clasp his bicep, "now I have hope again. We can make this work, Jim. We can make our friendship, our bond, the most important thing to happen to either of us. Or we can end up killing each other. We can be brothers, or we can be strangers. I'm willing to take that step, to wipe the slate clean, to start over. To come into this friendship as equals, as two halves of a whole, neither more important than the other. To close the door on the past with no regrets, no false forgiveness. Because I don't think I can forgive, man, but I can begin again. To be what I believe we were meant to be." My voice lowers to a whisper. "Can you join me in the water, Jim?"

"& join me in the water& "
I reach up to clasp my hand over his where it rests on my arm and have to swallow a few times before I can actually speak. "If you're there, Chief, I think I could." I hear a soft, almost muffled, sob and look up to see a watery smile on his expressive face. His bright eyes are blurred with tears of his own, matching the ones that I feel still falling from mine. "We're a mess, you know that?"

"You were there first, man."

I chuckle, brushing tears of mirth instead of heartache from my face. I reach up and softly deliver my patented 'cuff' to the side of his head. "Yeah, well, I am older than you are. Experience has to count for something."

His laugh, so infectious, fills the room with light. This is his gift, what I took for granted and dared to push away. No more. I manage to climb back to my feet, holding out a hand to offer him assistance, only to find him already standing next to me. Something inside me snaps as the last wall I built up collapses and I reach out to him. "Blair, I& " Damn, I can't seem to say it.

"What, Jim?" He's looking at me, concern in his eyes. Oh, to hell with this stubborn reserved attitude of mine.

My hand is up, reaching toward him, and he takes it -- giving me all the excuse I need as I pull him into a hug. "I'm so sorry, Chief."

Jim crushes me in a bear hug, and I grip him back, not caring that his shirt is getting me wet again. He lets go and tries to step back, but I hold on for a few more seconds before I release him.

Having put that ever-precious personal space between us again, he says, "So, where's the water you want me in?" He makes a face like he knows that sounded really lame, but continues on. "I'm ready, whenever you are."

I feel a grin crossing my face as I barely hold back a fit of giggles. "I think you're already up to your neck in it, Jim. But we can run around the bunkhouse and get soaked again if you feel the need to get literally wet."

I watch him cock his head to the side, obviously listening, then he says with a perfectly serious expression, "Uh, a little late for that. Storm's over."

I can't hold the mirth in any longer. I lean my forehead against his shoulder, my body shaking with silent laughter.

"What? What did I say?" He sounds confused, and a little like he missed the punchline.

"It was a joke, man, a joke." I stagger back clutching my stomach, still laughing. "Oh god, I'm punchy." And giddy and wasted and drunk on joy. And exhausted. Can't forget I'm dead dog, bone-weary tired. Staggering over to my bed, I plop down on it, toeing my shoes off.

Jim glances at his watch for a moment, then says, "Well, it is nearly 6 am."

"Waaaay past my bedtime," I quip, and struggle out of my still damp clothes, then bury myself beneath the covers. Jim looks at me for a long moment, then gets undressed as well, climbing into the bunk above mine.

That gives me a big warm fuzzy. Three other beds to choose from, and like a big brother who knows his sibling is afraid of heights, he takes the one over me. He wiggles around for a bit, getting comfortable, and after he settles down, I poke the mattress.

His tone is long-suffering when he answers me. "What?"

"You know this isn't over, Jim. We have a lot of things to still work out. Like what in the hell I'm going to do with the rest of my life." Whatever it is, I sure as hell am not going to be writing a dissertation on Sentinels.

"We have plenty of time to figure that out, Sandburg. Now go to sleep."

Closing my eyes, I snuggle into the blanket. Just as I'm about to drift off, Jim's voice wafts down from above.

"Chief, why do you think we let things go for so long, let each other get so crazy, hurt each other so much?"

Rolling onto my back, I stare up at the wire springs for a few moments, thinking about the last few painful months. "Madness, Jim," I finally answer. "Just one long mad season."

"Well, I'm glad it's finally over. I don't want to know what my life would be like without you in it."

The mattress creaks, and Jim's hand dangles over the side. Reaching up, I grasp his fingers for a long moment, squeezing tightly, whispering, "Me neither, man, me neither."

well, I need you now
do you think you can cope
you figured me out - I'm a child and I'm hopeless
bleeding and broken - though I've never spoken
I come undone - in this mad season


A Note From Suisan

To everyone that made it this far with us, thank you.

This has been one of the most satisfying and, at times, frustrating pieces
of writing I've ever done. Both by myself and in tandem with Carol. We
both had to suffer through various 'bugs' -- actual illnesses -- and muses
that REFUSED to talk to us throughout this whole series.

Never, never listen to your Muse when they get stubborn. Just smile
sweetly at them and beat them into submission. Especially your JimMuse.
He's a hard man to crack, to get to open up and actually "talk" to you.
But that, in my humble opinion, is what makes Jim Ellison so fascinating.

Now, a minor confession...

It took me a while to realize this, but I can see how some fans might think
that we were working on "pre-slash." That was never intended. Sorry.

Basically, Carol and I wanted to show just how much two people could
really love each other, emotionally, without crossing over the line into a
'physical' relationship.

I'd also like to take this time to give BethB a HUGE bear Hug of
Appreciation. Beth has been there for Carol and I since the beginning of
this story cycle. Beth? You're the best! (A small payment to replace
your ink cartridges -- will be in the mail shortly.)

Now, one more thank you, maybe two...

Carol? You are the best writer I've ever had the pleasure to work with.
And you're a damn good friend as well. We've suffered through a bunch of
crap (real life, stubborn musea, viral infections, you name it) while
working on this cycle. But we both refused to give up on it. Thank you.
And a special thank you needs to go out to Matchbox Twenty and Rob Thomas.
If it hadn't been for the powerful images that their songs generated, this
cycle of stories never would have happened.

Suisan "Sue" R.
6 Dec. 2000

A Message from CarolROI

It's done, it's done! Thank god, it's done!

Oh, yeah, plus what she said.

6 December 2000

Mad Season Cycle
Immortal Cascade

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