Author's Notes: No profit; Copyright laws bent but not broken; beta'd by the ever-patient Arianna, remaining errors are mine; and thanks to my generous hostess, Starfox

Spoilers: Post TSbBS, Blair is a detective; Takes place after my story, "Making the Team" but stands alone.

Warnings: Language

Becoming A Cop

by Roslyn

Part I - Idealistic Cop

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

Wednesday, 6:30 A.M.; The Loft

The alarm whispered to Jim Ellison in tones specially programmed not to shock a sentinel out of his sleep. Usually awake in expectation of the alarm, this morning saw Jim savoring every last moment of sleep possible before the workday began. The sounds, reminiscent of his favorite trout stream, woke him to instant awareness. Remaining motionless, he performed a quick scan of his surroundings via all senses but vision to make sure it was not a sign of danger that brought him to awareness. These days, the scan was more perfunctory than not but Jim was just as happy to retain the habits that had kept him alive throughout his years of military service. It was also handy when waking to the feel of someone against you when you needed time to recall the name of said party ... not a skill he currently needed but one he should probably teach his young partner. This particular scan revealed there really was water flowing in his vicinity.

Stretching like a cat, Jim unfolded his six foot plus frame out of bed and shuffled downstairs to the john. The door was shut and the shower was running. Tempted to check Sandburg's bed to see if some pod lay there instead of his usual somnolent, morning self, Jim conceded the improbable facts - Sandburg had awakened before him. Still energized from his Academy training, completed just five months earlier, Blair's enthusiasm for the job just kept growing.

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

Wednesday, 1:30 P.M.; the Bullpen

Jim exited the elevator at the seventh floor, already knowing that business was being conducted as usual. He had scanned the rooms using his enhanced hearing while still in the elevator, in case trouble of a violent nature awaited his intervention. Satisfied on that score, his next instinct was to ascertain the status of his partner, Blair Sandburg. That compact case of barely contained energy was standing at the bulletin board. Of only medium height, his head was tilted back in order to see the notices tacked to the upper regions of the board. He rose a bit on his toes, bouncing lightly, in accordance with the degree of interest each generated in his inquiring mind. The current subject of his attentions appeared to have his full approval. Vision zeroing in on the particular notice, Jim confirmed it was the one about the Fourth of July picnic, only a couple months down the road. When Blair turned around, there would be a big smile on his face which would likely mean that he would be hearing a dozen different suggestions for their own contributions to the meal over the next several hours. Okay, he could live with that.

In the meantime, a snack was indicated. Court was a boring experience at best and the morning's routine testimony had been akin to watching grass grow. A reward for patience was definitely in order and this reward should involve nuts, chocolate and, perhaps, some caramel. A quick dig into the pockets revealed the absence of change so Jim quickly turned and headed for his partner.

"Hey, Chief! How'zit going today?"

"Hi, Jim! Great, fine. Got through three reports you need to read and sign. How was court?"

"A thing of beauty and a joy forever, as usual."

"Uh-huh, you're bored and hungry. I told you to have breakfast."

"It was late, Sandburg. Someone took too long in the shower."

"You could have eaten before showering, man."

"Can't, not comfortable before the shower. You got any change?"

"No."

"No change? I hear it clinking from here!"

"I have change. No, you may not have any. You've had enough candy this week already."

"Just fork over some change, Mom. I promise to have my milk later on."

"Sarcasm is a sign your blood sugar is low."

"Exactly. Gimme some change so I can put some sugar back into my bloodstream."

Jim allowed himself to be tugged back to their work stations. Rummaging inside of his backpack, Blair produced a brown paper bag which must have originally belonged to a circus act. An unlimited number of edibles were being pulled from the small sack. These included apples and pears (all local produce to spur the economy), organic nuts and seeds (to spur jaw and colonic movements), carob chips (to spur a desire to kill the person who thought a bland chocolate substitute would be a meaningful contribution to mankind), and some granola bars. The latter, he surmised, were intended to keep him sufficiently satisfied to forgo the pleasure of killing his diet doctor, Blair Sandburg. The bars were presented when all else failed to provoke any signs of gastronomic delight. Jim sat down and grudgingly accepted a bar.

Satisfied, Blair decided it was time to bring out the big guns. A large graph was pulled out of the backpack and spread on top of Jim's desk. "I've been keeping data on your sugar consumption lately and the frequency of zones, sensory spikes and mood swings."

Jim rolled his eyes, quite sure this was not going to go well for him. "I don't have mood swings, Chief. I have a very even temperament." He'd always wondered what a 'guffaw' would sound like if he ever heard one. Now he knew, as the sound emanated from deep within his partner's being.

Blair finished his expression of disbelief. "Sure, Jim. Your temperament is very even- -for a pit bull going through menopause. Now I see a definite correlation between your consumption of sugar and processed carbohydrates alongside events which might be classified as the equivalent of male PMS. Oww!"

Megan had a good grip on his earlobe and escorted him from his position at Jim's shoulder. Curious about the large sheet of paper spread out on Jim's desk, along with the senior detective's dismayed expression, she had wandered over only to hear the offensive remark disparaging the female of the species. Well, it was certainly offensive today and these damned cramps weren't helping either. "Listen up, Sandy. Comparing Jim's moods to the lunar calendar kept by women everywhere is a slight to my gender and not acceptable."

"Sure, Megan. No problem, just leggo the ear," he pleaded as he was dragged to his own desk and deposited in his chair. Satisfied, the cranky woman moved on to her own work area.

"Sheesh, I'm surrounded by curmudgeons on all sides." Blair rubbed his ear as he finished lodging his complaints to his partner, who was seemingly engrossed in the paper before him. "Jim?" It was strange that he had not interfered with Megan's handling of him. The man never let anyone touch him without bristling, even if he deigned to permit it.

"You wrote down my every expression of annoyance for a month? Look at all these entries. You had to be making some of these up." Jim appeared genuinely distressed.

"It's more important for you to look at what you ate a couple hours earlier from each, uh, incident. See, it's nearly always sugar or some kind of high carb food, unaccompanied by any form of protein. Like, everything we eat gets broken down into glucose, the simplest sugar used for food by our cells. Protein is broken down into glucose much slower than sucrose, fructose, lactose - you know, the sugars you love to eat..."

"Okay, I got the picture."

"... so, when you eat the simple sugars it gets used up really fast and BAM, your blood sugar drops like a stone without a backup source of glucose, you know? And the results aren't pretty, man!." Blair waved the chart for emphasis.

"Fine, Sandburg, enough."

"But if you eat complex carbs like vegetables or, better yet, proteins like nuts..."

"Wonderburgers."

"... then you can then get in a fresh supply of glucose from any protein you took in at the same time when the simple, sugar high is exhausted. See? You don't have to give up all the junk but just eat some protein with it."

Jim lowered his head to the desktop, banging it gently against the blotter.

A shadow suddenly fell over his desk. A long one. "Is this some form of evidence analysis or is it something I would rather not know about, gentlemen?" Banks' voice was strident.

Jim sat upright at the sound of their Captain's voice. He then concluded that academy training had not fully instilled a sense of self-preservation in his rookie partner when he heard Blair's reply, "I bet you had pancakes and syrup this morning, Captain."

"Yeah, what of it? Never mind. I don't have time for this - my office now, detectives. I have a new assignment for you. By the way, nice job on those reports from last week, Sandburg."

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

Friday, 12:30 A.M.; Downtown Cascade

"Why am I here when I might be doing something more enjoyable? Like having my gallbladder removed without anesthesia?"

Jim coughed to hide his amusement, not wanting his rookie partner to aspire to further heights of glory in the complaint department. It was just that the kid was so incredibly funny in his impatience and enthusiasm to get the job done. No wonder the rest of the MC crew relished seeing their world freshly, through his eyes.

Jim didn't blame the kid for being restless. They'd been sitting in the truck for three hours already. The downtown building under scrutiny was the warehouse for the Board of Education. Someone was appropriating large stores of materials without going through the usual channels and some bright spark in the Mayor's office decided that it was a 'Major Crime' to prey upon the items earmarked for the tykes of Cascade. Captain Dodd of the Robbery Division was less than thrilled to have this high-profile operation taken out of his semi-competent grasp. Well, that was an election year for you. Jim smiled, recalling Simon's annoyance with his reluctance to take on such light duty. He'd objected to guarding boxes of chalk and stacks of outdated text books.

"Geeze, Simon. We'll need extra kevlar in case some teachers attack us with their rulers." They'd been dismissed, okay, summarily kicked out, of the Captain's office.

Oh, well. An assignment was still an assignment. "Can it, Junior. Learn some patience and keep sharp."

"Ah, but George Granville said that 'Patience is the virtue of an ass who treads beneath his burden and complains not'."

"Who the hell is Granville? Never mind. I don't want to know. Try this one on for size. 'Beware the fury of a patient man.' Dryden." A meaningful glare accompanied that quote and Blair subsided, grin still intact. Jim smiled inwardly. His partner had never been particularly surprised by his knowledge of history or literature. Blair often egged him on to trot out his familiarity with the classics whenever they came across some moronic dilettante, operating under the assumption that all cops were dumb.

Jim glanced over at his buddy, who was now doing a remarkable imitation of a sentinel 'zone'. He smacked the arm next to him, startling the kid. "I said 'alert', Chief. This is still a stakeout and you don't know who is going to think of this as 'easy pickings' for a shopping trip minus the charge card. The Board happens to have one of the largest budgets in the state for equipment and the computers alone would be quite an attraction."

"Sure, Jim. I'm with you."

"Chief, I'm hearing something." Blair took hold of his Sentinel's arm to ground him. "Thanks. It's rustling, two feet, no four hitting the ground ... bullets from a silenced gun ... shot out the lock from the warehouse. Don't know where the vehicle is though, to load up equipment. Chief, I'm going -"

"...to wait for backup, man. A shot's been fired already."

"So call while I scout around ..."

"... and earn us a formal reprimand for not following procedure!"

"Hell, nothing worse than a recent academy graduate for following procedure." Jim looked at his partner in exasperation. Well, they're only computers. Make the kid happy and avoid winding up in another procedural seminar while you're at it.

"Fine. Make the call and we'll wait here." He settled back to wait, recalling Blair's days in the Academy.

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

Academy Days, Week #1:

"Hey, Chief. Welcome home, got an envelope here from the Academy. Must be your test scores."

"Cool, let's see how many of these courses I can skip. Leave more time for the ride-along with you."

Blair opened the envelope and sat on the arm of the sofa. Jim made no comment, obviously hoping his partner would have tested out of most of the courses.

"Shit!"

On the other hand, maybe Blair would be taking most of the courses. "Hey, no shame in not pre-qualifying."

"You are SO dead, Ellison. Look at these scores on 'Crime Scene Investigation' and 'Arrest, Search and Seizure'. A sixty-three! I never failed a test in my life. This is about your knowledge, man. I learned from you!"

"Don't blame me, Chief. I was Cop of the Year, remember? If you didn't learn from example ..."

"I also blew it on Property and Evidence Management ..."

"What's to learn there? You log stuff in and out, ask the cop in charge to sign off on stuff he thinks you may find relevant ... "

"... Missing Persons, "

"Well, that one we use my senses for, not the usual skip trace protocols."

"... and Tactical Interviewing."

Jim grinned at that one. They usually had Blair fire questions at the perps and Jim signaled him when heart rates or temperatures altered, signaling they were on the right track. Then they peppered the suspects with questions along those promising lines. "Yeah, our procedures aren't the usual ones there either."

They both started at the shrill ring of the phone. "Ellison."

"Hi Jim, put me on speaker if Blair is around. I just got notice from the Academy about his pre-qualification test results."

"You're on, Simon. We're going over the results too."

"Simon, I can explain this."

"No need, Blair. I have a very good idea of why you didn't score highly in certain areas but let's remember you tested out of seven courses. Congratulations on those successes. Let's see. The director at the Academy was very impressed with your work on constitutional and criminal law, computer crime, human relations, substance abuse, civil rights and ethics."

"But there are all these others to take. I'm not going to have much time to spend with Jim if I'm taking the ones I failed along with the ones I didn't try to pre-qualify for, because of my lack of experience with the subject matter."

"Breathe, Sandburg. I wouldn't worry too much about it. You'll be spending more time with Jim than you know."

"Uh, Cap, what does that mean?" Jim was getting the feeling that this was not going to go well for him.

"Simple, Detective Ellison. Your partner's failures represent those areas about which I have been riding your ASS all these years. You will be attending those particular seminars with Blair until I know both halves of this partnership will know SOMETHING about PROPER PROCEDURE. Are we CLEAR on this, Ellison?"

"Yes, Sir. Stop laughing like a hyena! No, Sir, not you, Captain. I understand, Sir. Chief, shut the hell up already ... "

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

Friday, 1:15 A.M.; Downtown, Cascade:

"I hear them coming. Let's roll!" Jim motioned Blair instructions to head to the back of the warehouse as he took the front, both remaining out of sight until the additional officers took to the field with them. Four cars, silent but with lights flashing arrived with a dozen officers following the partners' instructions to flank all exits. Only three perps were found inside with a single weapon among them, and that readily relinquished. All three rolled over easily in exchange for the dropping of weapons charges which would have raised the sentencing stakes significantly for each. There would be plenty of easy busts to come for the purchasing of stolen merchandise, stamped 'Board of Education.' Simon arrived soon after so he could personally report to the city authorities on the completion of this job and was pleased with the overall operation.

"Nicely done, gentleman. I see it is possible for the two of you to follow procedure, make the busts and keep your tails intact. I may send all my experienced officers back to school."

Jim smiled grimly while Blair appeared to bask in their superior's praise. His grip on the younger man's arm, as he escorted him out of the warehouse and back to the truck, was firm. For once, Blair apparently decided that discretion was the better part of valor and maintained a prudent silence. For all of five minutes.

"Jim, just think of it, man. One of them was armed and not a shot had to be fired because they immediately saw they were outnumbered and outgunned. Think of the risk reduction."

"They were a couple of accountants with some punk they hired off the streets to serve as muscle. No contest with or without the back-up. Not that I'm objecting to following procedure here but it's not like these guys were a serious challenge."

"We didn't know that at the time though. I'm sorry Simon is riding you so hard just because he has a recent grad here."

"Don't worry about it, Chief. No harm in caution, just don't expect it in other circumstances where more than computers are at stake."

Blair mulled that one over, knowing he couldn't just insist upon Jim avoiding unnecessary risks because of regulations. Then he smiled to himself. "True Jim, but now you'll have me right alongside of you instead of waiting in the truck, taking the risk with you."

"Now Chief, someone has to call for backup and it's easier for one person to scout around until they arrive."

"Nah, an extra person is fine, you know to split up and cover more territory."

Ellison blanched at the possibility of harm coming to his partner. "Well, procedure does fit most situations," he temporized. "The, um, rare occasions when we have to do something different can be, uh, negotiated at the appropriate time."

Blair nearly choked at having to maintain a respectful silence and not overtly revel in his victory. He might just manage to reduce a few of the risks to life and limb taken by some of his colleagues. He'd been a part of the big investigations and the take-down of major criminals while still an observer. This, however, was the nuts and bolts of being a cop and he could now influence his colleagues from within.

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

Monday, 9:30 A.M.; The Bullpen

A quiet weekend had come to a close. Jim was either suffering from a mild cold or early spring allergies. Blair was prepared for either event with a large stock of unscented Kleenex, boxes of juice and thermoses of evil, herbal concoctions. A supply of reasonably healthy sweets, to serve as bribes to get Jim to swallow the herbals, completed the 'medicine chest'. There was enough paperwork for a few days to limit excursions into the wet, late spring weather so the guide was satisfied he could adequately care for his sentinel.

Jim faced the increased attention with his usual ambivalence - loving the care lavished upon him and hating his long denied need for it. Of late, the enjoyment had outweighed the discomfort, including home-cooked meals and unfettered access to the remote. Jim had rationalized an acceptance of the unique link between a sentinel and his guide that allowed him to separate it from the more basic, human 'weaknesses' that made people yearn for love and friendship. Blair, of course, was in his element. Possessing an unlimited capacity for devotion to friends and family, there had been very few outlets for its expression throughout a nomadic life offering only short-term relationships.

Blair meandered over to Megan's desk for a short, whispered exchange, sporting what he hoped was an innocent expression. Megan's initial grimace of distaste turned into one of amusement as Blair moved on into the breakroom. She walked over to Jim and planted a kiss on the startled detective's forehead.

Henri called out from across the room. "Is there something we should know about?"

Joel looked up from his report writing. "What'd I miss?"

"Megan kissed Jim."

Rhonda looked up in consternation, wondering if Simon needed to be notified and looked around for Blair to clarify things. Standing at the doorway, the rookie's question led the bullpen to erupt into open laughter.

"Okay, Megan. Does Jim have a fever?"

"No, he's cool, Sandy. No worries." Megan smiled evilly at the cranky object of her attentions.

"Damn it Chief ... "

"Well, you wouldn't have liked it if I checked you myself." Blair blew a kiss across the room and his own unrepentant grin lit up the office. A small delegation then walked over to Jim's desk, to demonstrate the methods used by their mothers, aunts, sisters and second cousins by marriage to check temperatures. Annoying Ellison was fun if one was adequately protected by a crowd of persons reasonably competent in the martial arts.

'H' demonstrated the 'back of the neck' touch, while Joel favored frontal, palm to forehead contact. Rhonda placed a palm on either side of Jim's face to comment on the clarity of his eyes. "A fever leads to a kind of glassy-eyed look.", she explained while a disgusted Ellison pulled away from all the unwanted contact.

Jim directed his 'clear gaze' at his guide, nonverbally promising serious retribution. A loud voice heralded the arrival of a tall, dark figure on the scene.

"What's wrong with Ellison?" So many bodies surrounding the usually isolated detective meant trouble and Simon Banks wanted answers without delay.

Rhonda, rarely embarrassed before her boss, tentatively offered the explanation. "We were, uh, conferring about whether he has a temperature. He's fine, Sir, just allergies after all," she finished weakly.

"Sandburg!"

Suppressing his grin, Blair hastily stepped forward. "Yes, Sir?"

"Why is my entire staff checking Ellison's temperature?"

"Just a little joke, Si ... Captain."

"I foresee a charter flight being scheduled to take everyone here to Iceland!" The booming announcement was met with the frantic scurrying of all concerned to their work stations, where each ostentatiously demonstrated an utter devotion to their current tasks. Not yet satisfied with the results of his professed displeasure with his staff, Banks welcomed the tardy entrance of a perfect and most deserving recipient for his annoyance. "RAFE! My office, NOW!"

Joseph, the puzzled mail room 'gopher', stared in amazement at the goings on in the hallowed halls of the legendary Major Crimes division. He decided that Rhonda was the most approachable party among this intimidating crew. "Since when does the Cascade PD send its cops to Iceland?"

A subdued Rhonda patiently explained the situation. "Every department has its share of unsolved cases. When things are slow, detectives are supposed to take a fresh look at them but we rarely have time for it. So, when someone screws up around here, they are sent to 'Iceland' to pick up an 'old, cold' case. It is a lot of very unrewarding work, to go over ancient history. No one wants those cases." Joseph nodded and left Simon's mail on her desk. This did not appear to be a good time to make a personal delivery.

Henri Brown kept an anxious eye on the closed door of Banks' office. His partner was in deep shit from messing up some reports last week. Rafe had been too cocky to run the unfamiliar forms by his more experienced partner and deserved a reprimand for omitting important procedural details necessary to document an arrest. However, no one liked having their partner raked over the coals and sympathetic glances shot his way periodically until a crestfallen Rafe exited the 'torture chamber'. The measure of Rafe's distress soon became evident as he pored over a ragged, stained file of obviously ancient vintage. His usual sartorial elegance was now in disarray from the loosened tie, discarded jacket and the careless hand frequently run through his usually immaculate hair. He'd obviously been assigned a case cold enough to be studded with icicles.

Blair whispered softly enough to be heard only by his own partner. "Rafe must have one hell of a case there. Can we do something for him?" Ellison sighed his acquiescence and Blair happily returned to his computer screen. Ellison rose and headed for the breakroom, passing by Brown's desk where he motioned his interest in having an impromptu chat. He was shortly joined by Henri and offered the 'low-down'.

"It's a nasty one, Jim. A kindergartner, kidnaped around seven years ago in one of the older residential buildings by the dock area. All they found was a bloody sock in a dumpster that matched her blood type. Rafe has never had to interview family members on such a cold case before and he's dreading stirring up the old griefs with really no chance of producing any results. He's already traced the family. They're still in Cascade, pushed downtown a bit from the gentrification projects."

Jim was sympathetic, having suffered the pain of watching his own junior partner experience the 'first times' for various tragic aspects of detective work. Families in these situations were also loaded down with anger at the failure rates of law enforcement agencies in such matters. Blair had yet to experience this particular situation as well. "Not fun, watching the kids take their knocks, huh?"

The other veteran detective nodded his agreement. "Better these kind of knocks than the ones that leave us in the ER waiting room."

"Amen to that, brother."

Jim returned to his paperwork and faithfully related the facts imparted to him by Brown. Blair empathized with Rafe's current situation but it left him with one, burning question. "Why is it when I screw up, Simon puts me on kindergarten cop traffic duty? Rafe at least, merited a case file."

Ellison smiled. "Our captain likes to make the punishment fit the crime, Junior."

"Meaning?" Blair's eyes narrowed at the implications.

"Meaning your screw-ups have been of the, um, 'immature' kind so you got the baby brigade duty. Rafe's sins were more of the overconfident, dumb-ass kind, so he gets extra tough cop-type work. Got it?"

Blair had recently finished a 2-week stint of crossing guard duty, after a foolish bid for solitary glory in solving a case had rebounded dangerously. It had been intended to 'remind' him of why teamwork was basic to police procedure in all other avenues of the job. "In other words, my kind of screw-up requires Naomi to get a report card with a red 'F' next to the line, 'Works and plays well with others', hmm?"

"Well, maybe a 'D' or ... "

"Enough, thank you. I have my answer." Blair blushed deeply enough for Jim to regret his blunt remarks.

"You shouldn't be embarrassed, Chief. You've been a solo act all your life. It's all you knew before we teamed up. Pretty much the story of my life too, except for my military training which forces you to place some reliance upon others. But your life also lends you an important edge."

Blair stopped staring at his desk blotter and met Jim's eyes. "What do you mean by 'edge'? I'm not the one with the senses."

"Well, you've met so many people and observed so many groups from the sidelines, that you have no preconceived notions of how people 'ought to' act. So, you aren't bound by conventional expectations and your mind is free to 'sense' things about behavior. To conventional minds, that's naive or 'childlike'." Jim came to a sudden clarity of understanding about his partner and fledgling shaman. "Incacha once told me that such freedom of thought was also an attribute of the old, preparing to lose the confinement of their existence on this plane. So you function at the far ends of the spectrum. That must be why you can guide others into planes most of us never see throughout our lives."

Jim suddenly felt a sharp pang of regret for the necessity of drilling the conventions into his young partner. Safety in the field required attention to every detail of this mortal plane in order to assess the dangers and act reflexively, rather than reflectively. Blair should have remained an academic, he thought bitterly. He realized that he'd avoided thinking about the possibility of his enthusiastic friend and guide becoming a jaded cynic one day, when the ugliness of the field finally weighed him down.

Blair was incredibly still, the uncharacteristic absence of motion itself, a sign of turmoil. A smile finally emerged and a confused part of his mind was suddenly at peace. "Jim, that's kinda ... reassuring. I just thought that I was too far out of the mainstream. Just maybe, I'm paying attention to the greater reality." Blair suddenly gave a bounce of excitement. "We can start to look for our spirit guides ..."

"Whoa there, not gonna happen, Chief. No trances or distractions out there in the field, partner or I'll have Simon transfer your ass out of here in a heartbeat. Just so you keep having heartbeats!" Jim's voice rose at the end of his diatribe and he self-consciously returned to his normal, soft tones. "Not now, Blair. That other stuff will take care of itself."

Blair's voice assumed the soothing inflections of a 'Guide', understanding his partner's resistance and offering what reassurance he could provide. "I promise to work harder at that 'field awareness', Jim. I won't risk 'us', partner." He recalled Jim's first expression of concern about his reluctance to act aggressively first and ask questions later.

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

Academy Days, Week #3:

Blair, late as usual, made it to the table at Luigi's before Jim and Simon had finished their appetizers and hastily placed his order for the main entre.

"And how was your day at school, Sandburg?" Simon smiled at his new recruit as he finished his antipasto.

It was a tough decision but talking won out over taking a bite of the aromatic slice of garlic bread now in his hand. "It was so cool, guys! I really want to take the supervisory course later on so I can teach it. They need to drag all the old-timers back to study this stuff ... "

Ellison was smarting over the term, 'old-timer', so Simon asked for clarification. "Breathe, Blair. Which course is that?"

"Verbal Judo." Simon nodded his understanding but Blair grinned at Jim's look at disbelief.

"What the hell is that? You knock somebody out with words?"

"No, man. It's about tactical negotiation where you use persuasion to redirect behavior, get compliance, diffuse situations and take control over potentially violent situations."

Ellison shook his head skeptically. "Sure we talk to people but there isn't much time to waste in containing the potentially violent ones. Take 'em down and apologize later rather than risk yourself and bystanders. Simon, are they really teaching the kids to talk the perps to death - possibly their own?"

"Nothing wrong with teaching negotiation skills, Jim. I've seen you talk people down without wrestling them to the ground first."

"Not the point here. We work in Major Crimes and the people we see are a lot more desperate than the average purse snatcher. You can't assume giving up is in a criminal's best interest by the time they come to our attention, Chief."

"Jim, man, there is always hope that a perp can be taken down nonviolently."

"Great, Chief. I can help you with some of the commands you'll need when practicing verbal judo. How about, 'Please kick your own ass. Please somersault over this table and land on the back of your head. See that window? Would you mind jumping through it, without opening it first?"

Blair practically doubled over, laughing, while Simon was hurting himself trying to suppress his own hilarity. "Simon, is 'partnercide a word?" the rookie choked out.

"Only in verbal judo, kid."

"That'll do."

Jim continued his litany. "Please jerk your hand up behind your back. Please place your head under my arm for a headlock ... "

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

Monday, 2:40 P.M.; the Bullpen:

The Bullpen hummed with the sounds of a normal afternoon, complete with the soft clicking of keyboards, low voices speaking into departmental phones, rustling of papers, and the occasional laugh as partners traded quips and curses about the difficult cases which routinely fell to the crew of Major Crimes. The elevator opened and the Captain of the Robbery division arrived, moving swiftly towards the open door of Captain Banks' office. He hesitated as he passed Sandburg's desk, looking briefly at him before shaking his head and finally knocking on the Captain's door.

Jim was annoyed at the disapproving look his partner had received. Accustomed to censure for his appearance and approach to life in general, Blair ignored the look which would have left most rookies quaking in their boots. But then, working under Simon Banks was a training experience that left one impervious to the lesser mortals in charge of the other divisions. Jim debated the ethics of eavesdropping on this conference and decided that whatever else was happening in there, Sandburg would be at the heart of it. His head tilted revealingly, to the educated observer. Luckily, Sandburg was busy fixing a computer glitch and their Captain was, obviously, otherwise engaged.

Captain Dodd paced in embarrassment at having to come to Banks, hat in hand so to speak. "We've got this little girl who witnessed her father's beating when he resisted a perp after his wallet. Her Dad is unconscious and we know she can ID the guy who did this to him. But she seems terrified of all the guys in or out of uniform and she won't talk to the policewomen or the female psychologist on duty. Says her daddy told her she couldn't talk to strangers, only police MEN. But we're all big guys downstairs and she's too intimidated by us. We don't know what to do next, don't even know if there is anyone else to take care of her with the father's ID missing."

Simon stood up, slowly reaching his full height of six foot, five inches. "And you think I'm a better choice?"

Captain Dodd grimaced. "I never thought I'd say this, but I want to borrow Sandburg."

"Good choice, Dodd. Dial it down..., um, never mind." 'Smooth move, Banks, you're too used to calling him in when Ellison's here. "SANDBURG!"

Blair looked up, waiting for the inevitable inclusion of his partner's name in the unexpected summons. When it was not forthcoming, he glanced at Jim, who nodded towards the Captain's office encouragingly. Oops, someone's been listening at the keyhole. Blair rose and waved an admonishing finger towards his sentinel on his way to the office, despite feeling grateful for the advance notice that this was not going to be an unpleasant trip.

He stopped to knock and entered before permission was granted. Banks gave him the required glare but refrained from any complaint before his disapproving guest. "Sandburg, you know Captain Dodd."

Blair nodded. "Hello, Captain."

"Sandburg."

Banks waited a beat but Dodd seemed unwilling to address the young man directly. Annoyed at the slight to one of his men, he took over. "There's a child witness downstairs who is too afraid of Dodd's men to explain what happened to her father. Take over, Detective." He knew the unstated assumption that Dodd's men were so incompetent that even a rookie detective could take over, would thoroughly aggravate the head of Robbery. Sure enough, the expression on that man's face could curdle milk.

"Sure, Captain." Sandburg turned to Dodd expectantly. Dodd grunted his displeasure and led the way. In the elevator, Blair decided it would be a waste of time trying to pry details out of the jerk He would just scout out his immediate needs. "What's her name and where is she waiting right now?"

Dodd addressed the doors. "She won't tell us her name and she is in an interrogation room, crying."

Shuddering at the complete insensitivity of the man, Blair tried to salvage what he could of the situation. "Sir, I think it would be best if you moved her to a bench in the outer waiting area. Make sure no one is seated next to her. The officer supervising her can stand next to her instead. Please have a police artist waiting in the wings for my signal. I'll also need an official looking clipboard to hold." Blair made sure his ID tags were prominently displayed on his chest. This should not have become a nightmare for this little girl. Thankfully, the plans he'd submitted for officer training to avoid these scenarios, would soon be implemented.

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

Academy Days; Week #7:

"Victim's services should be part of police department protocol, not left to social services and civilian volunteer groups. Nearly all the people we come across are victims in some way, shape or form. The course in human relations leaves a bit to be desired. Actually, if you'll excuse me for saying, Sir, it really sucks!"

The Academy director, Howard Conrad, sighed and resigned himself to yet another Sandburgian philosophical debate. He was probably more anxious for this cadet to graduate than Sandburg himself. "There's no budget for it."

"All due respect Sir, the regular budget covers it. It's called 'salaries'. No reason why cops can't learn how to handle victims beyond the moment of crisis itself. By the time we get around to taking official statements, the victims are really feeling the trauma and giving bad information to us. And at that point, the cops are more unnerved by the victims than they'd ever be by the criminals! Just when the victims first realize they're safe with the cops and need to relate to somebody, the cops wig out on them and fumble the ball because we're concentrating on the paperwork."

"We're not psychologists, Blair." Conrad knew this was a weakness within the department but the Academy was no place to be having cadets joining hands and singing 'Kumbaya'. Anthropologists in the police department. What would they throw at him next?

"Being a person is qualification enough for the needed training. Cops tend to have a lot of trouble in their own private lives in the area of human relations. Learning to relate to victims could go a long way toward relieving some of their interpersonal stresses and conflicts."

The director knew Blair spoke from a wealth of experience, living with a hard-assed ex-Ranger. Some of their exploits were 'legend' in the department but the kid had made major inroads upon the taciturn Ellison. The senior detective was almost human these days, although his presence in some of their seminars, ostensibly for a 'refresher course', had seriously unnerved some of their most experienced teaching staff. Of course it was most likely a punishment for being a maverick, with the added perk of being able to keep tabs on Sandburg's progress in the Academy. Simon Banks might have a very odd sense of humor but was he was one hell of an advocate for his detectives.

"I'll take it under advisement," Conrad responded.

Blair looked at him in disappointment, interpreting the automatic statement for the dismissal it usually represented.

"No, no. That wasn't a brush-off. I'm impressed at the idea that it could help the officers as well as the public. I promise to present it to the curriculum committee. Look, I hate to increase your workload right now but could you possibly write up a proposal for the necessary seminars, criteria for teacher selection and so forth?"

Blair shot upright and saluted enthusiastically. "Yes, Sir!"

Conrad chuckled and shook his head as he also stood up. "Good idea, Sandburg, although I'm glad you brought this to me instead of taking up class time with your seminar leader." Richardson taught the seminar on procedures, including how to take victim's statements. He could only imagine what Sandburg had made of that in class. Conrad looked at the cadet, and sighed. The guilty look on Sandburg's face left him in no doubt about what must have transpired in that class.

"I appreciate the hearing you gave the idea." Blair smiled, tentatively. "By the way, you may be hearing from Officer Richardson at some point in the next day or two..." A furious knocking suddenly sounded against the closed door of the Academy director's office. Blair concentrated his gaze upon a spot on the worn carpet, "...or maybe sooner than that."

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

Monday, 3:15 P.M.; Robbery Division:

Blair approached the bench, seemingly preoccupied with his clipboard and talking into his cell phone. He sat down next to a small girl with a tear-stained face and lost expression, continuing his 'discussion' with a recording offering the local weather report. More rain, there's a surprise.

"This is Officer Sandburg. Please update me on the condition of the man brought into the emergency room this morning." He kept his tone brisk and professional. "Thank you very much."

He flipped the phone closed and looked down at the child, smiling gently. "I've been assigned to your case, young lady. May I speak with you about this?" He pushed a stray strand of hair back from his eyes and allowed the clipboard to fall to the bench space between them. "Whoops, sorry Miss...hmm." He pretended to study the paper on the clipboard, now back in his hands. "No name here. Someone was not doing their job!"

"No, I didn't tell anyone. Nobody was bad." She sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. The child looked up at this policeman who looked and sounded different from the other men. At least she was out of that awful room with the big mirror and no windows or toys.

"I'm glad to hear that. But it would be very bad manners for me to talk to a young lady like yourself and just say, 'Hey, you there'." She giggled, a slightly waterlogged sound but still an encouraging sign. "I just spoke to the hospital and they told me your Daddy is awake now and feeling a lot better. He said to tell you that after you finish your job here, you can go and see him."

She climbed up on her knees, steadying herself with two hands on Blair's shoulders. "He's better, really better?" Blair nodded, having ascertained the man's condition before approaching the little girl. "Take me to see him, please?"

"What about your job?"

"What job?"

"Everyone who sees somebody commit a crime, a really bad thing, has the job of explaining what happened to the police so we can catch the bad guys. It's a rule."

"Can we do it fast?"

"We have time. Your daddy has to take a nap because his head hurts a little. So you can do your job and have a snack too, before he wakes up and needs you there with him. What do you like to eat for your afternoon snack?"

"Cupcakes are good with milk!"

"Okay. I'll have some too. Where can we go to eat them and get this job done? I usually work upstairs, not here." Blair pretended to look around the busy office for a private place. He didn't want to further upset her with a return to the interrogation room if she wasn't ready for it.

The child carefully got down off the bench and took Blair's hand. "I know a place that's quiet. I'll show you." She tugged gently until her new friend stood up.

"Okay, show me the way, Sweetie."

Another giggle. "That's what my auntie calls me. But I'm Jennifer Moran and I live at two two two High Street..."

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

Tuesday, 11:30 A.M.; Cascade City Park

On their way to an early lunch, the partners heard the radio crackle with an unusual announcement. "Wolf sighted in Cascade Park. All officers in the area are directed to the park's perimeter and entrances to bar incoming pedestrians while animal control searches the grounds and captures the animal."

"Whoa! Coyotes, okay, but how did a wolf get there with so much residential and commercial area to traverse between here and its natural habitat?"

Jim made a U-turn at the first available location. Well, the first area wide enough to permit his truck to turn as other vehicles performed a few evasive maneuvers. "Looks like we'll get a chance to find out. Call it in, Chief."

"Ellison and Sandburg, now approaching Cascade Park's southeast entrance. No animal control officers on site or view of the missing wolf, over." Blair awaited confirmation that their position was now recorded by the dispatcher in case the information was needed by other units. Once given, he hung up the radio and again swept the area visually. Jim swung the truck into the park entrance, lights flashing for quick ID, and parked it on the grass. "Looks like the beat officers managed to evacuate the park area." Officers at the entrance nodded at them and continued to keep passers-by from entering.

They exited the truck and Jim took his rifle from the storage locker at the back of the cab. Blair decided to stick with his handgun. "I wish the animal control people would get here with their sedative darts. Be a shame if we have to shoot this animal for real."

"I will never get how people think they can raise wild animals and not wind up with a problem after they're fully grown. People are barely civilized, what makes them think a wolf can mind its manners over the long run?" Jim was disgusted at the risks.

"Well however it got loose in here, I SO do not want to be the one to kill it if we can take it down some other way. It hasn't hurt anyone yet so it won't have to be destroyed if we can keep it that way."

"Chief, promise me you won't hesitate to shoot if we come across it before animal control gets here. We have no idea if it's sick or starved or has any experiences with people at all."

"It could just be a large dog that someone saw loose and called in as a wolf."

"Dog or wolf, the danger is the same. And you still haven't answered me here." Jim pinned his partner with a look, remembering having this discussion several times in the past.

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

Academy Days; Week #5:

"Another date? Chief, you've been out four nights out of seven for the past couple weeks. What about your studies? The Academy can't be that easy for you. Or is this just an excuse to keep from cooking and chores?" He watched the younger man finish his yogurt, handling the spoon awkwardly. Come to think of it, his right hand looked rather raw in places.

"I'm doing fine, Jim. Grades are fine, range practice is improving steadily and I may as well 'make hay' while the sun shines, since I'm not fully on staff yet at the department. Why, do you need me for something tonight?"

Jim heard the increase in heart rate and knew there was more to this story than met the eye. Blair had not actually said he had a date but was dressed as if to go out socially. Smart kid; lie in appearance if not in words. The perfect obfuscation. He set the trap. "Why don't I call up Helena and we can double?"

The heart rate soared and Blair obscured his eyes with lowered lashes. "I'm not going on a date. But I won't be home late. See you later." Blair charged out the door leaving Jim with a quandary. Violate the kid's right to privacy or intervene in a situation that likely needed another party involved?

Blair opened the door at ten o'clock that evening and Jim began a sentinel scan from the couch. This was the least invasive study he could do if he wanted to confront Blair with any suspicions. Yes, he'd showered before coming home indicating he'd been at the gym or the precinct. A woman was also logical but Blair would have admitted to having a date if that had been the case. Cranking up his sense of smell revealed strong traces of graphite...

"Hey, Jim? Jim! Come on, Big Guy. Let's take this slow and easy, now. Hear my voice, close in on that signal and let your vision settle down one notch, now another. Feel my hand rubbing your arm as you let in other information and take in a deep breath. Yeah, that's it. Follow me home, very good Jim."

Jim shuddered as information from all around him converged upon his senses and he let Blair help him equalize all of it to normal levels. He wasn't sure how much time had elapsed but the answer to his question was clearly written all over his guide. "You've been spending these evenings at the firing range!"

Damn, I forgot to change shirts after I showered. Blair sighed heavily. "You zoned on me, right? I ought to ... , well, I don't know what but at least you didn't follow me or call around town involving a dozen other people. Guess you can't help being a nosy Sentinel." He smiled to take the sting out of his words. Jim looked somewhat embarrassed but, as usual, stubbornly unrepentant. Blair sighed. "I guess it's okay to tell you now. I met my goals. I'll be right back, don't move and don't zone again. I'm just getting something out of my car to show you."

Jim put up some coffee, tired from the zone but wanting to be alert for the upcoming discussion about whatever it was that Blair had been hiding. His Guide entered the loft again holding dozens of large folded sheets of dark paper. Targets from the range.

"Well, Chief, if they're good enough, we can stick them up on the refrigerator with magnets," he joked lamely.

"Thanks, Dad. Along with my report card, right?" Blair was getting very tired of all the 'family' interest in his progress at the Academy. "But the first person who tries to schedule a 'parent-teacher' conference with one of my instructors is a dead man, got it?"

Jim nodded firmly. He and the others had been forced to swear an oath not to do that. Simon also promised not to share any information that came his way from the Academy. They'd all been disgusted when that particular loophole had been plugged but that was the downside to being partnered with a genius. "Okay, partner. Open 'em up."

Blair had dozens of the sheets and selected one from each group, representing his progress in accuracy during his private practice sessions. Jim stopped the process of selection almost immediately. "Your hand! Get into the bathroom right now. I'll be along with the first aid kit."

Blair looked mutinous but gave in when the famed Ellison glare was directed at him. He could usually ignore it but decided the upcoming revelations warranted a bit of circumspection.

Several blisters were drained with the use of a sterilized needle. The repressed groans of the injured man turned into active protests when the bandaging ritual began to resemble the process of mummification. "Hey, you wrap it like that and I won't be able to shoot!"

"Chief, you take this dressing off and I'll call the Academy and have them pull you off the range for two weeks, got it? Behave, and this will be off in a few days." Jim ignored the subvocalized obscenities questioning his legitimacy and personal habits. He finished dressing the blistered and irritated skin on Sandburg's fingers and hand from hours of shooting. Few people knew the kind of pressure you needed to exert in order to hold the gun steady and squeeze the trigger, much less the mess it could make of your hand if you spent a dozen hours per week doing it.

"Your instructor should be reported for not teaching you guys about the damage too much practice can do to your hands. Apart from repetitive stress injuries from recoil alone, you should have gotten shooting gloves with the gel foam padding for skin protection. You're also not supposed to use large calibers every day, but trade off with smaller guns and exercises not involving discharging the weapon." Jim continued his lecture, giving Blair practical tips he'd learned in the military.

The wrapping, and the lecture, were now completed. Jim was ready to return to Blair's agenda. "Okay, let's see your stuff now."

Back in the living room, Blair tried to mitigate the effects of the upcoming demonstration with the usual, verbose, introduction of facts, figures and ideas. "Before you see my private practice results, I want you to know that I am now in the 90th percentile of my class in range performance. These sheets are strictly private. I want you to understand "

"Enough, Chief. Show me the stuff. I get it." He perused sheet after sheet until the results from the last two weeks demonstrated exactly what Blair had been aiming to achieve. Each human outline on the target sheets showed holes in limbs and joints. An unusual skill for cops, trained to hit the center of the broadest part of a human target to stop an attack with the first bullet. These sheets portrayed the intention to disable an attacker only, lessening the risk for loss of life to a perp. His partner had figured out a way to reconcile his hatred of firearms and the need for officers to go armed in society. The nightmare scenario painted by Naomi and dreaded by Jim and Simon. Jim could only imagine the painful hours of effort it had taken for Blair to develop such skills.

"And you had to practice this after hours because the range instructor chewed your ass to bits after you tried to do this in class."

"Damn, I knew the instructors would be sending reports to you and Simon!"

A feral smile confirming this fact was his answer. "No, don't start on me. We broke no promises. They sent written reports to Simon and he kind of 'left' them out on his desk. No one told anyone anything," Jim finished with an expression of pure innocence.

"Ratfinks, all of you."

"A doctoral candidate ought to have a better grasp of English adjectives, Chief."

Grateful that his friend was not going to enter into this topic shouting his protests, Blair settled back on the couch with a rueful grin. "Thanks, man. I know we have a lot to talk about but ... , well thanks for easing into it." The younger man's eyes were suddenly blinking rapidly with both dread and relief that this was now in the open.

"Let's have Simon join us for dinner this weekend and discuss it then, okay? A discussion, Chief, not an inquisition."

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

Tuesday, 11:45 A.M.; Cascade City Park

And discuss it we did, well into the night. "You remember that night, Jim. I honed all my skills to enable me to handle all situations. I also know that a wounded animal is more dangerous than a healthy one. If I shoot at one, it will be to kill." Blair was firm in that conviction.

Jim recalled Blair's stated conviction that he was prepared to do the same with a human. Simon reminded them both that nobody could ever say for sure what any cop might do in a confrontation until it happened. The training was intended to make those skills automatically available. Blair had done that successfully. Jim now nodded his satisfaction at Blair's current intentions and they proceeded into the wooded area where the animal might be wandering.

Jim suddenly realized, for the first time, that he had assumed he would be the one firing any fatal shots in this partnership and that this debate was mainly theoretical. He was amazed at the presence of a small degree of resentment at carrying that load, yet determined that his guide shouldn't have to shoulder such a burden. Guide, not partner. This was getting into complicated territory. He would think about it some other time.

The woods were mostly pine, overwhelming other useful scents to a tracker. "I'll have to rely upon vision here, Chief."

"Well, pine is pretty impossible to sift out but dung and urine will stand out over it," Blair hypothesized.

"That's it, Junior. You're out of my will." That got a full out laugh from his wise-ass partner.

They trekked onwards, alert for any sign. "Another heartbeat coming, not an animal - too slow."

The animal control officer approached, loping through the light brush beneath the tall pines. He carried a rifle and a sizable haversack weighted down with contents that left a dark stain on the lower part of the canvas bag.

"Oh, man! Are we glad to see you. Your rifle is for sedation, right?"

"Hi, I'm McCauley. Yeah, but I need you for back-up if he doesn't drop before attacking one of us. You guys any good?"

Jim fielded that question. "Yeah, we both rate marksman status. We can cover you.

No partner?"

"On vacation and the substitute is on another call for a possibly rabid skunk. We've got a few other guys running around in here but there aren't enough of us to cover the whole park, much less the whole city. You guys want to transfer?"

"Major Crimes. Ellison and Sandburg. And no, thanks anyway. We go after rabid people and there aren't enough of us for that, either." Jim realized there was another human heartbeat in the vicinity. Must be another animal control officer.

McCauley grunted his understanding and they continued on through the forested portion of the city park, in search of their target. Ellison decided this would make a good test of his partner's marksmanship skills. He was also pretty sure that Blair would be happier in the role of shooting to sedate, rather than kill, the animal. "Listen, my partner here is new on the force and I wondered if you would let him try to sedate the animal with us as backup? Be good field practice for him."

The animal control officer looked doubtful. "This isn't a service revolver. You checked out well on the rifle range too, Sandburg? A wolf is a lot smaller target than a man and faster moving." On second thought, looking over the long-haired, casually dressed young man, McCauley figured him for a 'peacenik' type that would hesitate to shoot an animal, wild or not. Yeah, an earring too. As the young officer confirmed his belief that he could hit the target, the veteran added, "Well sure then, just don't tell my boss. Or yours for that matter."

Blair realized this would not only be a good test of his skills but a chance to reassure his partner of his prowess in back-up. On the other hand, he might just prove the opposite side of that coin. His gut tightened as he grasped the reluctantly relinquished dart rifle. He noticed McCauley preparing his own service revolver for instantaneous use if needed, and hoped this exchange didn't cost a frightened animal its life.

The radio at McCauley's hip crackled and he grabbed it. "Yeah, what've you got for me." The tinny sound of various reports coming in from the officers at the perimeter of the park began to come in, all confirming the animal had not been seen exiting the area. That check-in would be occurring at twenty minute intervals. "Thanks guys, we're ready to go here." He replaced the radio on his belt and started studying the trees for low branches. "Let's start decorating for Christmas a bit early." He pulled a pair of latex gloves from a pocket and then opened the haversack.

Ellison backed away, nose wrinkling at the smell of blood and aging meat. Blair moved to his side and placed a hand on his arm surreptitiously, knowing his partner's smell was dialed up pretty high. "Crank it down a few notches, man." The murmur was inaudible to their companion. Ellison nodded as the nausea slowly decreased following the appearance of a very large hunk of recently killed game meat, still dripping blood.

"Sorry guys." The tone was distinctly unapologetic as McCauley began to tie the lure to a strong looking branch where it would hang low to the ground. "No point in our walking around for hours. This animal will be pretty hungry and on the prowl for his lunch. That stand of trees just upwind from here will make a good blind and we need to position ourselves so none of us are standing in the line of crossfire."

Blair recalled his training in animal control. "Then we let the animal start feeding and shoot it while it's engrossed in getting the meat loose from the netting, before it can move off with it into deeper cover."

"Right. This netting should give us a little time and hopefully, this fella is more hungry than spooked. We don't want to become the focus of his attention."

Ellison headed over to the stand of trees to start constructing a simple blind of any brush he could gather. It was sparse in the well-maintained park but it would offer some visual cover for them. Blair practiced sighting with the rifle and getting comfortable with its weight. The darts made the weight distribution a bit different from the norm.

Settling in to wait for their prey, McCauley turned off his radio so the sensitive hearing of the animal would not be assaulted with the unusual noises and crackling of the device. "Now we're deaf but I've found that these radios just spook the hell out of the animals."

Blair grinned at Jim and winked. Jim had often complained that the frequency distortions and noise from the radios were annoying to him as well. He got a scowl in return, no doubt because Ellison was already anticipating the comparisons that would be drawn later on between himself and wild animals.

Ellison suddenly tilted his head and grabbed for Blair's arm. He nodded then, confirming the approach. McCauley, expecting the wolf to come into view at that point, was confused at the delay but did not think of it further when the animal finally approached the game meat. The animal was thinner than would be expected if it had been in captivity, unless it had been neglected by its owner. Blair saw only its potential for magnificence, once back in top condition.

McCauley held up a hand, silently directing the rookie to postpone firing until the wolf was fully occupied with freeing its meal from the interfering strands of rope. When the time appeared right, he nodded to Blair to take aim. Both he and Ellison had their guns at the ready. Determined to prevent the death of the wolf, Blair stood in the partial cover provided by the low branches of the pine next to their blind of bushes and took careful aim. The dart entered the wolf's haunch followed by a yelp of distress. Expecting it to take off away from the source of the threat, the men were shocked when it turned and stared in their direction. Only Blair was visible and the animal, not yet sedated, whined and dropped into a posture of submission to an alpha male. Blair put the rifle down and ran toward the wolf.

"Blair, this is no time to screw around. That is not a spirit animal!" Furious, Ellison pulled out his service revolver and followed his partner to cover him in case of attack.

Blair called back over his shoulder. "It's okay, Jim. I can approach it safely now. It needs reassurance before it's unconscious."

McCauley stood there looking dumfounded and hadn't even noticed Jim's exclamation. He watched Blair drop to his knees by the now woozy animal and offer him the back of his hand to sniff while speaking to it. His hands then began kneading the scruffy coat as the wolf finally lay down on its side. Ellison stood guard until the wolf lapsed into unconsciousness.

McCauley made his way over to them and spoke into his radio. He provided their coordinates to the officers in charge of the van that was to be used to relocate the wolf to safer quarters. The detectives paid him no attention as Blair continued to softly utter words in another language to the sleeping animal. The van pulled up and two more officers approached while Blair was still engaged with their prey.

Finally, Blair relinquished his hold on the sedated animal and saw him carefully placed into a cage within the van. "What happens next?"

McCauley tried to look like he was still nominally in charge of the situation. "It'll be checked over medically and if there is an owner to be found, he'll be charged with neglect and endangerment. Then it'll be transferred to a farm designed to host animals that were mistakenly taken in for house pets but then let loose or neglected. If it is wild, some release program will be found out of our area to prevent him from coming back here in future. The animal will have a pretty good life, don't worry about it. Uh, by the way ... " The man hesitated as Ellison glared at him dangerously. "Nothing.

Gotta get going. Listen, I'll file the report here, no need for you to do more than sign my copy, ya know?"

"Right. Thanks." Ellison figured it was better for McCauley to do the 'obfuscating' on this one. In the meantime, he had a partner to straighten out. This one could not be handed over to Simon for corrective action as it appeared to involve a journey right through the Sandburg Zone, into the Shaman Sector. It was the Shaman, rather than the Officer, who had erred here.

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

Blair squirmed restlessly during the endless ride back to the station. Jim had verbally released all of the fear and tension of those moments in which his guide had been open to attack by the wolf. There was no sign that this lecture was going to be winding down any time soon.

"We talked about this, Chief! No combining your role on the force with your Shaman's persona, whatever that will turn out to be. Shit, I don't know whether to ground you or pound you."

That got the shamefaced rookie to respond. "Oh really? No shaman thing but it's okay for me to play Guide to the Sentinel around the clock, eh? Yeah, no increased risk there." He watched Jim's color and choler heighten at the reference to the dangers he'd faced in the past. The sense of vindication was immediately followed by guilt at having raised the issue at all. Jim still carried around a load of repressed guilt for Lash and his drowning at Alex's hands. Better to simply redirect this discussion. "And, by the way, I'm going to turn thirty in the near future. You'd better not be serious about 'grounding' me for anything when you talk to me."

Jim silently counted to ten, his color returning to normal and his relief palpable at being able to focus on the last, relatively minor point, raised by Blair. "Does that mean you're not worried about my 'pounding' you? I must be slipping." He managed a small grin and a glance at his partner when the young man snorted his disbelief.

"Get real, man. I know you'd never hurt me. But my ear drums just might implode." His cell phone rang. "Blair Sandburg. Oh, hi Rafe." Blair suddenly grasped Jim's arm and squeezed, cuing him to listen in on the conversation.

"... and guess who was watching the T.V. in the break room when the local station broke into the noon news hour with live film of the great wolf take-down? Simon. Nice shooting by the way. I got to see it on one of the multiple replays the station ran. Everyone is buzzing about it but your ass is grass when you get back here, my friend. And Simon has been on the phone with the chief of animal control too. Seems the reporter who followed you guys into the woods with that video camera called animal control. He was looking for an interview with the long-haired officer who was able to handle the dangerous animal even before it fell asleep. Wanted to know more about the officer training program involved. Yeah, you're toast. My guess is that Ellison is none too happy either."

Ellison snorted this time. That must have been the heartbeat in their vicinity the entire time. Should have put a dart in that guy's ass, while we were at it.

Blair decided it might be best to wrap up this discussion while he planned on his immediate emigration to some distant place. "Thanks for the 'heads up', Rafe. I think I'll be joining you in Iceland this week."

"I get the impression that Simon wants you in a somewhat warmer place than that, Blair."

Another snort erupted from Mt. St. Ellison, next to him.

"Well, we're coming in now. Wish I still had that dart gun on me. Can you slip some Valium into the Captain's coffee before I get there? Guess not. Bye, Rafe." The call ended and Blair raised his eyes to the heavens or, in this case, the roof of a Ford truck cab. "My Mom's in Costa Rica right now and the contact number is under my bed."

"Under your bed? What the ... never mind. Why would I need to contact your mother?"

"She'll want to attend the funeral."

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

The Major Crimes crew broke into spontaneous applause as Ellison led the way into the Bullpen. Blair followed in his wake, looking nervously about him. Jim let him stew although he already knew their boss was at a budget meeting based upon the conversation he'd overheard before leaving the elevator. The gang had certainly capitalized upon Simon's absence when they'd prepared their greeting.

Megan approached the nervous rookie with a gift-wrapped package from 'Arianna's Toys', located just down the street. As she handed it to Blair, she whispered, "No worries, Sandy. Banks is at a meeting for another hour yet." Relieved beyond measure, Blair decided to enjoy his brief notoriety and eagerly opened the package. Megan had given him a child's dart gun with rubber suction cups at their base and a large poster used for playing 'Pin the Tail on the Donkey'. The crew took turns trying to hit the donkey's haunch but most were laughing too hard to come anywhere near it. A few others purposely missed it so that Blair could be declared the sole 'winner and champion'. Joel and Jim put an end to playtime after ten minutes and efficiently disposed of the evidence of their impromptu party.

Everyone went back to work and Blair sat at his desk, a look of intense concentration upon his face. Jim took pity upon him and pulled his chair alongside of Blair's to offer a pep talk. "Hey, this is not the first or the last time you'll be on the carpet in there. Not the end of the world, Chief. You know the formula. Be respectful, be repentant and take your ass-chewing like a man."

"That's not what I'm thinking about, although I was about to check my locker for a pair of kevlar boxers." The Guide looked up at his Sentinel for help and understanding. "Jim, the wolf recognized me as one of the pack. You know as well as I do, the signals those animals give to one another. You sat through all the documentaries with me - the ones on animals are the only ones you'll watch without bitching. This isn't the time but, well, we have to acknowledge this and deal with it sooner or later."

"I don't know how, Blair. Agreed, it isn't fair that I get a guide for the sentinel stuff and there isn't anyone to guide you through the shaman rites of passage. But I don't know what to do."

"I want to contact the Peruvian embassy and see if it is possible to meet with a Shaman from one of the tribes. If it isn't Chopec, I can get a translator, but I don't want to be blind sided the next time something happens and we're on duty. I can't let it get in the way, but I can't let it go either."

"Tell you what, Chief. Take the rest of this year to get in solid with your role as a real cop and next year, well, I'll help you find a shaman to instruct you in the basics of whatever the hell they do. We might even find someone among the Native American groups, someone close enough to stay in touch with you. I know you'll figure a way to make it relevant in this culture. But you still have a ways to go in your current role here and divided attentions will put you at a real disadvantage. That just isn't safe now that you have a gun and shield on you."

Blair wanted badly to promise he could do it all or to take leave now for purposes of study. His hand crept toward his shield, felt it though the pocket and leather case. His eyes shifted to the hopeful, even prayerful eyes of his Sentinel. "Okay, Jim. It can wait for a while." Too much was riding upon his getting this right. The relieved look on Jim's face was a reward in itself. Blair smiled his acceptance, an expression that faded as a long shadow once again crossed his desk.

"Detective 'White Fang', I presume? Please step this way."

Blair gulped audibly and meekly followed their simmering superior into his office, garnering sympathetic looks from Jim and the others in the Bullpen. But only the Sentinel could hear the muttered words intended for his reassurance and amusement, as the rookie walked that last mile. "The hell with respect, repentance and taking it like a man. I'm gonna cry like a girl and beg for mercy."

The other inmates of the Bullpen looked on in confusion as Ellison laughed softly.

END, PART I

Part II, 'Realistic Cop'. Blair faces the emotional repercussions of taking a life in the line of duty.

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