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.

I think I posted this to the Sentinel Angst list a while back. Just a little post BSbyTS snippet.

Best Man

By Madraf

********************
Jim walked quietly down the hospital corridor toward his partner's room. Sandburg had been in a bad mood yesterday, lot of pain, and Jim had left earlier than usual. He'd used work as an excuse, but he'd found himself driving aimlessly through Cascade instead.

Not that the drive had done any good. Hell, it was Sandburg's leg, but Jim seemed to be feeling more anxiety than the injured party.

On his long and lonely drive, he'd reviewed the accident. There was no way it could have been avoided. Heck, Jim hadn't even been in the area when the drunk had run up on the curb in front of the police department and slammed into Sandburg and five other people.

Once the initial fear for Sandburg's life had eased, about one day after the incident, doctors had concentrated on the injured left leg. Sandburg had shrugged the day before yesterday when the doctors had said they weren't sure how well the leg would heal, or if they would still be forced to amputate. He'd leaned back and said, "What happens, happens."

Yesterday had been a different story, but much of that was brought on by the pain. The doctors had welcomed the pain as proof of healing, but for Sandburg it had only added up to a miserable day. And by the time Jim had left yesterday afternoon, he felt Sandburg was doing his best to share the wealth.

For Sandburg, it might be something out of his hands. But Ellison couldn't help but worry. And he felt selfish even about his worry for his partner and friend.

If Sandburg's leg was bad enough that doctors still weren't sure it could be saved, just how was it ever going to be well enough to pass the department's physical requirements? It would take nothing less than a miracle, and coming back to life after drowning in the fountain had to have used up Sandburg's miracle quotient for a good 50 years.

So, Ellison had reasoned during his solitary drive, if Sandburg couldn't be a detective, what options were left for him? What jobs and careers were opened to a bright, young, energetic, optimistic man? Plenty, if he hadn't publicly declared himself an academic cheat and disgraced a university and a publishing firm as well as himself.

Could Jim Ellison find it in himself to give up just as much to redeem his friend's prospects, if not his career?

The whole fiasco had replayed through his mind all night: the media hounding him after Sandburg's unfinished dissertation had been released by the publishing company editor, the heartbreaking sight and sound of the young man, once heralded by the academic community, as he claimed his life's work was a fraud and nothing but the result of pressure he'd felt to come up with something after years of study.

Blair had seemed happy enough in his few months at the department. Jim believed he'd been spared most of the gossip about how hiring an admitted fraud reflected badly on the elite Major Crimes Division. True, several promising young detectives in other departments seemed less interested in pursuing an assignment to the division, but honestly? Jim didn't care. His world was humming along nicely. Sandburg was content, and not so secretly wooing Megan Conner, the Australian inspector who had joined Major Crimes about two years ago.

Megan had the added advantage of knowing the truth. She, along with Captain Simon Banks, commander of the Major Crime Division, knew Sandburg's dissertation was true. She knew Jim Ellison was a Sentinel, a man with enhanced senses. She knew Sandburg was just about the only authority on the subject of Sentinels and that Ellison was just about the only one in the world--the only sane one, anyway.

Banks had known for several years, ever since Blair had started working with Jim four years ago. Ellison had been near the basket case stage then. His senses, dormant since childhood except for a brief reappearance during Ellison's 18-month stint in the Peruvian jungle, had come back with a vengeance. The re-emergence all the more frightening for the detective because suppressed memories had left him with no hint of their existence.

Enter Blair Sandburg, doctoral candidate at Rainier University in Cascade. He just happened to be studying Sentinels even though no one else in the modern world thought they existed. He had gotten wind of Jim's predicament and offered his help in exchange for writing his dissertation.

The two men had lived in friendship, working together at the police department on cases as well as Jim's abilities, and ignoring the impending dissertation. Then, an ill-fated move on Blair's mother's part had let the whole world in on the secret, and Jim had gone ballistic.

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

Right about the time memories had started focusing on his reaction to the dissertation's release, Jim had shut down the mental processes, gone home to the loft and forced himself to sleep.

He had successfully avoided contemplating the situation all morning and was headed to his partner's room for the first time that day.

Not relishing the thought of another couple of hours of Sandburg's rapier tongue if today would be as bad as yesterday, Ellison loosed his sensitive hearing to gauge his partner's mood as he stepped off the elevator. He caught the soft sounds of a kiss ending and matched the breathless giggle and chuckle as Megan and Blair. Coloring slightly, he pulled his hearing back a notch and unintentionally latched on to another conversation.

"Hey, Miller. What brings you by here?" It was a voice Jim recognized, but a face didn't immediately come to mind.

"Thought I'd stop in and see Sandburg," Miller replied. Jim recognized this voice as belonging to a patrol officer.

"Didn't know you knew him," the first voice came back. Jim knew the voice belonged to another officer. From the sound, they were near Sandburg's room, around the corner and a good 50 feet down that corridor.

"Not well, but, hell, I feel sorry for the kid," Miller admitted.

"What the hell for?" the first man asked. "At best he's a liar. At worst he's a fraud. Can't believe he's on the force. And in Major Crime. Used to want to work my way there, but I'm reconsidering."

"Give him a break," Miller said. "With friends like Ellison, he doesn't need any enemies. Besides, I heard he might lose the leg."

Jim paused and listened unashamed.

"Ellison's not so bad."

"If he's anything like his old man, he's not worth the time of day."

"What do you mean?"

"My father used to work for William Ellison, the detective's dad. Worked long days and nights for that creep. Worked himself into a heart attack that left Dad barely able to function. You think Ellison ever stopped by or sent a card? We never heard a word from him. Dad used to think he was the man's best friend. With friends like thatů"

"Ellison wouldn't do that to Sandburg," the first voice insisted. "He's stuck with him so far."

"Yeah," Miller agreed, "but if Sandburg loses his leg or just the use of it, how long do you think Ellison's going to hang out with someone who can't follow him around like a puppy dog. He'll go find himself another sucker."

"If that's the case, why'd he let the guy hang around in the first place? You think Ellison can really do that stuff?"

"Doesn't make a difference if he can or can't. He's still an ass."

"Come on. He's got a lot of friends. His co-workers like him."

"Do they? Maybe they put up with him because he makes the department look good with his closure rate. Hell, I wouldn't want to work with him. If the kid's such a great friend, how the hell would he treat someone he just worked with? No thank you. You can keep the great Detective Ellison."

Jim leaned against the corridor wall and froze, remembering his fear last night that he would have to come clean with his abilities in order to help Sandburg. It was at least five minutes before he shook himself back to the present in time to see Megan round the corner. She nodded politely at him and walked on by without a word, although he thought she looked happy. She must have been happy if she'd bothered to nod at him.

Megan's behavior wasn't unusual. She knew the truth and since Blair had made his announcement, she had been polite but kept her distance from Jim. Ellison watched her walk away and laughed sadly at himself. He was an arrogant son of a bitch, wasn't he?

He took a few minutes to compose himself then pushed away from the wall. He nodded politely at the two uniformed officers who came out of Sandburg's room as he opened the door.

"Miller. Donovan." Jim's greeting was quiet as he stepped back to let the two men exit the room. He met Miller's eyes for a moment, and then dropped his gaze.

"Hey, Jim," Blair greeted as Ellison walked into the room. Jim was relieved to see his friend in good spirits. "You saw Miller and Donovan, huh?" Jim nodded. "I'm surprised they stopped by. I'm not sure the uniforms like me very much."

"Why wouldn't they?"

"I can think of a few reasons." Blair shifted on the bed. "Hey, guess what."

"What?"

Blair eyed his friend suspiciously. "You didn't eavesdrop, did you? Before you came in?"

"No, Sandburg," Jim complained. "I wasn't listening to you and Megan."

"Then how'd you know she was here?

"I saw her in the hall way earlier."

"Oh." Blair smiled brightly. "Guess what."

"What?" Jim asked, smiling at his friend's enthusiasm.

"She said yes."

"Yes?"

"Come on, man," Blair hinted. "I know this accident has interrupted a lot of things, but you remember, what I was talking about before? She said yes. In fact, she asked. I thought I'd wait. You know, see how things are going to work out, but she said she wanted to get married anyway. She said if she was going to go in for better or worse later, why not now."

Jim turned away briefly at his friend's excited rambling before pasting on a smile and facing the patient. "Congratulations," he said.

"She didn't tell you?"

"I didn't talk to her," Jim said with a shrug. "She was on her way out and I was coming in."

"Oh." Blair watched his friend. He knew Jim had been worrying about the leg, about the future. He decided to cheer the senior detective up. "So, will you?"

"What?"

Blair rolled his eyes.

"What do you think?"

"I think it's great about you and Megan?"

"Thanks for the rousing endorsement, Jim," Blair said with a frown. "But what I was asking about is if you'll be my best man."

Jim gave a crooked smile and looked out the window to the adjacent wing of the hospital.

"Hey, man," Blair called softly. "What's wrong? I know you and Megan have been at odds over something lately. If you don't want to stand up with me, just say so."

Jim didn't miss the catch in Blair's voice. He leaned his head against the window, swallowed the lump in his own throat and forced himself to ask, "Why me?"

"Well, it's customary for the best friend of the groom to be the best man, isn't it?"

Jim refused to look at Blair.

"You know," Blair continued after long seconds of silence, "it's really not that unusual for one person to think of another as their best friend, even if that friend doesn't return the sentiment."

"You're the best friend I've ever had, Sandburg," Jim whispered, just loud enough for Blair to hear. "But then again, you've proven that many times over the years. I'm just not sure I qualify for your best friend."

"Jim, what's eating you?"

"Just taking stock, Chief."

"I'm the one with a potentially life-altering injury here. I'm supposed to be taking stock."

"What do you have?" Jim asked. "Why the hell are you so cheerful? You could still lose your damn leg! What happens then?"

"I find something else to do."

Jim turned away.

"Are you saying you're not gonna be there for me if I can't be a cop? That if I can't work with you, then we've got no basis for a friendship?"

"I'm saying, I haven't been a good friend. I'm saying I'm a selfish bastard who takes and takes and never gives."

"You've given plenty."

"What have I given you?"

"You've saved my life, several times."

"I'm paid to save lives."

"So, what, I'm no different than any other citizen. You would have been just as worried if anyone had been kidnapped by Lash? You would have let Rafe or Henri move into your apartment and never move out?"

"No," Jim whispered again. He rubbed his face with his hands. "But what kind of friend lets another ruin his reputation so he can keep a little privacy? What kind of friend bulldozes another into a job he never wanted in the first place so he won't have to tell his little secret?" Jim looked back out the window. "What kind of friend spends the night worrying about how another's 'life-altering injury' is going to affect his life?"

"I'm not asking for anything you can't give, Jim," Blair said.

"I know. But I should be able to give it." Jim slapped his palms on the wide windowsill. "Why does giving your life back to you scare me so much?"

"I don't know."

The two men let silence settle between them. Blair concentrated on the weave of his blanket. Jim stared out the window.

"Why don't you hate me?" Jim finally asked.

"Is that what you want? For me to hate you?"

"No."

"What do you want?"

"I want to be your best friend," Jim said, still unable to look at Blair. "I want to tell the world that you didn't lie, that I can do what you said I can. I want you to heal completely and work with me. I want to know that you'll be there to back me up. I want you to be happy, even if that means not being there to back me up, to work with me. I would miss you if you went away."

"I'm not going anywhere," Blair said.

"But you would. You will, when you can go on expeditions again."

"If I did, I'd come back."

"And what if Megan wants to move back to Australia?"

"She doesn't. We've talked about it already."

"She hates me, Chief. Can't say that I blame her." He finally looked at his friend. "Which brings me back to the question, 'Why don't you hate me?'"

"Because you're my friend." Blair shook his head and motioned for Jim to come closer. He patted the mattress beside him. "Come here." Reluctantly, Jim sat down on the mattress. "I get mad as hell as you sometimes, Jim, but you're always my friend. You've helped me realize that if I get mad at someone, I don't have to assume everything is over and it's time to move on.

"Mom's great at the concept of forgiveness. She's always 'letting it go,' but as often as not, 'letting it go' also meant moving on. You've given me a lot of practice at forgiveness." He punched the older man's arm lightly. "You're the reason I even had the courage to contemplate marriage, man. I know what it means to forgive and get past something without moving on out of someone's life." Blair studied his downcast friend. "You're my best friend, man. Sorry. You're stuck with the designation, whether you want it or not."

"I just want to deserve it," Jim said. He looked up, finally facing Blair. "I'll do what needs to be done for you. I promise."

"Yeah, yeah," Blair said. "But, you didn't answer my question, 'Will you be the best man?'"

Jim laughed. "Yeah, I'll be the best man." He grasped the back of Blair's neck and gave him a quick hug. "The best I can."

The End

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