Disclaimer: The Sentinel, Blair Sandburg, Jim Ellison, Simon Banks, and all other characters are property of Paramount and Pet Fly. No copyright infringement is intended, and no money has exchanged hands.

In The Arms of An Angel

by Arianna

Story Concept by Janet

The story title and lyrics used throughout the story are drawn from the Arms of an Angel by Sarah McLachlan.

This story is unbeta'd.

********************

Hanging up the phone, Simon scratched his cheek and frowned as he thought about Dan Wolf's call and the concern the pathologist had just shared with him. Maybe it was simply coincidence as there apparently was no evidence of any criminal intent – such occasional overdoses were tragic but not without precedent. However, the circumstances were, as Dan had put it, just a bit odd and the timeframe was disturbing. Lifting his gaze, he looked out the windows of his office at the bullpen, specifically at the two members of his team who would find evidence of criminal activity, if there was any to be found. Damn, he couldn't seem to get used to the shock of the missing mass of curls, though Sandburg's hair had grown long enough in the last eight months to again cover his collar.

Unconsciously, the corner of his mouth twisted in mute concern as he studied the two of them and his frown deepened, his reflections about them distracting him from the matter at hand. They'd been official partners for six months now and they were doing their usual great job, but something was off; the vibe was wrong. Snorting, he shook his head. Vibe? He'd been exposed to Sandburg for too long; all that should concern him was that their solve rate and arrest record was as good as it had ever been. But he wasn't just their boss; he was their friend. He was also a detective, a good one; what was it that he was picking up on that seemed 'off'?

Fingertips tapping a tattoo on his desk, he thought back over the past months, wincing when he remembered those painful days nearly eight months before that had led to Sandburg becoming a cop. At the time, when he'd offered Blair the opportunity to officially join his team if Blair would go through the right hoops, he'd been worried that the younger man would see the badge as a consolation prize for having sacrificed his chosen career and personal credibility in order to shove the genie back into the bottle. Simon had also been very worried after that press conference that Blair would have a tough time being accepted in the department. Hard to explain how a self-professed liar and fraud got fast-tracked from the Academy to the position of detective in the prestigious Major Crime unit. Of course, that raised the other specter of too many people speculating about the whole situation. Hell, anyone with half a brain had to reason that if there had been any lies told, they'd been told during that press conference or Ellison wouldn't tolerate having him as a partner even if Simon would accept him on the team.

Well, he sighed to himself, some of his anxieties had been warranted, if not all. Much to his surprise – though when he thought about it, he realized he should have expected Sandburg's reaction – Blair not only accepted the offer gladly, but with outright enthusiasm. Seemed he thought the experience of attending the Academy would be intriguing and validating – the field trip to end all field trips.

"It's a tribal right of passage, Simon," he'd explained over his celebratory beer the night they'd made the offer, while he and Jim nursed cups of coffee. "All this time, I've just been the civilian observer, the anthropologist, but this is an invitation to join the warrior caste, to become a full-fledged member of the society. Going through the courses, and the physical and weapons training are all part of being accepted into the clan and I'm really looking forward to the insights and experience I'll gain through the whole process. Sure, being teamed with Jim, working with all of you, I have a good understanding of what being a law enforcement officer is all about, but now I'll be making my own commitment and undergoing the same rituals, the same learning, as you and Jim and everyone else on the Force. I get to come inside out of the cold, get to become one of you in terms of initiation and validation by the elders – in this case, the instructors at the Academy." And then he'd laughed and said, "And I won't ever have to hear you guys telling me I'm not a cop anymore."

Simon recalled the flash of despair on Jim's face as he'd listened and watched Blair talk with typically impassioned animation, and the haunted shadows in Jim's eyes when their gazes had met to share their mute wondering if Blair even realized how much he'd revealed about what he'd given up, about how much being an anthropologist was imbedded in his soul. Sandburg might be wildly excited about it all and was effusive in his gratitude for the opportunity, but his very explanation was couched in anthropological terms and examples.

But Blair had sobered and his gaze had dropped away. Quietly, he'd said, "And … well, I want to do this, be a detective, a member of the Force. What you all do to protect the innocent and serve the community is, well, it's important work, necessary work. Work that makes a real, tangible difference for the good. I want to be part of that; I want to make a difference for the good."

Simon had known, then, that Blair had accepted the offer for all the right reasons and not just as a consolation prize or as an intriguing social experiment. Jim's expression had turned thoughtful and he'd nodded as if he, too, felt some relief that the badge and being his official partner was what Blair really wanted for his life and career.

That had been the good news.

The bad news was that when Blair had looked up at each of them, they hadn't said anything, both too caught up with their own concerns and issues. His expression lost all animation and he'd gazed away quickly, getting up to putter in the kitchen to make fresh coffee – both he and Jim were still on pain meds at the time and beer was off-limits. Sighing now, Simon realized they'd missed a critical opportunity to tell the kid that he'd been making a difference for the good for a long time – a message that he'd probably badly needed to hear in that moment.

Since then, all the predictable shit had happened, from the hazing and some outright nastiness at the Academy, the grousing of those who resented Sandburg being accepted into the police force and his automatic promotion to detective, and the more thoughtful speculation by a good many people about just how true all that media stuff about Ellison's senses might be. But the two of them, buffered somewhat by the unstinting support of their colleagues in Major Crime, had soldiered on. They looked tired, though, and the strain of it all was beginning to show. Jim was increasingly tense and surly; Blair was ever more subdued. Pursing his lips, Simon wondered how much more either of them could take and worried about whether things would work out or if everything might yet fall apart. Maybe that's what he was sensing, an awkward and uncomfortable vibe growing between them because, just maybe, they were both also wondering if all their effort was worth it or if, ultimately, it would all just get to be too hard. Not the work itself, but the attitudes and hassles from people who should be supportive colleagues engaged in a common and cooperative effort. Shifting his gaze to the window, oblivious to the teeming rain that ran in runnels down the glass, he wished there was a way to make it easier for them. God knew, neither of them deserved all the grief they'd been through and were still experiencing.

Thunder cracked loudly and lightning flashed, starkly illuminating the stormy darkness and startling him out of his reverie, recalling him to the situation Dan Wolf had called about. "Jim," he said in a normal tone, having recently decided that he didn't need to shout to gain the attention of a man who could hear a pin drop two floors away, "I need to discuss something with you and Blair."

Outside in the bullpen, Ellison stood and waved to his partner to follow him into the office. They ambled in and sat down; Blair as usual perched on the conference table and Jim on a chair beside him, both of them giving him their full attention.

"I just had a call from Dan Wolf," he told them somberly. "Seems there have been two apparently unrelated and if not completely natural at least explainable deaths in the past three weeks, both occurring in the sanctuary of the All Saints' Cathedral. There is no evidence of foul play but … well, Dan says they don't make any sense and he's got an uncomfortable feeling, call it a hunch, that more is going on than meets the eye. He's asked me to look into the matter."

"Not completely natural? What does that mean? Accidents?" Blair asked.

Simon shrugged and looked down at the notes he'd made during the call. "Maybe; maybe not. Apparently, these were people who wandered into the church during the day or evening – they weren't parishioners – and were found dead the next morning by one or another of the priests. The first was a teenaged girl, the second, a middle-aged man, was found dead this morning. The autopsies revealed severe necrosis of their livers, consistent with overdoses of acetaminophen, aka Tylenol, but there was no evidence of illness or injury that would lead the deceased persons to have taken so much analgesic medication. Two otherwise healthy people seem to have died in their sleep from either accidental or intentional overdoses in the same place over a short period of time and their deaths make no sense."

Jim frowned and his gaze narrowed as he stared out the window, thinking. "I can see why his spider senses are tingling," he muttered. Turning back to Simon, he stood. "We'll pull the incident reports, talk to Dan, and I'll take a look at the latest body. Then we'll go check out the Cathedral, see what we can find out."

"Good. Let me know if you think we've got something more than an odd coincidence going on here," Simon replied as he waved them on their way.

********************

Blair finished reading the second report made by the responding uniformed officers and closed the file. Silently waiting until Jim finished reading the files they'd circulated between them, he did a quick computer search on acetaminophen and was surprised to learn how easy it could be to accidentally overdose on the medication, especially over a period of time, because the toxic dose wasn't a whole lot more than the normal dose – and the time-release versions of Tylenol, for example, could compound the risk because sometimes the main dose didn't hit the body's bloodstream until six to eight hours after consumption. He hit the print key to get a copy of the information for his partner. When Jim leaned back in his chair, Blair looked up at him and shook his head. "There's not much here," he observed.

"No, there isn't," Jim agreed. "No witnesses. Vague observations by the priests that they thought they'd seen the deceased in the sanctuary previously and that they'd seemed unhappy or lonely, but insisting it's not unusual for people to come in search of some respite or peace in that environment. Let's see if Dan can tell us anything more."

Blair passed the page of information he'd printed to Jim, who scanned it in the elevator on the way to the morgue. "Huh," he grunted. "I thought the stuff was perfectly safe."

"It's like I keep telling you, man," Blair replied, "over-the-counter chemicals aren't always all that they seem or as safe as the large pharmaceutical companies would like us to believe."

"Another conspiracy theory, Chief?" Jim teased as he folded the sheet of paper and slipped it into his shirt pocket.

"No, just common, everyday, capitalism at work," Blair said flatly.

"You're getting cynical in your old age, Chief," Jim chided mockingly, humour in his eyes.

Giving him an arch look, Blair retorted playfully, "Coming from you and your world view, I know you think that's a compliment, Jim, but it really isn't."

Huffing a laugh, Jim allowed, "Point taken," as the elevator door opened.

********************

Spend all your time waiting
For that second chance
For a break that would make it okay
There's always one reason
To feel not good enough
And it's hard at the end of the day

After a quick glance at the unnaturally sallow, bluish-gray face, Blair stood to one side, quietly watching as Dan Wolf removed the sheet covering the latest body in order for Jim to do his own examination. While his partner's gaze swept over the remains of the reasonably fit middle-aged man, Blair studied Wolf. The pathologist was explaining that both the deceased had appeared to be in reasonably good health, aside from the fact that they were dead. He'd found no evidence of trauma, drug abuse, illness or assault. While he listened, Blair frowned. Not at the information, but at the fact that Dan so evidently hoped that Jim might find something he'd missed during his own very thorough and highly professional examination of Michael Forrester. Dan, just like the staff in Forensics and far too many others in the department, only too clearly accepted that Jim was able to see more than he could.

Pressing his lips closed to hold back words that could never be said, Blair shoved his hands in the front pockets of his jeans and, looking away, wondered why he'd tried so hard to safeguard what appeared to be an open secret. Sighing, he supposed he should be grateful that those, like Dan, who had figured things out simply seemed to accept Jim's gifts. Through a kind of conspiracy of silence, they also helped protect his partner from public exposure while, at the same time, quietly made it easier for Jim to exercise his talents in the course of his duties. He told himself he should also feel a measure of relief that they accorded him some respect, too, if only for Jim's sake, and didn't treat him as some kind of offensive interloper who didn't deserve the badge he now carried. Somehow, though, instead of feeling grateful and relieved, he just felt hollow and tired.

"Anything?" Wolf asked after he'd turned the body and Jim had stepped back, signaling that he was finished with his survey of the deceased.

Ellison rubbed his mouth, scowling thoughtfully, but then shook his head and shrugged.

"What are you listing as the cause of death?" Blair asked.

"Liver failure," the pathologist said with no little irony. Blair quirked a brow and nodded in understanding – the guy had died of a necrotic liver and the lab reports showed evidence of excessive acetaminophen in the body; the 'why' of the overdose, however, remained a mystery.

********************

"So, what do you think?" Sandburg asked on their way across town to All Saints'.

"Little soon to be speculating," Jim replied with a shrug.

Rolling his eyes, Blair retorted, "I'm not talking theories here, I'm talking possibilities. Overdoses can be accidental or deliberate. If they're accidental, it's sad, but sad things happen. If deliberate, then it's suicide or murder, right? But if suicide, then two people choosing the same method in the same place raises other questions, like did they discuss the idea amongst them, is this some kind of pack or new emerging death cult or just a weird coincidence? So, did the deceased know one another? Were there any links between them?"

"Those are the questions, alright," Jim allowed laconically. Casting a quick look at his partner, he went on dryly, "You don't have to prove yourself as a detective to me, Chief. I know you know the right questions to ask."

Blair held his gaze briefly before turning away, his fingers unconsciously scraping back hair that curled over his brow but was still too short to cover his face. His lips thinning unhappily, Jim focused again on his driving. He remembered the day he'd come home and found Blair in his room, taking the new uniform shirts and pants that he'd need to wear at the Academy out of their plastic coverings to hang in his closet. Jim had stopped dead in the doorway at the sight of the shorn locks, gaping in astonishment. No one had stipulated that Sandburg had to get a regulation haircut. Blair looked up at him and shrugged. "Thought it was time to grow up," he'd said with forced cheeriness, though there were bleak shadows in his eyes. "Don't wanna be one of those pathetic thirty-year-old dudes who drive around with their long hair blowing in the wind, pretending they're still young and in their sexual prime. And … and, well, there'll be enough issues to contend with at the Academy; maybe this will help me, I don't know, fit in, I guess." Bereft of words, feeling as if he was looking at a stranger, Jim had only nodded before turning away.

Keeping tabs on his partner out of the corner of his eye as he steered through the heavy traffic and squinted against the wash of rain on the windshield, he noted the small lines of tension around Blair's mouth and eyes, and the tightness in the way he held his shoulders, the rigid stillness of the hands now resting on his thighs, as if Blair was willing himself to remain contained, holding all the energy that used to flow so freely inside and locked down. His brow puckering in a small frown, Jim found himself wondering when he'd last heard his friend laugh spontaneously, or even seen him grin or snicker with quiet delight. When had those hands last flashed in the air to punctuate comments, Blair's whole body engaged in communication because even with all his words, he seemed to need more ways to express his thoughts and emotions? Oh, they still exchanged teasing jibes but there was an increasing flatness to their banter lately, as if Blair was forcing himself to engage. Was it just lately? Or had Blair been locking himself down more and more for months? Since the diss blew up? Or had he been shutting down for longer than that? Since the fountain?

Jim shook off his morose thoughts as he pulled into the large parking lot beside the impressive stone Cathedral. Mid-day, in the middle of the week, the lot was practically deserted and he stopped close to the short, paved walkway to the side entrance with the hope that they wouldn't get completely drenched by the teeming rain on their way inside. Thunder rumbled above as they hurried along the walk and up the two stone steps to the shelter of the arched, recessed doorway. Jim shouldered open the wide, wooden portal, and immediately sneezed at the incense in the air. Blair patted him consolingly on the back and murmured to him to "Turn it down," as they stepped into the dim, cool quiet of the wide marble foyer that also had several double doors that opened on the front of the edifice, as well as three broad open arched entries into the interior. They stood for a moment, raking the rain from their hair and getting their bearings, and then moved further inside. Their footsteps echoed hollowly as they passed by a fount of holy water and under one of the elaborately-crafted archways into the massive sanctuary.

Light filtered through the series of large, round, rosetta-style stained glass windows high on the walls, dappling the hundred rows of burnished dark brown wooden pews with rose, violet and burgundy hues. Reminiscent of European Gothic cathedrals, massive stone pillars rose like sturdy redwoods to the lofty vault of the ceiling, which was delicately and deftly painted with clouds luminous in the dawn's early light, a diaphanous barrier to the glories of paradise beyond, hinted at with tones of gold and green. Candles flickered in the somber darkness of the side chapels. Surprisingly, the massive hall wasn't filled with innumerable statues and paintings rendering the sacrifices and torments of the saints for which the Cathedral was named. Instead, the walls were plain, decorated only by the refracted light of the windows and bronze urns overflowing with flowers. It was … restful and somehow affirming.

Walking down the aisle toward the chancel, their footsteps now silent on thick wine-coloured carpet, Jim glanced up and over his shoulder at the choir loft backed by the impressive brass pipes of the organ above the entry hall. His brow quirked at the presence of the large stone angels positioned along the balcony rail, some holding harps, others bugles, some looking toward Heaven, others gazing beatifically down upon them. Blair turned to follow his gaze and an expression of appreciation graced his face at the elegant artistry of the supernatural beings. Ahead, an imposing wooden pulpit rose on the right side of the sanctuary and, in the front, up a short flight of marble, crimson carpeted steps, was the massive altar laden with a silver chalice bracketed by plain white thick round candles. Behind the altar, suspended from the ceiling, there was an impressive and beautifully carved representation of Christ on the cross. The saints, finally making their own appearance, were painted on the wall behind the cross, their arms uplifted in supplication and praise to the Son of God. Despite its cavernous size, the sanctuary exuded an aura of comfortable and peaceful tranquility, and a subtle sense of acceptance, of love everlasting.

Here and there, sitting or kneeling in the pews, in solitary and silent reflection or prayer, were various citizens of the city, some young, some old, some of indeterminate age in-between. On the far side of the sanctuary, a short, motherly sort of woman, inclining toward plumpness and sporting the short veil and subdued street clothes and colours of a nun, arranged flowers in one of the urns that were suspended from brackets along the walls. A black-suited, silver-haired priest knelt in prayer on the steps before the altar.

When they reached the first pew, they paused to wait for the priest to finish his prayers. Jim cleared his throat to signal their presence, and Blair cast him a bemused look and rolled his eyes at the typically persistent, if more or less respectful, sign of impatience. Jim answered his mute chastisement with a small, wry smile of satisfaction when, a moment later, the priest crossed himself and then stood, turning to face them. Approaching, he gave them a benign smile and held out his hand to welcome them.

"I'm Father Joe," he told them, as he warmly shook their hands and studied their faces. "How can I help you?"

They pulled their badges from their pockets. "I'm Detective Ellison from the Cascade PD, and this is my partner, Detective Sandburg," Jim replied, his tone light and dry. "We'd like to talk to you about the people who have died here over the past month or so."

Sorrow flickered in the older man's eyes as he nodded soberly. "Of course," he murmured. "But I'm afraid I didn't know any of the unfortunate souls as they weren't parishioners." Lifting his head, his gray eyes searching the sanctuary, he smiled with more warmth and, holding out a beckoning hand, called softly so as not to disturb the quiet, "Sister Mary Francis, would you join us?" When she turned from her fussing with the flowers and nodded as she started down the side aisle toward them, he explained, "Sister spends all of her free time here in the Cathedral and often speaks with our visitors. She may be of more assistance to you than I."

Jim studied her as she approached, noting that despite her advanced middle-age and plumpness, she walked with brisk purpose. Her round face bore a serene expression, her lips slightly curved in a kind smile, and her periwinkle eyes gazed upon them with curiousity and innate empathy. Altogether, she seemed efficient and kind, someone others would instinctively trust and confide in. He was hopeful that she would be a veritable fountain of information about the people who had died in the sanctuary.

"Yes, Father?" she asked as she drew near and paused, her hands clasping lightly just below her waist as she stood in her version of parade-rest.

"Sister, this is Detective Ellison and Detective Sandburg. They are seeking information about the individuals who passed away in the sanctuary," he explained with a gesture toward them. "I thought you might know more about them than I."

"I did speak with them, yes," she told them, looking from Jim to Blair. She paused and half-turned to look back at the people who were praying in the pews and then suggested, "Perhaps we could go downstairs to the kitchen and I could offer you some coffee while we talk?"

Both of them smiled gratefully at the suggestion, the idea of hot coffee on such a chill day inordinately appealing, and Jim nodded. "An offer too good to refuse," he agreed. "Thank you, Sister."

With quiet thanks to Father Joe for his help, they followed her out of the sanctuary, through a doorway on the right, and into a bright hallway. The stairwell was close by and, scant minutes later, she had settled them around the table of the cozy kitchen. She poured them coffee and placed a plate of what looked like homemade chocolate chip cookies between them. After getting herself a cup of coffee, she sat down opposite them. For a moment, her gaze was distant as she recalled the people who had died and then she gave them her full attention. "What would you like to know?" she asked.

"Anything you can tell us," Jim replied, as Blair pulled out a notebook and pen. "Anything that might help us understand why they died, and why they died here."

She nodded and sipped reflectively at her coffee. "Well," she began, setting the mug on the table, "from what I know of them, I'd say they died of loneliness and sorrow, and they died here because, well, because here they felt close to the angels and to God."

Jim's brows arced and he cast a quick look at Blair who was studiously recording her comments, an activity which conveniently allowed him to keep his head down while he thought about what she'd said. Without lifting his head, he clarified, "You mean they chose to die here?"

"I suppose so, yes," she replied and sighed. "Perhaps if I told you what I know about them …?" she offered.

"Please," Jim encouraged.

She settled back in her chair, as if getting comfortable for a long chat. "Well, alright," she began. "Poor, young Melanie Tollison had just been dumped by the boy she loved with her whole heart. She was eighteen and had been dreaming of marriage and a family when he ran off with someone else. The dear girl was absolutely certain that she'd never love again and utterly bereft. An orphan and only child, she had nowhere else to go, no one else to talk to. She wasn't Catholic, but she said she found the Cathedral peaceful, and a place, I think, where she could also hide from the world she no longer wanted any part of."

Lifting his gaze as he reached for a cookie, Blair frowned. "Do you think she was suicidal?"

"No." Sister Mary Francis shook her head emphatically. "Not at all. But I do think she hungered for peace."

Blair glanced at Jim, who gave a minute shake of his head. If the good Sister didn't know young Melanie Tollison and Michael Forrester had died from overdoses, he didn't want to enlighten her, not yet, at least. Turning back to the nun, Blair said, "So you think she died of a broken heart."

Nodding, Sister Mary Francis replied, "I think the angels took pity on her and took her home."

"Uh huh," Blair grunted as he nibbled and went on with his note-taking.

She frowned at his reaction and then reached out to lightly lay her hand on his. "Some do, you know. When they hurt too badly to go on, when they're too tired to struggle anymore."

Startled by her words and touch, he looked up at her but his gaze flickered away. He swallowed and nodded. "I can understand that," he murmured and then cleared his throat. "What about Michael Forrester? Did you ever talk to him?"

"Ah, well, his was a different situation altogether," she told them. "He was married and had three children, one still in high school and the other two in college. He knew his business was failing and he'd soon be bankrupt and he was desolate and desperate about what that meant for his family. They would soon be penniless." She shrugged helplessly. "The last time I spoke with him, he said he wished he'd get ill or have an accident and die because his insurance would more than assure their future. He said he'd rather be dead than face them with the wretched truth." She looked past them, her gaze again distant with sorrowful memory. "The dear man wept in despair. It's hard to see a robust, strong man brought to his knees with hopelessness; but he cared so deeply for his family, loved them so much, the angels must have heard his prayers and granted his wish for peace and for security for those he loved. Father Matthew found him slumped in a pew early this morning."

"So, you believe these two people wanted to die and got their wish," Jim probed tonelessly, studiously concealing his skeptical thoughts about angels and their reputed mercy as he studied her. When she nodded solemnly, he challenged, "And you don't think they did anything to hasten their deaths?"

"If you're asking if either of them would have contemplated suicide," she replied stoutly, "I'd have to say no. They seemed to think very definitely that they had no choice but to endure. Neither of them even hinted at the idea of killing themselves or I would have most definitely and strenuously urged them to seek professional counseling."

Blair scratched his cheek and then asked, "Did you ever see them talking to each other?"

Shaking her head, she said, "No, never. I'm not sure that they would ever have met. They came to the Cathedral at different times and, so far as I know, lived in different parts of the city."

Jim looked away and his fingertips beat a soft tattoo on the table as he thought about all she'd told them. Finishing his cookie, Blair tapped his pen lightly against the page of his notebook and then said, "Father Joe said you spend your free time in the Cathedral. What do you do when you're not here?"

"I'm a nurse at Saint Mary's Hospice," she replied. "Have been for over thirty years."

Blair's gaze narrowed as he studied her. "That's not easy work," he finally said quietly. "There's never any hope of anyone getting better and going home."

"We all die, child," she replied with a gentle smile. "It's a fact of life. But I believe there is something more, something beautiful beyond this world. Something that is glorious. Don't you?"

A small smile curved his lips and he nodded. "Yeah, I do believe something like that."

"Well, then, maybe you can understand that it's not so hard to make people as comfortable as they can be and to show them kindness as they move toward the end of this life and into something much more wonderful," she said with an approving tone.

"I guess," he allowed, closing his notebook and shoving it into his coat pocket.

Pushing back his chair, Jim stood. "Thank you for the coffee and the information," he said. "We appreciate your help. If we have any more questions, we'll get back in touch."

Standing along with Blair, she replied genially, "I'm always happy to do whatever I can to be of service."

They left her to wash up their cups and swiftly climbed back to the sanctuary. As they strode down the side aisle to the back, Blair paused a moment to look around, his head cocked as if he was listening to something Jim couldn't hear. "What?" Ellison asked.

"It really is a very peaceful place," Blair replied softly, his face averted. "I can understand people coming here to just … rest."

"Yeah, but how many come in here with the intention of resting in peace?" Jim retorted ironically, as he led the way out into the rain.

Once they were back in the truck, Blair asked, "So you think they both OD'd deliberately?"

"I don't know," Jim sighed, shaking his head as he started up the truck. His hands on the wheel, he paused before putting it in gear to look back at the edifice. "But I don't think angels made them take too many Tylenol than was good for them."

Frowning, Blair challenged, "Oh, come on. She couldn't know about the overdoses and was just expressing her personal beliefs. Unless you think she helped them along?" he added sarcastically and snorted. "That sweet woman? No way."

"Maybe not her, Chief," Jim allowed. "I agree, she appeared to be completely sincere. I was listening to her vital signs and she seemed genuinely sorrowful about each of those people. But … two of them? Lonely and unhappy but emphatically not suicidal, at least according to the Sister, within three weeks of one another, in the sanctuary of a Cathedral? If it wasn't suicide, could it have been accidental? That's a pretty strange coincidence."

Blair nodded as he did up his seat belt. "Yeah, it is," he agreed.

They spent the rest of the day interviewing Melissa's ex-boyfriend and the people she worked with, and Michael's family and staff. They learned nothing substantively new, unearthed no indication of any criminal intent anywhere, and had Sister Mary Francis' belief that the deceased had not been suicidal strenuously reinforced. They did learn that each of the two people had used Tylenol for headaches and/or general aches and pains.

"Maybe they were both accidental," Blair mumbled as he climbed back into the truck.

"Maybe," Jim allowed, as he drove back to the station.

"You don't like it, though, do you?"

"No," Jim replied. "I don't like these kinds of coincidences. Just seems, I don't know, too easy."

"So what do we tell Simon?"

Shrugging, Jim sighed. "We tell him that we've got no evidence of foul play and no reason to pursue the investigation. But I think we should keep an eye on the Cathedral."

Staring out at the growing darkness, Blair offered, "I could do that." Turning to Jim, he went on, "I could drop in a few evenings a week, maybe chat up some of the folks who hang out there." Before Jim could object to his partner taking on a solitary vigil, he continued, "And you know you're too imposing. If anything is going on there, it will go underground while you're around. If it's not a formal investigation and has to be done on our free time, there's no point in both of us wasting our evenings."

"I could be outside in the truck, keeping watch," Jim said flatly.

Leaning back in his seat, Blair irritably tossed up his hands. "Sure, if you want to and don't think I'm up to a little listening and watching on my own. Feel free to babysit me."

"Chief, that's not what I meant!"

Turning his face away, Blair replied distantly, "I know." After a pause, he added, "I'm just saying that if you think we should keep an eye on the place, that's something I could do. And I wouldn't mind wasting a bit of time there, if it is all just coincidence after all. It was … peaceful. Quiet. I liked it. And, well, maybe there is something going down there, something ugly."

Jim stared at the back of his partner's head, unsettled by the abrupt exchange, worried about how much Blair sounded like he craved that peacefulness and quiet. "You okay, Chief?" he asked uncertainly.

As if startled by the question, Blair quickly turned his head to meet his eyes. "Yeah, sure, I'm good. Why wouldn't I be? C'mon, let's get back to the station and tell Simon how we spent our day."

Jim put the truck into gear and pulled into the late afternoon traffic. But all the way back downtown, he couldn't stop thinking about all the reasons he could have given for why Blair might not be as 'good' as he claimed to be. Nor could he shake off the helpless feeling of not being able to do anything to make things any better.

********************

Mulling over what they'd told him, not particularly happy with their report, Simon sat back in his chair and studied them. "You're telling me that you agree with Dan's instinct that something's fishy here but the only person who had contact with both of the deceased, this Sister Mary Francis, is above suspicion. Why? Because she's a nun? Seems to me, as a nurse, she'd have a fair idea of the toxicity of acetaminophen. Maybe she's giving the angels a helping hand, huh?"

Both detectives shifted uncomfortably under his scrutiny.

"Well, two sudden deaths don't make a trend nor prove a serial killer is stalking All Saint's. So far, given the deaths were due to acetaminophen overdose, a common enough analgesic, they might have been accidental and simply coincidental," Blair argued but without heat, more as if he was simply thinking it through in his own head. "Given they were both apparently despondent, it could also still be two suicides of people who didn't have anywhere else to go to die in peace. From that perspective, it's not all that strange that they would have chosen the Cathedral as a place of comfort at the end. Or one could be accidental and the other suicide." He paused for breath and then went on with more energy, "And you didn't see her, Simon, er, Captain. She really seemed to care about these people. She sure seemed genuine to me."

"I have to agree," Jim sighed, and lifted his hands in defence at the challenging arc of Simon's brow. "I know, I know. If we were sure we were dealing with a murderer, she'd be a logical suspect, but we're not at all sure what we're dealing with here. She seemed very plausible, very … authentic, I guess; empathetic and very genuine. I didn't pick up anything to suggest she was lying or in any way worried about being questioned by two cops."

"If she's a psychopath, she might be too assured of her mission to be nervous – the angels would protect her and all that," Simon persisted sardonically, frowning heavily.

"Maybe, but that's just supposition," Jim countered. "There's no evidence, nothing to suggest that she's anything other than what she presents as being: a woman who has dedicated her life to serving God and his children, however well she can."

Sighing, Simon leaned his forearms on his desk. "Okay. So, you're saying these deaths were what? Suicide or accident?"

"For now, accidents," Jim responded, but there was a hesitation in his voice. "But we think it's worth keeping a watch on the Cathedral for awhile, just in case."

"Sounds like a good idea to me," he agreed heavily. "Might also be worth trying to get a warrant to look at the death records at Saint Mary's Hospice," he went on, not letting go of his suspicion that the nun might be more implicated than she currently seemed to be.

"And look for what?" Blair challenged. "That dying people actually died? They don't do autopsies on the remains of people who expire of chronic illness in a hospice because the cause of death is usually assumed to be known."

With a wry nod, Simon conceded the point. "There isn't enough here to support a stakeout," he rumbled irritably. Two deaths so close together from the same cause in the same place sure didn't sound accidental, and he knew they felt the same way – but there was no evidence, nothing to suggest wrongdoing or intent, nothing to link the deceased and no motive for this nun to have killed them, if anyone had. Tylenol was ubiquitous; everyone took it for whatever ailed them, and very few knew that a lethal dose wasn't all that much more than a normal dose, especially if they were taking a little too much over a period of time and slowly but relentlessly rotting their livers.

"I'll drop by the Cathedral a few evenings a week, just to see if I can spot anything unusual or suspicious," Blair volunteered.

Turning to Jim, Simon quirked a brow. "And you'll listen in from outside?"

To his surprise, Ellison's gaze dropped and Blair cut in, "If I see or suspect something is off, I'll call Jim. But there's no point in both of us wasting our personal time sitting in or around the Cathedral. Honestly, Simon, the place was so quiet today that there'd be nothing for Jim to hear. He could zone out in the truck, straining to hear what isn't there."

"You agree with this?" he argued to Jim, but not forcefully. Their combined certainty that there was little obvious threat in the Cathedral was beginning to convince him that it was all a wild goose chase. The deaths were unfortunate but maybe they were just a weird coincidence.

Shrugging, Ellison nodded, replying enigmatically, "Sandburg knows how to do his job."

Simon found himself wondering which job Jim was referring to: the detective or the guide, because Sandburg had evoked both in his comments. Pushing up his glasses to rub his eyes, he also wondered whether the guide that feared his sentinel might zone wasn't interfering with the detective who should more properly be concerned with having the appropriate backup, even if the surveillance was being done on his own time. Thinking about it, he drummed his fingers on his desk but, ultimately, he trusted their instincts and their judgment; Jim was no less careful with Blair's wellbeing than Blair was of Jim's. If they were comfortable with this arrangement and, especially, if these two hadn't found any evidence that a more official investigation was warranted, then the evidence either didn't exist or was so well hidden that it might never be uncovered. Either way, there wasn't enough, despite all their collective uneasiness with the situation, to go further on what was little more than a hunch that something didn't add up. "Okay," he finally agreed, glancing at his watch. "It's late. Go on home. Officially, there's no case. Unofficially, keep me advised."

"Will do," Sandburg agreed as they stood and left the office.

********************

Later that evening, Jim was ensconced in front of the television when Blair wandered out of his room and over to the door. Pulling on his jacket, he said, "I'm going to drop by the Cathedral for awhile."

"You want a ride?" he asked.

Holding up his keys and jangling them, Blair gave him a quizzical look. "I do know how to drive, even if you never let me drive the truck," he snarked.

"Fine, have a fun time in the chapel," Jim sniped back, returning his attention to the television and waving him off, not looking up again until he heard the distinctive rumble of Sandburg's rattletrap. He stared at the closed door, arguing with himself for several minutes. Finally, he stood with a grimace, muttering, "If he sees me outside that church, he'll think I don't trust him." But he pulled on his coat and headed out into the night.

********************

Spend all your time waiting
For that second chance
For a break that would make it okay
There's always one reason
To feel not good enough
And it's hard at the end of the day
I need some distraction
Oh beautiful release
Memory seeps from my veins
Let me be empty
And weightless and maybe
I'll find some peace tonight

Dimly lit by candle-like fixtures, the sanctuary was deeply shadowed. Appreciating the calm and peaceful ambiance, intrigued by the scent of the incense that made his partner sneeze, Blair moved slowly along the left aisle toward the middle of the hall. Choosing a pew by a pillar, he sat down and leaned his back against the stone column so that he could look at the back of the Cathedral where the other visitors sat, most of them alone. He saw Sister Mary Francis talking quietly with an elderly man and then she stood, pausing a moment by him, her hand consolingly on his shoulder before she moved on to chat briefly with a woman who looked to be in her thirties. The two women laughed softly and Blair wished he had Jim's hearing, so he'd know what had amused them.

His gaze drifted up to the angels and a half-smile curved his lips. Though he had profound respect for the historical personage represented by the effigy on the cross at the front of the sanctuary, it was the concept of angels that captured his imagination. Ever since his childhood, he'd been fascinated by stories about the mystical creatures and supposed sightings of them, like during a major World War One battle. His fascination had only grown when he'd heard the tales of the angels who came to earth to become Watchers, protectors of mankind, only to fall in love with their mortal charges and, in so doing, fall from grace. Blair, ever ready to at least consider the mystical and unknowable, gave some credence to those ancient tales, linking them to other stories of individuals who had extraordinary talents or powers and were said to be children of the gods. Like Hercules, he mused, with his incredible strength. Though the legendary Son of Zeus was just that, a legend, he believed there had once been a man who had inspired the myth. The apocryphal tales of the Watchmen and later legends of Guardians and Sentinels had, for him, a very definite mystical link. That part of him that believed in the mysteries, even reveled in them, wondered with child-like awe if the guardians and sentinels could possibly be descendents of the angels who had come to earth. Shaking his head, he snorted softly at what Jim would say about such whimsical ideas.

"Detective Sandburg! I didn't expect to see you here tonight. Did you have more questions?"

He turned around to see Sister Mary Francis standing in the aisle next to his pew. "No, Sister," he replied, keeping his voice low so as not to disturb the others there. "I was just intrigued by what you said about how people come here seeking peace and, well, I was curious." When she cocked her head and smiled gently at him, he gestured for her to sit beside him. Accepting his invitation, she slid past him into the pew. Once she was settled, he asked, "Have you served here in the Cathedral as long as you have at Saint Mary's Hospice?"

Her smile widened. "Ah, so you do have more questions," she teased. Patting his arm with companionable good humor, she went on, "To answer your question, no, not at all. Only for the past few months, actually. Before then, I volunteered with other social agencies in the city. But, well, I was growing discouraged at the pain and despair that seemed to surround me and I suppose I'm also seeking the peacefulness here, the tranquility."

He nodded quietly, able to understand her need to find solace and respite from want and need and hopelessness, if only to recharge her batteries and go on. Truthfully, he was seeking something of the same from the silence and calm of the Cathedral's sanctuary, though he'd not really felt the need for such a refuge until he'd walked into the place that morning. He'd only known that he was tired and increasingly discouraged, more and more doubtful about having made the right decision in becoming a detective.

"You were the young man from the university, who was on the news a few months ago," she said softly. "I thought you looked familiar this morning, and then I remembered. You looked so very sad during that brief news conference."

Startled, he looked away and bowed his head. "Yeah, that was me," he admitted tightly, wondering if there was anywhere he could go to escape the notoriety or if people would ever forget. He was beginning to think that would never happen, at least not in Cascade.

"And Detective Ellison was the man you had written about," she went on, her voice even, bearing no censure.

"Yes, yes, he was," he replied with a sigh and then hastened to add, "He didn't know about the paper or … or what I'd written. He wasn't particularly happy that I'd, uh, used his name that way, made up that stuff about him."

He was uncomfortably aware of her scrutiny as the silence lengthened between them. And then she again patted his arm gently as she said, "I'm sorry, I don't mean to pry. Clearly, he's a good friend and all is now right between you."

Taking a breath, feeling on safer ground, he again nodded and looked at her as he affirmed, "He's my best friend and, well, yes, I guess he's forgiven me."

"And now you're working together. Do you enjoy being a detective?" she asked curiously.

"I do, very much," he said with more vigor and then ducked his head, unconsciously embarrassed to have been so emphatic. "I know it must seem strange, changing course from anthropology to law enforcement, but it's all about society and people, understanding what happened, finding clues, putting the pieces of information together. And … and I like making a difference, helping people, protecting them. I'm, uh, lucky that Jim and our boss, Captain Banks, were willing to take a chance on me after … well, after everything that happened."

She gave him a bemused look. "I'm sorry," she said, "but I can't help but wonder how you and Detective Ellison ever came to know one another, let alone become such good friends. How did your paths cross?"

Once again Blair's gaze shifted away. "Well, I was working on my doctoral thesis on closed societies, using the Cascade PD as a model and, well, I was assigned to Detective Ellison, to ride around with him and observe him and his colleagues and the work they did."

"I see," she murmured. Silence fell between them, and then she said, "You were looking up at the angels."

Glancing back up at them, he admitted that was so. "They're beautifully sculpted – look almost alive."

"I agree," she concurred warmly. "Especially in the evening, when the lights are dimmed. Sometimes, I imagine they are about to take to the air." She chuckled softly and shook her head. "I'm getting fanciful," she said, self-deprecatingly. Standing, she looked down at him, a kind expression on her face. "For all that you say things worked out and that you enjoy what you're doing now, I sense a deep sadness in you, Detective. Your road cannot be an easy one, not after you called yourself a fraud and liar. There must be many in your new workplace that resent you or don't trust you and I daresay those you left behind will have little to do with you now. It must be very lonely sometimes. But I've intruded on your peace long enough this evening. If you ever want to talk, I'm a good listener."

And then, leaving him gaping at her, she moved away.

********************

Outside in the truck, Jim scraped his face with his palms. "Forgiven you? Ah, Chief," he sighed sorrowfully and hung his head in regret for the hard road his partner walked every damned day without complaint. Blair wouldn't talk to him, or Simon, or even Joel about anything that had happened or how difficult it was to deal with some of their colleagues on patrol or in other divisions; he just kept insisting he was fine and that everything was alright, when they all knew it wasn't, not yet at least. Jim found himself hoping that maybe he'd talk to Sister Mary Francis. God knew, he needed to talk to someone. Sandburg wasn't like him, not a man to bottle things up inside forever. He needed to talk, needed the words, needed someone to listen. Sister Mary Francis wasn't the only one who sensed that sadness within Blair but, so far as Jim knew, she was the only one who had the moxie to address it straight out.

Looking unhappily at the Cathedral, Jim chastised himself for not being the one his partner could talk to, but how could Blair share whatever he was feeling with him, when the kid bore the burdens he did for Jim's sake? Hell, even here, in a sanctuary where others could feel safe, Blair had to keep telling the lie.

For another hour, he sat in the cold darkness, listening in on the nun's conversations as she gave comfort to those who came in the night seeking something that was missing in their lives, some hope, maybe, or at least relief. But as soon as he sensed Blair's heartbeat moving toward the exit, he started up the truck and hastened to get home and settled up in his bed, so Blair would never suspect he'd been followed and watched over.

********************

The next morning over breakfast, feeling guilty for his pretense of ignorance, Jim asked how the informal surveillance had gone the night before. "You see or hear anything interesting?"

"No, not really," Blair yawned, having spent another restless and nearly sleepless night, as had Jim who wondered if his partner was also trying to figure out how to make things better, how to get back to the simple easiness between them … how to make sense of his life. Oblivious to Jim's musings, Blair carried on, "I saw Sister Mary Francis and we spoke for awhile. And she talked with everyone else who was there, each one for just a few minutes. She seems good at making people feel better; at least, a lot of them seemed less, I don't know, worn down, I guess, after she spoke with them."

"You going back?"

"Yeah, a few more times, anyway," Blair replied before quaffing his guava juice. Setting the glass down, he shook his head. "I just don't see how any of those people could have been poisoned in the church. I mean, they'd have to take the medication, right? But nobody brought in any thermos, nobody talked to anyone else, just sat quietly alone."

Jim nodded thoughtfully. Increasingly, it looked like there'd been no wrong-doing, just a set of unfortunate circumstances that ended in accidental overdoses. "Well, it can't hurt to hang in there for a few more evenings, just to be sure," he encouraged, really hoping that Blair would open up to the kind and supportive nun. Wryly, he thought to himself that she was more the stereotypical Jewish mother, nurturing and ever-present, than Naomi had ever been.

********************

In the arms of an angel
Fly away from here
From this dark cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie
You're in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort there

Bleakly, Blair surveyed the blood-spattered wall and the sheet sodden with blood that half-covered the mutilated corpse on the bed, the second eviscerated prostitute found in a rundown hotel room in as many days. He swallowed hard against the nausea that always roiled in his gut in the face of such wanton and gruesome cruelty, and tried to focus on his job. Moving carefully around the room in Jim's shadow, his hand placed lightly on his partner's back, he murmured, "You see or smell anything that might help us get this maniac?"

"I can smell his sweat, and his semen," Jim muttered, and then bent to peer at the end of the bloody sheet. He pointed and Blair frowned and forced back his squeamishness as he studied the smears. It took him a few seconds to see the smudged thumb print.

"His or the victim's?" he asked quietly, looking over his shoulder at the uniformed patrolmen standing just outside the door.

Jim tilted his head to study the whorls on the woman's thumbs, having to shift to see them clearly without moving the body. "His," he grunted and then called, "We need the photographer in here." Shifting again, he reached out with his gloved hand and delicately picked up a curly brown pubic hair from the bed. Placing it in the evidence bag Blair held out, he observed, "And she's a natural blond, so that's his, too."

"Good work, Jim," Blair sighed.

They spent a few more minutes going over the place, looking for other clues, while the forensic photographer snapped pictures of the print on the sheet. Pulling off his gloves, Jim said, "That's it. I don't see anything else."

Pushing past the uniforms in the hall, heading to the staircase, they both overheard one mutter to the other, "Ellison must be a saint to put up with him."

"Yeah," the other man replied. "Does he ever do anything besides follow along like a puppy?"

Jim stopped in mid-stride and half-turned, looking angrily back over his shoulder, but Blair pushed him on, into the stairwell. "Let it go," he growled. "Just let it go, man."

"It's not right," Jim grated furiously.

Blair shrugged and started down the steps. "It's the way it is," he muttered, sounding uncharacteristically bitter. "And they're right. I do follow you around like a puppy, at least I do when we're doing a forensic sweep for evidence."

"Chief!" Jim protested, clattering down in his wake.

"Let it go, Jim," Blair shot back. "There's nothing we can do about it, so let it go."

They were striding through the downstairs hallway to the front entrance when the janitor called out, "When'll I be able to get in there to clean up?"

"Probably not today," Blair told him, but Jim stopped cold and sniffed the air. Giving the seedy, middle-aged man with a pronounced paunch a steely look, he asked, "You employed by the hotel?"

"Nah, Ever-Bright Cleaning Service," the man grunted, turning away. "We get paid by the room."

"What is it?" Blair demanded in a hoarse whisper, looking from the janitor to his suddenly very tense partner.

"It's him," Jim rasped coldly.

Blair's brows arched, and then he called after the janitor, "Hey! If you give me your name and phone number, I'll call you as soon as we're done with the room."

The janitor turned back. "Lou Wilkins," he told them. "You can get me on my cell, 555-2300."

Blair pulled out his notebook to record the information. In a companionable, chatty way, he observed casually, "I've never heard of Ever-Bright. Is it a new company?"

The older man snorted. "Nah, been around for awhile. Look after holes like this one, not fancy office buildings like Police Headquarters."

"Is that right?" Blair returned with a half-smile. "Which other hotels does the company service?"

"The old Regency, the Claremont, places like that."

Nodding, putting the notebook back in his pocket, turning away, Blair asked, "You worked with them a long time, huh?"

"Just the last couple weeks," the guy grunted. "Just got into town and a decent job's hard to find these days."

"I hear you," Sandburg replied, sounding as if he was genuinely commiserating with the creep. With a wave, he promised with no trace of irony or purposeful intent, "We'll be in touch. Maybe even later today."

As they walked away, Jim murmured, "Pretty smooth work, Detective. We'll run his name and the print; take a look at the company's records and see if the Shangra'La is also one of their clients. Maybe come up with enough probable cause to justify a warrant." When they emerged into the sunlight, Jim looped an arm around Blair's shoulders. "You do a lot more than follow me around like a puppy, Chief."

"Sure I do," Blair agreed evenly. "Just not at the actual crime scene. That's your turf, man, not mine."

Four hours later, having linked Lou Wilkins to three other similar crimes in his last city of residence, they tracked him down and arrested him for five counts of homicide.

That evening, though he looked tired and drawn, Blair decided to resume his informal surveillance activities at All Saints' Cathedral.

And, once again, feeling uncomfortably that he was invading his friend's privacy but unable to let his partner undertake the surveillance alone in what still might be hazardous territory, Jim followed him.

********************

When he walked into the sanctuary, Blair inhaled deeply, hoping the rich, sweet incense would banish the stench of blood from his nostrils. God, he hated that part of his work, having to see such hideous, ugly death, such barbaric and merciless cruelty. He took another breath, and consciously relaxed his tight shoulders. He hated the death, but he also felt a deep satisfaction at helping to get a monster like that off the streets.

Wandering slowly down the carpeted aisle, deeply grateful for the peace, the quiet, the tranquility around him, he deliberately chose the same pew again, as it gave him a good view of the back of the hall. Leaning against the pillar and looking up at the angels, he thought back to what the uniforms had said that morning, remembering their tone of utter contempt, and sighed. Closing his eyes, he wondered when it would get better, when they'd forget, and if they ever would; 'they' being damned near everyone in his world. He knew Jim's anger on his behalf was real, and he suspected that his partner heard a whole more than he did about what people thought about him. It was as hard on Jim as it was on him, maybe harder. He could read guilt in his friend's eyes, and it cut him to the quick because, mostly, Jim didn't have anything to feel guilty about. At the same time, deep down, Blair knew he felt a fair measure of resentment that his partner refused to own up to his senses and continued to fear being seen as a freak. God, those senses had nailed the perp that day, absolutely nailed him, and they might never have solved the case if Jim hadn't identified him by his scent. Why couldn't Jim see and understand what a marvel he was, how magnificent? He wasn't a freak. He was a miracle.

"You came back, Detective," her voice cut into his reverie, and he straightened to look up at her.

"Evening, Sister Mary Francis," he greeted her. "How are you?"

"I'm fine," she replied with a smile. "How are you?"

"Tired," he confessed and once again waved her to the place beside him. "It was a long day."

"Did you do good work today?" she asked primly as she sat down.

"Yeah, as a matter of fact, I did," he said with a half-smile at her teasing tone.

"Then why do you still look so sad and drawn?" she asked pointedly, but kindly.

"You don't give up, do you?" he replied with a burst of muted, weary laughter. "I'm somber, not sad – sometimes the things I see at work are, well, not pretty. Honestly, I'm fine, really. Just a bit tired."

"Uh huh," she murmured, studying him in the dim light. "I'll take your word for it, but you still look like you could use some coddling. Could I offer you a cup of hot chocolate? With marshmallows … or maybe something a little stronger?" Batting her eyes and smilingly winningly, she added, "And some fresh baked cookies?"

Grinning, he shook his head. "Why Sister Mary Francis, I do believe you're flirting with me."

She laughed lightly and patted his arm. "Well, if I was half as old as I am and not a nun, I just might. You seem like a very nice young man. And you're darned cute, too."

"And if you weren't a nun, I might just marry you," he teased back. "Sure, a hot chocolate sounds great. But just the marshmallows. I'm driving."

Standing, she crooked a finger and led him downstairs to the cozy kitchen.

While the kettle boiled, she opened a canister and put several cookies on a plate and placed it by him at the table. "Eat them," she directed. "You're too thin."

Agreeably, he took a cookie and bit into it, savouring the sweet, chocolaty taste he remembered from the day before. "Mm, this is good," he mumbled around the crumbs in his mouth. "Did you bake them?"

"I surely did," she said. "I've always liked baking. There's something soothing about mixing the dough and they smell so good when they're in the oven." She took two mugs from the cupboard over the sink, and a metal canister from another cupboard. Opening it, she put heaping tablespoons of the chocolate into the mugs and then poured in the nearly boiling water. After stirring them vigorously and popping marshmallows into his mug, she brought them to the table and sat down opposite him. "Have another cookie and let the hot chocolate cool a little or it will burn your tongue."

"Yes, ma'am," he replied, and munched on another oatmeal and chocolate chip biscuit. "I can't believe the priests leave any of these cookies in that canister," he observed appreciatively.

"Oh, they might sneak one every now and then, but they know I bake them for the poor souls who come here seeking comfort," she told him and they sat in companionable silence, sipping at the hot chocolate.

"Why did you come back?" she asked, her expression curious.

Shrugging, he said, "I find the place peaceful. It's quiet and I can think here."

She nodded and silence again fell between them. Eventually, giving in to the unspoken comfort she offered, Blair sighed and then leaned back against his chair. "You were right, you know," he said softly. "Sometimes … well, sometimes, it is hard at work. Hard on Jim, er, Detective Ellison, too, because, well, because he's sorry that some give me such a hard time. I made a mistake, sure. But I admitted it and took my lumps. And we're trying to move on. But some … some can't seem to let it go."

"Do you think they ever will, Detective?" she asked empathetically.

"Please, call me Blair. And … and I don't know," he said quietly, staring into the rich darkness of his beverage. "Whether they do or they don't, I can't give up, can't quit – and I don't want to. I do like the work a lot and I can't let Jim down, especially not now, not after he went to bat for me."

She cocked her head, reminding Blair of a small, inquisitive bird, as she searched his eyes. "You care about him a great deal, don't you, Blair? Even … idolize him a little, maybe? You must, to have made him the hero with such extraordinary powers in that paper you wrote."

He looked away and then nodded slowly. "Yeah, he's the most important person in my life. I guess I'd do just about anything for him."

"Does he know that you love him?" she wondered gently.

"Yeah, sure, we're like brothers," he replied evenly, his gaze still averted, not quite comfortable with telling her so much and yet needing so badly to talk to someone who would just listen and not judge him.

"Like brothers? Is that how you really feel about him?" she probed carefully.

Looking back up at her, he gave her a wry half smile. "Ah, now, Sister Mary Francis, what do you expect me to say to that? There are some things a man just doesn't tell a nun, of all people, even if that's how he feels, and I'm not saying that's how I feel. Just that I wouldn't admit it if I did."

Amused, she grinned at him and lifted her mug. Looking over the rim, she observed mildly, "Maybe that's true, that a man wouldn't tell a nun even if the nun in question, especially a nun who works in a hospice, isn't into judging people for who they love. But maybe the man should tell the other guy how he feels."

His smile faded and he looked away. Shook his head. Decided that he'd inadvertently revealed far too much and stood to carry his mug and the now empty plate to the sink. "You're barking up the wrong tree, Sister," he told her, though his voice was tight because, in truth, she was right on the money and he couldn't admit that out loud, not to her, not even to himself, let alone to Jim.

The only way he'd ever leave Jim was in a pine box. And he wasn't being dramatic about that, he was deadly serious and pretty much believed he didn't have any choice about it, which wasn't always easy to live with. Over the past few months, he'd done a lot of thinking about their relationship and he'd come to the conclusion that whether it was Fate, or a resonance in their genetic heritage, or simply the combination of interdependence, experience and affection, it didn't really matter – what mattered was that when Jim cut him loose, he'd died but he'd come back when Jim harnessed the forces of the Universe to call him back. When they'd been in Mexico, Jim had been practically helpless with Alex, unable to resist her allure. She could have so easily killed him, or he might have gone insane. At the time, Blair hadn't been able to make sense of it but, since, he'd realized that Jim's will and strength had been sapped because they were still at odds with one another. Hell, it had taken them months to regain some of the ground they lost only to lose it again over the damned dissertation. When he'd been packing up and planning to take off after his press conference, he'd felt himself dying inside; he knew all too well what dying felt like so he knew he wasn't imagining it. When they offered him the badge, it was all he could do not to weep at the utter relief of the reprieve, of not having to go. Deep, deep down in the core of him, he knew they were harnessed together, one unit now, not two separate entities. One could not survive without the other, not for long, anyway. So it didn't matter if most people thought he made a lousy cop and would never give him a fair chance.

Nothing mattered except that he get to remain at Jim's side.

But Jim could never know that. The lack of control, of choice, would drive him crazy. He'd fight it, maybe force Blair away just to prove his independence … and he'd feel even more a freak than he already did. No, this soul-deep awareness was something Blair had to keep to himself.

"We're just good friends," he insisted hoarsely, leaning on the counter and clenching his fists to still the trembling of his hands. "But I appreciate your concern."

"I'm sorry, Blair, if I made you uncomfortable," she said quietly as she came to stand beside him and covered his hand with her own. "I hope things get better at work for you."

"So do I, Sister," he returned despondently, feeling very tired. "So do I." He moved away and raked his hair back, remembered he was there to do his job. "I … I think I'd like to go sit upstairs for awhile before I go back home."

"Alright," she agreed. "You go on and I'll just rinse out these things and put them away."

********************

Outside, Jim closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the seat. "Like brothers, huh?" he grunted. "Yeah, right. Like brothers." Rubbing his eyes, he murmured wearily, "I really wish that's all I felt, Chief. I really wish it was. Maybe then, instead of dragging you through hell every damned day, I could let you go."

********************

That night, Blair didn't know if it was Sister Mary Francis' too astute observations or the sugar-high from the cookies and hot chocolate that kept him wide awake and staring at the ceiling. Over-tired but too twitchy to sleep, his thoughts going round and round, he tossed and turned, repeatedly thumped his pillow and, literally aching with the need for sleep, bit back curses of frustration.

Above him, Jim was just as wakeful, and got little more sleep than Blair did before the alarm heralded a new day. Feeling groggy, Jim took a cold shower, hoping it would rouse him sufficiently to do his job, and he was glad they had nothing more than reports to contend with that day. Blair staggered into the shower as soon as he exited the bathroom and Jim shook his head as he climbed the stairs to get dressed. His partner looked like hell.

Neither had much to say at breakfast until after their second cups of coffee. Yawning widely, Blair lifted a hand to cover his mouth and then apologized. "I hope I didn't keep you up all night," he said. "I just could not settle down. Sister Mary Francis fed me cookies and cocoa and that was way too much sugar for that time of night."

"Cookies and cocoa, huh?" Jim echoed teasingly. "Sounds like she thinks you need a mother." He could have bitten his tongue, though, when Blair's gaze dropped and he shrugged. Sandburg hadn't heard from Naomi since her last disastrous visit.

"Yeah, well, I guess she shares the cookies with everyone," Blair rallied. "When you think about it, the name she chose really suits her. Mary, the mother, combined with Francis, the saint who so inspired trust that even wild animals felt safe in his presence. Everyone in that church last night seemed glad to talk to her."

Jim's gaze flickered over his partner's face and he frowned at how sallow and worn-out Blair looked. "Yeah, well, I think you should take a break for a few nights and get some sleep. And I'm not sure ingesting whatever she offers is such a good idea. I know we both pretty much agree she's no threat, but it could turn out that Simon is right about her and we're wrong."

Blair snorted and shook his head. "C'mon, man," he drawled. "You really think that even if she is a murderess that she'd take out a cop?"

"A psycho can do some pretty irrational stuff, Chief," Jim cautioned, thinking with a chill about another psycho that hadn't hesitated to try to kill Blair – well, two psychos, actually, one of whom had even succeeded. Pushing away the sickening memories, he relented, "But you're right. That would be very stupid and she didn't strike me as a stupid woman."

"No, she's pretty astute from all I've been able to see of her," Blair replied and then stood to carry his dishes to the sink. Glancing up at the clock, he winced. "Man, we are so late this morning. We'd better make tracks."

********************

It took most of the day to wrap up all their reports on the Wilkins' bust. Wearily, Blair compiled his set of forms and carried them over to his partner for signature. Though he'd get credit for assisting in all their arrests in his performance review, they and Simon had decided that there was less risk involved in having Jim sign all the official documents as the senior officer, thereby ensuring he'd be the one called into court. The strategy only made sense, Blair knew that, because they couldn't risk his credibility, or lack thereof, with a jury. But every time he watched Jim sign for them both, he was reminded one more time that he was a liability. Most of the time, he tried to be philosophical about it, telling himself he had twenty years to build back his reputation, but it had been harder than he'd ever imagined to make the transition from a career where he'd been trusted and respected to one in which he was, for the most part, a pariah. When he was really tired, he found it very hard to be consoled by the philosophical perspective.

And that day, he was really, really tired.

Apparently, so was Jim. After they'd taken the file into Simon, Jim suggested they call it a day. When they got home, both nearly mute with exhaustion, they eschewed dinner and went straight to their beds, falling asleep before their heads hit the pillows.

The next day, along with everyone else in Major Crime, they got roped into supporting a major drug bust by Vice that would take down most of the members of one of the more vicious outlaw motorcycle gangs in the city. The deal was set to go down at a warehouse on the edge of town, a place surrounded by fields so they couldn't get in too close without blowing everything wide open too soon. The undercover officer was wired and the Captain of the Vice Unit was in command – nobody was to move from the various sheds and the closest buildings and barns where they'd taken cover until he gave the signal.

Jim preferred to listen in directly and make his own call on what was going down. As a result, when the order was given and the shriek of sirens filled the air as the uniformed contingent moved in, he heard the gang leader snarl at his men to give him cover fire, while he and the guy brokering the drugs tried to sneak out the back with their lieutenants, the drugs and the money. He dragged Blair to the ground just before automatic weapons began to rake the advancing line of law enforcement personnel, and then he tugged on his partner's arm, drawing Blair back behind a shed and around to capture the escaping kingpins. Simon spotted their shift in direction and, appreciating what was probably happening, ordered Brown, Rafe and Conner to follow him as he set off to give his two top detectives backup.

Jim's bellowed, "Police! Throw down your weapons!" was immediately followed by a spate of more racketing gunfire. He and Sandburg returned fire, while Simon signaled the others to circle around to surround the escaping criminals. It was a taut ninety seconds before everyone was in place and Simon yelled, "Cascade PD. You're surrounded. Cease fire and drop your weapons!"

In the confusion of the battle Vice was having with the majority of gang members in the warehouse, and the melee of those outside encircled now by the members of Major Crimes, the gang leader and the drug lord both tried to brazen it out, running directly toward Jim and Blair, their weapons blazing bullets. Jim shot the drug lord in the leg and, with a scream of pain, he tumbled to the ground, but Blair's shot only grazed his target's arm. When the gang leader plunged past him, Blair tackled the guy who was closer to Simon's size than his, and they wrestled in the dirt. Jim whirled and hauled the biker off his partner, slugged the guy to the ground, and then cuffed him. Another gang member made a break for it, and Blair scrambled up to catch him. Once again, he made a leaping dive and dragged the kicking, struggling biker that had fifty pounds on him to the ground. Swiftly rolling away and up onto his knees, he leveled his revolver and growled menacingly, "Stay down or I swear I'll shoot you."

Believing him, the outlaw stilled.

"Roll very slowly onto your stomach and put your hands behind your head," Blair ordered, panting from the exertion as he stood. Once the man had complied, he dropped down, pinning the guy with a knee in the small of his back and then cuffed him.

"Good catch," Jim approved, coming up behind him.

"Thanks," Blair sighed and winced as he stood, his hand moving to tenderly touch his right side. "Bastard kicked me," he muttered.

"You okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," he replied and raked his hair back. "No big deal. Just hurts."

The gunfire in the warehouse ended abruptly, and the Vice Captain called the all clear.

Blowing a long breath of relief as he joined them, Simon remarked wryly, "Well, that was fun."

"Yeah, right," Jim replied laconically as he holstered his pistol. "Nothing like a fire-fight in the middle of the day to get the blood going."

Blair rolled his eyes and hauled the man on the ground to his feet to push him toward the uniformed personnel who would read the perps their rights and take them in for booking. Turning back to rejoin Jim and Simon, he heard one of the cops mutter, "So the runt finally caught a bad guy. About time." He stiffened and, looking up to find Jim's eyes on him, he winced at the guilt in his partner's eyes. Slowly, feeling worn to the bone and hurting, very aware that Jim had rescued him from the gang leader who had been over-powering him, he shook his head. "Don't, man," he sighed softly, so quietly that no one else could have heard. "Please stop feeling so damned bad. We did good. We got the bad guys. We did our job and that's all that matters."

Jim looked away but, finally, he nodded. Moving toward Blair, he looped his arm around his partner's shoulders and drew him away from the crowd, back to the truck.

********************


So tired of the straight line
And everywhere you turn
There's vultures and thieves at your back
And the storm keeps on twisting
You keep on building the lie
That you make up for all that you lack
It don't make no difference
Escaping one last time
It's easier to believe in this sweet madness oh
This glorious sadness that brings me to my knees

When they got back to the office, Blair impatiently popped a couple of Tylenol to mute the deep burning pain that was spreading across his abdomen. He'd be damned if he'd complain like some kind of wimp about being kicked. Very aware that Jim was monitoring him, obviously concerned about the evident discomfort he was feeling, he felt himself grow increasingly irritated with himself. He was a cop. The occasional slug or kick went with the job. He needed to toughen up, be like the others.

"I'm fine, so relax," he grated as he thrust his reports at Jim for the routine signature. "I've seen you take a lot worse without blinking too many times to count. Don't baby me."

"Alright, alright," Jim acquiesced, holding his hands up in surrender. But he really didn't like his partner's unhealthy pallor. "You sure you don't need to go to the –"

"Don't say it, man," Blair cut in with a glare. "Don't even think it. I'm just bruised, that's all."

With a final grimace of concern, Jim gave up and took the reports. Flipping through them, not bothering to check what Sandburg had written as a routine sign of confidence in his partner, he signed them with a flourish. Standing to take them in to Simon, to be added to the others that their colleagues were compiling before the file was sent down to Vice, he said, "That's it. We're done for the day."

"Thank God," Blair sighed, more than ready to head home.

When they got to the loft, he commandeered the bathroom and immediately ran a hot bath. He took another Tylenol, grimacing at his reflection in the mirror when he realized a fist-shaped bruise was darkening on his cheek. Wearily, he climbed into the tub and soaked until the ache in his body eased. Once he toweled off, he anointed the growing bruise on his upper abdomen with Ben-Gay and began to feel human again. But a few minutes later, when he emerged from his room in a clean blue shirt and jeans, and Jim asked him what he wanted to do about dinner, nausea spiked in his gut at the thought of food.

"I'm not really hungry," he said, but when Jim gave him an assessing look that meant a trip to the hospital was again being considered as a viable option, he hastily added, "Maybe just some soup."

"Okay," Jim agreed and got busy in the kitchen. Ten minutes later, he placed two steaming bowls of soup and a basket of warmed rolls on the table.

Much to his surprise, Blair found that eating made him feel better and he sat back with a relieved sigh. "You saved my ass out there today," he said gratefully. "More than once."

"That's what a partner's for," Jim replied with a diffident shrug. "You save mine often enough to consider us even in that department."

"Thanks," Blair replied with a small smile that broadened when Jim rolled his eyes, signaling more clearly than words that 'thanks' were neither necessary nor expected. Standing, feeling a lot better but craving the peace that he knew the sanctuary would offer after the danger and chaos of the day, especially after having had to fire his weapon in the line of duty which didn't occur all that often, he said, "I think I'll head over to All Saints' for awhile."

"Ah, Chief," Jim protested, "do you think that's such a good idea? You could use another evening of just loafing around here."

"Where you can keep an eye on me," Blair teased. "I wish you'd relax. I feel pretty good, considering. If it's all as quiet over there tonight as it has been all along, I'll call it quits."

"Okay, if that's what you want," Jim sighed as he carried the bowls to the sink. "See you later."

"Later," Blair echoed as he pulled on his jacket and left the loft. A moment later, he poked his head back inside. "On second thought, don't wait up. I might just run away with Sister Mary Francis and her jar of chocolate chip cookies." When Jim threw the dishtowel at him, he snickered as he closed the door.

Smiling as he retrieved the towel from the floor, glad to have heard the light-hearted snicker, Jim reflected that talking with Sister Mary Francis, or maybe just getting some peace and quiet in the Cathedral, seemed to be doing his partner some good.

But, nevertheless, less than five minutes later, he again set off behind Blair.

********************

The moment he stepped into the sanctuary, the full weight of his exhaustion hit him and he nearly staggered. His side had begun to throb again, a deep, burning ache that rippled across his abdomen, leaving him feeling nauseous. Unsteadily, he made his way to his preferred pew and, easing down, leaned back against the cool pillar of stone. Man, when would he ever learn? Jim had been right. He was pushing himself too hard just to prove how macho he was.

"Blair, are you alright?" she asked as she materialized beside him.

"Yeah," he lied. "Just, uh, just really tired. I think I'll only stay for an hour or so tonight and then head on back home."

"You keep coming back even when you're so tired because you're trying to stop someone else from dying, aren't you?" she whispered, as if afraid someone like the murderer, if there was a murderer, might overhear her.

He didn't want to lie to her again and was too damned tired and sore to obfuscate. "Our oath is to serve and protect, Sister. We don't know if there is any real danger here, but … well, yeah, I've been scoping the place out. But, I'm really pretty sure all those deaths were just accidental and very sad coincidences, that's all, so there's nothing for you to worry about, okay?"

"Alright, Blair," she murmured. "I'll leave you alone to do your job."

Gratefully, he rested his head against the pillar and looked up at the angels. Who was he kidding? He was in no shape to do any watching tonight. As soon as he got a little energy back, he was going to go home and call it a night. But he was just so tired that he could hardly keep his eyes open.

He must've drifted off, because the next thing he knew, she was shaking him gently. "I think you'd better drink this coffee before you try to drive yourself home," she insisted, holding out a large, steaming mug of java.

"Ah, you're a life saver, you are," he murmured as he took it from her. "Have a seat and keep me company for a few minutes."

Needing no further invitation, she slipped into the pew beside him. As he blew on the coffee to cool it, she said, "You're really fascinated with those angels, aren't you?"

"Yeah," he agreed drowsily. "I love the legends and myths about angels, or similar supernatural beings with different names, that occur in virtually every culture, especially the stories about fairly modern sightings. But my favorite story is about how some came to Earth to watch over and protect us but they fell in love with mortals and lost their powers … only, their powers, or some of them, got passed along to their progeny." He yawned widely, and then continued. "I think legendary heroes like Hercules and the mythical guardians and sentinels that occur in many cultures are descendents of those angels."

"So that's why you wrote that paper about sentinels," she surmised.

Bowing his head, he nodded. "Sort of. I've been looking for a sentinel nearly all my life." His voice dropped and, feeling a bit muddled with weary confusion and growing pain, he whispered to himself, "I guess, in some ways, I've been looking for an angel." Judging the coffee to finally be cool enough, he took a tentative sip and grimaced at the bitterness of it. "No offence," he muttered, "but this brew has been on the burner too long. You need to make a fresh pot before you offer any to anyone else."

"I'll do that," she agreed. "But given how tired you are, the stronger the better, I say. Drink up so you can go home."

"Yeah, okay, thanks," he mumbled as he tilted the cup to gulp it down. No way could he sip anything as bitter as that was. "That's it," he sighed, dangling the empty mug in her direction. "I'll just give it a couple of minutes to work and then I'll get out of your hair."

She took the mug and sat there quietly, keeping him company, and he thought she probably wanted to be sure he really did wake up enough to be safe on the road.

********************

In the truck, Jim shook his head at the angel story. "Chief, you've got to get more rest," he muttered. "You're really beginning to lose it." He was glad, though, that Sister Mary Francis had brought him some coffee because, listening to Blair's sleepy yawns, he really wasn't at all sure his partner should be driving anywhere that night. Maybe the coffee would help.

When he heard Blair say he'd finished and would be leaving shortly, Jim decided he sounded tired but okay and started up the truck.

********************

In what felt like only seconds, Blair felt his limbs and lips growing numb, and his eyelids grew so heavy that he could hardly keep them open. He was on the verge of passing out when horrific agony roared through his gut and he twisted in the pew, biting off a moan. "Oh, my God," he gasped. "What the…."

"It's okay, Blair," she soothed. "The pain won't last. I've given you a sedative, too, and you'll be asleep soon."

"W-what?" he stammered, struggling to focus on her. "Sedative? Too?" Another wave of pain ripped through him and he curled forward. "It was you. You killed them!" he rasped through clenched teeth. "Oh, my God, you killed them both."

********************

Jim had only driven a block when he heard the first muted moan and hit the brakes. Spinning the steering wheel, he turned back toward the church and gunned it when he heard her say she'd sedated him so it wouldn't hurt anymore.

But his blood ran cold when he heard her softly croon, "In the arms of an angel, fly away from here …."

Grabbing the mike of his police radio, he called in, identified his unit and shouted, "Officer down! Officer down! All Saints' Cathedral. I need backup and an ambulance STAT!" And then he tossed the mike aside as he braked hard in front of the church, leapt from the truck and raced inside.

Sister Mary Francis was so fixated on watching Sandburg that she didn't notice him running down the aisle. He grabbed her arm and hauled her away from his partner, roughly shoving her to her knees and cuffing her before he turned to Blair.

"What are you doing?" she demanded. "Leave him alone, for pity's sake. Let him go."

Ignoring her, he cupped Blair's face, alarmed to see the sallow, jaundiced skin tones that had worsened markedly since Blair had left only about an hour before. Sweat beaded on Blair's brow and he was panting shallowly, as if each inhalation hurt. "Blair! Blair! Can you hear me?" he called.

Sandburg's eyes flickered open and he squinted in the dim light. "Jim?" he whispered.

"I'm here, Chief, right here," Jim assured him. "You gotta help me, Blair. You gotta try to stay awake, okay? You have to fight, Chief."

"S-screwed up," he rasped. "S-she k-killed them, Jim."

"Yeah, I know. She fooled us both. Don't worry about that now. Just hold on, okay?"

"So tired," he sighed and then moaned softly. "G-God, it hurts."

"Leave him alone," Sister Mary Francis ordered, sounding irate at his interference.

"Shut up," Jim snarled, fighting the impulse to just shoot her.

"What's going on?" people began calling and then one cried out that the Sister was being attacked. Jim yelled back, "CASCADE PD! Just relax and stay out of the way."

Sister Mary Francis was nattering at him relentlessly. "Didn't you see his face during that press conference? The poor boy was dying inside. And he's so tired, so dis-spirited. He knows no one will ever forget; that it will never get any better. He's been trying so hard but it's hopeless. He needs this release. Can't you understand that? You have to let him go!"

"NO!" Jim shouted at her. "I won't ever let him go! And, you know what? He won't leave me. I've seen him dead, lady, and the press conference was bad but not as bad the reality. He's not going to die on me again. You hear me?"

"You're a selfish fool," she spat, disgusted. "You can't stop this, only make it harder for him, cause him more pain."

"Oh, man, I feel sick," Blair gasped.

"Good," Jim encouraged him. "Very good. Try to throw up what's in your stomach, Chief. Here, let me help you." Carefully, tenderly, he drew Blair forward, supporting the younger man in his strong grip as Blair leaned against him and retched into the next pew. "That's right, Chief," he crooned, rubbing Blair's back. "Get rid of the junk."

But Blair slumped suddenly and Jim had to take all his weight. "Sandburg!" he cried as he pulled his partner against his chest. But, deeply unconscious, Blair was past responding.

Father Joe ran into the sanctuary, having been summoned by one of the others there, and someone else increased the voltage to the lights, chasing away the shadows. "What's happening here?" the priest demanded, aghast to see Sister Mary Francis in handcuffs. Skidding to a halt, he looked in confusion from her to Jim and then to Blair. "Detective Ellison, what's going on?" he asked, but the dawning horror on his face suggested he was beginning to figure it out.

"She's a serial killer," Jim snapped, "and tonight she tried to kill my partner."

"Not just tonight," she informed him self-righteously, well pleased with herself, certain that she'd freed another lonely soul from abject, unending and unbearable pain. "He's been dying for days. The cookies … the sweet release is in the cookies. The coffee was only the send-off. The angels are coming to take him home."

"Oh, God," Jim cursed softly, his throat thick with fear at the knowledge that the poison had been working on Blair for days, that he hadn't just been poisoned by the coffee. He could hear sirens and he could hear Blair's heart pumping wildly. Holding Blair close, cupping his partner's face with one large hand, he looked up at the angels that loomed over them. "Don't take him," he rasped hoarsely. "You can't take him."

Uniformed cops burst into the sanctuary, weapons drawn as they looked wildly around at the milling people. "Down here!" Jim called to them, and rapped out as soon as they were close, "I'm Detective Ellison from Major Crime, and this is Detective Sandburg. Take her in and charge her with two counts of homicide and one count of attempted homicide. Bag the mug on the pew and the cookies down in the kitchen as evidence. Call Captain Banks and inform him of what's happened. And tell them to get her a psychiatrist as well as a lawyer. She's nuts. Father Joe, go with them; take care of her."

Startled by Jim's sharp orders, the priest hesitated. "Take care of her?" he echoed in astonishment as one of the uniformed officers drew her up and began to read her her rights. "You … you don't blame her for this?"

"Yes, I blame her," he growled fiercely. "I want to kill her. Get her out of here before I do."

The ambulance attendants arrived then towing a gurney, and the other cop directed them down to Jim on their way past with Sister Mary Francis.

"He's been poisoned – acetaminophen. His liver is rotting," Jim told them in a rush.

"How do you know –" one of the attendants began to argue.

But Jim cut him off ruthlessly. "Because I know, dammit. I caught her in the act and she admitted it. Now let's get him the hell out of here and to the hospital. Call it in on the way, so they're ready for him. We don't have much time." Not much time at all, he thought desperately, knowing that after an hour whatever she'd given him that evening would be in his bloodstream and would immediately corrode his liver. God, and he'd seen Blair taking Tylenol at the office earlier. Trembling inside with growing horror at how desperate the urgency was, the breath tight in his chest, he lifted Blair out of the pew.

In seconds, they had Blair loaded and secured on the gurney, his face covered by an oxygen mask to ease his breathing. Jim ran out with them and climbed into the back of the ambulance. Panting anxiously, he watched as an intravenous was started before Blair's veins had completely collapsed due to his falling blood pressure, and listened as the information about Blair's condition and failing vital signs was relayed to Emergency.

The siren screamed as the ambulance raced through the night.

********************

"Jim!" Simon called when he spotted his detective pacing in the hallway outside one of the treatment rooms. "Dispatch called me. Told me the nun tried to kill Blair. How is he?"

Ellison turned at the sound of Simon's voice and, clearly agitated, he ran his hand over his head before he grated, "They've intubated him and put him on a respirator. Started running whole blood into him and are giving him an antidote through another intravenous line. They're planning to hook him up to a dialysis machine to relieve his kidneys and keep them from failing as well as to try to clean the crap out of his blood. As soon as they brought him in, they inserted a gastric tube to get charcoal into his stomach to absorb any of the poison that might still be in there before it can get into the rest of his body. They're running the tests to do an organ match because he might need an emergency liver transplant."

"My God," Simon gasped, appalled. "You've listened to all that?"

"Yeah," Jim rasped, turning away to resume pacing. "You were right," he muttered with thick self-disgust. "Dammit, she fooled me, fooled my senses. I trusted them instead of my instincts and judgment as a cop. And she … he … I let her …."

"Easy, easy," Simon interjected. "Slow down, Jim. Tell me what happened tonight."

"Not just tonight," he retorted bitterly, wheeling to face Simon. "She was poisoning him every damned night that he was at the church, and I sat in the truck and listened to her doing it … and I didn't clue in, never thought, not for a minute, that she could really be the killer. Sonofabitch, if I'd just eaten one of the damned cookies she offered us on the first day, I would have tasted the drug in them – but Blair ate one. It began then – the poisoning – the first day; probably not enough to do any permanent damage but enough to irritate his liver. God, Simon, I'm such a fool. I should have listened to you, listened to your gut instincts because you never saw her, never got taken in by her charm and veneer of … of efficient but gentle kindness. She was just so damned plausible."

"So … you did give him backup, then," Simon replied, trying to sort out the story. "Did he know?"

"No, no, he didn't," Jim sighed and turned away. "We both got so caught up in his need to prove himself as a detective in his own right that we missed what was right under our noses." Slumping against the wall, crossing his arms tightly, he grated, "He was already sick when he left tonight, hurting from the damage already done to his liver. But we thought it was just the bruising from the kick he got to his gut earlier today, during the raid. I … I know he took some Tylenol at the office and maybe even more at home, which can't have helped. He didn't want to go to the hospital to get checked out and I didn't push it. I should have pushed harder."

"Jim, you couldn't know –"

"I should have known!" he erupted again. "What the hell good am I, huh? What the hell good are these senses? Or my experience? Some cop of the year. I listened, Simon! I listened to her poisoning him with cookies and coffee, and I didn't put it together."

"Okay, okay, we'll figure out responsibility later," Simon said, lifting his hands for calm even as his heart clenched when he began to grasp that the poison had been working on Sandburg for days. Glancing at the treatment room, he asked soberly, "What are his chances?"

When Jim didn't answer, he turned back to see his lead detective pressing the heels of his palms into his eyes as he slid down the wall. "Ah, no," he sighed heavily, understanding the mute answer to his question. Tears pricked Simon's eyes and his jaw tightened against the sudden lump in his throat. He rubbed his hand over his mouth, and didn't have any idea of what to say or do. Blinking, sniffing, he drew a deep breath to get control of his emotions. There was nothing to do but wait. Swallowing hard, he slowly crossed the hall to hunker down beside Jim. "C'mon," he urged. "Don't go losing it now. He's still breathing, right? We've seen worse; been there when he wasn't breathing at all."

"I can't go through that again," Jim whispered in despair. "I can't lose him again, Simon. I can't."

"Well, you haven't lost him yet, Detective. So get up on your feet and stop giving up on him. If things go from bad to worse, he might well need you before this is done, and you won't do him any good if you're falling apart at the seams."

Drawing a shuddering breath, Jim nodded stiffly. He scrubbed at his face and then accepted Simon's hand to lurch to his feet. "I keep screwing up," he murmured hoarsely. "I do fine on a case, any other case, but I keep screwing up when he's the one in danger, and I don't know why."

"Yeah, well, don't take it all on your shoulders," Simon sighed. "We all missed the boat on this one. Hell, you might have listened, but Sandburg sat there and let her feed the stuff to him. His instincts are good, Jim. If he didn't twig to her and you didn't, nobody would. He's alive. For now, just hold onto that fact and let the rest go."

********************

In the arms of an angel
Fly away from here
From this dark cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie
You're in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort there
You're in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort here

For the next hour, various people, nurses, doctors, and lab technicians hurried in and out of the treatment room. Jim and Simon stood to one side, feeling helpless, unable to do more than watch and, in Jim's case, listen to what was going on beyond the swinging doors. Simon kept him talking to keep him from zoning, though he wasn't at all sure he wanted to know all that was happening. At one point, Blair seemed to be slipping fast and Simon had to physically restrain Jim from charging into the room – about the only thing he had going for him was that Jim still respected his authority and seemed reluctant to hurt him because he was a friend, two facts for which he was sincerely grateful.

Finally, nearly two hours later, two doctors emerged, both looking frayed and tired. One wore the customary lab coat sported by the Emergency Unit physicians, the other was in street clothes, his tie askew and his shirt collar loosened.

"Detective Ellison," the lab coat wearer addressed him. "I'm Dr. Carl Lucan, and this is Dr. Angus Stewart, one of the foremost internists in the state."

Jim nodded numbly, not particularly caring what their names were, just wanting to know what they had to say about Blair. When Jim didn't introduce him, Simon spoke up. "I'm Captain Simon Banks from the Cascade PD. Blair and Jim report to me and are good friends of mine. What can you tell us about Sandburg's condition?"

Lucan looked at Stewart and gestured for him to give the explanation. Middle-aged, spare in build and balding, he looked from Banks to Ellison. "Are either of you related to Mr. Sandburg?" he asked.

"No," Jim said, impatient with the question. "Blair is my partner at work and my roommate. His only relative is his mother and we don't know where she is right now. She, uh, travels extensively. Would you just tell us how he's doing?"

Nodding, Stewart proceeded to drown them in medical details that neither understood, but they gathered that it had been 'fortuitous' that Blair had been brought in less than an hour after the last ingestion of the poison, as that 'gave him a chance'.

"A chance? What does that mean, exactly?" Simon cut in.

"Just that," Stewart replied dryly. Sighing, he went on, "You must understand that cases like this of severe acetaminophen poisoning are almost always fatal because of the total and irreversible damage to the victim's liver. However, as I was saying, in rare instances, when we get to the patient in time, there is some chance of survival … about ten percent. But, and this is a big 'but', if he survives, Mr. Sandburg may still have irreversible liver damage that will impact upon his health for the rest of his life. Only in very rare cases does a complete recovery occur. I'm sorry, but you need to prepare yourselves for something other than a best-case scenario."

Jim rubbed his mouth and then the back of his neck as he tried to constrain his inclination to trash the place. "What about a liver transplant?" he asked, his voice strained.

Stewart shook his head. "There are no matches on the organ directory at this time. Transplant may be an option later, if your friend survives but has catastrophic liver dysfunction."

"When will we know if … well, if he's going to make it?" Simon asked, striving to keep his voice level and calm.

"With acetaminophen poisoning, the damage is fast and the patient either lives or dies. We have him on full life support to give him the best chance of survival we can, and we've given him the antidote, N-acetylcyststeine, which, in all honesty, has limited but hopefully some effectiveness in preventing liver injury when the poison has been administered over a period of days, as I understand it was in this case, and the necrosis is already well advanced. We'll monitor his liver function hourly and that will be a key indicator of whether he's responding to treatment or not." He paused and then seemed to feel he needed to give them something to hang onto. "The, uh, good news is that if he does survive, and if we managed to stop the degeneration before the entire liver was involved, the liver can regenerate itself providing one seventh of it remains healthy. The other good news, what gives him a fighting chance, is that he's young and strong. A child or an elderly person would not have made it this far. Frankly, you did good getting to him and getting him here so fast. Another half hour and we wouldn't have stood a chance of holding onto him." Once again he paused and frowned, scratched his cheek as if debating whether to say more. Finally, he went on, "There may be one other element in his favour. His liver was recently deeply bruised and that slowed his liver functioning … which may have slowed the absorption of the poison and muted its toxicity. It's too soon to tell."

"I want to see him," Jim rasped.

"We'll be moving him upstairs in a few minutes and you can go with him," Lucan said. "I'll put a note on his chart that you're to be allowed to spend as much time with him as you wish." He stopped himself and it was only too plain that he'd almost gone on to say that there probably wasn't a lot of time left. Instead, he cautioned, "Remember, he's very weak and may not be at all aware of your presence. Try not to exhaust him any further."

Both Jim and Simon nodded soberly and murmured muted thanks to the two doctors for having at least kept Blair alive to that point.

The doctors left and a few minutes later, Sandburg was wheeled out on the gurney, with a third orderly pushing the respirator. Both men sagged at the sight of him and, feeling dizzy, Jim briefly closed his eyes and took a deep breath. In the two hours since he'd last seen Blair, his partner's skin had turned a deep yellow-orange. Blood and intravenous solutions were hanging from poles attached to the gurney and running into both of his arms. The respirator pumped and hissed. His face was bruised and he appeared to be unconscious. Mutely, Simon placed a steadying hand on Jim's shoulder and they followed along to the elevator and up into the Intensive Care Unit, where they helped shift Blair onto the narrow, high bed. He moaned softly when they moved him and both men shook their heads, sorry that he was feeling pain. While a nurse hooked him up to various machines that monitored his life signs, they pulled two chairs close to the bed and took up their vigil.

Simon stayed for about half an hour but Jim's rigid silence and the sight of Blair lying so still and lifeless was getting to him. "I need to go downtown for awhile but I'll be back later," he said quietly. "Call me if there's any … any news."

Jim nodded but didn't look away from gazing steadily at Blair's face.

"Jim," Simon called softly but firmly as he paused by the door. "Be careful. I know you probably feel compelled to monitor his body's functions but … try to resist. You know he wouldn't want you to zone on him."

Jim sighed heavily but he again nodded.

Once he was alone, Jim rose to stand by the bed. Reaching out, he laid one hand on Blair's brow and gripped his partner's wrist with the other. He licked his lips and swallowed hard, shook his head. "I'm sorry, Chief," he said huskily, his voice rough and hoarse. "This shouldn't have happened." Looking away, he sighed, "So much should never have happened in the past year but … but it's gonna be better, I swear that to you." His voice cracked and he swallowed again, cleared his throat. "You have to fight, Chief. You have to hang on. The doctor, the doctor said that if you can hold on for two days, you'll make it. Just two days, Blair. And I'll be here, I promise. I won't leave you alone." Tears glistened in his eyes, but he blinked them away and sniffed. "You've … you've hung in with me so far, Chief. Don't quit on me now, okay? Don't quit on me now."

He closed his eyes and struggled to find the jungle and their spirit animals. Watch over him, his soul pleaded. Lend him your strength. Help me lend him mine.

His grip on Blair's wrist loosened and his hand moved to hover over Blair's body, over his liver, and then he gently lowered his hand to lightly touch his partner, being very careful not to exert any pressure. He concentrated as hard as he could upon sharing his strength and health. The palm of his hand grew warm, and then hot, and then gradually cooled. He took a breath and, his fingers again encircling Blair's wrist, he held on tight. "If it's in my power, I will not let you go," he rasped. "I won't ever let you go."

********************

The night passed, and then the day, with agonizing slowness and the only good news being that Blair was still alive and his liver, if not improving, was still functioning at least marginally. Jim did all he could to give his friend some comfort, from bathing him with abiding tenderness, to gently exercising his arms and legs and rubbing his feet to help his circulation. Time and time again, he silently called upon their spirit guides to help him help Blair and laid his hand over his partner's body, hoping desperately that the heat he felt meant he was doing some good. He left the bedside only to attend to his own bodily needs and wouldn't have even eaten if Simon hadn't brought him coffee and sandwiches and forced him to consume them. He didn't sleep and he rarely let go of his grip on Blair's wrist. Superstitiously, he was afraid if he did let go for more than a few minutes at a time that Blair would slip away from him.

The next night passed and he was afraid that the tests would never get better but, finally, early on the second morning, Blair's liver began to function more effectively. His blood pressure steadied and his heart rate evened out. At noon, Dr. Stewart decided to see how he managed without the respirator. His oxygen exchange rates remained stable and then began to also improve and a little healthy colour began to show in his cheeks. His lips and fingertips were less blue and then, gradually, became more naturally pink, and the sickly yellow tinge of his skin began to fade.

Late in the afternoon of the second day, after reviewing the latest test results, Dr. Stewart said quietly but with no little satisfaction, "Well, it looks like we've got a miracle, Mr. Ellison. To tell you the truth, I really didn't think he'd get through that first night but he's doing very well. His liver functioning is far from normal but he's so much better already that he may well be one of the few who recover fully."

Jim quaked with emotion and had to turn away, his hand covering his mouth while he regained some semblance of control. He drew a couple deep, sobbing breaths, blowing them out slowly. Straightening, he husked, "It's not the first time he's given us a miracle."

"Well, he must be a very determined man," Stewart replied.

"Oh, he's determined alright," Jim agreed and ventured a wobbly smile. "Stubborn, actually."

Stewart clapped him on the back. "I suspect he's had a good teacher, as far as being stubborn is concerned, anyway. The staff told me they haven't been able to get you to take a break since he was brought up here. He's lucky to have a good friend like you."

Jim's gaze dropped and he shrugged, shook his head. "He's a better friend to me than I've ever been to him," he said quietly, haunted by the words Sister Mary Frances had leveled at him. Sure, she was crazy. But that didn't mean that she hadn't spoken some very painful truths.

"Then you're a lucky man, too," Stewart told him. "And you're a man who can now relax. He's going to make it, no question. He's going to be fine."

"Thank you," Jim said then, fervently. "I owe you. Big time."

Chuckling, Stewart shook his hand, told Jim to get some rest, and then he took his leave.

But Jim wasn't prepared to rest until Blair had awakened and he knew for himself that he was going to be okay.

********************

Another six hours passed before Blair stirred and mumbled, sniffed and cracked open his eyes, blinking against the bright light shining in from the hallway beyond the glass wall.

"Hey, Chief," Jim called softly, his palm warm on Blair's brow.

"Jim?" He frowned and looked around, confused to find himself in hospital. "What happened?"

"What do you last remember?"

Looking tired and gaunt, Blair's gaze drifted as he tried to dredge up the memories. And then he paled. "Oh, God," he gasped. "Sister Mary Francis. I … I really screwed up. I never realized …."

"Hey, hey, it's alright, it's alright," Jim soothed. "She fooled me, too."

Frowning, Blair looked at him for a long moment. "You were there. How did you know?"

Embarrassment crept over Jim's visage and his gaze dropped. "I followed you," he admitted. Looking up, he hastened to add, "It wasn't because I didn't trust you but I just couldn't … backup is SOP, and I …."

"It's okay," Blair said, his voice wispy. "That's why I'm still alive, isn't it? Because you were there."

Jim swallowed and then nodded. "Yeah. That's what the doctor said."

"How long?" Blair asked, his voice fading. He licked his dry lips and cleared his throat, and Jim remembered the water on the bedside table. Quickly, he filled a plastic cup and helped Blair drink while he answered, "It's been two days. Touch and go for awhile."

"Am I going to live?"

"Yes, Chief. You're going to be just fine."

Blair sighed in relief and, closing his eyes, relaxed against the pillow. After a moment, he again looked up at Jim. "Go home, man. Get some rest," he murmured. "You look … well, I don't know how bad I look, but you look like shit."

Smiling at the fond tone in Blair's voice, Jim had to swallow the lump in his throat before he could reply. "You look terrific, Chief." He nodded slowly, struggling to keep his voice even. "You look just great."

Snorting softly, Blair gave him a small, tired smile. "And while you're gone, make an appointment to get your eyes checked. I think that sense is beginning to go bad on you," he rasped wryly, his words slurring a little as he fought a very evidently losing battle to stay awake. "I'd run a few tests but I really don't have the energy right now."

Jim cupped his cheek and dropped a kiss on his brow, causing Blair's eyes to widen in surprise and then glisten with moisture. "I'm glad you're okay, Chief," he murmured hoarsely. "You … you rest, you hear me? I'll stay until you're asleep and then I'll go home and clean up."

"And sleep for at least twelve hours," Blair mumbled, trying to sound stern but fading fast. In moments, he was snoring softly.

Jim bowed his head, taking a few moments to steady himself and his emotions. For the third time in little more than a year, one way or another, he'd very nearly lost the kid and it shook him deeply to know how bereft he'd be if he had. He combed his fingers through Blair's hair and then turned away. He had to call Simon and give him the good news that Blair really did seem to be okay, and then he'd go home.

After that, he had a few things to do while his partner recuperated over the next several days, regaining enough strength to go home. Two nights before, hovering on the edge of death, Blair hadn't heard him, he knew that. But he'd made a promise that he intended to keep. He had to tell Simon about that, too.

********************

"Jim, are you sure you want to do this?" Simon asked doubtfully in the office the next day. "You know that it would only take one person to leak the news and the media will be all over you again. Is that what you really want?"

"No," Jim shook his head. "You know I don't want that." He sighed and stood to walk over to the windows where he stared down at the street. Looking back over his shoulder at his boss and friend, he asked, "What do you think? Really think about this whole thing? About the implications for me, Blair and … and getting our jobs done?"

Simon grimaced as he pulled off his glasses to rub his eyes, and muttered, "I really hoped you wouldn't ask me that." Jim stiffened at his words and, curious, returned to the chair he'd abandoned. He crossed his arms and gave his boss his full attention as if determined to listen but, Simon thought, there was a fair degree of defensiveness in his stance. Only this time, he didn't know if the defensiveness was about keeping the secret or about Jim's idea of a controlled release of the information to those who worked in the PD. The people who really needed to know – the Chief and Commissioner, the D.A.'s office, and the others in Major Crime – had been told months ago. Their mandated review of relevant files from the previous more than three years had been completed over four months before to ensure the investigations and the trail of evidence as well as determination of probable cause in each case would withstand scrutiny.

This discussion was about going further and deciding how far was far enough and how far might be too far.

Resettling his spectacles on his face, he quickly marshaled his thoughts and then leaned forward, his forearms on the desk, his hands clasped. In a last-ditch effort to delay or defer what was evidently inevitable given the pugnacious set of Jim's jaw, needing to be certain that Jim was fully committed to his decision to out himself, he asked mildly, "Don't you think you should discuss this with Blair before you do anything?"

Jim snorted softly and cocked a brow as he slowly shook his head, effectively – if mutely – conveying his disappointment that Simon was trying to avoid the question. "We both know what he'd say," he replied dryly.

Simon had to agree. "Yeah," he sighed heavily. "In his lexicon of values, risking your welfare by having too many people know would be too high a price when all that's on the line in his view is his reputation."

"Exactly," Jim said flatly. "But …" he began, his rigid stance loosening as he uncrossed his arms and slumped in the chair, "I don't really think the issue is about my safety." Looking up at Simon and then quickly away, he went on, "I think … I think that it's about …." His voice died again and he shook his head. Taking a breath, he licked his lips. "He knows that I don't want to be seen as a freak of nature, and that my family didn't react well the last time this erupted. I think that he's waiting for me to, to realize that I'm not a … a freak. That and I think he's also concerned about how the media got in the way of me doing my job, and he's trying to protect me from that, too. He knows me well enough to know that I can't be forced into something, anything, unless it's a direct order and not worth resigning over."

"He's not the only one who knows that," Simon sighed as he sat back in his chair. When Jim flicked a look at him, he shrugged unapologetically. "Okay, you want to do this to clear the air for him and restore his credibility, at least here in the PD, so he can do his job."

"Right; that's what I want to do."

"Why? Why now? Why so urgently?"

Jim looked at him bleakly. "Simon," he said, leaning forward, clasping his hands between his knees, "you know how close it was." He looked away, and his expression revealed how painful the memories were for him. "When I thought, thought he might die with things the way they've been, with no one knowing what he did, how brave he's been …." Jim's voice caught and he had to clear his throat. "Our work is dangerous," he went on, his voice low and husky with emotion. "I won't risk putting this off any longer. I have to do this. I have to make things right for him. And for me, too. I have to stop hiding, being ashamed of what I am just because what I am is … is different."

"Okay, Jim," Simon murmured. Jim looked up at him, gratitude for the support and understanding naked in his eyes. Nodding in acknowledgement, Simon got down to business. "I think there are two main issues here: containment and management of the media when it eventually gets out, because it will if you tell everyone in the department, agreed?" he set out briskly. When Jim nodded reluctantly, he went on, "Then it's a matter of how we approach the whole thing to maintain the upper hand. Jim, you can start out only telling people inside but, realistically, containment is impossible to ensure. We will have to move immediately to full disclosure with a press briefing."

When Jim sat back, uncertainty about going so far on his face, Simon held up his hand to forestall any objection. "Hear me out. We can minimize the details we give out about your senses – both inside and outside – so it doesn't come back to bite you by giving the criminal element too many clues about how to disable you with sound or light or whatever. And we can stipulate that they are not to harass you either on or off duty or we'll smack a restraining order on the lot of them. We can cite both safety and security of the community and your own right to personal privacy as our grounds for such action. After that," Simon shrugged nonchalantly and assayed a smug smile, "you get to use your senses overtly in your job and, after jumping through a few hoops in court to demonstrate what you can do for juries, whatever evidence you garner would be sustainable or at least credible when backed up with other evidence. We might have to redefine the meaning of ‘probable cause' when it comes to getting you warrants, but we'll have to hassle that out with the judiciary."

"What about the rights to privacy of the people we're investigating, like what I can pick up without sufficient grounds for a traditional wiretap?" Jim challenged.

Simon spread his hands and his smile widened. "In accordance with the oath we take, at all times, officers of the law are expected to exercise their duties to serve and protect this community to the best of their abilities. You just happen to have somewhat better abilities than anyone else; doesn't mean you shouldn't be using them."

Jim sat back in his chair and gave him a slightly astonished, measuring look. "You've been thinking about this for awhile, haven't you?"

His playful smile disappearing, Simon nodded soberly. "Yes, I have. You think I couldn't see what was going on? Or what it was doing to the two of you? Sandburg being hampered by his lack of credibility and being insulted – what? At least twice a day? And you, being eaten alive by guilt and regret? You want to bet I've been thinking about this and how we might deal with it when, not if, you decided enough was enough. I knew it was always only a matter of time. You asked me a little while ago what I really thought about the whole situation. Well, Jim, I really thought it had to end, one way or another; that the two of you couldn't go on the way things were. I'm glad this is the way you decided to go before things got any worse."

"Why didn't you ever say anything?" Jim asked unsteadily, thinking it all seemed so easy the way Simon spelled it out and they could have dealt with the issue long before.

"What? And have your partner in my face for putting your welfare at risk and you sulking in the corner because you were feeling forced to do something you didn't want to do?" Simon challenged wryly. "Like I need that kind of hassle?"

Jim's jaw tightened defensively, but then he rubbed his mouth and bowed his head, nodding slowly. And then his posture relaxed and he rested his arms on the supports of the chair. With a flicker of a smile playing over his lips, he said, "I suppose you also have a plan for how to put all this in motion."

Once again smiling smugly, Simon replied, "As a matter of fact, I do. You've said you want to brief the units individually, to give them all a chance to ask questions and not just hear it through a memo or second-hand briefing, and I think that's a great idea. I'll advise the Chief and my colleagues that we'll be setting this up over the next two days. We may miss a few because of the shifts, but you can indicate that you'll entertain doing a follow-up session for those not present if they have any questions. I'll also work with our Media Liaison Office to set up a full briefing three days from now – that will ensure that the folks inside get the news first but hopefully not leave enough of a window for us to be blindsided by a leak. As this is an official announcement, I'll do the media brief but I'll need you there to provide a few demos of what you can do. After that, the Media Liaison can also run interference – all external enquiries for follow-up information or interviews must go through them and you have the right to refuse to engage with the media any further." Leaning forward, he pointed at his friend. "You have to decide how much you're going to reveal. I'd suggest generalities rather than specifics. And you get to deal with Sandburg – you know he's not going to be overjoyed when he first hears about it all."

"Well," Jim replied ironically, "at least there's something that I'm responsible for." He smiled and shook his head reflectively. "Simon, I thought I'd be on my own with all this, but you've made it … well, bearable if not easy. Thank you."

Waving off the gratitude, he replied warmly, "Just doing my job." He hesitated before adding, his tone abidingly gentle, "And, I guess, I've been wanting to do all this for awhile, for both of you. I'm glad you've made the decision to move forward, Jim. It's the right decision for both of you."

Jim swallowed convulsively and sniffed as he rubbed his mouth. He nodded once and sniffed again. "You're a damned good friend," he finally managed, his voice hoarse.

"So are you, and so is Blair," Simon returned softly. "We'll get through this, and then we'll move on, and I sincerely think things will be better for you both."

Heaving a breath, Jim replied, "Yeah. I think so, too." His gaze shifted to the window. "You know, when it goes public, he'll have the chance to go back to academia, if he wants."

"You really think he wants that?"

Jim shook his head. "No, no, I don't." The tension eased from his body and he smiled.

Simon stuck a cigar in his mouth and sat back, well pleased. It had been a long and rocky road but, finally, things were going to get onto the right track.

********************

The next three days were busy. Jim's first priority was to advise his father and brother of his decision to go public, so they wouldn't be caught off-guard by the media. Both men had reservations about his decision but they indicated that they understood his reasoning and the issues of integrity and fairness that were at stake. Then, at the request of the section heads after Simon had given them a heads-up, Jim gave them a preliminary briefing before meeting with their subordinates. Some around the table, like Dan Wolf and Serena from Forensics, looked smug for having put two and two together; others were at first skeptical and then astonished when he performed a few parlor tricks for them. After that, sessions with each division and unit were immediately scheduled.

Though he'd resisted at first, feeling he was responsible for taking the full load of the briefings on his own shoulders, he soon found himself very glad that Simon had insisted upon accompanying him on his rounds. Inevitably, once they saw what he could do, his enthusiastic audiences would begin to excitedly speculate about how they could 'use' him. Whenever he began to feel like a piece of meat that was up for auction, Simon would lean forward and wave a finger in the air. "Uh, uh," he'd drawl. "Detective Ellison works for Major Crime and we need him fulltime. If you have an extraordinary situation, you follow SOP and send a request for assistance through my office, to be evaluated against our existing priorities. We'll do what we can to accommodate you, because we're all on the same team. But I will not allow him to be at your beck and call. If you think you can lure him and his partner away with a better offer of more interesting or challenging work than what they have in Major Crimes, be my guest. Take your best shot."

Internal Affairs was prickly about not having been informed years before about his special abilities but, before Jim could react defensively, Simon just shrugged and replied with a note of censure, "We didn't owe that information to you, and it was imperative to provide Detective Ellison and his partner, Detective Sandburg, sufficient time to work out strategies for him to maximize and control the use of his senses. Since there are no modern precedents to draw upon, that has taken a considerable period of time. To have been more forthcoming before now would have been counterproductive for everyone concerned. In the meantime, Detective Ellison and his partner have undertaken their duties diligently and a file review of their cases will demonstrate that due process was followed all the way along the line." He sat back and smiled wolfishly at them. "Frankly, I'm surprised you didn't figure it all out for yourselves long ago but most particularly after we brought Sandburg onto the team officially. What? Did you think we just felt sorry for a misguided grad student who we'd come to like? Get real. I brought him in because he's a unique asset and had been doing a damned fine job for years for nothing. I didn't want to risk losing him. If I hadn't moved fast to make him a good offer, he might well have left town and neither I nor Detective Ellison could afford to let that happen. Any more comments or questions?"

There weren't.

So, hiding his smile of amusement at his boss' deft handling of the politics, Jim had moved on to the next briefing and the next. But, even with Simon's full support and his own determination, by the third day, when all that was left was the uniformed personnel, he was inordinately glad to have reached the last session. Jim was tired, very tired of the seemingly endless questions that were invariably followed by enthusiastic speculation about how each of the various units could make use of his extraordinary skills. After this, there was only the media briefing later in the day … oh, and finding a way to tell Blair what he'd done before his partner heard it from someone else.

At seven am, they walked into the large operations room where the uniformed personnel were briefed before every shift. Jim waited until the Watch Commander introduced him before moving to the podium, while Simon stood behind him and to one side, his hands clasped behind his back. The rustle of interest and the expressions on the faces giving him close scrutiny made it pretty clear that the officers in the room had gotten more than a little scuttlebutt from his previous briefing sessions. Nevertheless, he intended to give them the story his own way, just as he had with each of the other units. This wasn't just about him; it was as much or more about Blair. As his gaze swept the room, he thought he might even give this bunch a few more pointed remarks than he had some others – though most sessions had afforded him the opportunity to bite back a little for some of the nastiness Blair had experienced for months.

"Good morning," he began briskly, his tone brisk and business-like. "I'll try to keep this as brief as possible because I know you need to get out on the streets. But, bear with me because this isn't a short story and you need enough information to understand what's been happening for more than four years now." He gripped the sides of the lectern, took a deep breath, and plunged on. "Eight months ago, the unexpected media disclosure about my abilities occurred at an inopportune time but was essentially true. I am a sentinel. This means that my five senses are enhanced beyond the norm. For example," he went on, gesturing toward an officer in the far back corner of the room, "Reynolds, I can smell the maple syrup you had on your breakfast pancakes … and traces of what you were doing before you showered and got dressed this morning."

Reynolds, newly married, blushed furiously while his colleagues laughed and the room relaxed briefly – until Jim's intimidating gaze again swept the group and some shifted uncomfortably as it sank in just how very much more he could apparently easily sense than they could. Lips tightened and arms crossed defensively, just as they had at this point in all the previous briefings, as people began wondering just what his senses had picked up about them personally. Quirking a brow in grim, silent amusement, he nodded to himself, satisfied with how things were going. His demonstration had gained their full attention and won instant credibility for his claim of sensory superiority.

Ignoring their defensiveness, he carried on with his script. "You need to understand that this isn't just about me. This is also about my partner, Blair Sandburg, and the role he has been playing for the past more than four years. My abilities are genetic but, for personal reasons, I actively repressed them years ago. They ambushed me by coming back online full force during the Switchman bombing case. I didn't understand them or what was happening to me when I was a kid, and I didn't understand them any better four years ago. I thought I either had a brain tumour or was going crazy. The only person I've ever met who truly understands what all this is about – far better than I did, that's for damned sure – and knew immediately what was going on and how to help me is Blair Sandburg. And, from day one, he's never stopped helping me."

His voice growing rough with the emotion he was struggling to contain about the profound, fundamental and absolutely necessary role his partner played in his life, he gratefully accepted a glass of water from the Watch Commander before continuing. "Sandburg was then a doctoral student at Rainier who was, lucky for me, actively searching for a sentinel to study for his PhD dissertation. At that point, my senses were totally out of control – I'd, I'd focus on one thing and lose track of everything else around me. The first day I met him, he saved my life at the risk of his own by dragging me down under a truck that was about to run me over because, totally oblivious, I'd stopped dead in the middle of the street outside his office to contemplate a flying red frizbee. That's what bad shape I was in. How out of control my senses were. Since that day, Sandburg has saved my ass more often than I could begin to count. For the past four years, he has worked diligently with me to help me learn how to both control and manage my senses so that now, with his backup and support, I can use them effectively and predictably. For example, when we do a crime scene sweep Blair uses questions and touch to keep my senses grounded and focused. For those of you who have seen us in action," he said meaningfully as he stared into the eyes of the cop who'd made the comment that had so totally infuriated him earlier in the week, "I assure you that he's much more than a puppy who simply follows me around. Though he's worked hard since the beginning to keep a low profile in the field and his role in my work off the radar-screen, so no one would overhear us or figure out that something unusual was going on, every single day, he has been fully engaged in ensuring that I'm as effective as I can be at all times."

When the offending officer swallowed hard and looked away, he went on. "It has taken years of work to hone my senses into tools that I can draw upon predictably without being overwhelmed by them. I can read a newspaper from three blocks away. I can hear a whisper in an apartment across the street more clearly than the best of our electronic gear enables – the sheer noise that surrounded me was maddening until he taught me tricks to control my sensory input. My sense of touch can determine what ash was before it burned. My sense of taste is sensitive enough to identify the chemical components in a solution, or all the individual spices in the most complex dish. Believe me," he chuckled, shaking his head, "if Blair hadn't helped me control that sense, I'd've been living on bread and bottled water for years."

He got the laughter he'd hoped for, and the listeners began to relax. "I can smell what you all had for breakfast – imagine what such a heightened sense can mean in the stench of a sewer or back alley or in a room that is awash with blood – or just in a normal office environment or a room like this where I also contend with perfume and cologne, the residual fumes of drycleaning on fabrics, and so on. Blair has taught me how to deal with that and more, and he continues to aid me every day – very few others know how to even begin to help me and none have the same instincts and expert knowledge concerning my needs as does Sandburg; he's invaluable and irreplaceable to me."

Shifting his gaze to look deeply into the eyes of another patrol officer in the room, he went on inexorably, "But assisting with my senses is not all he's done. Though he's gotten no credit for his work over the past several years, he has ably assisted in every arrest I've made since we first met, including that of the Switchman, which was before he was even brought on board as a civilian observer." When the officer suffering his glare winced, he hammered in the facts. "Bear in mind, for more than three years while acting in every respect as my partner on the job and assisting fully in the capture of dangerous felons, he was untrained, unpaid, and unarmed. Only now, after agreeing to become my official partner and going through the required hoops to be officially appointed, has he been able to make arrests in his own right."

Giving the squirming guy under his scrutiny a break, Jim grinned then and scratched his cheek bemusedly. "After four years on the job, I have to tell you he aced the Academy – no cadet has ever before achieved a perfect score across the board, but he'd learned it all already, on the job, under fire." His grin faded. "Unfortunately, despite all that, his credibility remained in question until this disclosure was possible, and so it has been necessary for me to continue to be the arresting officer of record."

He paused and frowned as he got to the toughest part of his disclosure. "When excerpts of Sandburg's draft dissertation were publicized by the media, not only without his approval but in contravention of his express instructions to destroy the illicit copy of the document, we were caught off-guard. Frankly, we just weren't ready to go public because, at the time, there were personal security issues around disclosure. These issues have now been dealt with. However, at the time, to protect me, to keep me safe, and to get the media off my back so we could capture the Iceman, Sandburg independently and without my knowledge chose to publicly disavow his dissertation and labeled himself a liar and a fraud. It's not your fault that you believed his press conference statements – you were supposed to believe him; everyone was supposed to believe him, that was the point. My partner sacrificed himself for me."

The room was totally silent. His throat tightened and his voice was husky, nearly cracking, as he concluded, "And, with very few exceptions, virtually everyone did believe that he was a liar and a fraud. Regrettably, if predictably since that press conference, he's paid extraordinarily high penalties for his loyalty, from the loss of a doctoral degree he had more than earned, and an academic career he'd invested nearly fifteen years in achieving, to daily censure and contempt not only on the job but virtually everywhere he goes. But he's never faltered in his commitment to me or to being the best cop he can be, and he has never once complained about what he gave up or what he has suffered since because only a handful of people knew the truth. Since the first day I met him, he has consistently acted with rare courage and integrity, and I am both very proud and very relieved that he is now my official partner." He paused a moment and then turned to Simon. "Captain Banks, you wanted to have a few words with the group."

"Yes, I did," Simon said heavily and replaced Jim at the podium. Consciously assuming his most intimidating stance and expression, he rumbled, "I am well aware that there is a considerable degree of resentment in some quarters about Detective Sandburg's apparently arbitrary and unprecedented appointment to the rank of Detective immediately upon graduation from the Academy. The facts of the matter are that, upon his appointment, Blair Sandburg already had four years of the toughest field experience you could imagine under his belt. Hell, the first day on the job as an unarmed, civilian observer, he single-handedly took out two of Kincaid's men when the Sunrise Patriots took over this building, as well as aided directly in Kincaid's capture – and he's only gotten better and better since. Furthermore, he sat the required tests for promotion to his current rank while still at the Academy, and he aced them, too. Perfect scores. He'd probably do just about as well for higher rank promotion, but he has refused to take those examinations. His only interest beyond earning the right to protect and serve the citizens of Cascade as a law enforcement officer was to qualify fully for appointment as Detective Ellison's partner in Major Crime and, for that, I'm supremely grateful. The man is a unique resource: brilliant, highly educated, imaginative, and immensely capable both as an investigator as well as in the most stressful and highly dangerous situations imaginable. He was awarded his shield and his current appointment because he earned them the hard way, just like anyone else … except his path was made more difficult because he had to do it all virtually undercover and under duress right here in the PD to safeguard the secret of Detective Ellison's senses until they could be revealed. Make no mistake about it; Blair Sandburg is a first class detective who chose police work for the same reasons we all did – to make a difference for the good, to protect and to serve the people of our community. In his own way, he's one of the bravest men I've ever known; certainly, I've never known anyone with more integrity. The fact that he is also the only known resource expert in the world when it comes to assisting Detective Ellison with his senses is a bonus. Together, they've held the best arrest record in the country for four years in a row. As Detective Ellison has indicated, any suspicions or resentment you may have felt about him before today are understandable, but that ends here and now. If I hear of any further maligning of my Detective, I'll have the miscreant put on report and there will be disciplinary action." He paused and surveyed the group. "You should also be advised that we will be making a statement to the media later today to make Detective Ellison's genetically enhanced senses part of the public record. If you have any questions for either me or Detective Ellison, we will entertain them now."

For a long moment, silence greeted his offer. When it became clear that there would be no questions, one of the officers, Cameron Dixon, who had suffered Jim's glare during his statement got to his feet. "I'd like to thank both of you for meeting with us personally to bring us up to speed. You're, uh, right that there's been some hostility toward Detective Sandburg because we didn't know the facts, only what we'd been told or what we could observe on the job. Detective Ellison, your senses are truly remarkable and we're lucky you're on the Force. It seems that Detective Sandburg is equally remarkable in his own way and I wish to formally apologize for anything I've done and said that added to the difficulties you both faced in doing your jobs."

Several others in the room nodded vigorously and murmured comments of agreement. Dixon grimaced wryly as he waved around at his colleagues. "You need to know that there're quite a few people here who maintained all along that there was something going on that we didn't understand or have all the facts about – that Captain Banks wouldn't have appointed Detective Sandburg without damned good reasons and you wouldn't have kept working with him if you didn't trust him, and that, eventually, we'd find out more." Sighing, he allowed, "I should have listened to them, 'cause they were right. I've learned a lot here today and not just about your skills or his. I've learned that I should be looking past what appears to be the obvious to question what's really going on in a situation when all the facts at hand don't add up."

Simon nodded approvingly. "Good for you," he said and smiled sparingly. "Those are lessons every good detective has to learn."

"And sometimes learn again and again," Jim murmured sorrowfully, thinking uncomfortably about their last case, not to mention his own repeated and groundless suspicions about – and lack of trust in – Sandburg months before.

When there were no further comments, Simon concluded the meeting. "If your colleagues on other shifts have questions or if they wish to attend a similar briefing, they can inform the Watch Commander and we'll meet with them as soon as it can be arranged. Good day."

********************

Simon purposefully kept the media briefing short and tight. Squinting a little in the glare of the lights for the cameras, he stepped up to the podium and said briskly, "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, thank you for coming today. Some months ago, you were informed by sources in Berkshire Publishing that Detective James Ellison is a sentinel; that is, a person with significantly superior senses to those of the average person. At the time, to protect Detective Ellison from exposure and to allow him to do his job unhindered by your attentions, that information was refuted by Blair Sandburg, the author of the paper that you were illegally given excerpts of at the time. The information provided to you by Berkshire Publishing was taken out of context and sensationalized and so it is unreliable. However, the truth is, Detective Ellison does have enhanced senses. He's not a superman but simply has talents that exceed yours or mine. Detective, perhaps you could give us a small demonstration?"

Jim stepped forward and proceeded to tell one individual what they'd eaten for lunch, revealed what two others in the back of the room were whispering about, word for word, and when someone also in the back held up a printed sheet of paper they had in their notebook, he read it with no difficulty.

Immediately, they were bombarded by shouted questions from every quarter, but Simon simply returned to the dais and calmly held up his hands until there was a degree of quiet. "This isn't a question and answer session," he informed them bluntly. "To the contrary, part of the purpose of today's briefing was to advise you in no uncertain terms that if you interfere with Detective Ellison or his partner, Detective Blair Sandburg, in the course of their duties, you will be placed immediately under a restraining order for having compromised the safety and security of the people of Cascade. These men have important, necessary and, often, very dangerous jobs to do – they can't protect innocent citizens or apprehend the perpetrators of crimes if they are being harassed by you. We have no intention of suffering the kind of circus that permitted a dangerous assassin to elude capture eight months ago. Secondly, these two men and their families have the same rights to personal privacy as any other citizen, so invasive attempts to obtain personal information from them will also result in the issuance of restraining orders against you and your employers."

Disgruntled rumbles filled the room and he raised his voice. "We know you have questions. Submit them in writing to the Cascade PD Media Liaison Officer and, if it does not compromise Detective Ellison's safety on the job, you will be provided with answers in due course. With respect to the Detective's abilities and their use in his work, as a matter of course care has always been taken to ensure that the constitutional rights of individuals are not compromised and that due process is followed in every one of his cases. Any individuals who fear their rights may have been compromised because he can see or hear better than the average person, resulting in allegedly improper conviction, may exercise their rights to appeal the judgment. Furthermore, if you reference any of the material that was illegally provided to you by Berkshire Publishing, you will be in violation of the Copyright Act because Detective Sandburg expressly forbade its dissemination, and there will be legal repercussions."

Outraged cries broke out throughout the room as the reporters asserted the people's right to know, but Simon simply shook his head. "The people have a right to know Detective Ellison has enhanced senses, although this will probably only be of real interest to academics, medical researchers and those who are breaking the law and fear being caught by him and his partner. The people do not have a right to information that compromises his job performance in their service, or his or his partner's personal safety on the job. I repeat, if you have specific questions, refer them in writing to our Media Liaison Officer. Good day."

And then he and Jim left the room, leaving the Media Liaison Officer, Pamela Goodings, to contend with a very unhappy press corps.

********************

For four days, Sandburg slept for nearly twenty out of every twenty-four hours as he recovered from the effects of the poisoning. His physician, Dr. Stewart, continued to monitor his three daily liver function tests and the doctor was astonished by how quickly Blair was recovering. He'd never heard of another such case where there had been such profound necrosis of the liver and yet the patient had recovered, let alone with what he could only describe as miraculous speed. When he delved further into his remarkable patient's medical file and discovered Sandburg had drowned and been clinically dead barely a year before, he was incredulous.

"I want to write up your case," he told Blair with rare enthusiasm the next time they spoke. "I need your permission to –"

"Whoa, slow down," Blair cut in. "Why am I such a fascinating subject? I mean, I know it was close but …."

"By all medical standards, you should be dead," Stewart told him bluntly. "I did not believe you would survive the first night in hospital. But not only have you survived, your liver is recovering its functioning at inexplicable and incredible speed. And I have just learned that you died by drowning just over a year ago and yet, here you are. Still alive. We need to study you, find out what makes your body tick."

Blair gaped at him and blinked, startled and feeling uncomfortably dehumanized. His gaze dropped away and he wondered if this was how Jim had felt for most of their years together. That thought made him feel almost violently ill. "No," he replied finally. "No, you don't have my permission to write me up. I certainly do not agree to any tests."

"But –"

"No," he reiterated, absolutely certain that it wasn't anything about his body or his genetics that contributed to his recovery – but he very much suspected that Jim had done something, like he had at the fountain. No way did he want this doctor looking too closely at what had happened then. "I'm just … just very lucky, that's all. The Universe has been inordinately good to me. I'm sorry, I understand your motivation. I am, or was, a scientist, so I appreciate where you're coming from. But I can assure you that there's nothing about me or my genetics that's at all unusual or worth studying."

"I'd like to find that out for myself."

"No."

Sighing, angered by what he saw as an unreasoning reaction, he urged, "At least think about it. Think about the difference this could make in countless lives."

"Okay, I'll promise you this: if I change my mind, you'll be the first to know. But don't count on me changing my mind because that's not going to happen. It would be a waste of your time and mine."

Throwing up his hands, the doctor could do nothing but acquiesce.

"When can I go home?" Blair asked then. "After that, when can I go back to work?"

Sighing, Stewart replied, "At the rate you're healing, tomorrow, and in two weeks," and then, very irritated at the lack of cooperation, he left in disgust.

********************

When Jim came in later that afternoon, not long after the media briefing had been concluded, Blair gave him a narrow look. "What did you do?" he demanded.

"Huh? What? Do?" Jim floundered, not having expected Blair to know anything about what he'd been up to downtown. He frowned, wondering if someone from the PD had come in and leaked the news despite the medical order at the nursing station restricting visitors to him and Simon, much to the disgust of the others in Major Crimes. But the kid was still recovering and, though he would have enjoyed seeing the others, too many visitors would fast use up what little energy he had. And, also by doctor's orders, the switchboard was supposed to be restricting all calls to Blair's room, to allow him to sleep undisturbed. It was too soon for the media to have put out any information that hospital staff might inadvertently relay. Whatever. It seemed Blair knew and he had to face the music. Signing in resignation, he asked, "How did you find out?"

"Stewart was in here earlier," Blair told him, and Jim blinked, confused. How had Stewart found out? But Blair was still talking. "He says I'm some kind of modern miracle. Apparently, according to him, there is no way I should have survived at all, let alone be recovering at light-speed, especially given I died about a year ago. I'm not sure what that has to do with anything other than he thinks I've got some weird DNA or something."

Relieved to realize that his partner was talking about something else entirely, Jim's gaze quickly shifted away. He wasn't yet ready to discuss what he'd done and preferred to wait, if he could, until Blair was out of the hospital. "Tests, huh? Sound familiar?" he muttered while he wondered if he could afford to wait until Blair got home. He needed to talk with Sandburg's doctor and the nursing staff, maybe post a huge notice right outside his door announcing that anyone who conveyed any information from media discussions about sentinels and one Detective Ellison would be summarily shot by said detective.

Sighing, Blair raked his hair back. "Too familiar," he replied soberly. His expression melted into profound sorrow and his tone was stricken with grief as he continued, "Man, I'm so sorry I treated you that way. I … I was a stupid punk kid who didn't know any better but that's no real excuse. I'm just sorry."

Caught by the tone and the desolate expression on Blair's face, Jim shoved away the concerns for everything else. The last thing he wanted was for Blair to feel badly about anything. Reaching out to lightly grip his partner's shoulder, Jim gave him a small, gentle, even vulnerable smile that he didn't realize Blair saw far too infrequently and consequently treasured all the more because it was so rare. "Water under the bridge, Chief," he said with quiet sincerity. "Most of those tests were about helping me manage my senses better and were necessary, not just idle curiousity. Nothing to apologize for."

The relief and gratitude in Blair's eyes, for what Jim felt was only the truth, was poignantly obvious, so much so that Jim felt badly about all the bitching he'd ever done about all those tests. Sandburg's gaze dipped away as he bowed his head in a belated attempt to conceal the depth of his emotion. He nodded once and then looked back up at Jim. "So, what did you do?" he asked again. "To keep me alive and heal me so fast?"

Not at all sure how to even begin explaining mystical stuff he didn't understand and was still inherently embarrassed about, Jim's immediate instinct was to try to avoid discussing it at all. His smile widened into a grin and he shook his head. "I'm not sure I should tell you. You'll want to do more of those damned tests to figure it all out."

"Ah, come on, Jim, that's not fair," he whined imploringly. "Give me something here."

Hesitating, his grin faded with the memories of those terrible nights and days. Dammit, however uncomfortable he was with it all, Blair was owed the truth and he shouldn't have to beg for it, not after everything they'd been through. He nodded soberly and pulled the nearby chair closer to the bed. Sitting down, his expression a combination of uncertainty and resolute determination, his voice thick at the memory of the abject fear he'd felt, the despair, Jim finally replied quietly, "I asked the spirit guides for help, to watch over you and give you strength, and to help me share my strength and health with you. And then I rested my hand over your body, over your damaged liver, and my palm got real hot for a couple of minutes. I, uh, I did that quite a few times until you woke up. And," he went on, reaching out to grip Blair's wrist, "well, I … I tried as hard as I could to hold onto you, like this. Just like this."

Blair's jaw tightened as he listened, and he swallowed convulsively as he looked down at Jim's grip on his arm. Sniffing, he swiped at his eyes with his other hand and nodded, unable to speak until he swallowed again. "Okay," he rasped huskily. "Okay, man. No tests to figure out how you did what you did. Just … just thanks."

Releasing Blair's wrist, he reached up to lightly ruffle his partner's hair. "No thanks necessary, Chief," he replied tenderly. "I got what I wanted. I got to keep you." Blair gazed at him, lips agape, speechless, and silence stretched between them until the emotion that charged the room became too much to bear. Jim rolled his shoulders uncomfortably and, to lighten the mood and change the subject, he asked, "So when can you blow this pop stand?"

"Uh, tomorrow," Blair replied with alacrity, apparently as eager as he was to get on more solid ground. "And Stewart says I can go back to work in two weeks."

"Tomorrow?" Jim echoed, a bright smile wreathing his face. "That's great, Chief," he said with heartfelt happiness. "It'll be good to have you home. And – two weeks? That's amazing. I thought it would be months. Stewart's absolutely right; you really are a miracle."

"Me? I don't think so, man," Blair replied sardonically with a vigorous shake of his head. "You, on the other hand …."

Later, before he left the hospital, Jim called Stewart and, after explaining the situation in more detail than he would have liked and making his own refusal to be the subject of an intensive genetic study, he enlisted the physician's cooperation in impressing upon the staff that under no circumstances was anyone to relay any current news to Blair. The one objective they had in common was that Sandburg was to be allowed to rest and heal. After that, Jim met with the shift supervisor and obtained her agreement to brief all the staff that worked on the floor, from the nurses, to the orderlies, lab technicians and housekeeping staff, to exercise absolute discretion on the exciting subject of a sentinel in the city when speaking with the patient, Blair Sandburg, in room 220. He even got her to agree to post a sign outside the door reminding anyone who entered that the subject was off-limits.

Satisfied that he'd done as much as he could to ensure the news remained under wraps until he could share it when Blair was stronger, Jim finally went home.

********************

Jim prescribed another two days of complete bed rest once Blair got home, much to his partner's disgust. But, when pushed, Blair grudgingly admitted that he still slept more hours than he was awake each day, so Jim's demands weren't unreasonable. Before going to the hospital to pick him up, Jim had hidden both the recent newspapers and the television remote. He carried the phone handset around with him for the next two days to be sure he was the one who answered any incoming calls. By the end of the second day, his tension at trying to keep Blair unaware was such that he knew he'd be relieved when he finally shared what he'd done.

That night, he lay awake, wishing he could predict how Blair would react. If the situation was reversed, he knew he'd be furious to have been excluded from the decision, especially after having sacrificed so much to safeguard the secret.

But … Blair didn't react the way he did. Maybe it would be okay. God, he hoped Blair would understand without a whole lot of debate and hassle. He didn't think he could handle that – wasn't sure he'd be able to find the words to express how driven he'd been to fix things or why. Wasn't sure he'd be able to contain the emotions that swamped him whenever he thought about Blair in that sanctuary, dying in his arms, and Sister Mary Francis scolding him scathingly, telling him in no uncertain terms that he was selfish for denying Blair peace when things would never get better for him and that he was exhausted and so hurt by it all. She'd been right; insane, but right. He had been selfish, unconscionably selfish, and he'd allowed Blair to suffer for too damned long on his behalf. He was selfish in his need to hold onto Blair, to keep him close, but he just could not let him go … couldn't imagine ever letting him go. Closing his eyes, he knew he had to tell Blair that, too, and he desperately hoped that Blair was prepared to commit a lifetime to their partnership.

The next morning, after breakfast, Jim decided it was time, that it couldn't be put off any longer. Blair looked a lot better. The unhealthy sallowness was gone from his skin and his eyes were bright. His heartbeat was strong and steady, perfectly normal. So, when Blair told him straight out that he wasn't prepared to even discuss going back to his room, Jim waved him to the sofa and then draped the quilt over him before sitting down beside him. "Chief, we have to talk," he said solemnly. "About a lot of stuff."

"Oh, yeah?" Blair replied, turning to look at him curiously. "About what, exactly?"

Taking a deep breath, Jim blew it out slowly. "I want you to just listen and try not to get too … excited, or I'll stop and leave the rest for another day, okay? You may not be too happy about everything I have to tell you, but … but when I thought, when I thought I was going to, that you were going to … anyway, I promised you that things would be better. A lot better. I've kept that promise."

"Jim, you're starting to scare me here," he said slowly, a worried frown puckering his brow. "What are you talking about?"

Clearing his throat, Jim said, "Well, for starters, Simon and I have met individually with all of the units at the PD and told them I'm a sentinel."

"Tell me you didn't," Blair urged insistently, leaning toward him. "Tell me you're just putting me on."

"No, I'm not, and yes, I did," Jim returned flatly and then sighed. "Chief, it wasn't working, not for either of us but especially not for you. The contempt, the lack of trust …." He shook his head. "It was getting in the way of us doing our jobs and it was massively unfair to you. And … and I guess it was time I grew up and got past the idea that I'm some kind of freak; different, yes, but not a freak. So, it's done. The world didn't end and, and now our colleagues know that you more than earned that shield." When Blair just blinked and gaped at him, apparently rendered speechless, Jim decided not to waste the opportunity and pressed on. "There's more."

"More?" he squeaked.

Nodding, Jim told him, "Simon and I decided that containment was ultimately impossible with so many people knowing the truth, so rather than ignore that fact and end up in a reactive position when the news eventually broke, we briefed the media three days ago." Quickly, he went on to summarize the media briefing to reassure his partner that he'd not given away any vital information and that Simon and the PD would do all they could to protect their privacy.

"My God, Jim, I can't believe you did this. I don't know what to say," Blair exclaimed softly, stunned. "I just …" he looked around helplessly. "I mean, I never expected, you didn't have to … I really don't know what to say."

"You don't have to say anything, Chief; it was long overdue," Jim replied with a grimace for how long it had taken him to make things right. "And … and I have to tell you something else. Something I've known for awhile but didn't want to admit and I'm not sure how you'll take this, but I hope okay."

"God, there's more? Okay, okay, go on," Blair encouraged, though he looked increasingly anxious. "But, uh, you're not going to tell me that, that you don't really want me to be your partner, right? That it's too dangerous or some shit like that? Because I really don't want to hear it." Looking confused, he shook his head. "No, no that wouldn't make sense, though, would it? I mean, you wouldn't have gone public if you meant to ditch me."

"Ditch you? No, Chief, no," Jim assured him, shifting to draw his friend closer, so that Blair was leaning his back against him and Jim had his arm around his upper chest, holding him close, his partner's chin resting on his forearm. "Just the opposite. I've mouthed off more than once that I can do it all without you and that I don't need you. But … but that's not true. I just told myself and you those things because I was … well, afraid of being too dependent on someone who might up and leave someday. I can't keep pretending, not to myself or to you. I … I … this partnership, it's for life, Chief. I hope that's okay with you."

As if all the tension and anxiety he'd been feeling had abruptly evaporated, Blair leaned his head back against Jim's shoulder, and he reached up to firmly clasp Jim's wrist. "More than okay, Jim," he replied hoarsely, relief rough in his voice. "I've believed for awhile now that, that we have to do this together; that we need one another, maybe even to survive. I just didn't think you'd ever want to know that."

Closing his eyes, Jim was relieved beyond words that Blair not only understood but shared his belief that they needed one another to be whole. Clinging to that commitment, he wished he could avoid having to now lay what might be an irresistible temptation to another kind of life at Blair's feet, a life his partner had once wanted very much and might well want again now that it was possible. But there was no avoiding this and it had to be said. "You need to know that Eli Stoddard called me after the news broke. Rainier wants you to come back. He said they'd immediately grant you your PhD based upon your sentinel research and existing documentation. You could … you could have your old life back, Chief."

Snorting softly, Blair shook his head. "I appreciate that," he replied, "I really do. But it's too late. I'm past that and have a new career now. One I really want. And there's no way that paper is ever again going to see the light of day. You're not a thing, Jim. Being a sentinel, as magnificent as that is, is not all that you are. I won't put you through that. The paper is yours, to keep, in case … in case you need it, the information in it, someday." He paused when Jim's grip tightened around him, mutely signaling that he didn't want to contemplate such a need ever arising. Then, thoughtfully, he continued, "I suppose I could complete my PhD eventually on another subject, maybe specifically in forensic anthropology – the credentials might be useful, especially if we want to get into profiling at some point. But … later; not now. We'll have enough to contend with now that the news is out. I mean, much as Simon has done his best to protect us from the media, there are going to be questions and we'll have to deal with some of them, at least."

Jim let out the breath he'd been holding and rested his chin on Blair's head. "You're taking all this amazingly well, Chief. I thought you might be furious that I, uh, didn't discuss it all with you first."

Blair twisted around a little, to look up at him. "I would have tried to stop you," he said.

"I know; that's why I didn't tell you."

Blair studied him for a long moment and then, his gaze going out of focus as he thought it all through, he shifted back to his original position, his head resting against Jim's shoulder. "You did this for me, I know that," he finally said. "And … well, you're right. It was getting in the way of us doing our job, even of us being comfortable with one another. You always felt too guilty and I didn't know what to do about that. And, and it was getting to me – the lack of trust, the contempt." Once more he gripped Jim's wrist, as if to lend emphasis to his words. "I want to do this, Jim. I want to be a cop, and I want to be your partner. I'm not sorry about leaving Rainier. I guess, I guess that mostly I feel relieved that we can move on now and leave all the shit behind. And a bit worried, about the risks of so many people knowing and what that might mean in terms of danger on the job. But we can deal with that. Just like we've dealt with everything else that's come at us. I'm still a bit stunned that you did all this but … but I'm not sorry you did." He paused and then asked in a rush, "But your Dad and Steven … how have they reacted to your disclosure?"

"They're fine with it, Chief. No problem."

"Man, that's a relief."

"So, we're good?"

Blair nodded and a smile slowly grew on his face; a light that had been long missing sparkled again in his eyes. "Have I ever told you my theory about the angels who came to Earth to be Watchmen?" he asked fondly, his tone light, teasing, but there was a note of something else that Jim had difficulty interpreting. Wonder, maybe? Conviction?

"I overheard you telling Sister Mary Francis," Jim replied, amused all over again as he recalled Blair's interpretation of the myth and its relevance to sentinels. His amusement faded when he also remembered the nun crooning that song to Blair and, instinctively, possessively, he wrapped his other arm around Blair to hold him tight.

"So you'll understand what I mean when I say how glad I am to be in the arms of an angel, man," Blair sighed happily as he squirmed around to hug Jim right back. "Sister Mary Francis went about it all wrong, but she was basically right about where I belong."

Looking down at his partner, Jim started to laugh. "Angel? Me?" he chuckled and shook his head. "Not hardly. I think you've gotten our bloodlines mixed up. You're the one who looks like a cherub."

"Cherub?" Blair snickered and then broke into riotous laughter; bright, effervescent laughter Jim hadn't heard in far too long. He tightened his grip and murmured into Blair's curls, "Welcome home, Chief. And, uh, no going off on your own without backup again, okay?"

"Yeah, well, as it turns out, I had backup all along, didn't I? Even if I didn't know it," Blair retorted with a grin. "But, yeah, I'll promise that if you will."

"I promise, Chief. I promise."

You're in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort there
You're in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort here

Finis

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