This is a series of missing scenes for most of the episodes of “The Sentinel”. I think it goes without saying that episodic spoilers will abound. They follow a natural progression and a few somewhat tie into each other, but it is not necessary to read them all to understand the individual. They are posted in order, or you can use the index below to jump to whatever episode you wish. There is some mild language peppered throughout, and one F-Bomb. You've been warned.
As always, I do not own the characters/settings of “The Sentinel” and absolutely no profit was made from these vignettes, unless you count the personal satisfaction obtained from clearing up a few plot points that have long stuck in my craw. Comments always welcome.
Dedicated with love to Suzanne, who inspired this project.
When we're together or when we're apart
There's never a space in between the beat of our hearts
“One Day (At a Time)” by John Lennon
Love and Guns
Vow of Silence
Out of the Past
Blind Man’s Bluff
Hear No Evil
Light My Fire
Pennies From Heaven
His Brother’s Keeper
The Girl Next Door
Sentinel, Too, Part I
Sentinel, Too, Part II
Dead End on Blank Street
The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg
But I remain silent
Oh, I won't say a word
I leave you to realize I'm the light in your world
And it's me, yes it's me, yes it's me, yes it's me
That you're needing
"It's Me That You Need" by Elton John
"Hey, Jim. It's Blair Sandburg."
"Sandburg." The detective sighed, glancing at the stack of messages Rhonda had left on the corner of his desk. The kid had called four times but after a late night having dinner with Carolyn followed by a rough morning in court he simply hadn't had the energy to deal with him and hadn't returned his calls. Jim considered apologizing or explaining, but then decided not to bother. "What's up?"
"I need to talk to you about something. Do you have any lunch plans?"
"I'm kind of busy here today, Chief," Ellison hedged.
"Please? It's important. I won't take up much of your time and even a super cop has to stop and eat, right?"
"Fine," Jim conceded, figuring it would be easier to just meet with the kid than to get him to take "no" for an answer. "There's a diner a block down from the station. How soon can you get here?"
"Actually I'm just right downstairs. They wouldn't let me come up but maybe if you ok'ed it..."
"No, just stay there," Ellison ordered. "I'll be right down."
He hung up and turned off his computer, pulling on his jacket and swinging by his captain's office to inform Banks he was stepping out for lunch. Then he bypassed the elevator and jogged down the stairs to find that Sandburg was, indeed, waiting for him in the lobby.
"Hey, man," Blair greeted him. "Sorry to pull you away from work."
"It's all right," the detective told him, a bit surprised to find that he meant it. Any irritation he'd felt earlier over being pestered by his new shadow was strangely alleviated when his cool gaze met those earnest blue eyes. "Like you said, I have to eat. Come on." He led the way out of the station and headed for the diner, his smaller companion falling into step beside him, matching his long stride easily. "So what's so important that you had to talk to me about?"
"Well, I've been thinking about yesterday," Sandburg explained, "and there is no way I can go to the police academy, Jim. I don't have the time with school and besides, you need me now, not four months from now."
"Sandburg, I was just yanking your chain about that," Jim reassured him with mild amusement. "I wasn't really expecting you to enlist." The mild amusement became a broad grin as the detective tried to picture the hippie academic as a cadet. Blair was a nice enough kid, but definitely not cut out for the Force. The idea was utterly preposterous.
"Oh." It was hard to tell if the younger man was relieved or disappointed. Maybe a bit of both.
"Don't worry," Ellison continued, "you can still be my backup even without being a cop. The department does allow temporary ride along passes."
"Great, let's do that," Blair said enthusiastically.
"Hold on, Junior," Jim cautioned him. "It's not exactly that easy. The brass tends to grant them to media or people connected with law enforcement in some way. So we're going to have to come up with some reason to convince my boss to give you one."
"I'm assuming the truth is out?"
"Definitely," Jim agreed dryly.
"Well, what were you thinking?"
"I don't know," the detective shrugged. "I guess I could always play the family card, say you're my cousin's kid or something."
"That sucks, Jim," Sandburg told him plainly. "Look, why don't you leave the creative license to the scholar, huh?" He glanced over at his companion, noting that he'd suddenly gone tense. And it really wasn't much strain on the scholar's intellect to figure out the cause. It was the threat of exposure hanging over him, making him distinctly uncomfortable. And Blair realized that if he were to have any hope of being granted access to data he'd need, he had to lay those fears to rest. They had reached the diner by that point, but Sandburg grabbed Ellison's sleeve, gently tugging him away from the door to huddle against the building wall, back from the crowded sidewalk where they could speak more or less privately. "Listen, Jim," he began, tucking a stray curl behind his ear, "I know that your job is dangerous and you're right, you don't need to give the bad guys any ammo to use against you. So I think that it's best if we do keep your abilities secret for now."
"What about your thesis?" Ellison pressed. "I know you need to get something out of this deal."
"That's the secondary concern right now," Blair assured him. "Our first priority is to work on stabilizing your senses and get you in control of them. I can help you do that and we can work to develop your gift."
"But you are going to publish something about me."
"Jim, that is so far down the road from where we are now," Sandburg told him dismissively. "Yes, I want to write about you, when the time comes. But I can find some way to keep the source material confidential. And, I promise before I publish anything you can have the first look and give your approval, ok?" It was a bold statement, an unheard of bargain in the research world. Subjects were meant to be studied and documented unflinchingly and unemotionally, and most importantly, objectively. But this wasn't some indigenous villager going about life as usual in some remote locale. Jim Ellison was a man with a gift, but he needed help and guidance to learn to use it. He wasn't a "holy grail" of a thesis, he was a person, confused and potentially in danger from senses he didn't know how to control. Maybe it wasn't objective or unemotional, but Blair wanted, needed to help him. And to do that, he had to get the hardened detective to allow it. So, desperate times called for desperate measures, and his reckless promise was well worth it when he saw the older man start to relax. "We'll just slow down, keep it simple, and take this one day at a time."
"And we'll keep this whole thing between ourselves for now?" Jim clarified.
"Yes, I promise that, too, partner."
"No, don't call us 'partners'," Ellison warned sternly.
"Why not?" Sandburg asked, confused. "You did yesterday."
"Well, I misspoke," Jim sighed. Boy, did he ever. Taggart had been giving him grief all morning, asking questions, wanting to know why 'lone wolf' Ellison would be taking on a partner, especially a young kid who clearly was not even part of the force. And that was just Joel. If Rafe and Brown had gotten hold of this... "Look, Chief, your job here is going to be strictly as an observer, all right? That means you observe things, no more, no less."
"I thought I was your backup?"
"Yes, with the sentinel thing, which stays between us. As far as the job goes, you will have no active role in police business. Understand?"
"Ok, fine," Blair grudgingly accepted. "Any other rules while we're at it?"
"Oh, we're just getting started..."
Ellison pushed away from the wall and started heading for the diner doors. Sandburg followed him, not at all liking that evil twinkle that had suddenly appeared in his companion's blue eyes. But Jim stopped short of entering the restaurant and turned back to the younger man, putting a hand on his shoulder and leaning in confidentially.
"Look, Sandburg, what you're doing here... I appreciate it, you know. I'm not sure how I'd have handled this without you."
"I knew you'd learn to love me!" Blair exclaimed playfully.
"I didn't say that," Jim admonished sternly, but with a slight grin.
"Right. Let's eat."
"We still need to come up with that cover story," the detective reminded him as he pulled open the diner door and held it for him.
"Don't worry, I'm on it," Blair assured him as they went inside. "Have you ever heard of 'the thin blue line'?"
Jim Ellison was tired and sore after his exertions of the day, but he sat down on the sofa and picked up the remote and clicked on the tv, determined to stay awake long enough for the late night news. True, he had lived it, but he wanted the satisfaction of seeing Garrett Kinkaid being led off in handcuffs one more time.
A soft, hesitant knock sounded on his door, making him groan. At this hour, it couldn’t be anything good and he was too exhausted to deal with any more drama. But the knock came again, a bit more insistent this time, accompanied by a quiet whisper only meant for his ears.
“Jim? It’s me. Blair.”
With a weary sigh the sentinel rose and went to the door, unbolting it and swinging it open, wondering for the millionth time if agreeing to get involved with this crazy kid with the insatiable curiosity and endless thirst for knowledge, particularly where his personal life was concerned, had been the right decision.
“Sandburg,” he greeted. “Look, I'm tapped out for the day, so your continued interrogation is going to have to wait until morning.”
“No, no interrogation,” the anthropologist assured him. “I just needed to talk to you. I know it’s late, man, and I’m sorry. I won’t stay long, I promise. Can I come in? Please?”
Ellison was tempted to refuse him, but the kid had a look of agitation about him so he opened the door a little wider and stood aside. Idly, he wondered how Sandburg had managed to find out where he lived, but then again he was a resourceful little bugger. He’d definitely proven that during the siege.
“Do you want anything? Beer? Water?”
The detective resumed his seat on the sofa, muting the tv with the remote and watching the grad student pacing animatedly before him.
“Jim, I have to ask you, man. If you hadn’t stopped Kincaid today, he would have killed me, wouldn’t he?”
“Probably so,” Ellison told him after a moment’s hesitation.
“God, I didn’t think about it when it was happening,” Blair muttered, coming to a halt and pulling his hair back from his face with his hand. “There wasn’t time to think about it. But I was shot at today. More than once. People died there and I could have easily been one of them.” He glanced down at the sleeve of his coat, wincing as he let go of his hair and traced his fingers over the bullet hole. “It was *this* close.”
“I’m sorry you went through what you did, Sandburg,” the detective told him sincerely. “But I can’t sugar coat it for you. It’s a dangerous job. And if you want to come along for the ride, you need to know that.”
“I guess I’ve been romanticizing things so far,” the anthropologist confessed as he resumed his frantic pacing. “So caught up in the excitement of the moment and so geeked out over what we were doing, I didn’t stop to look at the reality of it. At least not until it kidnaped me at gunpoint today.”
“Listen, if you think it over and decide that you don’t want to do this, the field work, I’ll understand. No hard feelings.”
“No, I want to do it,” Blair said quickly. “I feel like I need to do it, at least until we can get you some better control and used to having these senses work for you instead of against you. It’s just… I’ve never been shot at before, Jim. I know it happens to you every day…”
“Not every day,” the sentinel countered. “Just two or three times a week. Four, tops.” He met the younger man’s wide eyed gaze and shook his head. “That was a joke, Sandburg.”
“Sorry,” the anthropologist sighed. “I think I’m a little too freaked out for jokes. I know I’m letting you down, overreacting and carrying on like this…”
“You are not letting me down,” Ellison interrupted him sternly. “In fact, I’d be more worried if you weren’t freaking out. I figured it would happen once the adrenaline wore off and you had time to really think about what happened. I just didn’t think it was going to happen in my living room…”
“I’m sorry,” Blair apologized again. “I just didn’t know who else I could talk to that would understand.”
“It’s ok, Sandburg, really,” Jim assured him. “I’m actually glad you came to me about this.”
“You are?” Some of the manic energy drained out of the younger man and he sagged down to sit beside the sentinel on the sofa.
“Listen,” the detective said, reaching out on impulse to rest a hand on the anthropologist’s shoulder, “I can’t promise that what happened today isn’t going to happen again. Situations come up and things happen beyond anyone’s control. But I give you my word that no matter what, as long as you’re riding with me I will always do everything in my power to keep you safe.”
Blair looked back at him evenly, apparently believing him and taking comfort from his words as some of the anxiety left his eyes and the tense shoulder under the sentinel’s hand relaxed. The younger man let out a long breath and dropped his head back against the sofa, just resting for a moment. Then his head popped up and whirled around as his keen eyes darted around the loft, taking everything in.
“This is a nice place you have.”
“You can stay, if you want.”
“Stay the night. I just thought maybe if you don’t want to be alone tonight. You can sleep on the couch.”
“Thanks, but I think I’m still a little too amped up to sleep. I should let you get some, though.” He got to his feet and Ellison followed suit.
“Are you going to be ok?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Sandburg insisted as he walked toward the door. “I’m going to go home and meditate for awhile. Process everything.”
“Ok,” the detective said wryly, having no idea what the kid was talking about. “But while you’re ‘processing’, just take some time and really think about what you’re getting yourself into, all right? Like I said, we can find other ways to work on this sentinel thing, so if you don’t want to take the risk…”
“I’ll think about it,” Blair promised. He met the sentinel’s gaze and smiled with no small admiration and a touch of budding fondness. “But something tells me you’re going to be worth the risk. You were amazing today, Jim. The way you went after Kincaid? I didn't think anyone really did that kind of 'Die Hard' stuff outside of Hollywood. But you saved me and all those other people, too. This city needs you on this job, and I want to do whatever I can to help you.”
“Well, this was a hell of a first day for you, Chief,” the sentinel told him. “Talk about your trial by fire. But if it’s any consolation at all, you came through with flying colors.”
“Thanks,” Sandburg murmured, the grin nearly splitting his face. He opened the door and stepped out into the hallway. “Night, Jim.”
“Good night.” Ellison closed the door behind him and latched it but remained where he was, tracking Blair with his hearing until he was in the parking lot, coaxing his sputtering car to life and driving off into the darkness.
Yeah, the kid was going to be all right, he thought to himself, yawning broadly as he killed the tv and lights and headed upstairs, realizing that perhaps he was developing a budding fondness of his own for the young man he’d initially thrown against a wall. Sandburg hadn't made much of an impression on him then, but in the few short days that he'd known the kid, Blair had proven himself to be quick thinking, brave, cool headed in a crisis, and a general asset to have around. They were from completely different worlds and had nothing in common, but Ellison couldn't deny that they somehow seemed to be a good fit with each other. And even though it may have been unofficial and built on subterfuge, Jim couldn't help thinking that maybe this really was the beginning of a beautiful partnership.
Jim: He took the deal.
Simon: Great. Now all we have to do is find a way to bring a body back to life.
Blair was still waiting outside where he’d been left, and his presence was not acknowledged as he pushed away from the stair railing and fell into step behind Ellison and Banks.
“I still think an impersonator is the way to go..” the captain was arguing.
“They’re identical twins, Simon,” the sentinel pointed out in exasperation. “Tommy’s going to be able to spot a fake from a mile away.”
“But you think he won’t notice his brother’s corpse is lifeless?” Banks pressed with heavy sarcasm.
“What else can we do? Sandburg, what?!” Jim barked in response to his unofficial partner who had been persistently tugging at his sleeve to get his attention.
“What’s going on?”
“Juno has Beverly Sanchez,” the detective briefed him. “We told him his brother was still alive in order to get him to agree to a trade, and now we have to figure out how to get him to buy the ruse long enough to get her away from him. Simon, we’re just going to have to wheel him out on a stretcher and hope it’s enough of a distraction.”
“Tommy Juno isn’t going to fall for that, Jim,” Banks told him, shaking his head. “He’s got to be suspecting a trap and he’s not going to let the hostage go without physical confirmation.”
“Well, short of reanimating the dead I don’t see that we have any other option.”
“There is another option,” Blair piped up from behind them. “You could put on one hell of a puppet show.”
Simon had a look of exasperation that indicated he was about three seconds away from revoking the observer’s newly restored credentials, so Jim quickly intervened.
“Chief,” he suggested, not unkindly, “go wait in the truck, huh?”
“No, just hear me out,” Sandburg persisted. “This buddy of mine is a performance artist, ok? I helped him out with his last show. He had this bit with a dummy in a wheelchair that was supposed to represent the embodiment of the spirit of...”
“Skip ahead to the puppet show,” Ellison interrupted before the captain completely lost what scant patience he had left.
“Right. Anyway, I helped him rig up this remote control wheelchair that had a built in audio projector. He could interact with it onstage while a guy worked the controls behind the scenes. You still have that tape of the wiretap you did on Juno’s phone?”
“The illegal wiretap,” Simon clarified helpfully.
“It was confiscated but it should still be in evidence if the feds didn’t take it,” Jim said slowly as the light began to dawn.
“Ok, I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but all we have to do is tie the corpse to the chair and rig up the tape. Tommy sees his brother in motion, sort of, and hears his voice. Should be enough of a distraction to get Beverly and take him down.”
“What do you mean, ‘we’?” Banks demanded.
“Oh, come on,” Blair protested, still miffed about having been banned from the crime scene and not about to be shut out again. “It’s my idea!”
“And I admit it’s a good one, but you are an observer, not an officer,” the captain reminded him sternly.
“Simon, normally I’d agree with you, but time is not on our side with this one,” Ellison spoke up. “We’ve got less than 45 minutes to get the body out of the morgue and get set up before we meet with Juno. Blair’s already familiar with the equipment and we don’t have time to train anybody else on how to use it. I know he’s a civilian, but Beverly’s life is at stake and he won’t actually be exposed to Juno so he won’t be in any real danger. This is our one shot and we’ve got to take it now.”
Banks looked at the pleading face of the kid, then to the confident look his detective was giving him. Ellison clearly had faith in the preposterous scheme, and that was enough to break him.
“All right,” he sighed wearily. “I’ll go to the morgue. You two go pick up what you need and we’ll rendevous back at the station and move out from there. All of us,” he emphasized reluctantly.
“Awesome! You won’t regret this,” Sandburg promised him over his shoulder as he trotted after Jim to the truck.
“I think I already do,” Simon muttered as he headed for his car.
It was late when Ellison entered the loft, but his temporary new roommate was still awake, sitting on the couch surrounded by text and scribbling furiously into the notebook on his lap.
“Hey,” he greeted, barely looking up from his work.
Jim grunted a reply as he shrugged out of his jacket and hung it up.
“Any word yet on your MIA monkey?”
“Ape,” Blair clarified, again, in an exasperated tone. “And no. I’m starting to get worried.”
“I think Larry’s perfectly capable of taking care of himself,” the detective said dryly. He glanced around the loft and waved in the direction of the kitchen table which had been covered with newspaper and was full of paint tubes and pottery in various states of repair. “What’s all this?”
“I’m trying to fix the things Larry broke,” Sandburg explained absently. “I think most of it can be glued back together fairly well, but there are one or two things that aren’t going to make it. I’ll replace what I can...”
“Nah, don’t worry about it,” Jim told him casually.
“Really?” Blair looked up at him over the rim of his glasses.
“Yeah, this wasn’t your fault.”
“Ok,” the anthropologist grinned, tossing his notebook onto the coffee table. “Now I know something’s up. What do you want?”
“Well, I do need a favor,” Jim hedged as he came forward and sat down in the chair opposite the younger man.
“Name it,” Blair offered immediately, thinking it was the least he could do after his research subject had nearly destroyed the sentinel’s home after he had (grudgingly) opened it up to them.
“Earl Gaines has a blind grandmother that lives alone and he’s worried the 357's are going to try something with her to get to him,” Ellison explained. “I just drove by her place and I saw a group of them hanging around outside her building. Looks like they’re just keeping an eye on things for now, maybe on the lookout for Gaines. But they’re in place if they get the word to grab her. I can’t get her because they all know I’m a cop. I need someone to go in and talk to her and bring her out, all without raising suspicion that she’s being taken into police custody.”
“But, why me?” Sandburg asked in confusion. “Why not just get another cop they won’t recognize to get her?”
“Because,” Jim sighed heavily, “someone tried to frame Gaines today. There’s an arrest warrant out on him and I can’t let anyone know I’ve been in contact with him.”
“Oh, man, Jim,” Blair groaned, “Seriously? You just barely escaped a federal charge with that whole Juno thing and now you’re risking your job again? Do you have some sort of subconscious career death wish or something?”
“Look, I don’t need a lecture from you on ethics, Chief,” the detective snapped. “Are you going to help me or not?”
“Well, since you asked so nicely,” Sandburg said sarcastically.
“Sorry,” Jim offered, calming and sounding sincere in his apology. “I didn’t mean to bite your head off. And you’re right, it’s a risk. But I know Gaines has been set up and I have a gut feeling there’s something big about to go down. Plus, I’d like to avoid an all out gang war if possible. It all hinges on Gaines’ cooperation and he won’t give it until he knows his grandmother is safe. I really could use your help on this one.”
Blair looked at the sentinel, meeting his gaze evenly, slowly coming to the realization that Jim trusted him. Trusted him to keep his secrets, to be his backup, and to be there when he needed him. True, he didn’t know the detective all that well, but he knew enough to know that trust was something James Ellison did not give out wantonly. It had to be earned, but for some reason, it was almost inherent between them right from the start. He wasn’t quite sure why, but it was a good feeling regardless and one he was not about to betray.
“What do you need me to do?” he asked.
“Just go see the woman and tell her Earl sent you and that you need her to come with you for her own safety. If the 357s try to hassle you, just tell them that you’re with the social services office. You’ve got that government office geek look about you so it should be an easy sell.”
Blair made a face at him but didn’t comment.
“You shouldn’t be in any danger,” Jim continued, “but I’ll be right there in the truck watching and listening, ok? Anybody tries to make a move on you and the calvary will swoop in.”
That trust swings both ways, Sandburg thought. Granted, the mission before him didn’t sound particularly deadly, but he had no fear about getting past the hardened gang members. He trusted his sentinel to keep him safe.
“Ok. You got it.”
“Good. I appreciate this, Sandburg.” Ellison’s eyes narrowed, studying the younger man critically as he took in his ripped jeans and Rainier T-shirt. “You do have, um, something moderately professional to wear, don’t you?”
“I suppose I can dig up something that fits the government office geek look,” Blair assured him, thinking of the old tweed jacket he largely despised. “I’ll have to go and get it out of storage.”
“We’ll swing by there in the morning on the way,” Jim told him as he got to his feet. “Be ready to go by 8:30. Good night.”
“Oh, hey, Jim, just to clarify? I do this favor for you and I’m off the hook for the Larry thing, right?”
“Yeah, you’re off the hook.”
“But my butt’s still out of here in week, right?” Blair grinned cheekily.
“You pull this off, Sandburg, and I’ll give you two,” Jim called out, hiding his grin as he trotted up the stairs.
“Hmmm, two weeks,” the anthropologist murmured to himself as he retrieved his notebook from the table. “I could have a new ape by Thursday...”
“I heard that!” came the voice from above.
Ellison came out of the captain’s office to see that his desk was unoccupied. He glanced around the room, immediately spotting his unofficial partner perched with a hip on Rhonda’s desk, shamelessly flirting with the attractive secretary.
“Sandburg,” he bellowed, a touch of exasperation in his voice.
The anthropologist excused himself and trotted over to the detective’s desk, his grin fading slightly as the sentinel shot him a disapproving glance.
“This is an office, not a singles bar,” Jim reminded him. “I get that technically you aren’t working here, but you should at least be professional and not bother others when they have work to do.”
“I wasn’t bothering her,” Sandburg insisted as he slid into the chair that was pulled up alongside the desk. “And I wasn’t trying to pick her up, either.”
“Could’ve fooled me,” Ellison muttered, shaking his head.
“Jim, I was just being friendly,” Blair explained patiently. “I’ve found if you make friends with your support staff, you have a much easier time getting what you want from them. It’s a concept you might want to check out.”
The detective, who in all fairness was more accustomed to politely but formally making his requests as opposed to schmoozing up his colleagues, met his cheeky grin with a glare.
“Besides,” Sandburg continued hastily, “I was working. I finished these files, see?”
Ellison picked up the stack of files on the corner of his desk and flipped through them, losing his scowl as his eyebrows shot up in surprise. He’d been expecting the task he’d assigned his young observer to take up most of the afternoon, but here everything was copied, collated, completed and just awaiting his signature. And for the first time he began to see the benefits of having an academic job shadowing him. The kid was probably a whiz at research, too.
“Thanks,” he said sincerely, redepositing the files on his desk. “And I didn’t mean to bite your head off. It’s just...”
“You’re worried about me being here, that your coworkers are going to get hip to the fact that something’s up, right?”
“Something like that,” the sentinel admitted with a sigh.
“Jim, I know I have a lot to learn about the job and the way things work around here. And I know I can be a little unconventional in your professional world here. But I promise you I won’t ever do anything to embarrass you at work, ok?”
“I know you won’t,” Jim told him softly. He gazed at his companion and grinned suddenly. “Just do us all a favor and stay away from Rhonda, ok?”
“Now that’s a promise I can’t make,” Blair laughed. “But don’t worry. My sights are set elsewhere right now. Hey, that reminds me. Are you doing anything tomorrow night?” He pulled an envelope out of his back pocket and tossed it to the older man.
“Jags tickets,” the detective mused as he opened the envelope and pulled out the contents.
“Yeah. I was hoping for an impressive date but turns out Chris isn’t much a basketball fan.”
“And you are?” Jim questioned skeptically.
“Don’t let the glasses fool you,” Blair warned him. “I’ve been a Jags fan since I was about six years old. And a rabid fan ever since junior high. Went to the game with a friend of mine and we were supposed to get picked up afterward in front of the arena, but we ditched his mom and waited in the back for the players to come out. I met Orville Wallace there. He was really cool, Jim. Spent some time talking to me and signed his card for me. I’ve been a die hard Jags fan and a Wallace man ever since.”
“Sandburg, you never fail to continuously surprise me,” Ellison drawled as he replaced the tickets and handed the envelope back.
“Wait til I get you on the court someday,” the anthropologist threatened with a gleam in his eye. He stuffed the envelop back in his pocket. “So do you want to go? They’re nosebleed seats, but...”
“Yeah, sure. Just tell me what I owe you.”
“Nah, don’t worry about it,” Blair told him in dismissal. “Consider it a thank you for putting me up. And putting up with me.”
“All right, but the beer and nachos are on me.”
“I’ll take you up on the beer, but you can keep your fat and cholesterol,” Sandburg answered, picking up his empty coffee cup. “Need a refill?”
“Thanks.” Ellison swallowed the last cold mouthful in his own cup and handed it to his companion, watching him thoughtfully as he got up and headed for the break room. This was only supposed to be a temporary, scientific, relationship. When he’d agreed to work with the kid, he’d only wanted his help in learning to control his senses, no more, no less. Hell, he couldn’t even have comprehended that there could ever be more to it. The hippie kid with his wild ideas and alternative lifestyle and brash invasion of his personal space and privacy. What kind of a relationship could he have with someone like that? And yet, there they were. Sandburg was crashing at his place. They’d grabbed a few meals together. And now they were about to pass the point of no return. A social activity that had no roots in work and was a deliberate outing together, as opposed to a matter of convenience. It meant they were no longer partners of necessity. No longer shielded by austere science with it’s objectivity and impartiality. Rather, they were seeking out and enjoying each other’s company. They were becoming... friends. Could he live with that? Being friends with an energetic, pushy, nosy hippie kid who disrupted his life and caused him more aggravation in the last few weeks than he’d endured in a year?
Jim watched as Blair came back from the breakroom, balancing two full mugs of coffee while he bantered lightly with Brown and an inadvertent smile quirked at his lips. Yes, he thought to himself, he could live with that just fine.
As Jim parked the truck, Blair swivelled in the passenger seat to gaze at him in disbelief.
“What are we doing here?”
“What do you think we’re doing here, Sandburg?”
“Well, I think we’re at the shooting range,” the younger man said sarcastically. “Which I think means we’re going to be shooting a firearm of some sort. But I know that can’t be right because I specifically told you that I’m not going around packing heat.”
“Then you shouldn’t have agreed to our deal,” the detective pointed out.
“I agreed to be your lab rat for the morning and you agreed to go over some police procedures in the afternoon. And I didn’t spend half the day with a headache looking at crazy lights for you to welch on me now.”
“That’s entrapment and you know it!” Blair argued, annoyed.
“Quit with the lawyer talk and just come on, would you?” Ellison commanded as he opened his door. “You need to learn to shoot.”
“Why?” Sandburg demanded, his eyes narrowing as a thought struck him. “Jim, does this have anything to do with Lash?”
The sentinel halted his exit of the vehicle, sighing as he slid back up into the seat and closed the door.
“I don’t know,” he murmured, shaking his head slightly. “Maybe.” When the psychotic serial killer had kidnaped the anthropologist, he'd known Blair’s fate was sealed unless he could track him down in time. He had, but it had been way too close. Another few minutes and the next time he would have seen Sandburg, he would have been lifeless in the bathtub. The incident shook him up and hit home two important points. One, how dangerous even just observing could be for the civilian, and two, just how much he’d grown to like the kid in the short time he’d known him.
He glanced over at his partner and Blair could see the palpable worry and concern in his eyes, which both surprised and touched him.
“But this isn’t all about self-protection,” Ellison interrupted him, holding up a hand. “And it’s not about backing me up, either.”
“What’s it about, then?”
“Let’s just say, hypothetically, that we’re working a case and something goes wrong. I’m down for the count, the bad guy’s about to finish me off, and my gun is lying there at your feet. What would you do?”
Blair turned his head to look out the windshield, quiet for long moments as he weighed the situation.
“I would do what I had to,” he finally admitted.
“I know you would,” Jim told him. “That’s why I want to make sure that you’re not shooting yourself in the foot or taking out innocent bystanders while you’re doing what you have to do.” He reached out, clasping a reassuring hand on his partner’s shoulder. “You don’t have to carry a weapon and you don’t ever have to use one if you don’t want to. But I would like to go over the basics and give you a little practice on the range, so if the time ever comes that you decide to pick up a gun for whatever reason, you can do it safely and with confidence. That’s all.”
Sandburg couldn’t deny the logic in the argument, so he nodded his consent.
Ellison got out of the truck and began to walk across the parking lot toward the range, his companion following at his heels.
“I’ll learn to do this, but just for the record, Jim, if you ever go down for the count and let the bad guy kill you, I might shoot you myself.”
The sentinel tried to snort, but it came out in a sneeze.
“You ok, man?” Sandburg questioned.
“Yeah, probably just some pollen out here I’m allergic to or something,” Ellison said with a dismissive wave at the expanse of green.
“I don’t know, you were doing that a lot in the lab, too.”
“I’m fine, Sandburg,” Jim insisted.
“All right, but let me know if you’re not. I’ve got a great cold remedy I can lay on you.”
“You’re not laying anything on me, Chief, you got that?”
“Fine, whatever. Just hurry up, ok? I want to go kill some targets!”
Jim watched his friend quicken his step, his enthusiasm growing at the prospect of blasting off a few rounds of ammo in a non-lethal exhibition of testosterone.
“I knew there was a real man buried somewhere under all that hair,” the sentinel chuckled to himself, punctuating his humor with another sneeze.
Jim stifled a yawn as he glanced at the clock on the dash of the truck. It was late, the end of what had turned out to be an extremely long day. They had prevented an ebola epidemic and Brackett had been taken into custody, but both he and Sandburg had had to endure hours of questioning and debriefing from both the military brass, who were not happy their security had been so easily compromised, and the CIA which had swooped down out of nowhere almost as soon as they had gotten Brackett back to the station. The sentinel wasn't sure if it had been more exhausting dealing with them or Brackett, but he was definitely ready for some food and a good night's sleep.
"What do you want to do about dinner?" he asked his companion. "There should be a few places still open, or we could get something to go and take it home." Sandburg didn't answer, lost in thought as he stared out of his window into the dark night. "Or," Jim continued, "we could stop at the store and get some stuff. I could make chilled monkey brains and snake surprise." Still no reaction, and the detective reached over and flicked the younger man. "Earth to Sandburg!"
"What?" Blair started slightly and turned to look at the sentinel. "Sorry. What were you saying?"
"Are you ok?" Jim asked.
"Yeah, fine. I was just thinking."
"About whether Brackett was bluffing or not. About releasing the ebola. Do you think he would have really done it?"
"I don't know, Chief," the sentinel sighed. "He was probably bluffing. He needed the biggest gun he could find to blackmail us into playing ball and they don't get much bigger than that. He knew we wouldn't risk testing him. So, no, I don't think he ever had any intention of releasing the virus."
"Still, he almost unintentionally released it," Blair pointed out. "If things had gone a little differently, he could have wiped Cascade off the map."
"He's a sociopath," Jim shrugged. "Wiping out the city was a chance he was willing to take. But everything worked out ok so there's no point in dwelling on the could haves."
"I know, it's just..." Sandburg sighed, pulling his hair back from his face with both hands. "People like Brackett, I always used to read about them and see them on the news, but I was still sort of distanced, you know? But then I started riding with you and I get the cold reality of the Bracketts and the Lashes and the Kincaids literally in my face. I always knew they were out there, but it's different when they are right there in front of you and you see firsthand the evil they're capable of. It... it scares me a little."
"And I know what you're going to say," Blair interrupted, "but that's exactly why I want to keep doing this, Jim. Someone has to stop these psychos. And if I can help you do that, even marginally, then it's worth the risks for me."
"It's not so marginal," the detective told him sincerely. "I couldn't do what I do without you to show me how. After all, I would have been splattered across that bridge today if you hadn't been with me."
"I guess maybe it's like Brackett said," the younger man ventured. "You're the sentinel, and I'm your guide." He studied Ellison closely, looking for a negative reaction because he knew the former army captain didn't take being a follower well and hated to be dependent on anyone for anything. But to his relief, Jim just smiled slightly.
"In that case, how about guiding us toward some dinner?"
"Man, I'm beat," Sandburg declared, checking the time. "How about we just go home and order pizza?"
"Since when do you eat pizza?" the sentinel demanded, fixing a hard stare briefly on his companion before redirecting his gaze back to the road.
"Since today," Blair told him with an air of defiance. "I mean, I was taken hostage at gunpoint and almost died about three different times. That puts the risks of indulging in a little junk food into pretty clear perspective."
"There's hope for you yet, Chief," Ellison said with a broad grin.
Sandburg didn't answer as he settled into his seat and turned his gaze back to the window. He was tired, he was hungry, and he had faced death more than once that day, so how much harm could a slice of pizza really do?
LOVE AND GUNS
It was late and Drennen was long gone by the time Blair finally emerged from his room, but Jim was still up watching tv. The sentinel muted the set and craned his head over the couch, studying the younger man pensively for a moment.
"Yeah." Sandburg fidgeted in the hallway for a moment, then moved forward into the living room and flopped down into the chair with a sigh. "I can't blame Maya, you know? Hell, I'm surprised she's even still speaking to me after the way I deceived her. I should have handled things differently, told her the truth..."
"And compromise the whole investigation?" the detective challenged him, raising an eyebrow.
"No, of course not." The anthropologist sighed heavily again. "I guess it was just a no win situation from the start. But that doesn't make me feel any better about how it all went down."
"I know it's rough, Chief, but give it some time. You said yourself, she's at least still talking to you, so it's obvious she still cares about you. Who knows what's going to happen down the road? Don't you believe in all that karma stuff and how things that are meant to happen do?"
"Yes, but that's a lot easier to believe when you're the one giving the advice as opposed to the one with a broken heart," Blair said wryly.
"So I suppose you don't want to hear about there being plenty of fish in the sea?" Jim teased him gently as he got up and headed into the kitchen.
"No, not at all," Sandburg affirmed.
"Hang in there," the sentinel encouraged him, returning to the living room with two beers and handing one off to his guide. "It will get better."
"Why are you being so nice to me?" Blair suddenly asked, looking up at his companion with curiosity shining from his blue eyes. "Not to sound ungrateful or anything, but I was expecting you to rake me over the coals for the way I screwed everything up."
"What did you screw up?" Jim frowned as he reclaimed his seat on the sofa.
"Well, I lost my objectivity. Again. You asked me to help you out and I'm sure you probably went to bat for me with Simon, then I lose my head over the girl and almost get myself and her killed."
"It's the guy code, Sandburg," Ellison told him amiably. "You can't lecture the broken hearted. Besides, you can't help who you are attracted to."
"I loved her, Jim," Blair said quietly, staring down at the bottle in his hands. "I know that's hard to believe given my history with women, and I know I didn't even know her that well, but there was just something about her, you know?"
"I know." The detective took a sip of his beer. "Maybe it will work out. I hope it does, if that's what you want. But in the meantime, you go on with life and try to get over her."
"Right now that seems like a pretty daunting task," the younger man stated glumly.
"Well, how about you start with something to eat. You hungry?"
"I could eat," Blair shrugged after giving it a moment's thought. "Is there any of that Chinese left?"
"Sorry. Drennen and I pretty much killed it."
"Guess I'll just order pizza then," Sandburg said absently as he took a long pull on his bottle.
"Pizza? I thought you were back to avoiding junk food again?"
"Guy code, Jim," Blair reminded him. "Can't lecture the broken hearted, remember? And I'm pretty sure the addendum to that is that the broken hearted can eat whatever the hell they want to."
"Fine. But I have to confess something here. I think I was starting to develop feelings for Drennen and she left early. So does that mean that I get a slice?"
"You got it, buddy." Sandburg got up and went to the kitchen, riffling through the stash of menus for the number of the local pizza place. It was nice to have someone to commiserate with, even if the sentinel was just faking it to keep him company. It still helped to lift away some of the sadness, and as he dialed up the restaurant Blair could only hope that his partner was right and that he hadn't seen the last of Maya Carasco.
"Pure instinct," Blair repeated thoughtfully to himself as an idea began to take shape in his brain. It was a little out there, but then again, so was the sentinel's behavior where this woman was concerned. Jim sure hadn't been his cool, logical self lately and as his guide, it was up to the anthropologist to figure out why. And Sandburg was starting to suspect that Ellison's sudden infatuation with this girl and his strange feelings at the crime scenes might not have been coincidental. It would explain everything, but was it an explanation Jim would be willing to hear?
Blair chewed on his lower lip slightly as he considered it. The way Jim had been irrationally fixated on this woman, he wasn't likely to tolerate any accusations of wrong doing on her account very well at all. If he didn't want to be on the wrong end of the detective's fist, Sandburg knew he was going to have to tread very delicately. For a split second he wondered if he should just drop it, but he knew he couldn't do that. Jim needed to get his head out of the clouds and back to the reality of the case before his blind distraction made him miss something important or got him killed. Not to mention the fact that Simon wasn't looking too pleased with his behavior. A violent outburst was just something he was going to have to risk, in order to save his sentinel from himself. Although, it might help if he had some proof.
Sandburg's gaze landed on the glass that the woman had set down after she'd thrown her drink in some poor schmo's face. Casually he wandered across the room, stopping in front of the tray, and after a quick look to make sure no one was paying him any attention he snatched up the glass in a linen napkin and stowed it inside his jacket. If Jim got the same hit off the glass that he did at all the crime scenes it would prove that his mystery lady was involved, a cold fact that would have to cut through any emotional or instinct driven denial. But it still left the question of why the sentinel was so blindly attracted to her. Blair was starting to form a theory, but there were some things he needed to study up on before he could make the definitive connection. And he realized as he scanned the thinning crowd that he was going to have plenty of time for that before he conducted his test. Ellison was nowhere to be found, and neither was his red headed siren.
Simon Banks, a good head taller than most, was easy to spot and Blair began pushing his way toward the captain in order to beg for a ride home. He knew he was probably going to get his friend in trouble, for Banks was not likely to be amused that his detective ran out with some woman rather than properly wrapping up his suspected crime scene, but Sandburg couldn't feel too badly about that. His partner had abandoned him, broken the guy code of "bros before hos", and instinct or not, he had a little payback coming.
VOW OF SILENCE
Blair looked up from the file in his hands at the looming presence of the captain.
"He went over to Records for something."
"Well, tell him he's got a meeting with Beverly Sanchez in her office tomorrow at 10. She wants to review his testimony on Serris before the trial starts on Monday."
"Hey, Simon," Sandburg called out, scrambling from behind his partner's desk and trailing Banks through the bullpen. "Can I talk to you for a second?" "About what?" he demanded in exasperation as he entered his office.
"Jim. I'm starting to worry about him."
"In what way?" the captain asked as he took a seat behind his own desk.
"Well, I'm not really sure. He's just not acting like himself lately. He's been really touchy and defensive."
"I'm waiting for the part about not acting like himself," Simon said in his droll manner.
"He hasn't been to the gym in two weeks. It's like he's burnt out, but when I try to talk to him about it he just bites my head off and says he's fine."
"Maybe he's just tired of you pestering him 24/7," Banks told him curtly as he shuffled some papers around, but when he glanced up and saw real concern and just a little bit of hurt glinting out of the young observer's blue eyes he relented and softened a little. "Look, Sandburg, if Jim's acting burnt out, it's probably because he's really burned out. He hasn't taken a day off work in over a year."
"If you want to help him, I'd suggest convincing him to take a vacation."
Blair fell silent and Simon could almost see the wheels turning in his head.
"That's not a bad idea," he murmured quietly as he turned to go. "Thanks, Simon."
"That's Captain Banks to you!" Simon shouted after him, shaking his head. Something about that look the kid had worried him and he had a feeling whatever Sandburg was brewing up wasn't going to be some nice fishing weekend in the mountains. Banks shook his head again and went back to his papers, wondering what he'd inadvertently just released on his unsuspecting detective.
When they left the station that night, the partners went their separate ways in their separate vehicles. Jim went home, by way of Wonderburger, Blair suspected. But he still had work to do and couldn't call it a night until he stopped by his office at Rainier and checked out a few things. Two hours later he left the university with the information he'd been seeking, about how tribal elders used to send sentinels off on yearly retreats to recharge their batteries, so to speak. It made sense, Sandburg realized as he steered his Corvair toward the loft. Jim was as dedicated as they came to his job and he tackled every case with intense focus. His newly reawakened senses had been majorly put through the paces lately, not to mention just the daily strain it had to have been to cope with living in a bright, loud, odorous major city. Jim probably was burned out and in need of a little downtime to rest and reinvigorate himself and his senses. And Blair just happened to know of the perfect place to do that. The trick was going to be convincing his partner that a long weekend at a monastery was just what the doctor ordered.
Sandburg pulled into the lot at Prospect Place and parked, getting his backpack out of the backseat and entering the building. But when he reached the third floor he realized he'd forgotten his house keys that morning, so he was forced to knock, hoping that his roommate had not decided to call it an early night.
"Who is it?"
"It's me," Blair answered in a tone which indicated he thought it was a ridiculous question.
After a minute, the latch sounded and the door swung open to admit him.
"What's with the interrogation?" he demanded as he entered and shut the door behind him. "You didn't know it was me?"
"I've got everything turned down," Jim answered wearily as he returned to the living room and sank down on the sofa. "I don't know, everything's been a little dull lately."
"Funny you should mention that..." Sandburg began, seeing an opening, but the sentinel stopped him with a raised hand.
"Don't start, Chief," he pleaded. "Not tonight, ok? I promise tomorrow you can hit me with the science experiments but I'm done in for today."
"Hey, that reminds me," Blair told him as he joined him in the living room, taking a seat in the chair. "I was supposed to tell you that you have a meeting with Beverly at ten."
"Ten?" Jim glanced over for confirmation, which he got in the form of a nod. "Crap. Are you going to be around here tomorrow morning?"
"I don't have any classes so I was planning to go in with you."
"I need you here. I didn't think I'd have to go in until later and I've got the contractor coming at nine."
"Contractor? I didn't know you were having anything done."
"Nothing major. He's just going to put some doors up."
"Doors where?" Blair asked in confusion.
The younger man was briefly stunned into silence, a feat that was very rarely achieved. His mind quickly turned over this bit of information, trying to work out exactly what it meant and too afraid to read into the gesture he thought he was being offered. There were a lot of things he wanted to say and a lot of questions he wanted to ask, but when he opened his mouth only one word came out.
"Well, I realize there's only so much privacy you can have in a loft, but there's definitely a shortage of it with only curtains between us. I figured some doors would be a little more security for the both of us."
"Jim, are you saying that... that you want me to stay?"
"Don't make a big thing out of this, Sandburg," the detective told him gruffly. "This arrangement we have is working out ok. You know, it's convenient for our project. So if you want to stay, stay. There will be a rental fee, of course."
"Oh, of course," Blair replied, but he couldn't help grinning broadly. His initial one week had long since come and gone, and he had attributed a string of intense cases and a whole lot of craziness to the fact that he hadn't been given the boot yet. He figured Jim had been granting him concessions up til now, but every morning he'd woken up expecting that today would be the day he'd get kicked out. But now, his one week was becoming permanent. He had been granted permission to stay in the bright, warm loft. So his room was little more than a closet, but it was nice, it was rat free, and the convenience to his thesis subject was unbeatable. He stole a glance at his new official roommate, who was absorbed in watching the tv. But Blair knew that for however aloof Jim tried to appear, he had been given the gift of more than doors and a place to stay that night. He'd been given confirmation that Ellison liked having him around. Wanted him around. Not for convenience, not for help with his senses, but because they'd become friends. That night, Blair had been given a home.
Jim glanced at Sandburg out of the corner of his eye and, seeing him grinning like an idiot, knew he wasn't fooling anyone. Not that he really expected to. Almost from the start Blair had had the unnerving ability to see right through him, and even more annoying than that, was never afraid to call him out on it. But this time he thankfully seemed willing to let it rest, to pretend that their new living arrangement was born from a matter of convenience. And such was his gratitude that he hadn't been forced to admit that he liked having the kid around and cared enough about him to want him close by, so he could keep an eye on him and make sure he was safe and taken care of and not shivering in some rat infested warehouse next to gangs of meth dealers, that he felt he owed Blair a little something.
"So, I'll bite," he announced suddenly. "What did you want to tell me before about my senses?"
"Oh, well, it was more of a proposition, really," Sandburg answered him. "And just hear me out before you start making that face, all right?"
"That martyred look you get every time I want to try something new."
"Fine, my mind is totally open. Lay it on me."
"You've just seemed a little run down lately and I thought maybe a weekend away would do you some good. I have some friends who run a retreat about an hour north of here. It's a really simple set up, quiet, isolated. Perfect place to relax a little and give your senses a break from the city and all the constant stimulation. What do you think?"
"I think you might be on to something there, Chief," Ellison told him thoughtfully, unable to deny that he WAS run down and in need of such a break. "I might be able to take some time next week, take a long weekend. Think you could get us a reservation with such short notice?"
"Sure," Blair replied, hiding a smile. "I kind of have standing reservations at this place."
"All right, go ahead and arrange it. I'll talk to Simon tomorrow and put in for the time."
"You'll love it, Jim, I promise," Sandburg assured him, thinking that it had been a much easier sell than he'd anticipated. Maybe it was because of that trust they had, and the fact that where his senses were concerned, at least, Jim Ellison was open to following his guide down whatever road, no matter how crazy it was, because he'd learned the end destination was usually worth the trip. Blair hesitated, wondering if he should confess they were going to a monastery. But then he decided to hold that bit back, since it was a done deal and the sentinel was in a good mood. Besides, Sandburg told himself, he WOULD love it, once he got used to the idea. Blair just crossed his fingers that the monks had put in the electricity they had been talking about last time he'd been there...
Kimberly was reluctant to leave the Indians, until Jim promised her that they wouldn't have any more trouble from the logging crew. And he wasn't lying, for with their leader dead the rest of the crew had little option but to cut and run. Maybe the corporation would resume the operation on down the line, but not in the foreseeable future and not before the proper authorities were notified as to just what illicit affairs they had been up to. So reassured that the village was safe, she opted to leave the reunited families and head back with the others, telling the Indians that she would return once she checked in with UCLA and restocked her supplies.
No one had wanted to leave her behind, cut off from all contact with the outside world, but the Cascade men were grateful for her company for another reason. She knew the way out and back to civilization. However, the road she showed them was one only by the loosest definition and traveling on it was just this side of treacherous. Blair wasn't worried, for he'd turned the steering wheel over to his partner and had the utmost faith that the sentinel would keep them safe and out of ditches, mud wallows, sand traps and steep ravines. However, he was careful to insist upon frequent rest breaks, not wanting Jim to zone or overtax his senses. And even though Kimberly had told them they'd be hard pressed to make it back to town before dark, no one complained about the stops. They either had no knowledge of Ellison's special skills, or not as much faith in them as the anthropologist did and were much more tense during the drive. It also was no picnic bouncing around in the stolen truck as it lumbered over the rough terrain, so spending a few minutes away from the bumping and jarring was a welcome relief to all.
They stopped for one such break in a heavily forested area, next to a small stream. Kimberly, ever the botanist, wandered off looking at the plants growing in the area. Jim knelt down by the stream, splashing the cold water over his face. Blair and Daryl were a little farther down from him, sitting by the water's edge and playing tic tac toe with a stick in the sandy soil. Daryl seemed to be no worse for wear, Simon thought as he observed them, a fact that he chalked up to both the resiliency of youth and to the influence of Sandburg. There was just something calming about Blair, and he had a knack for distracting people and taking their minds off of their problems. And at that moment Banks was beyond grateful to his observer for distracting his son, for he was about to break down. It was all starting to hit him, the amount of danger he and Daryl had been in and how many ways it all could have ended badly for his only child. It terrified the normally unflappable captain and as he began to shake he had a seat underneath a tree and leaned his head back against it, closing his eyes. Maybe if the others thought he was resting, nobody would see him fall apart.
At some point the pretense of sleep must have become real, for the next thing Simon knew Jim was bellowing at the troops to move out. He stretched and clambered up to his feet, feeling better and stronger, reassuring himself that nothing bad had happened. Daryl was fine and they both were safe and sound. Kimberly appeared from out of the bushes and Daryl got up and followed her to the truck. As his son passed, Simon reached out and clapped his shoulder and squeezed, glad beyond measure that he was all right. Blair was coming up behind him, but much more slowly and he was moving stiffly.
"You ok, Sandburg?"
"Oh yeah," the young man answered, giving the captain a cheeky grin. "But next time I parachute out of a plane into uncharted jungle territory and get stuck twenty feet up in a tree, I'm going to think twice before I pull the release cord." As he continued on to the truck, Banks saw that Ellison had overhead and was shaking his head in exasperation.
"This was a pretty risky operation, Jim," Simon told him confidentially. "I'm actually surprised you brought him out here with you."
"Well, there was no leaving him behind," Jim answered with a shrug. "I tried, every step of the way. He wasn't having it."
"I never thought I'd say this about Sandburg, but you're lucky to have him, Ellison," the captain said seriously. "Lucky to have a partner who's willing to risk his own life just to watch your back."
"You're right," Jim murmured quietly, casting a fond look toward the truck. "But he didn't just come down here to help me, you know."
"I know," Simon chuckled, grinning ruefully. "It's just too painful to think that I now owe Sandburg one."
"Well, his 90 day ride along pass is about to expire," Ellison informed him with a grin of his own. "If you were to agree to look the other way, I'm sure he'd call it even."
"I'll think about it," Banks said wryly as the detective headed for the truck and climbed in the driver's seat. Although in truth, there was nothing to think about. The kid was unconventional and could undoubtably be a pest, but he worked hard, contributed a unique perspective and a dizzying array of trivial knowledge, and helped out wherever he was needed without complaint. And, first and foremost, he helped Jim out with that sentinel thing that Simon didn't understand, or want to understand. But even more than that, he helped Jim to be better at his job. He worked that same calming effect on the detective, helping him to be more focused, more congenial and pleasant, and, well, just happier. The lone wolf had accepted a partner. Not an official one, not another officer, not even one who could really back him up. But one that he trusted beyond measure to watch his back, and after what had just happened in Peru, Simon knew that Jim was right. Banks now saw the pesky observer in a new light, the measure of the man obvious for what he was willing to do and risk for people he considered to be friends. Blair Sandburg had protected his son, and for that, at the very least, Simon owed him a lifelong friendship in return.
He just didn't have to know that, Banks thought mischievously to himself as he, too, climbed into the truck. Of course he'd let the expired pass go, but maybe Blair didn't need to know that either. He may have been a valuable asset to the department, but Sandburg was also a bit incorrigible and the captain need to have some kind of trump card to threaten him with in order to keep him in line for as long as he had him. And Simon found he could admit, if only to himself, that he hoped that turned out to be a long time indeed.
OUT OF THE PAST
Jim Ellison staggered up the stairs, following Angie back into the house. He paused in the doorway, taking a second to catch his breath, relieved to see Sandburg upright and ok. Pam was crying but unhurt, and the detective watched her mother comforting her for a moment before turning his gaze back to his unofficial partner.
"You all right, Sandburg?"
The younger man didn't answer, touching his fingers lightly to the gash on his temple and staring somewhat dazedly down at the blood that stained them. Biting back a sigh, the sentinel pushed away from the door frame and limped over to his guide. He was soaking wet, tired, and in a fair bit of pain but it was suddenly looking like his own discomfort was going to have to take a backseat as he realized that maybe his partner wasn't as ok as he'd thought.
"Blair?" he commanded sharply, trying to get his attention as he waved a hand in front of his face. "Are you with us?"
"Jim?" Sandburg murmured, looking up at him with eyes that weren't quite focusing. "I... I think I'm going to be sick."
"Ok," Ellison told him, gentling his tone. "Come on, let's go." He looped an arm around his friend and steered him down the hall and into the bathroom, helping him kneel down in front of the toilet. The detective took a step back and waited but nothing happened, and after several minutes the observer's shallow pant evened out into normal breathing and some of the awareness started to come back to his eyes, enough that Jim thought it safe to check him out. He crouched down on the floor beside him and carefully ran his fingers through the mane of thick curls, barely brushing his sensitive digits over the large lump that was forming where Weston had clocked him with the butt of his gun. The hair had protected him somewhat, at least the skin wasn't broken, but Jim still winced in sympathy and patted his friend's shoulder before pulling him back away from the bowl. "Come on, sit up," he urged softly. "I need to look at the other side."
Blair complied, presenting his face for inspection and not protesting as the sentinel's fingers gently prodded the gash on his temple, another souvenir from Weston's gun. It was bleeding, but a lot slower than head wounds normally did, and didn't seem to be swelling into as massive a lump as the one on the back.
"Am I going to live, Doc?" Sandburg muttered weakly.
"Not unless you drop the sarcasm," Ellison told him with a grin. "How are you feeling now?"
"Better and worse."
He didn't elaborate, but Jim understood what he meant. His head was clearing and the nausea abating, but the pain was setting in. Getting to his feet, the sentinel rummaged around the bathroom closet and came up with a small hand towel, which he folded and stuck under the cold water tap.
"Did you lose consciousness either time Weston hit you?"
"I'm not sure," Blair answered. "It's all kind of fuzzy." He perked up slightly as something dawned on him. "What happened out there with Weston? Where is he?"
"Dead," the detective replied briefly as he knelt back down beside his friend and pressed the cold, wet towel against the cut on his forehead. "I'll tell you about it later. Right now I want to you sit tight here for a minute, all right? I need to go call Simon. Here, can you hold this? It'll stop the bleeding." Blair took the towel from him and kept it pressed to the wound. "I'll be back in a minute. Keep your eyes open, ok?" Sandburg nodded and then winced as the movement spiked the pain, and Ellison squeezed his shoulder before he got up and left the bathroom, closing the door behind him.
He found Angie seated in the living room, Pam still in her arms. The girl had stopped sobbing but was still obviously very upset and clinging to her mother.
"What's going on?" the singer demanded. "Is Blair all right?"
Jim glanced down at Pam quickly, not wanting to compound the girl's stress for it was obvious she had grown very fond of the young anthropologist.
"He'll be fine," he said firmly. "Only..." He lowered his tone slightly. "I think he has a concussion. I want to get him to the hospital and get him looked at. You two can come with us or you can stay here."
"We aren't staying here," Angie insisted. "I want to get Pam away from here."
"I need to call this into my captain," Jim explained as he fished his cell phone out of his jacket pocket. "I'll have him send some officers to escort you and Pam back to the city."
Angie looked like she wanted to argue, for Detective Ellison was the one she trusted to keep her and her daughter safe. But she knew, logically, that Ray was dead and the danger was over and that Jim had more important things to take care of, so she just nodded her acceptance.
The sentinel, for his part, felt a little like he was abandoning his crime scene. But by the time he got Blair up and into the truck, a black and white had pulled up in front of the house and the sound of sirens in the distance indicated that more were on the way. So he briefed the responding officers on the situation and then was able to climb into his vehicle and drive off with a clear conscience, knowing that the scene was being secured and that Angie and Pam would be taken care of.
Sandburg tried, but he simply couldn't stay awake during the drive back to the city. He kept nodding off, but he awakened easily, if not pleasantly, each time Ellison poked him. Jim hadn't told him that they were going to the ER, so Blair was understandably not happy when they pulled up to Cascade General. He tried to fight it but lacked any real energy for argument, and the detective managed to convince him that his head lac needed a few stitches so the younger man agreed to go inside more or less willingly. But the tables were turned on the sentinel, for when the medical personnel caught sight of him they didn't buy that Sandburg was the only one in need of medical attention and before he knew what had even happened Jim found himself alone in a cubicle getting poked and prodded. Well, he couldn't deny it had been a rough night, what with getting shot in the arm and then having a scaffold full of roofing materials collapse on top of him, so he also submitted to the exam more or less willingly.
The doctor determined nothing was broken, so his wounds were all cleaned and treated and he was allowed to go with the recommendation that he take it easy for a few days. Thinking that was a prescription he could definitely live with, Jim went back out to the waiting room and the admitting nurse told him that Blair had indeed suffered a mild concussion but that the doctor was willing to release him as long as someone would be there to take the responsibility of waking him up periodically and keeping an eye on him for a few days. Ellison assured her that he would be properly monitored and was escorted back to the room where his partner was waiting. Sandburg was lying flat on his back on the bed, damp from the rain, his face almost as white as the butterfly bandage that was covering the three stitches in his temple.
"You look like hell," Jim greeted him fondly.
"Back at you," Blair responded, taking in the new bandages and array of abrasions covering his partner. "I hope you don't feel as bad as you look. Still have the pain under control?"
"It's flared up a little," the sentinel confessed.
"Well, it's going to take some time to learn to control it automatically," the anthropologist speculated. "We'll work on it. For now I'll help you reset the dials."
"Not here," Ellison told him firmly. "The pain's not that bad. We'll do it when we get home." He had no intention of working on anything when they got home, apart from getting his partner, typically more concerned with his sentinel than with himself, to get some rest. Well, rest in between the mandatory awakenings for orientation questioning.
"K," Sandburg agreed, which confirmed for the detective that his partner was in a good deal of pain if he wasn't even going to attempt to argue.
"Speaking of home, what do you say we go? You ready?"
"Yeah," Blair groaned out as he struggled to get up. Jim quickly moved to help him and got him sitting upright on the bed, but Sandburg waved him off and cradled his head in his hands, needing a minute to get a handle on the sudden spike of dizziness and pain that assaulted him. So Ellison waited patiently beside him, rubbing a comforting hand along his back until the younger man finally peeked out at him through his fingers. "Are you mad at me?"
"No, of course not," the detective told him in surprise. "Why would you think I would be?"
"Well, you know," Blair sighed as he dropped his hands and picked his head up, "for what I did tonight. I've been waiting for the lecture about how I need to remember I'm an observer and not a cop."
"No, you're right, man," the anthropologist continued. "I mean, look at me. I can't even stand up. I'm lucky Weston didn't kill me. I should have just stayed back and let you handle things."
For a long time the sentinel didn't speak, staring up at the ceiling as he measured his words. Then he sat down next to his guide on the narrow bed.
"Blair," he began finally, "do you remember that first day I came out to the university to meet you?"
"Vividly," Sandburg replied with a ghost of a smile. "You almost put me through the wall."
"Well, serves you right for calling me a caveman," Ellison grinned, before growing serious. "Anyway, for a long time after that day I wondered about why you risked your life to save me from that garbage truck when I zoned in the middle of the street. Granted, I was the research project of your dreams, but it still seemed like a lot to almost die for. Best I could figure is that you did it to try and win my trust so that I would agree to work with you."
"But then I got to know you," the sentinel interrupted him, "and I came to realize that your actions had nothing to do with me or whatever research information you were hoping to get. You saw someone in danger and you reacted. That's who you are, Chief, and it was the same story tonight. You saw Weston about to kill Angie and you did what you had to do to stop him. That's what heroes do."
"I'm not a hero," the younger man protested.
"Heroes still get scared," Jim informed him, "and the smart ones have a strong sense of self preservation. But when there's no other choice, when it's life or death, you dive in there with whatever you can and give it your best shot. The fact is, if you'd hung back and let me handle things tonight, Angie and I both would probably be dead. No doubt Weston was going to kill her. You stopped him from doing that, even though he had a gun and you weren't armed with anything, and gave me enough of a distraction to get her out of there and get him in a position where I could deal with him. She owes her life to you. So I'm sorry you got hurt tonight and I definitely don't want you to make a habit of attacking armed and dangerous felons, but no, I'm not mad. I'm proud of you."
"Thanks," Blair said after a few moments, his voice thick with emotion. "That really means a lot to me, Jim."
"And next time you're staying in the truck!"
"That's definitely not an issue now," Sandburg assured him. "My head's about to explode at the thought of doing anything remotely physical."
"Well I think we'll both feel better when we get home and dry off and get a little sleep," Ellison theorized. "Just don't bite my head off when I wake you up to ask what year it is, ok?"
The sentinel slid off the bed and picked up the jacket that was draped over the chair in the corner and helped his guide slip it on.
"I know your head's killing you and it might not seem like it now," he speculated as he helped his friend climb down from the bed, holding tightly to his arm to steady him, "but this might all be worth it. You know, having a rich and famous pop star owing you one."
"I hadn't thought about that," Blair mused as he was led out of the room and down the hallway. "But I guess she owes us both. Jim, are you sure that there's nothing going on between the two of you?"
"Come on, Chief," the sentinel grinned as he steered his guide out of the hospital doors and back into the dark and stormy night, deliberately not answering his question. "Let's go home."
It was hardly the first time Blair Sandburg wished he had sentinel senses. He knew his friend often considered his gift to be a curse, but it was hard for him to see the downside in having superhuman sight or smell or hearing. It not only came in handy on the job, but it was also highly useful in everyday situations, like listening in on private conversations from which you'd been excluded. But the anthropologist was not a sentinel and had no such abilities, so he was forced to just wait outside the captain's office where he'd been left. It wasn't a long wait, and when Ellison opened the door and emerged Sandburg realized he hadn't needed to eavesdrop to get the gist of the conversation that took place inside. The look on the detective's face pretty much said it all, although Blair was hard pressed to imagine how things could have possibly gotten any worse.
"What happened?" he asked cautiously.
"I'm out," Jim told him flatly. "Suspended."
"Oh, man," Blair groaned. "How are you supposed to work the case now?"
"I'm not," Ellison said irritably. "Simon has my badge and gun, so no point hanging around here. Let's go, Chief."
"Jim." The captain's large frame filled the doorway to his office. "Look, why don't we go get something to eat? My treat."
"No, thank you, sir," the detective said coldly, fixing a hard glare on his boss before he turned away and went over to his desk to grab his jacket. "Sandburg! Now!"
Blair looked over at Banks, noting that the gruff captain had a distinct look of regret about him. 'Keep an eye on him', Simon had commanded him at the start of this mess. It had been a dual order, meaning that he should both try and help Jim through the personal aspect of the situation as well as try and reign him in from stepping beyond the letter of the law, as he had in the Juno case, in his desperate attempt to clear Pendergrast's name. Sandburg had promised and had been doing his best, but being helpful and patiently understanding had only gotten him so far. It was time for some tough love.
"I'll talk to him," he told the captain before rushing out of the bullpen to follow his partner who was already striding off down the hallway toward the elevator.
"Jim, hold up."
"Come with me for a second."
"Just get in here." Blair tugged on his arm and Ellison resisted for a moment, then finally relented with a sigh and let himself be dragged into the empty break room. "First of all," Sandburg began as he shut the door behind them, "I don't appreciate you barking commands at me like I'm a disobedient dog."
"I'm sorry about that," the detective grudgingly apologized, "but this isn't the time..."
"This is the time, Jim," Blair insisted. "You know, Monique Brackley had a good point the other day."
"Which was?" Ellison demanded, his brows lowering into a scowl as he leaned a hip against the counter and folded his arms across his chest.
"That you plow over anything in your way, including people. I know you want to figure this thing out and clear Jack's name, but you can't lose sight of everything else in the process."
"I'm not in the mood for this," Jim snarled as he started heading for the door. The dangerous look he bore would have had most people backing down, but Blair was not intimidated and blocked the door, getting right in his face.
"You need to get in the mood, Jim," he said, his voice taking on a note of unfamiliar harshness. "Because you aren't going to help Jack and you're only going to hurt yourself if you don't."
Two pairs of blue eyes locked onto each other, both radiating equal amounts of stubbornness, frustration, and righteousness. And had anyone been watching, it probably would have come as a surprise that it was the taller, angrier, more powerfully built man who backed down first.
"What are you talking about?" he gritted through clenched teeth.
"Jim, look, I know it sucks getting suspended," Blair said, his voice taking on a soothing tone as he relaxed his stance. "But you lost the battle, man, not the war. You've got two choices here. You can go home and sulk and either give up or do something unsanctioned that's going to make your suspension permanent."
"Or, you can find a way to work around it, and realize that people are on your side and willing to help you."
"You mean Simon."
"Come on, you know he didn't want to suspend you," Sandburg cajoled. "It was out of his hands. But he doesn't want you off the case and I'll bet he's still willing to help you out, like he did with that access card. Come on, let's just go get some dinner and hear him out, all right? If we come at this calmly and rationally, I bet we can figure something out."
Ellison was quiet for long moments. His emotions had been all stirred up since they first dragged that damn car out of the water, and it was his anger and grief and fear that made him want to storm over everyone until he uncovered the truth. But Sandburg was right, damn him. Which was infinitely hard for the detective to admit, even to himself. But he had to, for he wasn't going to do Pendergrast any good otherwise, and he owed it to Jack to, finally, solve this case. So he forced himself to swallow his pride and he gave in with a nod.
"All right," he agreed reluctantly. "I'll do it."
"Good," Blair grinned, clapping his partner on the shoulder. "I'll be a sport, too, and agree to go for pizza. Does that make you feel better?"
"Infinitely," the detective remarked dryly, knowing he was going to have to eat crow with the captain before they could eat pizza and not feeling too happy about it. "Let's go and get this over with. Come on, move!"
"Jim, you're barking again," Sandburg teased him.
"Yeah, and you'd better listen unless you want to feel my bite."
"Ok, I'm going, I'm going."
Blair ducked out of the break room door and Jim watched him for a second, knowing only a true friend wouldn't be afraid to stand up to him and tell him off when he was out of control. Jack had been like that. Ellison couldn't imagine two guys more different than Pendergrast and Sandburg, but he had a feeling that they would have liked each other. The heavy feeling settled in the sentinel's chest once more as he thought of his old partner, but his pushed it aside and began following his new partner back to the bullpen. Blair was right, the war wasn't over yet. And it was one Jim was determined to win. For Jack.
I can't save
You from yourself
You got to want it
All that's left
Is you and me
And the road ahead
Wherever that wind might blow
Wherever that river rolls
You know I will go with you
"You and Me" by Tom Petty
"Well," Sandburg piped up as the flashing lights of the ambulance carrying their captain disappeared into the distance. "What do we do now?"
"Good question," Ellison said thoughtfully. They talked it over briefly and came to the mutual decision that since their weekend camping trip had been nothing but a series of disasters so far, they were probably better off just packing it in and going back to Cascade. After a long day, neither man was particularly looking forward to the three hour drive back home, but it was too dark to pitch the tents anywhere and the only hotel in town was currently on fire. Since Rossberg was pretty much in the middle of nowhere, it was going to take a good hour to get to the next town with a hotel, and if they were going that far, they were both in agreement that they might as well go all the way. And though neither one voiced it, both men were thinking that Cascade General would most likely keep Simon overnight and then release him in the morning, barring any complications, and they each wanted to be close by to give their captain a hand if he should need it.
While Jim changed out of the police uniform he'd stolen from the crooked cop, Blair caught up with Billy and asked if there was any place in town still open where they could get something to eat. He told them about a sandwich shop on Main Street that was no frills, but pretty much their only option outside of the hotel at that time of night. Which was fine with both men, since it had been a long time since lunch and they were both starving. They followed Cates' instructions and found the place easily. Getting served was another story, as the two teens manning the shop were out in the street with a good number of townsfolk watching the hotel in the distance. The fire was out by that point, but smoke was still drifting up into the dark sky and it was far more excitement than usually could be had on a Friday night. With a shared glance that plainly said, "small towns", the two Cascade residents finally managed to track down the help and get them back inside the store. The kids were friendly enough, but also anxious to get back out and watch what was left of the action, so they prepared the orders in record time and left the two strangers alone in the dining area to eat. They didn't hurry, but they didn't dawdle either, aware that they still had the long drive ahead and it wasn't getting any earlier. Once they'd both finished, they availed themselves of the restrooms, helped themselves to drink refills since the kids were still outside, and went back to the truck to begin the journey home.
The first hour was an uneventful drive through the dark, quiet woods. There wasn't much traffic on the highway, and they didn't see much sign of life until they came to another small town. Ellison glanced at the fuel gage, realizing that he had enough to make it back but deciding to pull into the lone gas station and fill up anyway, for with the luck they'd been having that day he didn't want to leave anything to chance.
"Here," he offered as he pulled out his wallet, extracted his debit card and tossed it across the seat to his partner. "I'll pump, you pay. Grab me a bottle of water, too, and whatever you want for yourself."
"Ok," Sandburg agreed amiably. He slid out of the vehicle and started toward the store, but glanced down at the card in his hand as he thought of something and turned back as Jim unscrewed the gas cap. "What's your pin number?"
Ellison realized he'd handed his friend his ATM card instead of his credit card, but didn't feel like digging back into his wallet to switch so he just relayed the number. Blair nodded and went inside, roaming the aisles of the store until he heard the beep behind the counter that signified the gas pump had shut off. He grabbed two bottles of water out of the cooler and went to pay, making small talk with the personable cashier as he marveled at the open counter space. At this time of night in Cascade, the clerk would have been behind a glass shield, passing his card back to him through a sliding tray. Something to be said for small town life.
When Sandburg returned to the truck, he was more than a little shocked to find his friend reclining in the passenger seat.
"What are you doing?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Ellison replied, with a wave toward the driver's seat. "She's all yours."
"You never let me drive," Blair reminded him suspiciously.
"Look, I'm tired, Sandburg," Jim told him, stifling a yawn. "So if you're up for it, take the wheel. Just don't get us lost this time, all right?"
"I'm definitely up and I will not get lost," the younger man exclaimed with enthusiasm as he hopped up into the driver's seat. He moved it forward a little and adjusted the mirrors before strapping on his seat belt and turning the key in the ignition. "Oh, yeah, listen to that," he said happily, revving the engine a few times.
"You are going to make me regret this, aren't you?" Ellison demanded in annoyance.
"No, I'll behave, I promise." Sandburg put the car in gear and coasted forward, coming to a stop where the parking lot met the highway. "Now, do I want to go right or left? Kidding," he said quickly at the murderous look his passenger shot him. "Just kidding. I'm done now, I swear." He made a right turn and in moments they were back on the road, heading for home. Jim took a sip of his water and after a few minutes he was convinced that his partner had full command of the situation, so he relaxed back against the seat and closed his eyes. Blair was still exhibiting his seemingly unending supply of energy, fidgeting in his seat and tapping out a beat against the steering wheel with his fingers. The sentinel didn't comment, determined to ignore him, but just as he was drifting off his guide's voice pulled him back to consciousness.
"All right, I have to ask. What is that number?"
"It's my pin number."
"Yeah, but what does it mean?"
"Nothing. It's a number."
"No way," Blair argued. "Nobody picks a random number for their pin. It's always something that has some meaning or significance. So tell me. It's is someone's jersey number? An old girlfriend's phone number? What?"
"It's my parents' birth dates, all right?"
The anthropologist went quiet and the detective thought maybe his insatiable curiosity had been satisfied with that. He should have known better.
"You never talk about your family."
"Yeah, there's a reason for that, Chief."
"I don't want to."
"Well, I think you should," Sandburg reasoned. "It's historical information that could be very valuable to my research."
"Nice try, but my family has nothing to do with my senses," Ellison countered firmly.
"Ok, well, how about I'd like to know because you're my friend."
"There's nothing to tell," Jim tried to convince him as he sat up in his seat and faced him. "Literally. There's no big family secrets here or anything. We were just never all that close and I don't have much contact with them anymore."
"Maybe it's time to reconnect," Blair suggested. "I'll bet they miss you."
"Don't start projecting your Ozzie and Harriet view of the American family onto me," the sentinel snapped. "You don't know anything about it, so when I tell you that there's a reason we're not in contact, you need to respect that and drop it."
"Come on, Jim, how bad could it be?" Sandburg wheedled. "I mean, whatever happened in the past aside, you still have a brother out there. Those are your parents. You are their son. They have to love you and I know you must care about them, otherwise I wouldn't be hitting this nerve here. You can't tell me that you don't have some kind of bond with the woman who gave birth to you."
"She didn't give birth, she had me by Cesarean," Ellison muttered.
"You know what I mean."
"What I know is that my mother wanted her career more than she ever wanted kids, and she never tried to hide that," Jim said coldly.
"I'm sorry," Blair offered up after a moment of silence.
"You don't have anything to be sorry for," the sentinel assured him as he leaned back again and closed his eyes.
"I told you that I'm tired and that I didn't want to talk about this."
"Ok, but I.."
"Look, Chief, I'll make you a deal," Ellison sighed as he sat up once more, realizing it was the only way he was going to get the kid off his back and maybe get to doze off for the rest of the ride home. "You get one question, ok? You ask me one thing, and if I answer to your satisfaction then we stop talking and you let me sleep. Deal?"
"Absolutely," Sandburg eagerly agreed, jumping at the chance to have his sentinel open up to him freely, if only for one question.
"Well?" Jim prodded as the miles went by.
"Don't rush me," Blair told him. "I've got to take full advantage of this golden opportunity and I don't want to waste it on something I can find out later."
"Well, it's a limited time offer so if you don't lay it on me now, I'm going to sleep."
"No, I've got it. Ok, I really want you to tell me what happened when we were down in Peru."
"What?" Ellison asked in confusion.
"You heard me," Sandburg pressed him. "You said anything, so I want to know how you got your senses back in Peru."
"I walked right into that one," Jim murmured, scrubbing his hands over his face.
"You did, but fair's fair, my friend. Spill it. Inquiring minds want to know."
Ellison hesitated for a minute, distinctly uncomfortable with the topic. He would have much rather have spilled all the familial skeletons in his closet rather than have to talk about something weird and unexplainable. Hell, he wasn't even entirely sure what HAD happened. Had it been a dream? A vision? Some kind of supernatural encounter? Jim didn't know and the memories of it still gave him the heebie jeebies. He'd wanted nothing more than to put it out of his mind, and definitely did not want to share the encounter with someone who would be endlessly fascinated with the possibilities. But, a deal was a deal. So Ellison took a gulp of water, cleared his throat, and began telling his guide all about the human form of his spirit guide, and how he chose to turn his back on being an ordinary man and give up his life and his soul to become the sentinel.
"Sandburg." The anthropologist looked up from the detective's desk where he'd been working to see his partner striding toward him. "Have you seen Hurley anywhere?"
"No," Blair replied, thinking back. "I haven't seen him since this morning, actually." Ellison turned to go, intent on heading for the captain's office, but his observer stopped him. "Hey, Jim, this came in for you. I think you're going to want to see it."
Curious, Jim turned back and reached for the piece of paper his friend was holding out for him, a scowl knitting his eyebrows as he glanced it over.
"Does that mean what I think it means?"
"It means this case just got a whole hell of a lot more complicated," the detective sighed as he perched a hip on the edge of his desk.
"But if Race Peters' file came back sealed, that means he's with the FBI, right?" Sandburg pressed.
"Either that or they're protecting him."
"Well, either way, it doesn't sound likely that he was the one who shot up the club."
"No, but someone went to a lot of trouble to make it look like him," Ellison mused.
"You think Kurt was right? You think the Yaks hit their own club and just made it look like the Void?"
"No, I don't. I don't think the Yaks would intentionally draw that sort of attention to themselves. If they wanted the Void out, they would have used more subtle tactics of persuasion. But somebody sure wanted a war between them to happen."
"What kind of person would be that sick as to actually want to start a gang war?" Blair asked.
"That's what we need to find out, Chief," Jim said absently, the wheels spinning in his head. And he had a good idea he wasn't going to like what he found, for what little evidence he had was all pointing toward someone on the job. Viburnum soled shoes. Access to the volatiles locker. Undercover feds... "Listen, I want you to sit tight here for awhile."
"Where are you going?"
"Nowhere. I just need to run and check on something."
"So why can't I go with you?" Sandburg persisted.
"Because I said so."
"Good one, Jim. Nice display of logical and rationality." Blair leaned back in his chair, eyeing his partner suspiciously. "This has something to do with Akiko, doesn't it?"
"Why would you say that?" the sentinel wondered, the picture of innocence.
"Because there's some weird thing going on with you guys that you're not telling me about," Sandburg accused him. "And I know you didn't just lose her today. You're too good. So come on, spill it. What's the deal with her?"
"I can't talk about it," Ellison muttered tightly.
"Oh, come on, man. You can tell me. You know I'm not going to quit bugging you until you do."
"Just leave it, Sandburg," the detective ordered, looking away.
"Fine," the younger man said in exasperation. "Keep your damn secret. You're almost as bad as the FBI and their classified..." He trailed off, the light of understanding dawning in his blue eyes. "Oh, my God. That's it, isn't it? Akiko's a fed!"
"Yes, but you cannot tell anyone about her," Jim warned him in a whisper. "Not even Simon. Her life depends on it, understand?"
"Yeah." Some of the enthusiasm left the observer as he realized what the undercover agent was forced to do to retain her cover. And, what would probably happen to her if it was ever blown. "You got it, Jim. My lips are sealed."
"Her contact is a guy named Killibrew," Ellison continued in confidential tones. "On a hunch I called up a buddy of my in the Justice Department. He confirmed that Killibrew had the access code to the volatiles locker."
"You don't really think he's behind all this, do you?"
"I don't know, Chief," Jim sighed. "Stranger things have happened. But what I do know is now that Peters is dead, Akiko isn't safe. I need to go see her and try to convince her that this is all way out of hand and she needs to get out from under."
"Think she'll listen?"
"I have to try," Ellison shrugged as he stood up and retrieved his jacket from where it was hanging behind the desk.
"Good luck," Blair told him. "And don't worry about Simon. I'll cover for you if he comes looking for you."
"Thanks. See if you can find Hurley around, too. I'll need to talk to him after I meet with Akiko."
The sentinel started to leave the bullpen, but turned back to his guide with grin, remembering his earlier crack about being a poor judge of women.
"And Chief? For the record, Akiko really does hate her boss."
"It's a limited edition Mickey Mantle watch."
The sentinel turned away from the screen to glance thoughtfully at his guide.
"How limited? I mean, limited enough that we can use it to track him?"
"Probably," Sandburg said slowly as an idea quickly formed. "But there might be a quicker way."
"That watch cost big bucks, Jim. I mean, major coin. Only a serious Mantle fanatic would have bought it."
"But how is that going to help us ID the guy?" Ellison pressed impatiently.
"Because, he's a collector," Blair explained. "That watch is probably only the tip of the iceberg. A guy like that, he's always going to be on the lookout for another big score."
"Like a drug addict looking for a fix?" the detective said doubtfully, trying to put the situation in terms he could understand.
"Exactly. This guy's strung out on Mantle, right? The watch is only going to keep him high for so long. He's going to be looking for another boost."
"So we hit up the collectible shops in town and see if our guy's been sniffing around for Mantle gear," Jim concluded. "Not bad, Chief." He glanced over at the tv crew and gave them a reluctant wave to follow him out of the van and back up to the station. "Let's go man the phones."
Wendy Hawthorne trailed them upstairs, chirping brightly about the new angle, excited to show that police work was as much about brains as it was brawn. However, she soon realized that actual detective work, research, and running down leads was incredibly boring and did not make for compelling television drama. So with an air of palpable disappointment, she and her camera man decided to take a break for lunch, promising to be back in a hour and subtly hinting that she hoped the afternoon would hold more excitement.
Ellison largely ignored her as he was focused with the task at hand. Blair knew of a few sports memorabilia shops in the area and the yellow pages provided phone numbers for them, as well as for a few other stores. They divided up the list and Sandburg borrowed Brown's empty desk while he was out working on his own case, using his phone to begin calling. He'd made it through three stores with no luck before Jim approached him and told him to pack it in.
"I've got him," he announced. "Guy with that watch ordered a Mantle jersey three weeks ago at a place over on ninth. The store owner's there now, so let's go over and talk to him and see if he'll play ball, no pun intended."
"Shouldn't we wait for Wendy to get back before we go over there?" Blair asked as he got up and followed his partner over to his desk to snag his jacket.
"It's not my fault if she decided to go to lunch when things jumped off," Jim said innocently.
"Hey, Jim, speaking of lunch..."
"Yeah," Ellison confirmed as he lead the way out of the bullpen, "we'll get something while we're out."
They entered the store and met with the owner of Ecclectibles, but Blair found it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand, his longing gaze straying off toward the card cases while Jim identified themselves and explained the situation. The man's description of his customer matched the video of the bank robber, and when he told them that the guy had left a cash deposit but no phone number, saying he'd call back and check if the item had come in, it left no doubt in the detective's mind that they definitely had a line on one of their suspects. He hashed out a plan with the owner, who grew increasingly nervous but agreed to let them install a hidden camera and a silent alarm and promised to alert them when the guy called to make arrangements to pick up his prize. It was mostly settled when the man turned away to attend to a customer who'd wandered in, but Ellison was looking distinctly unhappy about the whole thing.
"It's no good," he muttered confidentially to his partner who'd been trying to subtly sneak closer to the card case. "That guy's way too twitchy. We're going to have to put a man in here."
"So what's the problem?" Blair asked, craning his neck in an attempt to peer through the glass. They put guys undercover all the time, so he couldn't figure out what the big deal was. Unless... "Wait, you want me to do it, don't you?"
"No, I don't want you to," Jim told him in frustration, "but.."
"But, this Mick guy is probably already borderline paranoid and he gets wind that something's not right and he's gone," Sandburg concluded.
"We can't afford to spook him," Ellison agreed. "You know how to talk the talk, plus you don't look like a cop. He won't suspect anything."
"All right," Blair shrugged, "I'll do it."
"Sure. I mean, he comes in, I hit the button, stall him a little with the jersey, you take him down, right? Simple plan. What could go wrong?"
"He won't know what hit him, Chief," Jim assured him. "You'll be perfectly safe. I promise I won't let anything happen to you."
"I know," Blair told him with quiet conviction. "But you know the hardest part of this whole thing is going to be convincing Simon to agree to go along with it."
"It might not be as hard as you think," the sentinel grinned, looping a companionable arm around his guide's shoulders. "That thin blue line is starting to blur a little where you're concerned."
"Great. I don't suppose that means I'll get financially compensated for my time or effort?"
"It's not blurring that much."
"How about that Don Schwall rookie card over there?"
"How about I buy you lunch?"
"You drive a hard bargain, Ellison."
"Yeah?" Jim asked as he affectionately shoved his friend away. "Then why do I feel like I just got outhaggled?"
Blair didn't answer, leaving his partner to wrap up the final details as he wandered over to examine the card cases, although his triumphant smirk belied his presumed air of innocence.
The sentinel reached for his radio, fumbling a bit as he pulled the device off of his belt.
"All units," he barked into the transmitter, "the suspect and the girl are MIA. Seal off all exits. Consider armed and dangerous." Ellison clipped the radio back onto his belt and turned his attention back to his partner. Blair was lying with his eyes closed, writhing slightly against the pain of the blunt force trauma he had suffered, but he still feebly tried to push his friend's hands away.
"Amber," he muttered with a grimace. "Go after her."
"I've got the whole team after Zeller," the detective tried to reassure him as he heard commotion out in the hallway. Units that had been closing in on the report of shots fired were now doing an about face and backtracking after the suspect and his hostage. "He's not getting out of this building. Come on, Chief, I know it hurts but you have to keep breathing." The sentinel listened long enough to determine that the act of respiration, while undoubtedly painful for his friend, did not seem compromised in any way, then focused his hearing back out to the hallway. It had gone mostly quiet, except for one heavy tread coming their way, a step that was very familiar. And after a moment Brown burst into the room, his normally cheerful face twisted into a worried frown.
"What's going on?" he demanded. "Is Sandburg hit?"
"Two to the vest," Ellison explained as he got to his feet. "Knocked the wind out of him. Do me a favor and stay with him for a second, will you, H? I'm going to go see what's going on out there."
They exchanged places and Jim left the room, retreating down the hall until he was out of earshot where he could radio in for an ambulance without having to deal with Blair putting up a fight about it. But though they couldn't hear him, he could plainly still hear everything inside the room, and he smiled to himself as he listened to the burly detective talking to the young observer.
"...scared the hell out of me. We heard shots fired and I thought you were dead, man."
"That's still a distinct possibility," Blair groaned.
"Yeah, well, the vest stops the bullets from going through you but doesn't do much to soften the blow. I got hit once and it felt like someone had taken a sledgehammer to my chest. Just try to breathe through it and it will ease up in a few minutes."
"Easier said than done," Sandburg muttered grumpily after taking in an experimental deep breath and gasping it back out in pain.
"Hang in there, Hairboy," Brown teased him fondly. "You're not checking out on my watch."
"Gee, H, I never knew you cared."
"Well, you know, there's so much paperwork involved in these types of situations, and you won't be here to help me do it. Not to mention Jim would kick my ass three ways to Sunday."
"He should have gone after them," Blair said, his voice suddenly flat and serious. "He couldn't have been that far behind. Jim probably could have caught Zeller if he hadn't stopped to take care of me."
"Maybe, but that would have been a serious code violation."
"The cop code," Brown told him lightly. "You won't find it in any manual, but a cop's number one rule is always take care of your partner first."
"You're messing with me, aren't you?"
"No, straight up, I swear. Bad guys come and go, but your partner is your lifeline. You take care of that, the rest falls into place."
"Well, nothing's going to fall into place like this. Give me a hand, H."
Ellison went back to the room to find Brown easing Sandburg up to a sitting position, resting his back against the wall. The movement obviously caused him some pain, but it didn't seem disabling and Blair verbally pounced on him the minute he came into view.
"What's going on?" he demanded. "Did anyone find them?"
"No," Jim replied as he crouched down in front of his friend. He hadn't bothered to confirm that, but he knew it was true. His men would have alerted him on the radio if they'd found Zeller, or had caught sight of him. "We'll keep searching the building, but Zeller doesn't strike me as the type to hide and wait to be found. He's already out of the building and gone."
"He couldn't have gotten past us," Brown argued.
"Somehow he did," Ellison said matter-of-factly. "Chief, let's lose the vest so I can check you out, ok?"
"But Jim," Blair persisted, struggling to free himself from his jacket before accepting the help his friends offered. "He's got..."
"He's not going to hurt Amber," the detective comforted him as he undid the straps to the bulletproof vest. "He needs her."
"Yeah, but the minute he doesn't... Geez, Jim, could your hands be any colder?"
"Sorry. But quit flinching and hold still."
Sandburg tried to do as he was told, gritting his teeth as his partner ran his icy fingers under his shirt and over his chest, feeling for damage.
"Well?" he demanded when the exam was over.
"I think you cracked a rib," the detective announced. "It'll be sore for awhile but you should be fine. The hospital can get an x-ray to confirm it."
"Hospital? I'm not going to the hospital."
"Chief, you were just shot..."
"And you just said I only had the wind knocked out of me," Blair reminded him stubbornly.
"It's just to be safe..."
"I'm fine," the younger man insisted. "I do not need to go to the hospital."
They argued back and forth for a minute, with Brown agreeing with first one, then the other, presumably just to keep the argument going for his own entertainment. But in the end, Ellison decided to save his sanity and give in, reluctantly calling off the ambulance.
"H, I need you to take over here," the detective told his colleague. "I don't think Zeller's here, but search this hotel from top to bottom and make sure."
"You got it. What are you guys going to do?"
"We're going after them," Blair stated.
"No, we're going home," Jim countered sharply. "You need those ribs taped and some Tylenol."
"I thought we settled this," Sandburg sighed in annoyance, running a hand wearily over his face, feeling the false mustache on his lip as he did so and carefully peeling it off.
"We agreed no hospital but you still need..."
"Jim, there isn't time!" Blair interrupted in frustration.
"We'll make time."
"The minute he gets what he wants from Amber..."
"We will find her before that happens, Chief," Jim promised him, clasping his shoulders in his hands and squeezing just hard enough to get his attention. "But you need to be ready for when we do find her. Right?"
"Right," Blair murmured in defeat.
"Look at me." The younger man met his friend's blue eyes, plainly reading the meaning behind his gaze. "Let's go fix you up, and then we'll track down Zeller. We WILL get Amber back."
Of course they would, Sandburg realized. Cascade's finest detective who also happened to have the tracking senses of a bloodhound was on her trail. So many times in the past months the sentinel had willingly put his trust in his guide. And now, Blair could do no less. He reached out a hand and allowed Ellison and Brown to help him to his feet. The pain had lessened considerably but his ribs were still twinging acutely and he knew he had to help himself before he could help Amber. And help her they would. The sentinel had promised, and the guide trusted him implicitly.
And when you're in doubt,
And when you're in danger,
Take a look all around,
And I'll be there.
Sometimes if I shout,
It's not what's intended.
These words just come out,
With no gripe to bear.
"The Promise" by When In Rome
Sandburg lay on the cold floor of C Deck for what seemed like a long time before he felt like he could stand. He finally got to his feet, pointedly ignoring the red LED timer that was displaying the one second left on the bomb, and went, somewhat shakily, to go and release the rest of the crew.
"What is that?" Truck Brower demanded as the distinctive sound of machine gun fire split the night which was quiet and calm now that the storm had passed.
"Jim," Blair answered with a grin as he fell into step behind the rest of the men who were hurrying topside to take in all the commotion. The Coast Guard choppers were already circling the freighter nearby and they watched avidly as the good guys boarded and took control of the ship. Within minutes a rescue boat was dispatched to the North Star Five and everyone was immediately evacuated away from the vessel and it's potentially incendiary contents to the freighter to await further transport. Upon arrival and boarding, Blair was definitely pleased to see Crilly, Maggie and a few other yahoos subdued and surrounded by a bevy of armed guards and one smug sentinel. But when Ellison turned and caught sight of him, his smirk faded and he came forward to greet his partner.
"Yeah, fine." Sandburg looked up at his friend, noting the cold glint in his eye and the hard set of his jaw. "Are you ok?"
"No, and you're not going to be either once we get out of here," the detective hissed at him.
"Why?" he asked, perplexed. "What's wrong?"
"What's wrong?" the sentinel repeated, chuckling humorlessly. "Sandburg, why the hell didn't you go when I told you to?"
"Jump ship? Come on, I couldn't leave all those guys behind."
"So you decided you would just diffuse a bomb instead," Ellison said icily.
"Well, no, that wasn't quite the plan. I thought maybe I could throw it overboard or something, but by the time I found it..." He trailed off as he studied his friend's face. Blair had seen Jim angry plenty of times, but not at him, not like this. Even when he screwed up he was mostly just met with irritation, but the sentinel was now obviously furious with him and it was really unnerving. "You are really mad, aren't you?"
"Mad doesn't even begin to describe it."
"Look," Sandburg began, trying to placate him, "I know I'm not a cop..."
"This goes way beyond that," Ellison interrupted hotly. "It's one thing for you to go undercover in a controlled situation, but this was a god damn bomb disposal, Sandburg! It's a highly sophisticated field that takes skill and years of technical training. You can't just waltz in there and wing it! Do you have any idea how lucky you are to be alive right now?!"
"I guess I didn't really think..."
"That's exactly why you do what I say, when I say it," the detective shouted fiercely. "It has nothing to do with procedure or rules or control. I call the shots and you don't think, you follow them! That keeps you alive and doesn't leave me standing on a boat watching the seconds tick by while I wait to see you blown sky high!"
Blair was silent, seemingly struck so by the outburst leveled at him. But it was the meaning behind the volume that had really affected him, making him suddenly see what the problem was. Jim had thought he was going to be killed. He'd been standing here, on this very deck, too far away to help and sure that his guide was about to be obliterated. That's what had upset him. No, not just upset. The thought of his partner being killed had downright terrified the gruff detective, and that cowled Sandburg far more than any dressing down ever could.
"You're right," he said finally, hoping to assuage the fear more than the anger fronting it, "and I'm sorry, Jim. From now on, I'll follow your lead."
"Do you mean it?" the sentinel demanded.
"Absolutely." Sandburg watched the tense lines in his friend's face relax. "Although you know I was just referring to when we're at work, right?"
"Oh no," Ellison deadpanned, his mood lightening considerably. "I've got your word and it's long past time to lay the smackdown on you back at the loft."
"I walked into that one," Blair muttered dramatically.
"Listen, it doesn't excuse it, but what you did over there... Those men all owe their lives to you. How did you know which wire to cut, anyway?"
"Oh, I saw Joel do something similar once." It was an obfuscation, but for a good cause. Jim was relaxing and Blair had no desire to freak him out all over again by letting him know either how close it had really been, or that he'd had absolutely no idea what he was doing.
"You guessed, didn't you?"
"I'll never tell," Sandburg grinned cheekily. "So, are we cool now?"
"You and I are," Ellison said loftily. "But Simon's another story." He nodded across the freighter to the chopper that had just landed and they watched the formidable police captain climbing out of the back. Jim clapped his friend on the shoulder and started forward to meet his friend and boss, but Blair hung back. He knew he was going to have to face the music sooner or later, but it wouldn't hurt to maybe let someone else tell his side of the story to Banks first. After all, he had already managed to diffuse two bombs that night. Three might be pushing his luck...
Sandburg left the captain's office and trotted through the bullpen to catch up with his partner, who was already waiting by the elevators. They rode down to the garage in silence, but as Ellison climbed behind the wheel of his truck and started the ignition, he fixed a hard gaze on the younger man settling in the passenger seat beside him.
"All right, spill it."
"What's really going on with you," the sentinel told him. "You're always begging for the chance to be involved and you've never turned down an opportunity at some undercover work. Why are you so reluctant now? The truth this time."
"I don't know," Blair sighed as he fastened his seat beat. "It's my mom being here, I guess. She's not a fan of the cops to begin with, obviously, but she worries about me and I just don't want her thinking that my work with you is anything dangerous."
"You're just going to be driving the rig," Jim pointed out. "Nothing is going to happen."
"You're kidding, right?" Sandburg asked sardonically, shooting him a disbelieving look.
"Come on, man, since I hooked up with you I've been held hostage by terrorists, kidnaped by a serial killer, shot by an assassin, almost blown up, beat up more times than I can count and have had more guns pointed on me than..."
"Ok, ok," the detective interrupted, holding up a hand and looking slightly pained, "I get it."
"It's ok," Blair added hastily as he saw his friend's jaw clench. "I knew what I was getting into. Well, maybe I didn't at first and came at this pretty naively, but I know what I'm into now. And I want to do it, Jim. I want to be involved. I know there are risks and I accept them, because the scope of what we're doing makes it all worth it. But let's face it, if Zeller had aimed a little higher and gone for a head shot, I wouldn't be here now. Naomi thinks this is strictly an academic relationship, and I just wanted to spare her the reality of the situation, in case things don't go to plan. It sounds stupid, but I just wanted to protect my mom. You know how it is."
"Actually I don't," Jim muttered as he put the truck in gear and exited the garage.
"Yeah," Sandburg said softly, remembering what little he had gotten his friend to divulge about his parents. "Your mother wasn't exactly the maternal type, huh?"
"That's an understatement," Ellison snorted. "She moved out when I was eight. My brother and I barely saw her after that."
"Sorry," Blair offered, feeling a twinge of sadness. Naomi wasn't likely to win mother of the year any time soon, but there had never been any doubt that she loved him, which helped make up for a lot of her other shortcomings.
"But, I can certainly see why you'd want to protect your mother," Jim continued, effectively changing the subject. "You don't want to be worrying such a lovely, charming and vivacious woman."
"Again!?" Blair yelped. "Jim, she's my MOM!"
"All right," the sentinel chuckled as he navigated the busy streets of Cascade. "So what made you change your mind and decide to go along with the operation?"
"Well, as the old saying goes, in for a penny, in for a pound," the younger man shrugged. "Simon was right, you know? I'm part of the team. And if I'm going to do this, I can't just do it when it's convenient for me. I can't let my partner down."
"It's just driving," Ellison reiterated sternly. "Nothing is going to go wrong."
"If it does..."
"I won't tell Mom," Jim promised with grin.
"Hey, Jim," Sandburg greeted his partner as he entered the bullpen and approached his work station. He tossed his backpack on the floor and casually perched a hip on the edge of the desk. "What's on the crime fighting menu for today?" In answer, the detective handed him a slip of paper and the younger man read the scrawled address. "I don't get it. What is this?"
"I made a few calls," Ellison told him, "and found out where they're holding Maya. I was able to get you visitation if you want to go see her."
"Thanks." Blair slipped the paper into his jacket pocket but he looked distinctly uncomfortable, the exact opposite reaction from what the sentinel had been expecting.
"I appreciate you making the effort, Jim," the anthropologist sighed, running a hand through his hair, "but I don't think I'm going to go."
"Well, I don't... I don't think I want to see her like that, you know? Locked up. About to be sent back to Chile because the government decided she's too undesirable for this country..."
"Well maybe it's not about you," Ellison said sharply, surprised that his normally kind hearted partner was being so insensitive.
"What's it about then?"
"I'd say it's about a girl, someone you care about, being lonely and scared and in need of a friend."
"I tried to be her friend," Sandburg muttered, one hand rubbing lightly over his bruised eye and the other unconsciously rubbing the subtle ache in his chest. "Look where it got me."
"Do whatever you want," Jim shrugged, going back to his computer. "Just give some thought to how you'd feel if your positions were reversed."
Blair didn't have to think about it very long. If he were incarcerated, awaiting deportation, knowing he screwed up and feeling guilty and ashamed and sick to think he ruined his life and terrified about what the future held for him, he knew what he would want. A friendly face to look at him without judgment and to take his mind off everything, if only for a second. Someone to make him laugh. A person he cared about to stand beside him and show him support. Someone he loved to show him that he was loved, and that there still was a life out there for him, even if it wasn't the one he'd planned.
"This is your revenge, isn't it?" he said suddenly. "You're getting back at me for all those times I guilt tripped you into doing something you didn't want to do."
"Yes, and it is sweet," Ellison confirmed with a broad grin.
"You're right, man," Sandburg declared as he stood up. "She needs a friend and I can't just turn my back on her. I'm going to head over there now."
"Do you want me to go with you?" Jim asked softly.
"No, thanks. But maybe we could get a beer later?"
The sentinel watched his guide leave, wishing he could do more to help but knowing it was out of his hands. Blair had it bad for that girl, and she'd broken his heart and now he was setting himself up to say goodbye to her all over again. Jim could understand why he'd been reluctant, but he also knew his friend would always regret it if he didn't go so that's why he pushed him. It would be hard, but Sandburg would get over it and be fine. And until he did get over it, the sentinel would be there for his guide, to buy him a beer, make him laugh, show him support and show him that he was loved.
BLIND MAN’S BLUFF
And you know that
I'll be at your side, there's no need to worry
Together we'll survive through the haste and hurry
I'll be at your side
If you feel like you're alone, and you've nowhere to turn
I'll be at your side
"At Your Side" by the Corrs
Jim very reluctantly relinquished his hold on his friend, allowing the EMTs to pull Sandburg’s limp body out of his arms. He yielded to Simon’s soft tug on his arm, getting to his feet and taking a step back to give the medics room to work, but he stayed close and hovered as they were briefed on the situation and took Blair’s vitals. The sentinel already knew his partner’s respirations were shallow and his heart beat was slow, so he wasn’t surprised when the EMTs quickly loaded him up on a gurney and into the back of the ambulance. Banks was tugging at his arm again, but Ellison shook him off in agitation.
“I want to ride with him.”
“Let them do their job, Jim,” Simon urged, putting a hand on his shoulder and steering him gently but firmly away. “Come on, I’ll drive you to the hospital.”
The detective didn’t like it, feeling like he was abandoning his partner, but he grudgingly had to admit to himself that the medics had enough to deal with keeping his friend alive and didn’t need the distraction of a secretly blind and very worried sentinel bumbling around in their way. So as the sirens sounded, echoing loudly in the garage and then growing fainter as the vehicle exited and sped off down the street, Jim climbed into the passenger side of his boss’ car, fuming slightly at his own helplessness.
They arrived at Cascade General only a minute or two after the ambulance, as Simon had run his own lights and had driven with little regard for the posted speed limit. But it was an infuriatingly long time before they could find out anything, and then it was only a curt instruction to have a seat and the doctor would be out to talk to them when he finished working on Mr. Samberg.
“Sandburg,” the detective corrected through clenched teeth.
Simon steered him toward the waiting room and they sat in silence for almost an hour before the captain’s big hand landed on Ellison’s knee, giving it a slight squeeze. Jim read his silent cue and got to his feet, eagerly facing the man he could sense approaching.
“Blair Sandburg,” he blurted out before the doctor could ask, “how is he?”
The doctor hesitated and Simon also rose, flashing him a rueful smile but also moving his coat aside as he did so, giving the man a clear view of the badge clipped to his belt.
“Captain Simon Banks. Detective Ellison here is Sandburg's partner. And we're as close to family as you’re going to get so you might as well tell us.”
The doctor nodded in understanding, running a hand through his tousled hair wearily as he glanced at the clip board in his free hand.
“He’s stable, for now,” he began, but he was quickly interrupted.
“What does that mean?”
The doctor focused on the agitated detective before him, not realizing he was sightless but plainly seeing the worry and fear in his blue eyes.
“It means this is a new drug,” he explained patiently. “We’ve seen a few overdoses in the last couple of weeks, but nobody is really sure yet what all the effects and repercussions are. Mr. Sandburg’s been unconscious since he came in and his breathing became so depressed we were forced to intubate him. We pumped his stomach and got him stabilized, but we can’t do much more for him now than monitor him and deal with any complications as they arise.”
“Can I see him?” Jim asked softly.
“Yes,” the doctor told him, not seeing what harm it could do. “Follow me and I’ll take you to his room.”
The sentinel didn’t really need Simon’s guiding hand on his shoulder as he was more than capable of following the doctor through hearing and smell, but he was grateful for it all the same for it was a steadying presence when his world was on the verge of falling apart. Jim made a beeline for his friend’s bed, carefully resting a hip on the edge as he confirmed for himself that Blair was alive and more or less stable. The doctor was called away and excused himself, and after a few minutes Simon did the same. He was obviously reluctant to go, wanting to stay and at least offer moral support to his friends, but he needed to get back to the station and begin the damage control and also assess how the run down of the chemical components of Golden was going. Hopefully someone had a lead for him, because he wanted the bastards that had done this and he wanted them now.
Left alone, there was little else for Jim to do but grope his way over to the chair beside the bed and sit and wait. The minutes ticked by and the adrenalin began to wear off and the sentinel’s head began to droop and nod. But a small sound caused him to jerk awake, and he focused his senses on the still form on the bed. He began to think he’d imagined it, but little by little Blair began to grow restive. Twitching slightly and moaning softly against the tube in his throat.
“It’s ok, buddy,” Jim murmured as he went back to the bed, resting a hand on the top of his friend’s head. He stroked his hair, comforting him until he gradually stilled once more. Ellison had considered the episode to be a good sign, but when he reported it to the doctor when he came back to check on his patient his optimism was not shared.
“I’d actually prefer it if he stayed under for awhile,” the doctor admitted. “He’s still in the grip of the drug and likely to still be hallucinating if he wakes up.”
The detective saw the logic in that, but he still couldn’t help wishing that his partner would wake up. Seeing Sandburg, normally a whirlwind of nonstop action and energy even when he was asleep, that still and lifeless was unnerving him. And, he wanted, needed, confirmation that his friend was ok, for that terrified, tear filled voice telling him about golden fire people was still haunting his thoughts. Maybe the doctor was ready to give him that confirmation.
“He is going to be all right, isn’t he?”
“There’s a good chance he’ll be completely fine,” the doctor told him.
“But that also means there’s a chance he won’t,” Jim concluded, feeling his heart sink.
“I wish I could give you a guarantee,” the doctor said compassionately. “But the truth is, we just don’t know. The amount of the drug he ingested was staggering, much, much more than we’ve seen in recreational overdoses and I’m not sure what the consequence of that will be. All we can do now is wait for the drug to work its way out of his system, and then we’ll reassess him and go from there. It’s going to take some time, but I see no reason not to be optimistic while you wait.”
“Doc,” the sentinel began hesitantly, unsure if he should ask the question weighing on him as he wasn’t sure he really wanted to know the answer, “what about when he does wake up? Is there a chance that he could have, you know, permanent problems from this? Like… brain damage?”
“It’s a possibility,” the doctor told him softly, watching the detective’s broad shoulders slump at his words. “But it’s too soon to tell, so don’t even think about that now. Let’s just get Mr. Sandburg through the night, and tomorrow will worry about itself.”
“He was poisoned,” Jim blurted out as the doctor headed for the door. “He didn’t do this to himself. Someone tried to kill him.” It had no bearing on his treatment, but for some reason he really wanted the doctor to know that.
“Then he’s lucky that you found him when you did,” the doctor said as he let himself out of the room.
“Lucky,” Ellison snorted to himself as he slumped back into the chair. “That depends on your definition of luck.”
After another half hour Blair began to stir again, but this time he became decidedly more agitated, making guttural sounds and writhing, which progressed to flailing as his heart rate spiked. A nurse entered the room to see Jim leaning over his friend, attempting to restrain him and she immediately ducked out to page the doctor.
“It’s ok, Chief,” the sentinel desperately tried to reassure his guide. “It’s me, Jim. I’m here with you, right here, buddy. Everything’s going to be ok. We’re in a bubble. Listen to me, Blair. We’re in a bubble and the fire people can’t get to us, all right? We’re safe here, I promise. I’m right here with you, buddy, and we’re both safe.”
“We need to sedate him.”
Jim hadn’t heard the doctor come in, but he shook his head in disagreement.
“No, just let me talk to him,” he pleaded. “He’ll be ok.”
“He’s going to hurt himself.”
“He’s got enough drugs pumping through his system,” Ellison snarled over his shoulder. “He doesn’t need any more. Just give me one damn minute here.”
He turned his attention back to his partner, gentling his voice and letting go of the flailing arms to take his face in his hands.
“Ok, Chief, settle down,” he soothed him. “Come on, trust me, buddy. There’s nothing to be afraid of here. Everything’s fine. You’re safe. There you go. Easy now.”
Blair began to slowly relax and his heart rate began to drop, until finally he went limp once more. Jim likewise began to relax, and he got off the small bed, steeling himself to face the music. The nurse was furious and after quickly checking the patient’s vitals she whirled on the sentinel, threatening to have security throw him out for interfering with treatment.
“I won’t do it again,” Ellison promised innocently, knowing full well he would absolutely do it again if the situation warranted.
“It’s all right,” the doctor interrupted the angry nurse, “I think we can let Mr. Sandburg’s friend stay.” Clearly she had expected the doctor to back her and ended up leaving the room in a huff. Jim was equally surprised and expressed his sincere gratitude to the forgiving doctor.
“I was dosed with a hit of acid as a joke when I was in med school,” the man explained. “Bad trip and I freaked out. My roommate sat up with me all night. There was no medical treatment that could have helped me, but having him sit with me got me through it and kept me from going out the window. I can’t deny that you have a calming effect on Mr. Sandburg and experience tells me that will do more to get him through this than anything I can do for him. But, that being said, you do need to let us do our jobs, Detective. If it comes to the point where certain measures need to be taken, you need to step aside and let us work.”
“I understand,” Jim agreed, meaning it. “I won’t give you any more trouble.”
“Good. Keep him calm. I’ll be back to check on him in a little bit. And I can bring you a few magazines from the lounge if you’d like. Might help pass the time.”
“Sure,” Ellison shrugged, stifling a grin. First trained detectives and now medical professionals couldn’t tell he was blind. The exhausted part of his brain almost convinced him he should hang up his shield and move to Hollywood to pursue acting. “Thanks.”
And then the sentinel was left alone again, the golden light swirling in his vision as worry weighed heavily on his heart. He hadn’t been able to look into Blair’s eyes, to see if he had any awareness at all or if he was even truly awake. Unable to tell if there had been any sign of intelligence behind the drugged haze, or if the quick mind had been permanently dulled. And unable to ask the doctor to tell him, not because he was concerned about keeping his secret anymore, but because he was too afraid to know the answer.
“You’re going to be ok, Chief,” he whispered into Blair’s ear, taking his hand in his own and giving it a gentle squeeze. Jim stared down at the kid who had grown from an annoying pest he needed to regain control of his senses and keep his sanity to the partner, guide and friend he needed and depended on to back him up, teach him how to use his gift to his best advantage, and to share all the good and bad life had to offer. “You have to be ok, because I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
But the quiet room and still figure did not reassure him, so he gave the hand in his another squeeze and went back to the chair with nothing to do but wait for Blair to come to for real so he could know for sure that his guide was going to be fine.
HEAR NO EVIL
Don't be so hard on the ones that you love
It's the ones that you love we think so little of
Don't be so hard on the ones that you need
It's the ones that you need we think so little of
Oh, we think so little of the ones that we love, sometimes
Isn't it a pity how we hurt
The ones that we love the most of all
The ones we shouldn't hurt at all
"The Answer's At the End" by George Harrison
'I need those for books, you know,' Blair had said to Simon. Yeah, the kid was trying to guilt the captain for taking his money after he lost a bet, but there was still a grain of truth behind the joke.
“Chief, where did you get those white noise earplugs?” Ellison asked as he steered the Expedition out of the garage and into traffic.
“Why?” Sandburg demanded in surprise. “You need more? I thought you had your hearing straightened out and under control?”
“I do, it’s just…” Jim hesitated, not quite sure how to word what he wanted to say. “Something like that couldn’t have been cheap. I’d like to reimburse you for them.”
“You don’t have to do that, man.”
“I know I don’t. I would like to.”
“Don’t worry about it, Jim,” the younger man shrugged. “It didn’t cost me much. Basically modified hearing aids that I had a techno geek friend of mine help me with.”
“I do appreciate what you do to help me, you know,” the sentinel said quietly. He glanced over through the dark cab at the anthropologist beside him. Blair Sandburg radiated energy and enthusiasm and good natured humor, but Ellison knew, maybe even better than the kid did, that it wasn’t an endless supply. He kept up a frantic pace, teaching at the university, studying and working on his degree, and spending extremely long hours volunteering his time with the Cascade P.D. Sometimes he got exhausted, or overwhelmed, or just heart weary of all the bad stuff he’d been forced to witness on a daily basis. And sometimes he got hurt in the crossfire of his partner’s war with the worst of the criminal elements, and often he was on the receiving end of verbal abuse from a grumpy sentinel. And yet he never failed to cheerfully offer his help, sacrificing his time, his mind, his money, his body and soul to be partner and friend to a man who couldn’t even remember to thank him when he did something to ease his pain and save his sanity. “I know I don’t tell you as often as I should,” Jim continued, “but I am grateful for everything you do, including putting up with me when I’m being a pain in the ass.”
“Jim, I really appreciate what you’re saying here, I do. But you hardly have the market cornered on being a pain in the ass,” Blair teased him. “I know I’m not always the easiest person to live with, either. But you can’t deny we work well together. And at this point, there’s no need to start scorekeeping, you know. You’d be way ahead anyway, for saving my life about a hundred times. You help me, I help you when you need it. That’s what friends do, so let’s just call it even and not analyze it. Ok?”
“Ok,” Ellison replied, happy to leave it at that even though he knew that he wouldn’t be way ahead on the scorecard. He may have saved Blair’s life a time or two, but Sandburg had most definitely reciprocated. Maybe not always in the obvious ways, but he had definitely been a lifesaver. And if he’d never met Sandburg, Jim knew he’d be locked up in a padded cell somewhere now, so for that he would always be indebted to his friend. “We can call it even. But I’d still like to buy you dinner. Consider it a thank you for keeping me functional until I got my hearing figured out. Is that allowed?”
“Oh yeah,” Blair grinned as he settled back into his seat. Then he popped up, shooting an accusing glare at his partner. “Wait! By “dinner” do you mean Wonderburger?”
“No,” the sentinel sighed patiently. “I was thinking of that Thai place down the road.”
“Oh, ok,” the guide said, reclining back once more. “Then yeah. That is definitely allowed.”
LIGHT MY FIRE
Turning away from the remains of the warehouse fire, Ellison and Sandburg both climbed into the Expedition and automatically glanced at the clock on the dash as the detective started the ignition. Blair, who was something of a night owl, didn’t seem particularly perturbed to find it was now after four a.m. and stole a hopeful glance over at his partner.
“Sorry, Chief,” the sentinel told him, reading his mind, “but I think Tony’s Grill is going to have to wait for another night.”
“Ok,” the anthropologist agreed amiably, a bit disappointed but understanding. “But you don’t know what you’re missing.”
“Yeah, the ’missing’ is what got us here,” Jim said wryly as he backed up and set the course for home. “Maybe you can get some better directions for next time. But right now all I want to do is head to the loft and grab something from the fridge and crash for a couple of hours.”
“I hear that,” Sandburg murmured, reaching over to flip on the radio before he settled back into his seat to enjoy the ride through the mostly deserted streets of a rarely quiet city.
The two partners were silent for most of the drive, comfortable in companionable silence and not feeling the compulsion to talk. Once they arrived back at the loft, Blair made a beeline for the fridge, digging through the leftovers and analyzing the contents.
“We’ve got a little pasta left from the other night but not enough for two. Some stir fry, but that might be past its prime. Plenty of sandwich stuff. What do you feel like?” When no answer came, Sandburg dug his head out of the fridge and peered across the island at his roommate, who was standing in the middle of the living room almost as if he didn’t realize where he was. “Jim? Jim, are you zoning, man?”
The sentinel shook his head, rubbing a hand absently over his chest as he did so.
“Ok, well, do you want something to eat?” Another head shake, and Blair’s eyes narrowed suspiciously as he studied his friend. “I thought you were hungry.” At the third head shake, Sandburg abandoned the fridge and moved forward to face Ellison, not allowing him to turn away. “Jim, what’s going on? What’s wrong?”
Jim didn’t want to answer, for he knew that if he did the result would be overreaction and suggestions of tests and bizarre homeopathic treatments forced upon him. But he made the fatal mistake of glancing into those blue eyes boring into him and faltered the way he always did, wondering for the hundredth time what it was about the kid that made him open up against his will even as he heard the confession leaving his mouth.
“My lungs… hurt.”
“What do you mean, ’hurt’?” Blair demanded.
“Like when you get a big whiff of bleach or something,” Ellison explained. “They’re burning, like from chemicals. Ever since I went into that building.”
“Ok,” Sandburg said calmly, the wheels in his head spinning a mile a minute as he ran a hand through his hair. “Ok, why don’t we get you some fresh air for a start?”
So the sentinel allowed his guide to lead him out on the balcony and sat down, staring out at the sky that was still dark but showing faint signs of lightening. He obediently went through a few breathing exercises, wincing slightly as he inhaled and exhaled. And then he patiently waited for his friend to jump through all his predictable hoops. No, he didn’t want to go to the hospital. No, he didn’t want to try any aromatherapy. Yes, he was sure it would be soothing. No, he wasn’t up for any tests. Yes, it probably was his enhanced senses overreacting to something he’d encountered in the warehouse. No, he didn’t want a sandwich. No, his breathing wasn’t getting worse and didn’t seem to be compromised. Yes, he was sure he didn’t want to go to the hospital. Yes, it probably would be best to just go upstairs and get some sleep. No, he didn’t want to sleep on the couch so he’d be within earshot if something happened. Yes, he was aware not everyone had sentinel hearing. Yes, he would be sure to yell down if he needed anything. No, he didn’t want a cold pill. No, he didn’t know the active ingredient was a synthetic of an ancient Chinese herb that was a powerful anti-inflammatory bronchodilator. No, he didn’t know there was an ancient Chinese herbalist who experimented on himself and died after taking too much of a poisonous plant.
“Good night, Sandburg,” Ellison interrupted his friend with a certain finality, needing to make his escape because once Blair got started on the anthropology lesson there would be no stopping him. The detective turned his back on his roommate who was still firing questions at him, but rather than being annoyed, Jim was hiding a small smile as he started up the stairs to the loft. Because he knew that the pestering was born from caring, and there was no way he could be irritated at that. The sentinel spent a lot of his time protecting and taking care of his guide, and it filled him with a sense of warm satisfaction to know that his guide would protect and take care of him when he needed it.
Jim stripped off his clothing and fell exhausted into bed, curling up under the sheets and rubbing a hand over his chest as he took a deep breath. The air burned uncomfortably as it traveled through his lungs, and he let the breath out slowly, reassuring himself that he was ok, he’d sleep it off, and would be fine in the morning.
And if he wasn’t, well, his guide would take care of him.
What is this thing you keep inside?
Out of the light and wrapped in pride
Always afraid that one day it will show
I'll keep your secrets
I'll hold your ground
And when the darkness starts to fall
I'll be around there waiting when dreams are fading
And friends are distant and few
Know at that moment I'll be there with you
I'll be around when there's no reason left to carry on
And every dream you've ever had is gone
And the dark is deep and black without a sound
And every star has been dragged to the ground
Know at that moment I will be around
"I'll Keep Your Secrets" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Blair got out of the car slowly, ignoring Simon’s order to stay put. His gaze was fixed on the vehicle that had crashed in front of them, for a moment worried that perhaps his friend had been inside. But then he realized that it hadn’t merely crashed, it had been taken down. And only one person could have done that. Jim was not only still alive, but he was fighting back and winning. Sandburg looked around wildly until some strong feeling pulled his gaze upward. And there he saw the sentinel on the rooftop, regally holding court over the city he protected.
“Simon!” the anthropologist called out to get the captain’s attention. Banks halted his angry interrogation of the women he’d yanked from the disabled car and followed the younger man’s gaze, spying his missing detective above. Unable to keep a grin from spreading over his face, he handed the suspect over to one of the uniforms and then went to restrain the police observer to keep him from dashing inside the building.
“We don’t know what went on or who else might be inside,” he said sternly, waving a few of the boys in blue forward. “You aren’t going in there until we know it’s clear.”
Blair had no choice but to comply, and he paced around the street in impatient agitation until the uniforms reappeared with a man in handcuffs. Sandburg craned his neck to see around them, relief spreading through him as his partner stepped through the doorway. He hurried forward to meet him as Banks followed close behind.
“Jim, thank God you’re alright, man. You don’t know… What is it?”
“Something’s wrong with you,” the younger man accused, studying his friend carefully.
“I think it’s probably safe to assume he’s had a hard day,” Simon interjected as he clapped a hand on his detective’s shoulder and gave it a grateful squeeze.
“No, it’s more than that…”
“I’m all right, Chief,” Ellison reassured him. But then he leaned in, bracing a wrist on his friend’s shoulder as he quietly confided into his ear. “Oliver gave me a shot. Some sort of sedative. I fought it off but now…”
“It’s catching up to you,” Sandburg concluded with a sigh before turning to Banks. “We need to get him to the hospital.”
“Jim,” Blair began patiently, “they drugged you with something and you don’t even know what it was…”
“I’m fine,” the sentinel insisted, though he swayed slightly and put a little more weight onto his friend.
“Yeah, you look it,” Sandburg scoffed. “Come on. Simon’s car is right over here.”
“Don’t argue with me, Jim,” Blair snapped, less patiently. “I’m sure the last twenty four hours have been rough on you but they’ve been hell on me and I’m about on my last nerve here. So just shut up and lean on me and get your ass in the car so we can get you looked at.” He started steering his increasingly wobbly friend toward the vehicle, glancing over his shoulder at the captain who was still staring after them in surprise. “Are you coming or not?”
And shaking his head slightly, Banks did as he was told.
By the time they got to the hospital, Ellison was unsteady enough that Sandburg ran into the ER and got a nurse to bring a wheelchair out to the car. Jim protested every step of the way, but he was thoroughly ignored and soon found himself in a curtained cubicle and hooked up to an IV while a nurse took his vital signs and filled out his chart. She left him then, promising that the doctor would be in soon.
“Which means sometime tomorrow, if I’m lucky,” the sentinel grumbled.
“Humor me, ok?” Blair asked from the chair next to his bed. “A couple hours ago I wasn’t even sure if you were still alive, you know. I don’t want to take any chances now.”
“I am not dying, Sandburg!”
“Let’s hope not,” came a voice from behind the curtain. “We can’t lose the man who prevented an assassination today.”
“Who the hell are you?” the detective demanded as the man behind the voice stepped into view.
“Jim, allow me to introduce Agent Cameron,” Blair told him, not bothering to get up. “The Fed in charge of Chavez’s transport and safety.”
“I need to ask you a few questions, Detective,” the agent scowled as he abandoned his forced pleasantry. “And I’m going to need a full statement.”
“Well, that’s going to have to wait,” Sandburg informed him quietly, but firmly.
“This doesn’t concern you,” Cameron barked, barely giving the consultant a glance.
“Yeah, just like it didn’t concern me when Captain Banks and I came to your office earlier,” Blair said as he got to his feet. “You know, if you had cooperated with us when we asked you to, we might have found Jim before they drugged him up and before any of this got as far as it did. But you wouldn’t let us into your Feds Only club…”
“This was a classified operation,” Cameron seethed.
“And we weren’t on the need to know list,” Sandburg smirked. “So how did that work out for you, Cameron? Your whole operation almost went to hell. It’s only because of this police detective that Chavez is even still alive right now. He saved your ass and your job and you don’t have the right to demand anything from him!”
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about what you need,” Blair told him, moving closer and putting himself between the agent and his partner. “What Jim needs is medical attention and rest, and you aren’t getting a damn thing from him until he gets it.”
Cameron locked eyes with the anthropologist. Sandburg had never raised his voice, but there was a note of steel behind his tone and somehow his short stature looked imposing. Blair glared back at the agent, not about to give an inch. Ever since Jim had gone missing, he’d done what he could to help find him but had largely felt helpless, out of his element and hands tied because he wasn’t a cop. He’d tagged along and followed the investigation, but it had been Simon’s show and he’d mostly just been along for the ride. But now the sentinel was safe and Blair was once again free to do what he did best: watch his partner’s back. Cameron seemed to finally realize that even though he had law on his side, this was a fight he wasn’t going to win. He gazed over the top of Sandburg’s head and caught Ellison’s eye.
“All right, you win,” he said grudgingly. “Just come over to my office when you’re released. Your pit bull knows where it is.”
“Pit bull?” Jim chuckled as the agent stormed off. “You look more like a poodle.”
“Very funny,” Blair told him with a grin. “Man, I wish Simon could have been here for that. He’s going to be so mad he missed the chance to tell off that s.o.b.”
“Where is Simon?” Ellison asked, looking around as if he just realized Banks wasn’t there.
“He left awhile ago, remember?” the younger man explained. “Had to go do captain things.”
Blair moved around to the side of his friend’s bed, looking down at him fondly.
“Jim, it’s time to stop fighting it.”
“What do you mean?”
“What I mean is that you look completely wrecked and you can barely keep your eyes open. So just stop fighting it, ok? You’re in a safe place now and everything’s ok. It’s all right to give in.”
Ellison closed his eyes, but his shook his head slightly.
“Jim, I’m here,” Blair whispered, putting a hand on his shoulder and rubbing it gently. “It’s ok, buddy. Let go now. Relax and let yourself sleep. That’s it. Just relax. Everything’s going to be ok.”
Within moments the sentinel was asleep and his guide resumed his seat in the chair beside the bed, watching over him until the doctor came through the curtain. He read the chart and listened as Sandburg gave him a run down of what happened, then did a brief exam while Ellison slumbered on.
“We’re running blood tests to see if we can figure out what he was drugged with,” the doctor explained as he made a note in the chart, “but to be honest he’ll probably make a full recovery before we get the results back. We’ll just let him sleep it off here and keep an eye on him, and when he wakes up if everything seems ok we’ll send him home.”
Blair thanked him and after the man left he stood up and stretched, glancing over at the prone form on the bed as he considered his options. Jim was out cold and probably would be for awhile, so Sandburg decided he could sneak away for a bit and leave him alone in peaceful oblivion.
His first destination was the cafeteria where he got a sandwich and coffee. The meal was mediocre even for hospital food, but Blair couldn’t remember the last time he ate so it seemed pretty good to him. Then he went a few flights up to visit Jack Kelso, very pleased to find that the professor had been moved out of the ICU and into a private room, expected to make a full recovery.
“Jack, I’m sorry about this,” Sandburg told him after he’d filled the man in on what had happened with Oliver. “If I’d known what I was getting into at the time, I never would have dragged you into it with me.”
“People like Brackett and Oliver have their place in certain military or government factions,” Kelso reassured him, “but they are a danger to civilian life once they go rogue. If I can do anything to help you and detective Ellison get them off the streets, then I’m happy to stick my neck out.”
“Yeah, well I’m sorry if I didn’t tell you this morning how much I appreciate your help,” Blair said, a little uncomfortably as he realized he and Simon, in their urgency, had pretty much descended upon the wounded man, interrogated him for information, and swooped out without giving him a second thought. “And how glad I am that you’re going to be ok.”
“I understand. You were worried about your friend, for good reason.”
“But you’re my friend, too, Jack,” the younger man told him emphatically. “And if you need anything at all, or if there’s anything I can do for you, you have to promise to let me know, ok?”
Kelso promised and they spent several minutes chatting about less serious things until Blair excused himself, not wanting to tire out the recovering man and needing to get back to his partner before he woke up.
Jim was still out when he got back so Sandburg slipped back into the chair next to his bed to wait. It was quiet, and as he had nothing else to do he found himself reliving all that had happened in a very short period of time and the emotions he’d been pushing away finally broke free and came rushing to the surface. The whole time he’d been running for his life and then following Ellison’s trail, Blair had been scared and confused and angry but there had been no time to deal with any of those feelings. But the underlying worry had always been there, the sick, terrifying worry that his sentinel had been killed. And now, even though Jim was there beside him, safe and sound, he began to shake with the fear of losing him.
Blair had many friends, for he was a man who loved freely and was loved in return. But he had never had a relationship with any of them like he had with Ellison. The gruff cop, reluctant sentinel, anal retentive roommate. Bossy, dismissive, often distant and sometimes even bullying. And by and large the best man he’d ever known. Dedicated to his job, protector to those who needed it, and a generous homeowner who opened his sanctuary to his guide. Loyal, wry, compassionate and frequently fun when he decided to let his hair down. The man who trusted a hippie punk with his secret. Who let him into his world and tolerated him always in his face. The man who came bursting through the door just when Sandburg was sure he was going to lose his life and identity to a psychotic serial killer. Who came to him when he was whacked out on Golden, reaching through the nightmarish hallucinations to bring him back to sanity. A friend who took care of him, listened to him, confided in him. The man he respected and admired. A sentinel he had dedicated his life to, not because of a paper and a degree, but because he wanted to help him be a hero. Jim Ellison, the brother he never had. The friend he loved beyond measure.
Sandburg swiped a sleeve over his moist eyes impatiently before reaching out and resting a hand on his partner’s arm. The sentinel had been eerily still, but Blair reassured himself that the skin under his fingers was warm and alive. Taking a deep breath in and letting it out slowly, the anthropologist tried to center and calm himself.
“He’s going to be ok,” he thought. That made him feel better so he made it into a mantra, the phrase repeating soothingly inside his head until Jim woke up a short time later. Blair went out to ask that the doctor be summoned and soon returned with a cup of cold water, which seemed to perk the detective up considerably.
“How are you feeling, really?” Sandburg asked.
“Still a little groggy, but better,” Ellison answered, rubbing his hands vigorously over his face as he sat a little more upright. “You know, I don’t get it. I got hit with a dart in that parking garage and it dropped me like a ton of bricks. So how did I fight this one off for so long?”
“I’ve got a theory about that, actually,” Blair told him. “I think it ties into adrenaline. You can’t fight what you don’t see coming, which is why the dart caught you off guard. But when they drugged you, you had time to prepare yourself and built up your adrenaline. You know, the chemical that gives people super strength or other temporary abilities in times of high stress. You must tap into that and it lets you overcome the drug for a short time. Then when the adrenaline wears off, after the danger’s past, you start to feel the effects.”
“I don’t know, Chief,” Jim said skeptically. “It sounds plausible but I’m not doing any of this intentionally…”
“I think you are,” Blair argued, “you just aren’t aware that you are. You see, Jim, I don’t believe your senses are acting on your response to drugs, at least not directly. I think what’s going on is that your sense of touch is giving you heightened or decreased biofeedback responses. That’s why the pain relievers haven’t been working and why you reacted so badly to that cold medicine. Your organic biofeedback responses are out of whack. Sort of like when you have sensory spikes. It’s an easy thing to test in the lab and I’ve been thinking of a few ways we can work on learning to control them… Why are you looking at me like that?”
“I’m just not liking the sound of this,” Ellison said ruefully. “You wanting to experiment on my pain receptiveness does not fill me with a lot of confidence.”
“That’s not fair,” Sandburg countered. “I know these tests I ask you to do make you feel like a lab rat, but they are to help us both learn. And I know some of them aren’t exactly comfortable for you, but you have to know I would never intentionally hurt you. You do know that, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” Jim murmured softly, “I know.”
“Well, we can talk more about it tomorrow,” the anthropologist offered, realizing that it probably wasn’t the time to lay any new theories on his partner and that the sentinel would likely be much more receptive once he got some rest. “Simon had someone bring my car over from Rainier so we can leave as soon as you get the all clear. I was thinking I could drive you over to see Cameron, but we could just go home if you’re not feeling up to it.”
“Nah, I’d rather just get it over with tonight.”
“Then how about some dinner first?” Blair suggested. “You’re probably starving, and it won’t break my heart to make Cameron wait on us until he misses his.”
“Now that is an idea I can definitely get behind,” Jim said enthusiastically.
“Great. I’ll even buy.”
“Really? The sentinel shot his guide a look steeped in suspicion. “What’s the occasion?”
“I’m just glad you’re ok,” Blair told him, giving him a gentle punch on the shoulder. “But if you ever disappear on me like that again, all the biofeedback experiments in the world aren't going to make a difference in your pain receptors, buddy. Got it?"
"Yeah, I got it," Jim chuckled. "You know, maybe Cameron's comparison of you to a pitt bull wasn't as far off the mark as I thought."
"Well, I'll take that over a poodle but maybe you could come up with something bad ass that wasn't dog related?"
"Sure, I'll get right on that," Ellison told him sarcastically. "But that reminds me. What were you doing at the Federal Building with Simon? I would have bet a month's salary that he'd have given you the not-a-cop line and booted you from the station. You must have really done some smooth talking to convince him to let you tag along."
"Well, it wasn't just tagging along," Sandburg admitted. "There was some witness protection involved."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"That, my friend, is a long story, which I will tell you over dinner. For now, let's just say you're not the only one who's had a hard day."
Jim's curiosity was definitely peaked, but the doctor arrived at that moment and the conversation halted for the time being. Blair watched as his friend was examined, wondering if perhaps he should mention that the loft'd had a hard day as well. But as he observed his partner snapping at the doctor, he decided that maybe it would be better to spring that tidbit on the sentinel later, over a nice dinner with a bottle of wine between them. A roomful of witnesses couldn't hurt either...
You stand by me
And you believe in me
Like nobody ever has
When my world goes crazy
You're right there to save me
You make me see how much I have
I don't know where I'd be
Without you here with me
Life with you makes perfect sense
You're my best friend
"My Best Friend" by Tim McGraw
“Why don’t we drop you off the building and see how fast you hit the ground?” Ellison snarled in the would be extortionist’s face before throwing him down to the floor as hard as he could, effectively knocking the wind out of him. While he lay there stunned, the detective knelt down beside him and roughly yanked his arms behind his back and slapped a pair of handcuffs on him, making sure they were good and tight. The notion of tossing the bastard out the window was a highly attractive one, given that his greed had made him willing to offhandedly murder four innocent people, including his wife. And the fact that one of those people had been the detective’s partner only made it that much more tempting. Jim paused, panting a little, the ring of the far off explosion still echoing through his ears. He hadn’t been able to stop the self professed Galileo from detonating the bomb. The bomb that was on the elevator with Sandburg…
He fumbled for his cell phone, noticing his hands were shaking as he pulled it out of his pocket and dialed his friend’s number. There was no answer. Feeling the bile rise up in his throat, he began looking around for his radio, spying it a few feet away on the floor where it had fallen during the fight with Rachins. Jim crawled over to it, picking it up and fitting it over his ear. Sandburg couldn’t be dead. He just couldn’t be.
“Simon, you there?” he asked in what he hoped was a steady voice.
“Yeah, Jim, go,” came the response, crackling with static.
“What the hell happened down there?!”
“I’m on the phone with Sandburg right now. Everyone in the elevator is all right.”
“But… I heard the explosion.”
“Apparently Blair was able to cut a hole in the floor and drop the bomb down the shaft. It gave them all a hell of a jolt but they are all ok.”
“Oh, thank God,” Ellison whispered, feeling a wave of weakness wash over him.
“Now what the hell is going on up there?”
“Two suspects in custody,” the detective reported. “Both with gunshot wounds. I need backup and an ambulance.”
“Brown’s on his way up now,” Banks told him, “and we already have the EMTs standing by outside the building. I’ll have them brought in.”
“Copy that.” The sentinel sat back, running a hand over his face wearily before taking a few deep, calming breaths. Then he got to his feet and went over to kneel beside the man on the floor, the one who had warned and tried to help him, checking to see how badly he was wounded.
“I’m sorry,” Ronnie murmured raggedly, “I never meant…”
“Stow it, pal,” Ellison interrupted fiercely. “I don’t want to hear your apologies.”
“It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Nobody was supposed to be hurt.”
“Well, people did get hurt. And four people almost died, one of them being my friend. And you talking just keeps reminding me of that, so for your own sake, take my advice and shut your mouth.”
The man wisely obeyed as Jim rose and went over to the stairwell door to try to get it unbolted, and he had it pretty well started by the time the cavalry arrived. Brown gave a couple of hard shoves from his side and managed to pop it open.
“They’re getting the power back on now,” he informed his colleague. “The EMT’s will be up once the elevators are working again.” The burly detective looked down at the man face down on the floor in cuffs. “This our boy?”
“That’s him,” Ellison confirmed.
“That looks like a nasty wound,” Brown said slowly, prodding Galileo’s injured leg with the toe of his shoe. “I’m not sure we should wait for the medics to come to us. I think we should get him down there right away.”
“You may be right about that, Detective,” Jim agreed solemnly. Together they pulled Galileo up and got him on his feet. “You got him?”
“I got him,” H confirmed, “and I’ll be glad to give him a personal escort down all 37 flights of these stairs. You go check on Hairboy. Dills can stay here with the brother until the EMTs get here.”
Ellison nodded and sprinted off, impatiently making his way back to the security command. Simon had assured him that Blair was ok and he wouldn’t lie about something that important, but Jim still wouldn’t be completely at ease until he saw for himself that his friend was all right.
“What’s the status?” he called out as he entered the room.
“We need to get that bomb off the top of the car and then we’ll get everyone out,” Watson explained. “Taggart’s on it.”
“Here,” Simon offered, appearing beside him and handing him his cell phone. The sentinel took it, turning his back on the others.
“Chief, it’s me. Are you all right?”
“Well, I think I’m probably going to be sore as hell tomorrow and will most likely need extensive therapy, but I’m ok. Once you guys get us out of here, we’ll all be fine.”
The lights flickered and then came on with a loud hum and Ellison turned back around, his eyes seeking out the monitor screen. Its fuzzy picture showed a definite hole in the floor of the elevator and four people gathered around it, looking much happier than they had the last time he’d seen them. Blair looked up at the camera and grinned, flashing a thumbs up sign.
“Hang in there, buddy,” the sentinel told him, vastly relieved. “It won’t be long. I’m going to go see what I can do to help Taggart, ok?”
He passed the phone back to Banks and headed out, making his way to the fifteenth floor. Taggart and his crew had the matter well in hand, so Ellison jogged off to check on the Rachins brothers. Frank had already been taken to the hospital and the medics were bringing Ronnie down for transport. Jim rode down to the lobby with them, then got the word over the radio that the hostages were out and on their way down, so he waited until the car arrived and his partner stepped out.
“Hey, Chief,” he began as they started heading for the front doors, “This, uh, figurine you brought here to have appraised?”
"Oh, yeah. Wang-Cho dynasty, third century B.C." the anthropologist clarified.
"Some kind of good luck charm? If I were you I'd bring it back up to have it reappraised," Ellison advised. "Only this time..."
"Take the stairs," Sandburg concluded in total agreement.
"Good job, gents," the detective called out in praise to Brown's team as he and his partner left the building.
“I don’t know,” Blair said thoughtfully as they made their way to the parking lot. “I guess it depends on your point of view. Sure, it was bad luck to wind up on that particular elevator, but on the other hand, it was good luck that we all made it out alive.”
“I don’t think that has as much to do with luck as it does quick thinking,” Jim told him. “You do realize you saved those people, don’t you?”
“What I did was make a major Hail Mary play when we were out of all other sane options,” Sandburg shrugged.
“Maybe so, but you thought outside the box and saw a solution and pulled it off,” Ellison pressed. “Most people would have panicked, but you kept your head and found a way out.”
“Well, you had a lot to do with that,” Blair said quietly. “It helped a lot, knowing you and Simon and Joel were all there, working to get us out. I probably would have been a basket case, but I knew if anyone could fix that mess, you guys could. It kept me calm, at least as much as possible under the circumstances, knowing my friends were out there.”
“You have no idea. Joel wasn’t even on duty, but he insisted on being here for you. Simon wanted to handle the case personally, and Brown escorted this Galileo clown out and I’m sure made him see the error of his ways before he bundled him off in the ambulance.”
“You’re part of the team, Chief,” Jim reminded him. “Any attack on you, whether directly or indirectly, is taken very personally. As for me, you know I wasn’t going anywhere until you were out of there.” He paused, glancing over at his friend briefly before fixing his eyes on the horizon. “I’m glad you’re ok. When I heard that explosion…”
“Yeah,” Blair murmured, understanding. He stopped walked and waved a hand toward a row of cars in the lot. “Well, I’m over here. You sure I can just go? I don’t need to give a statement or anything?”
“Not with Caitlin’s confession,” the detective replied. “I need to go into the station and make a report, but I can do it later if you want me to drive you home.”
“Nah, go take care of business,” Sandburg urged him. “I’m just going to go home and have a nervous breakdown, and I think I'd actually prefer it if you weren’t there to see it.”
“Ok,” Ellison chuckled. “It’s shouldn’t take me more than an hour or two so have yourself pulled together by then. And listen, drive carefully, ok? Go straight home and take the stairs when you get there. My heart can’t take any more mishaps today.”
“You and me, both,” the anthropologist sighed as he turned to go to his car.
“Blair? I’ll pick up some dinner on the way home. And... if you’re not together yet by the time I get there, we’ll talk, ok?”
“In that case you’d better pick up some beer, too. Lots of beer.”
“Copy that.” The sentinel grinned, then impulsively reached out and grabbed his guide, pulling him in for a tight hug which Blair enthusiastically reciprocated. They held on for several moments, reassuring each other that both were alive and safe and that all was right with the world. Then they let go, turning away from each other and heading toward their separate cars without a word, for nothing more needed to be said between them.
“Where are you?”
“Why do you ask?” Sandburg questioned.
“Because you aren’t here,” Ellison pointed out impatiently.
“What,” Blair teased, glancing at his watch and noting that it was almost midnight, “do I have a curfew now?”
“No, smart ass,” Jim told him, “Simon called. He wants me to check out a shooting in Little Moscow and I’m trying to find out if you want to ride along.”
“Oh. Yeah, sure. I’m still at Rainier.”
“On my way. Meet me out front in ten minutes.”
“Out front? You sure you don’t want to come in for a second?”
“This isn’t a date where I need to pick you up at the door.”
“I know, but...”
“I’ve got a job to do, Sandburg, and I don’t have time...”
“Come on, Jim. It will only take two minutes. The crime scene isn’t going anywhere.”
The sentinel heaved a martyred sigh as he checked the time. His guide had gotten a new office earlier in the week and had spent a good number of hours there, presumably setting things up and maybe just enjoying his new digs. When he had been home, he’d chirping about it nonstop, dropping subtle and no-so-subtle invitations to his partner to come and visit. And Ellison realized that stopping by was the only way to get him to shut up about it, so he resigned himself to sticking his head in and then the matter could be dropped.
“Fine,” he said with a hint of frustration. “Tell me how to get there.”
Since he’d hooked up with the anthropologist, Jim had become more or less acquainted with the layout of the campus, at least well enough that he found Hargrove Hall easily in the dark, not that seeing in the dark was ever a problem for him. Given the late hour, parking spaces were plentiful and so he just pulled in and hopped out of the SUV and entered the building. The double doors to 211 were open and when the detective stepped in he realized just why his friend had been enjoying his new office so much.
“And here I thought you were hard at work.”
“Well, all work and no play...” Blair said cheerfully as he untangled himself from the attractive girl in his arms. “Jim, this is Molly. Molly, my friend, Jim.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” she told him, smoothing one hand over her hair as she extended the other. “Blair’s told me a lot about you.”
“My pleasure,” Ellison reciprocated, shaking her hand before turning back to his partner. "So why does it still say 'artifact storage' on your door?"
“Well, it still is, temporarily,” Sandburg explained, waving a hand around the large room that was neat and tidy and decorated with a myriad of relics. “The anthropology department's getting an overhaul and they're reorganizing and recataloging a lot of the artifacts, so I'm sharing my space until they can get everything moved out. But even so, I've still got a lot more room here. It will be a lot more private, too, without people coming in and out and rummaging for things.”
"Yeah, I can see why you'd need the privacy," the detective said airily, glancing not so subtly toward the pretty woman.
"Molly just stopped by to bring me an office warming gift," Blair told him sternly. "A new coffemaker. We just fired it up to try it out. Want a cup?"
“Maybe one for the road,” Jim told him, checking his watch. “We need to get going.”
“Right, ok. Just give me one second.”
The sentinel couldn’t help rolling his eyes as his guide began saying good night to Molly, using a lot more than words. Figuring it would take more than one second, he wandered over to the coffee machine and poured out the brew into two styrofoam cups.
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” Blair promised as he escorted Molly to the door. He leaned against the doorjamb, watching her walk away until a balled up empty sugar packet hit him in the ear. “Right.” Sandburg grabbed his jacket and his backpack, accepting the cup his friend handed to him and hit the lights and locked the doors as they left. “So, what do you think?” he asked as they started down the hall.
“She seems like a nice girl.”
“She is, but I was talking about the office,” the younger man chuckled.
“Well, I think you’ll have it ready to be declared an official disaster zone within a week.”
“I know it’s just an office,” Blair said as they left the building and headed toward the Expedition. “But I’ve never had my own space before. Undergrads get crammed into whatever dark hole is available, and even teaching fellows don’t usually get more than a cubicle somewhere. So this is a big deal for me. It’s the university acknowledging my work and giving me props for it.”
“Well in that case I’m glad you’re getting your props, Chief,” Jim said dryly as he climbed behind the wheel and started up the vehicle. “You deserve it.”
“Thanks.” Sandburg fastened his seat belt as they took off. “So, Little Moscow, huh? I’ve never really studied the ethnic urban enclaves, but I’ve always been fascinated by them.”
“And why is that?”
“Because it’s an entire foreign culture that’s both ensconced and exclusive to our own,” Blair began animatedly. “Anthropologists can build careers on studying these microcosm societies and how they fit with our own. How they both incorporate our ways and yet remain true to their own heritage and fight the ever burgeoning encroachment...”
The sentinel’s mind drifted, only half listening to his guide. They had left school grounds, but the lecture was just beginning. And yet, experience was telling him that before this was all said and done, Blair Sandburg and his seemingly trivial knowledge would be fundamental to the case. So Jim let him talk, allowing him to collect his thoughts and come up with the answer before the question could even be asked, knowing that Blair would be ready when it finally was.
Blair found a pile of clean lab coats and helped himself to two, tossing one to Alec and using the other to towel off as best he could. It left him still rather wet, but at least he was no longer dripping which went a long way in convincing Jim to hand over his keys so that they could sit in the Expedition with the heat on until backup arrived. Once Carlin was hauled off in the back of a squad car and his flunky's corpse was on the way to the morgue, Ellison seemed content to leave the scene of the crime to EPA professionals who were trained and equipped to deal with the loose and deadly funnel web spiders, along with whatever else the X Farm was harboring that could be potentially hazardous. He and Suzanne Tomaki climbed into the vehicle and the sentinel handed over Alec's missing rollerblades that he had found while poking around, to the young man's great delight. They drove back to campus and Jim let the former Tacoma detective off at the security building, making plans to pick her up in the morning to go into the station to begin the required mountain of paperwork. Then he drove around to the street adjacent to Hargrove Hall where his partner had left his car.
"Need a lift back to your dorm?" the sentinel asked, looking at Alec's reflection in the rear view mirror.
"It's ok, Jim," Sandburg told him, "I'll take him home."
"I don't need to be taken home like some little kid," Alec insisted, quite put out.
"Shut up and get out of the truck," Blair snapped forcefully. Simultaneously cowed and surprised, Summers opened the door and slid out without another word. Jim just shrugged, wished his friend luck, and took off, leaving them standing in the street. Sandburg motioned the kid forward and led the way over to his car, pausing to open the trunk. He took off his wet coat and his flannel shirt, tossing them inside as he rummaged around and came up with a Rainier sweatshirt which he pulled over his head. Gathering up his damp curls, Blair swept his hair back from his face and secured it with a band he dug out of his jeans pocket.
"Will you hurry up, already?! I'm freezing."
Sandburg turned to look at the boy who was waiting next to the car, shivering violently. It was cold outside and they were both wet, but he didn't miss the way Alec was clutching his rollerblades to his chest, or the look in his eyes. Blair knew it well, for it was the same one he'd had the first time his life had been threatened while working with Jim. It was something you never really got used to, but he'd learned to cope over the months and didn't freak out anymore when the adrenalin started to wear off. But that didn't mean he didn't still vividly remember what it was like, feeling like you'd never be warm again.
"Yeah, ok," he murmured, slamming the trunk lid back down. "Let's go."
They got into the car and Blair drove across campus to the east quad of dorms and parked next to the one that Alec indicated.
"Thanks for the ride," the kid said as he opened the door.
"Hey, Alec, your commons has a late night cafeteria, doesn't it? You want to hit it with me?"
"You want to go here? Why?"
"Well, normally after life threatening situations I would suggest going for a beer, but you're a little young for that," Blair pointed out.
"So, what, just because we almost died together, now we have to be best buds?" Summers scoffed.
"Look," Sandburg sighed wearily, "I'm tired and not in the mood to deal with your teenage crap. Go up to your room and dry off. I'm going inside to get a Coke. If you decide you want to join me, come back down. Otherwise, I'll see you around."
They both exited the Corvair and entered the large building. Blair left the kid waiting for the elevator and continued down the walkway to the cafeteria in the commons building, finding that it was really more of a fancy snack bar. It wasn't very crowded, as the dining halls had just recently closed and the late night crammers had yet to file in looking for sugar and caffeine to sustain them. Since he'd missed dinner, food seemed like a good option in addition to the Coke he ordered. The anthropologist decided on the tuna salad even though he knew from experience he'd probably regret it, so to cover his bases he also picked up an apple and a cookie that was as big as his hand. He paid for everything and sat down at a table, watching the ceiling tv mounted in the corner as he ate the sandwich that was better than he was expecting. Sandburg worked his way through his meal and was finishing up, about to give up on the prospect of company when Alec suddenly appeared, slamming a tray of pizza on the table and sliding into the chair across from him.
"What?" the kid demanded, seeing a look of revulsion pass over his companion's face. "You don't like pizza?"
"Not so much anymore."
"That's just un-American."
"Well, the last time I had it, it was poisoned with a lethal amount of a hallucinogen," Blair explained wryly. "I kind of lost my taste for it after that."
"Are you kidding me?"
"Believe me, I wish I was."
"So, uh," Alec stammered, looking down at the table as he tried to appear casual, "does stuff like that happen to you a lot? Stuff like what happened tonight?"
"It happens far more often than I would like," Sandburg admitted ruefully. "Definitely way more than I ever expected when I hooked up with the P.D. Actually, what went down tonight was pretty tame in comparison to some of the situations I've inadvertently found myself in lately."
"How do you do it?" Alec took up a slice of pizza and the anthropologist noticed his hands were still trembling. "I mean, I was scared out of my mind. And you what's funny? The scariest part of the whole thing was that I couldn't think of a way out of there. I mean, I should have been able to think of something. But I couldn't. I thought we were both spider chow for sure. Then you saw the answer that I should have seen."
"Well, I may not have your IQ but I'm not quite a drooling idiot either," Blair told him, a touch insulted.
"No, I didn't mean that." Summers finished inhaling his pizza and started on the second slice. "What I meant was, I guess I... underestimated you."
"You wouldn't be the first one," Sandburg grinned, before becoming serious. "Look, Alec, it's what I was trying to tell you before. There's a difference between book smarts and street smarts. There are some things you just can't study and memorize. You have to learn them by experiencing life. True wisdom comes with age, my friend, and there's no acceleration process for that, no matter how brilliant your mind may be. Well, unless you go to work for the Major Crimes Unit. That'll age you ten years in a month."
"Maybe I should join up."
"Why are you in such a damn hurry to grow up?" Blair demanded. "I know intellectually you are decades ahead, but you're only chronologically young once, man. This is the only time in your life you're going to have certain freedoms and you should enjoy that while you can. You have a gift, Alec, and I'm not saying you should ignore that. But you have the rest of your life to study and work and shoulder responsibility. Take a minute to have a little fun, enjoy being a kid." Sandburg tipped his empty cup to his mouth, catching a piece of ice and chewing on it thoughtfully as something occurred to him. "But you've never been a kid, have you? Always striving to hit that next level of mastery. Did your parents push you into it?"
"Hardly. They didn't even want me to come here. It was my idea. I didn't fit in with the kids my age and I thought it would be different if I could be around my peers. But then I got here and realized I didn't have any. The student body here is a group of collective morons."
"Perhaps you would fit in with them a little better if you didn't call them morons," Blair suggested dryly. "Have you ever even had a real friend?" Alec didn't answer, his eyes on the table as he nervously shredded a napkin onto his empty tray. "Ok, here's your first life lesson. It's the easiest thing in the world to make friends." The kid looked up at him with a disbelieving sneer. "It's true. You start by talking to someone. Not criticizing or correcting them, or putting them down for being inferior, or lecturing them. You just talk. Ask them about themselves, then listen to what they say. Then tell them something about yourself. Kind of like we're doing now."
"Maybe it's easy for you," Alec muttered, his eyes downcast again. "Everyone likes you."
"Not at first," Sandburg confided. "I started here when I was 16 and everyone pretty much hated the sight of me because I was an arrogant brat that thought I was better than everyone else. Truth was, I was scared. It was a lot of pressure to live up to everyone's expectations, especially the ones I put on myself. I was insecure, and I coped by massively overdoing the self promotion. But eventually I got my head out of my ass and calmed down and started treating people like equals and they started liking me just fine. And they'll like you, too. Just be yourself around them. Because I have to tell you, Alec Summers, kid genius, is an obnoxious little prick. But Alec Summers, kid, is a cool guy. Even if he is afraid of spiders."
"Yeah, well, tonight may have been a big step toward a cure for that," the boy said, grinning in spite of himself.
"Talk about your extreme therapy."
"And you really think it's worth it? Risking your life like that just for your thesis?"
"No, of course not," Blair answered, blinking slightly at the rapid shift in gears. "But my work with the P.D. has evolved. It's complicated, but I stay on because of more than a just a thesis."
"Is it because Ellison is a sentinel?"
Sandburg choked on another piece of ice, and when he was done coughing he managed to focus his watering eyes on his young companion.
Well, you've spent your undergrad years studying tribal cultures, especially those that employed some sort of watchman. Your master's thesis was on people displaying hyperactive senses and how that translated from the basic survival skills to uses in the modern civilized world. You've never shown any leanings toward law enforcement subculture, but you hook up with a detective who's got the best arrest record in the city, almost as if he had some super human powers that gave him a leg up. It doesn't take a genius to put two and two together. You work with Ellison because he's the modern embodiment of your specialized field of study."
Blair knew he needed to deny the claims, obfuscate, and defuse the situation. But all he could do was sit and stare, struck speechless.
"It's ok," Alec continued with a shrug. "I figured you probably couldn't talk about it. It makes sense. If Ellison's secret got out, he'd lose his edge. You know, I really can't see a neanderthal like him embracing something like this. I guess that's why he drags you along with him, so you can help him understand it. And that's why you're ok with risking your life, because you're doing it to help him. And I'm glad you do. Maybe it's the latent teenage boy in me coming out, but this world, especially this city, could really use a couple of superheroes."
"You are too damn smart for your own good," Sandburg muttered, finding his voice as he rubbed a hand over his forehead, striving to find a way to make the kid understand how serious the situation really was. "Alec, listen to me. You can NOT tell anyone about this, all right? And you especially can't tell Jim that you know."
"I wasn't going to," Summers informed him loftily.
"Yeah. I don't rat out my... friends."
"Ok then, friend," Blair said with a grin of relief. "On that note, I need to get home." They both rose from the table and picked up their trays, dumping their trash as they left the cafeteria and started back down the walkway. "I have an early class in the morning, but if you want to meet up afterward to talk some more..."
"I'm tired of talking," Alec told him with a cheeky grin. "It's too adult. Let's do something fun. Like rollerblading."
"I don't know how to rollerblade."
"Really? I could teach you if you want." Blair gave him a doubtful look and Alec slapped him on the shoulder. "Come on! It's a life lesson. Something you can only learn through experience."
"I should have known that would come back to bite me in the ass," Sandburg sighed as they reached the elevators. "Ok, you're on. I'll meet you in the Quad around ten."
"Ok," Alec agreed happily as he punched the button for the elevator.
"Ok," Blair confirmed as he headed for the door leading out to the parking lot. "You bring the knee pads. I'll bring the bug spray."
"Charlie, come on," Ellison muttered, squirming uncomfortably in confines of the psychic's enthusiastic embrace. Glancing over, he saw that Sandburg, in particular, was getting quite a kick out of his predicament.
"Whoa!" The shorter man jumped back suddenly, as if he'd been struck by something.
"What is it?" Naomi asked.
"I just got a monster of a hit," Spring announced.
"About Jim?" Blair asked eagerly. "What was it?"
"I saw him driving like a maniac and me getting carsick," Charlie announced theatrically, "so if it's all the same to you, Detective, I think I'll walk back to the Pier."
Everyone laughed and Sandburg shook his head, insisting that it didn't take a psychic to predict that. He turned back to his mother and everyone else went back to what they were doing, and when the last pair of eyes drifted away from them, Spring placed a hand on the sentinel's arm.
"Jim, could I have a word with you? In private?"
"Please, it's important."
Ellison shrugged and stepped out from behind his desk, leading the way out of the office and down the hall to the break room, which was empty. He waved the shorter man inside and followed, shutting the door behind him.
"I did get a hit from you," the psychic began as he paced restlessly around the room. "Stronger than any I've ever had before in my life."
"Well, what was it?"
"This is why I need you to keep an open mind," Charlie stressed. "It was very strong, but largely symbolic."
"Meaning?" the detective pressed.
"Meaning I don't know exactly what it means, but it's very important."
"Why don't we just start at the beginning? What did you see?"
"Some sort of cat," Spring told him as he closed his eyes and concentrated. "A big one. Like a leopard or a panther or..."
"A jaguar," Jim murmured.
"Yeah, maybe." Charlie opened his eyes and stared hard at the sentinel. "It was in a jungle. You were there with it, all dressed in camouflage, like a soldier."
"The cat opened it's mouth and swallowed up all the light, leaving you in complete darkness."
"And?" Ellison prompted.
"That was it."
"Really." The sentinel arched an eyebrow and grinned sardonically at the other man. "Well, Charlie, maybe I'm missing something here but I'm not seeing any cause for hysteria."
"I told you, I don't know what it means," Spring snapped, pausing in his pacing to grip the detective's arm, "but I'm telling you, Jim, that this is serious. I've never had such a bad feeling before. And in the vision, when the light was gone, it was like the end of the world for you. So if none of this is ringing any bells for you, you need to sit down and figure out what it means because if you can't prevent it, then you're looking at something devastating."
"Ok, I'll work on it," Ellison told him, largely to placate him, but it seemed to work. The psychic nodded and let go of him, turning and heading for the door. "Hey, Charlie," Jim called after him, "this jaguar in your vision? It was a black cat, right?"
"No," Spring replied, giving him a questioning look over his shoulder. "It was spotted. Why?"
"Never mind," Jim murmured, clapping him on the back as he joined him at the door. The psychic shrugged and led the way out, leaving the sentinel to wonder what the hell it all meant. Then with a shake of his head, he decided to forget it. Sure, Charlie had been right about a few things and had helped them recover a kidnaped little girl, but he had also admitted to being a bit of a snake oil salesman as well. It was nothing, Ellison told himself. And even if it was, so what? After all he'd been through lately, just how bad could a spotted jaguar taking the light away be? Whatever it meant, if it were even true, he and Sandburg would deal with it when it came to pass, just like they always did.
PENNIES FROM HEAVEN
Blair unlocked the door and entered the loft, holding the door open for his roommate to slowly enter behind him. Jim may have been walking like Walter Brennen earlier in the day after being clipped by Ungar's car, but now, after chasing Latham through the rail yard and getting into a brawl that nearly resulted in him being thrown off a roof, the detective was barely walking at all. Sandburg closed the door behind him and locked it, then took hold of the coat his friend was trying to shrug off. Ellison gave him an odd look over his shoulder, but didn't comment and allowed him to help him slip out of the garment. Blair hung the jacket up and removed his own, studying the sentinel as he started to hobble through the living room.
"You want to take my room tonight, man?"
"Why?" the detective asked in confusion.
"It might be a little easier on you, save you from going up and down the stairs."
"Your room is a biohazard," Ellison informed his friend. "I'm not setting foot in there."
"Whatever," Sandburg sighed, not in the mood to get into an argument. "What about the couch then?"
"I'm fine, Chief," the sentinel snapped, tired of repeating himself. "So just leave it, ok?" He started for the stairs and managed to haul himself up the first two before he had to pause, gripping the rail and grimacing in pain.
"Yeah, you really look fine," the anthropologist told him sarcastically. "Jim, you were hit by a car, for God's sake. There's no shame in admitting that it hurt."
"Ok, it hurt," Ellison confessed wryly. "A lot."
"You may have super senses but you are not the man of steel, my friend."
"I'll be ok," Jim insisted, letting out a long breath slowly. "I just need a hot shower to loosen everything up."
"Good idea," Blair murmured as he headed to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator.
The sentinel abandoned the stairs and headed for the bathroom where he managed, with some difficulty, to get undressed and step into the shower. But the hot water did help, easing some of the stiffness and soreness from his abused muscles and abraded skin. He felt himself relaxing, at least until the bathroom door opened.
"Sandburg, do you have no sense of privacy or personal space?!" he growled from behind the curtain.
"I'm just bringing you some clothes."
"Oh." The sentinel stuck his head around the curtain. "Thanks."
"Do you need anything else?"
"No, I'm good."
"All right, I'm going to bed," Blair informed him. "If you need anything, just yell."
He left his roommate in peace and Jim returned to the hot water, standing under the spray until it started to cool. Then he got out of the shower and got dressed, still in a considerable amount of pain but moving a little more freely. He dug a bottle of aspirin out of the medicine cabinet and swallowed a few of the pills with a handful of water from the sink. Then he left the bathroom, steeling himself for the daunting climb up the stairs to his bed. But when he got to the living room he found that the couch had been made up with pillows and blankets and a mug of warm tea was waiting on the coffee table for him. He shook his head in exasperation, but couldn't help grinning slightly. Typical Sandburg, listening about as well as he ever did. But, he realized as he had a sip of the soothing tea and eased his battered body down to the soft couch, that wasn't necessarily always a bad thing.
Without your wisdom
Lord, where would we be
Lost in the wilderness,
Somewhere out at sea.
You found the meaning
And helped me to see
Where I was going to
All that I could be.
You turned the key.
You climbed the prison wall
Deep inside of me.
You were there
Through my joys and my sadness
And you never let me down.
"You Were There" by Eric Clapton
"I don't like this, Simon," the sentinel muttered as they stepped off the elevator. "That was a clean wound. The bullet went right through. So why do they have him in surgery?"
"I don't know, Jim," the captain replied tiredly. "But you don't have to take it out on the receptionist like she's some perp withholding information from you, all right? She told us everything she knows, so let's just sit down and wait for the doctor to come out and talk to us."
Ellison nodded and led the way over to the chairs that were scatted around the waiting area outside the operating rooms. He and Simon had gone to Cascade General as soon as they'd made it back to town, assuming that Sandburg would have been already treated and either ready to go or complaining about having to spend the night. Instead they'd been told that he'd been taken into surgery, but nothing further, which hadn't sat too well with the detective. But with no other recourse available to him, he slumped down into a chair and settled in to wait. Banks sighed to himself, for after a long night and day of being held hostage, beaten, treated like a pack mule, shot at, and almost killed by smoke inhalation, he really wanted nothing more than to go home, shower and sleep for about three days straight in his own bed. But Jim had come after him, helped him get away and take down Quinn, and he just couldn't abandon him now when he looked so lost. So Simon eased down into the chair next to his friend, to keep him company and offer his support.
"You're really worried about him, aren't you?"
"I can't help it," the sentinel said quietly, rubbing a hand wearily over his brow. "I had a bad feeling about him coming along on this one from the start. I should have made him go back, but I thought I could protect him from Quinn. Like I couldn't do for Brody. Instead, he gets concussed and almost drowns in the river, gets knocked out by a couple of good ol' boys, and takes a bullet in the leg. And I can't get his voice out of my head, you know? The way he was yelling when he was air lifted out of the woods. I know how ridiculous I sound right now, how I'm overreacting..."
"Don't feel too bad about it," Simon said easily. "I understand how you feel. Much as I hate to admit it, we've all taking a liking to Sandburg. He has a way of worming his way under your skin."
"You make him sound like a chigger," Jim pointed out, grinning faintly.
"Well, there are similarities. He's just as irritating and damn near impossible to get rid of."
His teasing had the desired effect of making his distressed detective laugh, but Ellison's mood lightened only momentarily before he grew sober once more.
"The thing is, Simon, when I agreed to this whole arrangement, him tagging along and helping me with this sentinel thing, it was out of necessity. I never in a million years would have guessed that I'd make a friend out of the deal." Jim chuckled humorlessly. "And who would have thought that the most unlikely candidate for a cop to ever walk the streets of Cascade would turn out to be the best partner I've ever had?"
"Better than Pendergrast?"
"All the shit we've been through together," the sentinel mused, "with Lash and Brackett and Zeller, just to name a few. Blair's been there with me since the day he got his credentials. He's been threatened and hurt and probably terrified beyond belief, but never once has he ever backed down, or failed to be there when I needed him."
"He's a good man," Simon said softly, "and he cares about you."
"Yeah," Ellison whispered, gazing off into the distance, "and I care about him. More than I ever thought I would. And now, I don't know... I don't know what I'd do without him."
"He's going to be fine, Jim," Banks reminded him, clapping him on the shoulder. "And he might be down for an inning or two, but he'll be back in the game full force in no time."
"Thanks, Simon," the detective told his captain gratefully, before stretching briefly and glancing at his watch. "It's getting late. You don't have to stay here with me."
"It's ok," Banks said sincerely, "I don't mind."
Their wait turned out to be a relatively short one as the doctor soon arrived to fill them in. She explained they had taken Sandburg into the OR to clean and debride the wound and to repair a little of the tissue damage, but he was expected to make a full recovery and would likely be discharged late the following day. Jim asked to see him and was granted permission for a brief visit. Simon declined to go with him, deciding to return the following morning when Blair would presumably be in better shape for company. So the sentinel left him in the waiting room and went forth alone, finding the right room and approaching the bed where his guide was sleeping lightly. Jim reached out, placing a gentle hand on his friend's head. He hadn't meant to disturb him, but Blair stirred and opened his eyes.
"Hey," Ellison murmured quietly, "how are you feeling?"
"Not too bad, all things considered," Sandburg yawned before blinking and focusing his fuzzy vision on his partner.
"Good. And how was your flight?"
"That wasn't so bad, either. I kind of started to like it once the morphine kicked in." The younger man fumbled a bit, but when his fingers closed around the detective's coat front the grip was surprisingly strong. "But don't you ever do that to me again!"
"What was I supposed to do, piggyback you out of there?" Jim teased.
"Yes, exactly. Remember that next time."
"Ok, you got it," Ellison promised him solemnly with a distinct twinkle in his eye as he gently loosened the fist gripping his jacket, pausing to squeeze the hand warmly before easing it back down to the bed. "Anyway, I'm glad you made it back in one piece."
"Yeah. The doctor said I'm going to be fine." It came out more as a question than a statement, as if the anthropologist was searching for confirmation.
"That's right," Jim reassured him. "You'll be up and around in no time. And just enough of a scar to impress all the ladies."
"When can I come home?"
"Tomorrow," the sentinel promised. "Even if I have to piggyback you up to the loft."
"Let's just hope the elevator's working," Sandburg grinned.
"Amen to that," Ellison grinned back. "Listen, Chief, they told me not to stay too long, so I'm going to clear out and let you get some rest, ok? But I'll be back first thing in the morning."
"Can you bring me a bagel or something, man? You know what the food is like here."
"Yeah, I'll hook you up."
"And Jim? I'm thinking we probably shouldn't tell Naomi about this. It would just freak her out big time."
"Ok, Chief, whatever you want. But we'll talk about it all tomorrow. You just get some sleep now, ok?"
"'K," Blair muttered, stifling another yawn as his eyes drooped closed. But the sentinel didn't leave, remaining where he was until he was sure his guide had settled peacefully into sleep. Then he reached out, stroking the matted curls with the barest of touches.
"I'm glad you're all right, buddy," he whispered, giving his friend a fond look before turning and quietly tiptoeing out of the room.
HIS BROTHER’S KEEPER
The two roommates were cleaning up after dinner, Jim washing and Blair drying. They worked with a seamless cooperation born of long practice, not finding the need to talk until Ellison rinsed off the last frying pan and handed it to his friend, breaking the silence as he did so.
"What do you have on the books for tomorrow?"
"One early class and a departmental meeting," Sandburg replied. "I should be done by noon and then I can swing by the station."
"How about you swing by the rental place and pick up our tuxes on the way?" the sentinel suggested as he swiped the dish towel from his guide and used it to dry his hands. He folded the towel and draped it over the edge of the sink, noting that his friend was strangely quiet as he put the pan away. "What? You're still coming to the banquet, aren't you?"
"Oh, yeah," Blair quickly assured him. "You kidding? I wouldn't miss seeing you humiliated like that for anything."
"Thanks for the support, Chief," Jim said dryly as he headed into the living room and had a seat on the sofa.
"I was just thinking," Sandburg began, trying to sound casual, "that maybe you'd like to invite Steven to come along."
"Why would I do that?" the detective asked, his hard gaze fixed on the tv as he picked up the remote and clicked the set on.
"Jim, you are missing out on a great opportunity here."
"For what, a little familial reconciliation? A chance to turn into the Waltons? It's not going to happen."
"Why not?" Blair followed his partner into the living room and had a seat next to him. "Jim, the past is the past. Don't drag it out into the future. Look, your dad pitted you against each other as kids and you dealt with that like kids. But you're both adults now. You went fifteen years without even speaking to your own brother, man. Now you can go back to that, or you can reach out. Get to know him. See if you have anything in common. Maybe become a family again."
"I think it's too late for that," Jim murmured, with a touch of regret.
"It doesn't have to be," the younger man told him gently. "It's worth a try, isn't it? What have you got to lose?"
"Like he would even want to go to some stupid police banquet. I don't even want to go."
"Well, you'll never know unless you ask him. He might surprise you. Maybe the competition days are over and he'll actually be proud to see his big brother honored as cop of the year."
"I'll think about it, Chief, ok?"
"I don't know what's to think about," Sandburg muttered under his breath, knowing full well his friend would hear every word. "If I had the chance to reconcile with my estranged younger brother, if I had one, I'd be all over it. Someone to talk to, to mentor, to hang out with. Go to the game, grab a beer. Share the holidays with. Laugh, cry and everything in between. Borrow money from..."
"All right," Ellison interrupted in exasperation. "I'll call Steven in the morning and put the ball in his court. Does that make you happy?"
"Yes," Blair grinned as he got up and headed off to his room. The sentinel watched him go, shaking his head slightly, but he was more amused than angry. His younger friend had given him several reasons why having a brother was a good thing. But Jim knew he didn't need Steven for that. He already had Sandburg... But then again, what their father had done to them as children, turning them against each other, hadn't been fair to either of them. Maybe there was a chance they could move forward, at least become friends, if not family. Blair had been right, it was worth a try.
Sandburg returned with a notebook and a stack of texts. He made himself comfortable in the chair, arranging all his literature around him.
"You know," he remarked as he began flipping through pages, "I had no idea that the Cascade P.D. was so elegant. If we're going to have to keep going to black tie affairs every week, maybe I should just buy a tux instead of having to keep renting."
"This will hopefully be the last one for awhile," the sentinel told him absently as he turned the volume on the tv down to an inaudible level for normal human hearing.
Blair buried his nose in his books for a few minutes, then he popped his head up to grin cheekily over the top of his pages.
"Hey, Jim, I was just wondering. You don't by any chance have any sisters you haven't told me about, have you?"
"No, and even if I did I wouldn't introduce them to you."
"Because you'd hit on them and then a year from now someone would be digging your body out of a concrete pillar somewhere."
Sandburg considered that and gave a small shrug.
"Fair enough," he allowed as he went back to his books, leaving Ellison to shake his head once more as he went back to the tv.
When it gets too much for me
When it gets too much, much too much for me
I'll do the same thing that you do
And I'll put the weight on you
"Comfort You" by Van Morrison
Blair stepped out onto the balcony and moved forward to stand next to Jim, who was leaning on the railing and looking out over the dark, quiet city.
"You can't sleep either, huh?"
"I've got a lot on my mind," Ellison told him.
"You've got a lot on your shoulders, too."
"And what is that supposed to mean?"
"Well, you're the sentinel of the great city now," the anthropologist pointed out. "It's a big responsibility."
"You're not helping, Chief."
"Jim, for whatever reason, you've been given these powers. And with great power comes great responsibility."
"Still not helping."
"That's because you aren't understanding me," Sandburg continued. "Between your sentinel abilities and your job as a detective, you are in a position to really help a lot of people. It's your responsibility to do that. But that doesn't mean you have to save the world like some kind of Superman. You do what you can with what you have and that's all anybody can ever expect from you. So don't put the burden of being superhuman on yourself. You're human, Jim. You may have a gift, but you're human and you're fallible so you need to give yourself permission to be fallible."
"That's hard to do when my mistakes almost cost someone his life," Ellison muttered.
"Oh, come on, man," Blair scoffed. "How long have we been doing this? And you've had one instance where your senses have caused you to misfire. That can't even remotely detract from all the good you've done. You've protected this city and prevented a lot of major crimes and you've saved a lot of lives in the process. I can't even count the number of times you've saved my butt."
"I never wanted this." The words came out in a whisper.
"I know," the guide comforted his sentinel, his voice gentling. "And I know it's a lot to deal with sometimes. But you are who you are, Jim. And personally, I'm glad of it. Because without you keeping watch, Cascade would be a much scarier place."
Ellison finally turned to look at his friend, studying him easily in the dark.
"So what about you? Why can't you sleep?"
"I guess I've got a lot on my mind, too," Sandburg confessed.
"I've just been thinking about how Incacha passed the way of the shaman to me. He wanted me to be your spiritual guide, but I don't know how to do that."
"What are you talking about?" It was Ellison's turn to scoff. "Of course you do. You've been doing it since the day we met."
"I've been helping you learn control, but through the way of science," Blair argued. "But there's another component here, Jim. Organic or mystical or spiritual, whatever you want to call it. And I can't do for you what he did."
"Maybe not in the same way, but the end result is the same," Jim told him. "You've always helped me over the hurdles. Helped me see the path when I lost sight of it. And you've helped me come to grips with being a sentinel. That's all a shaman does and I have no complaints."
"And I'll tell you something else, too. What you said when we were in the truck last night? You're wrong. You contribute a lot more to our investigations than just hanging around to help me with the sentinel stuff. Didn't Simon specifically want you on this case because of your expertise?"
"Yeah, I guess he did," Sandburg said thoughtfully.
"I think you can stop worrying about having to get off the roller coaster, Chief," Ellison advised, turning his gaze back out to the horizon. "Everyone appreciates the work you do for us and I think that's enough to net you a season pass. And as for me, specifically... Well, even if I'd lost my sentinel abilities for good, that wouldn't mean I'd stop needing you."
Blair blinked once in surprise, for he definitely had not been expecting those words to come from his partner's mouth. But there it was, an admission of affection that surpassed any sort of working or professional relationship. And a feeling of warmth bubbled up in the anthropologist to know that once his sentinel ride was over, it didn't mean the end of the friendship they had built.
"I appreciate that, Jim," he said quietly, unable to hold back a grin.
"Feel better now?"
"Yeah, I do. How about you?"
"Strangely enough, I think I do, too."
"Good. Then I'm going back to bed." Sandburg turned and started heading back into the loft, but he paused at the balcony doors. "Jim? I'm sorry about Incacha. I wish I could have gotten to know him."
"Yeah. I'm sorry about Janet, too." The sentinel turned around to face his guide. "It wasn't your fault, you know. If I have to be human and fallible, that means you have to be, too."
"I know you're right," Blair sighed, "but that's hard to believe when someone you care about is gone."
"The Chopec don't believe that anyone is ever really gone," Jim told him. "They believe that in times of trouble they can call upon their ancestors for help."
"I hope that's true. I'd like to think that Incacha would be there for you if you ever needed him."
"Yeah, I'd like to think that, too."
"Good night, Blair."
THE GIRL NEXT DOOR
Simon entered his office to find that the coffee he'd started had finished brewing.
"Sandburg, you want some of this?" he asked as he poured himself a cup. He received no answer and turned to look at his observer, slouched in a chair at the conference table with his arms crossed over his chest, scowling at the television playing softly in the corner. "All right, what's the matter with you?"
"What's the matter?" Blair turned to look incredulously over his shoulder at the captain. "Well, let me tell you. I spent the night being held hostage with a gun in my face. One drug dealer tried to kill me and the other two tried to force me to smuggle vast amounts of an illegal narcotic over the border. Somehow I managed not to get myself killed and then helped you guys bring them down. And now what do I have to show for it? An arrest record, that's what."
"You haven't officially been arrested.."
"Captain, I know my position here, by nature, comes with a certain degree of harassment," Sandburg interrupted. "I can take the heat. I even welcome a little verbal back and forth. But I don't appreciate being the butt of stupid jokes, especially when they can have permanent consequences on my record."
"No one is treating this as a joke," Banks stressed.
"Yeah, right," the anthropologist scoffed. "Jim and Joel were making plenty of them when I was being processed downstairs. Everyone was getting a real big laugh out of it. I know I'm not a cop or one of the team and that leaves me open to certain ridicule, but I really thought I'd been here long enough now that we'd gotten beyond all this juvenile hazing crap!"
"And you've also been here long enough to know our standard operating procedure," Simon told him sharply. "This isn't personal, Sandburg!"
"It sure as hell feels pretty personal to me, Simon. The fact is..."
"No, the fact is that a police observer was found with half a million dollars of heroin in the trunk of his car. Now just imagine the field day the media could have with a nugget like that."
"I was kidnaped!" Blair protested hotly.
"We all know that, Sandburg, but you know that what makes or breaks a case is the evidence," Banks lectured him sternly. "That's why we have to do things by the book here. If IAB starts sniffing around, we need to be able to prove without a doubt that we conducted ourselves properly and can't be accused of giving any special treatment to one of our own. And this is to cover your ass as well as my own, because if there's even any hint of uncertainty about your innocence then the chief will force me to pull your credentials and you'll never set foot in this department again. Are we all on the same page now?"
"Yeah," the younger man admitted, a bit sheepishly. "Sorry. Don't know why I got all defensive. Guess it was just a rough night. And day."
"Not just for you," the captain said, lowering his tone as he came forward and set a mug of coffee down in front of the observer. "We were all worried about you, Blair, and that is no joke."
"Well, if I ever get to breathe the free air again today, the feast I was making for my date last night should still be salvageable. Why don't you come over for dinner?"
"Sounds good. And it shouldn't be much longer. Jim's interviewing Iris and she's wisely choosing to cooperate. Once she collaborates your story, you'll be free to go. I'm going to go check and see where they're at and then we'll see about getting you home."
"Aren't you going to tell me I'm not allowed to leave town," Blair teasingly called after him as the captain headed toward the door.
"I don't see how you could with your car impounded."
"What?" Sandburg yelped but Simon had already ducked out of the office. Shaking his head, Blair turned his attention back to the tv. It was a set designed for reviewing surveillance or security tapes and only picked up one and a half channels without the benefit of cable, but it was better entertainment than staring at the wall. And after about half an hour, Ellison finally stuck his head in the office door and beckoned his partner forward.
"Come on, my little jailbird. You have been officially sprung."
"What about my car?" Blair asked as he scrambled for the door.
"You'll get it back in a couple of days, maybe even when Iris is arraigned. I called in a favor to try to get the process expedited."
"I hope so," Sandburg pointed out as they left the MCU and headed for the elevators. "Because until I get my wheels back, you'll have to be my chauffeur."
Ellison paused at that, then hit the button to summon the elevator car.
"I'll call first thing in the morning and have it super expedited."
"Hey, since I made all that food last night I invited Simon over for dinner," Blair told him as they started the descent to the parking garage.
"I know, he told me. And Joel overheard him and invited himself along. Said it was the least we could do to make it up to him."
"Make what up to him?"
"Since we spent the day tracking your butt down, our strip club case got reassigned," Jim informed him with a grin.
"Are you sure there's enough for everyone?" the sentinel asked his friend as they headed for the truck. "We could stop at the store on the way if you need to supplement."
"No, I think it will be ok. I'm not hungry anyway. At least, not for a romantic dinner with the three of you."
"Chief, you knew the girl one day," Ellison sighed, taking in his partner's forlorn expression. "You can't tell me you're nursing a broken heart already."
"No. Not for Iris, anyway," Blair murmured as he climbed into the passenger seat of the truck.
"I loaned her my Hendrix guitar, man. What are the chances I'll ever see that again?"
"I would say pretty good, if we go to her apartment and get it."
"Are you seriously suggesting breaking and entering?" Sandburg demanded in shock.
"It's not B&E if you have a key and permission," Jim told him smugly.
"You mean Iris agreed to that?"
"Part of the deal. Reduced sentence for full testimony and you getting your guitar back."
"Jim, I can't believe you did that," Blair whispered in awed gratitude.
"Well, I know how much that axe means to you," the sentinel said. "And while I partly feel like you deserve to lose it for loaning it out to a strange woman, Naomi would kick my ass if she ever found out I let you lose it."
"Oh, man, I thought she was gone for good," Sandburg exclaimed, bouncing slightly in his seat in his excitement. "Jim, thank you! And when I get my baby back, I swear I'll never loan her out again."
"At least not until you get the criminal records clearance," Jim advised wryly as he backed the truck out of his parking spot and set the course for home.
Jim entered the living room with a dust cloth in his hand and shot an annoyed glare at his roommate, who was seated on the sofa amid an eruption of folders and papers.
"Come on, Sandburg," he complained. "If you're not going to help, could you at least confine the destruction to your own room?"
"If you ask me," the anthropologist commented, gazing over the rims of his glasses at his friend, "you're going to an awful lot of trouble to impress a woman whom you claim repels you."
"The fact that I don't like her is all the more reason to make a good impression," Ellison informed him as he started dusting around the stereo.
"No, if you truly didn't like her, you wouldn't care what she thinks."
"Look, I'm not trying to impress anyone, here," the sentinel said in irritation. "We are having two colleagues over for a working dinner and I would just like the loft to be presentable. It's called having a little pride in yourself and your home. You should try it."
"All right," Blair agreed affably. "Just give me two minutes to find the paper I'm looking for and then I'll go clean the bathroom. Ok?"
"What paper is that?"
"It's one I wrote a few years back about the cultural implications of poaching," Sandburg explained as he continued to shuffle through the stack in his lap. "It had some good statistics in it, although the numbers have probably doubled by now. See, Jim, locally the poaching trade is motivated by greed, a few people looking to make a hefty profit from an illegal yet lucrative industry. But overseas it's a more complex problem. A Vietnamese farmer, for example, can put in 80 hours a week in a rice paddy and still be hard pressed to put food on the table. Or, he can sell one turtle to a dealer and make what it would take him a month to earn in the fields. So it's near impossible to get impoverished people to care about the fate of a species, not when their own families are starving. Conservation takes a back seat to keeping your kids alive, you know, and you can't really fault them for what they're doing. But going after the pipeline isn't any easier. The dealers are all guys like Ng, tied into weapons and drugs. The kind of guys you think twice about messing with. It's a heavily layered problem."
"Well, we aren't going to solve it tonight. I'd just be happy if we could take Ng out of the game."
"Yeah. Hey, here it is." Blair set the stack of papers on his lap aside and skimmed quickly over the one that he'd been seeking. "Man, this is even more depressing than I remember. Very passionate, though. I was pretty heavily involved in the animal rights movement as an undergrad."
"Ok, what was her name?"
"You've never cared about animal rights," Jim accused him playfully, "so I figure you had to have been trying to impress some girl."
"Hey, I take offense to that!"
"But it's true, isn't it?"
"Listen, when I was in Sumatra, they had these amazing marketplaces," Sandburg began, taking off his glasses and hooking them on the front of his shirt. "Anything you wanted to buy was for sale, and a lot of the vendors dealt in animals. They had everything, Jim. Small furry things, birds, snakes, frogs.. all laid out like cheap souvenirs. That was bad enough, but the worst were the baby orangutans. The poachers would just go into the forests and shoot the mothers right out of the trees. Half the time when they hit the ground they'd land on the baby and kill it, but the dealers didn't care, as long as they got a few to sell. They'd cram them in these little cages and just set them out there on the tables. Some of them would scream, but most were silent, staring off into space and rocking back and forth. It really got to me, you know? These incredible, magnificent creatures, so human like, traumatized and reduced to a price tag for some rich playboy's whim. To this day I still can't get those images out of my head, man. So don't tell me that I don't care about animal rights."
"I'm sorry," Ellison told him sincerely. He was quiet for a minute, swabbing the dust cloth repeatedly over the same spot. "You know, I don't think I'll be able to look at that monkey in those Clint Eastwood movies the same way anymore."
"Ape, Jim," Blair corrected him. "Orangs are apes. And the orang in those movies used to get hit as a way to make him perform. His trainer ended up beating him to death one day. Which wasn't a crime back then so he never even had to answer for it." A heavy silence descended on the loft. The sentinel gave up all pretense of dusting and just stared at the cloth he was turning over in his fingers. After a moment Sandburg sighed and began gathering up all his papers, dropping them into the filing box on the floor at his feet. "But, you're right. We aren't going to solve these problems tonight. So let's just make nice with the feds and maybe we can work together to take one heavy hitter out of the game. It's at least a start."
"Speaking of starting, I need to get dinner started." Jim gave the mantle above the fireplace a quick swipe and then headed for the kitchen. "And you..."
"I know," the younger man interrupted as he picked up his box and got to his feet. "Bathroom. I'm on it." He started down the hallway to drop the box in his room, but hesitated and turned back to his friend. "By the way, her name was Tandora."
"The leader of the Rainier Students for Animal Rights when I was an undergrad."
"It's ok, Chief," Jim grinned as he started pulling out pots, "every activist needs a little inspiration to keep fighting the good fight."
The Orangutan Conservancy
I hope you won't let go
Maybe you'll let me know
That you'll be saddened like you've never been
Regretting that we'll leave
And for a while I could comfort you
And hold you in my mind
I need you now to be beside me
While all my world is sad and crazy
"Someplace Else" by George Harrison
Blair left his room and wandered into the kitchen to get something to drink, but he jumped slightly and almost dropped his bottle of water when his roommate let loose a torrent of obscenities at the tv.
"Jim, you do know the coach can't actually hear you through the screen, right?" he asked dryly as he walked around the kitchen island to stand behind the couch.
"Thanks for the tip," the sentinel muttered.
Sandburg hesitated for a moment, then moved forward to sit beside his friend on the couch, setting his water down on the coffee table and picking up the remote lying on the cushions between them.
"What the hell are you doing?" Ellison demanded as the anthropologist clicked off the tv.
"I need to talk to you, man, and I need you to hear me," Blair said firmly.
"About what?" Jim snapped.
"About this," Sandburg explained, waving a hand over the empty space between them. "About what's going on with you."
"Nothing's going on with me."
"Jim, I've been thinking about this all afternoon and you're starting to worry me, all right?"
"I told you..."
"Yeah, I know, nothing's wrong," Blair interrupted. "Except that you've been pissed off at the world for the last few days. You're yelling at me and getting all worked up over a hockey game when you don't even like hockey. Not to mention that whole business with Freeman."
"That's not fair," Jim protested. "You know he had that coming."
"The guy was crazy and a total ass," Sandburg agreed. "But, Jim, there was a second there where you almost let him die. No amount of screwing with you was worth that. That's not you, and no matter how I try I can't write that off as road rage or stress."
"What do you want from me, man?" the sentinel demanded in frustration.
"I want you to talk to me," his guide replied earnestly. "Tell me what's going on with you. What are you so angry about?"
"I don't know," Ellison snarled. He looked away, scrubbing a hand over his face and Blair could sense something in him relaxing. "I don't know," he repeated quietly. "I've never felt anything like this before. It's just like this negative wave crashed over me, leaving me all tense and anxious. And I feel like I should know what it means, but I don't, and that's just making the anger build. Like there's something I should be doing, but I can't figure out what it is." He glanced back at his friend and his blue eyes didn't look angry anymore, just lost and a little bit afraid. "Maybe I'm going nuts."
"I doubt it," Blair said easily. "I'm willing to bet it's all tied into your sentinel abilities."
"Well, I'm not sure yet."
"I'm willing to try even a wild theory at this point," Jim told him tiredly. "Lay it on me."
"Well, you have this protective instinct, right?" Sandburg began, growing animated as he always did when he got going on his favorite subject. "I thought it was because of your job, or maybe that's just who you are. But what if it's part of being a sentinel?"
"I'm not following you."
"As a sentinel, when you or your tribe is directly threatened, your protective instincts go into overdrive and you would do anything to dispose of that threat. Which is why you reacted so badly when Freeman came after you. He was attacking your home and interfering with your job and generally trying to ruin your life. That's why, for a second, you were actually considering letting him fall. You had to dispose of the threat."
"I don't know, Chief," Ellison said skeptically. "I've been threatened a lot of times and I've never taken it so personally."
"Yes, but you've also never had this other thing, this negativity, affecting you before," Sandburg argued. "Whatever this is, it pushed you to the edge. Then Freeman was enough to send you over."
"But what is it?" the sentinel demanded helplessly.
"That I can't tell you," the anthropologist said regretfully. "It's what I was afraid of when Incacha died. I've been going about this whole guide thing scientifically, but there's some primal, mystical force involved here that I know nothing about." He saw his friend inwardly flinch at that and immediately regretted his words. Ellison had been more or less willing to embrace his senses when assured they were organic and natural. But delving into the realm of the spiritual still made the straight laced detective uneasy. "Or, maybe it is just stress. God knows you get more than your share, and every time we try and take a break from work we end up knee deep in another major crime. So for now, let's just work on some relaxation exercises, ok? Get you calmed down and centered and then I'll do some research and see if I can come up with something on the other front."
"I thought you had a lot of work to do tonight," Jim reminded him.
"That can wait," Blair told him gently. "This is more important. Are you ready? Ok, get comfortable, relax, and close your eyes..."
The sentinel did as he was told, following where his guide lead. And he eventually began to relax, feeling at last the tenseness begin to loosen its grip over him, the warning he hadn't recognized starting to fade.
And across town, an attractive blonde woman smiled at the burly man who carried her last box into her new apartment, thanking the mover as she tipped him for his service.
"My pleasure, Miss Barnes," he said as she escorted him to the door, "and welcome to Cascade."
Detective Ellison exited his captain's office and entered the bullpen, immediately spying his partner lounging at his desk.
"What are you doing here?" he asked by way of greeting. "I thought it was a school day."
"My meeting got canceled so I thought I'd swing by and see what was going on over here," Sandburg replied as waved off the glare his friend was giving him and got up out of his chair.
"Sorry to disappoint you, Chief, but it's pretty quiet," Jim informed him as he sat down.
"Hey, what's Ruck?" Blair inquired as he snagged a spare chair and pulled it up to his partner's desk.
"On your desk calendar. You've got Saturday circled and it says 'Ruck'."
"Oh. My cousin, Rucker. It's his birthday."
"Hey, if you're planning on throwing him a bash at the loft, I know a girl who'll jump out of a cake."
"I'm sure that you do," Ellison said dryly. "But that's not really his style. Besides, he doesn't make it into the mainland very often. He's with the Coast Guard and he's based at a station out on an island in the Pacific. So the party's going to have to go to him, and there is no room for a girl in a cake in those little prop planes you have to take to get out there. And.. what?"
"You're giving me that look again."
"I was just wondering what the story is," Blair told him innocently. "I mean, you don't talk about your family and when you do it's not really very favorably. You went fifteen years without even speaking to your brother. But you're going to go all the way out to some island to see your cousin on his birthday?"
"It's not the juicy scoop you think it is, Sandburg," Jim shrugged. "Rucker and I didn't see very much of each other as kids. His dad was my uncle on my father's side and those two got along even worse than Stephen and I did. So we didn't really have a lot of family get togethers. But we went to the same high school. He was older than me and we didn't have a lot of interaction, but our paths crossed now and then and we were always on good terms. I lost touch with him when I joined the army, but when I got back from Peru, Rucker called me up." The sentinel fell silent for a moment, then added, almost inaudibly, "in fact, he was the only one in the family that reached out to me."
"Are you kidding?" the anthropologist asked sadly, knowing that he wouldn't joke about that but unable to comprehend a man being lost and thought dead for over a year not being welcomed home by his own family.
"No. Anyway, Rucker took me out for a beer, which turned into several beers and a few misdemeanors, and the rest is history."
"Well, I guess it's cool you at least have one member of the Ellison clan that you get along with. And really nice of you to go out there and celebrate with him. I'm sure it will be a great weekend." Blair paused, watching as his partner began sifting through a stack of files. "Yep, sounds like a lot of fun. Couple of days on an island paradise." Jim opened his desk drawer and began rooting around for a pen. "You know, peaceful. Relaxing. And a chance for you to give your senses a break. Not to mention the fishing. I bet it's phenomenal." The detective turned on his computer, drumming his fingers impatiently on his desk while he waited for it to boot up. "Well, I've got a busy weekend planned, myself. Places to go, people to see. Tests to grade. The oven to clean. I've been meaning to get to that..."
"Sorry to hear you've got a full plate there, Chief," Jim said with a completely straight face. "I was going to ask if you wanted to come along with me."
"Full plate? No," Blair denied emphatically. "Couldn't be emptier. Not a thing in the world to do."
"Good. We head out there Saturday morning and we'll be back Sunday afternoon. Simon just gave me the leave, provided I get this case processed and wrapped up by then."
"Right," the younger man agreed, taking the stack of folders he was handed. "No problem. I'm glad to help if it frees you up for a little island getaway."
The sentinel glanced over at his guide, wondering if he should mention that the conditions at the Coast Guard station were pretty spartan, and that the weather most likely would leave a lot to be desired. But then he decided against it, grinning to himself as he bent his head over his own stack of files. It would be a nice surprise, and the reality of Storm Island would just about make up for the time he was surprised with a relaxing weekend retreat that turned out to be St. Sebastian's Monastery.
Blair finished fueling up the truck and replaced the gas cap after he returned the nozzle to the pump. He hopped back into the passenger seat to wait for his partner, who arrived back at the vehicle a few minutes later with a large grocery bag that he placed on the seat between them. The anthropologist dug into it and fished out a bottle of water, then quirked an eyebrow at his friend.
"Are you sure you bought enough junk?" he asked with heavy sarcasm.
"It's a long drive," Jim shrugged as he started the truck and pulled out of the station.
"It's a few hours to Pinecrest," Sandburg reminded him. "You've got more than a week's worth of sugar and salt here."
"Always be prepared, Chief."
"Road work, traffic jams. Unexpected blizzards."
"Let's hope not," Blair said dryly.
"I thought you loved road trips."
"I do, but this is hardly a vacation destination. And you don't even have a CD player in this heap."
"The radio works just fine," Ellison insisted, rubbing a hand lovingly along the dash of the truck as if to undo the insult his partner had caused.
"You just said yesterday you hate the radio. And besides, it only works when we're in range of a station, which we won't be for probably half the drive."
"Then I'll enjoy the silence," Jim drawled. "It'll be a relief after spending the last couple of days with Wells yapping in my ear every time I turn around."
"She's not that bad," Sandburg remarked. "She just wants to contribute."
"Which is incredibly annoying," Ellison pointed out. "Especially when it infringes on my investigation. And don't give me that ego trip routine, ok? The department functions by everyone doing their assigned job. How would you like it if you were on some expedition and your translator started editing your field notes?"
"Ok, point taken," Blair chucked. "Maybe it's just because she's new and trying to make a good impression. Once she gets settled in she might ease up a little."
"Or she might get even worse."
"Maybe she just needs a distraction," the anthropologist said thoughtfully. "You should ask her out."
"Yeah, turn up the old Ellison charm and give her something to think about besides work."
"You want me to date a woman I find exceedingly annoying?" Jim tried to clarify. "And by doing so, you think this will somehow make her less annoying?"
"No, not date," Blair explained. "Just take her out to dinner or something. Get her on your side on a personal level and that will make her easier to deal with on a professional one."
"Sandburg, that has to be the dumbest idea you've ever come up with, and that's saying a lot."
"Laugh if you want, but I think I know what I'm talking about here."
"Ok, Romeo," Ellison challenged, "if you're so sure, then you take her out."
"Maybe I will," the younger man said defiantly. "There's probably a much better chance of success if I do it anyway."
"And what is that supposed to mean?" Jim demanded. "Are you insinuating that I couldn't close the deal?"
"No, no, not at all. I'm just saying I could do it faster and smoother."
"Really? Would you care to make a wager?"
"What do you mean?"
"Just a simple bet," the sentinel said. "One dinner date. Whoever scores it first, wins."
"And what are the terms?" Blair asked suspiciously.
"If I win, you have to trim your sideburns."
"Yeah, get rid of that stupid line of hair there."
"It's not stupid," Sandburg yelped as his batted his friend's hand away from his face. "It's called style."
"You look like an idiot."
"Fine, I'll do it. But if I win, my tree climbing days are over. No guilt trips, no excuses, no baiting. You go up and get your own damn evidence from now on."
"Deal," Jim agreed, offering his hand. Blair took it, shaking it firmly.
"And may the best man win."
Spare me? Don't spare me anything troubling.
Trouble me, disturb me with all your cares and your worries.
Speak to me and let our words build a shelter from the storm.
And lastly, let me know what I can mend.
There's more, honestly, than my sweet friend, you can see.
Trust is what I'm offering if you trouble me
"Trouble Me" by 10,000 Maniacs
Ellison had been meaning to just stick his head in and deliver a quick update, but when he caught sight of his friend's face he instead entered the office, closing the door behind him.
"You doing all right?"
"Yeah," Sandburg murmured from behind his desk. "I shouldn't have snapped at Cassie like that."
"You're upset about your friend. We all get that," Jim told him as he came forward and pulled up a free chair.
"It's more than that," Blair sighed. "I mean, yeah, I am upset about Emily. But this is also a collision of two worlds I try to keep separate."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, when I'm tagging along with you, I'm immersed every day in murder and robbery and terrorism. This, Rainier, is my break from that, you know? On this campus, the big problems these kids deal with are flunking exams and getting a date for Saturday night and the cafeteria running out of chicken nuggets. There's an innocence to this place, where I don't have to think about greed and corruption and evil. I thought I could write off Hal Buckman as an isolated incident, but now finding Emily dead here, it's just bringing your world into my safe zone." He sighed again, rubbing his hands over his face. "You want some coffee?"
Blair started to get up, but then he gasped and winced and collapsed back down into his chair.
"Are you all right?" Jim asked him in concern.
"Yeah," the anthropologist groaned. "But I think I did something to my back when I fell last night. It's been locking up on me when I sit too long."
"Here, let me see." The sentinel rose and moved behind his guide. "Lean forward." Sandburg did as he was told, albeit somewhat painfully.
"Jim, what are you doing?" Blair demanded as his partner pulled his shirt free from where it was tucked into his jeans. "Your hands are cold, man!"
"Hold still," Ellison murmured, closing his eyes as he let his fingers see for him.
"You could at least lock the door if you're going to get me into a compromising position," Sandburg muttered, hating to think of what they would have to live down if Simon or Cassie happened to wander in. But it was a concern his partner didn't necessarily share, for he took his time pressing and prodding all over the younger man's spine.
"There's some heat and swelling there," he announced as he finished his exam. "But I don't feel anything out of place."
"So what does that mean, in your professional medical opinion?" Blair asked as he tried to tuck his shirt back in.
"I don't think you slipped a disc or herniated anything," Jim concluded as he moved over to the coffee machine and poured out two cups. "Just ice it down, and then do a few stretches. Gentle, nothing strenuous, to get it loosened up. And take some ibuprofen. Not Tylenol. The anti-inflammatory will help. Take it easy for a couple of days and I think you'll be fine."
"Thank you, Dr. Ellison," Sandburg said, meaning for both the medical advice and for the coffee he was handed.
"That's my physical recommendation. Now here's the mental health tip," Ellison began as he sat back down and sipped his own coffee. "Crime happens everywhere, Chief. Just because this is a hallowed institution of higher learning doesn't exempt it from that. You're going to make yourself crazy if you try to convince yourself that there are 'safe zones' out there."
"I know," Blair sighed heavily. "I live the reality of that every day since I hooked up with you. I guess I just wanted to believe I could indulge in the fantasy sometimes, but I suppose once that door is opened, there's no closing it." He set his mug down and looked evenly at his friend. "How do you do it, Jim? Everything you see... Looking at those corpses day after day. How do you stop it all from dragging you down?"
"You get used to it."
"I don't think I ever want to get used to that," Sandburg declared vehemently. "If I get sick and have to turn away, at least I know I haven't lost my humanity."
"It has nothing to do with your humanity," Jim argued. "Don't confuse getting used to the sight with accepting it, Chief. And contrary to what you seem to believe, I'm not unaffected when I look at a corpse. But I have a job to do, part of which is to get justice for that person. And if you dwell too much on the victim you're going to miss something about the crime, so you have to learn to let your head prevail over your emotion. When you see someone like Emily Watson murdered, you need to channel all those feelings into finding out who killed her and making sure that they pay for that crime. We, as part of humanity, owe her that."
"You really think she was murdered?" Blair asked quietly.
"I know she was. I found a second hypodermic needle. The killer injected her and set it up to look like an accident."
"And I'm sure you weren't at all smug when you proved it to Cassie, right?"
"Maybe a little," Ellison chuckled as he drained his mug. "I'm going back to the station now to have a look at Gillman's car. See if I can find anything Forensics missed."
"Then you can really rub it in her face if you do," Sandburg teased. "Want me to come with you?"
"No, I want you to put some ice on that back and do the other things I told you," the sentinel said firmly, getting up and heading for the door. But then he turned back, gentling his tone. "Then you can meet me at the station and we'll see about getting a little retribution for Emily. Ok?"
As his partner left, Blair leaned back in his chair, wincing slightly but scarcely noticing the twinging in his back as his mind went over and over what he and Jim had just discussed. The day he'd become an observer with the Cascade P.D. he'd left his safe little academic world behind. For awhile he'd thought he could jump between the two, but there was no going back and forth anymore. He'd seen too much, been a part of too much. There was no going back, period. His view of the world was different and he was starting to think like a cop. Maybe there was nowhere that was safe from the depraved horrors out there, but in exchange for learning that he was also learning the skills to fight back against it. So maybe it was time to grow up, embrace the harsh reality, and do something about it.
Grabbing the edge of his desk, Blair managed to lever himself up to his feet. He needed to get moving, take care of himself so that he'd be functional to help Jim. For his partner needed him to help solve the case, and his friend needed him to avenge her. And the scholar was ready, willing, and able to accommodate both of them.
From his perch on the hood of the car, Blair watched the figure emerging from the dark and the fog, appearing before him like a ghost.
"Where is everyone?"
"Gone," Sandburg replied as his partner climbed up to sit next to him. "Simon had all the Starkville personnel hauled out of here for questioning. Left a couple of the SWAT guys behind to monitor the prisoners tonight until this mess can be sorted out. You were out there for a long time, Jim. You all right, man?"
"Not really," the detective replied woodenly. "I've sent a lot of people here, or to places just like this. And I never stopped to think about what happens to them after they've been sentenced."
"Those people you're talking about aren't innocent, Jim," Blair reminded him. "They're killers."
"Not all of them. But even if you don't come in here a killer, this place can turn you into one."
"How bad was it?" Sandburg asked quietly.
"You know how those prison movies always depict it as a living hell? It's worse."
"I'm not going to argue that our prison system isn't flawed," the anthropologist reasoned. "But the people sent here are all guilty of crimes they willfully committed, knowing that it was wrong and knowing the punishment if they were caught."
"Nobody knows what this is really like until they experience it," Jim told him, waving a hand toward the building behind them. "I had no idea what it was really like. You know your freedom is going to be taken away, your privileges revoked. You even know to expect some hassles, but I just wasn't prepared for..."
"I was scared in there, Chief," the sentinel whispered, staring off into the darkness before him. "There were guys in there that wanted me dead because.. You know, I don't even know why. Just because. Out here I have law and order on my side. I can protect myself. But in there, the social structure is completely out of whack. There is no just lying low and keeping your head down. The guards turn a blind eye and the only one you can rely on is yourself, but there's no place to hide if someone wants you found. The levels of hate and aggression and the need to dominate were just staggering. And I was scared because... After only a couple of days I was starting to feel the same way. Not even a week and I was losing it. Losing who I was. It's no wonder these guys come out after twenty years completely soulless."
Blair looked sadly at his friend, sitting so tense and rigid beside him, and he automatically stretched out an arm and wrapped it around his shoulders. He expected Jim to pull away, to jump down and shut down. But to his surprise, his partner not only accepted the embrace, but leaned into it slightly, drawing comfort from the friendly contact.
"The prison environment has been studied in depth from the anthropological perspective. And no, I'm not going to give you a lecture here," Sandburg added quickly as Ellison held up a hand. "But what you're forgetting is that these men weren't ever saints. Maybe caging them all up together brings out the primitive animalistic behaviors, but they were all halfway there to begin with. People that killed other people. Raped them. Robbed them. Maybe this isn't the best solution, but it's all we have to deal with them right now and they need to be off the streets and stopped from hurting more people. You can't blame yourself for doing your job, Jim. These guys all have free will. They chose to commit crimes. And then once they are here they choose whether to straighten up or to continue committing crimes. That's on them, not on you."
"I know in my head that you're right..."
"And I'm also right when I say that I know you could never be like them. You might have felt like you were losing it, but your friend, Turner, tells a different story. How you refused to fight him. And how you tried to help Liotta. Look, this place messed with your head, but you are not an animal, Jim. You're a good man and not even Starkville can change that. So let's just get you home, ok? I think you'll feel a lot better about all this in the morning."
"If I can stop looking over my shoulder by then," Ellison muttered.
"Well, that's why you have me, to watch your back," Blair reminded him, giving him a half hug before he let go and slid down from the hood of the car. Jim followed suit, getting into the passenger seat and trying hard not to look behind him at the foreboding facility as his friend started the vehicle and took off, driving him away from the nightmare. He was distracted, so it took a few minutes to realize something was wrong, but when he did he sat up straighter and looked over at his partner.
"Who's car is this?"
"I got it from the motor pool," Sandburg explained. "I think it was even harder to convince Simon to let me have it than it was to convince him to let me come in here undercover."
"Why did you need it? Something wrong with the Volvo?"
"No, and I intend to keep it that way," Blair said firmly. "I've seen what happens to your trucks in the line of duty and my car is officially off the market as far as police business is concerned!"
"I think you would have been all right here, Chief. It wasn't really a volatile situation, at least not the vehicle demolishing kind."
"Tell that to Simon. The SWAT van backed into his rear fender."
Jim chuckled, imaging the captain's reaction to that, as he leaned his head back against the seat and closed his eyes. The fear of Starkville was already starting to leave him and for the first time he began to be sure that the experience of being there had not left any scars. He'd get over it and life would go back to normal. And until it did, he had his partner to watch his back.
"I know it's a lot to take in, Corinna," Jim continued after having just dropped the bomb on the unsuspecting woman that someone was out to kill her for witnessing a murder she didn't even remember. "But we're going to protect you. We'll find you somewhere safe to stay tonight. Just sit tight here for me and I'll be right back. Chief?"
Blair slid out of the booth and followed his partner as he wandered across the torn up cafe, stroking his jaw in thought.
"Are you going to set her up in a safe house?"
"No, I'm going to take her back to the loft. And I want you to stay there with her," the detective told him.
"I need you to work on her a little, see if you can get her to remember anything that could help us."
"What makes you think I can do that?" the anthropologist asked, a bit perplexed.
"Because it's what you do, Sandburg," Ellison explained with a trace of impatience. "You have a knack for getting people to open up to you. So I need you to work your mojo on Corinna and get her to talk to you."
"Like a manipulator?"
"More like a shaman," the sentinel grinned, clapping his friend on the shoulder as he turned away. But Blair reached out and grabbed his arm.
"Hey, Jim, there actually might be a way Corinna could still ID the killer. She was in a trance, but she still saw whoever shot Donoghue, you know?"
"So you're thinking that if she goes back into the trance, she'll be able to remember?"
"It's worth a shot," Sandburg shrugged. "Depending on what you believe, either Oshun or her subconscious mind should have that information."
"Yeah, it's worth a shot," Jim agreed. "Listen, I'm going to finish up here and then I'll take you both back to the loft. I'll keep working this end from the station, and you try to talk Corinna into it. I'll have some uniforms stationed outside and they'll be able to take you back to the Botanica if she says yes."
Ellison moved off to finish overseeing the processing of the crime scene and Blair returned to the booth where Corinna still sat, looking lost.
"I'm really sorry about Iya," he said sympathetically. She nodded as acceptance of his condolence. "Listen, Jim thinks it's best if you go back to his place tonight. Actually I live there, too, and I'll stay with you and make sure you have what you need."
"That's rather.. unorthodox, is it not?" the woman asked.
"Not really for us," Sandburg hedged, suppressing a grin as he thought of a few other protected houseguests they'd had. "The main thing here is to keep you safe, and if Jim can't, then nobody can. He's the best."
"Of course. Whatever you think is best." Corrina glanced across the cafe, watching the detective for a moment before turning back to Blair. "He surprises me. He does not seem the type of man who would so readily accept the practices of Santeria."
"A couple of years ago he probably wouldn't have," Blair confided in her. "But he's made some great strides toward being more open minded lately."
"Your influence, I suppose."
"Partly, but he's hit upon a few things on his own. Let's just say that Jim knows a little bit about walking between two worlds, too. Oops, he's waving at us. Come on." Blair rose and held out a hand to help Corinna to her feet. "You'll like the loft. It's a good place to relax and center yourself. And I make a really killer cup of coffee."
"That would be nice." In spite of herself, Corinna smiled as she began following him through the cafe.
"Or if you're hungry, I've still got a Cuban Happy Meal in the fridge..."
Jim found his partner in the break room, sitting at the table and nursing a mug of tea.
"Yeah, fine," Blair replied. "Why do you keep asking me that?"
"Because you still look a little rattled," Ellison told him, giving him an appraising once over.
"Because I still am," Sandburg confessed with a sigh, pushing his mug aside. "Cassie was right. Chappel made me from the second I sat down next to him. I knew it and I should have just bailed then, but I thought I could play his game. Outsmart him at it. Then when he grabbed me and threw me up against that wall... Something in his eyes, man. It reminded me of..."
"Yeah. He had the same look in his eyes that Lash did. And that's when I knew I was going to die."
"But that didn't happen, Chief," the detective reminded him as he moved forward and took a seat next to his partner. "You got away from him. And he's locked up in there and you're out here."
"I'm sorry," Blair murmured, shaking his head slightly. "I really thought I could do this, Jim."
"Why are you sorry?" Ellison asked him. "You did just fine."
"What did I do? Apart from getting myself caught and almost killed?"
"How about getting confirmation that Chappel is involved in these murders? And evidence that he's being let out of his cell by someone on the inside? That's enough to get a warrant for all the personnel files at Conover. They're being sent over as we speak. Chief, a guy like Chappel is never going to spill his guts to anyone. Catching him in the act was really the best we could have hoped for, and I have no complaints about the results from your undercover operation."
Sandburg considered this and seemed to accept it, but something else was on his mind and he decided to bring up a question he'd been meaning to ask his friend.
"You never really wanted me to go in at all, did you?"
"No," Jim admitted after a long pause.
"Then why did you agree and help convince Simon to let me do it?"
"Because you wanted to," the sentinel told his guide. "I didn't like the idea of you rubbing elbows with some psychotic serial killer, especially in that setting where I couldn't be there to watch out for you. But that doesn't mean I didn't think you couldn't handle yourself. I know you can, and you proved that tonight. I just feel better about it if I'm there to back you up when you get involved in these things."
"I think I actually prefer it that way, too," Blair grinned.
"Come on, let's get out of here."
Ellison led the way out of the breakroom and they ran into Brown in the hallway.
"Jim, I've got those files from Conover that you wanted."
"Thanks, H," he told his colleague. "Just drop them on my desk, will you? I'll get a team to start going through them in the morning."
"You know what? I'll take them," Sandburg declared as he relieved Brown of his burden. "I have a feeling I won't be sleeping anytime soon tonight and this will give me something productive to do."
"You don't have to do that," Ellison reassured him. "You've already done enough in this case."
"I want to," Blair said firmly. "Maybe I got the first nail in Chappel's coffin, but after seeing him in action I really want to help seal it shut."
"Ok." Jim glanced at his partner as they continued on toward the elevators, giving him a teasing, but fond, smile. "But you know I can't authorize any overtime for after hours work, Chief."
"Funny. Real funny." The anthropologist juggled the stack of files in his arms, shifting them slightly as his friend hit the button for the elevator. "What about authorizing some Chinese take out and a beer?" "I think there's room in the budget for that," the sentinel promised as he gently shoved his guide ahead of him into the elevator.
Blair had the loft to himself. Normally he enjoyed those times, for it meant he could do whatever he liked without having to worry about overstimulating a sentinel sense or annoying a somewhat anal retentive roommate. But he was having a hard time being enthused about it now, for he wasn't even supposed to be there. Thanks to the new substitute captain, his involvement with the Cascade P.D. had been terminated and he'd had to watch Jim go off without him that morning. And Sandburg was a little surprised to realize just how much that had bothered him. But, he realized with a sigh, he should probably start getting used to it. Oh, Jim had promised to work on Finkleman and even if he couldn't convince her to change her mind, she was only there temporarily. Once Simon returned to duty he would surely reinstate his observer credentials. Things would go back to normal.
But for how long? That was the thought going around in his head and distracting him. How long before someone higher than Simon pulled the plug? And really, how long could he, from an academic standpoint, drag out this ride? It was always meant to be a temporary assignment, but Blair had been stretching it out because Jim still needed him. And, truthfully, because he enjoyed it. Sure, he'd been through a lot of horrible stuff in the past two years. But it had definitely been a thrill ride, and the bad stuff couldn't detract from the rush he got from helping Jim to take down the city's worst characters, making Cascade safer for everyone. And that was another thing. The most important thing, really. What about Jim?
Blair knew that they would always be friends. They'd been through way too much together not to be. But it wouldn't be the same, and he knew he would really miss being partners. Riding around together, working side by side as a team and watching each other's backs. Playing Sundance to Jim's Butch Cassidy.
But it couldn't last forever. Finkleman had made that painfully clear. And Blair knew it was time to start getting ready for when the end came. He went to his room and pulled out several volumes of notebooks. The first step would be to start organizing all his data into what would eventually become his thesis. The piece de resistance that would culminate his life's work and finally earn him his doctorate, opening doors and allowing him to move on to the next chapter in his life. In the meantime he'd continue working with Jim, once Simon hooked him back up. Nothing was over yet, he reassured himself. There was still time to enjoy the ride.
But his heart was heavy for Blair knew it was the beginning of the end.
"Mr. Sandburg? You're free to go."
"Finally," Blair muttered, getting up from where he was seated and brushing past the Fed holding the door as he left the room. He stepped into the hallway and found Jim waiting for him.
"You're pretty much off the hook here, Chief," Ellison told him as they started to walk down the hall. "Agent O'Hara is going to meet with us and Simon tomorrow morning at the station for a full debriefing, but in the meantime you've been unofficially cleared as a counterfeiting suspect."
"I would hope so, since I'm innocent," Sandburg snapped. "I'm glad they took your word for it because they sure as hell weren't going to take mine."
"Well, innocent people don't usually get belligerent during a simple questioning," the detective pointed out. "I don't blame them for hauling your ass in here."
"So now it's my fault?" Blair demanded, punching the button for the elevator with far more force than necessary. "What did they tell you?"
"Enough." Jim followed him into the car and hit the button for the lobby, gently, before his partner could get to it. "Are you going to tell me what's going on with you?"
"Nothing?" Ellison repeated in disbelief. "You've had a one inch fuse ever since we found Roy's body. I get that you lost a friend, but this lashing out isn't like you. Come on, talk to me."
"It's almost three in the morning," Sandburg pointed out. "I don't want to talk. I just want to go home and go to bed."
"Fine, have it your way," he warned as the car stopped and the elevator doors opened. "But if you don't get your act together, Simon's going to boot you from this case."
"Whatever. It's not like I'm contributing anything, anyway. At least nothing that you listen to."
"Damn it, Sandburg," Jim spat out in frustration, ignoring the night guard who tactfully opened the main door to the building for them without a word. "What is it that you want from me, here?"
"I want you to remember 'innocent until proven guilty'," Blair answered vehemently. "You've been nagging me about my objectivity but what about you? Why the hell have you been pushing the Jamie-as-the-killer angle so damn hard?"
"Nobody is trying to make Jamie guilty if he's not," the detective insisted, waving to point out the location of the truck even though the vehicle was rather conspicuous, one of only a few remaining in the Federal Building lot at that time of night.
"You seem to be trying pretty hard," Sandburg accused him.
"What I'm trying to do is to prepare you for the possibility so that you don't get your world rocked twice in one week, all right?"
"I appreciate where I think you're trying to go with that," Blair said stiffly, after a moment. "But I would appreciate it more if you would stop worrying about me and just focus on the case."
"Fine." Jim climbed into the driver's side of the truck and leaned over to unlock the passenger door. When he partner climbed in, he seemed a little calmer.
"I really don't think Jamie did it, Jim. And until we know for sure, I'm going to believe that he's innocent."
"You can believe whatever you want until the facts come through."
"There's something else." Blair paused, looking like he was warring with himself over whether or not to continue. "The counterfeit money they caught me with? It was the money Roy gave me the other night."
"Yeah, they told me they took two hundred dollar bills from you," Jim told him. "I figured as much."
"I know what you're thinking," Sandburg began, growing heated again. "It means Roy was involved in something shady which got him killed."
"No," the sentinel replied sternly, "I was thinking it's a new angle to look at and possibly someone else who had motive. And if I can get the D.A. to think along those same lines, then it might buy Jamie a little more time despite the blood evidence."
"Look, it's late," Ellison continued, "and it's been a rough couple of days. Let's just call it a night on this, huh? We'll pick it all back up in the morning."
"Ok," Sandburg agreed.
Conversation came to a halt inside the truck and the anthropologist turned to stare out the window at the dark city. But soon he began to regret the silence. For with no distractions, the memories started to come. Memories of Roy, his friend, whose life had been tragically cut short just as his star was on the rise. And with those memories came the burning in his throat and the stinging in his eyes and the great, heavy pain in his chest. Quickly he shoved those memories aside and grasped onto the only feeling he could deal with, the one that didn't hurt. The anger gave him something to latch onto, so he didn't have to feel the grief of losing his friend, the helplessness over not being able to stop it, or the fear that just maybe fratricide was involved. Blair shook his head slightly, willing that last thought away. Jamie was everything to Roy, and Sandburg felt like it was the least he could for his friend, to watch out for his little brother whether Jamie wanted his help or not. And he wasn't going to stop until he'd helped to prove the younger Williams brother's innocence. But Jim was right. It was late and he was exhausted and it probably was best to put the case aside until the morning. Although there was one more thing that needed to be said.
"Jim? Thanks for coming to get me and for smoothing everything over with the Feds."
The sentinel glanced over at his guide, flashing him a tired smile.
I touch your heart,
I feel your pain
You're hurt inside,
I feel the same
And the walls keep tumbling down
"Walls" by Julian Lennon
"So how are you going to track down Jeffries if you don't know what alias he's using?" Blair asked as they left Simon's office.
"I'm going to have to go back to my dad's," Jim answered, looking pained. "Maybe there's something in that stuff he kept, or maybe he can remember something from around that time period."
"You know," Sandburg began, leaning up against his partner's desk, "I know you hate being played like this, but maybe this case isn't all bad if it's bringing you two back together."
"It's not bringing us together," Ellison corrected him with a trace of annoyance as he sat down behind his desk. "If there were any other way, I wouldn't go back."
"Come on, Jim," the anthropologist wheedled. "I know you have your issues with your father but you had issues with Steven, too, and now look at you. You've made up, met his family..."
"This is different."
"Because the issues between Steven and I were caused by my father, pitting us against each other all the time," the sentinel pointed out. "We both understand that now and we got past it. But I'm not sure I want anything to do with a man who would do that to his kids."
"Don't you think you're being a little hard on the guy?" Blair pressed. "He's still your father. And you said he kept all your pictures and clippings and stuff. Why would he hang on to that if he didn't love you? People can change, Jim. Maybe he's not the same man that he was twenty years ago. I mean, when was the last time you saw him before this?"
"He came to my wedding," Jim told him. "Carolyn insisted on inviting him. I only agreed because I didn't think he'd show, but there he was at the church. When he came through the receiving line, he shook my hand and said I looked well. And that was it. He didn't come to the reception and I haven't seen him since."
"Maybe that's because of the reception you gave him," Sandburg suggested gently.
"Hey, don't turn this around on me," Ellison snapped at his partner. "I was lost in the jungle for 18 months. Everyone thought I was dead. And when I finally got home, that man couldn't even be bothered to pick up the damn phone!"
"That was wrong of him," Blair said patiently, "and I'm not trying to defend everything he's done. I'm just suggesting that maybe you should give him a second chance."
"Because he's your dad. That alone should be enough to deserve one."
"Why do you care so much?"
"Well, you know. Naomi was great, but I always felt like I missed out on something, not knowing my father. I wish I had that chance, and I just don't want to see you miss yours." And, Sandburg added silently to himself, I don't want to see you so lonely and isolated, either.
"I admire your Norman Rockwell view of the world, Chief," Jim sighed, "but it's just not reality."
"Ok, but would you just do one thing for me?"
"Just take a second and imagine how you'd feel if your dad was gone," Blair advised him. "Do it before you make up your mind one way or the other. Will you do that?"
"All right, but later," Ellison agreed. "Right now I need to go see my old man and try to finally make some headway on this case."
"Do you want me to come with you?"
"No, stay here and see if you can dig anything up," the detective replied. "If I get a name, I'll call."
"I understand why you feel like you need to go over there alone," Blair told him as he got ready to leave, "but I would like to meet your father sometime."
"Maybe, when this is all over."
Sandburg smiled to himself as he watched his partner head out of the bullpen, for it seemed that Project Reconciliation was not entirely without hope.
Listen to me now
I need to let you know
You don't have to go it alone
We fight all the time
You and I, that's all right
We're the same soul
A house doesn't make a home
Don't leave me here alone
And it's you when I look in the mirror
And it's you that makes it hard to let go
Sometimes you can't make it on your own
"Sometimes You Can't Make it on Your Own" by U2
As he pulled into the lot Blair was surprised to see his roommate's truck parked there for he hadn't been expecting Jim back until the weekend. His curiosity peaked, he got out of the Volvo, scooped up his backpack and a couple plastic bags and headed for the building. Letting himself inside the loft, Sandburg didn't see anyone so he called out his friend's name as he tossed his keys into the basket on the table beside the door.
"Up here," came the answering shout from upstairs.
"Are you hungry?" Blair yelled back, even though he knew the sentinel could hear him without amplifying his voice. "I picked up some Chinese on the way home but there's enough for two."
"Yeah, sounds great."
Sandburg deposited the bags in his hands in the kitchen and then shrugged out of his jacket, hanging it up next to the door.
"You're back early," he pointed out. "Anything wrong?"
"No, I just felt like coming home," Jim replied as he came trotting down the stairs. "Fishing just seemed a little anticlimactic after a plague scare and an attempted train robbery, you know? It got a little boring." He had also been a little worried about his friend, wanting to make sure he was really ok and not suffering any long lasting effects from the toxin he'd ingested. But he didn't want to admit that.
"Yeah, I can see how a week of camping in the pristine woods where trout are probably jumping right out of the water into your net in the company of an attractive veterinarian could get dull," Blair said sarcastically. "Real snooze fest."
"So what's been going on around here?" Ellison asked with a grin. "You feeling ok?"
"Fine. Good as new," Sandburg told him as he moved to the table and started clearing away books and papers so that they would have room to eat. "Sorry the place is a little messy. I was going to clean up before you got back but I wasn't expecting you this soon. I've just been a little busy."
"Working at the university, mostly," Blair answered over his shoulder as he carried his stash back to his room.
"And apartment hunting?"
Sandburg flinched slightly, realizing he'd been caught. He'd left the paper out on the table with a few promising rentals circled in red ink and the detective had obviously seen it.
"Well," he hedged as he emerged from his room, "I've been thinking about what you said..."
"Chief, you need to stop being so sensitive," Jim told him easily as he took two plates down out of the cabinet. "I just wanted a little space for a few days. A little alone time. I didn't mean I wanted you gone."
"I know what you meant," Blair assured him. "But maybe it is getting to be time for me to move on."
"Are you going to take that place downstairs?"
"I think this building is just slightly out of my price range," Sandburg replied wryly as he carried the food to the table and started unpacking the containers.
"What is in your price range?"
"I'll find something."
An image of a cold, rat infested warehouse adjacent to a meth lab flashed through the detective's mind and he shook his head as he snagged two bottles of beer from the refrigerator.
"You don't have to move out," he stated as he put a drink at each place setting and sat down at the table.
"I know that..."
"Let me rephrase that. I don't want you to move out," Ellison emphasized. "At least not until our project is done."
"Jim, you've got good control over your senses now," Blair told him as slid into his own chair. "You don't need me around 24/7 anymore."
"It has nothing to do with that."
"What does it have to do with?"
"I know this is a temporary situation," Jim began. "Eventually you're going to move forward and get your own life. But I think you should wait until you get your Doctorate. Why go to the trouble of moving into some fleabag apartment that you can't afford? I know," the sentinel said quickly, holding up a hand as his guide started to protest, "you can take care of yourself. I know you'd land on your feet, Chief. But you're already here and welcome to stay. The price is right, it's a safe area, and no vermin to speak of. It's convenient for our work. And in spite all of the aggravation, and there is plenty, I like having you here."
"Yes, and please don't make me repeat it." Ellison took a sip of his beer and looked his friend straight in the eye. "But it's your decision. If you aren't happy here and really want to move on, I understand."
"This is the longest I've ever lived in one place since I can remember," Blair said slowly. "At first it was just a place to crash, like any other. But now it feels like..."
"Home?" Jim suggested gently as his friend nodded. "Then stay. Not because you feel obligated or because I want you to. Stay because you want to."
"I don't know," Sandburg drawled with a grin. "The place I looked at this afternoon was pretty tempting. Right next to the railroad tracks. But you know, despite all the aggravation, and there is plenty, I guess I like being here, too."
"All right, smart ass, let's just eat."
They began passing the take out containers back and forth, loading up their plates. But Blair hesitated a moment, toying with his noodles.
"Jim, you do know what people are saying about us, right?"
"What people are you talking about?"
"Well, some of the guys at the station," Sandburg said uncomfortably. "Not Major Crime, but I've overheard some things from people in other units, you know? Speculation about us living and working together."
"Yeah, I've heard it, too," Ellison told him as he flicked one of his sensitive ears that picked up all the gossip. "Probably a lot more than you have."
"And it doesn't bother you?"
"Not really," the sentinel shrugged. "It's not true, and even if it were, it's not anyone's business. As long as it doesn't progress beyond a few whispered rumors and everyone continues to treat me, and you, professionally and respectfully, people can think whatever they want. They will anyway. Why, does it bother you?"
"No, I just thought... Never mind." Blair was quiet for a minute, focused on his dinner, but then a smile crossed his lips. "But won't they all be surprised when they learn the truth?" Out of the corner of his eye he could see his friend visibly squirm, and a light of understanding dawned on him. "That's it, isn't it? You would actually rather have people thinking I'm your boy toy than knowing that you're a sentinel!"
"It's complicated, Sandburg."
"Not really," the anthropologist argued. "Being gay may not be universally accepted yet, but it's tolerated, at least forcibly so by law. Being a freak is wide open for persecution. Right?"
"Something like that," Ellison said tightly.
"Jim, how many times do I have to tell you that you aren't a freak?" Blair sighed. "Simon accepts you. Your dad and brother accept you. Other people will, too, if you just give them a chance. What you can do is amazing. It's a..."
"A gift, I know," the sentinel snapped. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, calming down. "I know it is, Chief. It's who I am and I've accepted that. Embraced it even, thanks to you. It's just really hard for me to come to terms with the idea of coming out of the closet, so to speak. I'm trying to deal with it. I'm just going to need some time."
"Ok," Sandburg agreed softly. "Take your time. And if I can help you in any way, I'm here."
Jim nodded and they both resumed eating. But Blair's thoughts were troubled, for he had hoped his friend was starting to get past the issues he had with his fears of exposure. However, it seemed that he was just as touchy as ever. For most of his colleagues, the hard part was writing and defending a thesis. But Blair knew that would be a snap compared to the near insurmountable hurdle of getting his sentinel to agree to its publication. Then again, he'd always had very strong powers of persuasion where Ellison was concerned, so Sandburg was not without hope that all his work would eventually see fruition. Somehow, he would find a way.
"So," Sandburg began as he got into the truck. "Was this Carson a really good friend of yours?"
"I don't know if I'd say that," Jim replied vaguely as he got behind the wheel and started the vehicle.
"You guys obviously trusted each other."
"Yeah, helping someone out of a life or death situation tends to create a trust bond," Ellison said dryly as he started navigating his way through traffic back to the station. "What are you angling for, here, Chief?"
"Nothing," Blair insisted. He fell silent for a minute before he continued. "I just thought it was a little weird that you introduced me as your partner."
"What's so weird about that?"
"Because when we started out and you had to acknowledge me, you'd just do it by name. Then I became Blair Sandburg, observer. Then Simon promoted me to consultant, still on a non paying basis, I might add. Now I'm your partner?"
"Unofficially, of course," Jim agreed. "I'm still failing to see what is so earthshattering about this."
"Maybe because when I first hooked up with you, you threatened me with bodily harm if I ever called us partners," Sandburg reminded him with an incredulous look.
"Yeah, but you were just a young, eager, hippie punk tagalong back then," the detective teased him.
"So, what? Now I'm older and wiser and you're less embarrassed to be seen with me?"
"Something like that." The sentinel glanced over at his guide as he grew serious. "Look, you can't arrest anyone and you don't get a paycheck. But you do everything else a partner is supposed to do. In fact, you do it so well that sometimes I forget you're here on a voluntary basis. I know sometimes I seem to take it for granted that you're always at my beck and call, but I don't mean to. And I do appreciate all the work you've put in over the last couple years."
"Thanks," Blair told him, touched. "I appreciate that. Although I think we still need to be careful around Megan. She's already asking questions about us and the nature of our working relationship. And you need to really reign in the sentinel stuff, Partner."
"We already had this conversation once," Jim recalled.
"Yes, we did. And then you turned right around and immediately started flaunting your abilities in front of her. I really have no idea how you can be so paranoid about being found out and yet so obvious with your senses at the same time."
"It's hard for me, Chief," Ellison told him with a hint of frustration. "The range of my senses is so wide that sometimes I forget what's normal. Or I just get focused on the case and I forget there's other people around."
"This is a good thing, Jim," Blair stressed. "It means that your senses are natural to you and you are embracing them as such. You know, maybe you should just come clean to Megan. She seems to be pretty open minded and then you wouldn't have to worry about hiding from her anymore."
"Just a thought," Sandburg sighed, having known what the answer would be. "But it's going to be hard to keep it from her, man. She's got the curiosity of a cat and some damn fine interrogation skills."
"I'm sure you'll come up with some obfuscation to placate her," the detective said confidently.
"Why me?" Blair demanded. "I'm tired of trying to find excuses to cover for you. It's not easy, you know. You should try pulling some quasi-plausible solution out of your ass when the pressure's on."
"Ah, that would be why I have you to watch my back, Partner," Jim told him, reaching over and punching him gently on the shoulder.
"I think I liked it better when I was just an observer," Sandburg muttered, slapping his hand away.
The sentinel grinned, for despite his guide's objection and that fact that he'd been repeatedly told so, he had never, not since day one, been 'just an observer'.
If I seem edgy I want you to know
That I never mean to take it out on you
Life has it's problems and I get my share
And that's one thing I never meant to do
Because I love you
"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" by the Animals
"It's been a long night," Banks announced to the bullpen. "So I want everyone to take a couple of hours. Get something to eat, a catnap... whatever's going to get you through the day."
He turned and went into his office and the room started buzzing, most people somewhat surprised by the show of generosity and eager to disappear before the captain could change his mind.
"What do you think?" Sandburg asked his partner. "You want to head home?"
"No, I think I'll stick around here," Ellison replied tiredly. "I've got some things to catch up on. Maybe I'll catch twenty in the crib. But I know you have to finish your intro and get it in, so I can cut you loose."
"I'm not finishing anything without some strong coffee and real food first," Blair said, stifling a yawn. "Want to hit the diner with me? I'll buy."
"Now there's an offer I definitely can't pass up," the detective teased him. "Come on, let's get out of here before Simon remembers that he needs us for something." He pushed his friend ahead of him out into the hallway, making comments about how college students were supposed to be able to pull allnighters and still be fully functional in the morning.
"That only applies to underclassmen," Sandburg argued. "And people who aren't riding the adrenalin wave that you call a life."
They took the stairs since the elevator had not yet been cleared for service after the explosion and walked over to the diner that was nearby. A few of their colleagues had apparently had the same idea, and the pair nodded at the familiar faces as they entered but chose to sit at a small table by themselves. The waitress that came by to take their orders was fortunately armed with a coffeepot, assuring them it was fully caffeinated as she poured them each a cup.
"Hey, Jim," Blair began as he stirred a little cream into his mug, "What do you think about Gabe? You don't really think he could have been an angel, do you?"
"I think there's probably a logical explanation for everything," the sentinel told him as he sipped his own black brew.
"He said that he was here to work a miracle," the anthropologist mused. "Then he saved Johnny's life. What do you think's going to happen with him? I mean, after he testifies and all this is over."
"He's not a bad kid," Ellison shrugged. "And he did the right thing in the end. Really, he only ever broke the law because he was trying to take care of his mom the only way he knew how. He's got a second chance now. Maybe he'll use it."
"Is there any way we could help him out?" Blair pressed. "I mean, just for fun, let's say Gabe was right. Divine intervention came down and spared this kid. That means he's meant for greater things."
"I think it means you're completely sleep deprived," Jim said wryly. "But if it makes you happy, I've got a friend in Social Services. I'll call her up today and see what options exist to help bring our lost lamb back into the fold."
"It does make me happy," the younger man declared as the waitress returned with their breakfast and set a plate before him. "But not as much as this does."
They were quiet for a few minutes, enjoying their food, before Sandburg broached the subject he felt needed a little more clarification.
"Are you really over this thing with my dissertation?" he asked. "You were pretty pissed at me, so I find it a little hard to believe you're ok now with me handing it in."
"I always knew you would," the sentinel sighed after a long pause. "It's what I agreed to back in the beginning. It just always seemed like a long ways off so I never worried about it. Guess it kind of crept up on me. And I thought it was going to be strictly academic. Dry facts, you know. Like how far I could see, that kind of stuff. I wasn't prepared for the whole psychological analysis."
"You can't separate the two, Jim," Blair argued. "Your senses are who you are and they heavily influence everything you do. It's all intertwined."
"It's just hard to see myself picked apart and exposed like that."
"That's why I didn't want you to read it until the whole thing was finished," Sandburg reminded him. "But you're taking all this personally and it's not. No one's going to perceive these things as the flaws that you seem to think they are. In fact, the thesis as a whole is extremely complimentary. It's not even done yet and I've already had to do a couple of revisions because it was all coming off too much like a massive case of hero worship. Jim, I would never deliberately put anything in print that would hurt or embarrass you. You know that, right?"
"Yeah, I do. Sometimes I just..." Ellison grinned and tossed a balled up napkin across the table at his friend. "Why am I even bothering to explain? You wrote the expose. You know why I do what I do!"
"Yeah, I know," Blair chuckled. "Just like I know you're going to want one of those glazed donuts to go. So, we're cool with all of this then?"
"I still get to read the finished version before you publish it, right?"
"Then we're cool. Turn in your intro. Just keep me in the loop about your progress, ok? I don't want any more surprises with this stuff."
"I promise," Blair said solemnly, raising up his coffee mug, "no more surprises."
Jim obligingly raised up his own mug and clinked it against his partner's.
"But just for the record, you don't know everything. I want a jelly donut to go."
SENTINEL, TOO, PART I
And there you go
Turning up again
"Times Like This" by Lit
Things weren't as bad as they seemed.
Blair had managed to convince himself of that as he'd driven to Rainier, the only place he had left to go. Sure, Jim was pissed at him, but he'd get over it. He always did. They'd work it out and things would go back to normal.
But the longer he sat in his quiet office, the replay of recent events circling over and over again in his mind, the less sure of that he'd become. Maybe this had been the final straw. One screw up too many.
And he had screwed up, big time. He should have known as soon as he realized what Alex Barnes was that she was the reason Jim had been so on edge and had begun behaving erratically. But he just didn't see it. Maybe he hadn't wanted to see it. There was a time he never thought he'd find a full sentinel, let alone two. The excitement of that was compounded by the fact that Alex was not only willing to embrace what she was, but that she liked it as she learned about it and wanted to explore it with him. It was unbelievably refreshing to work with someone who not only submitted to all his tests, but asked for more. Someone who didn't shy away from the mystical elements, but dove in head first. Who would talk openly to him about how she felt and what she thought, so he could get a clear picture instead of having to extrapolate from bits and pieces. And because he now had a second subject, it would lend weight to his observations and theories and he'd have an easier time defending his thesis. Which lead to a divergent question to which he could find no answer in his limited resources: what would happen when two sentinels came together? It all overwhelmed him to the point where he lost sight of his friend and ended up doing the one thing he promised he would never do. Turn Jim into a lab rat.
But it wasn't all his fault, to be fair. Ellison had been acting so aloof and distant. He had tried to tell him about Alex the night he first saw her at the station, but Jim hadn't wanted to hear it, snapping at him like a cornered badger. Blair had been repeatedly shut out, and kicked out, and he certainly couldn't be held wholly responsible for the lack of communication.
But then again, he should have made Jim listen, the anthropologist realized sadly. Confronted him, got in his face like he always did and forced him to talk it out. But he didn't, too wrapped up in his new subject who was more than willing to hear him. Maybe if he had put two and two together sooner and forced the issue, they wouldn't be where they were now. And for Blair, that was a place where things were much, much worse than they'd seemed.
The gun nudged harder into his back, forcing him on. Blair shook his head slightly, realizing he needed to stop brooding and pay attention to the situation. His eyes frantically scanned the hallway, searching for something he could grab to defend himself but there was nothing. Not even a fire alarm he could pull for distraction.
Alex shoved him out the door and pushed him up to the fountain outside of Hargrove Hall. Blair stood looking up at it, the spray of water misty and starting to shimmer in dawn's first light. The pounding of his heart increased and he began to pant slightly. He didn't want to die. Not now, not like this. He didn't want to be like the other corpses they'd found on campus. Face down, lifeless in his congealing blood. University police keeping his students back while a detective, maybe Jim, peeled back the sheet covering him to look for clues, even though it would be obvious who had done it.
Blair closed his eyes and tried to push back the fear welling inside and threatening to consume him. A thought of Jim crossed his mind and for a brief moment he allowed a faint wisp of hope to flare. The sentinel had a knack of knowing when he needed him, showing up at the last second to bail him out. But that hope quickly died, for Blair was pretty sure that Jim wasn't looking for him this time. And he regretted, more than anything else, that he'd never get the chance to make things right with his best friend.
Sandburg drew in a deep breath, trying to calm himself as much as possible. His only recourse now was to lunge at Alex and try to disarm her. It was a ridiculous notion that was going to get him killed, but it was better than passively waiting to get shot in the back. He may have been going down, but he sure as hell was going to make her work for it.
The pressure of the gun was released as Alex took a step back. Blair tensed, preparing himself for attack, but then the heavy butt of the gun crashed hard into the back of his skull. Seeing stars as pain exploded through his head, Blair felt himself crumpling to the ground. Then a quiet, peaceful blackness washed over him and he gratefully sank into it's soothing embrace.
SENTINEL, TOO, PART II
You're the one who pulled me back again
Showed your love and your strength as a friend
"You're the One" by Julian Lennon
"Chief, I don't know if I'm ready to take that trip with you."
"What do you mean?"
"I just can't go there." Jim sighed and slapped his friend's blanketed legs lightly. Obligingly, Blair shifted over as much as he could in the narrow bed, giving his partner a ledge to sit on. "It's ok when it's about my abilities being natural and organic," Ellison continued. "I can understand a genetic quirk where my senses are just bumped up a notch. But when you start getting into this mystical mumbo jumbo, you lose me. I can't get my head around it."
"Well, it's happening whether you get your head around it or not," Sandburg pointed out dryly. "Alex was tapped into it. You saw her place, the imagery in her art. She was also having dreams of the jungle. And I'm willing to bet that you have been, too."
The sentinel looked away, which was all the confirmation his guide needed.
"Jim, face it, there is something primal going on here," Blair told him. "Something beyond genetics and way past the scope of anything we've encountered before. You can't ignore it, man, and it will be a lot less scary if you just confront it and try to understand it. I can help you..."
"No!" Jim was surprised to see his friend recoil like he'd been hit, and he belatedly realized that Sandburg was regressing to the last conversation they'd had before the fountain. Where he'd said he wanted to call it quits. "I didn't mean it like that," Ellison hastened to clarify, gentling his tone. "I just meant that right now you need rest. And I need to find Alex."
"You can't go after her alone," Blair argued. "You need me."
"What I need is for you to take care of yourself, because I'm going to need you around long after she's gone. Don't worry, Simon's going to back me up. So just stay here and get some sleep and build yourself back up, ok?"
Sandburg didn't like it, but he was exhausted and felt like crap and knew he'd only be a hindrance if he insisted on tagging along. If he could even manage to get out of bed, which at the moment didn't seem particularly likely.
"Promise you'll call if you run into trouble?"
In answer, Jim held up a slip of paper.
"Your room number," he explained.
"Ok, then I'll stay here and behave myself. For now."
"I never thought I'd live to hear those words from you," the sentinel teased, then his grin abruptly faded as he thought about what he'd just said, reminded with a jolt just how close he'd been to never hearing any words from his guide again. "Everyone from Major Crime is outside," he continued softly. "They didn't want to pile in and overwhelm you, but they made me swear to convey to you their collective love and relief that you're ok." Jim reached out, his hand covering one of Blair's. "And that goes double for me, Chief."
"Jim, I know we have a lot we need to talk over and a bunch of stuff to work out," Sandburg began hesitantly. "And I also know this isn't the time or place to do that. But I need to know if, you know, in general... Are we good?"
"Yeah, we're good," Ellison replied fondly, giving the hand in his a quick squeeze.
"Good." Blair looked beat, his blue eyes dull and his smile a mere shadow of itself. But he was alive and going to be fine, and he squeezed his partner's hand back before letting him go. "Then go get her for me."
"You got it, buddy." Jim got up off the bed, fussing with the covers for a minute. "Try and get some sleep. I'll let you know as soon as I know anything."
The detective left the room and Blair relaxed and closed his eyes, deeply asleep within moments. He was periodically awakened by nurses checking on him, changing his IV bag, taking blood. But their visits passed by in a haze, for he was too tired to rouse himself properly and suffered their indignities while only half awake. When he finally did claw his way back to consciousness, he was groggy and disoriented but noticed right away that Megan was keeping vigil in a chair next to his bed.
"Hey," he mumbled, slightly chagrined that she had been watching him while he was unaware, but mostly just glad to see a friendly face.
"Hey, Sandy," the inspector greeted him warmly. "How are you feeling?"
"Ok, I guess," he answered around a yawn. "How long have I been here?"
"Since this morning. It's nearly ten now."
"How long have you been here?"
"About an hour. I needed to talk to you about something, but I didn't want to wake you up."
"What's going on?" Blair asked, sitting up slightly. "Is Jim ok?"
"He's fine. He just..."
"He and Captain Banks left a few hours ago for Mexico. Sierra Verde. They think Alex Barnes is there with the nerve gas."
"What?" Sandburg sat all the way up, suddenly very alert. "Jim went to Mexico? Without even telling me?"
"They didn't tell me, either," Connor told him. "I just found out from Taggart. I suspect Jim didn't want to tell you because he thought you might insist on going with him."
"Damn right I would have," Blair declared vehemently. He took a deep breath in, letting it out slowly as he quickly came to a decision. "I have to go after him."
"Are you mad?" Megan demanded.
"No. Do you see my pants around anywhere?"
"Sandy, you're in no shape to be..."
"I have to," Blair interrupted her sharply. "There's no time to explain it to you, Megan, and I couldn't even if there was time. But Jim's in over his head with Alex Barnes. He needs my help. You have to trust me on that."
Connor just stared at him for long moments, then she got to her feet and stopped him from ripping out his IV.
"All right," she relented. "Just wait here. I'll go find someone to discharge you."
"Really?" he asked skeptically.
"I still think this is a bad idea," Megan said adamantly. "But I can see you're determined and I can't stop you. I know there's something going on with you and Jim. Something deeper than you observing him for a thesis." She looked at him, tears welling up in her eyes. "Sandy, you were dead. The paramedics had even given up. But Jim wouldn't accept it. He did... I don't know. Something. And you came back to him. Someday I'm going to figure out what your big secret is, but for now, if you think that we need to go after him and the captain, that's good enough for me."
"We?" Blair asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Well, I can't let you go off alone in your condition," the inspector pointed out before giving him a watery smile of defiance. "Besides, it's my case, too."
"I guess I can't argue with that," Sandburg chuckled.
"Right. Just sit tight. I'll be back in a jiff." Megan started for the door, but then she turned back. "Sandy? I know we haven't known each other very long, but I don't know what I would have done if... I'm just glad you're all right, mate."
Blair nodded and relaxed back against his pillows as she left the room. He took another deep breath and tried to take stock of inventory. He felt weak and shaky and his chest ached, but he seemed to be breathing ok so he decided that he could suffer through the rest. Given the hour, he knew that they wouldn't be able to get a flight until morning, and he convinced himself that he'd feel much better by then, after a shower and some real food and a couple more hours sleep at home. Except, he remembered with a twinge, he didn't have a home anymore. No, he corrected himself, Jim had said that they were good. Which surely meant he could return to the loft, although the last time he'd been there it had been completely empty of furniture and possessions. Well, maybe Megan would let him crash with her for the night.
Sandburg knew she wasn't exactly Jim's favorite person in the world, but he was glad she was going to go with him. He knew her well enough to know she was probably already on the phone, making travel arrangements and having the guys at MCU try to track down what hotel Jim and Simon were using. Which was fine with him, for he was content to leave those details to someone with Connor's organizational skills when he wasn't at his best. But he also couldn't deny he was glad to have the company. A travel companion to talk to and keep him from getting too lost in his own mind. A distraction to help allay his anxiety until he found Jim.
Blair couldn't really articulate why he felt such an urgent need to go after his friend. Something about the combination of Jim and Alex and that area of Mexico that was ripe with sentinel lore had immediately sparked an intense feeling of foreboding in him. He just had a really bad feeling about it all and was determined to be there, whether Jim wanted him or not. It wasn't about great material for his thesis, a need for revenge against Alex, or even about his friendship with Ellison. No, it was about a sentinel needing his guide, and that was a call that Blair could never refuse to answer. Because he knew that the reverse was true. He was alive because Jim had come to him when he needed him and wouldn't let him go. And that thought filled him with a comforting warmth. Whatever Jim might have said about wanting to call it quits, it wasn't possible. Whether by friendship or shared experience or something primal and mystical, they were bonded as sentinel and guide. And nothing, not even death, apparently, could get in the way of that. He would go to Mexico, find Jim, and together they'd deal with Alex Barnes. Then they'd come back home, put everything behind them and life would go back to normal.
Provided, of course, that he could ever find out where the hospital had stashed his pants...
All the words that I come up with
They're like gasoline on flames
There's no excuse, no explanation
Believe me, if I could undo what I did wrong
I'd give away all that I own
If I told you
I've been cleaning my soul
And if I promised you
I'll regain control
Will you open your door
And let me in?
Take me for who I am
And not for who I've been?
When I say I'm sorry
Will you believe me?
Listen to my story
Say you won’t leave me
When I say I'm sorry
Can you forgive me?
When I say I will always be there
Will you believe?
"Sorry" by Daughtry
Ellison had been a little surprised that his partner had not wanted to accompany him to the station, figuring that Sandburg would get enormous satisfaction out of seeing Brad Ventriss booked. But when Blair had declined and opted to return home, he figured that knowing that justice was finally being served was enough and Sandburg, cold and wet from his dip in the bay, preferred a hot shower and dry clothing over the chance to gloat. The detective had a change of clothes in his locker and made use of the showers there, deliberately taking his time because it meant that Ventriss, also wet and cold, had to sit around longer and wait for him. But he had a job to do and once he started, he did it eagerly. Once both his young suspects were processed and sent off to the tombs, he helped Taggart with their fathers. And then he decided to call it a day, persuading Banks that his reports could wait until morning to be completed.
When he got back to the loft, he was a little surprised to find his roommate in his room with the doors closed. Odd, since he had been home alone. But Blair readily invited him in when he knocked and he entered to find him perched on his bed with his laptop, surrounded by a sea of journals and papers.
"I just thought you might like to know Ventriss isn't going to be arraigned until morning," Jim announced.
"How'd he take it when he found out he'd be spending the night in lockup?" Blair asked.
"At first he threatened me, then tried to sic his lawyer on me. Then when he realized no amount of money could buy him out of this, he actually broke down and cried like a little girl."
"I hope he makes lots of new friends tonight in holding," Sandburg muttered darkly. "What are the chances he'll be granted bail?"
"Slim to none," Ellison replied confidently. "Given that he was caught trying to flee the country, no judge in their right mind is going to give him that opportunity again."
"Daddy's money buys everything else. I wouldn't think a judge would be out of the question."
"Don't be so cynical. It's not your style," Jim told him. "Besides, I think everyone's done coddling these families, now that Brad and Suzanne have confessed to murder."
"I guess we'll know tomorrow."
The sentinel studied his guide briefly, trying to assess him. Blair had been uncharacteristically edgy for days, hot headed and given to bursts of anger. He'd thought it was just Ventriss getting under his skin for whatever reason, but now that the kid had been caught his partner still seemed up in arms over it. Maybe he was just tired, fatigue making him more irritable than normal.
"Why don't you take a break for a bit?" he suggested, waving a hand at what was apparently a large project. Maybe even his thesis. "Get something to eat. I brought home some sandwich stuff if you're hungry."
"Yeah, that sounds good," Sandburg murmured, not looking up from his computer screen. "I'll be out in a minute."
It sounded like a dismissal and Jim wasn't really expecting Blair to follow through as he laid everything out on the kitchen counter. But after about ten minutes the younger man appeared, fixing himself a sandwich and tossing a handful of chips on his plate before turning with the intent of going back to his room.
"Wait a second," Ellison commanded from the table where he was enjoying his own sandwich. "Not so fast. Sit down."
"What?" Sandburg demanded. "Is there a new house rule now that I can't eat in my room?"
"No. I want to talk to you."
"About what?" Blair asked warily as he sat down across from his friend.
"About why you're not talking to me. What are you pissed about? That you were right about Ventriss all along but I wouldn't listen to you?"
"For a start," Sandburg muttered.
"Chief, I told you, without any evidence my hands were tied."
"I know that, Jim," Blair said with strained patience. "But you had zero interest in helping me get any. This was important to me and you just blew me off."
"I was a little busy with a case of my own," Ellison reminded him. "One that I was working with Taggart because you blew me off."
"So it's my fault?" Sandburg asked. "You were punishing me for some perceived insult?"
"No, look, there's more going on here than this case," Jim stressed. "When we got back from Mexico I thought I'd have to go through a whole interrogation about my senses and the temple and what went on in the grotto and my visions. But you haven't asked me one thing about it. Since when don't you want to know every last detail about anything sentinel related?"
"Well, maybe I'm the one who doesn't want to work on the project anymore," Blair said bitterly. "How's that for irony?"
"What are you talking about?" the shocked sentinel wanted to know. "Why?"
"Why?" Sandburg got up from the table and began pacing in agitation around the loft. "Why? Maybe because I can't even look at you, Jim, without picturing you and Alex on the beach together. You know, in the hospital when I told you to go get her, that wasn't exactly what I had in mind."
"Chief, what can I say? I'm sorry." Ellison pushed his plate away and leaned an elbow on the table, running a hand over his face. "I still don't know what made me do that. It was this massive compulsion. I couldn't fight it."
"I know that, Jim," Blair told him. "I've been telling myself that you were flying high on instinct and it overwhelmed you. I've been trying to rationalize it and get past it. But... the woman fucking murdered me! I followed you down there thinking I was going to have to hold you back to keep you from killing her. But the first time you see her you start humping her on the beach. She pointed your God damn gun at me, man! She was going to do it again. And you still couldn't stop her. I just can't help feeling like some things should override instinct, no matter how strong it is. Alex Barnes was a dangerous criminal. A cold blooded killer who was about to be responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people. And instead of taking her down, all you wanted to do was jump her bones!"
"And I hate saying this now, because I wouldn't even be alive if it weren't for you," Sandburg continued in a rush, as if he were unable to stop the flow of words once the dam had been breeched. "You brought me back from the dead, man. That says it all. You'll never know how grateful I am to you, Jim, and I feel like a jerk for whining now that you didn't protect me enough."
"And I know I've screwed up, too. I've done things that you thought were betrayals of your trust. I'm sorry for that, but whatever mistakes I've made were born out of good intentions. I never did anything that I thought would intentionally wrong you. This thing with Alex..." The anthropologist stopped pacing and turned to face his roommate, pain evident on his face and tears glistening brightly in his eyes. "She killed me, Jim! And even after knowing that, you willingly embraced her. I'm supposed to be your friend. Do you have any idea how much that hurts?"
A long, uncomfortable pause hovered over the loft, until the sentinel finally rose from the table and came forward, reaching out and pulling his guide into a hug. Blair tried to fight him, but Jim wouldn't let him pull away, holding him tighter until the younger man gave up and relaxed against his chest.
"You are my friend," Ellison whispered into his ear, his voice thick with emotion. "The best one I ever had. And the last thing I ever wanted to do was to hurt you. I'm sorry, Chief. I know that doesn't mean anything and there's no way I can ever make this up to you. But I'm willing to do whatever it takes to try. If you need some time, I can give you that. Just don't write our project off yet, all right? Don't write me off."
Blair didn't answer, but slowly he snaked his arms around his friend's back and returned the hug. He wasn't ready to get over it yet, for that would take some time. But eventually, he would get over it. He'd been hurt, badly, but granted Jim hadn't been himself when he'd acted. And that transgression, as grievous as it was, paled in comparison to all the good Ellison had done for him over the last couple years. He hadn't ever really wanted to call it quits, and Sandburg knew that he couldn't even if he did. He was the guide, and Jim was the sentinel. They would both always answer each other's call. No matter what.
DEAD END ON BLANK STREET
Blair was momentarily caught off guard, not having expected such a naked and heartfelt apology from his partner, and he quickly assured Jim that everyone makes mistakes.
"Got to admit, it was a good sized mistake," Ellison said ruefully.
"It was huge," Sandburg teased him, succeeding in his attempt to lighten the moment. The sentinel grinned and shoved him toward the truck, but once they were both inside the cab he hesitated, leaning on the steering wheel with his elbow and scrubbing a hand over his face. "Jim, you all right, man?"
"Yeah, fine," Ellison answered listlessly. "Just tired."
It was the truth, he was tired. Tired of being betrayed by those he thought he could trust. For it seemed that in the last several months he'd been dealing nonstop with people like Lila whom he'd once cared for and trusted without question. And even people he'd just met who he'd thought had been allies, like Fisker in Clayton Falls and Ortega in Mexico. It was exhausting and dispiriting, to say the least. And it all was making him start to think that he couldn't really trust anyone but himself anymore.
"Jim? I'm sorry. I wish I had been wrong about Veronica. If you want to talk about it..."
"I'll let you know," Ellison told his friend, glancing over at him before he started the truck. "Thanks, Chief."
No, he could trust Sandburg, the detective realized as they exited the parking garage. Granted, there was that thing with Alex, but he knew that Blair would never intentionally betray him, would never willingly do anything to hurt him. But then again, there was a time in the not so distant past where he never would have believed that Archer would set him up, use him like a pawn and draw a gun on him. And even with the evidence stacked against her, he still hadn't wanted to believe that Veronica was in on it. He'd loved Jack like a brother and Veronica, well, she was always his greatest love. And if those two had been capable of something like this, then either they'd changed or he never really knew them at all. Or maybe he was right and you couldn't ever fully trust anyone.
The sentinel stole another furtive glance at his guide, sitting calmly in the seat next to him. Everyone had a price. Veronica's had been three million. What would it take for Sandburg to sell him out?
"What?" Blair asked, having caught his partner looking at him.
"Nothing," Jim answered, turning his gaze back to the road. A flash of paranoia welled up in him, but he quickly stuffed it back down. Yes, Sandburg knew everything about him. He knew enough to ruin his life if he wanted. But Blair would never do that. He was a good man, loyal, honorable, incorruptible. Sandburg couldn't be bought out like Lila and the Archers. He wasn't motivated by greed and tempted by money. No, Jim knew him better than that.
"Hey, Jim. Here's that file you wanted."
"Thanks, Joel," Ellison said, taking the folder from him.
"Where's Sandburg?" the detective inquired. "I haven't seen him around all day."
"Busy at the university," Jim replied absently as he skimmed through the file. "They were hit hard by this flu, too, and he's been covering for half his department."
"I know the feeling," Taggart said wryly, glancing around the nearly empty bullpen. "These double shifts are killing me."
"Tell me about it." Ellison rose from his desk and stretched broadly, checking the clock and seeing it was almost midnight. "I'm going to go take this to Simon and see if I can get out of here before my shift becomes a triple."
"All right, man. Put in the word for me, will you?"
"You got it."
The detective headed for his captain's office, knocking and letting himself inside. They spent a few minutes discussing the case that Ellison had just wrapped up, and then the conversation switched to the Jags game that they both had missed that evening. Banks had just given the sentinel leave to call it a night when Joel came bursting through the office door without knocking.
"Yes, I'm cutting you loose, too, Taggart," Simon told him with a dismissive wave.
"A call just came over the wire," Joel announced a bit breathlessly. "From Sandburg. Lincoln and First. 604 in progress with shots fired."
The three men all looked at each other for a moment, and then Taggart almost had to dive out of the way as Ellison went charging for the door.
"Stay here," Banks commanded as he came out from behind his desk and prepared to follow the detective. "Make sure backup is on the way. I'll call when I have the details." Without waiting for confirmation he left his office but found that Ellison was long gone.
With no time to wait for the elevator, the sentinel flew down the stairs and raced across the garage to his truck. He fired it up, turned on the lights and sirens, and squealed out of the garage leaving tire tracks and a cloud of smoke in his wake. Lincoln was fortunately only a few blocks away and since it was late, traffic was light so Jim knew he could be on the scene in a matter of minutes. He tried to concentrate on the road, as opposed to the oppressive worry and countless tragic scenarios that were flashing through his mind. Shots fired... That didn't mean anyone was hit. Sandburg was resourceful. He'd stood up against bigger and badder than a few punk carjackers and had come through fine. But the sentinel's gut clenched in an icy spasm as a vision of his guide, floating lifeless in a fountain, wormed its way into his brain. Not again. He couldn't go through that again.
A wail of sirens thankfully distracted him, and he turned his hearing down slightly and merged in with the cadre of squad cars that were likewise racing to the scene. They all pulled up about the same time, surrounding the group of suspects and preventing them from fleeing. The uniforms swarmed in and the would be thieves wisely dropped their weapons and surrendered. Ellison strode forward, grabbing one of the thugs by the collar, oblivious of the cop who had been trying to handcuff him.
"Where's the driver of that car?" he barked in the kid's face, nodding at the Volvo that had apparently crashed through the fence and noting with a sinking feeling that the rear window had been shot out. "Where is he?" he roared again, giving the punk a hard shake.
"He ran inside," the carjacker stuttered in fear. Ellison let him go and started toward the building, but Blair was already coming out, having heard the sirens. Jim picked up his pace and jogged over to meet him, scanning him as he did so. Strong vitals, scared... and bloody.
"Oh, my God, Chief," he exclaimed when he reached him. "Here, sit down. Tell me where you're hurt."
"What? No," Sandburg clarified, shrugging his partner off. "It's not my blood, Jim. There's a guy on the floor in there. I think he was stabbed, man. He's bleeding really badly. We have to get him some help."
"Ok, calm down," Ellison told him. "We've got an ambulance already on the way. You sure you're all right? Sandburg, where are you going?"
"I can't just leave him alone in there like that," Blair called over his shoulder as he ducked back inside the building. Jim followed him inside, watching as his friend crouched down on the floor in the dark next to the prone figure and placed his hands over the gaping wound in the man's chest, trying to stop the bleeding. "It's ok, buddy. An ambulance is coming. Just hang on, it'll be ok."
"Chief," the sentinel said gently as he knelt down beside his guide, "it's too late. He's gone."
"Where's that damn ambulance?"
"It's pulling up now."
"Go get those guys in here, Jim," Blair pleaded with him. "Maybe they can get him back."
Obligingly, Ellison went out to collect the EMT's and direct them to the mystery victim. They quickly loaded him up and whisked him outside to their rig where they had light to work. Sandburg had stood back when they'd entered, leaning against the wall dejectedly.
"There's nothing they can do, is there?"
"Probably not," Jim told him truthfully. "But you at least gave him a shot. He's lucky you found him." The sentinel slipped an arm around his guide's shoulders. "Come on. Let's go get you cleaned up and then I need to have a talk with your friends out there."
Blair nodded and allowed himself to be steered toward the door.
"Did you see what they did to my car?"
"Yeah, I saw. But it can be fixed. A lot easier than you could have been." Jim pulled his friend toward him, giving him a tight one armed hug. "You had me worried, Chief. I'm glad you're all right."
"Me, too. But I'm definitely taking the bus tomorrow."
THE SENTINEL BY BLAIR SANDBURG
You say the story's ending but I think it's time we stop pretending;
No, can't let you turn the page.
Does your heart remember when we used to say forever, don't let go.
Don't throw it all away, don't say these words are just too late.
I don't want to be left behind, I've been so blind to all that I have broken.
Can we put this back together?
No more empty promises, they don't exist, just me out in the open.
I know this will take time, can we put the past behind us?
Tonight I'm gonna fight for you, just give me one last chance to make it right
"One Last Chance" by Daughtry
"Are you ready to get busy?"
"What do you mean?" Sandburg asked in confusion.
"I mean that Bartley's rally starts in a few hours, and like it or not, I'm responsible for the jerk's safety," Jim sighed.
"You don't think Zeller's really dead, do you?"
"Let's just say I'd like to be ready for anything," Ellison told him. "You in?"
"I don't think so, Jim."
"You were right, man. My ride's over," Blair said tightly, looking away. "There's no project anymore. Edwards threw me out of Rainier so I don't even have the university affiliation. So there's no reason to observe you anymore. And I just declared myself a fraud. Nobody's going to want me around the station after this. And personal feelings aside, Simon can't let me stay on as consultant after I've been exposed as a liar."
"Well, Joel's acting captain now and he's turned this investigation over to me to run," Jim explained. "And I want you there, Chief." He reached out and placed a hand on his friend's shoulder, squeezing it warmly. "I need you there."
"Because, you were right," Ellison admitted after a long pause. "Being a sentinel is who I am. I can't turn that off, even if I wanted to. It's instinctual, and if Zeller is still out there, I'm going to need that edge now more than ever. And thesis or no thesis, Rainier or no Rainier, I still need you to help me with it. You're my guide, which is all that matters. So, what do you say, partner?"
"Well, lucky for you my calendar is suddenly wide open," Blair told him with a ghost of a smile.
"Good. Let's go."
Sandburg accompanied his friend willingly enough, but he was somewhat on edge and became visibly nervous when they reached the station and boarded the elevator. He didn't know what sort of reaction to expect from the other detectives and he was anxious about just what kind of welcome a self professed lying fraud could expect. But his fears were quickly put to rest as he trailed his friend into Major Crimes. A few curious looks came his way, but the gang greeted him warmly and Blair let out the breath he hadn't even been aware he'd been holding and started to relax. He was sure that there would be questions to field eventually, but at the moment everyone was preoccupied with the case at hand and Bartley was commanding the full attention of all. The union boss was adamant about his resurrection from the dead and insistent on holding his press conference and rally, so Joel and Jim called a meeting in Banks' office to go over security detail assignments and two detectives and one observer trooped in and took seats around the conference table. But before they could get down to business, Rafe and Brown began to apologize for previously giving Ellison a hard time when the sentinel story first broke.
"We didn't mean to hit a nerve," Rafe explained. "We didn't realize how serious the situation was, and, well, we were just trying to get you back a little for not trusting us with the truth."
"Even though we all know now it wasn't true," Brown added with a broad wink at Sandburg.
"No, it is true," Ellison declared suddenly. A shocked silence descended over the room, not because of the revelation but rather because Jim was actually admitting it. He stood up at the head of the table, looking at them all evenly and calmly. "I am a sentinel. I have a genetic advantage in that all five of my senses are greatly enhanced. Really, at the end of the day it's not even all that remarkable. I can just see and hear things the rest of you can't, that's all."
"And Hairboy?" H asked quietly.
"Blair's field of study is people like me," Jim answered, glancing at his friend. "He's been helping me learn to use and control my senses. His work accidentally got out and was released to the media without his authorization and against his will. The press conference was to get the media off my back so that I could do my job and focus on nailing Zeller. But every word he wrote about me is true."
Everyone was looking at Sandburg by this point, but he was staring down at the table top, unable to meet anyone's gaze. It wasn't out of humility. Rather, it was hard to feel noble when he was still trying to wrap his head around the fact that he'd just completely destroyed his life. So he couldn't bear to meet their eyes, full of sympathy and support and even a bit of admiration. It would have completely done him in.
"I know you have all suspected for awhile that something was up with me," Ellison continued. "And I have to apologize to all of you for never having told you this before. We kept it under wraps at first because I could barely control it, and I guess it just got to be a habit. Simon knew from the start, and Megan somehow figured it out in Mexico. But please believe me that withholding this from you guys had absolutely nothing to do with not trusting you. I do trust you all with my life and I shouldn't have let you find out this way."
"Well, better late than never," Joel said easily with a shrug.
"Naturally, I would appreciate it if this stays between us for now," Jim told them. "And I know this is something of a minor bombshell, but we do have a pressing job to do, so let's go to work, gentlemen. Bartley's throwing his party out by the east bay. Rafe, I need you to get..."
Blair sat back in his chair, his mind wandering away from the coordinating that was going on around him. Of course he was happy that Jim had revealed himself to his coworkers. Because every person that knew the truth and didn't make a big deal out of it helped to take away a little of the "freak" stigma with which Ellison had long since branded himself. And it definitely made him feel better to know that people with him on the job would at least have a clue what was going on and how to respond if Jim started to zone or something. But it all had a tinge of the bittersweet. For there was still so much they had to do, so much left to explore and uncover. But it was going to have to remain undiscovered. Sure, they could still work on unlocking the mysteries of the sentinel here and there on their own, but there would be no more lab and resources for testing and no more field trials. In a way, his life as a guide was coming to an end.
"Chief? You're with me."
Sandburg shrugged off the melancholia that was threatening to consume him and got up to follow his friend out of the office. If this was to be their last case together, he didn't want to waste it brooding. No, he wanted it to be like it had always been. Backing the detective up, guiding his sentinel, being his partner in every way that mattered. One last hurrah for team Ellison and Sandburg. And Blair was determined that if it all had to come to an end, then they were going to go out with a bang.
Look at how the future gleams
Gold against the sky!
Long as I can share your dreams
We'll never say goodbye
There's little to be sure of
But we will last forever
For now we know the pure love
We feel when we're together
Then if someday we should part
We will not say die
Long as you are in my heart
We'll never say goodbye
"We'll Never Say Goodbye" by Simon and Garfunkel
A slight noise alerted the sentinel and he glanced over into the living room to see that his guide was slowly easing back into consciousness. Jim had found him there, deep in meditation, when he'd gotten home that afternoon and had respectfully tried not to disturb him. But as first one hour passed, and then another, he began to grow concerned. Blair, however, appeared no worse for wear as he got to his feet and stretched broadly. He caught his roommate's gaze and nodded in greeting, then made his way over to the balcony and stepped outside. Ellison gave his friend a few minutes, then got up from the table where he'd been going over some files and followed him.
The weather was a little on the brisk side, but not uncomfortably so. It would be cold when the sun went down, but the dying afternoon rays still held a hint of warmth. Blair was at the far end of the balcony, standing at the railing and looking out towards the bay. Jim joined him at the railing but stayed on the other side. It was quiet out there. Peaceful. And he almost hated to ruin it by speaking, but there were things that needed to be said.
"Listen, Chief, if you don't want to be a cop, it's ok. I'll support you either way."
"Where's this coming from?" Sandburg inquired, not taking his gaze from the horizon.
"Well, I know we kind of just sprang this on you," Ellison told him. "And we didn't give you much chance to think about it, let alone to say 'no'. So now that you have thought about it, if you decide you don't want it..."
"I do want it," Blair interrupted quickly.
"I just..." Jim sighed, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck. "I just have a hard time believing that, Chief. I mean, you just gave up a whole part of your life. Everything you were working so hard for is gone. You can't blame me for wondering if your decision is some kind of knee jerk reaction to that."
"It's not," the younger man assured him. "I've actually wanted this for a long time. I just didn't know that I did." He glanced over at his friend and then looked back out at the skyline. "I'm not going to say that it didn't hurt to call myself a fraud. And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going to miss teaching. But the work I was doing didn't go to waste, Jim. You're living proof of that. I may never get published and I may never get my PhD, but that doesn't mean the last three years have all been for nothing. My work has made a difference for you, and that's all that really matters. And yes, academia was a huge part of my life, but it wasn't the only part and now it's the past. That's life, it's dynamic, not static. Nothing stays the same forever. Things change, people change. I changed. I'm not the same person that I was three years ago when we started all this. And I'm really ok with this new direction. It's like when I entered your world, a door was opened that can't be shut. And now it's almost a relief to know that I don't have to try to close it. Everything's been worked out for me. All I have to do now is just go with the flow."
"All right, I can buy all that," Ellison said slowly. "But something's still wrong, isn't it? You've been quiet for days and that meditation trip in there had to have beaten Naomi's record by a mile. So what's up? Come on, Chief," the sentinel wheedled when his guide didn't answer, "talk to me."
"I want things the way they used to be," Blair whispered, his hands tightening their grip on the railing. "Between us. Before we had all this suspicion and betrayal and bad feeling and crap between us. When we were just friends and things were easy. I feel like that's in the past, too. Over. And I don't know if we can get it back." He paused, clearing his throat slightly. "So I guess the real question isn't whether I want to be a cop, but whether you really want me to be one."
"I don't think it's any secret," Jim began after a long, uncomfortable pause, "that I initially didn't want to have anything to do with you. But I had a problem and you had the solution, so I didn't have a choice. And after a couple of days, I realized I didn't mind you being around. Then I got to like it. Then I got to depend on it. But it wasn't until I tried to cut you loose that I realized..." The sentinel turned, leaning his side against the railing to face his guide's profile and grinning slightly. "I couldn't get rid of you if I tried, Chief. And I don't want to. We're family now, and all families have their blowouts from time to time. Ok, so we crashed and burned pretty bad a couple times, but at the end of the day I just don't know what I'd do without you in my life. So we have to forgive and forget and get things back to how they used to be, because there is no other acceptable alternative. What do you think?"
"I think that I'm not the only one who's changed," Blair admitted as he finally turned to look at his friend. "Three years ago you never would have initiated this conversation."
"I do want you to be my partner," Jim told him earnestly. "I don't care what we do, I just want to do it together. We've always done better as a team than when we're flying solo."
"I guess we do bring out the best in each other," Sandburg murmured.
They looked at each other for long moments, then Jim opened his arms. Blair crossed the divide between them and allowed himself to be enveloped in a tight hug, which he warmly reciprocated.
"You and I, we're going to be fine," the sentinel whispered into his guide's ear. "We'll just take everything one day at a time." He reached up and gently stroked the mane of curls once, then noogied his friend's head. "You sure you can part with this mop?"
"It's just hair," Sandburg stated, pushing the taller man away from him and smoothing his locks down with his hand. "I've got more important things to worry about."
"Yeah, like dinner," Ellison declared, glancing at his watch. "You hungry?"
"I could order pizza."
"Because I need to get in shape for the police academy," Blair reminded him. "And you shouldn't be eating all that cholesterol anyway. How about Chinese?"
"Had that for lunch."
"Too spicy," the sentinel protested.
"That is such a cop out," Sandburg argued. "New rule is you aren't allowed to fake your senses acting up to get out of things."
"Ok, how about the veggie special pizza?"
"Can we fight about this inside, please?" Blair asked, rolling his eyes. "It's getting cold out here and the neighbors don't need any more gossip."
Jim grinned and slid the balcony door open, standing aside and gesturing grandly.
"After you. Partner."
The Sandburg Zone