Like August often does, the last month of summer flew by in a blink of an eye. When the boys weren't working their respective summer jobs, they spent most of their free time working on their father's boat, getting the old gal ready for King Crab season and deferring the cost of labor.

Sverre settled all debts, including squaring up the remainder of the truck balance, along with what was left of Sig's oral surgeon bills and paying for his son's First Mate classes.

The Old Man even tried to find the new owner of the electric blue Trans Am in an effort to buy the car back for his eldest son but the man who'd purchased the car had move out of the state. Sig insisted his father not buy him another car, especially considering he wouldn't be needing one where he was going.

So instead of purchasing Sig a car, the Captain took over the payments for Edgar and Norman to remain in counseling and had enough cash left over for all the major boat repairs and padding Norman's college fund.

Mr. and Mrs. Steward's extremely generous gift was put to good use and the Old Man hoped the kind couple would have been pleased with his choices.

What time the older boys had to themselves, they spent with their respective girlfriends.

Unconsciously, Sig began pulling away emotionally from Patricia, their time together growing shorter and, finally, they agreed to see other people. The agreement was clearly for Patricia's benefit alone. Sig saw no one else.

In early August, Nick popped the question to Colleen on a warm summer's night. Naturally, she said yes and the wedding was set for late May. The entire Hansen clan was to be invited to the big event, sans Daisy. Furthermore, Nick had asked Sig to be one of the groom's men in the wedding and the tall blond gladly agreed. Norman volunteered to help park cars.

Edgar's nightmares still came and went, but with much less frequency than before. One night, in particular, after a horrific nightmare, he ended up in his father's bed, the two of them talking long into the night about fishing and boating.

Daisy went to the vet for all her shots, a trip she'd like to forget, and to the groomers for a doggie day at the spa.

Edgar got all his shots, too, and never cried once. Instead he cried like a baby when the barber cut his silky, shaggy hair short. Now that he'd been sheared like a sheep, the teen seemed older, more mature and less 'kid' like.

The only good thing about having shorter hair was that his new bike helmet didn't make him so hot and sweaty while riding. Edgar and Sig came to a compromise about soccer and racing. Edgar agreed to race the senior circuit starting in mid-August if he could give up on soccer. Sig relented, sensing something was going on with Edgar and the local kids on his soccer team. In fact, Edgar hadn't spent a second with anyone from school, except Matt, all summer long.

School wasn't the only issue Sig was suspicious about. Every time the topic of Sig's departure came up, Edgar would only smile and tell his brother how happy he was for him. Inside, he was dying with each passing day.

It was eerily quiet, like the calm before the storm.

So when Labor Day weekend rolled around and the first leaf fell from the tree in their backyard, Sig started packing his giant duffle bag.

He was leaving Monday morning at first light and his brothers would return to school the next day. A captain Sverre trusted agreed to help Sig get the boat to Alaska, where the eighteen-year-old would attend six weeks of school before heading out on his first trip as co-captain of the Northwestern.

The vessel was ready to sail, Sverre was ready not to be on it this time and Sig couldn't wait to see his dreams come true.

The boys spent every free moment of that precious weekend together. They went hiking and had BBQs in the backyard. They saw a movie and went roller skating and stayed up for almost three straight nights, looking at the stars and just being together.

If they'd had more time, they would have gone to the lake but Sig had too much to do before he left and Dad was obsessively going over every inch of the boat.

When the false dawn came Monday morning, Sig woke from the tent in the backyard and went to get his things. He left Daisy, Norman and Edgar asleep and found his father drinking coffee in the kitchen.

"Give me about a half hour?" Sig asked as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He asked his father to drive him to the docks that morning instead of leaving the truck down there.

Relaxed and feeling expansive in his new retired life, Sverre smiled with a lifetime of knowledge, "No rush, son. The boat won't leave without you. Shave and get a hot shower. It's the last one you'll have in a long, long time so enjoy it."

Sig grinned and took the Old Man's advice.

A half hour later, the handsome eldest Hansen brother came down the steps, dressed in a pair of jeans and a light blue, button-down shirt. His duffle bag was draped over his shoulder.

As he walked into the kitchen, he found his two brothers waiting for him by the door, still in their pajamas.

"Hey," Sig said quietly, his eyes softening at the sight. He put the duffle bag down on the table.

"Dad's waiting in the Mustang," Norman rolled his eyes, "Seems 'keeping it lubed up' translates to him driving it every chance he gets."

"Mid-life crisis," Sig quipped with a chuckle.

"He uses the excuse that Daisy prefers riding in the Mustang," Norman grumbled, "For a guy who didn't want a dog, the two of them sure spend a lot of time driving around aimlessly together."

Sig noticed Edgar standing next to his younger brother, pale as a ghost and looking like he was going to vomit. "Time to go, I guess. You guys gonna wish me good luck?"

"Of course," Norman said heartily and then nudged Edgar forward.

The youngest brother took a couple of shaky steps forward and stopped, bravely looking up at the man who was his hero. His eldest brother, the guy who saved his life in so many ways, was about to embark on a dangerous journey. Yet, Sig seemed so happy and filled with excited anticipation.

Other than his bottom lip quivering, the kid tried to keep it together, not wanting to send his big brother off with a big display of gushy emotions where Sig would end up feeling guilty about leaving.

"Hey, kid," Sig said softly as he knelt on one knee and became eyelevel with his bror, "It's been one hell of a ride this summer."

Edgar forced a smile. "Some parts of it I really wanted to get off."

"Me, too," Sig laughed, "But most of it was honestly the best time of my life." He reached out and grasped Edgar's right hand, holding it in a tender grip. "I need you to do something for me."

"Anything!" the kid said with all his heart. Please tell me you want me to come with you! But I'll probably get a lecture about doing my best in school instead.

"I need you to keep this safe until I get back," Sig said seriously as he pulled his treasured class ring off his finger and formally slipped it onto Edgar's right index finger.

The youngest brother's eyes grew wide and misty as he glared at the precious ring now firmly placed on his hand.

Sig added with a mock sternness, "Just don't bet it in any high-stakes poker games while I'm gone." Then he smiled brightly at the kid, a smile that registered from his cheeks to his dancing, blue eyes.

The storm came fast and hard, a groundswell of tears about to flood the kitchen.

Without preamble, Edgar threw himself around his brother's neck so hard Sig had to fight to keep his balance or fall backwards.

The kid wept brokenly onto his brother's shoulder as Sig held him tightly, stroking the back of his neck, "It's only a few months, Edgar. I'll be home by Christmas."

Christmas could have been light-years away as far as Edgar was concerned. He cried and clung to his brother, perhaps thinking he could keep Sig from leaving. "I Love YOU. I love you so much."

"I love you right back, kid," Sig whispered as he choked up, "Only you know just how much."

Edgar nodded against Sig's chest. I DO know how much you love me. "You're gonna make a great Captain," he blubbered through his weeping.

"I sure hope so," Sig said, prying Edgar's arms from around his neck, "Because you're gonna join me someday. But first you have to finish school."

"Don't go," Edgar relocked his arms around his brother's neck. I still need you.

Sig rolled his eyes to the ceiling, then over to Norman for assistance.

Norman was crying right along with Edgar and turned away from the heart-wrenching scene. There was no hope of help coming from that side of the court room.

Instead, Sig hugged his brother close and whispered softly in Edgar's ear, "You're stuck with me, Edgar. I'll never really leave you. I'll just been gone for a little while."

"Promise me you'll come back," Edgar cried passionately, "PROMISE! PROMISE! PROMISE!" You ALWAYS keep your promises.

"I promise, see," Sig pulled away, getting out from under Edgar's death grip, "Cross my heart," he said as he made an X over his chest. "And as long as you wear this…" he grabbed Edgar's hand, the ring now temporarily his, "…I'll find a way to come back and get it…just like my littlest brother once did for me." Then Sig stood up and gave his baby brother a quick kiss on the top of his head.

Before Edgar could move, Sig hastily walked towards the back door, leaving the kid sobbing in the middle of the kitchen.

Edgar stood there for a second, staring at his biggest brother's back, and then fled the room. Running through the house and slamming his bedroom door, Edgar's muffled crying into his bedding could still be heard throughout the domicile.

"OK, my heart is officially broken," Sig said without looking back, standing at Norman's side.

Quickly, Norman brushed off the tears on his own face and put on his infamous Cheshire-cat smile. "I'm surprised he made it this long," he quipped, "I told the kid not to make you feel bad about leaving…"

"Shit, Norman…" Sig started complaining.

"Come on, Dad's waiting," Norman grabbed his brother's duffle bag off the table and tossed it at him, "You know how Dad hates to wait."

Sig caught the bag, the force almost slamming him into the back door. He glared at his cheeky brother for practically knocking him over and out of the house. Then, he sadly slung the bag over his shoulder and stood at the back door, staring meaningfully at his best friend.

"Just go," Norman said, his sadness and pain covered up by a smile, "I gotta go take care of the kid. Go and become the Captain everyone else will be talking about. You know, the one that always finds the crab and never seems to make a mistake."

"Norm," Sig said, his voice breaking.

"NO, no, no," Norman said emphatically, wagging a finger at his brother, "I'm not crying all over your new shirt, too."

A honk of the Mustang and the bark of a dog told Sig it was time to go.

"Can I at least get a hug?" the eldest brother asked, arms outstretched.

Norman sighed, taking a step closer. "That I think I can do."

The boys embraced each other, an arm over the top and an arm around the waist for both of them. They clung to each other tightly for a long minute.

"Love you," Sig whispered from the bottom of his heart.

"I love you," Norman whimpered, burying his face in Sig's shirt and crying on it, just like he said he wasn't going to do, "Come back…that's all I care about."

"I will," Sig slapped his brother's back and broke away from him, "I'll call the first chance I get." Then he turned and left without another word because this long goodbye was killing him. He couldn't bare seeing Norman cry or hearing Edgar crying any longer.

In the driveway, Dad sat in the Mustang with Daisy, the lab's head hanging out the car window already.

As Sig approached the top step of the porch, he paused at the wind chimes hanging from the porch roof. Flicking the metal with his fingernail, the chimes gave off a familiar tinkle. "You gonna watch out for me, Mom?" he asked out to the darkness under his breath.

I'll be with you the whole way, my son.

And, with his first steps down the porch, the Captain left his childhood home behind.


A/N: 16 months, 70 chapters, 560,000 words and countless hours…I've waited a long time to click the complete button but the time has finally come. I hope you enjoyed reading this story as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

My husband ALWAYS teases me because, after we watch a movie together, I hound him with the same question each time – 'what was your favorite part?' The smart ass that he is (think Norman) always says 'when it ended because now we can go to bed.'

So, before we depart, it would mean a lot to me if you would take a second (review, PM, skywriter, whatever) and share your favorite part or chapter (if you had one).

I'll share first…

My Favorite Chapter: Same Blood

My Favorite Moment: When Edgar won the poker tournament

Take care and thank you ALL for everything. I've learned a lot about writing (thank you to those readers who put up with me and my many grammatical and spelling mistakes, especially in the beginning) and about myself during this journey – these things I will carry with me always.

Lots of Love,

Little Leaf