Author's Notes: No profit, copyright laws bent but not broken; Beta'd by the ever-patient Arianna; and graciously hosted by Starfox in a room at her 'Mansion'.

Spoilers: Post TSbBS and Blair is a cop; Sequel to Part I of this story, 'Idealistic Cop' which should be read first.

Warnings: Violence, angst and language.

Summary: Blair and the MC crew face the emotional repercussions of his having to take a life in the line of duty.

Becoming A Cop

by Roslyn

Part II - Realistic Cop

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

Thursday, 8:00 A.M.; Simon Banks' Office:

"You heard me, Sandburg. And you, Ellison, had better not plead deafness. You are not going to work together on protecting Krieger. Henri will take that duty with you starting tomorrow. Sandburg is to work with Rafe on his current cases until after Krieger gives his testimony on Monday."

Blair adopted his most professional tone. "All the more reason, Captain, for us to be assigned together. Krieger is an important witness and ..."

"... the absolute scum of the earth! But he is valuable scum and very likely to be targeted by the mob before testifying. Ellison will have Brown inside and a rotating team of guards outside the safe house. There won't be much reason for him to use his senses so there is no reason why it is essential to pair you two up in this particular case. I want two veterans on this."

Blair was not exactly a neophyte after being partnered with Ellison for years, first as an observer and now as a fellow detective. This explanation didn't sit right with him. A definite veteran at 'obfuscation', he knew when someone was sidestepping the truth. "As I was saying, Captain, the point, Sir is ... shit, Simon, why can't I go with Jim?" Well, that was a short battle with dignity, he silently berated himself.

Jim's silent gaze threatened to bore a hole into his Captain's hide. A knowing expression communicated his understanding that there was much more here than was being stated. Banks sighed and decided to go the rest of the way. "I am invoking the 'couple's rule'."

The stunned silence greeting that announcement was broken a minute later by an acerbic senior detective. "Gee, and I hadn't even gotten around to proposing yet." Jim turned to his slack-jawed partner and drawled, "What do you think, 'darling'?"

Simon snorted his disgust. "Close your mouth, Sandburg before you start catching flies." The rookie sat there dumbly, but managed to close his mouth. "Speechless becomes you, kid. Look, I'm sorry to spring this on you like this but let's face it. Krieger is a murdering bastard and the only reason we haven't left him in a cell to be offed by his former pals, is that his testimony will shake the entire infrastructure of mob activity in the Northwest. But he is still a creep and if someone makes a go at him, your first instincts won't be to protect and serve as you both do when dealing with the general public. You will first be Sentinel and Guide and in the time it takes each of you to instinctively check on the safety of the other, this guy will be history."

Sandburg made an abortive effort to interrupt, only to find a long, dark finger waving in his face. "Ah, ah, ah - Do NOT utter one word. This is not negotiable. Just yesterday, you made friends with a wild wolf because you couldn't resist playing Shaman of the Great City. And you think you can resist doing your 'Guide thing' under pressure?"

The partners exchanged frustrated glances, realizing they could not hope to mount an adequate defense. Blair again demonstrated the need for all rookies to have guardian angels. "Simon, may I remark that this really sucks?"

A half-chewed cigar was slapped down on the desk, scattering shards of tobacco across the ink-stained blotter. "What did you say, Detective Sandburg?" A set of narrowed eyes dared him to actually repeat his question.

"I said, um, asked, what is my next assignment, Sir?"

Banks took another moment to ensure his junior detective was adequately cowed. Satisfied, he tossed the battered cigar into the trash and put a fresh one into his mouth. Ellison put a warning hand on his partner's shoulder just in case he was about to break into a soliloquy about oral fixations. The tense musculature relaxed under his hand and the pair waited in silent obedience.

"As I said, Sandburg, you'll work with Rafe on his current cases. He'll take point on those but I particularly want you to assist him with the old kidnapping he's working on. And you're on duty this weekend since the Krieger operation will leave us light here at the station." As well as keep you away from that safe house. "Questions, Ladies?"

The eyes imparted a definite message that none would be welcome and Simon nodded in dismissal when the pair shook their heads.

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

Saturday, 2:00 P.M.; Streets of Cascade:

"You know, Hairboy, I'm kind of glad you're with me on this one. 'H' might have been able to relate well to these folks but I doubt I'll be able to do that." They were pulling up to the old brownstone where a basement apartment was currently rented out to the Mallory family.

Blair grinned at his friend. "It might go easier without the suit, man. When will you learn to adapt to the environment?" His tone was light but he was dreading the upcoming interview with the parents of Debbie Mallory. The five-year-old child had been taken from their old home by the docks about seven years earlier with no progress made on that case in all that time. Rafe had been assigned the old, cold case as part of a reprimand but, as usual, Simon intended both of the most junior members of the team to learn something from the experience. Well, at least it was a step up from traffic and crossing guard duty.

"I thought anthropologists were discouraged from 'going native'?"

"Yeah, but we're detectives and supposedly able to merge, ya know?"

"Sure, that's why I got the station to let me sign out on this bonafide clunker of an automobile."

"And still wear your tailor-made suit with a silk tie."

"Yeah, well my sports car might have been boosted from this street but no one is going to hijack the jacket."

"You're worse than Ellison for conforming to the setting. I bet ...," Blair's voice trailed off and he stiffened in the passenger seat of Rafe's assigned vehicle.

"You okay, Blair?"

"Yeah, okay. I just, well, nothing I guess. Let me make a call before we go inside."

Blair hit the first speed dial number on his phone.

Rafe sighed. "I swear you two are worse than any married couple I know."

Blair glared at him. "Knock off the 'couples' remarks. That kind of talk is what got our partners assigned to cases without us. Oh, yeah. Hi, Jim."

Rafe was confused by Blair's annoyed response to his teasing remark but everyone was used to being confused by Sandburg on a regular basis, so no clarifications were generally required. He listened in on his end of the conversation.

"Sure, Jim. Just wanted to know that you were okay. I'm kinda uneasy here, you know?" Rafe assumed the silent interval was Ellison telling the kid to relax and let him work.

"Well, glad to hear you're okay. Of course I know you can do your job without me, it's just that we have it easy here while you've got the really tough stuff. So, of course I'm going to wonder how you're doing." The next interval left Rafe guessing that Ellison was reassuring Blair of the heavy back up that he and Henri had and that Blair should not discount the difficulty of interviewing families about old griefs.

"How many guys? Not too shabby, I guess. Yeah, man, I guess we don't have it that easy, especially with Mr. GQ here. The guy's dressed to kill while we go into a slum neighborhood."

Rafe bridled at that one and tuned out the rest of the conversation.

Blair hung up the phone as the pair arrived at their destination. "Simon said you were to take point on this. Any instructions for me?"

Rafe looked uncertain. "I think maybe you're right and that I ought to go home and change into something more casual."

"You're just nervous. This family will not be impressed with anything the PD does or says since we never solved the crime back when it counted. Just remember that, be as sensitive as you can and accept that no one is going to wheel out the welcome wagon for us."

"This is easy for you, isn't it?"

"No way, man. I hate the fact that we're going in there to dig up old griefs but if you're prepared to accept most people as you find them, it's easier to deal with the negatives. Just look my way when you want me to step in."

"Thanks, Blair."

"No biggie." Blair exited the passenger side of the car, with no lessening of the concern that had gripped him earlier in the day. Ellison was in for some kind of trouble and he wasn't there to watch his back.

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

Saturday, 3:30 P.M.; Safe House:

Brown's eyes shifted regularly from the yard, just beyond the kitchen window, to his prisoner, currently seated at the table. "Quit drumming on the table, Krieger."

"What's it to you? There's nothing to do here."

"The noise just hides any sounds we have to be listening for in order to keep your worthless hide intact."

"If it was worthless, you wouldn't be guarding it now, would you?"

If eye rolling were an Olympic event, Brown figured he would have won the gold after a solid day of babysitting this creep. Not to mention putting up with Ellison, always a bit jumpy away from his partner. He pitched his voice to carry into the next room.

"Ellison! How's the scenery?"

"Nothing new here. Want to change places?"

"You bet." Brown rose and stretched cramped muscles.

Jim walked into the large eat-in kitchen and put the kettle on with a glance at his watch. "I think the 'kids' should be done with their interview by now. Hope they didn't have too hard a time with it."

"We will surely be told the entire sad tale."

"In excruciating detail." The men grinned at one another before Jim lifted his head abruptly at the sound of a disturbance outside.

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

Saturday, 3:30 P.M.;Outside the Mallory Residence

Blair led the way out onto the street. "I'm sorry, man but I just can't concentrate today. My brain is somewhere else." Jim and Henri are fine; Jim and Henri are fine.

"All I needed was your mouth, Hairboy. It might have been nice if you had jumped in there when I was being sliced and diced by the kid's Uncle. You'd think he was the bereaved father the way he carried on. You know, I'm starting to wonder if there's something odd about that. Hey, Blair!"

"Yeah, I'm with you." Blair registered the aggravated expression on Rafe's face. "Okay, I'm not with you. We have to take a detour over to the safe house."

"Are you crazy? Simon will kill us, assuming our partners don't dismember us first."

Blair argued with his friend until the strength of his convictions finally overcame Rafe's indecision.

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

Saturday, 4:00 P.M.;Safe House

"Heads up, 'H'. We've got company."

"Are the sentries attending to it?"

"Where are my guards?" Krieger rose in incipient panic and was told to shut up and sit back down.

Jim tilted his head, carefully splitting his awareness to avoid zoning. Brown had recently been let in on the secret 'officially', after confronting Simon about his suspicions. However, he wasn't anxious to find out if the 'short course' he'd been given on helping Ellison was sufficient to carry them through a 'zone'. Hasty, hell, Blair had kept him pinned to his chair for two hours, with instructions and cautionary tales.

"I can only hear one of them and that sound isn't moving at all." Jim couldn't locate the sounds of the low frequency censors the puzzled sentries had been required to carry on this job. They'd been told it was new technology for tracking their positions but had no clue it was Ellison doing the tracking. At least that was one advantage of the dissertation fiasco. A few of our people figured it out and now we have a new ally in forensics working with us. Okay, working with Sandburg when he proposes some of these crazy ideas. "He must be down and the others lured further away from the house by accomplices. There are two, no three people heading in from two, five and nine o'clock."

They pulled their guns, each walking to a point of entry, knowing any of the newcomers could come in through a window. Krieger had stopped whining and took up a new position, cowering behind the sofa for the duration. Where the scarier detective was currently on watch. Yeah, mean was good at this point.

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

"We should have been challenged, coming into the dirt road from the main street. Let's go in silent but put on the vests and jackets. Lots of sentries on duty and they need to be able to tell the good guys from the bad." Blair got out of the car before Rafe had the engine turned off.

Rafe popped the trunk and went around to join Blair in assembling their equipment. "We'll want the rifles with us, too."

Agreeing, Blair pulled out his cell phone and called for additional backup. If they were wrong, they would bite the bullet later. Message delivered, they cautiously approached the safe house, an unpretentious cabin in the woods. "Set your cell phone to vibrate. We can stay in touch." Rafe nodded and immediately dialed Blair's number so they could keep an open line as both fit their hands-free ear plugs into place.

The first shots rang out before they reached the edge of the clearing and they ducked behind the perimeter foliage, still a bit thin at this time of year. They were startled when the sounds of tear gas canisters slamming through the glass panes of at least two windows, were closely followed by the rapid exit of the cabin's inhabitants. The two young detectives marked the directions from which the canisters had been launched, knowing the focus of the shooters' attention would be in front of them. This would allow a rear approach and the advantage of surprise.

They fanned out in opposite directions, expecting more than one author of this attack to be tracking the cabin's occupants. Their partners were now ducking to make smaller targets as they coughed and tried to see through tear filled eyes. Krieger was apparently cuffed to Brown, as they tried to make their ways into the deeper cover afforded by the trees.

Blair panicked at the thought that Jim would be limited to tracking his danger through hearing alone and not be able to identify individuals that way. Scent would be off line from both the tear gas and the odor of pine. Vision would definitely be obscured.

Rafe's voice crackled in his ear. "Blair, I just came across two of our guys, out cold but alive. Might have been chloroform."

"Ten-four. Rafe, you're about to hear me start talking. A lot. Jim will be able to hear us both. I'll explain that later unless you're as sharp as I think you are."

A brief silence preceded the expected response. "Of course."

Blair began a soft narrative covering his and Rafe's arrival at this scene, hoping Jim was listening hard for allies and not spiking from the chemicals. "Good move, hold hands there with 'H', man. He can probably see better than you can now. That's right, into the woods. Remember touch, Big Guy! The air will feel heavier, more humid, amongst the trees, the soil deeper under your feet. Let Brown pick out the heaviest cover and duck down with Krieger. Back up is on the way, buddy." Blair lost sight of them but had a bird's eye view of one of their hunters, running through the clearing to follow on their heels. "Jim, there's a bad guy following your trail into the forest. I'm coming in after him, talking all the way so you don't fire in my direction. Focus behind you, the way you entered. I'll come in at another angle."

Sirens were heard in the distance and Blair knew he just had to hang on a bit longer. Breathless and struggling to pant quietly, Blair approached the expected path of the enemy at a right angle. A group of boulders could be seen now, among a stand of oaks with thick trunks. Remnants of the ice age, no doubt. Have to read more about this region. The automatic thoughts did not intrude upon his concentration. Those rocks made reasonably good cover, a semicircle that would allow them to guard themselves from a frontal assault. A hunter would have to approach from the rear. Blair shifted to the left, figuring the perp would circle around to the right. All those camping trips, Jim. Peru. Lessons in tracking, the messages of the forests and streams.

"Jim, I'm coming in from your right and kicking off my shoes. Concentrate on the sounds of any figure coming in from your left or rear, still wearing shoes." Ignoring the pain of pine needles and small rocks pressing into his soles, Blair could see the color of shirt material between gaps in the boulders. The gaps were wide enough to get in a well-aimed shot. These were his friends. His life, too, in more ways than one seemed to hang in the balance. "I see you guys through the rocks. I'm about twenty yards away behind a thick oak trunk. I've got your back, man."

Suddenly, all hell broke loose with the noise of sirens, bodies breaking through the brush from numerous directions. Jim would never be able to sift through the sounds now. Blair raised his rifle to his shoulder and sighted along the trees, backwards from the rocks. Visibility was good and he'd done this a hundred times at the range. Filter out noise, focus upon vision. Find that extra dimension that drew you here. The flash of color through the boulders nudged his consciousness. Look along the ground for a marksman aiming through that gap. Look down. Look down ... he'll be prone for a shot of that complexity. Trace backwards from the rocks ...

There he was, lying prone in the fallen pine needles and taking aim through the boulders. Not caring whom he shot, Krieger or just another obstacle in the way of reaching the turncoat. Find the biggest target. Lying down, that makes it the head. Need it up higher, only one chance at this.

He spoke into the cell phone. "Rafe, fire a shot into the air, NOW!" The shot rang out and the perp lifted his head in an instinctive need to locate the source. That knowledge was denied him as his head jerked back, a dark spot appeared in the center of his forehead and sight faded, forever.

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

"No, Chief. Stay here by the medics. Someone else will take care of the perp." Jim purposely refused to refer to the dead sniper as anything other than a perp, hoping to distance his friend from the reality of having killed a human being. Classification helps. This one lost his right to be called human a long time ago.

"No. He had a name and I need to know it."

Jim watched Blair walk away from the ambulances which had only dead, no wounded to carry off. Unless you counted hysteria, the way Krieger was still crying and carrying on. Jim hoped never to lay eyes on that rodent again. He and his ilk had taken something today, that was irreplaceable his partner's innocence. Right now, Blair was in shock and facing the nightmare scenario that had muted his pleasure in his new role as a detective. Not the normal fear of being killed, but the fear of killing.

Jim moved across the clearing to stand at his partner's side, not understanding but accepting his need to assign an identity to the life he had taken in defense of others. In my defense. He stood behind Blair as they waited for the pictures to be taken of the body before anyone would go through the pockets and bag the contents for the evidence locker.

Blair remembered his recent training, even on autopilot. Pulling latex gloves from his pocket he extended gloved hands toward the coroner, in silent demand of the wallet, pulled from the dark jeans pocket. He studied the driver's license carefully and replaced it before handing it back for bagging. Eyes blank, Blair turned and hesitated, not knowing what his next move should be.

Jim moved to face his partner. "All you have to do now is follow me. No other decisions to make now. Just follow me." Voice pitched to resemble his Guide's tones when dealing with a zone, Jim placed his arm around the slender shoulders and shepherded Blair back towards the medics. A quick check of systems indicated there was no physical reason to take Blair to the emergency room unless sedation was specifically needed.

An inner voice whispered, Edward Gorlan."I want to go home," Blair said dully.

Jim nodded to the medic as he again reached for his partner's shoulder, only to see him slip sideways to avoid the touch. Blair walked the rest of the way to the truck and settled in the passenger seat. Rafe intercepted Jim before he got into the cab as well and had a low-voiced conference with him.

Jim turned to Blair, asking hesitantly, "Can I have your gun, Chief? And your shield, please? Rafe already picked up the rifle for you and he'll take everything back to the station for us." At Blair's blank look, Jim unwillingly elaborated. Saying it aloud seemed in itself to be a threat to the partners. "They have to be turned in to IA, you know, internal affairs. No question that they'll cite it as a righteous shoot but procedure dictates a couple days off for you. Simon can wait till tomorrow though for your statement. Been too long a day for both of us, Chief."

Blair looked harder at Jim after hearing the 'us' part of the sentence. "Shit, I forgot about the tear gas." Rafe and Jim were relieved at the return of some animation to Blair's previously wooden features. The requested items were turned over immediately while Blair inspected Jim's still mildly inflamed face. "Maybe I should drive, Jim. How is your vision?"

"I'm fine, now, just a little burning of the skin. While the medics were checking you over, another one helped me rinse my eyes and put salve on the skin irritation. We used the cream in the first aid kit you made up for me so 'no worries', as Conner would say. No problem with anything thanks to you, Partner. It was my shirt up against those rocks that you saw. Without you, there'd be a bunch of holes in it." There, that ought to help him cope better with this. He's always placed my welfare first.

Blair simply nodded and sat back against the seat. His eyes closed and he allowed his mind to wander as the truck pulled out of the parking spot. Edward Gorlan. The inner whispering teased at his mind.

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

Sunday,10:30 A.M.; the Loft:

"I'm not coming in today, Simon. This is no time to leave him to his own devices." Jim scrubbed at his face with the hand not holding the telephone receiver, as if that might erase the haggard look that had looked back at him from the mirror this morning.

"Blair didn't sleep at all but wouldn't talk to me each time I went downstairs to check on him. Kept saying he was tired enough to sleep and then he'd turn over and shut his eyes. But he never actually fell asleep until about an hour ago."

Simon's voice was hoarse, having had a rough night himself. He'd returned to the office hoping to expedite the wrap up on this operation. "How did you know that he didn't sleep?"

"Heartbeat never slowed, just went between normal and fast like he was trying to meditate but never quite got there."

"Meaning neither of you slept. He can send his statement in by email today but IA needs to chat with him in person for the record. Rafe has to be there as witness and you as well."

"Tomorrow should be better. I doubt he'll stay awake for a second night."

"I can hold them off another day but no more delays, okay? And he sees the shrink right after."

"Thanks, Cap. I think I'll pick up some of his favorite comfort foods and we can work on his statement later today. I know the drill all too well."

"He hasn't eaten anything yet, has he? I'm heading over to the grocery anyway since I have Daryl coming by early tonight. Why don't I drop by with a 'care' package?"

"Daryl left town with Joan two days ago as I recall." Ellison shook his head with some amusement. The man was so 'busted'.

"Yeah, yeah, so what," Simon grumbled. "I wanna get that statement out of the way too and see if I can run interference with IA. I hear the new guy there isn't exactly polished at his job, if you know what I mean."

"Shit, Simon. We don't need some IA newbie trying to get points out of grilling a traumatized rookie here."

"Exactly. Be over with lunch in a couple hours."

"Thanks, Cap." There was a wealth of unstated gratitude in the tone.

"Can it, Detective. What will he be able to swallow, do you think?"

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

"I wrote this last night." Blair handed over the single page print-out to Simon over the remains of a light lunch.

The pasta salad, smoked fish and fresh baked rolls, still warm from the bakery sack, hadn't been much of a lure and Simon had finally ordered him to stop pushing his food around on the plate and get some into his mouth. The Captain now studied the paper, finding the text disturbing for a statement of this type and studied the exhausted features of his young detective. His tone was discouraging, as he handed the paper over to Jim for his review. "This isn't the best wording for a report of this kind, Blair. We can re-do it now."

Jim couldn't believe the words he was reading. It was as if a friend of the deceased had written it. He scanned the key paragraph a second time, unwilling to read it aloud. Edward Gorlan aimed his rifle at one of the figures hiding behind the boulders. Cell phone communication was made to arrange for Gorlan's distraction by gunfire. A shot was fired into the air by Detective Rafe which led Gorlan to raise his head in surprise. I did not call out a warning but shot him with the intent to kill him. The shot was successful in doing so. Ellison looked up at his partner. "It was a righteous shoot, no need to phrase it like this. Our guys were lying all around the area, chloroformed by pros. No question as to what was planned."

Simon reinforced the message. "When someone has a target in their rifle sight, you don't yell 'COPS' and give them a chance to get off that shot off in surprise or with intent. I know you must be playing out a million scenarios, hoping to find one that might have had some other outcome, but there aren't any others not involving the loss of innocent lives."

Jim waved the paper. "No need to phrase it in a way that some inexperienced IA paper pusher will be able to use and invent another scenario for you. That's what they do."

Simon's next words echoed that theme. "Let's get the rewrite done so you can get some more rest in this afternoon. Tomorrow, you see the department shrink, too. New woman, seems competent. I also brought a light sedative with me to leave for you."

Blair moved abruptly at that in protest but quieted at the stern expression on his boss' face.

"You don't have to take it, Blair, but no reason not to have it in the house if you change your mind later." Simon closed his eyes, momentarily blocking out the glimpse of despair on Blair's features before the eyes returned to the vacant look of someone embracing emptiness as an alternative to thinking. God help me, I'm not gonna let this happen again.

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

Monday, 11:00 A.M., two weeks later; Office of Cascade PD Psychologist:

Dr. Anna Schwartz sat with her pad and pencil, across a coffee table from Blair in her fifth floor office. All the administrative offices in the building were on the fifth floor and she had requested hers be on that floor so that the officers who went to see her were could do so with some anonymity. All officers had to head to the fifth floor regularly to retrieve files, adjust their payroll taxes and so forth. Blair had been coming daily since the 'incident' as he referred to it. He was willing enough, citing periods of intermittent attendance in therapy he'd had 'here and there' during his childhood. According to her patient, some of those sessions had centered around his lack of a father figure at times, or the presence of a few too many at others. Mostly, he'd gone when feeling troubled at leaving a particular locale after his mother deemed it time to pick up stakes and 'haul ass'.

Dr. Schwartz sensed that Blair had never referred to it in such a manner before now. He'd mentioned that during the single session when he'd asked for, (or had it been consented to?) the inclusion of his partner, Jim Ellison. Detective Ellison had looked shocked at hearing Blair's characterization of his mother's frequent moves in such a cynical tone and at her patient's fairly liberal use of obscenities at certain other points in the session. She was quite sure the senior officer was rarely, if ever, shocked by anything. There was a tale to be told there, but Ellison did not attend any more sessions after that one. It certainly made it easier for her when partners were included since both halves of a team suffered from trauma to either party. However, she'd always left such decisions to the teams of cops she'd treated before moving to Cascade a few months ago with her cop husband. It was a strategy worth continuing.

One thing was certain. There was absolutely no doubt that Ellison was suffering here as well. She returned her attention to Detective Sandburg, who was explaining how of course it was preferable to kill in defense of oneself or others. But the admission seemed rather robotic in nature. It was unlikely she'd be able to report much progress to his captain at the end of this week.

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

Waiting at his captain's desk, Jim placed his elbows on the polished surface and dropped his face into his hands. Exhausted from Blair's nightmares and the tension of being around his partner's waking anguish, Jim's senses were spiking at odd intervals. His surroundings were becoming unstable. Or, perhaps, that simply reflected his own volatility without the stable influence of his guide. And people always think I'm the stable one of the pair given the flash and fire of the kid's whirlwind way of taking on the world. But his was the certainty, if not the calm, in this partnership.

Banks returned from a budget meeting, immediately concerned at the hunched appearance of his senior detective who was apparently oblivious to the fact he now had company. Obviously his senses were all over the place. Simon knew better than to surprise the ex-Ranger with a touch so he grabbed a book from a shelf and dropped it. Jim appeared to register it in a delayed, muted fashion and slowly turned around to greet his Captain.

"Jim, you're off line, right?" He hated talking about the man as if he was a bunch of circuits.

"Yeah, hearing is really low just now but everything is too bright." Jim couldn't believe he was coming to Simon about this.

"Where's Blair?" Simon took a seat behind his desk and studied the troubled man before him.

"With the department shrink. They should be done soon."

The defeated tone left Simon dreading the crisis yet to come. "You understand why he's on desk, don't you? I know the kid is upset about that."

"Well, no actually. I thought the old 'get back up on the horse' routine would be more your kind of strategy for this, Captain."

"Jim, 'this' is a lot more complicated than it sounds. Trust me and my experience."

"Anything you'd like to 'share' as the kids call it?"

Simon paused, thinking about how much to relate. "No, I think it's for the best right now to see if Blair can resolve these issues without added stress and without worrying about his ability to partner you adequately right now. He'd never forgive himself if anything happened to you because of his current problems and I refuse to risk the pair of you." He looked at the misery in his friend's eyes and understood fully that this situation was a life and death struggle for both halves of this partnership.

"Blair isn't that far gone, Captain. He's making progress and just made a bust in that computer crime case we've been working on. We were joking last night about it, that it takes a geek to find the graft, a nerd to find the nefarious - you know, all the word play ..." Jim's voice petered out, realizing it had been forced rather than actually funny, even last night.

"Guess you had to be there," Simon acknowledged grimly. "Listen, Jim. This won't last forever and you've always been patient with the hard stuff, in it for the long haul. Don't rush things. Let the professionals try to help. The little things in life generally take over after awhile. Aren't we playing poker at your place this week?"

"Yeah." Jim rose to leave and smiled wearily, "I'll make sure Blair doesn't substitute raw vegetables for the chips this time." He pulled a pair of sunglasses out of his pocket before opening the office door.

"Maybe you should clock out for the day." Perhaps guides could short circuit as well, given the way Jim looked in spite of Blair's constant presence.

"I'll be okay."

Jim had been seated for about ten minutes when Blair arrived. The pain of watching him bustle around as if normality could be restored by devotion to routine, was more overwhelming than his overburdened senses. Or maybe I'm just a selfish bastard who wants to be at the center of his attention again, like before.

"Hey, sunglasses again? Where are you, man. Take 'em one by one."

Jim enumerated the state of each sense on their dial scale. He was then dragged into an empty interrogation room and each found some relief in the familiar task of normalizing his senses. Blair seemed genuinely involved in the task and more attuned to Jim's discomfort than he'd been in awhile. Feeling better, Jm removed his glasses and looked at his guide appreciatively. He was rewarded with a ghost of a genuine smile and a slight tightening of the gentle grip Blair had on his shoulder.

"You're good to go, man. Think we have to do more 'tune-ups' between times when your senses go out. Maybe we can prevent slips from happening that way."

"Thanks, Chief. Sounds like a plan to me. I think I'll take some coffee back with me. How about some herbal tea for you?"

"Coffee's fine for me."

"No, you've been doing too much caffeine lately. I brought some of your chamomile with me."

"Yeah, whatever." Blair stalked off alone, back to his desk, the moment of communion apparently over for now. He'd been withdrawing at every expression of concern. Jim went about making the hot drinks for lack of anything better to do to care for his partner.

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

Tuesday, 10:30 A.M.; the Bullpen:

Jim cringed at the ring of his partner's laughter, coming from the breakroom. It was the cynical sound he'd heard a hundred times, produced from the husks of jaded military and police force personnel who'd seen too much, done too much. Humor was based within individuals capable of expressing their appreciation for the wry turns life takes, even in its darker realms. This sound was not the embodiment of that sentiment. It was the rusty end product of moving vocal cords without reason to celebrate anything other than the passage of air through those muscles. Blair appeared to be seeking out the more worn out members of other departments to keep up the appearance of engaging in casual socializing during office hours.

The shrink seemed happy with that even if no one else was fooled by it. After hours, Blair had resumed all of their normal routines. The appearance of normalcy was more frightening than a blatant deviation from the norm. That was always the premise of the best horror stories. But there were those minute remnants of glass he'd seen the other night in a corner of the kitchen floor - and Blair's favorite mug appeared to have gone 'missing'.

Jim was no longer awakened by Blair's nightmares - he was too preoccupied with his own.

Weeks ago, Jim had played with the image of the early rising 'pod' person who had given up the habit of sleeping in at every opportunity. Blair had embraced his new career choice wholeheartedly, despite many reservations. Now, Jim would be relieved at the thought that this was not really his partner at all, but a replica. He lacked the skills for tracking souls and would have welcomed the intrusion of visions or spirit animals at this point. The only sound the panther heard at night in his dreams was the occasional, and very distant, howl of a lone wolf.

He rose and made his way to the Captain's door, knocking briskly.

"Enter"

"Sir?"

The tentative sound of Ellison's voice had Banks looking up in immediate concern.

"What is it, Jim. The kid?"

"Yeah. Look, I'd like to run by the Academy and see what the director can recall about Blair's time there. Maybe something, some approach we haven't thought about that he might remember which caught Sandburg's attention."

"Sure, Jim. Give it a go and let me know what you hear from Howard. He's a pretty good guy. Even managed to teach you procedure, the second time around anyway." Simon's laugh was forced, neither of them up to any banter while their rookie was suffering. "I'll be in meetings all day tomorrow but will catch up with you at the poker game."

"Thank's Captain."

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

Jim approached the door to the Academy's director, Howard Conrad. There were a few questions he wanted to ask about the tests Sandburg had taken as a cadet. There was no question but that Conrad would recall everything about Sandburg's passage through his program. Once upon a time, that thought would have amused Ellison. Now, it was more in the nature of trying to re-construct the young officer's psyche before the current crisis and see if there were some way to approach him that hadn't yet been considered. What had he really thought while practicing those sharpshooting skills which would enable him to cripple instead of kill?

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

Academy Days, Week # 12:

The cadets sat straight and proud with graduation now virtually guaranteed, pending the results of some final exams. Those remaining had all passed the physical and psychological tests conducted throughout their training. The book learning would be relatively simple to pass now for most and additional tries were permitted for these exams if failed on the first go-round.

Conrad conducted these final seminars himself. Preparing cadets for the realities of police work was simply not possible in all realms. Theory was never the same as actual experiences and some among them would fall by the wayside in years to come, when confronted by such realities. All he could do was make sure these men heard about the issues they had yet to confront so they would not go unrecognized.

"You have all studied how to assess the nature of a crime and the reports of victims. You have learned how to apprehend, charge and obtain a conviction on a suspect. You have been warned about the human costs of dealing with violence that some of you will encounter, although many cops never discharge a weapon in the whole of their careers. But you still won't know those costs until they have already weighed upon you. They sneak up and bite you on the ass, gentleman. They are hard to recognize because you are not part of the military machine. Your battlegrounds are the normal surroundings in which you grew up, the same society that houses your parents, wives, kids and pals. Until that sense of a known 'haven' is disrupted, you won't know the shocks in store for you. This is why we offer psychological services to our officers."

Conrad looked Sandburg in the eye, receiving a nod of encouragement from this atypical cadet. He'd completely reworked this lecture series as a result of repeated encounters with the 'new age' recruit after acquiring a respect for his boundless optimism... and a fear of the naivete which drove it. A fear that this worthy new officer might be among those who would fall in that contest for all cops' souls between good and evil. Conrad might not be able to teach this danger using those religiously loaded concepts but Sandburg's challenges, spoken and unspoken, had led him to dust off the old lectures and rework them.

But they would still only be words until experience lent them the ring of truth, even to Sandburg.

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

"What can I do for you, Detective. Please don't tell me Banks is enrolling you in yet another 'refresher' course. My instructors are still recuperating from the last set of seminars you attended." Conrad smiled at the senior officer, who utterly failed to summon up a simple grin in his concern for his partner.

"No, Sir. I'm here to talk with you about Sandburg. He had to kill a man a few weeks ago and, well, I'm not sure why I'm here really. Just trying to learn more about his responses to training about these things."

"I teach those sessions but haven't got much to contribute. I'm sorry to hear he's dealing with this so early in his tenure as a cop but your division is one of those high probability units for violent encounters. Blair, as you know, was most unusual in that he understood the theory pretty well that cops have it rough and had seen quite a bit already. But it's like he thought if he prepared hard enough for that contingency, it wouldn't actually happen. Maybe that isn't fair but, um, he was a bit too optimistic for someone who'd been through so many tough scenarios."

"How much of his tenure as an observer did you know about?"

Conrad chuckled. "I wined and dined your Captain early on for stories of the famed Ellison and Sandburg team. I figured I needed some advantage here, if I was being thrown into the pool with a social sciences PhD student who'd seen more action than most cops see in their entire careers."

Ellison dredged up a small grin for that one. "Yeah, I can see how you'd need to take any advantage you could get."

"You bet I did! But for all of Blair's experiences, I think he still believed a benevolent universe was out there. And that just isn't consistent with the kind of cases you guys get. He was bound to hit a brick wall at some point. And I am extremely sorry, Detective, that I couldn't do a better job of getting him ready for that impact."

Ellison looked at the deep sincerity of Conrad's distress at hearing one of 'his' kids was facing such a crisis now. "Sir, from what you just told me, I doubt anyone could have done more for his students than you did."

Conrad bowed his head momentarily, grateful for the reassurance and respect of the officer before him. "It's never enough, though. And I hope Sandburg gets through this because I'm betting he can help us teach these issues to future classes."

"Thanks for the input, Sir. I'll take it to Captain Banks and see what he makes of it."

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

Wednesday, 8:45 P.M.; the Loft:

Blair was raking it in at the poker table when the call came in. Loathe to interrupt the game, Jim reached over and hit the speaker function button on the phone before offering his usual, abrupt greeting. "Ellison."

"Hi, Jim." Even the poor quality of the device could not disguise the voice of Blair's mother, Naomi. All present sat bolt upright anticipating another foray into the Sandburg Zone. A look of incipient panic dominated Blair's features, leading Jim to begin the conversation.

"Hi, Naomi. You're on speaker and Blair is right here." He nudged his partner gently with an elbow and observed Blair closing his expressive eyes for a brief moment.

When they opened, the cynical look of disconnection was again plastered across his feature. "Hi, Naomi."

"Hi, Sweetie. How are you?"

"Fine. Do I need to pick up the receiver or can all the guys participate in the conversation? We're all playing cards."

"I'm open to communicating with all your colleagues, Blair." The crew exchanged nervous glances, recalling other recent episodes where Naomi 'shared' her thoughts with other PD members, namely Simon.

Blair was more than content to conduct a light exchange in public. "Where are you and how are you?"

"San Francisco, and quite well. You are also on speaker phone, honey. I want to introduce you to my friend, Jack."

"Hello, Blair. I'm Jack Harrold and was hoping to meet you, if only by phone."

Blair exchanged glances with Jim. Naomi was not in the habit of introducing the 'man of the month' to her son, rarely mentioning her friends by name at all in their conversations.

Blair shrugged, tossing a few more chips into the pot. "I'll see you and raise you five," he remarked before turning his attention back to the phone. "Jack Harold who?"

"Harrold as in H A R R O L D. That's my last name."

"Hello, Jack Harrold. Naomi, I didn't know you were back in the States."

"I met Jack at a resort by the Dead Sea and came back with him." Blair rolled his eyes to the consternation of his companions and Simon was the one to prevent any disruption of the conversation this time.

"How was the Dead Sea, Naomi?"

"Hello, Simon. It was very salty."

Blair resumed control of the airwaves. "You didn't annoy the sentries this time, did you? I thought you weren't allowed back into Israel for the rest of this year." Muted laughter from around the table was quickly stifled lest it be heard over the speaker. Blair appeared unconcerned about their amusement at his mother's expense, a rather atypical state of affairs which had Jim and Simon exchanging concerned looks.

Naomi was genuinely unconcerned. "No one said anything at customs when I entered the country. Anyway, Jack wanted to talk to you. He is very old fashioned and wants you to know about our relationship." A facetious note entered her voice, as if she was teasing the man who was, apparently, waiting to speak with her son. "I think he wants to ask you for my hand."

That was a new one on Blair. "Doesn't he want the rest of you too, Naomi?"

"Blair?"

"Well, it seems to me that he would be missing out on the best paar ... OOF! Hey, watch the elbow, man!"

Jim had not been gentle this time and muttered an audible, if false, apology. "Sorry, Chief."

"Jim, do not bruise my son, please. Let him process this."

Both Jim and Blair appeared nonplused at this point, so Simon tried again. "Are congratulations in order, Ms. Sandburg?"

"Not in the traditional sense, but Jack feels very deeply about relationships being affirmed by close relations ..."

"Naomi, is Jack still there?"

"Yes, I'm here, Blair."

"Has Naomi already, uh, placed her 'hand' in yours voluntarily?"

"Uh, well, of course she is with me voluntarily and, well ... yes."

"Then hang onto it while you can." A shocked silence greeted that rudeness by all present.

"Blair, sweetie, are you all right?"

"Detective Sandburg, your mother and I -"

"Jack, man, you already appear to have all the permissions you need."

"I told you this was silly, Jack. Obviously, this is a bad time for ..."

"Naomi, your son has a right to comment ..."

"Not really, man. I mean you have a nice baritone going there but other than that, how am I supposed to judge?" Blair's casual tone fooled no one, other than himself.

"I assumed you might want to run a police check on me."

"Jack! No pigs are going to vet my love life."

"I rest my case, Jack. Any other questions, there, pal?"

The baritone became uncertain. "I... have no idea what to say."

"Well, call back if something occurs to you. Have fun, Naomi."

"Be well, honey. We'll talk soon and I want you to double your meditation time to discover the basis for your hostility. Simon, I hold you personally responsible." The intended recipient of that remark choked momentarily on his drink as the cryptic remark was followed by a click, finalizing the end of that conversation.

Cards were slapped down on the table as everyone but Blair realized they had lost their taste for continuing the game. "Come on, guys. I'm working on a straight here!"

People began rising from the table and gathering assorted trash, dirty plates and salvageable left-overs from a typical poker night gathering. Blair rose, about to make another protest when Joel grasped his elbow and towed him to an unoccupied corner of the loft.

Simon did the same with Ellison, hissing his displeasure at the way events had been unfolding. "Jim, the kid is losing it, big time. He'd have torn a strip off of anyone dissing his Mom in front of him. What the hell is going on? You said he was making progress."

"Just a minute, Simon. I want to hear this." In blatant disregard for his partner's privacy, he filtered out everyone else's distressed mutterings and zeroed in on Taggart. That usually indulgent, paternal tone was quite stern.

"... were you thinking, Blair? I gotta tell you, if you were my son, we'd be taking a walk to the woodshed about now."

Jim watched the distressed recipient of this scolding flush to the roots of his hair, turn on his heel and grab for his jacket. The door slammed behind Blair, leaving a group of very concerned friends, all clueless as to how to proceed.

Jim looked helplessly at his friends. "Listen, I went by the Academy yesterday and saw Director Conrad. We talked about this and he said Blair had always given him the impression that this kind of thing just wasn't going to happen to him. You know, positive thinking can remake the world."

"Yeah, that's our boy all right." Brown's agreement was echoed by the others as well.

Simon addressed the group as a whole. "This has to end and now. If Conrad thinks this is more 'denial' than anything else, it's time I introduce him to reality. I'll be by to take care of this tomorrow at three o'clock, Jim. See that you and Blair are at your desks. I'll call you around noon with the particulars."

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

Thursday, 2:48 P.M.; the Bullpen:

Simon's shadow loomed over Blair's desk as the young man desperately attended to the minutia of departmental work. "Sandburg, we're taking a trip. Pack up. You won't be back here today."

"You want me along on a case? A meeting of some type? I've got work here, Cap, and Ellison and I have a stakeout tonight."

Ellison winced at the sound of his partner's imitation of the jaded tones often adopted by ex-military men and tired cops everywhere. The emptiness behind the words and inflections abraded his soul. He ducked his head in shame at being unable to help his partner in this particular struggle. This seemed to make the kid's previous fights for life, pall in comparison with the importance of the outcome of this campaign. "Get a move on, Chief. You're reassigned for the afternoon."

Blair made a last attempt at resistance. "What gives, Simon? I'm seeing a damned shrink, I'm here at work and I made a bust last week without ever leaving the office. What more do you want from me?"

"Let's start with compliance when you're given an order, Detective. On your feet or I'll plant my boot in your backside. And I wear a size twelve. Extra wide."

Stark fear flashed across Blair's features before it was again masked. A hint of the old Sandburg was heard as he rose and began packing up for the night. "Is Jim coming along?" The low pitch did not hide the wisp of hope that Ellison's presence might keep him safe in spite of the coming confrontation.

Ellison looked up at his commanding officer and friend, in a silent plea, not knowing what to beg for - to come? To stay behind?

"No, kid. Ellison stays." Simon silenced Jim with a look when he appeared ready to tell his partner that they'd both been relieved of duty for the rest of the day. Jim nodded his acquiescence. He would go home to the loft, awaiting the outcome that meant his own emotional survival, as well as that of his brother in arms.

"I don't want this." Blair's words were barely audible.

Simon pinned him with a look. "I don't care."

The pair left, unaware they were leaving a completely silent arena of men and women who would be keeping vigil on their own accounts. They wanted Blair returned to them, hale and whole, but time seemed to be running out for the kid. Simon would have no choice but to order him reassigned to light duty permanently, if this could not be worked out soon.

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

Simon's car kept to a sedate pace and Blair stared out the passenger side window, not even asking the destination. It made little difference to him where they were headed. Wherever it was, it would still be a precipice and he would not be permitted to keep his balance atop that cliff. The fall was inevitable.

Banks thanked the fates that had made this a warm, sunny day where he could drag the kid to this final confrontation in an outdoor arena. Natural beauty would reinforce the urge to look beyond death into the continuity of life. The sun reflected hotly on the sand of the sparsely occupied shoreline in front of them as the car finally came to a stop.

"Out." Simon pulled a knapsack out of the back seat and walked toward the water without a backward glance. He led his troubled subordinate on a twenty minute hike alongside Lake Washington, hoping the exertion of walking on sand would inspire a thirst. The kid needed to down some fluids before this engagement began. A battle of the mind required the same readiness as any physical contest.

Both men were sporting a sheen of moisture when they arrived at a bare, sunny spot of deserted shoreline. Simon dropped to the sand and indicated that Blair should follow suit. He rummaged in the knapsack for two cans, chilled by cold packs. He mutely extended one to the younger man. Shirt sleeves wiped the sweating tops of the cans. Pull tabs were yanked away to release the contained air and the sweet-sharp tangy scent of ginger-ale. They sat, looking at the water while Blair sipped slowly, gradually drinking longer and feeling the effect of the sugar on his depleted system. Simon dug into the backpack again, lifting out two turkey sandwiches picked up earlier from their favorite local deli. Blair reluctantly accepted one, knowing refusal would not be acceptable or even sensible, for that matter.

They ate in silence for several minutes before Blair decided to face the inevitable confrontation. Without further resistance. "I can't do it, Simon. I've tried really hard, man. Been seeing that shrink and it's going nowhere. Words can't change what I've become."

"That's because no change has occurred."

"I became a killer. How is that 'not' a change? Please don't hand me any more lines about it being a righteous shoot."

"It was a righteous shoot which clears you of being a murderer. But you were a killer, even before pulling that trigger."

Blair looked away from the water in shock, to meet the calm brown eyes of his trusted superior and friend. "How can you say that? You've served in the military and sent men out to kill and be killed then and later on the force. You've reconciled those facts with yourself but not everyone can do that."

"And you've spent years working with Ellison and the rest of us. Did you ever think we were unworthy of your friendship, despite the blood on our hands?"

"No, of course not."

"But Blair Sandburg is above all that."

"No! Well, yes ... I don't know. I never thought about that."

"Sandburg, you're an academic. You don't make coffee without pondering the ramifications of where it was grown and how your purchase of the coffee beans affects world markets. And you haven't thought about this? Perhaps while observing violent cultures in various jungles around the world?"

"Well, sure, some cultures are violent in order to survive and they often ritualize the violence to maintain self-esteem or appease higher powers that might disapprove of random acts ..." He faltered, trying to integrate Simon's seemingly tangential line of questioning with his knowledge that this man rarely wasted words. "It isn't the same thing."

"You can hold on to that with both hands, Sandburg, but it is the same thing."

"I don't understand what you're trying to tell me. Don't you remember when you 'changed' forever after your first kill?"

"I didn't change then, that crisis of conscience came later on." Simon broke off his eye contact with Blair and turned his gaze back to the calm waters. "A black man growing up in this society knows about survival issues in life. When I had to kill or be killed in war or on the PD, I could understand it, accept it. My crisis came as a new commanding officer on the Cascade force, when I sent an idealistic young man out into the field one day. He killed a perp threatening a hostage. But he couldn't live with it and killed himself over it. Let himself be killed to be exact. Walked in front of some thief during an armed robbery in a manner designed to get himself shot. No doubt about it being purposeful, although doing it this way ensured his folks back home would collect full benefits."

"That's why you've kept me on desk duty."

"Yeah. Now this guy, he'd never asked the raw questions about existence. Mistook lifestyle for real-life, like most American kids do. Probably became a cop because of the romantic views they have of us on T.V."

Blair shivered, despite the strong sunlight. "And what did his suicide do to you?"

"Same effects your reactions are having upon Jim, now." Blair sat up straighter, in awe of the revelations being offered by this very private, powerful man. Simon noted that he finally had Blair's full attention and continued his tale. "I saw the PD shrink and pretended I was dealing with it, but the Chief back then knew me better than that. He kept me under his eye in case I dropped the ball during all of this. I think the shrink told him I wasn't making much progress and he was scared I might stop assigning the younger recruits to the tougher cases. Screw up their training."

Banks turned and gazed out at the glassy smoothness of the lake. Everything depended upon his making this kid understand. Damn it. Someday, this will be Daryl sitting here, waiting for me to make this right for him. He hated the tentative sound of his own voice, as he tried to recapture the ideas that had made such a difference in his own life. He'd never spoken of this stuff before.

"Blair, you often tell us some of that new age shit about how when the student is ready, a teacher comes along." Simon listened to Blair's disgusted snort, as if the kid was denigrating his old philosophy which had, apparently, failed him. "Well, the most bizarre thing happened. I was called into the personnel office about that time and told that they'd been doing file reviews. Turns out I was three credits short of my bachelor's degree. Something about an incomplete never getting recorded as finished. I had to have the degree in my position and they insisted I take a course to make it up. I promised to register for a class immediately at the local college. Registration was long past and the courses I might have found interesting were closed. Not that I was finding anything to be of much interest at that point. So I picked a class at random and wound up in 'Contemporary Civilization'. Figured if it was that bad, I could always take power naps at the back of the room."

Simon glanced at Blair who produced a thin smile, having seen lots of kids try to nap through lectures. He continued, "The teacher was some old fart who spoke with a German accent, Strauss, yeah, that was his name. The first day, he said the class wasn't named properly. If he had his way, it would be called the 'March Toward a Civilized Society'. Those classes changed my entire way of thinking. Seems he was peddling the idea that we hadn't yet become a civilized society. That we still lived in the 'Middle Ages', where people were considered to be serfs rather than citizens. Talked about the nightly news photos and television shows that desensitize people into believing that death and disaster around the globe is normal and dangerous technologies are merely toys for the upper echelons to play with for fun and profit. And how everyone pretends they don't profit from the industry of war and the risks taken by others to safeguard them."

The memories returned with incredible clarity. The voice of that old professor rang in his head and his own voice grew stronger. "Blair, once you accepted the violence in this and other cultures as a fact of life, you automatically became a part of it. Just because some get to sit back and pretend they're divorced from it doesn't make them civilized. They couldn't survive without their polite fictions because it's too hard to believe that the goals might not be the creation of a peaceful society but only a tyrannical ownership of it. The art and music, philosophy and science ... it's still being produced. It doesn't make us civilized but shows that we still see the hope of it."

He turned back to see the effect of his words and watched Blair put his face into his hands.

"Look at me, Detective!" The younger man complied and Simon refrained from wincing at the sight of the pain pooling behind the blue depths. "You became an unconscious part of this system when you first learned that some people in society are carrying guns for your protection. You became a soldier when you first picked up and holstered a gun to protect society, even before you ever aimed that firearm at a perp. The only thing that's changed is that now, you're aware of it. You're the same and so is the world. You can withdraw from it or realize you're a part of it, but it's still all the same."

"Then why bother at all?" Blair's tone was bitter.

God help me, what did Strauss say to me all those years ago? "'You're protecting the future of all those trying to bring about civilization. It won't be in our time but we're links in that chain.' And, after the Professor told us that, he pulled up his sleeve and we all saw the numbers tattooed across the inside of his wrist."

Simon watched the wounded eyes widen and blink, as if Blair was trying to wake up from a restless sleep. Time to give him a little space. "I'm going to stretch these aging legs of mine. I won't go far." He grunted a bit with the effort of rising and strolled a bit farther down the shoreline.

Blair brought up his knees and rested his head on folded arms. He tried to push aside his feelings to consider Simon's words, the words of an old man who'd willed himself to survive the camps so he could help the world make some sense of it all. That's what I told Naomi once. I would be a teacher and my ideas would be passed down.

Sure, he could rephrase those words into fancier language, befitting sociological and anthropological theories of cultural advancement. Some of it was real but now it seemed that most was just bullshit. It all boiled down to one thing. Existence is about survival while 'society' is about surpassing those basic needs. Nothing had changed because he pulled that trigger. Except that two men, trying to keep society going, still exist. The Sentinel doesn't analyze it but the Guide has to learn to articulate it for the pair of them. How many times have I had to comfort Jim after his losses - say the words for him? But without really understanding those words.

"Oh my God." Blair jumped to his feet, pacing now in his old manner of running down ideas and dragging them into the light. Civilization could not be manufactured. It had to evolve and the gestation process would take centuries. Despite an unconventional upbringing, he was still a product of these times and millenniums of violence. The Ph.D. soon to be awarded him was pure hubris. Social scientist. Scientist. A label indicating expertise for the so-called, modern age. On the other hand, Simon's wisdom was the combination of facts and the bone-deep feelings that told a person when a collection of facts could take on the title of 'Truth'.

The pain of this truth was great but not as sharp as his past delusions of being the cop who would never have to take a life. That idealistic cop belonged in a time yet to come. He could, and would, rail against the slow progress of his species toward a utopia he would never see. The wasted lives. But he did not have the power to singlehandedly alter the course of humanity.

Naomi was right after all. She'd known the implicit threat of carrying a gun was still an acceptance of violence whether or not it was used. But she didn't know that refusing to carry a gun was no exemption of responsibility. Except in a false innocence. He was an anthropologist, but that wasn't a dispensation from being a part of his own society.

That's what he'd really been grieving for these past weeks. Gorlan had sacrificed his life long before he'd met Blair. Blair was nothing more than the instrument of society that caused the heart to stop beating and make that death official. The tears began to fall as he grieved over the workings of a society which needed him to become such an instrument. But he knew the emptiness of that loss could again be filled in time, with the help of caring friends and professionals and a new sense of purpose. The haunting whisper in his ear, sighing the name of Edward Gorlan, would be replaced with a louder voice listing the names of people who would be able to live out their lives in spite of the violence around them. Because of what he could do. A link in a chain.

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

The long drive back to the loft was spent in quiet contemplation. Simon, in respectful silence for the young man who had faced his demons, worthy to 'protect and serve' in full understanding of all that meant. Blair appeared to be in a state of emotional exhaustion but Simon was shortly reassured that the 'old' Blair was beginning to surface.

"Hey, Simon?"

"Yes, Blair."

"Do you know the difference between normal people, neurotics and psychotics?"

"Do I want to know?"

"Sure you do. Normal people know that two plus two equals four. Psychotics are certain that two plus two equals five."

"And the neurotics?"

"Well, we know that the sum is four all right. It's just that we hate it."

Simon silently blessed his professor of long ago for saving another professor in this place and time. "Yeah, we do at that, kid. But that's something that we can work on. Shrinks aren't bad at that part of it - if you do the rest of the math for them."

"Yeah, guess they should spend more time studying the social sciences."

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

The door to the loft swung open before the two men had barely left the elevator. Jim stepped into the hallway, anxious for the sight of his partner and some clue as to Simon's success or failure.

Blair dropped his pack on the hall floor and moved swiftly to meet his friend. Grasping each other's shoulders, eyes met, nonverbally confirming the promise of recovery for each half of this whole. Then, the fierce embrace, both understanding how close they'd come to losing it all.

Jim spared a swift glance at his Captain, over his partner's head. He eceived a solemn nod of approval.

Blair's voice was muffled. "I'm sorry it's taking me so long but I'll get there soon, I promise. You won't have to be alone any more in this ..."

"I'm never alone, Chief. No matter what you are doing, even if you can't do this anymore, it's okay. There's no point in doing what I do if YOU aren't around to make it worthwhile, teaching others to be like you. You are the real Grail, partner." Jim faltered, not knowing how to explain himself any better.

"There is no difference, whether I'm a cop or a teacher. I'm a human being on a journey. But I want to register a complaint about the accommodations on this part of the cruise, Officer." Blair pulled his head back from the damp section of Jim's shirt that had trapped his unselfconscious tears. "Man, but some parts of the trip are so not fun."

A lopsided Ellison grin was the response to that statement, in joyful observation of the resurgence of hope within the younger man. Jim momentarily thought his vision was failing him, a spike perhaps, until he realized the shimmer was the result of gathering moisture. He let Simon gently guide the both of them out of the hallway into the loft, before neighbors gathered and sold tickets to this display. That plan was unsuccessful as the pair tried to get through the doorway without letting go of one another. A burst of laughter was the result of that fruitless effort and the pair released one another long enough to enter their home.

Simon softly closed the door behind them, turning back toward the elevator. Think I'll call Daryl. Hell, it's not too late to go and see him. Take him out to dinner. See what he's going to study this semester.

THE END

Comments, criticism, suggestions? Please e-mail Roslyn.

Back to Roslyn's page.