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

Educating Angels

by Lacy

Summary: Some life-altering letters could put Jim and Blair in a lot of danger, and suddenly a simple case becomes something much more. Rated PG-13.

Spoilers: Educating Angels contains heavy spoilers for S2, parts one and two, as well as heavy spoilers for TSbyBS. There are minor spoilers for other episodes, such as Fool Me Twice and Secrets sprinkled liberally throughout.

Classification: This story is to be considered Alternate Universe, since it takes place a year after TSbyBS and exists in the BlairCop Universe. To understand Blair's state of mind in this story you might try reading my earlier fic titled Sevens -- but it's not necessary to understanding the plot.

Disclaimer: Jim Ellison, Blair Sandburg, Simon Banks, and the other members of the Cascade Police Department's Major Crimes Division belong to Danny Bilson, Paul DeMeo, Pet Fly Productions and Paramount. All other characters are mine.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Kimberly (kimberlyFDR) for beta-reading and beyond. Since shortly after beginning this story, she was a tremendous help by being my sounding board, and all without knowing the complete details of the story. Thanks a million for all of your comments and suggestions. Also thanks to Bonnie (Bonni317) for being the queen of the English language and for sharing its rules and regulations with me.

This story has been more than four months in the making, and I enjoyed every single moment spent with Jim and Blair, who took up all-too-brief residence in my head. I hope they will grace me with their presence again soon. Thanks, boys.

Copyright Info: ©All literature found on the following pages produced by ::Lacy::. Unauthorized reproduction of this text is not allowed. Contact author xfwatcher@aol.com for permission

********************
Introduction

4:00 p.m.

Less chance of running into someone I know.

Used to know, he corrected himself, as he quickly pulled his new Toyota 4Runner into the empty space and placed it in park.

'The old stomping grounds, Blair thought. He knew the buildings and the sidewalks as well as anyone who had spent fourteen years of their life here. He hadn't stepped foot on the Rainier University campus in over a year. Not since the day he had cleaned out his office and quietly slipped away, hoping he would not be noticed. Blair's eyes scanned the surrounding area, taking in the sight of the campus. The connection was gone, severed, and he felt just the tiniest bit of loss at that new revelation.

For a long time, he couldn't even drive past this place. After all, it was here that his old life had ended -- in more ways than one. He had died here, but that had been the easy part.

To his left, Blair could see the fountain that had haunted his nightmares for months. He had thought dying was the hardest thing he had ever done. But it was a bit like jinxing yourself, because as soon as you think you've faced your most difficult challenge -- as soon as you think it just can't get any harder -- life brains you with a whole new problem.

More than a year ago, Blair Sandburg, rising Anthropologist, had thrown away his career on a fraudulent dissertation that even he said couldn't be considered 'a good work of fiction'. For the most part, the fiasco had been forgotten, but here at the University it was sure to be gossip fodder for decades to come. They would never truly know what he had given up that day as he stood at the press conference podium and announced himself a fraud.

But they would also never have an inkling of what he had gained.

Blair wasn't here for woolgathering, though. That had been finished long ago. He was here to take care of unfinished business. He exited his vehicle, locking the door and setting the alarm, and set his mind toward his current mission.

The building was clearly marked with bold letters in stone: Student Union. Blair noticed that the building was practically empty, just as he expected for a Friday afternoon. He passed the main foyer (decorated smartly for the recent freshman orientation) and headed straight for the University Post Office. It was there -- just as it had been a year ago. The man standing behind the counter was tall and thin, his body language making it clear that he did not wanted to be bothered.

"Excuse me, sir?" Blair decided to bother anyway.

"What can I do for you?" The man sighed in a monotone voice, suggesting he was less than thrilled to be called upon to perform his postal duties.

"I received this in the mail yesterday." Blair retrieved a yellow post card from the inside of his worn leather jacket.

"Ah, yes, I see," the thin man answered, reaching out to take the card from Blair.

"There's something I don't understand, though…." Blair began.

"What's that?"

"Well, you obviously have my address, so why couldn't you just send the stuff on to me?"

"The problem, you see," the man began, explaining as though Blair were a five-year-old, "is that we don't have a 'Permission to Forward' form on file for you."

"I see," Blair sighed.

"So if you could just fill this out we can forward any mail sent to you, care of the University, on to your home address." The man, whom Blair had already come to think of as 'Disgruntled-Post-Office-Guy', slid the form across the counter to him.

He took the paper, filled in the necessary information, signed it with a flourish and slid it back across the counter.

"Thank you, Mr. Sandburg. I'll be happy to retrieve your mail for you now."

Now you'll be happy? Blair thought, as the man disappeared into the back room. He returned a moment later carrying a file box, which had the name 'Blair Sandburg' painstakingly printed on the side. The cardboard carton made a heavy thud as Disgruntled-Post-Office-Guy placed it on the counter. Not wanting to linger, Blair took the box, thanked the man behind the counter, and fled the Post Office.

********************
Chapter One

He could hear his radio squawking as he neared his vehicle. Juggling his keys and the carton he carried, he was able to unlock the car using the alarm remote. Opening the door, he tossed the weighty box onto the passenger seat and reached for the CB radio.

"David -135 here. Come again." Blair said into the CB transmitter, releasing the button so that he could hear the coming response.

"David 135, we have a homicide at 3694 Carlock Place. Your presence has been requested."

"Responding. ETA 2 minutes," Blair answered, pulling the car door shut as he placed the transmitter back on its cradle.

As he pulled out of the university parking lot, he turned on his siren and sped down the street, his experience in the post office already forgotten.

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

When he arrived at 3694 Carlock Place, two patrol officers were blocking off the front yard with yellow crime scene ribbon. Blair was the first detective on-site, and as far as he could tell, neither Jim nor the Forensics team had arrived yet. Blair flipped up the armrest of his new car, to reveal a hidden pocket. Probably designed for tapes and CDs, the pocket instead contained a box of latex gloves. He removed two gloves from the pocket and stuffed them inside his jacket as he opened the door of the car and stepped out onto the street.

He didn't recognize the officers as he approached the yard; however, he easily recognized their eagerness, as they both stepped forward to keep him from ducking beneath the ribbon.

"This is a crime scene, sir."

Anticipating the patrol officers' defense of the area, Blair reached into his back pocket and pulled out his identification. Opening the wallet ID for the officer to see, he introduced himself. "Detective Sandburg." Not waiting for the officer to apologize, Blair jumped right in with obligatory questions. "Whatcha got for me?"

"The victim has been identified as Doctor Diane Westmoreland. She was a professor at the University."

Blair didn't recognize the name, but he flinched at the mention of the victim's place of employment. "Who called it in?"

"One of Dr. Westmoreland's assistants. She's inside with Officer Drew."

Just then, Blair turned to see Jim's truck speeding around the corner. The blue '69 Ford pick-up truck slid haphazardly into the space behind Blair's 4Runner. It was rare for Jim and Blair to show up separately at a crime scene, but Blair hadn't expected to be called in on a case when he had left the station to take care of his personal business. Jim's quick strides ate up at the ground as he approached his partner, stooping to bypass the crime scene ribbon. Like Blair, he flashed his badge at the scene officer.

"Whatcha got, Chief?" Jim asked.

"Not much, Jim, I just got here myself," he answered in self-defense, thrusting his palms into the air. Blair updated Jim on the victim's identity and her place of employment.

"Officer Manning." Jim turned to the officer who had patiently listened to Blair's explanation. "Start a canvass, please. Find out if anyone saw anything. Find a witness, bring them here. You think you can handle that?"

"Yes, Detective," Manning answered, already moving towards the house next door.

"Why are we on this case, Jim? Shouldn't this go to Homicide?"

"When the officers called it in, Homicide sent it our way. They seem to think Cascade has another serial killer. Homicide couldn't wash its hands of this case fast enough, Chief. Let's have a look, shall we?" Jim suggested.

"After you, man." Blair held out his hand to offer Jim the lead, and then fell into step behind his partner.

Short and stocky, Officer Burke was doing his utmost to keep Dr. Westmoreland's assistant calm and collected as he looked up to see Cascade's most unusual detective team enter through the opened front door. Saying nothing, he nodded his head in the direction of the back bedroom, as he stood from the couch and approached the detectives.

"Her name's Phoebe Garland. She's Dr. Westmoreland's TA at the University. When Westmoreland didn't show for her classes today, Ms. Garland came by to check on her.

"Thank you, Burke. We're going to have a look at the scene now, but I'll be out to speak with her in a few minutes." Blair placed his hand on the officer's shoulder, silently suggesting that the older man should continue to look after the fragile witness. The patrolman nodded in understanding and went back to the young woman's side.

Walking down the hall to the back bedroom, Blair reached into his pocket and removed the latex gloves. He snapped his left hand into the first glove and then quickly donned the other. Both detectives walked in a straight line, Blair stepping exactly where his partner's feet had been and being careful not to touch the walls.

The bedroom door was ajar by only a few inches. Jim reached out to urge the door open, his eyes scanning the room before he stepped inside. The bed sheets were covered with blood; the woman clearly murdered in her sleep. There were no signs of struggle, suggesting that the victim had never had a chance to realize her own peril. She had been sleeping on her stomach when she had been stabbed viciously in the back. The autopsy would undoubtedly reveal more, but judging from the amount of blood on the sheets, and the single stab wound in her lower back, Blair hypothesized that her renal artery had been slashed. The blood had pumped so forcefully out of her body that it left a spray pattern on the ceiling above her. She died within heartbeats of suffering the fatal wound.

Two minutes. That was about his limit. Jim looked up at him, sensing his unease, and nodded. Blair turned on his heel and exited the room, not to return until the body had been removed. He passed the Forensic technicians in the hallway and nodded to Serena as he made his way back to the living room.

Blair had been dealing with these types of things, in one form or another, for more than four years, yet he still found it impossible to distance himself emotionally from the violence. He and Jim had a silent agreement, the kind that came from years of working together and knowing each other's strengths and weaknesses. Blair dealt best with the living, while Jim could often glean more from the dead.

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

Later, after Blair had completed his initial interview with Ms. Garland, and Forensics had removed the victim's body from the scene, he reentered the house. Now was the time when he would go over the crime scene with his partner. He found Jim standing outside the bedroom door, waiting for him.

"Witness tell you anything?" Jim asked.

"She's hardly a witness, Jim. She showed up after the fact. She didn't see anything. Didn't hear anything. And she's not aware of anyone who might have wanted to hurt Dr. Westmoreland."

"Well, Serena's prelim puts the time of death at or around 3 a.m. The killer rifled through the victim's jewelry box. I doubt we'll ever know what was taken. Also, her wallet was left behind, but the cash and the credit cards are gone."

"Robbery?" Blair asked, incredulously.

"Looks that way, but the perp was only looking for the quick stuff. There's plenty of expensive items here, but the killer must not have wanted to take the time to visit a pawn shop."

"Killed for a lousy couple of bucks," Blair sighed. "That doesn't fit with a serial killer's profile."

"Unless the killer wanted to make us think it was robbery," Jim suggested.

"Well, we'll just run ourselves in circles thinking like that. So, did you find anything unusual?" Blair asked, knowing that Jim would know what he meant.

"Not yet. I was waiting on you, Chief."

"Let's do it then." Blair gestured toward the room.

Jim entered the room with Blair at his back.

"Okay, Jim. Let's start with your sense of smell. Filter out my scent and the smell of the blood and go from there."

Jim closed his eyes and followed Blair's instruction. Unconsciously, he catalogued his Guide's familiar scent and went past it, to the overwhelmingly sweet, metallic scent of blood. Filtering out the blood, he found a myriad of other scents, all of them related to their victim. Shampoo, deodorant, perfume, and spearmint mouthwash. The aroma emanating from the potpourri and scented candles which lay undisturbed on the bedside table. Dying roses on the dresser gave off a musty odor and the water inside the vase was beginning to turn moldy. All of these smells, he catalogued and filtered out, looking for something -- anything, that didn't belong. Something that would tell him that an unwelcome stranger had been in the room.

Hidden by the odors that had the priority of time, he found it -- a cloying combination of dirt and sweat. Hanging in the air was the stench of a body that had gone without washing for a very long time.

"You got something, man?" Blair asked, squeezing Jim's arm to bring him back into the moment.

"Yeah, Chief." Jim pinched his nose. "Our perp wasn't exactly the cleanest guy on earth."

"Great, filter it out and look deeper, man. You can do it." With his Guide's encouragement, Jim continued the process and discovered that the killer's odor hid something else. Something a bit more unusual.

"Iron Oxide," he said, turning to Blair. "I smell rust."

"Good, Jim. Now, focus in on that." Blair watched as Jim closed his eyes again and took another slow deep breath. When Blair was sure that Jim had locked on to the scent, he said, "Now, piggyback your sight onto the smell, and find out where it's coming from."

Jim slowly opened his eyes and allowed his sense of smell to guide them. He moved to the right side of the bed and knelt to the floor. "There," he said.

"What is it?"

"A streak of rust. It must have been on the killer's shoe. Get me a collection bag. If we can find our killer, this might be enough to tie him to the scene."

Blair's eyes couldn't see signs of any evidence on the forest green carpet. Dark carpet could hide a multitude of sins from the average naked eye, but it couldn't keep its secrets from Jim. Blair handed his partner a fiber collection panel and an evidence bag. "Bag it, Jim, " he said.

Jim took the panel and placed the adhesive side facedown on the carpet. Lifting it up, the adhesive brought with it several excellent samples. Jim quickly folded the panel in on itself trapping the fibers inside. Next, he placed the fiber sample inside the collection bag and handed them to his partner.

"Tag it, Chief. "

"Hey, Jim, did you find the POE? "

"Forensics said he came in through the mud room. Broke in a glass pane and unlocked the door from the inside."

"What are our chances of finding prints? "

"They'll go over the place, but the doorknob looked like it had been wiped clean. Whoever he was, he was careful."

"But not careful enough to wear gloves. Same thing at the other crime scenes?"

"Haven't seen the files yet. You got a theory, buddy?"

He shook his head. "Gotta see the case files on the other murders."

"Well, I think we've done all we can here, for now. What say we go back to the station for the files and grab some take-out on the way home?"

"How 'bout you go back to the station for the files, I get the take-out, and we meet back at the loft."

"Strategy looks good on you, Sandburg."

"I learned from the best, my friend."

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

Jim made it back to the loft first, noticing immediately upon his arrival that Blair's new truck wasn't yet parked outside. He rode the elevator to the third floor apartment, dropping his keys in the basket by the door as he entered number 307.

He crossed to the table to set down the files he carried, and shrugged out of his jacket. Turning to the metal coat rack bolted to the wall, Jim hung his jacket neatly on the first hook. He unclipped the holster and gun from his waistband and placed it on the kitchen counter. Setting up for dinner, he pulled two matching plates from the kitchen cabinet and set them on the place mats. Detective Jim Ellison wasn't just any police officer. A decade earlier, when he was an Army Ranger assigned to Covert Ops, he had been sent into Peru on a classified mission. It was there in the jungles of Peru, one hundred and fifty miles from anything that remotely resembled civilization, that Jim's senses went online. The struggle for survival in the most primitive of situations became the catalyst that brought forth Captain Ellison's most terrifying curse -- and his most spectacular blessing.

He was what Blair referred to as a Sentinel. A human being genetically predisposed to heightened senses.

It wasn't until years later that he met Blair Sandburg, an Anthropologist searching for someone to study. Someone like Jim Ellison. At the time, a hyperactive, ultra-liberal, tree-hugging Anthropologist had been the last thing the hard-ass, cold-hearted, emotionally unavailable detective had wanted in his life.

Once in a lifetime, life throws something extraordinary your way. Maybe once in a thousand lifetimes, you get something that's so unique that mere words just can't do it justice. For him, that was Blair. He couldn't question it; he didn't want to. Sometimes, the only thing you can do is turn your face to the heavens and say ‘thank you'. And even that wasn't enough.

It seemed that now, Jim was finally starting to get the hang of this friendship -- if one could call it that. Is there a word for a relationship that transcends friendship? Whenever he introduced Blair as his friend, Jim felt that was somehow an insult to Blair. The word 'friend' just barely began to scratch the surface. Blair's determination and compassion had pulled Jim back from the brink of insanity. It was Blair's touch, and the sound of his voice, that anchored Jim to the world when his senses threatened to swallow him whole. The word 'friendship' just didn't cover that.

Jim must have been caught up in his thoughts because he didn't hear Blair until the elevator door opened. The sound of Sandburg cursing softly to himself drew Jim to the door to see what was causing the problem. Blair was carrying a bulky, cumbersome cardboard box with a brown paper bag balanced on top. There was also the obligatory backpack slung over one shoulder, and Blair looked as though his entire house of cards was about to tumble down around him.

Jim reached out to grab the box and the dinner balancing atop it.

"Thanks, man. I thought my arms were about to give way." Blair kicked the door shut with one foot and shrugged off his backpack, dropping it to the floor beneath the coat rack. Noticing that Jim was still trying to keep the Chinese food balanced on the file box, he reached out and saved their dinner from imminent disaster.

"What's with the box, Sandburg?"

"Oh…uh…old mail from the school. They sent me a notice to come pick it up and fill out some paperwork giving them permission to forward anything else that may come in."

"You went to the University? Why didn't you tell me? I would've gone with you."

"I'm fine, Jim. I didn't need you to hold my hand. It was something that had to be done, and I wanted to face the monster on my own."

"And did the monster rear its ugly head?" Jim set the box on the couch and marched over to the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator door, he retrieved two bottles of beer, handing one to his roommate.

Blair considered the question for a moment. "No. In fact," he said, twisting the cap off his bottle, "it was like there was no connection. It was weird, Jim."

"No connection?"

"Well, I have a lot of memories about the place, but it's like those aren't my memories. I'm not that person anymore."

"No regrets?" Jim wasn't sure if he was ready to hear the answer. They had discussed this issue before, but that was when the pain was fresh and the wounds still bleeding.

"I thought I'd made myself clear since I left that life, Jim." Blair stood slack-jawed in disbelief, appalled that his partner could ask such a question. "Are you still worried that I trashed my dreams for you? That one day I'm going to wake up and hate you for the choices I made? Get a grip, man!" He punctuated his words, gesticulating wildly. "This is where I'm supposed to be. I have no doubts and I sleep at night. You know that."

"I guess sometimes I worry that one day you're going to ask yourself 'what the hell was I thinking?'" Jim spoke into the bag of Chinese take-out, as he removed the paper boxes and placed them on the table.

"I ask myself that every day, man. It's just usually about how I decided to become friends with a genetic throwback like you." Blair's face split into enormous grin, showing his perfect pearly whites.

"You're killing me, Sandburg." Jim pulled his chair away from the table and sat down as he began opening the boxes of food.

The grin slipped slowly from Blair's face. "Jim." Blair took in a deep breath. "I'm where I'm supposed to be. I'm who I'm supposed to be. You got that?"

"You never wanted to be a cop, Chief," Jim reminded him.

"Because I never knew what it meant to be a cop, Jim. C'mon, man, you've met my mother. You know how I grew up. My earliest images of cops were of men in black uniforms in riot gear, throwing tear gas and strong-arming helpless women with their nightsticks. Don't get me wrong, man, I'd be lying if I said I believed that those kinds of cops aren't on the job. I mean, you and I both know that just because you wear a badge doesn't mean you're ethical. My point is, that my first opinions about cops came from the stories my mother told me, but when I started working with you my views changed. I changed."

"But this wasn't how you pictured your life."

"Life never turns out the way you picture it, Jim. That's why it's Life. If everything had fallen into place the way I had planned, I would've been bored. Stagnated. Growing up with Naomi, we were always on the move, never staying in one place too long. She always used to tell me that sticking around and getting attached was like locking yourself inside of a cage. But that was her trip, man! But, she taught me something else. She taught me that if I look back on my life and discover that I'm the same person today that I was five years ago, then I've failed, Jim."

"Failed?"

"Yeah. It's not about how much you can take with you. It's about how much you can leave behind." Blair took a breath, and decided to take a different tack. "I was a student, Jim," he said by way of explanation, "but when the time came, I passed on the legacy by teaching others everything I'd learned. I enlightened new minds. When I met you, a completely new world opened up to me. True, it's not a great world, but that's the point, isn't it? Now that I've seen it, I can't turn my back on it. I can't walk away from the death and the crime and not try to do something about it. I have a duty to do something about it. 'Evil thrives when good men do nothing', Jim."

"Boil it all down for me, Chief." Jim smiled.

Blair rolled his eyes and exhaled in exasperation. "I'm a cop, Jim. It's who I am."

"But you miss being an Anthropologist."

"I'm still an Anthropologist. That's the beauty of it all. Just because I'll never get my Ph.D. doesn't take away the years of work that came before. Being an Anthropologist makes me the cop I am, Jim."

"Dinner's getting cold, Sandburg."

"Well, why didn't you say something earlier?" Blair took the chair across from Jim and dug in the bag for his chopsticks.

"'Cause you were on such a roll," Jim said with a laugh.

********************
Chapter Two

They sat in companionable silence for a few moments, stuffing themselves with Kung Pao chicken and steamed rice, before Jim reached for the files sitting next to him. Pulling the first folder close, he flipped it open to the crime scene photos.

"Please, man, I'm eating here," Blair balked at the site of the victim's photograph. Jim picked up the folder and removed the photos, passing the file back to Blair. He did the same for the two other files.

Blair perused the original detectives' report on the first murder, noting the victim's vital stats before reaching for the second folder. "Well," he began, "the first victim was a black male, 31 years-old, financial analyst. Our second victim was a Hispanic female, 23 years old and a waitress at a truck stop on Route 27. Then you add in Diane Westmoreland; a white female, 52 years old, and college professor."

"Theories, Chief?"

"Nope. Just a certainty."

"What's that?"

"This isn't a serial killer, my friend, this is a spree killer. Plain and simple." Blair leaned back in his chair, laying his forgotten chopsticks across his plate. "There's a steady frequency to these murders, but no pattern that I can see. He's obviously not killing for sexual fulfillment. Most serial killers tend to kill within their own ethnic group. The victims here are from different races -- different backgrounds. They had nothing in common. The first rule of criminal profiling is 'to find the killer you must first get to know their victims'. My instincts are telling me the exact opposite on this one, Jim. I think, to the killer, the victims were inconsequential."

"Wrong place, wrong time?"

"Understatement." Blair stood and carried his plate to the sink. Turning on the faucet, he left the water running to allow it to heat up. He walked back over the table and spread the files out in front of him while reaching into his breast pocket to retrieve his glasses. Blair's blue eyes focused on the pages before him as though a pattern would jump out at him simply because he willed it.

Jim noticed a sudden shift in Blair's facial expression. "What is it, Sandburg?" Blair straightened, and for a moment stared off into the distance as though he had not heard Jim's voice at all.

"I think we need to go back to the scene of the crime, Jim." Blair spoke as he came back into the moment.

"Which one?"

"All of them," Blair answered unequivocally.

"I know that look, buddy. You're on to something, aren't you?

"Maybe," he answered, but refused to say more.

"Well, spill it," Jim demanded.

"Not this time, Jim." Blair waved him off. "When we go back to the crime scenes I want you to be completely open-minded. I don't want my theories to taint your perceptions. Now, let's go over the M.E.'s findings." Blair went over to the kitchen sink to turn off the water.

"You sure, Sandburg? I mean…you just ate."

"You look at the photos. I'll read the reports."

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

"Well, the reports certainly seem to confirm your belief that we're not dealing with a serial killer." Jim leaned over to place the Marina Fuentes file on the coffee table.

"So, maybe we should bounce it back to Homicide. Fortune cookie?" Jim took the offered treat from Blair's hand without looking up.

"If you've got a theory, we're not bouncing this case anywhere, Chief. Let's see where it takes us."

"You will take a journey far beyond your expectations."

"Huh?"

"My fortune cookie, Jim." Blair held up the fortune and chuckled at the confusion on Jim's face. "What's yours say?"

Jim cracked open the cookie and removed the white strip of paper. "Do not fear new alliances."

"Cool." Blair lifted his feet to the coffee table, but quickly rethought the idea upon noticing Jim's glare. At that moment, Blair would have sworn he heard growling. "So, tomorrow we'll see what Dan has to say about Westmoreland's murder and then we'll go on a crime scene tour. 'Please keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times'."

"You know, according to Dan's report, our killer used the same or comparable weapon in the first two murders."

"Yeah, but Roland Harris' throat was slit, and Fuentes was stabbed in the chest." Blair countered, using his hands to stress his point.

"Spree killers almost always kill with a weapon of their choice, but the very nature of the crime is one of opportunity."

"Oh, man! Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Who was on point when Homicide had this case?" Blair sat straight up on the couch to grab the cordless phone on the coffee table.

"Everson. You're not going to call him, are you?"

"Hell, no! But I might have him called in for review for gross incompetence." Blair hit the speed dial on the phone and waited for the line to pick up. "Robbery, please," he politely requested when the operator answered. Jim listened to the quiet clicks as the operator transferred the line.

"Detective Brickston speaking," a nasally voice answered.

"Yeah, Bill, it's Blair. What's up, man?"

"You called me, kid," laughed the man on the other line. "You tell me."

"You know that Jim and I just got bounced this case from Homicide, right?"

"I might've heard something along those lines. You calling about that case?" Brickston's voice became suddenly serious.

"Yeah."

"Damn. I knew it was too much to hope that you were sniffing around for a new partner," he deadpanned.

"What can I say, Bill? I've got my partner trained just the way I like him."

"Ouch!" Brickston laughed. Turning back to the seriousness of the call, Brickston anticipated Blair's request. "So, let me guess. You're looking for robberies that took place within the time frame of the murders with the same MO, minus the blood and death. How am I doing so far?"

"Damn you're good, Detective."

"That's why I make the big bucks."

"So can you do a little digging and let me know?"

"Sure. If I find anything, it'll be on your desk in the morning."

"Thanks, man." Blair rang off, looking over at Jim.

"My God, Sandburg! Are you actually having, dare I say it, a cop hunch?"

"Does a cop hunch come with this incredible rush of adrenaline?" Blair leaned forward, and thrust his hands out to demonstrate his current state of exhilaration.

"Yep. That's a hunch, all right. So, you think our killer's only killing when he has to."

"I think he's looking for quick cash. He's picking a location, not a victim, Jim. He breaks in, takes what he needs, and if someone's unlucky enough to be at home…too bad, so sad."

"Well, we'll find out in the morning if this piece of the puzzle fits into the big picture. It's late. I'm going to bed. Get some sleep." Jim stood from the chair, his knees making a disheartening popping sound, and he went to check the locks. "Oh, and Chief?"

"Yeah, Jim?"

"Got your partner trained just the way you like him?"

"Hey, man, it was just a joke, okay?"

Jim growled and then, "Don't forget to put that box in your room." He pointed at the forgotten cardboard carton on the couch.

"Sure thing, Jim."

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

Why is everything so blue? He was himself, and yet, not himself. He was lucid, aware that he was dreaming, but unable to take control. He stood on two legs in the middle of a jungle. He could hear the sounds of the rainforest around him, and could even smell the scent of the wet earth and leaves beneath his bare feet. Suddenly, a sharp keening sound to his right made him turn. At first, his eyes could see only a moving mound of wet mulch, but then the squirming foliage fell away to reveal the bright yellow eyes of a coyote pup. The pup was thin, and sickly, but still full of life, and it sought his eyes for signs of danger. The pup stepped toward him, but then, changing its mind, stepped back and tried to burrow back under the leaves.

He leaned down toward the pup, to call it forward, and before he could recognize the change, he was on four legs covered in fur. His own keen eyes could see the pup's quivers, and his nose could smell its fear. However, he could also sense something else -- something more. The scent wafted over him and he knew at once its meaning.

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

Jim awoke, to the sound of Blair's muffled, "Ouch! Damn it!" He could hear his Guide jumping up and down on one foot and trying to be quiet about it.

From the comfort of his feather cocoon, he yelled down, "I'm awake now, Chief."

"Sorry, Jim," Blair replied.

"What happened?" Jim slowly removed his sleep mask, careful to allow his eyes to adjust to the early morning light.

"Nothing. Just tripped over this damn box!"

Jim heard the sound of a foot connecting with cardboard and the box sliding across the wood floor of Blair's room. A beat, and then, "Ouch! Damn it!"

"One good bruise deserves another, huh, Sandburg?" Jim began to crawl out of the warmth of his bed, coming to the realization that there would be no more sleep today. He reached to the bedside table and turned his clock towards him to read the bright green 7:30 on its readout. "Hey! Five hours of sleep too much for you or something?"

"I woke up hungry. What can I say?" When Blair Sandburg woke up hungry, getting back to sleep was a lost cause.

"Great! Whaddya say, you cook and I'll get all the hot water."

"Not an even trade, I'd say. You know, I've got this great recipe for sheep sausage that I learned from a tribe of native Chileans…."

"Eggs, scrambled firm. Bacon, crispy. Toast, with butter." Jim lumbered down the stairs, the tone of his voice making his feelings on Chilean sheep sausage perfectly clear.

"All right, all right. Have it your way." Blair wiped one hand through his thick curls as he opened the refrigerator door, and began to remove the ingredients he would need for making breakfast.

By the time Jim finished his shower Blair had breakfast ready and on the table. Jim took a seat, and served himself a large helping of eggs.

"I'm sorry about waking you up," Blair apologized again.

"It's okay, Sandburg."

"I was trying to be quiet. Didn't you have your earplugs in?"

"Yeah, but the batteries in the white noise generator ran down yesterday, and I didn't get a chance to replace them.

"Man! Did you get any sleep last night?" Blair's eyes widened with surprise.

"Some. Well, Chief, since we're up this early we might as well get crackin'. Get a quick shower and we'll go up to the station and see if Brickston found anything for us."

"Great. You can do the dishes," Blair replied.

"Damn. I walked right into that one."

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

"Ellison! Sandburg! My office!" The 'dulcet' tones of Simon Banks' voice wafted across the Major Crimes bullpen. NOT a sound you want to hear first thing the morning. Jim and Blair had barely had enough time to hang up their coats, before the Captain bellowed his customary summons.

Jim entered first, followed by his partner.

"The Westmoreland case." Simon growled. "Progress report."

"And a good morning to you too, Simon…I mean, Captain."

"Are you sassing me, Sandburg?"

"Me?" Blair pointed to himself, his eyes widening with his best innocent expression.

"Sandburg, it's just too early in the morning for me to have to deal with you." Simon turned to Jim. "I had an 8 o'clock meeting with the Commissioner and he is all over butt about this one, Jim. Please tell me you've got something, so that we don't look like a bunch of Keystone Kops around here."

"Well, sir, we've got some theories, but we're a little slim on leads at this point."

"Jim. Get out there and find some leads. Sniff out the killer, or something. Just give me something I can go to the Commissioner with."

"That's the plan, Simon," Blair chirped, rocking back and forth on his heels. "I mean, Captain." Simon grimaced. It had become a running joke over the year since Blair had graduated from the Academy. As an observer, Sandburg had always called Simon by his first name, and after four years, well, old habits die hard.

"You. Go. Now." Simon pointed at his door, and watched over the rim of his glasses as the detectives made their escape.

Simon Banks, Captain of the Major Crimes Unit, could growl and bark with the best of them, but everyone in the unit knew that he was just a big softie beneath that stern exterior. Moreover, everyone knew that Simon had a substantial soft spot in his heart with Blair Sandburg's name all over it. When Sandburg had first entered the department as an observer everyone thought he was a nosy interloper with entirely too much energy, and Simon Banks had been no exception. Over the course of four years everyone in Major Crimes learned that, given enough time, Blair Sandburg could charm his way into even the coldest of hearts. The changes in Jim Ellison over the past five years were proof of that.

Of course, Simon would never admit he liked the kid, it just was not in his nature; but his actions when Sandburg was in trouble always spoke of a deep and abiding affection.

When Alex Barnes had rolled into town, upsetting the balance between his best detective team, Simon had done everything in his power to hold Ellison and Sandburg together. Banks had been wholly unprepared, however, for the havoc the female Sentinel would wreak. Blair, too trusting for his own good, had discovered the Sentinel abilities of Alex Barnes, a.k.a. Alicia Bannister, purely by happenstance. He had taken her into his confidence, offering to help her learn to control her abilities. What none of them had known at the time was that Alex Barnes lacked the one thing that would have made her a true Sentinel: the protective instinct. Instead of protecting the Tribe, she used her abilities to steal and kill.

Jim had sensed Alex's arrival in town, despite the fact that Blair had kept his knowledge of her a secret. Ellison had known, on an instinctive level, that something threatened his Tribe. When the pieces began to fall into place, Jim realized that the thief he was looking for, and the Sentinel Blair was helping, were one and the same. Jim's territorial nature kicked into high gear and everyone in Major Crimes busied themselves with calculating minimum safe distance for the explosion they all sensed was imminent.

Simon had known something was wrong, but since he viewed the problem as 'a Sentinel thing', he trusted Sandburg to work it out. He didn't realize, of course, that Sandburg was not in any condition to solve anything. Jim, in a moment of territorial frenzy, had ejected Sandburg from the Loft, leaving his Guide vulnerable and unprotected. Alex, having discovered Jim's greatest weakness, went straight for the jugular in an all out battle for dominance. It had all come to a head early one morning when the detectives of Major Crimes found Blair Sandburg floating facedown in the fountain outside of Hargrove Hall on the Rainier University campus.

Simon had mentally tagged that day as 'The Day at the Fountain', and before that morning, he could've honestly said that he'd never witnessed a miracle. Nevertheless, if what happened 'The Day at the Fountain' was not a miracle, then he didn't know what was.

Jim was inconsolable and insisting that Blair was still alive. Simon had pulled Jim away from Blair's lifeless blue corpse while begging him to let Blair go. The combination of Blair's death and the sight of Jim losing his grip on sanity right before his eyes had caused Simon to face a cold, hard fact. This was more than the simple partnership he had wanted to pretend it was. Suddenly, it became clear to the Captain just how powerful the bond between a Sentinel and a Guide was. What happened next would only serve to sear the unexpected discovery into Simon's brain.

Breaking away from Simon's grip, Jim knelt beside the body of his best friend and placed his hands on Blair's cold face. Casual observers might have thought they were watching a friend say his last good-byes to a departed loved one, but Simon knew differently. There was energy in the air. The kind of energy that made the hair on your arm stand on end, or your skin ripple with gooseflesh. Jim's expression of equal parts desperation and determination was frightening to behold. At first, in what seemed like the action of a man violently in the throes of denial, Jim announced to all present that he could hear a heartbeat. But then, Blair's body jolted as his contaminated lungs began spewing forth fountain water.

When the adrenaline had worn off, Simon Banks, who had never really held to all of that spiritual mumbo-jumbo, was left to accept an even harder fact. The Sentinel had resurrected his dead Guide through sheer force of will.

Simon's fingers poked through the Venetian blinds of his office window and he peered out to see Jim Ellison standing at Blair's shoulder, as both men read from a file in the younger man's hands. 'The Day at the Fountain' came back to haunt him less and less these days, but as sure as he was that it was only a memory, he was equally sure it was one that would stay with him for the rest of his life. He had been given a glimpse of something mystical and powerful that early morning outside of Hargrove Hall. That day Simon Banks, Regular Joe, had been witness to the unbreakable bond between Sentinel and Guide, and if he lived be a hundred years old (although he was sure Sandburg would drive him to an early grave) he would never forget it. And he would always respect it.

********************
Chapter Three

"What do you want me to tell you, Jim? That our perp only strikes on Mondays and Wednesdays? It's not that simple. The files Brickston sent over have the same MO, but there's no clear pattern that would allow us to predict when he might strike next." Blair removed his glasses and placed them in his breast pocket as he leaned back in his chair to look up at his partner.

"I was afraid you were going to say that." Jim crossed his arms as he peered down at the files on Sandburg's desk.

"So, what did Dan have to say?"

"He placed the time of death at about 2:30 a.m. You were right, by the way; Westmoreland died from massive blood loss due to a severed renal artery. A quick death, he said, so at least she didn't suffer."

"You mean other than the fact that she was murdered?"

"Yeah," he replied under his breath. "Dan also said that ragged edges of the wound suggest a homemade weapon, possibly a shiv of some kind. But, get this; he did say he found something unusual when he ran a test on the tissue around the wound. He said there was a rather concentrated presence of iron oxide." Jim's eyebrows went up.

"Rust?"

"Yeah, and Serena's test on the fiber samples confirms the presence of rust on the carpet."

"Well, we knew that." Blair rolled his eyes, making a veiled reference to Jim's near flawless memory of mentally catalogued scents.

"If only I could figure out how the rust on the weapon and the rust on the carpet tie in together."

"I think I might have a theory on that." Blair stood, and readjusted his shoulder holster before reaching for his jacket on the coat rack. "Get your coat, man. I might not be able to figure out when our killer will strike next, but I might be able to tell you where."

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

Blair used his Swiss Army knife to cut through the crime scene tape sealing off Marina Fuentes' apartment door. Thirty-eight Venice Lane, apartment 101, was on the outskirts of Cascade's rural area, and some twenty miles from the scene of the Westmoreland murder. The city of Cascade was expanding into the district, but the neighborhood still had a farm quality to it. The vicinity was quiet and secluded. The perfect place for a murder to take place.

The detectives entered the apartment, already swept by the Forensics team just one week before. Noting the point of entry at the ground floor window, Jim knelt for a closer inspection. Pieces of glass still lay on the floor beneath the window, indicating the pane had been broken from the outside. Unlike Westmoreland, Marina Fuentes had been awakened by her intruder and had entered the living room to investigate. Her body had been found there, when a fellow waitress had come to pick her up for work the next morning. The woman, Amber Dennis, had noted the broken pane of window as she had approached the apartment's door. Sensing that something was wrong she knocked on the door several times, but when there was no answer she went looking for the building's super.

The tape on the carpeted living room floor reflected the position in which the victim had been found. Sprawled out, she had died where she had fallen, a stab wound to her chest causing irreparable damage to her heart. Blair stood over the outline, mesmerized by the sheer volume of blood on the floor. Six liters didn't seem like much until it was spilled on the ground.

According to the original report from Homicide, the bedroom had been rifled through, but like the Westmoreland case, only items that were easily cash-soluble had been taken. Marina's wallet had been emptied, and Amber Dennis had informed the original detectives that Marina's favorite emerald ring was nowhere to be found. The tender circle of flesh around Marina's ring finger mentioned in the M.E.'s report suggested that the piece of jewelry had been taken from her corpse.

Jim entered the bedroom, which appeared barren now that many of Marina's personal items had been bagged for evidence. He worked the grid of the room, making a sweep with both his senses of sight and smell. Filtering out the odors belonging to the victim, he searched for something that did not belong. Jim was not surprised to find the odiferous remains of the killer just as he had at the Westmoreland house. Needing to tie these two cases together with more than just a single telltale scent, Jim filtered out the smell of body odor to look deeper.

Just as he suspected, the odor of iron oxide was present, but this time mixed in with the scent of something else. More organic, rather than metallic. Jim breathed deeper, dialing up his sense of smell a notch, as he wracked his brain to put a name to the smell.

Jim was so intent on his sweep, he had not heard his partner enter the room. Blair, realizing immediately that Jim was utilizing his senses, thought it best not to interrupt him. Jim pulled back, powering down his dials, and bringing himself back into the moment.

"Did you find something, Jim?" Blair asked, his voice kept at a low pitch with a soft timbre.

"Yeah. The body odor. The scent of rust. But there was something else, Chief. Something I can't quite put my finger on."

"Give me something I can work with." Blair shrugged his shoulders, the palms of his hands turning up.

"Well, it almost has this 'everyday' quality to it. You know, like when you pass a picture on the wall every day, after a while you just don't see it anymore. You know what I mean?"

"Yeah, so this smell, it's like, something you smell everyday? So what is it that makes it stand out here?"

"Well, it's the same, but different."

"Man! I hate it when you say that. How is it different, Jim?"

"It's more…more," Jim said, working his hands in attempt to explain his impressions better. "It's heavily concentrated. Less refined."

"You mean raw?"

"Yes. Raw. That's a good word for it."

"No, Jim. What I mean is, it's possible what you're smelling is something you smell every day in its refined state, but here you're smelling it in its raw form." Jim nodded at Blair's explanation. "Let's a take a walk, Jim. I want to check something out." Blair turned and left the room. Jim followed behind, taking one last visual sweep.

When Blair said 'take a walk', he had meant 'take a walk'. They had walked a block down the rural one-lane paved road, when Jim stopped abruptly as he caught a familiar scent on the breeze.

"Got something, Jim?" Blair had been hoping for just this and recognized instantly when Jim located the scent.

"Yeah, Chief. I smell the rust. The exact scent from the crime scenes."

"You know what to do. Piggyback your sight and find the source."

Jim arched an eyebrow and his eyes squinted in suspicion. "You already know what I'm going to find, don't you?"

"Just a theory, man."

Jim followed the scent until it took him off the road and into the tall grass of a pastoral meadow. Filtering out the scent of meadow grass, he focused on the smell of iron oxide that now seemed to fill his nostrils. So intent was he on his sense of smell, he did not see what he was looking for until the meadow grass, touched by a breeze, moved aside to reveal the target of his search.

Railroad tracks.

Jim stared down at the tracks. He knew now that the odor of rust did not come from the tracks themselves, but there was a heavy concentration around them. The smell permeated the air. The train itself had to be the source. This time, Jim was aware the moment Blair stepped to his side.

"Does this confirm your theory?" Jim looked down at his partner.

"When I was reading the files of the first two murders, I thought it could have just been a coincidence, but I wanted to check into it before discarding the idea altogether. Then when I compared the location of the robberies from the files Brickston sent us, I knew I might be onto something."

"So, the murders all took place near a rail transportation route."

"Yeah. Jim, there are railroads all over this city, man! It's still one of the cheapest and safest ways to transport goods across country in bulk. We've got tracks that come in from Canada, and Oregon, not to mention Montana and Idaho. Most of the railroads in this country are still in use, Jim, even if they aren't used for transporting people; and you can connect to just about any city in this country and Canada via the rails. It's still the most cost effective way to transport goods like cattle, grain, steel, cotton…" Blair gesticulated outrageously as his listed the transported goods, his mind already thinking miles ahead of his mouth.

Jim held out his hand to halt Blair's speech before he could go further. "Did you just say cotton, Chief?"

"Yeah, cotton. It's transported in bulk to textile mills all over the country…" Blair trailed off. "What is it, Jim?"

"Cotton," Jim said. "That's what I smelled back at the scene. Raw cotton. The air was thick with it, like the killer had been rolling around in the stuff."

"Or sleeping on it," Blair suggested. Their eyes met in a sudden dawning realization. Just then, the cell phone in Jim's pocket began to ring, startling them both. Jim retrieved the phone from his pocket and held it to his ear.

"Ellison," he barked. Listening to the voice on the other end, Jim responded with a series of grunts and 'uh huhs'. Folding up the phone as he rang off, he turned to his partner. "That was Simon. They found another body."

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

Driving over to the latest crime scene, Jim and Blair continued to hypothesize based on the discoveries made at the Fuentes site.

"So, our guy uses the rails to get around. He jumps a train, goes where it takes him, and then chooses his targets based on proximity to his escape route."

"This guy has to know the train schedule. It's possible he takes the train to a nice secluded spot, hides out somewhere, and then waits to commit his crime until just before the next train comes by." Blair turned in his seat to speak directly to Jim.

"But the train is more than just a means of transportation to this guy. If we're right, this guy is around these trains all the time." Jim checked his rearview mirror as he changed lanes.

"Yeah, like he's some kind of hobo, hopping the rails whenever it suits him. Naomi used to know a guy that hopped the rails. He always said it was a life of freedom."

"That's 'cause he never got caught, Chief."

"This guy could be from anywhere, Jim. Like I said, the rails make connections to every major city in North America."

Up ahead, Jim spotted the familiar sight of Simon's sedan surrounded by patrol cars and the forensics van. Parking behind the Coroner's wagon, Jim scanned the area visually. Blair looked up to see Jim's pupils constrict as he narrowed his vision onto a spot that was some distance away.

"Jim?" Blair grasped his partner's shoulder.

"Tracks," he said, pointing off into the distance. Blair looked in the direction Jim indicated and could barely make out the railroad in the distance.

Exiting the truck, they looked up to see Simon approaching the pick-up.

"Our killer's gotten brave," Simon said. "This time he attacked in broad daylight and he made off with the victim's car." The detectives fell into step beside the captain as they approached the circle of department personnel surrounding the body. "A jogger happened upon the body about half an hour ago. Serena says she hasn't been dead long, maybe two hours. She put up a fight, gentleman. It's not pretty."

Jim donned a pair of latex gloves and crouched down to view the corpse. He pulled back the sheet placed over the body to reveal a young woman, 18 to 21, with several stab wounds and slashes marring her skin. Blair took a look to catalogue the sight, grimaced, and then stepped back.

"Best we can figure, " Simon continued, "is that she was car-jacked. Fresh tracks on the shoulder of the road indicate that a car sped out of here like a bat out of hell. Forensics found blood near the tracks. The killer probably dumped her, but didn't wait around to make sure she was dead. Serena thinks she probably lay here awhile before she actually died. The jogger knew her. Said she drove a red Nissan. We've put an APB out on the vehicle."

Jim stood up, replacing the sheet over the young woman's body and went to stand next to Blair. Together they walked the short distance to the road, where Jim knelt to inspect the tire tracks.

"Killer's on the move, Jim. Things are getting too hot in Cascade."

"Which means we need to find him before he decides to disappear down the rails." Jim looked up from his crouched position.

"Rails?" Simon's eyebrows drew together in confusion.

"Yeah, Simon. We think this guy is using the railroads to move around. All of the murders took place in locations around railroad transportation routes."

"This one included, Captain," Jim said, as he pointed at the rails he had spotted upon their arrival.

"So, our killer is a hobo?" Simon nearly choked on the term.

"I think they prefer the term 'rail rider'," Blair said. "The killer's on the run now, Simon. He's been in one place too long. He's probably realized that we've started to put two and two together -- pulling out before it gets too hot. Quitting while he's ahead."

"Thank you, Sandburg, for that astonishing demonstration of detective cliché." The pocket of Simon's trench coat began to ring. The Captain, using a maneuver well practiced over the years, retrieved his phone, opened it and held it to his ear in one quick move. "Banks!" Simon listened silently for a moment before snapping his phone shut and returning it to the pocket. "They've found the car. You get to guess where."

"Near the train yards," Jim answered with certainty.

"Very good, Detective." Simon said to the retreating backs of his two best investigators.

********************
Chapter Four

Jim Ellison's pick-up truck was trailed by two patrol cars, arriving silently, not wanting to alert the killer that they were on his tail.

"The perp is a creature of habit, Jim. He rides the rails because he feels safe there. He knows the trains like the back of his hand, Jim. They are HIS territory. He's in control there."

"Tell me again where you got your degree in Psychology, Chief," Jim chuckled.

"Psychology and Anthropology are similar animals, my friend. Anthropology deals with group mentalities, while Psych studies the human mind on an individual basis."

Jim coasted into a parking space next to the Central Shipping office of the Cascade Industrial Train Depot. Turning the engine off, he climbed out of the truck's cab and immediately began scanning the yards for suspicious persons. Finding nothing with his cursory investigation, he and Blair split up to search the yard. Distancing himself from his partner, Jim began conducting a visual search with the dial on 'low'.

Jim also dialed his hearing down, since the yard was a bustle of activity. Trains moved in and out of the yard as workers loaded and unloaded cargo, by hand and by forklift, at a brisk pace. The place was teeming with people; all of them going about their business and all of them unaware that there may be a killer among them.

The Depot's central location could accommodate twenty trains of varying lengths, and without Jim's senses, it might take a full day and a complement of police officers to search the yard. He placed his hand on the sun-warmed steel of one of the train's boxcars. After running his fingers along the car's exterior, he brought them to his nose. The smell of rust assaulted his nostrils. The same metallic scent of decay from the crime scenes.

They were close. Jim could almost feel the killer's presence. Slowly dialing up his sense of smell, he sifted through the odors of a hundred workers, cataloguing them and then discarding them. The smells of imported goods, cattle manure, spices, diesel fuel -- all categorized and discarded, until he found what he was looking for -- the unforgettable odor of the perpetrator's unwashed body.

"Sandburg!" Jim called his partner to his side. "He's here. I can smell him."

"Which way, man?"

Jim took one last sniff of the air, and as Blair placed a hand on his lower back, his pupils constricted to tiny pinpoints of black surrounded by cobalt blue. "This way," he said, as his feet began moving. Blair followed close behind.

Jim came to an abrupt stop, and made a complete circle where he stood, visually searching the trains that were now surrounding them. The scent had become stronger, but now it seemed as though they were in the middle of it. His eyes locked on to a group of boxcars separate from the others and removed from the tracks. They were cars not currently in use -- the perfect place to hide out. "Over here." Jim reached behind him and drew his service weapon. Blair followed suit.

The detectives zigzagged in and out between cars as Jim used his senses to scan for occupancy. Blair checked beneath and above each car, anticipating an ambush. Jim halted, and in a moment straight out of Laurel and Hardy, Blair ran straight into his back. "Sorry, Jim," he whispered. But Jim didn't even seem to be aware of Blair's mistake. Jim raised his weapon to the sliding door of the boxcar. He could smell raw cotton and the stench of dirt and of sweat, and his ears latched on to the sound of an unfamiliar heartbeat.

"Cascade Police," Jim boomed. "Come out with your hands up." He heard a scuffling sound of someone moving very quickly. Unfortunately, the metal walls of the boxcar distorted the sound and Jim was unable to locate the suspect inside the vehicle.

"Jim! The roof." Blair's voice broke Jim's concentration and he looked up just in time to see a dark blur fly from the roof of one boxcar to another, and then out of sight. Instantly, Jim and Blair were in pursuit of the fugitive. Splitting up, both sets of eyes searched the boxcar roofs for signs of movement. Jim picked up a sound off to his left and tracked it for a moment, before following on foot.

He moved stealthily among the boxcars, silently following the sound as the suspect continued to jump from car to car. Then came the thud, distinct to Sentinel ears, of two feet hitting the gravel.

"He's on the ground!" Jim warned his partner. "Heading west!"

He ran in the direction of the sound, his feet slipping on the gravel that covered the ground, until he spotted the suspect just as he was climbing aboard a moving train. "Damn!" A rush of adrenaline went through Jim, and then speed kicked in. Within moments he was hopping the train, climbing the metal ladder on the side of car, and pulling himself to the roof. He had just enough time to think 'I don't have very good luck with trains', when a foot came out of nowhere, smashing him in the head. The train picked up speed and suddenly Jim was hanging on to the last rung of the ladder with one adrenaline-pumped arm. Blood trickled down from his scalp and into his eye as he dangled helplessly from the train, his feet flailing in a useless attempt to gain control.

"JIM!" He heard Blair's scream over the racket of lumbering steel and his own labored breathing. Reaching around, he blindly grabbed for the ladder with his free hand, finding purchase just as he felt the grasp of his other hand slipping. Regaining a rung with his feet, he again scaled the ladder, using all of his senses to search for the suspect.

Blair ran in a desperate attempt to catch up with train, and stayed with it until he was sure Jim had regained his footing. When Jim mounted the roof, Blair booked it across the adjacent set of tracks, searching for a way to help Jim. Having no idea where the train was destined or even how to stop it, he anxiously searched the area for some way to contact the train's conductor. Fifty yards to his right he spotted a manual track lever, instantly discarded it and then, in an almost-comic double take, focused on it once again.

If he could get the train on the wrong track, then the conductor might stop it. Blair took off in a mad dash thanking the heavens for the training he had received in the Academy, and for the daily workouts Jim forced upon him. It was like being in a nightmare. The harder he ran the more he slipped on the gravel-strewn ground. His legs pumped furiously, as his mind screamed at him that every second counted.

Meanwhile, Jim had swiped the trickled blood from his forehead, and managed to clear his eyesight. Up ahead he saw the fleeing suspect turn to look back at him. Drawing his weapon, he leveled it at the fugitive and demanded, "Freeze."

The suspect jumped to the next car, ignoring Ellison's command. Ellison, wanting an arrest rather than a review board inquiry, fired a warning shot into the air. When the suspect appeared unfazed by the shot, Jim pursued him at full tilt.

Blair reached the lever just as he heard a shot ring out. Distracted from his task, he searched the moving train to assure himself of his partner's well-being. In the distance he could make out Jim's large frame atop the train as he took off after the suspect. Subconsciously breathing a sigh of relief, he threw himself back into his duty. Reaching for the lever, he prayed it was for the correct track, and pulled down on it.

Nothing happened.

"Damn it!" Blair cursed the Fates for his lack of physical bulk. "What I wouldn't give to be Arnold Schwarzeneggar right now," he mumbled under his breath. This time, putting every bit of his five-foot-eight, hundred-and-fifty-pound frame into the task, he pulled with all his might. The lever lowered a good two inches.

Jim flew over the gaps from car to car, fearless of the deadly drop below him. Ahead, he could still see the suspect fleeing down the length of eighty-seven-car train, heading toward the caboose. Blood had once again trickled into his eyes and Jim was forced to swipe a hand across his face to clear his vision. He could tell from the distance that he was gaining on the killer, and every time the killer stopped to look over his shoulder, Jim gained a little more precious distance.

Without warning, Jim tripped and landed face down on the roof of the boxcar. He lost the grip on his gun and watched in horror as it skittered across the steel roof and right over the edge.

Frustrated and nearly depleted, Blair looked up to see Jim lose his balance. Imbued with strength born of desperation, he threw himself once again into moving the immovable lever. This time he managed to make four inches worth of progress. 'Halfway there', he thought. Realizing that he was rapidly running out of time, Blair pressed both hands on the handle, hoping he could push it down the rest of the way. Pushing was not any easier, so Blair threw himself across the bar, allowing his entire body weight to do the work. He stood again, and again he flung himself over the lever. His face flamed red with the exertion and his lungs expelled their last bit of air, protesting the assault on his abdomen. At last, Blair heard a snap as the lever clicked into place.

Falling had caused Jim to lose his precious distance, but he refused to give up. With a second wind, he began traversing the train's roof and leaping the gaps as though merely stepping over sidewalk cracks. "Give it up," he yelled at the suspect. "There's nowhere for you to go." Jim was close enough now (and downwind) to be overwhelmed by his quarry's filthy scent. Just as Jim leapt into to the air to achieve the next car, the train moved beneath him, veering violently to his right. He landed hard on his ankle and his knee gave out, slamming him, once again, to the roof. Unable to control his vicious descent, he rolled right over the edge, reaching out to grab the lip of the train just before plummeting over the side. "I'm hanging from a moving train again," he mumbled.

From where he stood, Blair could see the train change course, and he took off running, hoping to cut them off at the pass. He was aware the moment the conductor applied the brakes. Realizing that his train was heading in the wrong direction, he was stopping the vehicle to investigate the problem. Looking up, Blair saw that Jim had disappeared from sight.

His battered fingers clutched frantically to the roof as the balls of his feet pushed upwards allowing him to get one arm over the top. Metal rivets dug into his armpit as he pulled himself up enough to roll back onto the roof. He glanced up just in time to see the killer lose his balance as the car he was on went into the turn. The killer rolled near the edge, but caught himself before falling over.

Jim gained his feet and was off and running, hoping to gain some distance before the killer could regain his feet and his balance. Somewhere in the back of his mind, it occurred to Jim that the train was steadily decreasing in speed. Three cars away from the suspect, Jim saw the killer stand and then sway and, finally, topple over the edge.

Blair was within a few yards of the train, when he saw the suspect go over the edge and land solidly on the gravel below. The fall wasn't enough to kill him, since the train had come to a near stop, but he appeared to be unable to continue his flight. Blair approached the suspect warily, searching for any signs of danger.

The filthy man wore the tattered remains of a pair of Levis which were covered with grease and dirt and what looked like rust. The torn overcoat he wore was much too large for his frame, and his knit cap clung to his skull as though cemented there. Quite a few weeks worth of beard growth obscured his features, but Blair could tell that his eyes were brown and full of rage.

Taking his job into hand, Blair rolled the suspect on to his stomach and clasped his hands together behind his back. The man grunted and flailed his feet, but stopped when Blair applied more pressure. The young detective reached behind him to the waistband of his jeans to retrieve his handcuffs. Without preamble he cuffed first the right wrist and then, twisting the cuff chain, secured the left as well.

Jim, bruised from his adventure, made it to the edge of the train just in time to see his partner cuff the suspect and say, "You have the right to remain silent. If you choose to give up that right, anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Did you get all that?" Not waiting for an answer, "Good."

"Great! I do all the work and you get the collar," Jim said as he climbed down from the train.

"Just think, Jim, fifteen more years of this and you'll be eligible for a gold watch."

"That's nothing compared to the twenty-five years you've got left, Chief." Jim laughed. Blair groaned. "So, uh, were you the one that got the train to change course?"

"Yep."

"Good work."

"Thanks, Jim."

"C'mon. Let's put this guy in a cage where he belongs."

"I hear ya." They both leaned down to lift their captive to his feet. "Jim, you okay, man? You look like this guy almost got the best of you."

"He ran, Chief. Why do they always run?"

"Because they're criminals, Jim."

"Oh, yeah."

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

Jim and Blair managed to drag themselves into the Loft and collapse on the couch. Their suspect had been successfully booked and processed and was now resting uncomfortably in Central's holding cell. Their John Doe had not officially been charged with the murders of Diane Westmoreland, Roland Harris, or Marina Fuentes, since Forensics was still going over the boxcar in which the man had been found. They would need more than the scent of body odor to tie him to the scene.

The day had been long and productive. They had started out with nary a lead between them and ended up apprehending a suspect. The Commissioner certainly couldn't fault them for that. They had left their suspect in the capable hands of Booking, so that Jim could spend a little quality time in the emergency room.

Luckily, he hadn't needed stitches, just a small butterfly bandage. Not to mention his hands had to be severely disinfected. Opening one eye to look at his battered partner, Blair said, "It's your turn to cook dinner."

"Screw you, Sandburg." Jim's protest came out as a half-hearted grunt. "I chase down a criminal while on a moving train, nearly fall off - twice - and you want me to cook dinner?"

"What, you think single-handedly changing the course of a diesel locomotive is easy? My abs are gonna be black and blue for a week."

"Simon's here." Jim didn't open his eyes.

"Hey, man, did we ever give him a key?"

"No, why?"

"Damn. Who's gonna get up to open the door, Jim?"

"We didn't lock the door, Chief. Come in! It's open!" Jim called to their Captain before he got a chance to knock on the door.

Simon opened the door to be greeted with the sight of his two finest detectives and two best friends crumpled on the couch. It appeared as though the pair had not even managed to divest themselves of their jackets or their weapons.

"I figured you two might be wiped," he said. "That's why I brought dinner." Simon held up a super large-sized pizza box.

"Simon? Have I told you lately that I love you, man?" Blair's eyes popped all the way open, his soul suddenly revived. "I love you so much I can forgive you for bringing that pie of death into my home."

"Sandburg, this pizza would make me the gift horse," Simon replied.

"Gotcha, sir. Anchovies?"

"The works."

"I'll get the plates." Blair hopped up from the couch with more energy than should have been possible and made a beeline for the kitchen.

Simon dropped the pizza on the table and circled around to stand in from Jim. "How's your head?"

"Hard as a rock, Simon."

"Ask a stupid question…" Simon chuckled.

"Forensics find anything?"

"Just the mother lode." Simon extended a hand to help his friend up from the couch.

"Really?" Blair's eyes lit up.

"They found enough to tie him to all three of the murders and some of the robberies. Even got an ID on the guy. His name's Manuel Jose Granados, and he's a Mexican national."

"In the country illegally, no doubt." Jim reached to accept the beer that Blair offered. Simon did the same.

"That's all we know for now. We've put his ID out on the wire so we'll see if anything comes back in the morning."

"Are we through with the shop talk, guys? 'Cause I'm starving." Blair laughed as pulled his chair away from table and flipped open the pizza box.

"Then let's dig in." Jim said. The three men said nothing more as they divided the pizza.

********************
Chapter Five

Later that evening, after Simon had left and Jim was down for the count, Blair decided to take a long hot shower. After capturing Granados, the adrenaline high he was on wore off and he crashed hard, but once he'd eaten he was again keyed up from the events of the afternoon. He hoped the shower would relax him enough to allow him to sleep, but instead it only revived him.

Finishing up, he dried off and put on a clean pair of boxers and a tank top. Leaving the bathroom, he padded softly across the floor to the living room. He stopped for a moment to look up at the Loft's second floor. Blair could hear the steady rhythm of Jim's breathing, indicating that his roommate was deeply asleep. They had purchased batteries for Jim's white noise generator on the way in to the Station that morning, and Blair could detect the gentle hiss of the generator at work.

He entered his dark room and moved in the direction of the lamp, hoping to put a little light on the subject. Maybe he'd stay up and read for awhile. Before he could reach the lamp, his foot struck something in the dark and he stumbled facedown onto his bed. "Ouch. Damn it." Blair hissed as he rolled over onto his back. Sitting up he reached for the lamp with the intention of discovering the identity of the offending object that had so rudely gotten in his way.

The light from the single reading lamp cast a small circle of illumination onto the bed, leaving the rest of the room shadowed and mysterious. Beneath the lamp, Blair saw the box he had retrieved from the University the day before. He sighed. He really didn't want to get into that right now. That was his old life. It had nothing to do with him anymore. He felt good where he was right now - he felt happy. He really didn't want to dredge up all those old memories.

"Ancient history," he whispered. He wondered how much of it was hate mail. He looked at the offending box and said, "Something tells me you're not going anywhere until I take care of you." Hearing no affirmation from the box, he bent over to pick it up. He grunted as his abdomen protested the exertion. Blair dropped the box on the bed and flipped the lid off of the carton

He sighed, again. So much mail, in all different shapes and sizes. Blair reached in to grab a handful of envelopes, and methodically began the process of sorting.

Half an hour later, Blair sat cross-legged on the bed with piles of mail surrounding him. He took the rather large pile of college junk mail (credit card applications, anyone?), and dumped it back into the box. Campus newsletters from just about every organization at Rainier. Why had they even bothered? There was also the odd letter from news organizations, probably desperate for an interview with the Anthropological Fraud.

Looking at the carton, Blair realized he had just spent half an hour emptying a box, just so that he could fill it right back up again. Then, he noticed a small pile of envelopes sitting next to the box. He'd probably placed them together because they were same size, not the usual business-sized envelopes, but the plain white personal kind. He picked them up and flipped through them. There were six in all, and as he studied each of them Blair realized they were all postmarked from the same city - Houston, Texas. The address on the front of each envelope was written in the same hand. Blair flipped the envelopes over -- the return address was a post office box in Houston, and it did not include the name of the sending party.

He briefly considered throwing them back into the box to be disposed of in the morning, but something stayed his hand. Nothing intrigued Blair Sandburg more than a mystery. If he read just one of the letters, he could find out who it was from, and then the mystery would be solved. Checking the dates on the postmarks, Blair put the letters into chronological order. Hmmm. The first letter was postmarked only two days after his infamous press conference, and the most recent, just two weeks ago.

He held the first of the letters in his hand and set down the other five. Blair retrieved his Swiss Army knife from the bedside table and opened it. The largest blade of the knife made a very efficient letter opener as he slid the knife along the length of the envelope, beneath the closure flap. Blair set the knife down and retrieved a single sheet of paper from the envelope with his thumb and forefinger.

He slowly opened the tri-folded page, and stared down at the neat, evenly spaced script.

Mr. Sandburg,

As I write this letter, pages and pages of crumpled paper surround me. My failed attempts. Even now, my hand cramps in an attempt to write words my mind cannot seem to organize. There are so many thoughts flying through my head, that I know not where to begin. Please forgive me, if the contents of this letter and the coherency of it deteriorate from this point.

Let me begin by telling you that I saw your press conference.

That being said, let me also say that I didn't believe a word of it. At least, I hope what you said that day wasn't true. Even if your subject, Detective Ellison, isn't really what you call a 'Sentinel', you must know that they exist out there somewhere.

I do. I have lived nearly every day of the last 21 years with one.

My name is Maggie. If you wish to discuss this further, do not hesitate to write.

Your friend

Blair suddenly found himself unable to breathe. Maggie. Who was this Maggie? The address given was a post office box and she had not revealed her last name. The only lead he has was that the letter had been mailed from Houston.

Blair stopped, suddenly shocked to realize that he had automatically gone into 'cop mode'. His first thoughts upon reading the letter had been on the techniques he could use to track the author down.

Think like a scientist, Blair!

Of course, as a scientist, Blair had always known that if the secret of 'The Sentinel' was ever made public, people with heightened senses could come climbing out of the woodwork. He had always believed that there were more potential Sentinels out there than anyone could possibly know about. After all, if Jim hadn't spent eighteen months in the jungles of Peru, he might never have discovered his abilities. Sentinel abilities were more than just genetic; they required a catalyst to act upon those genes -- isolation and survival instinct.

So, wouldn't it stand to reason that there were a lot of potential Sentinels in the world? People who lacked only the necessary period of isolation that would bring their senses on-line? Alex Barnes' senses had kicked in when she was locked in solitary confinement while serving a prison term.

He should have expected this. Before Alex Barnes came into his life, he had considered the possibility of working with other Sentinels, but when she killed him he pretty much dropped that idea like a hot potato. But this wasn't a letter from a Sentinel. Maggie just said that she knew a Sentinel ... no ... had lived with one -- for 21 years. His mind reeled at the thought of what he could learn from Maggie.

Without a second thought, he ripped open the next letter with much less caution than he had the first. He could tell from the length that the second letter was more detailed than the first. The first letter was the introduction -- next came the courting ritual.

Mr. Sandburg,

I know you did not answer my first attempt to make contact with you. I understand. It is probably difficult for you to know whom to trust right now. I am cautious by nature, and because of that, find writing this letter very difficult. I realize that to gain your trust I will probably have to reveal more information about myself than I am accustomed or comfortable with.

I told you in my last letter that I have lived with a Sentinel for most of the last 21 years. Let me explain how this came about.

My parents were killed in a convenience store robbery when I was five years old. Having no family to take me in, and having been christened in the Catholic Church, I was placed in the custody of the Sisters at the Convent of Blessed Immaculata. While the Sisters were loving, they could not replace the parents I had lost. I am told, though I remember very little about my first year, that after my parents' deaths I shut out the world, refusing to communicate in any way with anyone.

By my best estimate, I had been at Immaculata for approximately a year, when they brought her in. I would later learn that her parents, like mine, had both been killed. Though the circumstances were supposed to be a secret, when I got older I discovered that her parents' car had driven off the road in some remote forest location, killing them both instantly. For days, she stood watch over her parents' dead bodies, praying that they would awaken, and hoping that someone would send help. Alone and lost in the woods, she suffered through nights of terror and isolation and her days weren't much better. She foraged for food, eating berries where she could find them and trapping rainwater in a small cup. Her will to survive was very strong even then, and it has only grown stronger since.

It was fifteen days before a group of hunters stumbled upon the scene of the accident. Her attempts to protect the bodies of her dead parents from the intruders were ferocious. The authorities were able to subdue her and, like me, she was placed in the Immaculata.

She was six years old.

I cannot imagine the sheer terror she must have suffered. The things she does remember haunt her still, and I am quite sure that she has repressed the worst of it.

She intrigued me the first time I saw her or, rather, heard her. She was screaming in an almost animal way, scratching at her skin and eyes. I remember thinking, even then, that here was someone who could not help but express their pain, and yet, here was I, unable to do the same. For a year I had been trapped in the deepest part of myself, not only unable to connect with those around me, but uninspired to try. Until she came. Something about her, perhaps it was her pain, called out to me.

They kept her in isolation, so the other girls would not be disturbed, and it was weeks before I was able to make contact with her. Sister Magdelena never noticed when I lifted the key to the cell from the ring on her belt. My self-imposed silence since my arrival at the convent had made me all but invisible to the sisters - a convenient condition at the time.

I crept as quietly as I could into her room, only to find her already alerted to my presence. Though we were the same age, she was bigger, and she appeared prepared to pounce on me should I prove to be a threat. Still, I felt no fear.

She refused to wear any clothing, despite the protests of the sisters, and tore off anything they tried to make her wear. Her body and face were covered with scratches, both fresh and healing.

I sat next to her, not speaking, just being with her. When I finally judged it safe, I reached out and touched her hand. At first she flinched, as though she expected it to hurt, but then she relaxed into it. I began to hum a favorite song the sisters like to sing. Amazing Grace. Music really does soothe the savage beast, for within moments her eyelids drooped and her head fell into my lap. I sat there on the floor for hours, watching over my new friend -- this fragile soul that needed tending.

That was how the sisters found us, there on the floor, her head in my lap, sleeping the sleep of the unburdened for the first time in months. 'Lost angels', they called us. Sensing a growing bond between us, the sisters allowed me to join her in her cell, hoping beyond hope that we could help each other in a way that the sisters had been unable.

For months, our communication was only of the non-verbal variety. We did not even know each other's names. I knew only that I needed her as much as she needed me. We spoke with our eyes and with our hands, gentle strokes to the face, and the humming. The humming could always calm her.

The sisters observed us secretly (they thought), watching our bond steadily grow. Lost Angels finding their way home. She was my best friend from the day we met and she was the only family I had. She still is. And yet, it is deeper than that. I cannot hope to explain in mere words the relationship we share. It is beyond friendship, just as it is beyond family. It is beyond life, and beyond death. It is a bond that can never be broken. She calls me her 'Link', though I am unsure what she means.

I have now told you how I met my friend and how our relationship began. I feel as though this story is woefully incomplete, and yet I can see by the amount of paper that I have probably rambled on.

I think I will write again, Mr. Sandburg, whether or not you decide to respond to this letter. It doesn't even matter if you read it, but just throw it away without opening it. I have found a certain catharsis in the writing -- to tell our story to someone who might be able to some day give us answers. Thank you for your patience.

Your Friend,

Maggie

He read the letter twice, the second time reaching for a pen to write his own notes in the margin. He had taken notes with the heart of a scientist, but the notes were made with the mind of a cop. He underlined specific and telling sentences and phrases. The notes went on and on as Blair picked out the little clues that Maggie had left for him. Clues that could be researched. Facts that could be verified.

He knew from the letter that she was approximately 27 years old. He knew that the robbery that had killed her parents had taken place 22 years ago. His mind reeled, working overtime, as it tried to assimilate all of the information the letter contained. His brain gathered and categorized the information she had given him.

All the while his mind was screaming the most important piece of information Maggie had imparted.

Maggie was a Guide.

The latter part of the letter told Blair something else, as well. Maggie was no hoax. No one could speak quite this way about the Sentinel/Guide relationship, unless they had been part of one. Hell, Blair had been part of one for five years, and even he wasn't sure he could explain it as eloquently. He wanted to write her back. He had a million questions to ask her and, he was sure, just as many to answer. Only one thing kept him from penning a letter to her right this moment.

Jim.

Of course, he had to tell Jim about the letters. The had both learned the hard way that keeping secrets from each other always brought a heavy price. Alex Barnes had taught them that lesson. The initial paranoia he felt at reading the first letter had been quickly replaced with anticipation as he read the second. Now, the anticipation slowly slipped away to be replaced with dread.

He had a decision to make.

If he burned the letters and pretended they never existed, Blair felt sure the fact that he hadn't told Jim would inevitably come back to haunt him. Blair just was not the type of person who could get away with bending the rules. He always got caught. Oh well, it kept him honest. On the other hand, if he told Jim, the results could be unpredictable. Of course, it was possible that Jim would take one look at him in the morning and know something was up.

Damn. He wished he hadn't opened Pandora's Box. He could feel his stomach twisting in knots, as he considered each option, unappetizing in its own way. Blair thought about the past events that would be dredged up if he decided to pursue this. Alex Barnes, the fountain, the dissertation, and the press conference; these were all events that loomed large in the legend of Jim and Blair. They were also events that had nearly destroyed their relationship, and it hadn't been easy rebuilding. 'But our partnership is stronger than ever now,' Blair rationalized. 'We might be able to handle this.' Maybe separately it could be handled, but the letters managed to bring up all the problems of their past in one fell swoop. Now it was the Guide in need of guidance. His decision to call the press conference had been a piece of cake compared to this dilemma.

Blair placed the carton of remaining mail on the floor and reached over the switch off the light, before laying back against his pillows. He was going to have to sleep on this. If he could sleep at all, that is. He rolled over onto his side and closed his eyes.

********************
Chapter Six

He was standing in the jungle again. He looked down to see his bare feet nearly buried in the wet leaves that blanketed the ground. He could feel the hot jungle breeze as it blew across his naked chest. Why was he here? He was lucid enough to know he was having a vision, but he didn't understand what the vision was trying to tell him.

A howling in the distance interrupted his musings, and his head snapped around trying to the judge the direction from which the noise came. The animal's howling became a strangled cry of pain, and without warning, his feet began to move as if he knew subconsciously which direction take. Crashing through the woods, he found himself on four fur-covered legs, running beneath the lowest of the canopy's branches. His powerful animal muscles bunched and released as each foot touched the ground only to reach out again. He soared over a fallen tree, all the while knowing that he must be quick -- that time was running out. He could hear the roaring river up ahead, and as he hurtled into the clearing he found the source of the keening wail. The coyote pup clung with its front paws to the edge of a cliff, its hindquarters dangling helplessly over the raging river below. Desperately it attempted to pull itself from the jaws of certain destruction. Its yellow eyes met his blue ones.

Without thought, he rushed to the cliff's edge, reaching down to take the coyote's scruff in his mouth. He pulled, feeling his hind legs dig into the soft earth behind him, while his fore legs reversed inch by painful inch. The pup, free of the immediate danger, collapsed to the ground, its eyes rolling up in silent thanks.

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

Jim sat straight up in bed, his senses reflexively searching for whatever it was that had awakened him. The perimeter was clear and yet there was something amiss. Coffee was percolating in the coffee maker, even though the sun had not yet risen. Chief, if you're down there looking at case files I'm gonna kick your butt.

He threw back the covers and placed his feet on the floor, all the while his body reminding him that he had been hanging from a moving train just the day before. Reaching for his robe, Jim went downstairs to check on his partner.

He found Blair sitting at the kitchen table, staring off into space -- a non-Sentinel zone-out. On the tablle in front of him lay two white envelopes. Just as Jim came to stand over him, Blair started, looking up into Jim's blue eyes.

"Love letters, Romeo?" Jim chuckled, and waited for Blair to make his standard witty remark about his active love life. When no such retort was forthcoming, Jim asked, "What's wrong, Blair?"

"I made some coffee, Jim." His voice was flat; worried.

"Yeah, so I smell. What's going on?" Blair looked as though he had some pretty heavy news to impart, and in a flash, Jim imagined a thousand things that could put that look in Blair's eyes. He realized that for some strange Sandburgian reason, Blair wasn't going to start talking until Jim poured himself a cup of coffee. It was as though Blair had this scene all planned out, and Jim was forced to play it by the script. Jim crossed to stage right, poured a cup, and crossed stage left. He pulled the chair from the table and sat facing his partner. "Now can you tell me what's going on? You're scaring me here, Sandburg." Blair continued to look torn. "Whatever it is can't possibly be worse than the thousand other things I've already pictured?"

Blair appeared to soak that in for a moment, before sliding one of the envelopes across the table. "Remember the box from the University, Jim? I found this in there. I think you should read it." Blair placed his elbows on the table and steepled his hands.

Jim pulled the sheet from the envelope and slowly unfolded it. He read the letter with a passive face, but only Blair would have noticed the slight widening of his eyes and the narrowing of his pupils as he reached the end. His hand dropped to the table and his eyes met Blair's again. "This is some kind of put-up job, right? Or some ploy to get close to us?"

"I don't know about the ploy part, Jim, but this is definitely no hoax."

"I assume that second letter you're holding is evidence of that." Jim released the first envelope and reached for the second, all but tearing the thick sheaf of pages from the packet.

Blair stood to refill his coffee cup, covertly watching Jim's reactions to the second letter. Blair noted when Jim's face of stone began to soften as he read Maggie's words. He began to shift the pages more gently as he, like Blair, became caught up in the tale. Blair had hoped that Jim would be as intrigued by Maggie as he was. He walked back to the table as Jim moved on to the last page of the letter.

Jim placed the last page on top of the pile, looking over at his partner. Neither said a word for a moment.

"There are others," Blair broke the silence. "Letters, I mean. I only read these two."

"Why?" Jim inquired.

"Don't get me wrong, man. I wanted to, I mean, I really wanted to."

"But?"

"I kept a secret like this from you once, Jim. My memory's a little hazy, man, but I'm pretty sure that it got me killed. I learned that lesson the first time, thank you. Don't have to tell me twice."

Jim picked up the second letter again, this time focusing on it with his sense of smell. "I can smell her perfume, but I'm not familiar with it."

Blair was once again taken aback by his partner's abilities. To pull off a scent from an envelope that had been sitting in a musty file box for nearly nine months. That was amazing. "She gave us a lot of information in the second letter, Jim."

"Well, she probably didn't think you'd be able to verify it, Chief."

"Or maybe she expected me to." Blair looked at Jim, the older man's expression telling him to follow through with his thought. "In the first part of the letter she talks about trust. The story is like a goodwill gesture. An 'I'll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours' kind of thing. She's trusting me with her story, Jim, and hoping that I might be able to help her."

"Help her? What makes you think she needs help?" Jim noticed Blair's eyes drop, as they always did when he knew he had revealed too much. "C'mon Sandburg, spill it!"

Blair looked up, sheepishly. "I've been having these visions."

"WHAT?"

"Visions, Jim. You know, like the ones you have all the time."

"And you didn't tell me?"

"Well, there were only two," he rationalized. "When I had the first one, I thought it was just a dream, man. Until I had the second one tonight. Then I knew that the dreams were trying to tell me something. The first one must have been telling me to look inside the box, like it was leading me to the letters." Blair began to gesticulate wildly in typical Sandburg fashion. "I mean…I kept tripping over that damn box. It was like the box was purposely getting in my way -- I just couldn't get away from it."

"So what did you see in the dreams?" Blair went on to relate his visions to Jim, telling him about the coyote pup, the cliff, and the raging river. "And you think that this coyote is Maggie's animal spirit?"

"It's the only way I can explain it, Jim." Blair shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know what to do, man."

Jim looked into the pleading eyes of his Guide. He let his eyelids drop and slowly exhaled the remaining air in his lungs, waiting just a moment until new oxygen invaded his chest. "I know what this could mean to you, Chief," he said softly. "A Sentinel with a Guide. This could answer a lot of your questions and I'm aware of that. But we have to proceed with caution here, Blair. Extreme caution. Remember what happened when another Sentinel came into our lives. I'll never forget what Alex did to you -- what she did to us. I can't allow that to happen again."

"I know, Jim," Blair said, ready to give up on the idea entirely, if only for the Sentinel's peace of mind. "If I contact her through letters, she'll never have to enter your territory and we should be safe."

"But first, I want to check this out. And," he continued, "I want you to keep me totally informed about what you write and her responses. Am I clear?"

"Yes, Jim."

"I just don't want to be broad-sided again, Chief. I won't stand over your corpse again. Once in a lifetime was enough. You read?"

"Loud and clear," Blair answered quietly. "Thanks, Jim."

"Don't think that I'm not fully aware of what you've given up for this Sentinel thing, Blair. I know what you've sacrificed, and I also know that you've given up more in the name of this relationship than I have. I won't keep you from this because I think you need it. I just hope it works out for the both of us -- for all of us."

"So do I, Jim. So do I."

********************
Chapter Seven

Jim had left the Loft early to go to the station, informing Blair that he was going to run the envelopes for prints. Alone in the apartment, Blair tore open the third letter, his stomach knotting in anticipation. He noticed from the beginning that this letter had no preamble, no introductions; it just picked up where the second had left off.

He studied the remaining letters, each one offering more information on how the two women bonded as they grew older. Maggie told him that her Sentinel's (although she continued to use the term 'Guardian') name was Cecilia, and that after leaving Immaculata they had attended University together, both on full scholarship. Cecilia had majored in Criminology and Police Science after the attempted rape and subsequent rescue of a dorm-mate had helped her focus her protective energies. She continued to have problems with her heightened senses but Maggie did everything in her power to help her, though she felt it often wasn't enough.

The death of Maggie's parents had continued to haunt her and her college years were spent earning a degree in Criminal Psychology. After earning their degrees they applied and were both accepted to a law enforcement agency, though Maggie had not been specific about to which agency they were attached. In her last letter, Maggie stated that she had begun to doubt the wisdom of her correspondence, but went on to say that coworkers had begun to question Cecilia's abilities. The scandal surrounding Blair's dissertation had apparently opened the eyes of the people with whom Maggie and Cecilia worked. Blair learned that Maggie and Cecilia were highly valued as a team in their job, and that they had never failed to 'catch their man'.

The last correspondence had been dated just three weeks ago, and though Blair wanted nothing more than to sit down and write a long letter to Maggie, he knew that he had to inform Jim of all that he had learned. He quickly folded the letters and replaced them in their envelopes. Within moments, he was locking the Loft's door and heading out to his truck.

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

Blair found Jim sitting at his desk in the bullpen. His eyes met Jim's and he crooked his head in the direction of the Operations Room.

Jim was already speaking as he closed the door to the empty room. "Forensics was able to pull a print from one of the pages of the letter. I was just about to ask them to run it through VICAP and the NCIC."

"Don't bother," Blair said. "But you might ask them to run it through the National Law Enforcement Officer Database."

"Maggie's a cop?"

"Yeah, and so's her Sentinel. Cecilia." Blair bounced on the balls of his feet, the gleam coming back into his eyes for the first time since reading the letters. "Goes a long way towards affirming a lot of my theories, don't you think? Were you able to find out anything else? I came straight here after reading the last letter, man. I haven't had a chance to verify anything with research."

"I did some checking and discovered that there are three 'Convents of the Blessed Immaculata'." Jim pulled a folded sheet of steno paper from his breast pocket. "One's about fifteen miles outside of New York City, the second is in Nevada -- close to Las Vegas, and the other is near the Texas-Louisiana border."

"I'm gonna take a huge deductive leap here and say that we can cross Nevada off the list."

"How's that?"

"Remember in the second letter, Maggie said that Cecilia's parents were killed when their car went off the road in a remote forest location."

"Vegas is in the middle of the desert, so that leaves New York and Texas."

"Jim? Is the Immaculata actually in Texas or Louisiana?"

"The mailing address is listed as…" Jim looked down at his notes, "McKinney, Texas."

"That's got to be it, Jim. Her letter was post marked from Houston. If she grew up in Texas and instinctively established that as her territory, then she would want to go back there, man." Blair was already placing his backpack on the conference table and removing his laptop computer. "I'm gonna run a web search on McKinney and the surrounding areas and see if I can find any old newspaper articles. We might get lucky and find something on their parents deaths."

"You do that, Chief. I'll talk to Forensics and tell them to run the prints through the Law Enforcement database."

Just then the door swung open to reveal the intimidating form of Simon Banks.

"I've been looking all over for you two. Wire reports came back on Granados. We've got ourselves a real death-row candidate, gentlemen. Unfortunately, we're not going to get first dibs on him."

"What!" Jim and Blair spoke in unison.

"This guy's wanted for similar murders in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Montana; and those are just the ones we know about. The District Attorney in Oklahoma City is raising a stink about getting this guy back to his neck of the woods for prosecution. Nailing Granados to the wall just became a federal case, boys, get used to it."

"The FBI's taking over?" Jim asked.

"The official party line is that as long as the DAs from our different territories can come to some kind of mutually satisfying agreement, then the Feds won't have to get involved."

"So, what now?" Blair injected.

"Well, we arraign Granados as usual, then we wait to hear from the DA about extradition. The Marshal Service is on stand-by in case they're needed for interstate transport."

"What time's the arraignment?" Jim asked.

"It's been postponed until tomorrow."

"What!" Jim's eyes widened. "What the hell is the judge trying to do? Set this guy up for an appeal?"

"Relax, Jim," Simon's voice dropped into an unusually soothing tone. "The continuance was at the Public Defender's request. Seems she didn't want to take a homeless rail rider who hasn't bathed in a month in front of the judge. She petitioned the judge for a continuance on the grounds that she needed time to prepare her client."

"Smart lady," Jim smirked.

"Yeah," Blair began, "and it sounds a lot better than 'Continuance due to Extreme Body Odor.' Don't know why she'd even bother though. No judge worth his robe would set a bail for this guy. Talk about a flight risk."

"Yeah, but if the District Attorneys don't get their acts together, and soon, this guy will have grounds for appeal." Simon turned to leave, his tone implying that he would keep them updated on the situation.

"Thank you, sir," Jim said to the retreating Captain's back.

"Yeah, thanks Simon." One corner of Blair's mouth quirked up as he saw Simon Banks' shoulders tense as he closed the door behind him.

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

The sound of Simon's bellows drew Blair's eyes away from the laptop on his desk. Though he could not make out the words, or even the topic of the conversation, Blair knew that whatever Simon was talking about was not making him happy. The computer in front of him beeped and his eyes went back to the screen to see what his search had uncovered.

He slowly scrolled down the screen, his eyes widening as he read the article in front of him. Unexpectedly, his concentration was broken by the sound of Jim entering the bullpen. Jim had that look on his face. The one that the Sentinel wore whenever he was on the verge of blowing a case wide open.

"You've got something." It was not a question. Blair stood from his chair, the computer and its data forgotten.

"The print search came back," Jim said, as he held up a computer printout. "Are you ready for this? Your pen-pal's name is Margaret Allison Shane. Born to Alan and Evie Shane on January 12, 1974, in Henderson, Texas. Parents killed in convenience store robbery on March 15, 1979, after which their daughter was placed in the custody of the Convent of the Blessed Immaculata in McKinney, Texas. There she remained until her eighteenth year, when she left to attend Tulane University in Louisiana. She received her Baccalaureate in Criminal Psychology with the graduating class of 1996. From there, she applied to and was accepted into the Training Program in Arlington, Virginia for the U.S. Marshal Service. She now serves as a criminal profiler for the Fugitive Retrieval Team in Houston, Texas." Jim looked up from the printout to find that Blair's jaw had dropped almost to his chest.

"I knew she wasn't lying, Jim. I just knew it!"

"ELLISON! SANDBURG!" The detectives' heads snapped around in unison, just as Simon slammed his door. Jim looked at Blair, who responded non-verbally with a healthy shrug of his shoulders.

After knocking, Ellison and Sandburg entered and stood in front of their superior's desk.

"Man, Simon! I think there's smoke coming out of your ears. What's got you so hot under the collar?" Blair asked, noting the angry expression on Simon's face.

"Don't start with me, Sandburg!" Simon turned to Jim, silently pleading with him to keep his partner under control. "I just got a call from the DA's office. It seems that they have decided to work in unison on the Granados case. Apparently after listening to the Oklahoma City DA's story, our DA decided they should have first crack at this guy. Oklahoma City didn't get off as easily as Cascade did. They think they can attribute at least seven murders to Granados. Maybe more."

"So, what's gonna happen now, Simon?"

"We'll arraign him, note his plea in our records, and then ship him off to Oklahoma. Make sure your reports are detailed, gentlemen. It could be a long time before Granados comes to trial in Washington State. For now, it's out of our hands."

"Yes, sir," replied Jim, as he opened the door and slipped out, followed by Blair. Walking back to his desk Blair suddenly remembered the data his computer search had discovered.

"Oh, man, Jim!" Blair grasped Jim's arm to get his attention. "I ran a search on the local newspapers for McKinney and the surrounding areas, then I dug back, and I think I may have found something. It's a newspaper article from the McKinney Courier and it's dated May 30, 1980." Blair waved Jim over to his desk as he sat down and focused on the computer screen.

RUSK, TEXAS --- The badly decomposed bodies of Peter and Amanda Dillon were discovered yesterday morning, when a group of hunters stumbled upon their remains during a weekend expedition. Reported missing two weeks ago, the Dillons were at first thought to be victims of foul play, but now it appears to be nothing more than a tragic accident. Department of Public Safety investigators report that it now appears that the Dillons, while traveling down a remote dirt road, lost control of their vehicle, which ran off the road and flipped into a deep culvert. Investigators have stated that the combination of the remote location, and the vehicle's final resting place, made it nearly impossible to be seen by passers-by. Preliminary autopsy reports maintain that Peter and Amanda Dillon were killed upon impact. In an even sadder twist, the Dillons are survived by a six-year-old daughter, who was strapped in the back seat of the car when the accident occurred. The child, left alone in the wilderness for more than two weeks, was found in an emaciated state, suffering from malnutrition and dehydration. Witnesses report that upon being discovered, the child became feral, attempting to protect her parents from the unknown hunters. "She was a like a wild child," said witness, Joseph Watson. "She wouldn't let anybody near her or her parents. Any movement towards her, and she would start screaming and carrying on." The authorities were called in and the child was taken into the custody of the Cherokee County Department of Human Services. At this time, it is unknown what will become of the child, but for now she is a ward of the state until someone can be found to take her in.

"It all fits, Jim." Blair turned in his chair to look up at his partner.

"We've got her last name, too." Jim responded, his eyes squinting as though recalling something. "Cecilia Dillon. And Maggie said they were partners?"

"Yeah. What is it, Jim?"

Jim smiled, unable to control the upwards turn of his mouth.

"C'mon, man! What's so funny?"

"Marshal Dillon."

"Huh?" Blair's lips pursed in confusion.

"Marshal Dillon?" Jim prompted. "From 'Gunsmoke'?" When the illumination of understanding did not replace the puzzlement on Blair's face, Jim sighed. "I hate the generation gap."

"Sorry, Jim. 'Battlestar Galactica' was the closest I ever got to watching a Western."

"Never mind, Chief. I'm gonna make a few phone calls and see what I can find out about Maggie Shane and Cecilia Dillon.

********************
Chapter Eight

The next morning, Rhonda intercepted Jim and Blair before they were able to make it to their desks.

"This fax just came for you, Jim." Rhonda's smile was much too bright for eight o'clock in the morning. She handed the stapled assemblage of paper to the detective who thanked her with a smile.

"Rhonda? How is it that every other woman I know looks like road kill in the morning and yet you manage to look like a goddess?" Blair gave her his most flirtatious smile, and a wink.

"Yeah," she smiled back, turning to go. "Cindy Crawford's got nothing on me."

"Well, that's what I keep telling her," he called, as she crossed the bullpen to her desk.

"Cool your jets, Romeo." Jim's voice came from where he was sitting at his desk. "A friend of mine at the Marshal Service, Blake Bumgartner, sent me this fax. You wanna hear what it says?"

Blair's attention was fully focused on Jim and the fax, as he leaned up against Jim's desk, moving a file aside to make room. "What's it say, Jim?"

"Well, he said that he couldn't send us their records unless we wanted to go through the proper channels, but he did manage to boil it down for us."

"I was never good at the suspense thing, Jim."

Jim raised an eyebrow at Blair's remark and made a production of turning over the fax's cover sheet. "It says here that both graduated from USMS Training Program with honors, which gave them the privilege of choosing their assignment. They chose Fugitive Retrieval in Houston. They started out as secondary team members, but quickly rose in the ranks, as their partnership proved invaluable to the team as a whole. They masterminded and participated in several mass sting operations which have, to date, netted some 328 fugitives."

"Hey, Jim? Isn't that where they send out invitations for a game show to bail jumpers and then ambush them when they show up to win the cash?"

"Yup."

"I can dig it," Blair bounced lightly on the balls of his feet, his eyes lighting up with glee.

"But," Jim held up a finger, "it says here that Deputy Marshals Dillon and Shane specialize in rural Hunt & Capture."

"Well, if that just doesn't scream 'Sentinel' than I don't know what does." Blair kept his voice low, so he would not be overheard by the others in the teeming bullpen.

"Listen up, Chief. It says here that the reputations of Dillon and Shane are so respected that they're often called in on high profile cases. According to Blake, their reputation is unprecedented considering how long they've been with the Marshal Service. They've even earned themselves a nickname. Other deputies refer to them as "The Gatekeepers", because nothing gets by them."

"If they only knew how true that was," Blair glanced at Jim.

"Blake says they have a perfect record."

"Maggie did say that they always catch their man," Blair recalled. "Man! What I wouldn't give to get my hands on their Psych evaluations."

"We always catch our man too, Chief."

"Does the name Gustavo mean anything to you?" Blair rolled his eyes.

"We caught him twice."

"And lost him twice."

"Okay, Sandburg, could you stop reminding me of my incompetence and gullibility?"

"All you had to do was ask nicely," Blair laughed. The other detectives and officers in the Major Crimes bullpen looked up from their desks for a moment, hoping to see what had made the kid laugh. Blair noticed Jim cringe as he sensed the subtle attention of those in the room. "Hey, Jim," Blair ask in sudden realization, "you're not jealous are you?"

"Oh for cryin' out loud, Sandburg!"

"Hey, relax man. You know I wouldn't blame you if you were jealous. That's quite an impressive record they've got there. I don't mind admitting I'm a tad envious myself."

"You are?" Jim narrowed his eyes as if to let Blair know he would not be fooled.

"Are you kidding, man? How could I not be jealous?" Jim winced at Blair's volume, causing the younger detective to lower his voice to 'Sentinel only' hearing. "I'd have to be the most self-assured person on the planet to not be jealous. I'm supposed to be the only living expert on Sentinels, and yet here's someone who's been living and working with one for 21 years, man. You don't think, maybe I'm feeling a little threatened? C'mon, Jim! Maggie said she had a million questions to ask me, but do you really think I can give her any answers? If anything, I need her help."

"But what about the visions?"

"I haven't really…figured those out yet," Blair admitted. He sat in his chair with dejected slump to his shoulders. The dreams were causing confusion rather than the clarity for which he had hoped.

"Try not to worry, Sandburg. It'll come to you." Jim glanced up to see Simon stride purposefully across the bullpen, directly to Jim's desk. "Sir?"

"Granados pled not guilty. Not a surprise, but there you go. The District Attorney from Oklahoma City is chomping at the bit to get his hands on this guy, but wouldn't you know it? Granados' attorney has decided to fight extradition. The judge is going to make a ruling this afternoon. I want both of you to be there."

"Yes, sir."

"Sure, Simon."

"You two better get going if you don't want to end up being snack food for the Press." Simon turned and headed for his office.

"I think those were the magic words, Jim."

"Get your coat, Chief. We'll see if we can sneak in through the back of the courthouse."

"Right behind you, man." Blair swung his arms through his jacket and followed his partner out the door, to the elevator.

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

As expected, Granados' Public Defender, Antoinette Holland, was fighting a losing a battle to keep her client in the state of Washington for trial. Blair had to feel just the tiniest bit sorry for her, because if anyone was toiling on behalf of a lost cause, it was Toni Holland. Her client, Manuel Jose Granados was the most wanted man in the country at the moment. Four states, including Washington, were jumping at the chance to have Granados under their collective thumbs.

"Your Honor. My client has been subjected to abuse his entire life…"

"Counselor?" Judge Quinterro interrupted. "Your client is accused of committing, not one, but three very heinous murders. If my own child were accused of these murders I would treat him no better than this man here. And, quite frankly, I resent the implication that I would do otherwise."

"But, Your Honor, this man has spent his entire life living as a second-class citizen. We cannot, in good conscience, allow him to be submitted to an endless series…"

"Hold it right there, Ms. Holland. Don't think for a minute that you can waltz into my courtroom with this load of liberal nonsense. I don't believe for a minute that your client was created by the system. I feel compassion for the life he was unfortunately subjected to, but I will not apologize for it. Mr. Granados made his own choices, and now that those choices have led him here, he wishes to say he's sorry and continue with his life as if that were enough. If I allowed that, I wouldn't be doing my job. Mr. Renshaw," Judge Quinterro turned to the Assistant District Attorney. "Where does the State wish to go with this?"

"Your Honor," said the tall, well-dressed black man, "after much discussion with the District Attorneys from the other territories, we have concluded that it is in everyone's best interest to grant the state of Oklahoma its extradition request."

"Thank you, Mr. Renshaw," replied the judge. "In the case of Manual Jose Granados, I would be forced to agree with the State's conclusion. Despite the unlikely possibility that the accused will ever have his day in court in the state of Washington, his plea has been recorded and; therefore, I order Manual Jose Granados remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshal Service for transport to the state of Oklahoma."

"Thank you, Your Honor," answered the Mr. Renshaw.

"Thank you, sir." Holland's response was markedly less enthusiastic than the ADA's.

Disappointed, Toni Holland packed her writing pads and legal motions into her leather briefcase and stalked from the courtroom without a backward glance. Jason Renshaw packed his belongings at a more leisurely pace and approached the detectives when he noticed them in the back of the courtroom.

"Detective Ellison," he said, nodding at Jim. "Detective Sandburg." Renshaw reached across and shook Blair's hand.

"Looks like everything's been taken of, Counselor," Jim said.

"Yes. Mr. Granados will be extradited by tomorrow morning. Thank you, gentlemen, for your hard work in apprehending this man. With a little luck and some good lawyering, Granados will be locked up in Oklahoma for too many years to count."

"And the other states?" Blair inquired as he crossed his arms over his chest.

"He'll be tried in Kansas and Montana before he's brought here, but he'll be serving his time in Oklahoma regardless of the outcomes there."

"Well, thank you for all your hard work, Mr. Renshaw," said Jim, as he shook the attorney's hand.

"My pleasure, Detective," Renshaw answered. The attorney nodded with a smile at the detectives once more, before exiting the courtroom into a throng of reporters lying in wait beyond the door.

"C'mon, Chief. Let's go get some lunch." Jim placed his hand on Blair's shoulder and navigated him towards the door.

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

At the Loft, later that night, Blair sat on the couch reading Maggie's last letter. As he read, a knot of dread began to settle in the pit of his stomach.

Mr. Sandburg,

I never really considered the whole concept of Fate, until I began to write these letters. The way everything came together just seemed so right at the time, but now, looking back, there had to be something bigger at work. I hope that the story I have trusted you with will you give you reason to return that trust. Now that I have told you our story we are completely at your mercy.

Now there is a small confession that I must make. I have written these letters in utter secrecy, telling Cecilia nothing. I have spent the last year hoping that you will respond and that you will be able to answer some of the questions I have.

This is the first time I have been less than honest with her, and I am feeling no small amount of guilt. I plan to tell her the truth should you ever decide to return my letters, but at this time I consider this correspondence to be strictly for me. After all, I am the one seeking answers. She seems so confident all of the time that I fear it never occurs to her that I am not as self-assured as she. She has no idea how difficult it is to keep her focused, or just to make sure she is healthy.

She does none of these things on her own. Sometimes her obsession for the well being of others distracts her from her own safety. I cannot tell you how this terrifies me. Often, the strain of keeping her alive is too much to take. It feels that way most of the time. That I am somehow keeping her alive, and that were I to give up, she would simply cease to be. How can one person affect me this way? Is this normal?

Maggie

She hadn't told Cecilia. Blair shuddered as he considered all the things that could go wrong if Cecilia were ever to discover Maggie's betrayal. To others, such a simple concealment of the truth might be considered a personal choice; but to a Sentinel, it could mean the ultimate treachery.

He dove for the files sitting on the coffee table, flipping pages as fast as he could comprehend their meaning. At last, he found what he was searching for, and he held the paper in his hand for a moment. Before he could question his decision, or his action, Blair picked up the phone and began to dial.

The phone rang three times on the other end before, at last, a strong female voice answered. Struck speechless for a moment, Blair could do nothing but continue to breathe.

"May I help you?" The voice asked for the second time, this time more impatient than the first.

"Deputy Maggie Shane, please." Blair found his voice, though it was a slightly squeakier version of the original.

"Who may I tell her is calling?"

Blair considered hanging up in that moment. He couldn't tell the voice on the other end who he was, on the off chance that his name would be recognized. What the hell was he going to do? 'Think, Blair, think!'

"I'm calling Ms. Shane on a confidential matter. May I speak with her, please?" Blair hoped that the mention of confidentiality would get him through the door.

"One moment, sir." Blair breathed a sigh of relief as the phone made a few clicks and then began to ring again. His heart rate sped up again as another voice, softer this time, picked up the line.

"Deputy Shane. What can I do for you?"

"Maggie, you have to tell Cecilia the truth," he blurted. 'Real smooth, Sandburg. You gonna tell her you've got aliens on your tail, too?'

"Excuse me?" The voice on the other end faltered.

"Maggie, this is Blair Sandburg. You have to tell her the truth about the letters."

"You got my letters?"

"Every one of them. Are listening to me, Maggie?" You've put yourself in a great deal of danger by keeping secrets from her."

"Danger?"

'C'mon, girl, catch up here!' Blair thought ungenerously. "You can never fully understand what happens to a Sentinel when their territory is being threatened."

"I'm afraid I don't understand, Mr. Sandburg. How are my letters putting me in danger? I know she'll probably be angry, but…"

"This goes far beyond anger, Maggie. Anger is simple. Anger is what normal people feel. But Cecilia isn't normal, Maggie, she's a Sentinel. These letters you wrote me have violated her territorial imperative."

"Territorial imperative?"

"Jesus," cursed Blair. Maggie really did need help. She was adrift in a world she didn't have the experience to understand. Which meant, he was going to have to explain it to her. "Maggie, if Cecilia is a Sentinel, and I would have to meet her to know for sure, then her reactions to certain outside stimuli can be unpredictable, if not dangerous."

"Great. When can we meet?"

"Didn't you hear a word I said?" He growled, his jaw clenching tightly as his teeth ground together. He took a breath in a conscious effort to relax. "Look, Maggie, meeting is out of the question." Blair could not tell her about Jim without betraying his best friend's confidence. "Just promise me that you'll tell Cecilia the truth about the letters. If you don't and she finds out on her own, the consequences could be…well, let's just say they can be unpleasant. You have to promise me."

"Okay, I promise, but I still don't understand."

"Cecilia is your…what did you call it?"

"Guardian."

"Right. Guardian. As your Guardian she has a genetic drive to protect you from dangerous situations. To her, nothing is more threatening than the dangers she can't sense. Which makes me tops on her list, unfortunately. You got me?"

"I got you."

"The last thing I need right now is to be targeted by a pissed off Sentinel, man. Been there. Done that. Is she there right now?" The idea was occurring to Blair just a bit too late. "No, she's out at the moment."

"Good. Then we can talk. Now, Maggie, I sensed from your letters that you are severely underestimating your role in Cecilia's life. You're not just family to each other. You're more than that. You wrote in your letters that she calls you her 'Link'. Why do you think that is?" Blair fell easily back into 'teacher' mode.

"I don't remember how it started, I just know that instead of calling me family she calls me that. Does it mean anything?" Blair could hear her chair squeak as she back in her seat.

"It means a lot, Maggie. More than you can imagine. Did you get to see any of my thesis?"

"No, although I admit I did everything I could to get my hands on it." Her tone was one of apology. "It was a bust though. I couldn't get anybody to talk to me."

"In my dissertation I wrote of the Sentinel's need for a partner." Blair took a breath and prepared himself to launch into the 'partner' spiel. "Has Cecilia ever experienced a zone-out?"

"Zone-out?"

"Yeah. When she becomes exclusively focused on one sense to the point of being dangerous?"

"Yes! Sometimes it's like she's lost inside of her own head."

"That's a zone-out, alright. About how often does she have them?"

"Not very often, now."

Good. That's good, thought Blair. That means she's got some control.

"She had to stop using her senses because she had these 'zone-outs' every time they went wild." Maggie interrupted Blair's deliberations.

Blair's fingers balled into a fist, as he chanted mentally, 'Okay. This could be worse. This could be worse. This could be a lot worse. Oh! What the hell am I thinking?' He rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger attempting to loosen the knot of tension forming there. "Maggie? When Cecilia zones out what do you do to help her?"

"Whatever I can. Sometimes it's different," she answered. "It varies."

"The 'Zone-Out Factor' is the central reason for the Guide Hypothesis."

"Guide Hypothesis?"

"Yes, you see, through Burton's original research, I have hypothesized that every Sentinel needed a Guide. The Guide's main purpose was to protect the Sentinel from him or herself. Burton theorized that Sentinels could become so focused on their territorial imperatives that they would often put themselves in danger in attempts to protect the Tribe. I have learned through my research that it's the Guide's job to make sure that doesn't happen, Maggie. The Guide must ensure that the Sentinel is always in his or her top form physically, sensorially, mentally, and spiritually. You must, on some level, know all this, Maggie."

"She never takes care of herself, Mr. Sandburg. Sometimes I think she would starve to death if I didn't force feed her on a regular basis." Her voice was liberally laced with excitement, as though, in Blair, she had found someone who could not only understand her problems but also predict them.

"Blair," he said. "You can call me Blair."

"Blair," she whispered, the newfound exhilaration causing her breathlessness.

"The Sentinel/Guide relationship is a package deal, Maggie. As Sentinel, Cecilia has a role to play, but so do you. The Guide is the Sentinel's number one priority. Without a Guide, Sentinels can become overwhelmed by their own gifts. In other words, their bodies and their minds can turn against them."

"Then I'm not doing it right, Blair. She's afraid of her senses and the pain they cause, and I don't know how to help her. Maybe I'm not the right Guide for her."

"From what I read in your letters, the bond is there, you just have to figure out how to work it."

"That's why I wrote you, Blair, because I need answers. You can help me, right? Why can't we meet, Blair? If you could just spend a little time with us, then maybe you could show me…"

"That's out of the question, Maggie. I can't tell you why, but just understand that being around a Sentinel could be very dangerous for me."

"How do you know that? How do you know that for sure? Cecilia would never hurt anyone who was trying to help her."

"I don't know for sure, Maggie; I'm only working off of theory here. So much of the Sentinel thing is just theory. I don't have all the answers." He didn't know for sure, but his memories of Alex Barnes told him to err on the side of safety.

"Theory?! You won't help us because of a theory that you might be in danger?" Anger and frustration filtered through on her voice, but Blair was aware enough to sense the desperation there as well. Decidedly, it was a very unscientific conclusion to make, since Science would tell him he needed more than one experiment to turn theory into law. His relationship with Jim had long since passed the point of scientific experimentation though, and he refused to jeopardize that relationship for the pursuit of scientific conclusion.

"I can't tell you any more than that."

"I trusted you with our story. Why can't you trust me with yours?"

"Because I've been burned before, Maggie. Once bitten," Blair said. "Twice shy."

"The press conference," she said. "It was all a sham, wasn't it?"

Silence reigned on the line, since Blair refused to either confirm nor deny her accusation.

"You know what I think, Blair? I think that Jim Ellison really is a Sentinel, and I think you're his Guide. That's why you threw your career away, isn't it? Isn't that what a Guide would do, Blair? Wouldn't a Guide do anything and everything to protect their Sentinel? I know I would. I would have done the same thing in a heartbeat. You may have fooled everyone else with your press conference, but you didn't fool me. When I saw you in front of that podium and I listened to the words you said, my whole world came into focus. Suddenly I knew that Cecilia wasn't a freak, she was a gift; and I knew you felt the same way about Detective Ellison." Blair listened quietly as her tirade continued. "What else could you base your theories on, Blair, if not Jim Ellison? And why would being around another Sentinel frighten you? Have there been others?"

"There has been another," Blair confirmed. He could hear Maggie's harsh breathing over the telephone line. "As for the rest, officially I stand by what I said in the press conference."

"And unofficially?"

"I have no unofficial comment."

"Damn it, Blair. I need answers. Cecilia's well-being and peace of mind may mean nothing to you, but they're everything to me."

"Then you know everything you need to know." Blair turned as he heard Jim's keys jangle in the lock of the front door. "Follow your instincts; they won't steer you wrong. I gotta go." Blair punched the button to end the call, cutting off any response or further questions from Maggie.

"Hey, Chief," Jim said as he entered the Loft, depositing his keys in the basket by the door. "What's up? Who were you talking to?"

"Maggie," he answered simply, and then braced himself for the explosion to come. Jim's jaw clenched for a second and then released. Blair could tell that he was fighting his Sentinel instinct to turn possessive.

"I thought you were only going to communicate with her through letters." Blair could see the exact moment when Jim's mind won the victory over his instinct.

"I was, Jim, but then I read her last letter." Blair retrieved the letter from the coffee table and held it out to his friend. Jim took the paper from Blair and quickly read it. "I felt she was making a huge mistake, man. I had to warn her to be careful about keeping secrets from Cecilia and a letter would have taken too much time."

"What did you tell her, Sandburg?"

"I explained to her some of Burton's research and some of my theories. She's way out of her depth, man. Maggie and Cecilia have the whole Sentinel/Guide bond thing going, but I gathered that Cecilia's senses are way out of control and Maggie doesn't know how to help her. In fact, I realized while I was talking with her that she doesn't even know that that's what she's supposed to do."

"But she's doing it?"

"Well, yeah, but her mind hasn't made the commitment. It's like when you're traveling down the road and you see somebody with a broken down car, so you pull over to help them by offering to call Triple A on your cell phone. Right now, Maggie's the Good Samaritan, when she's supposed to be the Triple A repairman. You see where I'm going with this, man?" Blair's hands gestured in his uniquely Sanburgian fashion as he mulled the ideas over in his head.

"But you explained what a Guide is supposed to do, right?" Jim took seat in his comfy chair beside the couch and crossed his legs, placing one ankle on top of the opposite knee.

"In a fifteen minute phone call? I'm not sure I can explain it with all the time in the world, man. I laid out the goals, simplifying it as much as I could, but she seemed so confused. How do I explain years of research in just a few minutes?"

"Relax, Chief. I'm sure you did the best you could."

"That's just it, man. I know I didn't. Maggie's lost and Cecilia's not getting any better at using her senses, which you and I both know will eventually get them both killed. In tribal cultures there was probably someone to answer a Guide's questions. I knew what I was dealing with from the start, Jim. Maybe I didn't know the specifics, but at least I knew the basics. The only thing Maggie's got backing her up is a degree in Psychology." Blair stopped for a breath, before dropping the next bomb. "She wants to meet, Jim."

"Look, Sandburg. I know that the idea of studying another Sentinel is exciting to you, but…"

"Are you insane, Jim? I think that kick in the head must have scrambled your brains or something. Another Sentinel? Thanks, but no thanks, man. Just knowing that Cecilia Dillon is out there is enough to scare the ever-living daylights out of me."

"You're thinking of Alex," Jim said.

"News flash, pal! I'm always thinking of Alex."

"I would never let that happen to you again, Blair. I hope you know that."

"You seem to be conveniently forgetting the fact that you weren't exactly in control of your actions when you were around Alex, Jim. What makes you think it'll be any different with Cecilia? The last thing I want is to be stuck in the middle of a struggle for territorial dominance. I'll be damned if I'm going to willfully instigate one."

"But maybe if we went there, it would be different," Jim suggested.

"Why are you latching on to this? Look Jim, this is me putting my foot down. Alex came into your territory where you had the advantage, and still you almost lost. You were forced to choose between us, Jim, and I came out on the winning side by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin. Frankly, the idea of invading Cecilia's territory…. Let's just say I'm not liking my chances. Why are you being so calm about all this, Jim? When Alex blew into Cascade you became 'Mr. Primal'.

"Alex was already hip deep into trouble by the time I discovered her existence. Maybe with Cecilia, it's different because I have time to adjust to the idea of another Sentinel. I'm not saying I want to hop the next flight to Texas, but there's something comforting in knowing that there's someone like me doing what I do. Being one-of-a-kind isn't all it's cracked up to be, Chief."

"Okay. Makes sense…sort of." Blair watched as Jim crossed the living room to the kitchen and began rummaging through the leftovers in the fridge.

"You want something?" Jim asked.

"No, thanks. I already ate dinner," Blair replied with a wave of his hand. Jim retrieved a plate from the cabinet while glancing down to note the presence of Blair's dirty dishes in the sink.

"You know, Sandburg, one of these days I'm gonna come home to discover that you've learned to clean up after yourself."

"You hold on to that dream, Jim." Blair's infectious laugh filled the Loft, causing Jim to roll his eyes and join in. "So, did you get everything taken care of with the Marshals?"

"Yup. Got Granados signed over and everything." Jim decided to make a sandwich for dinner and efficiently went about collecting the ingredients.

"How are they going to transport him?" Blair opened the fridge to get a bottle of water, and twisted the cap off with expert precision.

"Well, a train is out of the question, Chief," Jim laughed, as he slathered entirely too much mayonnaise on a slice of bread. "Car would take too long, so he's being transported in a private plane run by the Marshals."

"ConAir?"

"Yeah, but a smaller one. This plane is designed for single prisoner transport. The flight leaves in a few hours, has a short stopover in Salt Lake City and should land in Oklahoma City by six a.m."

"Ellison and Sandburg strike another blow for safety in the city of Cascade." Blair clapped his partner on the back.

"Sandburg, did I ever tell you that you have modesty issues?"

"Hey! I put your name first, didn't I?"

"As it should be."

"And I'm the one with modesty issues? You arrogant schmuck." Blair didn't have time to duck before Jim's hand came out to smack him on the back of the head. "Ouch, damn it."

"Don't be such a wuss," Jim said, smiling to take away the sting.

"Neanderthal."

"Schmo."

"Captain's pet."

"You're asking for it now, Sandburg!" Jim launched himself at Blair, grabbing the younger detective in a quick headlock and refusing to let go.

"Uncle, man, Uncle! I give. I take it back!" Jim released Blair; who came up for air, his face bright red from laughter and the smile still plastered to his face.

"No plans tonight, Chief?" Jim picked up his plate with his roast beef sandwich, and headed for the kitchen table.

"Nope. I had a date with Sheri…you know, the girl from the bookstore, but she canceled. Called and said her dog was diagnosed with Parvo."

"Sick dog? C'mon, Romeo, that's gotta be the oldest excuse in the book. You should think about changing your middle name to 'Gullible'."

"You think I fell for her story, man? I'm shocked that you have such a low opinion of me, Jim. I knew she was feeding me a line, but what was I gonna do? Call her on it? She's a little shy. She probably just got nervous."

"Sure, Chief. What was that you said to me? Oh, yeah. You hold on to that dream."

"Okay, your attacks against my manhood are exhausting me. I'm going to bed, man."

"Sleep tight, Sandburg," he called as Blair entered his bedroom. "Don't let the dream nymphs bite."

"Funny, Jim." Blair closed the French doors behind him.

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

Part 2