Disclaimer: The Characters of The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly, The SciFi channel and others. No copyright infringement is intended.

Notes: This story takes place after the events of TSbyBS and does feature Blair as Jim's detective partner. Thanks to Lory and Heidi for your encouragement and support, to MaryLynne for your valuable comments, and to Wolfshy for your hard work in giving my stories their home. Not beta read.

Sacrifice Denied

by JET

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

Their quarry seemed always a step ahead.

Along with the bomb squad, Jim Ellison and his partner, Detective Blair Sandburg, had been assigned to the case. Joel Taggart, former bomb squad captain, now working Major Crimes, was also on the trail of the Cascade Bomber. Three months and three destroyed buildings later, they had few leads and even fewer guesses about where the Bomber might strike next. There had been one attack a month, as regular as clockwork.

Today would mark the one month anniversary of the last attack.

His targets were seemingly chosen at random. First, there had been an abandoned warehouse down on the waterfront. No loss of life, and the owner was apparently relieved to have the old wreck of a building demolished. Despite his apparent stroke of luck, nothing had been uncovered to tie the owner in to a possible destruction-for-hire scheme, however.

The second target had been more chilling. A church over on Second Avenue had been blasted in the middle of the night. Good timing in one regard. No one had been in the building or on the street at the time of the massive explosion. Again, no lives had been lost.

For his third attack, the bomber had raised the stakes. A call had come in to Cascade P.D. to warn of an impending explosion at an insurance company headquarters at the intersection of Spring and Vine. The caller hadn't stayed on the line long enough for a trace, but the operator's quick call to building security had allowed time for an evacuation. The building had been cleared less than five minutes before the first of three explosions obliterated the former workplace. A few stragglers had been injured by falling debris, but there had been no casualties.

The stakes were rising with each attack, and the detectives working the case were under pressure, both internal and external, to find the bomber before he or she could strike again. No one wanted to think about what might happen if they failed.

Joel looked across the bullpen, resting his eyes momentarily from the analysis of the explosives used in the last bombing. Not much difference from the first three reports. The guy obviously was a pro. Joel had tracked down all sources of the materials used in the explosions, and if the paperwork from the suppliers was in order, all purchases made in and around Cascade had been legit. Whoever this guy was, he was importing his materials from outside the city.

His tired brown eyes found the desks of Ellison and Sandburg near the bullpen door. Jim and Blair had been focusing on trying to find a pattern, a link of any kind, between the targets of the bomber. A large map of the city was spread out between their desks, and the two men were pouring over it together.

Joel couldn't miss the outward signs of fatigue as he studied Jim's chiseled features. The frustration they all felt was beginning to eat at Ellison, gnawing at his patience more each day. The Cascade Bomber, the press had christened him, Joel thought with a sickening sinking in his gut. That name had turned the madman into a near-cult hero, as the press praised his expertise, his wiles, and, in none-too-subtle digs at the Major Crimes Unit, the Bomber's seeming ability to dodge Cascade's finest.

Blair's curls, long again over a year after his graduation from the academy, framed his intently focused face. Once in a while, he would tuck an unruly strand behind his ear, only to have it escape again minutes later. With his wire-framed glasses perched on his nose, and his jeans and soft blue flannel shirt, Blair still looked very nearly the same energetic, young graduate student who had first appeared alongside Jim Ellison so many years before.

Except he wasn't that same kid anymore, Joel reminded himself. He hadn't been for a long time, actually, and there were lines now on Blair's face to prove it. Those lines were not noticeable really, unless you were purposefully comparing the 'Blair of old' to Blair of today. Even though the bouncing, hyper kid was gone now - except for an occasional reappearance in times of intense excitement - the mature man Blair had become was an impressive replacement.

The shift from being Jim Ellison's 'observer' to becoming his official partner had seemed almost natural.

Almost.

Joel knew Blair missed his former career. Being an anthropologist had been Blair's life, up to and beyond his teaming with Ellison. They had all known the official version of the story - Sandburg was a doctoral student studying 'the thin blue line' - and for a long time, they had all bought it.

Until the fountain.

Until the press conference.

That damned press conference.

That was when it all started clicking for Joel, and for the rest of the tightly-knit Major Crimes team as well, he suspected, although none of them had really talked about it.

All the things Jim shouldn't have been able to see and hear - but had.

All the insights the detective had suddenly had that seemingly came from nowhere.

Most telling of all, there had been the way Jim needed Blair. Joel hadn't worked with Jim Ellison much before the former Army captain transferred from Vice to Major Crimes, and even then, their contact had been limited while Joel remained with the Bomb Squad. He'd heard the rumors, though.

Jim Ellison was a man you didn't want to be around unless it was absolutely necessary. Bad tempered. Hard-nosed and stubborn. His former partner, Jack Pendergast, had been the only one to come close to bringing forth a touch of humanity in Ellison, and with Jack's death, the man had retreated even further into his tough shell. His very appearance, every expression and gesture, had been carefully honed to give off the very clear message, 'leave me the hell alone'.

There had even been rumors that Ellison had psychological problems. It wouldn't have been surprising, given what the man had probably seen during his time in Special Operations, not to mention those months surviving alone in the jungle. A few of the Bomb Squad guys even had a pool going on what day of what month Detective Jim Ellison would 'go postal'. They only hoped he wouldn't take out too many innocent by-standers in the process.

Then came Sandburg.

Inexplicably, Ellison agreed to allow the long-haired kid to ride along with him.

The conventional wisdom hadn't given the kid a week.

It had been six years now.

After the press conference, it all made sense to Joel. The way Jim had changed from an angry, chip-on-the-shoulder bastard to someone they were all proud to call their friend. The affectionate warmth in Jim's light blue eyes when he looked at his partner. The way Blair's hand constantly ghosted Jim's back when they worked a crime scene. Their shared whispers in corners where no one could hear. The warm, affection-laden smiles that passed between them as they shared inside jokes the rest of Major Crimes didn't comprehend.

The anxiety that sometimes swam in Blair's deep blue eyes when he watched Jim, as if the younger man bore the weight of Jim's very life upon his slim shoulders. After the press conference, Joel understood that this was exactly how Blair felt.

Blair Sandburg was responsible for his sentinel's life.

That damned press conference...

Blair had lied, that much was true, but Joel was absolutely certain Blair's lie hadn't been in his dissertation. The young man was far too honest and sincere for that. The lie had been far more public, naked and pain-filled, for all Cascade to see. Joel also knew what that lie had cost Blair, and he suspected what it had cost Jim as well.

Jim's guilt had been obvious to all who knew him. He'd been the recipient of the ultimate sacrifice, after all. One of Joel's favorite Bible verses sprang to mind, Greater love has no man that this, to lay down his life for his friend.

If there had ever been such love between friends, then Blair Sandburg loved Jim Ellison, and in the loving, had given his all.

Jim had fought the sacrifice, Joel was certain, as he would naturally fight against Blair ever giving up so much for him. In the end, however, Blair had entered the Academy, completed his training, and now stood firmly entrenched at Jim's side, his permanent, official partner at last.

In actuality, the new role hadn't changed the partnership that much. Blair still looked the part he had played before the disastrous release of his dissertation. He carried a gun, something he'd sworn never to do. Joel had worried about that. He worried about it a lot. At least, he had until he'd gently probed Blair about it one day.

The younger man had smiled gently. "That was the hardest part, Joel. But change requires sacrifice sometimes, man, and that's one I had to make. At least now, I know I can protect Jim and myself if it comes down to it. I actually sleep a lot better at night knowing that." After that conversation, Joel had felt relieved. Blair was handling his adjustment with grace and style, just as he always had.

Perhaps when made in such a spirit of love and selflessness, even the giving up of a life's dream is no longer a sacrifice, Joel mused. Perhaps it becomes simply a gift from the heart.

Jim stood behind Blair and slightly to his left. Joel watched as the younger detective hunched farther over the map, then rolled his head from side to side, as if to relieve his tense neck muscles. Without hesitation, with no apparent concern for who might be watching, Ellison's strong hands moved beneath his partner's hair to gently massage away the knotted tension. Joel smiled. No sacrifice in the long run. Not when what was received was at least as great as what was given away.

Feeling rested and ready to resume work, Joel Taggart turned his attention back to the report in his hands.

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

Jim Ellison's sensitive fingers immediately located the knotted muscles in his partner's neck and shoulders. "You're tense, Chief. Relax a little, okay? Getting muscle spasms isn't going to help us find the bomber any faster."

Tired blue eyes cut up at him. "Excuse me? Am I hearing Jim Ellison telling me to relax? Mr. Uptight and Harried himself?" The light in Blair's eyes flared dangerously for a moment, then softened. He hesitated, laying a hand on Jim's arm and added, "Sorry, man. Just tired, I guess. I didn't mean to take your head off."

With a gentle squeeze, Jim released Blair's neck. "S'okay. Everyone's a bit short on patience right now." Motioning toward the map, he asked, "Any new ideas?"

Blair stared down at the map, marked in red with the sights of the first three bombings. "Maybe."

When the younger detective didn't elaborate, Jim nudged him in the side. "Don't keep it to yourself, Darwin. Elaborate please." He smiled inwardly at his friend's look of intense concentration, the same expression he'd seen so many times as Blair poured over a textbook or notes for a class he was teaching. Having a partner with Blair's background had come in handy on more than one occasion. His ability to make connections others missed, to see what lay behind people's reactions and motivations, had made him a valued member of Major Crimes even before he had received his training at the Academy. Through the years, Jim had learned to listen to his partner's ideas and value his hunches.

Blair pointed to the marked locations on the map. "We've been looking at the previous scenes as a big square or connect them in a triangle. Maybe that's not it. Yes, they're arranged in an almost triangular pattern, but I think we've been going at it all wrong."

Picking up a ruler and pencil, Blair began to mark lightly on the map. "If you draw lines in toward the center from all three previous bombings..." Falling silent, Blair carefully drew three straight lines in toward the center of the three red circles. "They intersect right here." He tapped at the point on the map where the three lines all came together.

Jim Ellison leaned over his partner's shoulder, lightly resting one hand on his back, noticing almost without conscious thought the grounding effect of the younger man's pulse through his palm. Jim immediately felt some of the tension he'd been carrying with him evaporate with the slight contact with his guide. "That's the Bonner Building. Thirty-five stories. A conglomeration of businesses and offices, including a day care center and a restaurant on the top floor."

Blair straightened up and held Jim's gaze. "It's just an idea..."

"One that's worth taking to Simon." Jim grabbed the map and headed toward the captain's office. "C'mon, Chief. It's your breakthrough. You fill Simon in."

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

Simon Banks stared at the intersecting lines then glanced back up at his most effective detective team, waiting for his verdict. "Good job, Sandburg. It may be just a touch shy of a long shot, but right now, it's the best lead we've got."

Snapping up the phone, Simon dialed quickly, then waited for an answer. When it came, he barked, "Rafe, you and Henri start factoring in a possible connection to the Bonner Building downtown. See if you find anything that would connect one of the names from the first three explosions to that building. That's right. The Bonner Building. I know. I know. Just do it!" He slammed down the receiver.

"Jim, I'll..." The phone rang, interrupting the captain's sentence. Picking up the receiver, Simon snapped, "Banks!" He fell silent, listening for a few moments. "I think we know what building he's talking about. Get on the horn to security at the Bonner Building and begin an immediate evacuation. I'm sending teams down now!"

Banks took a deep breath as he replaced the receiver. "911 just received a call from our guy. Said he has planted three charges set to go off at one hour intervals in a major Cascade office building. Bomb squad's on the way to the Bonner Building, and we're evacuating all other high-rises in the city, just in case. I want you two down there now with Joel. Jim, maybe you can help locate those charges."

"Very good, sir." Ellison paused. "When's the first charge set to go off?"

Simon glanced at his watch. "One hour, fifteen minutes. I'll be down there as soon as I call the mayor."

The two detectives turned to leave, but stopped as Simon spoke again.

"Sandburg? Good thinking. You've given us some much needed time to find those charges."

Blair's look of concern never lifted. "Thank you, sir. I just hope this guy's accurate on his timing, and we can get everyone out before the first bomb detonates."

Simon nodded grimly, already feeling the knot of tension in his belly tightening. "Right. I want everyone cleared out of there at least fifteen minutes in case he's setting us up. Now get going."

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

"Ten minutes, Jim," Blair said softly, his hand resting lightly on the small of Jim Ellison's back. He knew how intensely Jim had been concentrating over the past forty-five minutes, combining his sense of smell with his enhanced hearing to try to locate the hidden explosive charges. Thus far, the bomb-sniffing dogs had come up empty, as had the sentinel.

Wordlessly, Jim nodded. Blair couldn't miss his friend's tight expression and the hard look in his eyes.

Concentrating on keeping his protectorate safe, Blair thought, a surge of pride washing through him. This was what all the years of work and training had been about, after all. The sentinel was at work, protecting his tribe, disciplined... focused. A powerful man born with incredible gifts, standing in a building doomed for destruction in less than ten minutes, yet never flinching from his duty. My sentinel, Blair thought with an unexpectedly powerful sense of wonder. Blair had never been quite so proud of his friend and partner as he was at that moment. It suddenly seemed important to communicate at least some of his emotion to the older man. Blair pressed more firmly with his hand against Jim's back and rubbed gently in a small, circular motion.

"I'm okay, Chief," Jim responded. "Just not coming up with anything, that's all."

They were working the top floor in the restaurant. Both detectives had figured it would have easy access for anyone planting a bomb who didn't have business in other floors of the office building.

"We're going to have to get out soon," Blair softly reminded him. "Simon said we have five more minutes. And remember, we still have to get down from here."

Jim squeezed Blair's shoulder and smiled tightly. "Just a couple more minutes, Chief. We're still cutting ourselves a ten minute safety net." The sentinel's full attention returned to canvassing the area with his senses, and Blair fell silent, but remained close at Jim's side.

Two minutes later, the radio in Blair's hand crackled.

"Jim! Blair! Out of there! Now!" The tone in Simon's voice left no doubt that the captain meant business. "The other teams are already on the ground, and I want you out right now. That's an order, gentlemen."

Looking around, Blair noticed that the two other teams working the floor with them had vanished. Concerned, Blair looked up into Jim's chiseled face. "We gotta go, man."

Nodding, his jaw clenched tightly, Ellison took Blair's elbow, steering him toward the elevator.

They never made it.

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

The powerful explosion rocked the entire floor, sending tables and chairs careening to the floor. Overhead, crystal chandeliers gyrated wildly, making an oddly musical discordance that filled the room. Their symphony lasted only moments, however.

Less than thirty seconds later, the ceiling began to fall, as huge steel joists broke, groaning and thundering, as they crashed to the floor below. Thick, heavy dust clouds swarmed upward to fill the air, and the lights flickered, then went out.

Without conscious thought, reacting purely on instinct, Jim shoved Blair to the floor, diving to cover the younger man's body with his own. At that instant, however, a second, more minor, explosion sounded, and the entire floor shook, rolling Sandburg to the right. There was a tremendous sound as another section of the ceiling gave in, followed by part of the wall tumbling to the floor.

Blair Sandburg disappeared from sight beneath a pile of debris.

"Sandburg!" Jim Ellison screamed through the billowing cloud of dust. He inhaled a lungful of the particle-filled air and could literally feel the searing effects of the grit and hot smoke on his lungs. Jim began to choke and fell to his knees, groping helplessly in the dark for his partner.

His desperate hands gripped only cold steel and rough concrete, not the warmth of living skin.

Struggling to focus his sense of sight in the dark, smoky air, Jim fumbled for his radio. Finding it, he shouted in between coughs, "Simon! We... need help up here! Bring a... rescue team... oxygen... and the EMTs! Sandburg's... down!"

Dropping the radio and ignoring his captain's frantic voice as Simon pleaded for more information, the sentinel began to dig at the monstrous pile of debris with his bare hands.

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

The minutes ticked by mercilessly, giving no regard to the race against death being waged on the thirty-fifth floor of the high-rise.

Twenty pairs of hands joined the sentinel's torn and bleeding ones to locate Blair Sandburg. Anxious eyes kept a watch on the time. This bomb had gone off early. It was anyone's guess what the maniac had in mind for the next one.

Jim had been digging like a machine for nearly thirty minutes. He straightened for a moment, wiping his sweaty brow with a bruised and cut hand, leaving a streak of his own blood behind. Beside him, Simon also rose from his knees.

"Jim, can you hear anything?"

Ellison replied softly, "He's alive. I hear his heartbeat. Not much deeper now. Another ten minutes, maybe..."

Without another word, both men bent and took hold of a slab of concrete, heaving it heavily to the side. Neither commented on the dwindling amount of time left to them as the next few minutes ticked inexorably by.

"I've got him!" a voice called excitedly from a few feet away.

Shoving men aside like sticks of dry kindling, Jim fought to get to his partner. Kneeling beside his partner on the ground, he reached out to wipe a trickle of blood from Blair's cut cheek. "Chief?" he asked, a touch of fear refusing to allow his voice to remain steady. "Can you hear me?"

Other men continued working around them, their efforts now centered on removing the debris from around Sandburg. From the corner of his eye, Jim caught Simon and Captain Maxwell Blalock, the head of the fire department rescue team, deep in conversation. Ellison listened for a moment, unashamedly. Normally, the sentinel refused to eavesdrop, preferring to respect the right of privacy of others. This time was an exception to his own rule. This was Blair they were discussing. His partner. His guide and best friend. He had a right to know what was going on.

At what he heard, Jim jumped to his feet and stalked over to the two captains. "What the hell do you mean, you don't think you can do this in time?" Jim's blue eyes were wild with anger and denial, and he took two quick steps closer to the fire department captain, entering the older man's personal space threateningly.

Taking three quick steps backward, Max Blalock glanced uneasily at Simon Banks, then at the bustling activity around Sandburg. "He's still two-thirds trapped, Detective, with at least a half-ton of concrete and steel pinning him down. And we've got exactly..." He glanced at the glowing face of his watch. "...ten minutes left before the mandatory evacuation. I don't see how we're going to make it."

"No!" Desperately, Jim turned to Simon. "Sir! There's got to be something...!"

Banks took a deep shuddering breath. "We've got all the men and equipment we need, Jim. If we had forty minutes, even thirty, maybe...but ten? We couldn't crowd another worker in that area around Sandburg. What we need is time!" Simon closed his eyes for a moment then reached out to squeeze Jim's bicep. "I am so damned sorry, Jim. I know what Blair means to you."

"No!" Staggering backward, his knees weak and trembling, Jim's mind whirled in a cyclone of bitter denial. He jerked his head around to stare at Blair's prone figure on the ground. His entire left side and his lower body from the waist down was still covered by debris. As hard as they'd worked since discovering the young detective, only his upper torso and right arm were freed.

They had been working nearly forty minutes.

Hopelessness flooded through him. "Sandburg!" Jim ran back to the scene, grabbing furiously at shards of metal and glass, tugging with powerful muscles at pieces of concrete and steel, ignoring the cuts on his hands and arms. His pectoral muscles strained, almost to the breaking point, as Ellison concentrated all his strength on freeing his friend and guide.

The other rescue workers continued their tasks beside Jim without asking questions. The man working nonstop with the desperate look on his face was the trapped man's partner. That said it all.

Five minutes ticked by before Jim heard the small moan from the body of his guide, a moan only sentinel ears could detect. Dropping to his knees, he stroked the dirty, matted curls back from Blair's face. "Sandburg? Chief, can you hear me?"

Through dry, cracked lips, Blair whispered hoarsely, "Jim? You okay, man?"

Ellison's chin quivered slightly as the muscle in his jaw tightened, the only outward sign of the pain he was feeling within. "I'm fine, Chief. You took the brunt of this one, buddy. Are you hurting?"

A tiny nod was the only answer, but it was enough to propel Jim into action.

"I need a medic here!" Jim bellowed through the destruction.

"Easy, big guy," Blair's soft voice pleaded. "I've got one hell of a headache here."

Jim smiled tightly despite the heaviness in his heart. "Sorry, kid." He ran his fingertips across Blair's forehead gently. "Easy now. Help's on the way."

An EMT worker appeared almost immediately. "I'm going to run a second line and start him on a morphine drip, along with the saline we've already started."

Jim shifted to give the man room to work.

When the paramedic had finished, he turned to Ellison. "That should help the pain. He'll be drifting in and out now." Glancing around at the workers and comparing their progress to the huge pile of debris, he added softly, "That's probably a good thing in more ways than one."

Jim's eyes froze into a glare. The EMT backed away, leaving Jim alone beside his partner.

Blue eyes clouded with pain and confusion blinked open again. "When are we getting out of here, Jim? I'd really like to go home now."

Jim's heart twisted painfully at the pleading, yet hopeful, tone in Blair's voice. Bending over, he touched his forehead to Blair's, rubbing gently back and forth against the dirty and scratched skin. "Soon, Chief. Soon. I'm going to go talk to Simon a minute, okay?"

Blair's free right hand snaked out and captured Jim's arm. "Stay. Please?" His eyes rolled backward and to the side, taking in the scene around them. "I've got a feeling you're not telling me everything here, Jim. Am I right?"

"Chief, I..." Jim's voice failed him, and he stopped, unable to continue. He had a lump the size of a basketball in his throat, and somehow he couldn't get the damn thing to go away, no matter how hard he tried to swallow.

Simon dropped to the floor beside Jim, resting a hand on the detective's shoulder. "I need to talk to you," he ordered. "Now."

Blair's too-bright indigo eyes sought Simon's dusty face. "No. Whatever you tell Jim, I hear. Right? Partner?" He looked hard at Ellison, as if daring him to argue.

"Tell him, Simon," Jim whispered, his hand tight around Blair's, his other hand gently stroking the dusty curls.

"I've got to pull the teams back," Simon said at last. "We've got three minutes, and we're...just not going to make it."

A flicker of fear fluttered across Sandburg's face, and Jim tightened his grip on the cold hand wrapped in his. The fearful expression vanished in a moment, and Blair nodded firmly. "Go. Both of you. Get everyone out of here. I'll be all right. We don't know where the next bomb's located, right? Could be ten floors down. When it goes off, you can come back up and get me out, right?"

Jim and Simon locked eyes, the words neither had the heart to speak lying unspoken between them, yet understood all to clearly. If the next bomb's not on this floor, too. If the damage from the next explosion doesn't take down this whole part of the building. If the floor doesn't collapse, or the entire ceiling comes crashing down.

Blair's calm, drugged eyes met Jim's and held. "Go. Get out of here, Jim"

Ellison turned to Simon, ignoring his guide's command completely. The certainty in Blair's voice as he ordered him to leave tore at Jim's heart. I'd do just about anything you ask of me, Sandburg. I always have, haven't I? Just don't ask me to do that. No way, kid. No way in hell.

Jim spoke quickly to Simon. "Get them out of here. You only have a couple of minutes left."

Simon's eyes widened. "You, too, Ellison. You're not..."

"Jim, no!" Blair's frantic voice overwhelmed Simon's. "You're not staying here!"

"I can order you, Detective," Banks said in a half-hearted tone.

"Fine, sir." Standing up, Jim calmly took out his shield and gun. He glanced at the gold shield for an instant, then he handed it to the silent Simon Banks. The gun he kept balanced almost casually in his hand, a subtle, yet unmistakable threat. Don't push it, Simon. Please...

Jim pointed out, "Now you don't have to make the decision to give that order. Get the rest of the men out of here." His voice dropped to a softer pitch. "You wouldn't leave Daryl if the roles were reversed, would you? You said you understand what Blair is to me. If you do understand that, then don't ask me to leave him. You know I can't. I'm staying with my partner."

"Jim..." Blair whispered miserably. "Please...?"

Standing up, Simon called, "Everyone! Pull out!" Looking back down at Jim, kneeling once more beside Blair, his voice cracked, "Jim...Blair...? I'm..." Recovering slightly, he added in a voice not altogether steady, "I'll have the radio. Answer me when I call, understand?"

Jim nodded, his eyes never leaving Sandburg's face. "Right, sir."

Resting a hand on Jim's shoulder and squeezing firmly, Simon said quietly, "Take care of him, Jim. And don't forget to take care of yourself, too. Good luck, my friends."

And they were alone.

Blair's gaze was unfocused now, the morphine having done its job. He murmured, shaking his head, "I can't believe you're doing this, man. You're the sentinel. My sentinel... The city needs you."

"And I need my guide," Jim said shortly. Reaching around behind him, he dragged up a table that was resting on its side nearby.

"Whatcha doin'?" Blair asked sleepily, his voice a low, hoarse growl.

Jim pulled the table closer, then huddled down, bending low over his friend. Moving the table over their heads, he pulled the filthy linen cloth over the edge, creating a small tent. "Trying to give us a bit of protection, Chief. Maybe keep some of the dust out of our eyes and lungs, too."

After covering them the best he could with that make-shift protection, Jim worked his way carefully to lie down beside his friend. Easing his arm carefully beneath Sandburg's head, he smiled despite his worry as Blair snuggled his head into the pillow of his sentinel's bicep.

Glancing up at Jim with his groggy blue eyes, Blair smiled tiredly. "Nice. Warm now. Kinda like camping."

Jim laughed tightly. "Think I'd rather be out in the woods, Chief." He took his other arm and wrapped it around Blair's shoulders, tucking himself as firmly as possible around his friend's body. Once the explosion started, Jim figured he could hoist himself upward and cover Blair with his own body. Maybe that and the table would be enough. He knew it was a terribly big 'maybe'. For now, it was nice just to be close for the few minutes they had left. It would have to be enough.

As if reading his mind, Blair shifted his head enough to look up at Jim. "How long...?"

There was no use trying to obfuscate the master. "We're not sure. The last blasts came early. If he keeps to his original promise of one an hour..." Jim lifted his wrist enough to see his watch. "Two minutes."

Both men fell silent for a few moments. Jim closed his eyes and waited. He'd done all he could to protect his guide, yet once again, he seemed to have fallen short. At least this time, if the end came, he could make certain they departed this world together. While the closeness of Blair was soothing in and of itself, that secret intention lifted slightly the dread in the sentinel's heart. His greatest fear had always been letting Blair die while he himself survived. Tucked closely together this way, the fate that befell one would surely take the other as well. Deep in his heart, Jim realized that was all he could ask.

Blair spoke again, his deep blue eyes luminous in the gray light beneath the tablecloth. "Jim? I know you don't go in for the sentimental stuff, but...there's something I need to say."

Lowering his head to rest on the soft, dusty curls, Jim whispered, "Go ahead, Chief."

Blair sighed deeply, his eyes closing for a moment before they slowly blinked open again. "Thank you. Now, don't argue with this, all right? See, man, I know you're feeling a ton of guilt right now, but let it go, okay?" Blair's voice grew stronger, as if the effects of the morphine were being pushed into the shadows by his need to express his feelings to his friend. A crooked smile curved the lines of his dry, dusty lips. "It's been a hell of a ride, man, and believe it or not, I don't regret a second of it."

The older man shook his head in disbelief. Blair was trying to relieve his guilt, but there was no way Jim could accept his words at face value. "Sorry, Chief. I just can't believe that. Alex...the dissertation mess...Lash...? How could you not have regretted those things?" He took a deep breath and released it sadly. "Ever since you hooked up with me, your life's been nothing but a series of catastrophes."

"Is that how you see it?" Blair's eyes widened despite the effects of the drugs flowing into his system from the IV. "Sure, we've had our share of ups and downs, but compared to what I've gained..." He crooked his head enough to meet his friend's eyes and smiled up at Jim. "It's been worth it."

"What have you gained exactly, Chief? A few last minutes huddled under a table waiting for a bomb to go off?" Jim recognized the bitterness in his voice. He hated himself for letting his frustration show, but somehow, he didn't have the strength to disguise it. Sandburg's life shouldn't end this way. Blair deserved so much better.

Blair hadn't yet run out of arguments, Jim discovered. Sandburg's voice was stronger as he lectured his friend. "You want a list? Okay, how about this. I found you! The living embodiment of all my dreams since childhood. My sentinel..." Blair said softly with a lingering hint of wonder in his voice. "The first real home I've known, and the sense of security that goes with that. The best friend I've ever had. A chance to really make a difference in the world, in the lives of real people in the here and now. A group of friends and co-workers who respect me for who I am, not just because I'm your tag-along, not only because I'm Jim Ellison's partner - even though that's still a trip, man - but because I'm good at what I do. I've made a good cop, despite all the doubts and insecurities I had those first few days at the academy."

Blair paused a moment, then added quietly, "Most of all, I've gained this." He snuggled a bit closer to Jim, taking full advantage of the small amount of movement granted by the pile of debris trapping his body. "This friendship, Jim, is so much more than I ever expected. I mean, here you are, willing to lay down your own life, not to save mine, but just to be with me. That's...phenomenal."

Jim took a shuddering breath. "Beats the alternative, Junior," he murmured quietly in a voice broken by emotion. Confessing his deepest feelings was far from easy for him, but under the circumstances, it appeared to be now or never. It seemed important, somehow, that Blair understand. Jim coughed, trying unsuccessfully to dislodge the myriad of dust particles tickling his lungs, and perhaps, the large lump constricting his throat as well. "It's pretty simple really, Sandburg. You've given me a hell of a lot, too, y'know." His hand absently carded through the sweaty curls. "You saved my sanity. You gave me back my humanity. You took the insecure child whose father called him 'freak' and made him realize that his gifts are something to cherish, not to curse. You gave me faith in myself for the first time in my life." Jim shook his head helplessly. "I...can't imagine my life without you now..."

The sentinel nuzzled the dirty curls with his cheek, wiping away the wetness that trickled unbidden from behind closed lids. "I owe you my life, Blair. If it's going to end, I'd rather it be this way. At least, whatever happens in the next minute, we'll face it together. Make sense to you, Darwin?"

Nodding, Blair rested the full weight of his head back on Jim's arm and closed his eyes. "Perfect sense, man. You're my family, Jim. As much as Naomi; maybe even more so. My big brother, my pseudo-father, my best friend, all rolled up into one." He took a deep, ragged breath that broke on a half-sob. "I love you so much."

Tightening his arms around Blair, Jim buried his face in the chestnut curls. "I know that, Sandburg, and even if I sometimes didn't show it or hurt you, I..."

A thunderous roar cut off Jim's reply. The sentinel shot upward, throwing himself over Blair, tucking his arms beneath the younger man's head and covering his head with his chest. "Hang on, Chief!"

The last words Jim Ellison heard before losing consciousness were, "It's okay, Jim. I always knew..."

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

On the street below, Simon Banks stood helplessly beside Joel Taggart, watching the devastation as the Bonner Building rocked on its foundation. "Oh, my God," he whispered as the flames shot out from the thirtieth floor. A mighty rumble began slowly in the most distant recesses of the building, as smoke poured from inside. Like a deck of cards, the thirty-five story building began collapsing in on itself.

The surreal scene was as terrifying as a glimpse of Hades. Simon shut his eyes for a moment, unable to bear witness any longer.

Joel muttered to himself, "I can't believe it. Jim and Blair are inside that..."

"Jim wouldn't leave him!" Simon snapped angrily, his eyelids flying open again, only to be met with the same hellish vision. "I tried, but..." He could see Jim's face clearly in his mind's eye - the man's grim determination... the sheer force of the sentinel's will to stay to protect his guide. "I think he would have turned the gun on them both first. Or on me. Jim was like a lion defending its cub. There was no way on earth he was going to leave Blair."

Taggart shook his head, his brown eyes locked on the ruins. "I know. I didn't mean... It's not your fault, Captain. This...is what Jim would have wanted."

The crumbling of the floors halted about halfway down. While the smoke and clouds of debris and dust continued to spew forth, the building seemed to have stabilized for the moment.

Five uniformed officers approached the two captains, surrounding a man with his hands cuffed behind his back.

The tallest of the officers walked up to Simon. "Sir! We caught him watching the action from an evacuated office building down the block." Holding out his hand, the officer revealed a detonation device. "He had this on him. Probably back up charges in case the others didn't go off."

"Name's Silas Crowder," another officer put in. "Ran him through the computer, and the guy's got a rap sheet as long as your arm, including arson. Has a military record, too. Background in demolition work."

Simon took two steps closer to the suspect. Only half as tall as Banks, Crowder was burly, and his lips were curled in what appeared to be a perpetual snarl. "When's the next detonation?" Simon asked quietly, his voice cold.

Shrugging, the other man stared up at Simon and muttered under his breath, "First two went off together. Ain't gonna be any more." Then, as if realizing what he'd said, his eyes grew angry. "I wanna lawyer," Crowder snapped. "I know my rights."

"Oh, you'll get your lawyer," Banks growled, taking a step closer to the smaller man, his voice rising steadily. "You'll also get a nice cell where every guard, every cop on duty, will know that you just killed two of our finest detectives. Trust me, scumbag, the least of your worries should be needing a lawyer."

"You can't threaten me!" the stocky man said loudly, his eyes darting around the circle of uniforms surrounding him.

"I'll do more than threaten," Simon roared, a sudden rage filling him at the sight of the cocky suspect. Drawing back a quick fist, he slammed it hard into the man's abdomen. "Sue me."

Snapping around, Simon walked toward Captain Blalock. A round of cheers followed his departure as a small, satisfied grin broke the grim countenance of Simon's dark face.

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

Hours crept by as the fire department gingerly determined the safety of progressing onto the piles of rubble and debris that had been the Bonner Building. Slowly, crews were making their way inside and upward into the remaining stories, using every ounce of their training to determine exactly how far they could safely proceed.

The members of Major Crimes had gathered in shock at the scene. Search and rescue was not their area of expertise; their jobs had been done. Lives had been saved, the suspect was apprehended, and all that remained for the detectives to do was to wait and pray.

"Crowder had a psych record at three different hospitals," Rafe murmured. "Blamed technology and urban growth for all the country's problems."

Beside him, Henri shook his head. "I read one of the letters in his jacket. Said he felt called by God to destroy the city - one building at a time."

"That wasn't God," Joel protested softly. "That was his own insanity."

"Why didn't we pick up on this headcase sooner?" Rafe demanded. His voice was strained with frustration as he turned to Henri.

"He was on the list, babe," the black man said quietly, shaking his head. "We were checking him out, but he was just one of many."

Rafe turned back to the horrific scene before them. "The world's a scary place, partner. A scary place."

Behind them, the setting sun lent an eerie orange and red glow to the scene, tinting the skeleton of the ruined building with the colors of hell.

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

Standing alone, Simon Banks watched the swarming rescue units crawling over the site like determined ants. While he couldn't yet say the words, could barely even form the thought, Simon understood deep within his soul that Jim and Blair were gone. What a damned pity! After all they had been through, that it should end like this.

The clear image of a river flashed through Simon's mind. The relationship between those two had been like that river, he mused. Never straight and easy, but with powerful rapids that threatened to overturn their small raft of friendship and pull them into a vortex that would engulf them forever. Yet, each time, Jim and Blair had survived the river's fury, emerging even stronger from the rapids with their friendship intact, and their faith in what they were undaunted.

The last year had been the easiest, in many ways, Banks mused. With Blair at his side, officially at last, Jim Ellison had been a man at peace. Blair had accepted his new role in Jim's life with dogged determination, his mind made up to be the best partner, the best guide, a sentinel or a cop ever had.

And now the day Simon had prayed would never come had arrived.

Jim and Blair had survived the arduous rapids only to plunge over the towering waterfall waiting undetected around the final curve in the river.

Simon bowed his head and roughly wiped away a tear with the dirty sleeve of his torn shirt.

"We're making our way in now." A quiet voice drew him from his grief.

Without looking up, Simon recognized Max Blalock. He nodded in acknowledgment, still unable to speak.

Blalock explained quietly, "We're bringing in search dogs and microphones to drop down into any crevices. If they're alive in there, we'll find them." The fire department chief's voice held little hope.

Simon drew a ragged breath and released it slowly. "Thank you. Is there anything my men can do?"

"Pray."

Simon heard Blalock return to his men but didn't look up.

The waiting and the night dragged on.

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

The crews worked through the night, and by dawn's pink beginnings, had yet to find any signs of life. The members of Major Crimes were still frozen in their places, tons of coffee and dozens of donuts later, waiting and hoping beyond hope for a word of good news from the rubble that lay before them.

Simon approached his men at last, leaving his isolated position closest to the devastation. "Go home," he said tiredly, rubbing his tired and smoke-tainted eyes with his fists. "I'll be here and call if there's any news." Simon didn't expect them to go, but it was his job as captain to try.

To the man, Joel, Rafe, and Henri stood their ground.

"No, sir," Joel said quietly, his voice firm. "We belong here. We'll wait."

By mid-morning, the sun had cleared away the clouds. Volunteers had brought in sandwiches, although none of the detectives had enough appetite to eat over a bite or two.

At half past eleven, Simon's radio crackled to life.

"We've got something!"

Rushing forward past the yellow tape barricade, Simon and his men found Blalock at the base of the rubble.

"Up there," Blalock pointed, his finger aiming at the top of the heap of debris. "One of the search dogs has a hit. We're lowering a microphone down to listen."

Standing in almost unbearable tension, Simon waited for word, his team of detectives gathered in a tight circle around him.

Long minutes later, Max Blalock's face creased in a grin as he listened to the radio through his headphones. "They've heard something. At least one of them's alive."

Jim? Simon wondered silently, his heart nearly breaking. What would the sentinel do without his guide? Jim had nearly lost his mind before he found Sandburg. Would he be able to maintain control over his senses if he lost Blair now?

Blair? The young man had blossomed under Jim's care, gradually finding the security and care he needed in his friendship with his sentinel. Would Blair recover if he lost Jim? Would he manage to find happiness without his Holy Grail?

"Who?" Simon's voice shook with emotion, his worried brown eyes focused on the tower of debris.

Blalock shook his head. "We can't tell. They're going in now."

The sun passed its zenith, and still, they waited.

Wheelbarrows filled with debris were removed. Dozens of workers crawled over the mound without rest, their faces determined, unflinching, and powder-gray with dust.

The sun was sinking low on the horizon when two stretchers were carefully borne down from the rubble. Max Blalock hurried up to Simon and the members of his team..

"We found them both." Blalock's gray eyes were moist with tears, and Simon's heart plummeted. "Jim was lying over Blair, wrapped around him so tightly we could barely pry him loose."

There was a gasp from Joel, an uncontrollable reaction to the mental image they were all forming.

"His back's a mess. Ellison took the brunt of the falling debris on himself."

"Is he...?" Henri spoke the words they all wanted to say.

Blalock's weathered face creased in a smile. "Jim's body must have blocked the microphone from picking up any other life sounds. I don't know how the hell they managed it, but they're both alive."

Four grown men wept, and Simon Banks sank slowly to his knees. "Thank you," he whispered to Blalock and to whomever was listening above. "Thank you."

The last 'thank you' was drowned out by the sounds of the life-flight helicopter arriving on the scene.

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

The wait was not yet over.

Jim's injuries had been the worst, just as Max Blalock had observed. While Blair had suffered a broken leg, crushed ribs, and a cracked pelvis, among numerous smaller injuries, Jim had taken the majority of the fall's force with his own body, shielding his guide until the end. Rushed into surgery to repair the internal damage and bleeding, it was touch and go whether the sentinel would survive.

By 9:00 that evening, Simon was waiting beside Blair's bedside for Jim to return from surgery. The news from the O.R. had been good, but the next 24 hours would tell.

Blair had not yet awakened, but the doctors were not surprised. The pain-killing fluid dripping from the IV, combined with the anesthesia given in order to repair his crushed body, would keep the younger detective out for a while.

The door opened, and the gurney bearing Jim's motionless form was brought in. Swiftly and carefully, he was transferred to the bed.

After the attendants had departed, Simon moved to look down at his friend. Jim's face was pale, stitched in numerous places, and already beginning to bruise. They had placed him in the bed face up, in deference to his surgical wounds, but Simon knew the sentinel's torn back would be nearly as painful. He'd caught a glimpse of the shredded skin and exposed muscles as they transferred Jim to the helicopter earlier. Simon shuddered at the thought of how many stitches it had taken to repair the damage made by the falling concrete and steel.

"You did good, my friend," Simon said softly, resting his hand on the muscular shoulder before drawing the blanket up to cover Jim's bandaged upper chest and shoulders. "Blair's going to make it, and you are, too. Hear me, Ellison? You're going to make it."

Unbelievably, the pale blue eyes emerged from beneath heavy lids. "Blair...?" Jim's voice was hoarse, barely audible, but there was no doubt of his words.

"He's okay, Jim. You did it." Simon forced his voice to stay steady. "Somehow you kept him alive."

A slight nod was the only response. Then, slowly, a single tear escaped to trickle down the bruised cheek. The bandaged hand reached out from beneath the covers, Jim's fingers stretching toward his partner.

Simon dabbed away the fallen tear with a gentle hand. "Easy, Jim. He's okay; I promise."

Jim's worried eyes remained focused on the figure in the next bed. "Blair..." Again, the trembling hand reached out, as if to draw the younger man closer.

"Jim, you need to rest." Simon studied the tired and bruised face of his friend. "But you need to reach him, don't you? Maybe that's another of those sentinel things." He sighed tiredly. "Just give me a minute here, Jim. I'll see what I can do."

Carefully and slowly, Simon slid Jim's bed closer to that of his sleeping guide, ever mindful of the lines and machines hooked up to both Jim and Blair.

At last, the two beds were side by side, and without a moment's hesitation, Jim's hand found Blair's and held on. Long, sensitive fingers wrapped around the slender wrist, finding the pulse point and anchoring there firmly. Simon tried to imagine how reassuring it must be to Jim to feel the living beat of his guide's heart thrumming through his own body.

Looking up at Simon, Jim whispered in a hoarse voice, "Thanks...sometimes...I need to...touch him. To feel..."

When Jim's weak, gravelly voice faded out, Simon reassured him quietly, "I think I understand. You can feel that he's safe when you touch Blair, can't you? I can't imagine what that must be like, Jim. To be able to feel his heartbeat, his pulse, and know throughout your entire body - to know in your soul - that he's safe." The captain paused as he considered this revelation. "Rest now. Blair will be awake soon, and you know the kid - he'll be jabbering away in no time." Simon watched the hint of a smile play at the corners of the groggy sentinel's lips.

The bruised lids closed slowly as Jim drifted into sleep, but the half-smile lingered, his head cocked toward the strong sound of the familiar heartbeat in the next bed, his fingers still wrapped around his guide's wrist, anchoring him to his friend as he slept.

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

An hour later, a quiet moan brought Simon Banks to Blair's bedside. Tired indigo eyes were halfway open and focused on the figure of Ellison, lying to Blair's right.

"He's okay, Sandburg." Simon smiled reassuringly as the young man cut his eyes up to the captain's. "They had to go in and do some pretty major repair work, but he woke up about an hour ago, and he seemed fine."

Swollen, bruised lips parted, and Blair whispered, "He's...holding my...hand."

Simon chuckled sheepishly. "He wouldn't quit until I brought you closer. Against hospital policy, probably, but you know Jim once he makes his mind up. I don't think that last nurse who came in was too thrilled about it though."

Blair's gaze returned to his partner. "He's...okay?"

"I won't kid you, Sandburg. It's still touch and go. There was a lot of internal damage. But the doctors seem hopeful."

Blair looked over at the water pitcher on the table beside his bed, and Simon followed his eyes. Pouring a small amount into a glass, he held it to the dry lips. "Better?" he asked after Blair had sipped a few swallows.

The quiet voice had lost some of its hoarseness. "Thanks." Blair looked back at his partner's bruised and cut face. He worked his hand around until his fingers were entwined with Jim's, then he smiled weakly. "Jim...," he whispered hoarsely. "You're gonna be okay, man. I'm here. We're gonna be all right."

His eyes closed and within moments, his breathing evened out and Blair was asleep.

Simon settled back into his hard plastic chair and resumed his watch for the remainder of what had already been a long, exhausting night.

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

A week later, both men were released.

Blair would need intensive physical therapy to restore full use of his shattered leg, and Jim would need to take life slowly for weeks to come as his battered body slowly healed. Yet, even the prospect of the long weeks recovery ahead couldn't dull the excitement.

They were home.

Their friends had gathered for a brief homecoming celebration, and once Blair was carefully settled on the couch, the party began. Blair's legs rested in his lap, the cast heavy but its weight welcome. He rubbed his friend's feet through the blanket Simon had carefully tucked around the younger man to keep him warm and studied his surroundings, contentment rising warm within him.

Rafe and Henri were talking by the window, each nursing a cold beer. Simon, Daryl, and Joel were sitting behind them at the kitchen table playing poker with a friend of Daryl's from college. Jim listened to their laughter as Daryl folded his cards.

"You okay, Jim?" Blair asked quietly.

Reaching over, Jim rested his palm on Blair's head and hair, savoring its clean softness and the life that beat strongly beneath his hand. "I'm fine, Chief. Just thinking."

Blair winked at him, a wicked grin lighting his features. "That definitely could be dangerous. Better be careful, man."

His light blue eyes sparkling, Jim growled menacingly, "Smart-assed kid. Watch how you talk to your old partner." He shifted carefully on the couch, adjusting his back, unable to keep a soft moan at bay. "Your old, battered partner," he amended, settling back with a sigh.

Blair's hand found Jim's, and he squeezed it gently. "Sorry, man. Is your back hurting much?"

"A little. It's not too bad." Jim could hear the tight tone of pain in his own voice and knew he hadn't fooled his guide for a second.

"Find the dials, Jim," Blair whispered. "Concentrate on turning down the pain. Don't push it too far - just enough to be tolerable. You can take a pain pill to help the rest. I don't want you to dial down so far you don't feel pain that could be a warning about your internal injuries." He continued talking quietly in low, soft tones that were warm with concern and affection.

Jim closed his eyes, letting his body relax fully as he listened to the sound of his guide's soothing voice. Minutes later, the pain receded, and his eyes opened, calmer now. "Better. You could make a damn good living as a hypno-therapist, Chief."

Blair smiled. "Only for you, man. Glad to be of assistance. You could do that on your own, y'know. You know the drill."

"Yeah, but it works better when you do it."

Laughing lightly, Sandburg punched Jim's arm. "When you listen, maybe."

"I always listen to you, Chief." Jim closed his eyes again, savoring the blessed relief of his release from the pain.

"You didn't up on the twenty-fifth floor."

Jim's eyes opened quickly to find his partner's haunted gaze.

"I wanted you to go, man. You shouldn't have stayed. You could have been killed, Jim." Blair's voice rose, then it broke on the final few words.

"Hey...hey," Jim said softly, leaning over to cup Blair's face, unmindful of the curious eyes watching them or the mild protest from his surgical wounds. At least the pain was dulled by Blair's coaching and the use of the dials. "It's over, Chief. Take it easy." Jim kept his voice low, hoping to calm the younger man's racing heart. He could feel the tremors beneath his hands, and Blair's face had blanched two shades paler.

Glancing at the two friends, Rafe and Henri shared a quick, knowing glance, then they moved out onto the balcony, softly closing the door behind them.

Almost simultaneously, Simon's voice rang out from the kitchen. "Son, I think we need some fresh air. That and a cigar. Let's go join Rafe and H. on the balcony." Neither young man protested, and within a minute, the loft had been vacated by all but its two residents.

When they were alone, Jim turned his complete attention to his guide, running his thumbs lightly across the end-of-the-day stubble shadowing Blair's cheeks. "Talk to me, Sandburg."

Blair took a long, deep breath, letting it out slowly. "I don't know, Jim. We were sitting here with friends, and everything was fine, then...I realized how close we came to losing everything." Wide blue eyes filled with a strange blend of wonder and horror. "You stayed, Jim. You knew you would probably die, but you wouldn't leave me."

Jim smiled sadly. "I had no choice. I was going to die either way."

Puzzlement clouded Blair's eyes. "What are you talking about? If you had gone down with Simon, you'd have been safe. You wouldn't have died."

"If I had left you and the bomb had gone off...killing you...I would have been just as dead." Jim leaned over to rest his forehead against Blair's for a moment, echoing the way he'd touched him as they waited for the explosion. "I preferred to stick with you, kid. You know the line - for better or worse...until death do us part."

"Oh, God, Jim," Blair breathed.

Brushing his lips lightly across Blair's temple, Jim pulled back slightly to see his friend's face. "You're the one who came up with the theory, Chief. The sentinel and his guide develop a bond that joins them for life. One depends on the other for survival. The law of the jungle; the law of survival." Jim chuckled softly as he trailed his knuckles across his guide's cheek. "Hey, this only proves your hypothesis, you know. You should be excited, Darwin."

"Right. It's just that I...I never realized the full implications before." Blair's forehead knitted in concentration. "I always kind of knew you'd be willing to...die for me. I just didn't realize you'd ever choose to die with me." Blair shook his head. "That's a pretty heavy load, Jim."

Ellison shrugged. "Sorry, kid. It's way too late to change the contract now." He spread his hands helplessly. "You found your sentinel, and you're stuck with him."

Blair cocked his head and grinned, his blue eyes glowing with pride and affection. "'Until death do us part', huh?" Their gaze held, then the light in Blair's eyes faded slightly. "You made that vow to Carolyn, too, remember?"

That took the sentinel by surprise. Carolyn? Where the hell did that come from, Chief?

Gathering his thoughts, Jim straightened and leaned back into the couch cushions, staring at the flames in the fireplace. It was important that his next words be right. Blair was comparing apples and oranges, and Jim felt a powerful need to help his friend understand the difference.

At last, he said quietly. "Totally different situation. I failed in my marriage to Carolyn, and that's not something I'm proud of at all. You know failure isn't exactly something I take in stride. But this, Chief..." Jim stopped, unable to communicate with mere words the enormity of his emotions. He cleared his throat and racked his fingers through his short hair. "What you are to me is so far beyond that; I can't even make a comparison."

Blair laughed softly. "You know my history, man. I've never had this kind of commitment before. I was raised on the Naomi Sandburg philosophy of long-term relationships. Detach with love, remember?" Looking up at Jim with blue eyes swimming in tears, he asked, "So we're really in this for the long haul? No turning back? No backing out?"

"Sounds right to me," Jim commented agreeably. "Actually, I had pretty much figured that out a long time ago. I guess I just assumed you knew it, too."

Without warning, a terrifying thought occurred to him, and Jim's heart skipped a beat in panic. What if this life wasn't what Sandburg had in mind? What if the whole cop-partner thing was more than what the kid had counted on and he wanted out? Could it be that Blair had changed his mind, and Jim hadn't even caught on? Fighting to keep his voice from betraying him, Jim asked casually, "So, you think you can live with that, Chief?"

Reaching out, Blair caught Jim's hand, bringing their clasped hands down to his chest. "Yeah. I can live with that."

Motionless, blue eyes held blue as sentinel and guide gazed into each other's soul. At last, satisfied with what they saw there, both smiled.

Patting Blair's leg gently, Jim called out, "Simon? You planning to stay out there all night?"

A moment later, the door slid open, and the members of Major Crimes entered the loft cautiously. "Everything okay in here?" Rafe chimed out.

"You okay, Hairboy?" Henri asked. "Jim?"

Jim looked down at his partner fondly. "We're fine. I don't know about you, Chief, but I'm ready for that pizza Daryl brought."

Recovery would be slow, and life wouldn't return to normal for a long time, but for now, at least, the loft hummed once more with friendship, life, and laughter. For both sentinel and guide, it was enough.

The sacrifice had been offered and denied. The gift had been accepted and would be cherished for a lifetime.

Finis...

Return to the Stand Alone Stories

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

Back to JET's page.