Disclaimer: Don't own 'em, but I'll mud wrestle Pet Fly for them! I promise I won't hurt them - much.

Not beta'd. All mistakes I proudly take credit for! This doesn't have much of a plot, but it got stuck in my head and ... well you know the drill. Maybe I watched to much of the NFL Draft this weekend. (BIG Dolphins fan! Slightly obsessed! But don't worry - didn't let that interfere!)

The Art of Self Preservation

by Sue Pokorny

********************
Blair Sandburg emerged from his room, clapping his hands loudly once before holding them out to his side and striking a pose.

"How do I look?"

Jim Ellison grinned at the enthusiasm in the younger man's voice and answered without turning his attention from the Jags game on T.V.

"Like the heartbreaker you are, Sandburg," he said sarcastically.

Blair simply let his smile widen at his friend's answer, being too pumped to take the bait.

Jim turned his head and watched his friend stride to the door and grab his black leather jacket from the nearby hook. Blair raised his eyebrows slightly when he noticed his partner's scrutiny, doing a little dance before pulling the jacket on. The corners of Jim's mouth lifted in a slow smile. He had to admit, the kid did look good.

He was wearing a sapphire blue shirt which brought out the deep color of his eyes along with his new blue jeans and brown loafers. His dark hair hung in loose curls around his shoulders giving him that "lost puppy" look that the women seemed to melt for. Energy nearly poured from him as he rocked on the balls of his feet, his excitement barely contained in his compact frame.

"This must be some date," Ellison commented. He turned his body on the couch, draping an arm over the back and giving his full attention to his partner.

"Amanda Jarvis," Blair answered, his eyes sparkling and his eyebrows dancing up and down at the mention of the name. He adjusted the collar of his jacket, pulling his long hair free.

"Amanda Jarvis," Ellison repeated, the detective part of him filing the name away for future reference.

"Yeah, man," Sandburg continued. He crossed back to the kitchen island where he had left his wallet.. "I've been trying to get her to go out with me since last semester. Not only is she a knockout, Jim, but she has brains, man! She's even on the Dean's List!"

"I thought there was some unspoken rule about not dating the students, professor."

"She graduated last spring," Sandburg flashed him a huge smile. "She's working on her masters now. Grad students are free territory."

"So why did she finally agree to go out with you after all this time?"

Sandburg attempted to look shocked, but the smile that refused to leave his face ruined the effect. "Come on, Jim! She obviously was just a little nervous, not knowing how to handle someone of my talents!" A warning look from his partner caused the grad student to shrug. "Okay, okay. She broke up with her boyfriend a few weeks ago."

"Rebound," Jim said smugly.

"Rebound," Blair was forced to agree. "But, be that as it may, I'll just turn on the old Sandburg charm and the boyfriend will be nothing more than a distant memory."

Jim just grinned and shook his head. He was far too familiar with Blair's track record when it came to women. Blair saw an opportunity, but Jim saw nothing more than another boxcar in the trainwreck that was Sandburg's love life. The kid was definitely a glutton for punishment.

"What about the boyfriend?" Jim asked. He knew the grad student was a big boy and could take care of himself, but a little friendly advice never hurt. "Are you sure it's over?"

Blair sighed. "Yes, Jim. It's over." He held up his hands to stifle the detective's standard lecture. "I know, I know. But it's just a date, Jim. We're not picking out china patterns or anything. Just two people having a good time, getting to know each other."

Ellison bit back his reply.

"Besides," Blair continued. "Pedicord's not even in the picture anymore, so there's really no problem."

Warning lights went off in Jim's head as he attempted to place the familiar name. "Pedicord?" he said softly. "Where have I heard that name?"

Blair shrugged. "He played football for Washington State," he offered.

The warning lights were suddenly joined by a red alert claxon. "Pedicord?" Jim said loudly. "As in Damien Pedicord? The 270 lb. tight end that was just drafted by the Seahawks?"

Blair nodded innocently and Jim ran a hand over his face, sighing in exasperation. "Sandburg, do you have a death wish or something? This guy runs over defensive linemen like they were speed bumps! And you want to take out his girlfriend?"

"Ex-girlfriend," Blair corrected. "Jim, Mandy hasn't even talked to him in a month. He's already in Seattle. There is no problem." He carefully enunciated the last sentence in an attempt to get through the detective's concern. "I've got to go, man," he said quickly, making for the door. "Don't wait up!" He flashed the detective one last grin before escaping into the hallway.

Jim stared at the door for a moment before sighing and leaning back against the cushions of the couch. "Tomorrow, my friend," he said solemnly to his absent partner. "We are going to have a long talk about self-preservation." He stabbed at the volume on the T.V. remote and attempted to lose himself in the basketball game.

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

Jim was instantly awake by the time the phone finished its first shrill ring.

"Ellison," he barked. He glanced at the clock.

2:17.

He instinctively stretched his hearing to cover the loft, focusing on the small bedroom on the first floor. No breathing. No heartbeat. Silence.

"Detective Ellison?" the voice on the phone asked. The voice was male, but one that Jim did not recognize.

"Yes," he answered.

"Detective, this is Patrolman Michealson. Sorry to disturb you at this hour, sir, but do you know a Blair Sandburg?"

Jim felt his heart stop. "Yes," he answered, clearing his throat. "What's wrong?"

"Well sir," the voice hesitated. "There's been an incident. Could you come down to Cascade General, sir? It would certainly be -"

"I'm on my way," Jim snapped. He slammed the phone down, forcing his mind not to dwell on the frightening scenarios whirling around inside it. He grabbed his shirt and shoes and flew out of the loft, cursing himself for allowing Blair to get himself into such a predicament. Why the hell didn't he listen when the alarms went off in his head? Sure, Blair had said that Pedicord was out of the picture, but trouble followed the anthropologist around like a shadow. Sandburg's Law: If something had even the slightest potential of going wrong - it would become a disaster. Jim shuddered as a picture of Damien Pedicord confronting his partner flashed through his head. The kid wouldn't have stood a chance! Jim gunned the Ford pickup to life and screeched away from the loft.

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

Detective Jim Ellison barreled through the doors of the ER and flashed his badge at the startled nurse behind the admitting desk. "Blair Sandburg," he barked. "He was brought in about an hour ago. Where is he?"

The nurse recovered quickly from her shock and typed in something on the keyboard of the computer. She frowned momentarily before typing a few more keystrokes. Finally she shook her head and turned her attention back to the detective. "I'm sorry, sir -" she began, but was cut off by the sudden arrival of an ambulance attendant shouting for assistance as a gurney was rushed through the sliding doors.

The nurse quickly ran to the attending paramedic, instructing him to take the gurney down the hall into one of the exam rooms. She instructed one of the volunteers to take over at the front desk and followed the gurney down the hall. The volunteer approached her newly assigned station, cautiously eyeing the man leaning against it. He was very pale and his eyes were somewhat glassy.

"Sir?" she asked, concern in her voice. "Sir? Are you allright? Do you need a doctor?"

Jim didn't hear her. He didn't hear anything. He had seen the look on the nurse's face when she had typed in Sandburg's name. She had told him she was sorry... Sorry? For what? They only said they were sorry when... Oh God, no!

"Sir?" The volunteer's voice filtered through the numbness and he turned shell-shocked blue eyes toward the sound.

"Sir?" The young woman had her hand on his arm and was peering into his eyes. "Sir? Are you allright?" she repeated.

Jim managed a slight nod. "Yes," his voice cracked and he cleared his throat. Oh, God, Blair! His chest tightened uncontrollably, making it difficult to breathe.

The woman led him over to one of the chairs on the waiting area. She left for a moment and returned with a paper cup filled with water. The detective drank the water as instructed, the cool liquid easing some of the rawness in his throat. He took a deep, shuddering breath and quietly assured the concerned volunteer that he was okay. She smiled, patted his arm reassuringly and resumed her post behind the desk.

Jim sat, the noise of the ER swirling around him like a crushing symphony. The all too familiar medicinal and antiseptic smells of the hospital penetrated his consciousness, overpowering him, but still he did not move. He could not find the dials. He could not control his senses without his guide. He didn't even want to try.

"Let go of me, I'm fine." A loud voice invaded his mind and he let it fade into the jumble of sounds permeating his hearing. "I just want to get out of here!"

"As soon as the doctor releases you, Mr. Pedicord. I'll go see what's keeping him."

The words jumped to the forefront of Ellison's hearing as the name Pedicord registered on the Sentinel's mind. Jim rose, tilting his head as he searched for the source of the voice.

"Just tell him to hurry it up. I want to get the hell out of here!"

There.

Jim fixed his eyes on a curtained room at the end of the ER. The glassy, lost look was now replaced by a cold, icy glare of a hunter. His eyes narrowed, his jaw twitched and he stood slowly, feeling the tense power surge through his body.

He walked calmly down the short hallway, stopping before the partition. His breathing was even and a low growl had begun in his chest, working its way up to his throat. He felt a coldness in his chest and his mind focused on one thought. Pedicord.

Pedicord had killed Blair. His guide. His friend. And now Pedicord would pay.

Jim's cop instincts knew he was wrong. Knew that he should back off and let the law handle it. But the cop was not in control. The Sentinel was. And the Sentinel needed to avenge his guide.

The curtain was suddenly thrown back and Jim found himself face to face with a very large young man. Although the two men were about the same height, Pedicord probably outweighed the detective by a good 40 lbs. Even with this obvious advantage, the cold fire in Ellison's icy glare caused the younger man to take an involuntary step back.

"Who the hell are you?" Pedicord asked in a somewhat shaky voice.

"Detective James Ellison." Jim answered, his tone flat and devoid of emotion.

Pedicord's face scrunched up in distaste. "Another cop?" he spat. "I already gave my statement to the other ones. Talk to them, man. I just want to get out of here."

He started to push past the detective who grabbed one huge bicep, pulling the younger man around with brutal force. "You're not going anywhere," Jim snarled.

"Ow!" Pedicord screamed and Jim noticed the cast that covered the younger man's right hand and forearm. "Let go of me! What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Pedicord tried to shake loose the iron grip in his arm to no avail. Ellison held firm. He placed his other hand on the butt of his gun, making sure that Pedicord was aware of its presence. "You and I are going to have a chat." The detective's voice was low and dangerous and Pedicord physically blanched at the feral smile on his lips.

"You're crazy!" the young man said softly. "Hey!" His voice rose suddenly in volume making Jim wince. "Hey! I need some help in here! This guy's nuts!"

"Jim!"

A familiar presence pushed between the Sentinel and his prey and he found that it was a presence he could not ignore.

"Hey, Jim, man, it's okay. Back off! Jim!"

Ellison blinked once and moved his gaze down, more than surprised to see two very concerned, very frightened, very familiar, dark blue eyes gazing back at him.

"Blair?" Jim's voice was nothing more than a choked whisper.

Sandburg sighed as recognition dawned in his partner's eyes. "Yeah, Jim. It's me. God you scared the hell out of me! What the -"

The rest of his sentence was cut off as Ellison grabbed him by the shoulders and turned him until he was standing directly in front of the detective. The detective ran his eyes over the anthropologist, his Sentinel senses assuring him that his guide was alive and in one piece. His eyes rested momentarily on the small bruise on the grad student's left cheek, but could find no other discernible injury.

"Jim?" Blair said after allowing the older man to conduct his visual examination. He could not suppress a small smile that played on his lips. "You okay there, big guy?" he asked. He couldn't exactly place the look on Ellison's face. Relief? Joy? Surprise? All three?

Jim sighed and closed his eyes. He placed one hand on the side of Sandburg's face, revelling in the warmth of the younger man's skin beneath his touch.

"Are you okay?" the detective asked after a few moments.

"I'm fine, man," Sandburg nearly laughed. His look of concern replaced by one of relief. "I'm okay. I was never even admitted. I just rode along with Michealson so that I could give him my statement." That explained the strange look on the admitting nurse's face when she tried to find Blair's name. She hadn't been sorry because he was dead, she had been sorry because she couldn't find the name! Blair was still looking at his partner with a mixed expression of humor and concern. "Are you okay? You looked like, I don't know, like you wanted to kill someone a few minutes ago."

Jim just patted his partner's cheek and smiled. "I'm okay."

The other people who had come running at the call for help now breathed a sigh of relief. A uniformed patrolman approached the partners and cleared his throat to get their attention.

"Uh, Detective Ellison?" he asked. "Is everything okay, here?"

Jim nodded to the officer and glanced coldly at Pedicord. "What happened?"

Officer Michealson took a deep breath and began to explain the events of the last few hours. When he finished, Jim was staring at his partner in utter shock.

"You broke his hand?"

Blair shrugged, more than a little embarrassed by the detective's stare. "Well, yeah. I guess. I just ducked, Jim. What was I supposed to do? Stand there and let my head get mistaken for a punching bag? It's not my fault there was a brick wall behind me."

Jim shook his head, still amazed that his partner had managed to escape relatively unscathed. He turned back toward Pedicord. "And what about you?" he asked, his voice taking a rather icy turn. He still didn't like the fact that the athlete had taken a swing at the much smaller anthropologist.

Pedicord had the grace to look ashamed. "I wasn't thinking," he admitted. "I was just so jealous when I found out that Mandy was out with someone else, I just..." he looked at Blair and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, man. I should've known better." He held out his left hand which Blair took eagerly.

"Don't sweat it," Blair smiled. "I've done some pretty stupid things when it comes to members of the opposite sex, too. They can kind of mess with your better judgement." He gave Ellison a warning look, effectively stifling any comment the detective could have made.

"Ain't that the truth," Pedicord agreed. He held up the cast on his right hand. "Hopefully this will come off before training camp," he said ruefully. "Maybe I can get you guys tickets to a few games if you're interested."

"Hey, that would be great!" Blair's eyes lit up at the offer. He looked over at Jim, his eyebrows dancing.

"Great," Pedicord smiled. He shook hands with Blair again, careful to keep the grad student between himself and the detective. "Take care, Blair. I'm sorry for the trouble. Detective." He nodded at Jim and quickly left.

"I still think you should have pressed charges, Chief," Ellison said as soon as Pedicord was gone.

"What for, Jim? He's a good kid, just a little messed up about the woman he loves. Been there, done that, man."

Jim smiled and shook his head. "Don't I know it, Chief." He draped an arm over his partner's shoulder and steered him toward the hospital entrance. "So what happened to Mandy?" he asked.

Blair shrugged. "She didn't appreciate the 'barbaric behavior' we were displaying." He used his fingers to draw quotes in the air as he used Amanda's phrase for how she had perceived the events of the evening.

Jim couldn't help but chuckle. "She actually said that? Barbaric behavior?"

"Yeah. And a few more comments about cave men and behavioral cliches." Blair joined his laughter. "She took off right after I started to explain to her that primitive and barbaric are not always mutually inclusive..."

Jim laughed out loud at the picture of his partner trying to have an anthropological discussion with a ticked-off woman. "So that's how you got the bruise on your face?"

Blair ducked his head a little to hide the flush that suddenly creeped up it. "I guess she wasn't in the mood for an anthropological discussion," he grinned.

Jim shook his head. "Sandburg, We need to have a talk ."

Blair groaned. "Not Ellison lecture #125 : The Perils of Dating?"

"Nope," Jim said, pushing his friend toward the truck. "This is Ellison lecture #1. The Art of Self Preservation. And you'd better take notes, Sandburg, cause there will be a test!"

The End.

Email Sue at SPok507@aol.com