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.

Nothing happens in this Universe randomly…

by Arianna

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

Notes from Blair Sandburg's Personal Handwritten Journals…

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I'm alive, no question about that…but life sucks, you know? I can't seem to get my balance back, can't figure out what my life is about now.

We've been back from Mexico for a couple of weeks and I still can't figure out where I stand with Jim.

He hasn't talked to me since we got back, not about what happened there. Not about what happened at the fountain. Says he can't…says it's too hard.

Hard?

Dear God, I died. I drowned in that damned fountain. Alex killed me! And all he's ever said in response to my 'thank you' for bringing me back, and admitting that we had the same vision, was just some crack about owing him back rent. Shit, he kicks me out of the loft with no notice and I owe him back rent?

What's wrong with this picture?

Oh, well, I guess the implication was that he still wants me around…nice to know given that he'd just kicked me out.

Okay, fine, I know he has trouble expressing his feelings…that the crack about the rent really was meant as reassurance that he wanted me back…but I'm tired of the silence. I'm tired of not knowing what he's thinking…I hate being shut out.

I try to understand what happened in Mexico, I really do. But, he's not some rutting bull; he's a man. Instinct isn't the whole deal, you know…so what was going on with Alex on that beach? How could he be so drawn to her, after what she did? If not to me, then what about the canisters of gas she stole? The other people she was threatening to kill? How could he find anything about her attractive, let alone be all over her? Sometimes this Sentinel stuff stinks, really, really, stinks. It's like they had a private club thing going and since no one else can ever be part of it, then that makes everything all right. She could have shot me, with his gun, for God's sake! And he just…just knelt there, looking blank until he lowered her arm and shook his head.

Guess he didn't want to waste time and energy bringing me back to life again. I can see how that could get to be a drag.

Yeah, yeah, I'm angry, I admit it, to myself if not to him or anybody else. Dammit, I am SO angry I can hardly hold it inside. But he won't talk about what happened in Mexico, either. Just goes all flat and turns away. I feel like I want to explode or something, hit something, yell…but I don't know at what.

Get a grip, Sandburg. You know very well whom you want to yell at. Jim. But you can't. Or won't. What's that about? Are you afraid he'll decide you're too much trouble and kick you out again? You KNOW that was more about Alex than you.

Don't you?

But he said those things about trust…and he meant them. I don't think he really trusts me anymore.

I think that's why there was confusion in Mexico. Why it didn't matter that Alex had killed me. Why he almost let her kill me again. I think that's why he took off and left me and Megan sleeping in the jungle while he went after Alex alone.

I think that's why he's not talking about what happened.

He let me back into the loft because he feels bad about me dying, I guess. But, I'm not sure he really wants me here anymore.

I don't know what to do. I can't think straight.

It's the anger…it just keeps getting in the way.

I've got to get a grip.

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

Well, today was fun. I find out a student, that arrogant rich daddy's boy, Rick Ventriss, has raped one of my students and blackmailed a grad student into writing a paper for him. And then when I confronted Ventriss about it, he threatened my job.

I wanted to slug him.

Note to self: interesting line above. Do I resent Ventriss because he's rich? And has a father? Am I scared of him because he probably can get me fired?

The hell with it. He's a jerk. Worse than that…he's dangerous. He hurts people with no compunction. But, good for me, I controlled the impulse to wipe that patronizing sneer off his face and did things right. I went down to the station to see if he had a rap sheet, and to tell Jim about it so that Jim could help me figure out how to nail this turkey.

Yeah, right. Like Jim cares about what worries me these days.

First he made some crack about it's nice that I beamed down, like I don't have anything else to do but hang around at his beck and call all day, every day…and night, for that matter. Dammit, I do have a job, one that pays the rent he seems to be so worried about. But, that's never mattered has it? If it's not police work, it just doesn't count, doesn't matter. I should be used to that by now. I guess I'm tired.

But…then he physically pushed me away from his desk! What was that about? He said he couldn't help me and that he had a murder to solve. Well, yeah, that's important, sure, but couldn't he just listen for a minute? Couldn't he see that what was going on at the university is wrong? That people who are still breathing, who can still feel, are being hurt? Don't live victims who are still at risk have some priority over those who cannot be hurt anymore? Or is a rapist less of a threat to society than a murderer? Maybe. I haven't thought about that before…maybe he had a point. But, I really couldn't believe the little lecture about the law that he spouted so righteously …like that's ever stopped him from finding a way to do what's right.

And, that follow-up crack about not letting anger take me out of the game, and the snide reminder about that being one of my better 'lectures'. Is that how he sees all the coaching I've been doing with him? All the times I've tried to give him a different perspective to help him control his senses…as 'lectures'? To be thrown back in my face when the time is right?

I need to think about this, re-evaluate everything I thought about our partnership. If I'm in the way, and he resents the help I'm trying to give him, what's the point? I can't force him to accept my help…or my friendship.

Maybe I've been living in a dream world, so caught up with believing we had some special connection here, so convinced that I'm some kind of 'guide' that he needs…maybe I've been deliberately blind, only seeing things the way I want them to be. That can happen when you lose your objectivity.

And, as far as Jim is concerned, I lost my objectivity a long time ago. Right around when I decided to ditch the chance of a lifetime to go with Eli to Borneo and flew off to Peru instead. And jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. For friendship.

I thought that meant something to both of us.

Have I been wrong?

If I think about it, maybe things haven't been all that good for a while. Maybe I've really been missing the signals. Like when Jim took off for a fishing weekend on his own and Simon and I tracked him down. He didn't want us there. He said he loved us, but he really needed space. Made some crack then about feeling like a lab rat, or something like that.

He's never said anything about the fact that, for a while there, we all thought I might have been really sick, maybe even dying in that scary isolation tent.

Not word one about it.

And when we went undercover in suburbia, I know he thought I was a fool to get involved emotionally.

And, oh, man, he was really steamed about the draft chapter of the dissertation I had to hand in to Eli. He didn't trust me enough to let it go. He had to read it…and he didn't understand it. Told me I'd violated his privacy and his trust. What about his violation of my trust? I guess that doesn't count.

Yeah, I guess I have been missing the signals. He'd been telling me for a while before Alex blew into our lives that he wasn't comfortable around me, that he doesn't really trust me. Maybe that's why I was having that weird dream for a while. It was like I was lost in some kind of jungle and I knew I was being hunted. I wanted to find Jim but didn't know where he was. The place looked sorta like the jungles in Peru or Mexico. And, then, it's like I'm this wolf, and I've been shot with an arrow…and I know I'm dying…that I died. Makes me shudder to think about it. Maybe I have been lost for a while and just didn't consciously notice that Jim isn't there for me anymore, not the way he was in the beginning. Maybe I just didn't want to notice. 'Cause it will feel like dying if I lose what we have. What if I've lost it already?

The dream has stopped. I haven't had it since the fountain. But, I still feel lost.

I'm not sure I count anymore, if I ever did, in Jim's life. And I'm really not sure where that leaves me.

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

Well, today was even better than yesterday. I got the crap beaten out of me by some thugs. I know Ventriss was behind it. But do you think I can convince Jim? Oh, no. My 'blessed protector' saved me, thank God, but then made cracks about my love life, like I have time for one anymore, and then he just told me I had to back off on Ventriss and should use my head as something other than a punching bag. As if that wasn't enough, he told me to wear some shades so I wouldn't scare any little kids, and then he suggested to a witness that I should just have a bag over my head.

I mean, come on! What was that about? He sounded so angry and disgusted…like I deserved it or something. Like he was angry with me and embarrassed about being seen with me. If I'm such a burden, why'd he bother taking me along in the first place? I felt…what? Diminished? Demeaned? Was he just trying to be funny? He never used to hurt me this way.

I know I used to tease him about his 'mother hen' tendencies whenever I got hurt, but this was…weird. He didn't suggest we go to a hospital, just tossed a bag of peas at me and insulted me.

Something's not right here.

And my anger is getting worse. I can hardly focus on anything but Ventriss, and I'm shouting all the time. That's not me.

I'm out of control and it scares me.

I don't think it's Ventriss…he's just the excuse.

I think it has something to do with dying and now not knowing what my life is for anymore. I used to know. It was about teaching and research, finding new truths. It was about helping Jim…being his friend.

But what if he doesn't want my friendship? What if he really wishes I were out of his life?

Is he sorry, unconsciously maybe, that he brought me back? No. No, I really can't believe that. But maybe he's sorry that I'm still underfoot and he doesn't know how to tell me to disappear.

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

Well, it seems it's not just Jim who is running out of patience with me. Simon snapped at me today when we were observing Ventriss' interrogation. "Why don't you just shoot him?" he snarled. A novel way of telling me to shut up.

And later, not long after Jim had reminded me that my face is still a little scary from the black eye, thanks so much, Simon tells Jim he needs to get me on Prozac. Good, now I'm apparently mentally incompetent and they can talk about me like I'm not there. When I tried to stay focused on the case, furious that Simon was worried about the pressure the rich could bring on him and the department, he yelled at Jim that he didn't need my teeth in his backside. Why couldn't he just yell at me…why yell at me through Jim?

Great time for Chancellor Edwards' message to arrive. Simon was pissed. Wanted to know why he was getting my messages and why I was meeting with her and Ventriss in her office. Then he tells me to back off and threatens to terminate my involvement with the department, 'I kid you not!' he shouted. Whoa! I shout at him and he threatens to throw me out? After nearly four years? What is going on here?

Sometimes I think there was a really big cosmic screw up when Jim brought me back at the fountain. I think maybe I really was supposed to die and that now I'm in the way and it's causing a discontinuity or something in the pattern of life. So they put up with having me around, but it annoys the hell out of them, Jim and Simon, that is. As if they're just looking for an excuse to blow me off.

As if that wasn't bad enough, it looks like the time continuum is screwed up at the University as well. Apparently, I don't belong there either anymore.

Thanks to Ventriss and his lawyer, Chancellor Edwards fired me today for having violated my contract. I've missed too many days of time, including the 12 days in Peru almost two years ago, not to mention the time recovering from gunshot wounds, and drowning and, oh yeah, that recent delightful little trip to Mexico, and I haven't submitted my doctoral thesis despite supposedly researching it for the last five years.

I'm so mad I could spit! God Damn It! I missed the time to help Jim…and Simon and Daryl, too, for that matter. I don't get paid for it. Jim only seems to resent it. Simon would like an excuse to cancel my observer status and now I don't have a job at the University and no way to finish my degree. I did it because I thought we were all friends. Maybe I don't understand the concept of friendship? Is that it?

Or maybe I just thought they'd gotten past the fact that I'm not quite of 'their world'. I know I'm different. My hair's long and I used to wear earrings and I don't dress the way they do. I'm not particularly deferential, and I talk back, I guess, when they'd prefer I just keep my mouth shut. But I've really tried to help, and I thought I was making some real contributions, not just to Jim, as great as that felt, but to the department, too. I've tried to fit in, tried to handle the violence and the ugliness of death, and sometimes the terror. I didn't complain when I got shot going after Simon when he was taken hostage. I tried not to make a big deal about almost being blown up on a bus, or being hauled out of police HQ by Garrett Kincaid, or even being taken by Lash right at the beginning because I knew they'd just figure I couldn't handle the heat or the danger their work entails. I've tried so hard, dammit, but all I ever get is 'you're not a cop, Sandburg', when they notice I'm there at all. And now they don't even want me around anymore.

And Simon thinks I need to learn to live in the 'real world'. Yeah, right. It doesn't get much more 'real' than this.

Whine, whine, bitch, moan and complain. Jesus. I sound like a victim. Can't have that. I'm not a child. I'm a grown up, independent, human being. I made my choices for what I thought were good reasons. If I was wrong, there's no one to blame but myself.

I'm screwed.

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

It was a good day. We took Ventriss down.

Oh, yeah, I had to jump out of a helicopter to do it and damned near froze in the icy water. And, that helicopter ride, well, don't get me started. I thought, for sure, we were going to be killed. I am SUCH an idiot. I grabbed hold of Jim so hard that I made a fool of myself. "Get a grip on something other than me!" he shouted.

I remember the days when he was protective and would order me to stay behind him or stay in the truck. A long time ago, it seems now. Guess anybody'd get tired of someone clinging onto him like a wuss. Was he just talking about me grabbing him in the helicopter…or did he mean something more and it was just a chance to say it? Does he see me as some kind of clinging vine that he doesn't know how to weed out of his life?

I feel like the ground has shifted under my feet and I don't know what's solid anymore. Like I've been living in some kind of dream world, mistaking illusion for reality…and dying changed it all. Made me see what is, not what I wish was real.

Yeah, it was a good day. I should feel good about it.

But I just feel empty.

Maybe it's all in my head. Maybe I'm just, I don't know, unsettled by having drowned and I'm reading too much into things. They were all glad I didn't die, I know that. Jim brought me back…he could have let me go. Everyone else had given up; I know that from what Megan told me on the way down to Mexico. But not Jim. He was devastated, she said. They all were.

So, maybe I just need to get my act together here.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow I'll begin again. I'll wear my hair loose, like I used to. And I'll tease Jim and be funny, like I used to be. Before…before I got so scared. And so angry.

Before I died.

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

I saw the Chancellor today. Seems the fact that Ventriss is a murderer also makes the fact that he might have cheated on his paper more believable, so she's deigned to give me another chance, providing my attendance improves and I get my doctoral thesis in within the next four months. I guess I should be grateful for small mercies…she didn't have to take me back. I am in contract violation.

Went down to the station afterward and saw Jim. Missed him this morning. He was gone by the time I got up. He said my face looks better today and he asked me how my head was. I told him that my head told me that 'just 'cause you're right, doesn't mean you always get what you want,' and then I cut up with a big loopy grin making like the Beaver. Guess it worked. He joked back and we went off to look at a murder victim at 'Miller Pond'. That wasn't a lot of fun. Oh well. You'd think I'd get used to it.

Saw Joel at the station later and he asked me again what Jim had been doing yesterday, like he could hear that Ventriss and his girlfriend were there, just out of sight. And he pointed out other things Jim had done in the past week…like know an aerosol spray had been used to trick out the security beams at the victim's house, spotting a single strand of hair from about fifty feet away, feeling static electricity on his skin, feeling the name of a contact on a blank pad with his fingertips. Little things like that. Oh, Joel made a joke about wanting to take the same scientific investigative course that Jim had taken, but he looked at me funny. And he muttered, 'Sometimes I think there're things going on that folks just aren't talking about', and waited, giving me a chance to say something if I wanted. He looked disappointed when I didn't. I feel like I'm lying to our friends…and I hate that. But it's not my secret…it's Jim's.

But it looks like Jim's either getting careless, or he doesn't care anymore who notices what he can do. Which would be a good thing. It would mean he's taking his senses for granted, finally, and is unconsciously accepting them and that others might actually be able to accept them, too. It would be so much easier if he could see them that way. Oh, I know some creeps like Brackett might come after him, but Brackett has already figured it out. The run of the mill psychos we deal with could care less about Jim's senses. And if we could get them validated, using the research I've gathered and through a few physical demonstrations, then he could testify in court about what he can hear and see, not have to let that stuff go as inadmissible.

So, I hope he is getting more comfortable. It would be better for him and even for the tribe he protects.

Maybe it has all been in my own head. Maybe if I just let the anger go and be grateful to be alive, everything will be fine.

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

Oh, great, late again today, only today it was for the charity game between the Jags and the PD and I was really looking forward to it. I thought the faculty meeting was never going to end, and dashed out when it finally finished like my tail was on fire. Silly, I guess, to be so excited…like a little kid.

I could see the forbearance on Jim's face as I raced down the stairs to the arena floor and could imagine his 'look who finally showed up' comment to Simon just from the way he shook his head and the set of his shoulders. But the crack about thinking he was stuck in an old Polish horror movie, that I guess I wasn't supposed to hear, I really didn't need. So I look like a goofball beside those giants? So what? Why is it that he can never seem to leave off kidding me about being shorter than all the behemoths down at the PD? Like I chose this? Like it matters?

As it turned out, I don't know why I rushed anyway. As they so often remind me, I'm not a cop…so the PD insurance wouldn't cover me if I got hurt on the court. These guys…I go out in the field with Jim, get shot at…would the insurance cover that? And I couldn't be seen in the photo shots, because I'm not a cop. So what if I helped solve…I'm whining again. I have GOT to get a grip on that.

So what? The really big issue is that Kincaid escaped. Man, he is one of the stars of my long running nightmares. From the way Daryl looked, I think Kincaid figures prominently in a few of his nightmares, too. You'd think after what Daryl experienced as a hostage that day that being a cop would be the last thing the kid would ever want to be in his life. But, nope. He wants to take after his Dad, I guess.

Too bad his Dad doesn't get it. Most fathers would be proud to know their sons want to grow up to be just like them. But, then Simon wants something more for Daryl than ducking bullets. If he was my kid, I'd feel the same way, I guess. But, it's not Simon's decision what Daryl does with his life.

It's Daryl's.

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

Whoa, now this was a day to inspire a whole new run of nightmares and cold sweats. Started out the way it was going to go, with Simon taking a shot at me for sticking up for Daryl's point of view. Some crack about me not having any kids that I know of. Like I'd ever do that. People who grow up knowing who their parents are just don't get it. Don't know you'd never condemn someone to the kind of mystery of not knowing who you are, not completely. Of not knowing where you come from, or who your family is, what your heritage and personal history is. It's like a big, gaping hole that just looms there, black and bottomless, with no way to get across. You learn to live with it…but you never forget it's there.

Sure, I know I enjoy the company of the ladies, and I haven't made any long-term commitments yet. But, Jim and Simon made those commitments, and look at them. Both of them divorced already. When, if, I settle down, it's going to be for good. I'm not leaving my kids with half a home. I'm just not going to do that. So, if I take my time, so what? If I enjoy women, is that such a big deal? As if they didn't? But I would never be so careless and uncaring, never leave someone at risk of having my kid without me ever knowing it. Not ever.

Well, that's the way the day started off, but then it got SO much better. Well, it looked like it was getting better at the time. I blew Jim off on a routine witness questioning to go to the Jags game with Simon and Daryl. Not very 'partner-like' of me, was it? Pretty selfish. Teach him to think I'm an outcast from a Polish horror movie.

Great, now I'm getting passive aggressive. Used to be, I'd just tell him if I was pissed off. Speak my mind. When did I stop doing that? When did it start to matter more what he thinks of me than who I really am?

Anyway, Kincaid and his goons took over the sports arena.

My inclination was to just hide in the crowd and keep Daryl safe, but that plan was shot to hell when Simon did this crazy hero bit to try to take Kincaid down personally. What did he think? That all the other goons would just buy some popcorn and watch their main man go down? Cops. I love 'em…but, man, don't they ever learn that you've got to pick your time to be a hero? Otherwise it just blows up in your face.

To be fair, I think Simon was rattled by knowing Daryl was there, somewhere, and potentially in danger. The poor guy just wanted it all to be over and tried to rush it a little. Can't blame him. If Daryl was my kid, I might have done the same thing.

After Simon was taken prisoner, we, Daryl and I, were the only cavalry left, at least inside the building. I knew Jim would be up to something. He'd bail us out. But in the meantime, we needed to do something to help ourselves, not to mention Simon and the team. That maniac Kincaid had threatened to kill them all, and I was pretty sure he'd do it too, despite all his words about letting folks go if he got the money he wanted.

Well, the rescue attempt went pretty well for a few minutes…until Kincaid and his reinforcements showed up. Daryl was amazing! Saved his Dad's life at one point. He's not a kid anymore. And I don't say that just 'cause he's at least as tall as I am now. But, our rescue attempt failed and we were all in trouble, big time. Hustled out of the arena and into a panel truck. Driven off somewhere. Didn't know what was going to happen to us, but figured we were going to be killed. But, I hadn't seen Jim anywhere, and figured he'd find a way to save us, so I wasn't really worried.

And he did. Save us, I mean.

I'm rambling. Classic avoidance tactics. The issue isn't Simon taking potshots at my morality, or even about Kincaid. It isn't even about the possibility of maybe getting killed again.

I shot a gun today with the intent of trying to hit someone.

When Jim rescued us, there was no time to call backup if we were going to stop Kincaid. Hero time again. Why do we get into these messes? Anyway, Jim and Simon with some help from Leroy took out the guys who had been sent to kill us, as Jim so clearly put it when I asked him why he shot into the back of the empty truck. 'I'm killing you,' he said as he looked straight into my eyes. Interesting choice of words, I thought.

Anyway, Simon handed me a handgun and I took it without even thinking about it, and then we were running to get cover where we could shoot at Kincaid and his men to keep them from getting away. Jim was going to drop some tear gas into the submarine's hatch to incapacitate them.

Before I knew it, I was shooting along with everyone else and they were shooting at us. Jim got hit, but was saved by his vest, thank God. The guys saved the day with a tremendous 'four point shot'; wish they could do that on the court…

I've held guns before. Hey, the first time I rode with Jim before I even became an observer, I held a gun on the lady bomber aka 'The Switchman'. Damn near got myself killed when she attacked me and we had to fight for the gun, but I held it and knocked her out. Some gentleman I'm turning out to be. And then I held a flare gun on one of Kincaid's men to make him fly the helicopter back to Police HQ. And I held a gun on Quinn's girlfriend out in that forest. Well, I'd already been shot once on that trip and figured once was enough. Then there was the time Jim gave me his gun when we were on the train and he was heading out to do some reconnaissance and was leaving me to guard the witness. And I held another gun in Peru, when we went after Simon and Daryl.

But, most of the time, I only had to hold the damn things. I wasn't supposed to shoot anyone, just, what, pretend I'd shoot if they didn't behave.

I shot that gun today. With deliberate intent.

What the hell is happening to me? Where did the guy who believed in peaceful solutions go? Have I been surrounded by violence so long that I not only accept it now but have slipped into becoming a part of it without even noticing?

Is this part of that anger I can't seem to shake? Or is it just that we didn't have much choice…I didn't have much choice. Kincaid and his bunch of so-called Patriots are stone cold killers. If they weren't stopped, they'd kill who knows how many people.

So, good, I can rationalize it. Great. And the next time? When I do more than shoot? When I actually kill someone? Will I be able to rationalize that?

Did the real Blair Sandburg die in that fountain after all? Am I just some angry look-alike who doesn't even know what he believes in anymore, who is furious all the time and trying to hide it…and who is willing to shoot at other human beings?

Who am I? What do I stand for?

I wish there was someone I could talk to about all this.

But Mom wouldn't understand. Much as she likes Jim, she thinks I'm nuts hanging around with the cops. Simon and Jim wouldn't get it…guns are a part of their lives. They don't want to kill anyone, but they will if it's necessary. It's a matter of duty for them. The departmental shrink at the PD? Oh, yeah, right, I'm not a cop so I don't have access…and my health insurance sure wouldn't cover counseling. Nobody at the university would 'get it', either. They all think I'm nuts, too, and can't figure out why it's taking so damned long to get my dissertation on police subcultures written.

God, I'm scared.

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

Jim ran into an old friend today, almost literally when the guy hotrodded across our lane. Turns out, they were in Covert Ops together and the guy saved Jim's life. Wouldn't mind getting to know him better. Might give me some insight into Jim, help me better understand that part of his life.

But, Jim didn't introduce me, not really. Didn't tell the guy, Archer his name was, that I'm his friend, or his partner or his roommate…just my name. He told me, though, that Archer had saved his life. Funny, I'm sure there was a time or two when I did the same thing, but he didn't seem inclined to share that with Archer.

Jim went out to meet Archer for dinner. I hinted around about not having anything to do, but Jim wasn't buying any. I guess he just wanted to spend time with a friend tonight.

More and more, I get the feeling that 'friend' doesn't describe who I am in his life.

Ah, well…I really needed the time anyway to work on the dissertation.

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

Jim was odd this morning when I asked him how dinner had gone. He didn't say anything at first, just shrugged and turned away. Then he mumbled something about Archer's wife being there. Veronica.

It was the way he said it, his body language, something, I don't know. But I've spent more than three years studying this guy and I know when he's hurting, and I know when he's hiding something…and this morning, it was both, big time.

I asked him to tell me who Veronica was, but he blew me off. Said it didn't matter. That it was a long time ago.

And then he walked out.

Guess he forgot I was going to ride in with him this morning.

Classic avoidance behavior. I don't know who she is, but I do know she's important to him…and that she hurt him somehow. Hurt him bad.

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

Something smells about all this Archer and Veronica business. I guess Jim met her and found out his old friend is in some kind of trouble. Getting details out of him is like pulling teeth these days. Anyway, we went to meet with Archer, or I thought it was going to be 'we', but Jim left me in the truck.

We're back to the old puppy routine. 'Stay', like I'm a dog or something. I thought we'd gotten past that a long time ago.

Then we went to meet up with the union guy from the Midwest. When he asked who I was, Jim just said, 'Don't worry about him.' Used to be I had a name.

The guy as much as accused Jim of being a dirty cop.

Anyway, we got the runaround. Nobody is giving a straight story.

There is something that doesn't feel right about any of this. I told Jim today that he should walk away, get some other detective to look into what was shaping up to be a mess. But he wouldn't listen. Archer's his friend, he said.

I couldn't help it…I blurted out that I didn't think it was Archer he was concerned about.

It's Veronica that has Jim going in circles.

I wish he'd talk to me. I wish I knew what was going on. How can I help him if I don't know what's going on?

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

God, Archer was killed today! Blown up outside his own house. They hauled the union guy in, and I watched the interrogation. I could see Jim was shocked to hear that Veronica had been in contact with the union official.

And then he took off without me. Just up and left in the middle of the interrogation session.

I called after him, but he left me behind.

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

It feels like I haven't seen Jim for days. He's caught up in the investigation of Archer's death. And there's something about Veronica, but he won't say what.

Damn it. I do NOT trust that woman.

I haven't even met her and I don't trust her.

But I can see that she has Jim running around in circles, as tense as a two by four. Who IS she? What does she mean to him?

Why do I feel like Jim is being led down some kind of garden path…and that he's going to be hung out to dry?

Oh, very good, Sandburg. Nothing like mixing your metaphors. Get a grip and get some sleep.

Sleep…seems like a rare commodity. One thing with Jim leaving me on my own so much lately, I've been making good progress with the diss. Still have to figure out how to keep Jim's identity safe, though. Eli thinks we may be able to have a 'closed defense' and the subject matter could be sealed for something like 25 years.

I wonder if I could get Jim to relax enough about people knowing about his abilities in the next twenty-five years that he doesn't shoot me or something when it actually does comes to light.

There has to be a way to protect his privacy. Eli will help me work it out.

What happens to us, to Jim and me, once the dissertation is finished? We need to talk about that. I can't just assume he'll still want me hanging around. Not the way things have been lately; well, for a while now, anyway.

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

Jim was home when I came in tonight. I gotta say, he looks like ten miles of bad road these days. I don't think he's sleeping much.

I decided I had to try to get him to see that Veronica is a legitimate suspect in her husband's death. Hell, Jim's the one who drilled me on 'MOM'…and he wasn't meaning anything maternal. Motive, opportunity and means. I pointed out that $3 mill and an abusive husband is quite a motive. And she sure had opportunity. He argued means, and I pointed out she could have had help.

He told me I needed 'help'. He didn't look very happy with me, I'm afraid.

Guess I blew it.

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

I observed the IA interrogation of Jim by the charming Ray Aldo today. And, finally, I understand how much Veronica meant to Jim. Probably still means to him.

But, you know, I don't think he even noticed when he revealed how she'd been two-timing him years ago with Archer. It never seemed to occur to him that someone who cheated him once might well be cheating again.

I saw her with Jim in the garage but was too far away to hear what she was saying. He looked wrecked when she walked away. I think he knows now, beyond any doubt, that she set him up.

I wanted to belt her for the pain I saw in his eyes. No wonder this guy has such a thing about trust. He's known more betrayal than anyone should ever have to experience in a single lifetime. It's not right and it's sure not fair. Jim gives everything he's got to the people he cares about…and he'd give his life to protect them, to do what's right. He's decent. He doesn't deserve to be hurt like this.

And nobody should ever have to bear such hurt alone. God, I wish he'd trust me enough to let me in, to let me help him.

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

It all broke loose today. They suspended Jim. I couldn't believe it. But Simon said he just didn't have any choice.

At least Jim let me go with him this time to look for evidence of who's the real murderer in this little scenario.

And he found it…security tapes that showed Veronica and, guess who, Ray Aldo, buying the explosives that killed her husband.

Now that took me by surprise. Who would have thought she and Aldo even knew each other before Archer got murdered? I thought then that we'd find out how they'd met when their statements were taken. Now, I don't know if we'll ever know exactly what was going on or how long the set up had been running. Was Aldo always a part of it, or had she bought him off when he figured it out? He was a part of the murder plot, had to be since he was there when the explosives were purchased.

Simon put out an APB on Aldo and then we went to pick her up. Jim asked for a chance to get her to surrender and went in alone. You can't blame the guy for trying. I think he really did love her. I wonder if he still does.

When the shots rang out, I thought I'd have a heart attack. Jim didn't have his gun back yet…he was still officially suspended even if Simon had brought him along on the arrest. So he wasn't the one doing the shooting!

Simon and I raced to the front door and barged in to find Jim crouching over Veronica and Aldo dead a few feet away. Actually, Veronica was dead, too. They'd shot one another.

Jim said he was fine.

But he was lying. I could see it in his eyes. The hurt. The loss. The wish that just once life could turn out like the fairy tales and everyone could live happily ever after.

I told Simon he'd be fine. But, I'm really not sure about that. I think this will haunt him for a very long time. Jim's not a guy who gets over being hurt easily.

He still won't talk to me.

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

Tonight, when I was heading home from the University, my car started acting up. It was just after midnight and the streets were deserted. When another vehicle pulled in behind me and a bunch of guys got out of the car, I knew I was in trouble. I called 911 and reported a crime in progress, and thanks to Fortune, my car finally started up and I got out of there. There was a guy standing right in front, but I was too scared to care. He flew over the hood when I took off…God, what if I'd killed him? But, he was okay. Just real mad.

They came after me and started shooting, blew out the rear window and a tire. I ended up crashing into an old abandoned building. God, I was so scared. I ran into the building to get away from them.

And tripped over a guy bleeding to death in the hall.

I tried to stop the bleeding, but I couldn't. There were sirens and then Jim was there and others. I don't really remember. Simon showed up, I remember that.

I felt bad about not being able to help the guy, but Jim told me there was nothing I could have done. But he didn't touch me, you know? Not my shoulder or arm. There was a time when I was hurting that he would have touched me. It's what Jim does. He has trouble saying how he feels, sometimes, hell, most of the time, so he touches to show he cares or to give comfort.

I'd just been almost car-jacked, shot at, had a car accident and found a guy who virtually died in my arms.

But it was Simon who asked me if I was all right.

Jim saw something through one of the windows and we went back to investigate, thinking maybe the killer was still in there. But Jim led us to a closet. I know I made some snarky remark, something about 'Good work, detective'. I know I sounded cold. I felt cold. Inside.

Simon suggested Jim was upset, worried about his 'friend' who was standing right there, having not had a great night.

But Jim jumped right in to protest that no way was he stressed. I mean, why would he be?

Simon offered me condolences about my car and I asked if the department could help with repairs…should have known better. Simon laughed at me. Now, I know it was crazy to hope for some financial relief, but they had captured the perps thanks to me, not to mention found another body…but the laugh was cold, man. I honestly don't know how I'm going to float the money for those repairs. And I need the car.

Anyway, that's not important.

After Simon left, Jim saw it again, some shape in the closet I couldn't see.

Definitely an experience with the mysterious.

I think Jim was seeing a ghost.

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

The next morning, I gave Jim an herbal lozenge for his cold. He made a fuss and a face but he took it, and even thanked me. But, when I tried to get him to talk about what happened last night, he tried to shut me down.

Said he's had about as much as he can handle with this 'Sentinel stuff'. What's that supposed to mean? Is this another message that I'm not getting…that he wants out? That he wants it all to be over? I really need to think about this. I know I'm avoiding it, avoiding having to face that he really doesn't want me around anymore.

Anyway, par for the course, I ignored his comment and argued back that there is reason to believe there can be phenomena such as ghosts. Too bad Simon and Joel overheard and couldn't restrain a hearty laugh at my gullibility.

Jim wasn't very pleased. Told me I'd been a lot of help.

But…he saw something. And if I've learned anything, it's to trust Jim's senses. He doesn't make things up, not something like this. He did see something; I know he did. So, I got my gear together and told him when he got home that I thought he'd seen a ghost. He didn't agree.

But then we a got a call from Joel that sounds had been heard at the abandoned building.

Should have known it would be a set up. Those clowns couldn't resist making me look like a fool. Rafe and H were hiding out in the building. Jim didn't look too thrilled, but he didn't bother to stand with me, wouldn't admit to what he'd seen or what he might or might not believe.

But, when she showed up again after they'd left, he told me to grab my stuff and follow him. I heard him say, 'I knew I wasn't seeing things.' Sure wish he'd said that to the other guys. But he's always so afraid that people will think he's a freak or something. Such incredible, amazing, gifts…and he thinks he's a freak. How am I ever going to get him to see, to understand, that what he has, what he is, is nothing to be ashamed of?

He's seen a woman…and she's started to show him things.

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

Well today, when Simon ragged me on the ghost thing, I decided I'd had enough. Simon's the only one who we can be even semi-straight with. So, I blurted it out. That Jim had seen her again. At least he finally admitted it to Simon.

Who still didn't want to hear about it. The Captain figures we belong in the Looney bin. But he at least gave us the benefit of a doubt and allowed the composite of a homeless guy, who we found out later is Robert Dunlop, to be put on the street.

And that led us to the woman's belongings. Jim could tell by the scent on the clothes, the same scent he smells when she appears. We found out her name was Molly, and there were pictures. Jim recognized her.

Molly is the woman in the mirror.

So we went back again tonight. When Jim wondered why only he and Dunlop could see her, I finally admitted some information that I've known for years, but didn't really want to get into with him, for obvious reasons. I told Jim that one of the symptoms of mental disorder is heightened senses. Actually, he took it better than I ever thought he would. He said he was crazy for putting up with me. I like to think he was joking about that.

Jim saw her again…his respiration rate went through the roof. She gave him another clue… 'Mrs. Sam Bromley'.

He says he called to me, but I didn't hear him. I wonder if somehow I'm being shut out. Like Incacha told Jim to leave me behind when he went to the Temple in Mexico. Maybe I'm really not any part of this…that Jim can do it all himself now. Maybe I don't really belong here anymore?

Now that I've given him some idea of how to control his senses, maybe my time here is done and I just don't know it or won't accept it.

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

Today I shared a theory with Jim that spirits who can't rest hang around until whatever is holding them here is resolved. And, you know, he really cared about that. Said that if there is another life after we die, that she deserves to find it. I can tell he really cares about her, about this wandering, tortured spirit.

This is what I see in Jim. A man who really cares about the helpless and the innocent, though he finds it difficult to show it. I have such respect for him. I mean, a guy who has been hurt as much as he has been, who has been betrayed or abandoned by almost everyone he ever cared about…and he still cares about the spirit of a woman who can't rest. He still wants to do the right thing…because it's the right thing to do. He's just such a decent human being.

And, hell, whether he'll talk about it or not, we both know there is something after death. I was dead when I saw the vision of the jungle, and the panther and the wolf running toward each other. That conversation about Molly might have been a chance to talk to him about what happened to me, to us…but, as usual, the immediate reality took precedence over the past…

We got a call that Dunlop was back at the shelter, demanding Molly's stuff, so we took it back. He took off and Jim figured out where he'd gone…back to the abandoned building. When we got there, he told me to stay in the truck. That Dunlop was probably still armed, and Jim didn't want to agitate him.

There was a time when Jim wanted me to stay in the truck so that I wouldn't get hurt. Or go with him to help settle down agitated people, because I'm good at that. People relax around me. Or at least they used to.

Maybe coming back from the dead makes people figure that you're invulnerable now, or something. Maybe that's why he doesn't seem to worry about me any more. Maybe that anger I feel inside is making me less comfortable to be around now. Maybe it shows.

He was in there a long time. When I finally went in to get him, he was zoned in front of the mirror and Dunlop was gone. I had to touch him and call to him repeatedly to bring him out of it. When I think about that, I realize that I haven't touched him in a long time. It's like there's some kind of wall between us now.

He says Molly showed him Trent is the murderer.

We headed back to the PD to track down some more information. I ended up blurting out Molly's name to Simon and Joel. Joel made some crack about garlic, which is really only useful to ward off vampires, and Simon blasted us…Jim wasn't happy with my indiscretion.

Why am I always screwing up lately?

So, anyway, we went to Bromley's studio and I realized he's a renowned artist. Which earned me another crack from Jim. Something like maybe I 'got' this modern art but he waved at an empty canvas and said it just looked like a big, white square to him. Well, duh???

Sometimes I get really tired of the putdowns, you know.

Bromley recognized her picture, called her his 'Venus'.

Which led me to my old text on modern art. And I found Molly…or the statue of her called 'Venus' that had once been in the park across from her building. I thought Jim would be pleased, that he'd thank me for my help…but he didn't. God, I'm getting pathetic. Like a kid looking for approval. Needing it. Ridiculous. We're partners. Partners help one another. One doesn't expect thanks from the other for adding to the common pool of information. I am 'way too sensitive lately…gotta get a grip.

Next thing we knew, Dunlop called and we went to meet him at the old building. We were early and so we went to check on the park…sure enough, the old base of the statue is still there. And I noticed the dedication was only two days after Molly died.

Dunlop arrived, and Trent was there, too. There was some shooting and Jim got Trent. Dunlop gave Jim the papers that proved why Trent had killed his partner.

So, that's one murder solved, courtesy of a ghost only Jim and Dunlop can see…and Jim still doesn't want to let anyone know he sees or communicates with her.

It was like old times, though, when he told me to stay behind him when the bullets started to fly. That's the first time he's said that in a very long time.

Jim tried to get Dunlop to tell him about Molly's murder. Dunlop didn't want to tell…he'd promised not to ever tell. He's still scared of the murderer coming after him. But, Molly showed Jim something.

So we ended up going back to the park. And Jim found the gun that had killed Molly in the base of the statue.

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

Today they brought Sam Bromley to Molly's old apartment and we had Dunlop there, and Simon. Jim tried to stimulate Bromley's memory by having Dunlop quote what Bromley had said so many years ago, repeating the old threats.

I asked Bromley why he'd killed Molly when it was clear that his memories had surfaced and he was lucid again. God, what a sad story. People have such sad stories, you know? He loved her and he killed her. He cried when he said he'd never love anyone again. Why do people do that? Why do they hurt the people they love and who love them? Fear…Bromley was afraid of losing the income his wife was providing. Fear drove him to kill Molly. Fear killed something inside of him that day, too. Was protecting the fear worth more than the love Molly would have given him? Why do people make such screwed up, painful, pitiful choices? When you get right down to it, life is damned short. We don't have time to screw around making the wrong choices, pushing love away, living in darkness. Fear, pain…it's not worth it. It's just not worth what they cost, not if you have any kind of choice.

I couldn't believe it when they took him downtown for booking. Procedures. Right. What about humanity?

Sometimes, it just doesn't make any sense to me. Who cared at that point if he was charged, prosecuted and convicted for a fifty-year-old murder? He isn't a danger to anyone else. The man is old and sick, locked in the prison of his own mind. What more can they do to him?

Simon decided that the only reason Jim thought he could see Molly was because there'd been some peyote in the herbal medicine I'd given Jim for his cold. I can't believe Simon had that analyzed! How weird is that? God, it's not like I'm some kind of pusher or suspect or something! Simon knows I'd never give Jim anything that would hurt him or be illegal, doesn't he? Then, he called me disparagingly, 'your friend, Sandburg, here'. Like I wasn't his friend, too.

Anyway, after Simon left, Molly came back to thank Jim for helping her. She's at peace now, and I'm really glad about that. So's Jim.

But, I have to wonder, would he have helped her if I hadn't kept pushing him to accept he'd seen something he wasn't sure he wanted to believe in?

Is that my role? To make him believe in his senses even when he doubts them himself?

Is that enough?

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

Vince Deal came in today, wanting us to investigate the alleged suicide of an old friend…says he thinks his friend was murdered.

Damned if later in the day, he didn't take a look at the crime scene photos and saw something that shouldn't have been overlooked. The oven his friend had supposedly gassed himself in had been turned off. Jim and Simon immediately figured there was something to Vince's idea after all.

I didn't want to discourage them. I've always given Vince more credit than they've tended to do. Too often, they see him as an old 'has been' who drinks too much, like his old friend.

But nobody seemed to consider that it was likely the crime scene people who had turned off the oven, or maybe whoever had found his friend. Or the EMTs who first responded to the scene. I mean, who would leave gas pouring into the kitchen while they were trying to help the victim or investigate his death?

Much as I get a kick out of Vince, though, when I saw him hitting on Megan, I tried to warn her off. Vince has quite a reputation with the ladies…or so he'd like us all to believe. It's probably true. But he's old enough to be her father.

I got a crack from her about my 'image', or lack of one, for my trouble. And then Jim, who had overheard, of course, called me 'Romeo'. Like I can't be worried about a friend without being jealous? Sometimes I feel like I'm some kind of cliché. That people only see what I used to be, before…well before the fountain.

Nobody seems to have noticed that I haven't had a date since.

Or that I've only worn my hair loose a few times since.

Or that I haven't worn my earrings since.

They still see me the way I was three years ago.

I feel like I'm invisible to all of them now. Like I'm just a memory or something, that's still walking around, getting in the way.

Later tonight, we were on the way to Vince's friend's place at 1340 Bridgewater, and then got a call of a prowler at the same address.

We found Vince there and Megan figured that maybe Vince might be a target.

So I talked Jim into letting Vince come home with us for a couple of days.

I'm surprised I'm still breathing.

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

Jim went undercover with Hydra Security today. There looks like there's a connection between Max's death and some information that Simon's been wondering about Hydra from another source, that some of their clients are being blackmailed.

I gather Vince had already gotten himself a job as their new company 'spokesperson' for their commercials.

Jim wasn't happy about that, not happy at all.

Later that night, we decided we needed somebody to go undercover as a client.

Should be fun.

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

What a day. I got to play Megan's crazy artist lover…at least we got to kiss. Megan cut my lip in her enthusiasm for the part. And I got to growl like some crazy lover to keep the security officer outside the door distracted. And no doubt vastly amused.

Yeah, it was fun all right. Until somehow our cover got blown and the next thing we knew the door was being kicked in and guns were being waved in our faces…and we were hauled out of there.

I figured Jim, and Simon especially, weren't going to like that. After all, I'm not a cop and probably shouldn't have been involved. Imagine the paperwork if I got hurt. Geez, there's that bitterness again. I know better than that. No, they wouldn't have been happy about Megan and I being taken, because they'd be worried about us. Move on, Sandburg…it's time to let the anger go.

Jim told me later that they found Rafe outside, still bleeding from being clubbed on the head by the Hydra folks. He's all right, thank God. These characters are nuts…and they play for keeps.

Fortunately, Jim heard a minicassette tape running. It had been planted to get information with which to blackmail Megan, their client. Very nice people. But at least they'd forgotten it was there and Jim heard where they'd taken us.

Meanwhile we were tied up in a dreary, cavernous room in the old studio where they filmed their commercials. For a while, we tried to keep our covers going. What a waste of time. The next thing I knew, I was deafened by bullets being shot just past my head. And then the gun was being cocked and pointed right at me. I sure hoped Jim was somewhere close by. It's crazy and I try not to let him know it, 'cause the pressure would be unreasonable…my expectations are unreasonable. But I always know he'll come through for me. I always know he'll be there when I need him. I guess that's why, despite all the weirdness lately, I have the hardest time believing he doesn't care what happens to me. But, it's not really me, is it? Jim just comes through…he's there when anyone needs him. It's who he is.

God, it was terrifying when the Hydra guy caressed my head with the barrel of that gun, and pushed it against my ear…nice reference to Van Gogh, though. But then he cocked it and pressed the muzzle against my temple, threatening to shoot me in the head. You know, that's a very scary feeling. I was pretty sure that if Jim didn't show up soon, my brains would be splattered all over the place. I don't think even Jim could bring me back from a death like that.

Megan tried to cover for me, admitting she was a cop and asking them to let me go. I claimed to be Detective Jim Ellison and told them she was just an actress, and that if they let her go, I'd tell them what they wanted to know. It was just a way to confuse them and stall for more time. No way were they ever going to let either one of us go.

Jim has perfect timing you know. He walked in just when we REALLY needed him.

He even asked me if I was all right. It was like old times as he cut me loose and told me he wanted me to go with him.

The next thing I know we're in a high-speed chase after the perps, but there was some other car in-between them and us. It was Vince. I screamed at him to get off the road. Might as well have saved my breath.

Man that was a wild ride…vintage Ellison. I ended up banging my head on the rear window. Hurt like hell.

And who stopped the runaway perps? Us? Yeah, sure.

Vince blocked them and drove them off the road.

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

Vince is getting a new series! What great news for him! He wrote in a small part for Jim in his new show. Much as he enjoys teasing Jim, I think he really respects the big guy. Well, who doesn't? Simon and I noticed Vince hadn't bothered to have roles created for us. I suggested we should talk with the writers. I mean, isn't that what one should do when one is invisible?

But, the really good news is, I've been spending so much time on my own lately that I've made a lot of progress on my diss. It's almost done…and it looks really good, too. There is such a ton of stuff that Jim and I have learned over the years about his senses and how to use them, control them. If anything ever happens to me, he can give this to whoever will be working with him next. That gives me a sense of security. I mean, I know the tapes and my notes and journals would be useful, but it's all laid out now…a really valuable tool if it's ever needed.

I wish Eli and I could come up with an idea to make sure we can protect Jim's identity. I'm getting really worried about it now that we're getting down to the wire. If I can't keep his privacy intact, I can't submit this paper. Not only because he's my friend, though that's important and all that would likely matter to him.

But also because it would violate my obligation as a researcher and social scientist.

The obligation to protect my sources.

We'll come up with something.

And, if we don't? Well, good thing I wrote 'The Thin Blue Line' on the closed society of the police subculture. Finished it after we got back from Mexico. So Plan B is ready if I need it. And I can still give the Sentinel document to Jim.

Nothing like writing two dissertations, teaching classes, counseling students and backing up a Sentinel in my spare time.

Not that Jim's been taking much of my time lately.

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

This evening we ended up on stakeout, hoping to catch one of America's 'Most Wanted'. We were keeping tabs on the daughter of the guy, hoping he might show up. I tried to work on my lecture for tomorrow at the same time.

Once, when it was my turn to stand watch, I teased Jim about seeing her stripping for her bath or something. He got really upset, like I'd REALLY violate her privacy and be so disgusting, so I just slammed back about how some of us don't need binoculars. Sheesh. Does the guy really think I'm that sleazy? She was trusting us to watch over her, for God's sake, not leer over her.

But, all evening, my thoughts about how Lindsay didn't acknowledge her father kept distracting me. Didn't care about him anymore.

I don't get it. How people who have parents don't value them. Don't they know they are the only parents you get, and some of us don't get two, or even one for that matter? Ah well, maybe if your father is a crook, you don't want to know him anymore. Maybe I wouldn't want to know if my Dad was a crook.

Maybe.

When H and Rafe arrived, in the hustle to depart, I ended up leaving some notes behind so we had to go back. Jim didn't want to go back…it was late. He complained 'of all the partners, I get the nutty professor'. You know, that hurt. I mean, he wasn't kidding. He was really pissed off and didn't want to go back for my sake. But he figured that he'd go back anyway…maybe we could get some pizza.

Good thing we went back.

The guys had been gassed. I don't know if they would have died, but the place was thick with fumes and they were out cold.

When Jim checked on Lindsay and her baby, they were gone.

Turned out Lindsay's Dad had arranged the distraction to talk to Lindsay.

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

The next day, we got a lead on his whereabouts, but he wasn't there. Jim spotted him though and we took off after him. We cornered him in an old warehouse and chased him through it. The next thing I knew, we were caught in a trap, the floor falling out from under us. Harry had set it all up to talk to us. He said we were after the wrong guy; that we should be after some guy named Jack Kris. Harry said he was a thief, but that Jack, an old partner, is a killer.

Harry wanted a deal. He offered to help us catch Jack providing we made sure his family was okay. He told us he had cancer, and it was terminal.

Shit. He still loves his daughter. And his grandson.

When we told Simon about it, Jim didn't mention the cancer so I did. Jim just looked pained and looked away. Simon went out of his way to tell me I'm a naïve idiot. I tried to argue. Harry could have killed us, not just walked away. But Simon threw us out of his office.

When I asked Jim why he didn't back me up with Simon, he said he didn't know what he believed and wasn't about to take on Simon in that mood.

But I know he believes Harry, just as much as I do. I can see it in his eyes.

How come I'm the only one who says so?

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

I hated doing it. We set poor Harry up. We played on the fact that he loves his daughter and terrified him by making him believe that Lindsay was so sick that she was taken to hospital by ambulance, and needed emergency surgery. They caught him there.

Poor guy. He couldn't stay away. He loves her too much.

Turns out, Jim was right to trap Harry and I was wrong to feel bad about it.

The good news is that another robbery took place while Harry was in custody. So, it seems he was telling us the truth.

Jim sent me to take Lindsay home. You know, once upon a time, she would have been sent home with the uniformed guys but lately he seems to ditch me every chance he gets.

Once upon a time, Jim treated me like a real partner.

You're whining again, Sandburg. Cut it out or deal with it.

I feel bad for Lindsay and her son, Tyler. His father took off. He won't know his Dad, either. Poor kid. I know what that's like.

Lindsay was feeling sorry about having tricked her father. I tried to tell her not to second-guess herself. And told her there was still plenty of time to get to know her father, only then I remembered there wasn't much time after all.

Good going, Sandburg. Nothing like blurting out that her father is dying.

I guess Harry didn't want her to know.

She isn't sure whether to believe him. But I do. I tried to get her to see that this might be her last chance to get to know her father. I told her I never knew mine…and that I don't think I could ever pass up a chance to get to know him, if…

But, I'm not going to get that chance.

You'd think I'd accept that. I'm a grown man, for God's sake. It's time to stop wishing I knew who my father was…or is. Geez, I hope he's still alive, 'cause if he's dead, I'll never have the chance to…

Would you quit that and move ON!

Anyway, Simon ended up giving Jim and Harry twenty-four hours to bring in the guy who is really guilty of killing those two cops up north.

Jim and Harry went to see one of Jim's snitches. Jim ended up chasing the guy all through some warehouse or factory or something. But it was Harry who actually caught the guy when he ran out the door and past the truck. Jim says he ended up having to borrow Harry's handcuffs. That must have been amusing. Wish I'd been there to see it.

Sounds like Harry's a more useful partner than I am. Guess it's a good thing Jim had him along.

I told Jim I told Lindsay about Harry's cancer. My friend was not pleased with me. He called for a uniform to help me watch over her and Tyler and Harry 'cause Jim had to go back downtown to see Simon.

I wasn't really sure why I was staking out Lindsay's place in the first place. I mean, we had Harry. And then I wondered why we needed the uniformed cop? Why didn't Jim trust me to watch Harry on my own? I mean, it's not like he's going to run away. He could have run when Jim chased after his snitch.

Well, as it turned out, I guess I really can't be trusted. And my judgment about people seems to suck, too.

I came to with Jim leaning over me, an unconscious uniformed officer on the floor and Harry and the baby gone. We'd been gassed while Lindsay was out doing some shopping. But, I can't figure out how Harry managed to sit there and watch us lose consciousness and not succumb to the gas himself.

I got sent home. Jim went to face Simon's wrath…used to be a time when he'd take me with him.

I heard that Simon was really pleased about us losing Harry. Not. Especially not about having to admit to the FBI agents that we'd had him and we'd lost him because we hadn't locked him up properly in the first place. Simon hates looking like a fool. Can't blame him. Who doesn't?

I decided to head back to the station anyway, and found out that Jim had ended up going for a 'job interview'. Turns out, Harry got him in on the inside.

But, Jim doesn't want Simon to know, or the feds, obviously.

He asked me to help. It's been a while since he's asked me for that.

I hope I don't screw up.

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

I should have known better. All Jim needed me to do was call in the rest of the team to pick up the bad guys as they split off after the robbery. I didn't even need to be there.

Jim backed up Harry when he went after Kris and his grandson.

Jim saved Harry's life.

And Tyler's.

Harry did get shot, but he's all right. It was so great to see Harry playing with Tyler in the hospital. He looked so happy and so did Lindsay.

I wondered if maybe Lindsay could be eligible for the reward money for having helped capture Harry.

Simon said he'd do what he could.

But, I know Simon.

He'll come through.

They'll be okay.

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

Oh God, my worst nightmare has just come true! Who would have thought that my own mother would be my downfall?

She came to visit today. Surprised the hell out of me when she came up behind me in the loft. Maybe I shouldn't have ever given her a key. I couldn't stay with her, though. I hadn't expected her and I had to meet Jim. There's a threat against a union leader and we were to be part of the protection. I didn't even have time to pull my hair back. So, there I was, hair all over the place and looking a lot less than professional. I was late and Jim was sarcastic about it, something about how nice it was for me to join them.

I gotta tell you, that union leader is a real funny guy. Called me a hippy and when Jim didn't introduce me, I introduced myself. Ah, well, I'm used to it. Some people think anyone with long hair is a hippy. I can't begin to say how annoyed I was. The first time in months that I show up with my hair loose and I get insulted. And, besides, why is it such a bad thing to be a hippie anyway?

Professional. Is that how I've been trying to look since Alex killed me? Is that why I've been tying my hair back and why I gave up wearing the earrings? Well, by the time the day was over, any hope I'd ever had of seeming to be a professional in their eyes was gone. Guess I might as well just go on looking like a hippy flake. That's what I must be. A flake. Why the hell did I ever write that dissertation in the first place?

But, I've gotten ahead of myself.

Jim stopped the Iceman's attempted assassination. Zeller must have been shocked to his boots that Jim had spotted him with his naked eyes and shot the scope to pieces. Brackett won't be the only one figuring there's something different about Jim. Hell, if I can't stop what Mom started today, the whole world will know there's something different about him. God, what a mess.

We were being briefed with the rest of the team about the Iceman, or I guess I should call him by his name, Klaus Zeller, and Simon would have given Jim all the credit for his prior apprehension if I hadn't cleared my throat. I don't usually make a thing about it. But I'm getting really tired of feeling invisible. Looking back now, I should be so lucky as to simply be invisible.

I got called out of the office for an urgent phone call. Somebody named Sid Graham wanted to speak to me. I wish to God I had never heard that man's name.

Guess what? Mom sent a copy of my dissertation to Sid Graham, a publisher in New York.

I thought I'd throw up when he told me he had my paper. I don't think anything in my life has given me such a gut deep sense of horror and disaster as those words. How could this have happened? Dear God, if Jim finds out…he'll never, never, ever, forgive me. God, I feel sick just thinking about it.

Sid had called to offer me a hundred thousands dollars for the rights to publish it. I told him, in no uncertain terms, to shred it, that it should never have been released. I really hoped that would be an end to it.

How could she do this? How could my own mother violate my privacy this way?

I'm lucky she didn't tell Jim all about it when we got home that night…and good old Sid was on the phone again. I am really beginning to hate that guy! I told him again that there would never be a deal and to destroy the paper. Please, please, please, let him destroy the paper!

Mom says she was just worried about me, wanted to help. I made her promise to not do anything else. God, she thinks it's great that Sid is offering a quarter of million dollars. She just doesn't get it. She doesn't listen to me. She says she listens with her heart. Well, I hope her heart heard me this time and leaves this alone.

Dear God, please don't let Jim ever find out.

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

I'm dead.

Reporters descended on Jim and me today, wanting to know about the Sentinel stuff and the paper. My pal Sid had released excerpts to the media. I swear, if I had a gun, and could get my hands on him, I think I might have cheerfully shot him, right then and there.

Oh, God, the look on Jim's face. The horror. And the belief that I had betrayed him. Jim really thinks I did this to him. I tried to explain, but he didn't believe me. He thinks that I did this deliberately, that I didn't protect him deliberately. That I'm playing a game with that louse Sid to jack up the value of the book.

He thinks I tipped the media, to get Sid to offer me even more money. He treated me like some kind of criminal, interrogating me.

His voice was dripping with sarcastic bitterness when he told me to go for the brass ring and walked away from me.

As if that wasn't bad enough, I found out while we were with the union guy that there was going to be a news story at noon. I had to tell Jim, Simon and Megan. Jim wouldn't even look at me. He just walked out.

And, as if that wasn't bad enough, I got cornered by the media and Sid at Rainier, when the Chancellor called me in. I thought she was going to ream me out for the premature release of the diss. I should be so lucky. Oh, no. They had another surprise all planned. Sid walked in with my mother and offered me a million, and talked about movie rights and then I got told some crazy story about a Nobel Prize nomination possibility, like that would ever happen. Dear God. It's a nightmare! Naomi stood there applauding and smiling with great delight. Didn't she hear what I said last night? My God, how could she do this to me? Why can't she hear me? Listen to me?

Why does everyone think they know what's better for me than I do? I was so mad, so sick; I thought I might actually throw up right there. I just walked out…what else could I do at that point?

When I got back to the station, the guys were all ready to rag me. I wanted to scream when they started the 'we're not worthy' routine.

Jim looked like he'd like to kill somebody…or crawl into a hole. God, he's so hurt and scared. And Simon is really rattled. The brass are on his case about keeping this from them. I wanted the earth to just open and swallow me up.

Jim wouldn't talk to me all day. It was like I was invisible. Or like he wished I just didn't exist. Did I mention that he looked like he wants to kill somebody? Three guesses who that might be.

The seemingly irrepressible Sid called again and raised the offer to $3 million. What is it about the word, 'no', that he doesn't understand? Like any amount of money would be enough to make me betray Jim. I don't want fame and fortune. I never did. I wanted to help Jim and maybe others like him who don't understand what's happening to them, who are as afraid as he was when I first met him. I can't stand this…and I can't seem to make it stop and go away. What the hell am I going to do?

That night, at the rally, Simon told me to stick with Jim, though it was clear Jim didn't want me anywhere near him. I tried. But Jim told me he knew the drill and to save myself for my interviews. Like I want to give any interviews. Why won't he believe that I didn't do this? That I'm as sick about it as he is?

I guess 'cause he has to live with the attention he doesn't want. He gets the grief. And he thinks I'm going to get rich off his pain.

The media stopped Jim from getting the Iceman…so many flashbulbs popping that they blinded him. I tried to help, but the shot was made. Thank God it was a set up or that union leader would be dead.

And it's my fault.

I don't know what to do. Jim thinks I betrayed him. After all these years, he still doesn't trust me.

How could this go so bad so fast?

Dear God, I don't know what to do to make this right.

Oh, sure, I could sue Sid…but how would that help Jim? The genie is out of the bottle. So long as this is contested, then the media circus will continue and Jim will be under scrutiny. He can't do his job this way.

I feel cold…frozen.

I don't know how to fix this.

I think he hates me.

I guess I can hardly blame him. From his perspective, I wormed my way into his life and home for more than three years with the intent of betraying him.

I'd hate me, too.

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

He's not talking to me unless he absolutely has to. Megan tried to tell him I didn't do this on purpose. Jim asked me how I had intended to protect his identity and when I admitted I still didn't know, he attacked me. Said I'd known all along that I couldn't protect him and I wrote it all down any way. Like I'd always meant to betray him.

I told him I had to write stuff down, to be scientific and help him, but I got cut off by a bank robbery across the street.

At least he's still polite to my Mom. He's speaking to her, even though he knows now that she's the one who sent the paper to Sid. He doesn't blame her…he blames me for having left it accessible. He wants to go back to the way things were, to turn off his senses. He says people change and you have to move on.

His father and brother are being hounded by the media, too, now, and he feels really badly about that. He feels like a comic book character, a goofball, a freak. He feels I've taken everything away from him, ruined his life…he used to be a respected cop, and now…he asked me to tell him who he is supposed to be now.

He told me my research was done and I should just let it go…and then he walked out.

Let it go.

Our friendship. That's what he means.

We're done.

I can't ever recover from this. I can't ever recover his trust, not after this.

I wonder how long before he asks Simon to pull my pass. No way will Jim allow me to ride with him again.

We're done.

Oh, God. I never wanted it to turn out like this. I never wanted to hurt him.

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

This has to be a nightmare, right? I'm going to wake up and find out everything is fine, right? God, please, God, I wish that were true.

Zeller shot Simon and Megan today. They could have been killed. They could still die. Simon anyway…he's in really bad shape.

If those reporters hadn't distracted Jim the other night, he would have caught Zeller.

And it's my fault.

Oh, my God, why the hell didn't I just stay dead? If I were dead, none of this would have happened. The paper wouldn't have been finished. Mom wouldn't have sent it to Sid. The media wouldn't have found out about Jim. He would have got Zeller the other night.

Simon and Megan wouldn't have been shot.

I'll bet Jim's wondering now, too. Wondering why he ever brought me back at the fountain, just so that I could do this, be responsible for this.

I'll bet he's not the only one who's wondering.

I can't stand thinking that I got to live only to cost Simon or Megan their lives now.

Joel said it should never have happened like this. He's right.

Jim's blaming himself…that he's off his game with the media crap. I offered to help him with his senses; he needs them now, as much as he ever has, if he's going to get Zeller. But he just said that Simon was hurt because of him, and that he's dangerous to be around.

That the only hope he's got of getting Zeller is if he's on his own.

And he walked away.

But it's not his fault. It's mine. God, I'd do anything to not have had this happen. And I'm so scared Jim is going to get himself killed.

I wish to God I'd died then. If I had, none of this would be happening now.

I have to end this.

I came home and Mom kept talking about how bad she feels. I know she feels bad.

She needed to know I still love her. I love her.

She didn't mean any harm. This isn't her fault. I wrote the damned paper.

At least I'd finally figured out what I had to do.

I had it all. Jim was right. We'd had it all right here.

If there's any hope of getting any of it back…I knew what I had to do.

So I had Mom call Sid, to arrange a press conference.

And I told the whole world that I'd acted immorally and unethically. That my paper is a fraud.

And I asked those I'd hurt to forgive me. I hope he heard me.

The Chancellor expelled me on the way out of the room. No surprise there.

I'm might still be breathing…but I've destroyed myself. My credibility. My career.

But I have my integrity, for what it's worth.

And, maybe I still have my friend.

When I saw Jim in the hospital later, he seemed to appreciate what I'd done. He seemed to realize I'd thrown my life away and he tried to make me feel better about it all. He told me I was a good cop, the best he'd known. Best partner and a great friend. I wish I didn't believe that he was just trying to be nice about it all. That he'd meant it. But, I don't.

He didn't touch me.

The wall is still there.

And I never wanted to be a cop.

I wanted to teach. I wanted to understand the mysteries. I wanted to be his friend.

At least he's talking to me again. I guess that's a start.

And, finally, we got Zeller, or he got himself. The maniac shot up the office and then shot the rope holding him in the air so that he fell to his death.

I was ready to let him drop anyway. Can't believe I said as much to Jim.

Transference, I guess. I wanted to kill him instead of killing myself. How pathetic is that?

Jim was shot in the leg. He's in the hospital tonight and will be, I guess, for the next couple of days.

I need to decide what I'm going to do now.

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

Mom went to stay with her friends in town today. She doesn't know what to believe. I can see it in her eyes. She doesn't want to believe I'm a fraud. But she's not sure. She just finds it too hard to be around me right now. Can't blame her…I'm not very good company at the moment.

If she's not sure…how can I expect anyone else to believe I can ever be trusted again?

I can't be Jim's partner down at the station anymore.

I have no place at the University.

But, the good news is I called the hospital and found out Simon is a lot better. He came out of the surgery fine…we were lucky. The bullet wound was clean and though it did a lot of damage on the way through, they've put him all back together. He lost a lot of blood and though the shock of the massive injury had been bad, he's recovering quickly. Megan is almost ready to go home. And Jim will be getting out of the hospital in a couple of days.

I still don't know what I'm going to do now.

I feel like I'm in a fog and can't tell where I am, or which direction I'm headed in. Lost. Completely lost.

I wander around the loft and touch things, remember things. I feel as if something is crushing my chest and it's so hard to breathe. Doesn't help to cry. Doesn't make me feel any better.

I doubt anything is ever going to make me feel better. I've lost everything that I've worked almost half my life to achieve. My dreams are all in ashes. And I don't think anything is ever going to make things right with Jim again…we've gone too far down this road. The wall is too high.

I don't have anything left.

It's funny, you know. I used to be angry with Alex, for having killed me. And then I was angry with Jim because…well, I guess because I can sense he doesn't really want me around anymore. And that hurts.

But, now I'm angry with myself. For having come back at the fountain. For not having had the strength to just die when I should have…to let go when it was time.

More than anything, I wish I hadn't come back. That I was still dead.

But, I'm not. So I guess I have to figure out how to live…and why.

I told Mom that nothing in this universe happens randomly. That there's always a reason, a purpose.

Sure wish to hell I knew what the purpose of all this has been…what the purpose of my still being alive is.

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

I've decided I can't stay here any longer.

I've read over my journal since we got back from Mexico…since Alex killed me.

I have to face it.

Jim hasn't wanted me around for a long time…it wasn't just about Alex. It was ending before she ever came to Cascade. And when I look back, I can see he really doesn't need me anymore. I've just been deluding myself that he does.

And Simon has been giving signs that I'm not wanted or needed down at the precinct for months now…worse in some ways since I first started as an observer. He sure as hell won't want me around after all this.

Jim says he appreciated what I did to kill the media frenzy. I know he means it. He's got his life back.

But, that doesn't mean he necessarily wants me to be part of it. When I read these pages, I can see our friendship has been dead for some time. I just didn't want to face it. But there's just nothing there. No warmth. No trust. No caring. No time or interest. Hell, not even any courtesy.

Just a lot of impatience and resentment.

So, today, I packed my personal belongings in the loft into boxes and put the clothes I'll need when I go into my duffel. It was hard, so very hard to do this. I've gotten used to having a place that is safe and comfortable, that is stable, to call 'home'. But this is not my home and that's just one of the things I have to accept now.

I'm going to clear out my office at Rainier tomorrow, and then I'll go downtown and clear my stuff out of the Police Department and turn in my observer's pass.

And, then, I'm going to go away somewhere. Some place where nobody knows me.

Because I don't exist anymore…not really. Face it, I haven't existed, I haven't really been alive, since Alex killed me.

It's time to face that I'm just not me anymore. Time to figure out who the hell I am now.

Maybe, someday, I'll understand why I wasn't just allowed to die.

Maybe, someday, it'll make some sense.

Like I told Naomi, nothing happens in this universe randomly, it's all for a reason.

And, like I told her, we all only did what we thought was right.

Jim thought it was right to try to save me, to deny my death…to bring me back to life.

I thought it was right to come back. I thought he wanted me back…and I sure didn't want to leave him.

But, I was murdered, drowned. I should be dead.

The universe has pretty much worked it out so that I might just as well be. Face it, Sandburg, you were meant to die in that fountain.

Maybe it wouldn't hurt so much if I were dead.

Dear God…why did you let Jim bring me back? What the hell was the point?

End of Journal extracts…

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

Blair spent the morning packing up his office at the University, returning artifacts to the library and various special collections, turning in reference texts that were not his, returning keys. His own files, journals and books, and those few artifacts that did belong to him were carefully placed in boxes, labeled and picked up by a storage company according to arrangements he'd made the day before. His collection of tapes and notes on Sentinel behaviors were placed in a separate box that he planned to leave in the loft for Jim.

Throughout it all, he kept his face down, shaded by his hair, when he had to move through the hallways or encounter officials, like when he had to sign off forms terminating his employment in the administration office. He concentrated on keeping his breathing steady and schooled his expression into something resembling calm so that none would be able to read how much this was costing him, how much it hurt. Unless they noticed his hands. Hard as he tried, he couldn't keep them from shaking.

He was conscious of the fact that people didn't seem to know what to say to him, how to treat him. There was a collective embarrassment and discomfort that he sure didn't know how to alleviate. Some, who found his public statement hard to believe, whispered choked apologies, or regrets, that they would not be seeing him again, or working with him in the future. Others treated him brusquely, as someone who had betrayed them, failed their trust and disappointed them. He knew some pointed at him as he walked by, and there were soft murmured comments, some not so soft, about what individuals thought of him now.

It was shattering, all of it. This had been his intellectual home for more than ten years. This had been his community, his society of friends and colleagues. He had grown to manhood in these hallways. Had found his passion for teaching and his love of ideas there. His hopes for the future had dwelt there…and had died there. He fought a constant personal battle not to let his emotions rule him, to not allow the tears that threatened to fall, or the lump in his throat to constrict and crack his voice. He fought the memories that intruded, fought the grief that washed over him in waves. His movements contained, his control rigid, he did what he had to do.

Until finally it was done and he could seek the shelter of his car, away from prying eyes and speculative or condemning whispers, thankful that none had attacked him outright as he'd been afraid they might. He held it together long enough to pull out of the parking lot and onto the main thoroughfare back toward downtown. But, after a mile, he had to pull off into a lookout over the sea.

It wasn't safe to drive when he couldn't see the road and was shaking too badly to drive.

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

He stopped at the loft on the way into town to drop off the Sentinel tapes and notes, and to move his duffel bag to the front door. Jim was getting out of the hospital today, and Blair planned to pick him up after he was finished at the PD, and bring him home. There would be a need for some conversation, some form of goodbye, but Blair knew how hard it was going to be. When it was all said and done, he wanted to be able to walk out quickly, just pick up what he was taking with him and go.

Then he headed off to the police department, parking for the last time in his assigned slot in the parking garage. For a moment, he debated whether to go to administration first, to drop off his observer's pass or to go straight up to Major Crimes to get his stuff, not that he had much there. A mug, some tea bags, an extra sweater. The plastic bag he had stuffed in his jacket pocket would more than accommodate everything he had to carry away.

Sighing, he decided to go up to Major Crimes first. Once he turned in the observer pass, he wouldn't be allowed to wander the inner hallways at will and would have to leave the premises.

He was thankful to find that the place was practically deserted when he walked in from the elevator. Rhonda was busy at her desk and hadn't noticed his arrival and the others were apparently out, working on their investigations. Left to himself, Blair found he couldn't resist wandering into Simon's office for one last look around.

They'd done a good job getting the repairs done. No one would have known that a week ago, all the glass had been shattered and blood had speckled the walls and carpet after Zeller had gone crazy, launching what could have been a bloodbath in his insane effort to find and kill the union leader he'd been contracted to assassinate. Though several people had been wounded, Rafe included, the wild shooting frenzy thankfully hadn't cost a single life.

Blair stood a moment looking at Simon's desk, touching things, remembering the first time he'd met Simon and the Captain had agreed to allow him to work with Jim as an observer. He remembered case conferences in this office, remembered when Megan had first come. God, he was so glad that both Simon and Megan were going to be just fine. And Rafe, too. He'd been so scared that they would die of their wounds when Zeller had shot them down last week. But, they were all recovering and would be returning to work soon.

He found himself trembling, his vision blurring and he blinked hard. He couldn't lose it here, not here. He had to hold onto his control for just a little while longer. Startled by the brief rap on the door, he looked up to see Joel standing there, looking at him with concern.

"Hey, Blair, what're you up to, man?" the older man asked, a look of concern in his eyes.

"Uh…I just came for a last look around," Blair explained, finding it hard to make eye contact while he concentrated on keeping his voice steady.

Joel frowned. "Last look? You going somewhere?"

Shrugging, nodding tightly, Blair replied quietly, his voice hollow, "Yeah, I cleaned out my desk over at Rainier. I thought I'd do the same thing here. I'm a fraud, man. I don't think Simon's going to want me hanging around."

But whatever else might have been said was cut off when Simon's bellow summoned him out into the operations room.

"Hey, Simon," Blair called back as he moved swiftly out of the office. "They let you out?"

But it wasn't just Simon who had come in. Megan was there with her arm in a sling. Jim with his cane. Rafe with a patch on his forehead. The other guys were gathered around behind Simon's wheelchair…and then his mother was there. Which was really very strange and Blair couldn't imagine why she'd be there. They were all smiling and his Mom said something about not missing an occasion.

"Well, yeah, it's great that everybody's safe, and well, and happy…" Blair replied, his voice fading away. As glad as he was to see them, to know they were all well, today wasn't a day that he felt like celebrating. He just wanted to get through it…past it.

When Jim told him he was finished in the department, Blair felt as if a blade had gone straight into his heart, but he just swallowed and nodded. "Yeah, well, I sort of…yeah, I figured that," he murmured, trying to keep the pain from his voice. Jim had looked so remote, so cold as he'd told him he was no longer welcome there.

But, then, it all became even more confusing. Jim, and the rest started smiling and his partner threw something at him, a thin leather wallet. Opening it, Blair found a detective's gold shield inside. Not understanding, he shook his head. "What is this? This is a detective's badge. What's going on? I don't deserve this," he protested, not sure what was happening and unsurprised when Simon snatched it from his hands, growling that he certainly didn't. Not until he went to the police academy.

It was inconceivable. Blair struggled to understand what was being said, being offered to him. They all looked so happy and pleased to think he'd become a cop and join them officially. They looked at him with expectation and delight, with no trace of doubt or censure.

It didn't make any sense.

Naomi was smiling brightly, and she was saying something about being proud of him. But, that didn't make any sense either. Naomi had no time for cops. And her smile was brittle, forced, trying to convey that she was happy for him, whether she was or not.

His voice dry, completely blown away by this unexpected offer…more, by the unlooked for support, Blair knew he was barely holding it together as he reached for his typical refuge of humor. "Does this mean a pay check?" he quipped, to buy time. When Megan and Jim insisted he say something, he took a breath and teased, "Hey, I'm still not cuttin' my hair." But he looked wan and fragile.

It all descended into madness when Jim grabbed him in a headlock and started laughing about making Simon a 'blair-skin rug' as he rubbed his partner's hair. Blair endured it briefly, relieved to have a moment to think despite the indignity of it.

They wanted him on the team. Were offering him a future as a cop.

Was that what he wanted?

He didn't know. It wasn't anything he'd ever considered. Uncharacteristically, he had no idea of what to say.

When Jim finally let him go, the others crowded in to slap him on the back, to congratulate him, to make their support visible and tangible…to let him know he was still one of them, regardless of what had gone down at the university and with the media.

Blair knew he was losing it. He could hardly keep his lip from quivering and had to keep blinking to keep his eyes clear. His hands were shaking so badly that he didn't dare hold anything. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Jim give him a puzzled look of concern, no doubt picking up on his heart rate and tight respirations. Unable to speak coherently, he just nodded and tried to smile at the words and touches of his colleagues, until finally they moved away and it was just Simon who was waiting there, looking up at him from the wheelchair.

"You okay, Sandburg?" the older man asked, his astute eyes studying him with some concern.

Looking around almost wildly as he pushed his hair behind his ears, Blair shook his head marginally as he replied quietly, "Uh, no, Simon…I don't think I am. Would you mind…I mean, I need time to think about this…I never expected…."

Nodding soberly, Simon replied, "You take all the time you need, just be at the Academy in two weeks, with a regulation haircut, I might add, to begin classes. I want you on the team, son. I mean that."

Blair ran a hand over his mouth and tried to swallow. But he was as dry as dust and he had to take a shuddering breath as he said, "You don't know what this means, Simon…how grateful I am. I didn't think…I was sure that you wouldn't want me around anymore. Not after…well…"

"You thought wrong, Blair," Simon replied quietly. "Look, I can see you need time to wrap your head around this. Why don't you take Jim and your Mom home and we'll talk in the next day or so, all right?"

"Yeah, I guess," Blair sighed, his face pale, his eyes wide. "Thanks, Simon…I mean it, man. Thank you so much."

He turned away to find Jim standing close.

"What's wrong, Chief?" his partner asked, eyes clouded with concern.

"Wrong?" Blair almost squeaked, and then cleared his throat. "What could possibly be wrong?"

Looking from Jim to his mother, he asked, "Do you think we could go? My car's downstairs."

"Oh, don't worry about me, sweetie," Naomi replied, her bright smile still frozen in place. "Janet and Moonbeam are picking me up downstairs and I have a flight later. We're all going to a retreat up in the mountains, outside of Denver."

"Ah, I see," Blair nodded, feeling disjointed and disoriented. "Well, um, that's great, Naomi. Thanks for being here this afternoon."

"When Jim called, I knew I had to come," she gushed. "How could I miss such an important moment in my baby's life?"

She was trying so hard to signal that if this was what he wanted, then it was all right. And she'd had her getaway plan in motion to ensure she could 'detach with love' from a situation that made her skin crawl. She felt guilty about all that had had happened and if this was the way to salvage Blair's life and he could be happy with this new future, well, then, she would neither protest nor condemn his choice. But, in her heart, she couldn't really support it and they both knew it.

Blair leaned in to give her a tight hug as he whispered, "Thanks, Mom…have a good trip."

Nodding, she pulled away and walked straight to the elevator without a backward glance. Shifting toward Jim, but not quite looking at him, Blair appealed, "Could we just go back to the loft now, please?"

"Sure, Chief," Ellison agreed, though his expression was still stiff with concern. Blair's heart was hammering and he was close to hyperventilating. God, the kid was so pale, he looked like he might pass out. "I'm a little tired and I need to get off this leg," he ended lamely.

"Okay," Blair sighed, relieved. "Just let me pick up a few things and I'll meet you at the elevator."

Without waiting for further comment, Blair pulled the bag from his pocket and moved quickly to gather up his sweater and mug from Jim's work area, deciding to forget about the teabags. Stopping by Rhonda's desk, he pulled out his observer's pass and handed it to her. With a wan smile, he asked, "Would you return this to admin for me?"

"Sure thing, Blair," she replied with a warm smile. "Once you have your badge, you can come and go as you please."

"Yeah, right," he nodded, then backed away a couple of steps before turning to walk quickly from the office, waving at the others as he went, smiling as brightly as he could manage, but unable to speak.

"Chief, will you tell me what's going on with you?" Jim demanded as he punched the elevator button. "You look like you're about to fall on your face."

"Not here, okay, Jim?" Blair replied tightly, striving to hold onto his control. "Let's just get out of here."

Nodding, frowning with worry, Jim replied quietly, "Okay, buddy, if that's what you want."

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

Blair maintained his silence all the way down the elevator and through the halls to the parking lot in the basement. He was solicitous, holding doors open for Jim, walking at his friend's slower pace to accommodate his still healing leg injury. He wouldn't look at Jim and it was clear he didn't want to talk so Jim held his tongue.

Ellison was worried. Something was definitely wrong here. He'd thought Sandburg would be delighted by the offer of joining the police department and the Major Crimes Unit. But, far from being happy, Sandburg looked shell-shocked. Literally. As if he were barely able to function.

"You okay to drive, Chief?" he asked quietly, when they reached the old Volvo.

"Yeah, sure," Blair replied, his voice clipped, though he was supportive, his touch gentle, as he helped Jim into the vehicle.

Then silence reigned again throughout the drive home.

Blair was conscious of the sideways looks of concern and puzzlement that Ellison kept throwing his way, but he ignored them. His mind was whirling with astonishment and racing as he tried to come to grips with what it meant.

He'd thought he had nothing left.

And discovered his friends were not about to desert him.

He'd thought he had no future possibilities, no options.

And had just been offered a career in law enforcement. But how could a self-confessed fraud and liar have a career as a cop? It was ludicrous.

Why had they offered it to him? Was it guilt, at least on Jim and Simon's parts, because they knew the truth and knew what he'd done to protect them and the secret they shared? Were the other guys going along with it because they remembered how Blair had helped them out in the past? And, Jim, Blair thought with a frown. Was Jim doing this to make sure there'd be no reason or opportunity for Blair to someday recant his assertion that the diss was a fraud? He didn't really want Blair as his partner now, did he? Not after all that had happened, all that had been said and done. Not just last week, but for months now.

And Blair wondered if this was something he wanted? If he accepted, would it simply be out of desperation? God, how could someone who didn't ever want to shoot someone ever carry a gun?

The more he tried to sort out his emotions and thoughts, the more confused and uncertain he became. He needed time to think about this, to process it all. Everything had just happened too fast and was too overwhelming. He needed to get some perspective, some objectivity…he needed time.

When they got to the loft, they took the elevator up and Blair followed Jim down the hallway, moving ahead to unlock and open the door so Jim wouldn't have to fumble with keys. He could see his friend was in pain and needed to get off his injured leg. Moving inside, Blair blocked the view of his duffel bag with the door as he waved Jim toward the living room.

"Can I get you anything?" he asked. "Something to drink?"

"I'd kill for a beer," Jim replied with a sigh as he headed toward his favourite chair. Moving across the room, though, he noticed things were different…something wasn't right. The place felt…empty. Pausing a moment, he looked around with a frown and registered what was wrong. The candles were all gone. The masks weren't in their place on the wall. Blair's mementos weren't on the bookshelf. Shifting his gaze to his friend, he asked as Blair turned away from the refrigerator with a single bottle of beer in his hand, "What's going on here, Chief?"

Waving Jim to a chair as he approached, and waiting until Jim had sat down to hand him his beer, Blair took a deep breath. "I'm going away," he said quietly, then turned to sit on the sofa, understanding that this might take a few minutes.

"Going where?" Jim asked, confused.

Shrugging, Blair looked away. "I don't know exactly. Some place where nobody knows me," he answered, his voice dry and distant.

"Why? For how long?" Ellison demanded, feeling as if he'd walked into the middle of one of those odd foreign movies and the subtitles weren't making much sense.

Swallowing, Blair turned his haunted gaze back to Ellison's as he answered bleakly, "I'm leaving, Jim. I don't plan to come back. Not here, anyway, not to the loft. I packed up my stuff yesterday and the storage company will pick it up tomorrow. Sorry, but I couldn't arrange for it any sooner. I hadn't intended to come back to Cascade at all, but Simon's offer has kind of thrown me for a loop. I need to think about it before…well, before I decide what to do now. I'll call him in a couple of days to let him know my decision."

Jim sank back against the chair as if he'd just been sandbagged, struggling to take in Blair's words, to make sense of them. "But…why? I don't get it," he stammered. "This is your home, Chief…"

"I guess it doesn't feel like home anymore, Jim," Blair replied, struggling to find the words to explain. But his emotions were too close to the edge and he was afraid of losing it completely. "Things haven't been good for quite awhile now," he added lamely, looking away, unable to face the confusion or hurt on his friend's face. "I'm not sure I really belong here anymore."

"Chief, that's crazy!" Ellison protested, getting scared now. Sandburg was looking so distant, so bleak and sad…so lost. But the Sentinel could tell he was completely sincere, that he meant what he was saying. What the hell was going on? "Would you just tell me why?"

"Why?" Blair repeated, wondering where he could possibly begin and not having the emotional energy to even try. Jim was a decent guy and was trying his best to be fair. After Blair had trashed his own career to protect him, there was no way Jim would have ever suggested that he didn't want Sandburg around anymore. No matter how much he might want his personal space and privacy back. Standing, unable to think of what else to do, Blair went to kneel by his duffle bag, and rummaged through it until he found his personal journal. He paused for a moment, holding it in both hands as he debated giving it to Jim. But he couldn't face the discussion, couldn't cope with the denials…didn't have the energy to fight about this. Didn't want to fight about it. It already hurt too much.

With a sigh, he stood and walked back across the room to stand in front of his friend. "Jim…this is one of my personal journals. The notes in this one begin a little while after we got back from Mexico," he said, not lifting his eyes from the cover of the notebook. "When I read through it yesterday, I realized how far apart we've drifted, and, well, how much I don't really belong here anymore. It's too hard to talk about, at least right now. But…but I just think you need your own space back, your own privacy. I've intruded too long. If you read this, you'll understand why I've made this decision and why I don't expect you to come after me. It's nothing to feel bad about, Jim…nothing for you to regret. It's only my perspective, my struggle to understand what was happening and why. But it's all pretty clear, I think, why I have to go. It's just the way it is, at least for me."

Jim was shaking his head unconsciously as he took the thin notebook that Sandburg handed to him, denying what he was hearing, not wanting to believe it. His own throat dry now, his voice was husky and low as he asked, "Will you wait while I read it…so that we can talk about it?"

"No, man," Blair replied tightly, blinking hard as he turned away. "There really isn't much to talk about. And, I …well I just have to go. Take care of yourself, okay?" he stammered as he moved toward the door.

"Blair! Wait, dammit!" Jim protested, frightened now. "Where can I find you?"

Sandburg shook his head. "If, when, I find myself, I'll let you know where I am," he replied pausing by the door, his back to his friend, as he reached to brush a tear from his cheek. "I've left the Sentinel tapes and notes on my bed…all the journals are there, all the results of our tests, and the only copy remaining of the…the dissertation. I know you still aren't sure you want these abilities, Jim. But, they are a gift, a fantastic wonderful gift and they are part of you. I hope you'll find a way to make peace with them."

Bending quickly, Sandburg grabbed his duffel and opened the door. Looking back at his best friend, he said quietly, "Thank you for…well, for everything over the past few years. Your friendship and support, sharing your home with me. I'll…I'll miss you, Jim."

And then before Ellison could say anything more, he was gone.

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

Stunned to the core of his being, Ellison sat in shock as he listened to the clatter of Sandburg's steps on the stairs and then heard the distant slam of the car door. In moments, he heard the car drive off, heading south.

His hands shaking, Jim stroked the journal, as if by touch he could divine its meaning. Whatever was inside frightened him but he knew he had to read it…had to understand what had just happened here, and why.

With infinite care, as if it might crumble to dust in his hands, Ellison opened the cover and began to read.

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

Blair had debated selling the car immediately, but decided it was a cheap place to crash at night. He'd cleaned out his bank account and had a few hundred to live on until he found a job. If he couldn't find work and the money ran out, well, he could always sell the car then. But he had lots of esoteric skills. Everything from tending bar and waiting tables to driving a semi, from working on the docks and construction work to picking fruit, from welding to research, clerical and administrative skills. He'd find a job; find the means to pay his way.

He'd decided to head south, down into California. Away from the cold that seemed to permeate his soul. Someplace hot, where he might find warmth again. Lots of people; lots of jobs. He could lose himself there better than if he headed east, into the less populated states. In minutes, he'd left the city streets behind and was heading toward Highway 5.

But, he hadn't gone twenty miles when he had to pull off into a rest area, shaking too badly to drive, weeping too hard to see.

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

Jim was rocked to his soul by the pain-filled words that sprawled across the paper. He could hear Blair's voice in his mind as he read and often he had to stop, too sick to read further. He found himself muttering that that's not what he'd meant, that Blair was wrong. But as the examples and incidents of cold and aloof behaviour mounted up, as the pain soaked into him, and he lost himself in the wilderness of despair that Blair had been wandering within for so long, he began to shake with guilt and grief.

Why did I treat him like that? He died in that fountain, and it damned near killed me when I thought I'd lost him…why did I then shut him out like that?

Staring into space, Ellison found he had to explore his own complex feelings. He hadn't understood his behaviour with Alex in Mexico and it had scared him. He really just hadn't wanted to talk about it, too ashamed of what he'd done. He'd wanted to forget it; just pretend it hadn't happened.

And Blair's death had shaken him badly. He'd found himself caught up in a maelstrom of emotions. Anger, that Blair was so vulnerable and could be taken from him without warning, anger to realize how dependent he'd become, how afraid he was to think Blair might not always be there for him, when he needed him so badly.

And he had been very afraid. So he'd locked himself down, to prove to himself he really didn't need Blair, and that he could survive without him. Because he had to know he could do that. He couldn't ever allow himself, his own wellbeing and his concept of who and what he was rest so heavily on another human being. He'd been colder than he'd ever been before with Blair, more remote. And, yeah, had physically pushed him away, reclaiming personal space. He hadn't been angry with Blair, so much as he'd been afraid and frustrated with himself for the depth of his need.

And, Blair was right. It had started before Alex. When he'd realized how deeply Blair had invaded his being, how much he needed him, he'd been terrified. Every time Sandburg got hurt, every time he'd fallen in love, every time something came up at the University that might take him away, the fear of not being able to cope without him had grown until Ellison had forced himself to go away alone for that weekend, to prove to himself that he could manage on his own. Happily. Capably. Alone, as he'd spent so much of his life.

When Simon and Blair had shown up, he'd been unhappy about it, and realized now how churlish that had been. But the experiment had been important to him and the presence of his friends ruined his opportunity to see if he could do this. If he could survive as he once had. And, then, when Blair had collapsed, and he'd been terrified for his friend, it crashed back even harder how incapable he felt of living happily without Blair in his life. Incapable? Hell, impossible to even imagine being happy with a return to an empty existence without life and energy, without someone always around who wore their affection openly and made him feel both safe and special. So, when it had all turned out all right, he'd sent them away again, proud of himself that he'd actually been able to say the words that he'd loved them, but begging them to allow him this space, this time, on his own. To mask his fears, he'd claimed that he needed the privacy, needed not to feel like a lab rat, putting the responsibility for his need on Blair, but not being honest about the real need that was driving him. The need to know he could be independent again.

Alex had capped it off. The terror of losing Blair had been realized. Ellison would never forget the horror, the sick, consuming, devastating fear that Sandburg was really dead…really gone. And the terror bred a kind of sickness inside, so that even in the midst of his overwhelming relief to have Blair back, he'd pushed Blair away. Looking back, Ellison was ashamed to realize he'd not once considered how the trauma had affected his best friend. Not once spent a moment in Blair's shoes, too caught up in his own view of the world and his place in it.

Guiltily, he also realized he'd never, ever, considered that Blair would leave him. Would give up in despair and frustration. Would think it was his fault that Jim had pulled away. Sandburg had always been right there for him, sometimes in his face, sometimes just quietly but resolutely by his side, grounding him, backing him up, believing in him, teaching him, no matter what. And Jim realized now he'd taken it all completely for granted. Right from the first moment when Sandburg had dragged him under the garbage truck, saving his life, Ellison knew he'd been so caught up in his own fear and pain that it hadn't really registered what kind of commitment and courage the kid had shown…not just to a perfect stranger, but a stranger who had just thrown him up against a wall and threatened him with legal action.

He hadn't noticed Sandburg's pain or confusion. Hadn't realized how locked into himself Sandburg had become, how angry he'd been or how hurt. Jim shook his head, realizing now that he hadn't noticed even the physical changes with the hair or the earrings. Some Sentinel he'd turned out to be…couldn't see what was right before his eyes.

Gabe, that weird homeless guy, intruded into his thoughts then as he remembered the strange words. You should ask him what good it is to have ears that hear a thousand miles if you can't hear what's in your own heart. You should start by listening to the hearts of others.

And what had he gotten out of that wise advice? Only a sharp shaft of fear that this stranger had appeared to guess his secret and knew about his senses. It took seeing that creep with a gun to Sandburg's head to make him realize that the dissertation and all the fancy words about paranoia and fear-based reactions didn't matter a damn when weighed against the life of his friend…and having his friend in his life. So he'd backed down about the chapter Sandburg had to submit, trusting that his friend knew what he was doing.

It hurt him to think Sandburg had gone through all that and hadn't thought there was anyone he could talk with, knowing Blair couldn't talk with him. Because Jim was honest enough to know he would have shrugged it off and denied any problem. Would have likely told Sandburg not to be such an idiot about his worries about shooting a gun at Kincaid and his men. It sobered him to realize how much Sandburg had isolated himself from his contacts and colleagues at the university in order to spend time backing him up at work, how much he'd had to accept their censure for bad judgment and an apparent lack of commitment or capacity to finish his dissertation.

Shaking his head, Ellison went back to read more, knowing it was beyond time to understand the world from Sandburg's view…that he should have been making an effort to understand it long before now.

When he read about how he'd shut Sandburg out of the business with Archer and Veronica, he could only shake his head again and sigh. Swallowing as he looked up around the room, he could only acknowledge that once again he'd closed down. Refusing help and solace. Refusing good advice and support. Needing to do it himself. Not thinking straight. Caught up by old emotions.

But as he read on, and began to realize how deeply Sandburg had begun to question if he had any role any more, if he gave value to Ellison's life, if he was needed, Jim's gut clenched and he found it hard to breathe. He was ashamed when he read about how Blair had more belief in his own senses than he had, more courage to stand up for what those senses perceived. Humbled when he read about how in the midst of it all, Blair was still able to say he was a good, decent man.

Taking a shuddering breath as he finished that sequence of notes, he remembered how Molly had thanked him. Biting his lip, he had to acknowledge now that she'd really thanked the wrong person. She'd still be trapped there if Sandburg hadn't pushed him to believe in what he was seeing, hadn't supported him and done the homework to put the pieces together, finding Molly's statue in the art book, leading them to the base of the statue where the gun was buried. Sandburg had taken a lot of guff from everyone, including him, about it, but he'd persevered.

And still he'd shut Sandburg out. They'd had little to do with one another by the time Vince had rolled in with his suspicions about his friend's death. Even less when Jim was working with Harry to capture Jack Kris. And all that time, Sandburg had been working quietly in the background, still trying to finish the dissertation, working with Eli to figure out how to protect him…with a back up dissertation already completed should it be needed. God, those people at the university thought he lacked commitment and dedication? The kid had written two doctoral documents, maintained all his responsibilities as a teaching fellow and had kept himself available for anything a selfish and self-absorbed Sentinel, partner and roommate might require of him.

Again Jim laid the book aside as he rubbed his forehead. Yes, the journal revealed Blair's anger, and showed he'd often been bitter. But he hadn't allowed either emotion to consume him. He'd struggled on, alone, without any complaint, while all the time he was wondering if he had any place in his best friend's life. Or if his best friend cared a damn about him. He'd fought the sense of being abused and taken for granted, fought off the feelings of despair and hostility, accepting full responsibility for his own choices. But he'd been so afraid. So painfully alone.

Swallowing, Jim had to fight off the desire to weep. He couldn't believe how blind he'd been. How selfish. He couldn't believe he'd missed it all. God…what a pitiful excuse for a friend he'd turned out to be. What the hell did Sandburg see in him, to stick with him through all that, to still see decency in him? After all that, how could Blair still care enough about him to be hurt, to be afraid of losing the friendship they'd had?

Jim's hands were trembling as he turned the page, knowing he was about to read the worst of it all. But, as he read, his horror grew beyond anything he'd anticipated.

Blair's thoughts were increasingly fragmented and despairing. Ellison froze a moment when he read Blair's thoughts that at least he still had his integrity intact, and his hopes that their friendship might be salvaged. Integrity? Yeah, Blair's integrity was intact. But his own? When in all this time, in the whole three, almost four years that they'd been together, had Ellison acted with integrity in acknowledging and accepting his own damned senses? Fear-based responses. Paranoia. Fear of loss of control. God, Blair had been absolutely right all along. He'd allowed his own inability to face the reaction of others to his abilities, so consumed by his own fear, that he'd allowed Blair to sacrifice everything that Sandburg was to protect him.

And who, really, had ever treated him like a freak, as he so feared? Bud? No, no way. Bud had encouraged him. His father? No, not really…but he'd communicated his own fears to his son. Incacha thought they were normal, not unusual or weird. Simon? No, Simon had been uncomfortable, not understanding, but had never seen his senses as a bad thing, something to be despised. Brackett…hell, he thought they were marketable. Blair thought them a wonderful, fantastic gift.

And, to be honest, he had, too. When it had meant he could save lives, track down the bad guys. Discover clues that would have otherwise been missed.

So why was he so afraid? Why had he left Blair to take all the heat? Why had he been so angry he couldn't think straight and had treated Blair as if his friend had betrayed him, had always meant to betray him? He'd known all along that that wasn't true, that Blair would never do that to him, not deliberately. But, even after Naomi had admitted her culpability, he still hadn't forgiven Blair…had told Sandburg he'd ruined his life. God, Blair had saved his sanity and his life any number of times. Had taught him how to use and control the senses. Far from ruining his life, Sandburg had given it to him on a silver platter, seasoned with brilliance and humor, garnished with love.

And had he been grateful? Yeah, sure, as Blair had noted. Grateful to get his own life back under control. And he really had appreciated what Blair had done for him, had understood at least marginally what that press conference had meant. But, he hadn't taken it in, not really, still too intent on his own business, the business of catching Zeller. Single-minded, driven…insensitive and blind as hell.

But, when he read the last entries and realized exactly what Blair felt he had lost…and what it all meant, all the months of pain and anger, despair and confusion, the grief and guilt, the increasing sense of isolation, Jim felt himself grow cold, devastated by the final words.

Dear God…Blair wished he was dead?

Sandburg believed he should be dead?

NO! his mind screamed out in rejection of what was written there. No, no, no, no, NO!

But in the midst of his denial, he saw again the vulnerable, fragile, lost look in Blair's eyes. His exhaustion and confusion, his despair. Jim looked around at the emptiness of the loft, all trace of Blair's existence removed. The boxes packed and stacked in his room, his office at Rainier empty. No job. Feeling as if he had no friends. No dreams. Nowhere to go. Nowhere to be. No one to be.

Ah, Jesus! he thought, lurching to his feet and grabbing impatiently for his cane as he tossed the notebook onto the coffee table. Hobbling to the phone, he frantically wondered whom to call. Simon was still on sick leave, and Joel was acting in his place. For a moment, he paused, his hand on the phone and wondered what to do.

Would he only embarrass Blair if he sent out an APB to track him down? Did he dare wait? Was Blair suicidal? Not actively, maybe…but passively? Would he push himself so hard that he fell asleep behind the wheel, unconsciously hoping for an accident, reaching toward a death he felt was deserved?

And once he'd tracked Blair down, what then? What could he offer? How could he make this right?

Swallowing, taking a deep breath, Ellison thought, Blair was right. It's all about integrity. And about what he didn't write down, maybe never really even admitted to himself. It's about love and what's most important, when you get right down to it. What you can endure and what you can't live without.

Ellison punched in the numbers and waited for the phone to be answered.

"Simon?" he said when the phone was picked up on the other end.

"Yes, Jim," his superior and friend replied, recognizing his voice. Having been thinking about the events in the office that afternoon, Simon posed the question uppermost in his mind. "How's the kid doing?"

"Not good," Jim replied intensely. "Listen, Simon…Sandburg has taken off. He's all confused about everything that's happened, not just this past week, but for months now. I've…I've been a shit to put it plainly, and he…"

But his voice caught, as fear stole his words.

"What?" Simon demanded, alarmed by the tone of Ellison's voice. "What do you mean he's taken off?"

"Gone…he's gone," Ellison stammered. "He's packed up all his stuff and left to go God knows where. Some place where nobody knows him, he said. Simon…he gave me his journal, so I'd understand why he left. He…it was too hard for him to talk about. I've just finished reading it. It's bad, Simon…really bad."

"What are you talking about?" Banks demanded, feeling a twist of fear at the panic in Ellison's voice. "What's bad?"

"He thinks he should be dead, that he should have died at the fountain, so none of the mess with the Iceman would have happened," Jim ground out. "He really believes that he doesn't have anything left…that he might as well be dead."

"Sweet Jesus," Simon sighed, remembering how Sandburg had looked that day. Like he had nothing left and was only holding himself together with grit and a desperate control. There'd been no vitality, no spark of energy. The kid had been white as a sheet and his hands had been shaking…he had looked on the verge of tears, his eyes haunted. And so tired. So desperately tired and somehow lost. "You think he might hurt himself?" he asked then, hating to ask, dreading the answer.

"I don't know," Ellison replied bleakly. "He…uh…Blair's not the kind to kill himself. He wouldn't allow himself what he'd consider as the easy way out. But…an accident? Yeah…I'm afraid if we don't find him soon, he'll find a way to die."

"Do you have any idea where he's headed?" Simon demanded. "How long has he been gone?"

"About four hours, I guess," Ellison sighed, shaking his head at how long he'd lingered over reading the journal, caught in his own pain and need to justify and then admit to his actions. "He drove south but who knows which way he went once he hit the highway. Look, I'm going to call Joel to ask him to put out an APB." Continuing, he added, "And then, when we find him, this is what I intend to do…"

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

It had been dark for a few hours by the time Sandburg pulled into another rest stop along the highway. He made use of the facilities and then walked slowly back to the car. It was a dark, isolated spot and probably not all that safe, but he just didn't have the energy to go any farther. Pulling the blanket he kept for emergencies from the trunk, he climbed into the back seat and scrunched down along it, pulling the wool covering over his shoulders. He hadn't eaten but wasn't hungry.

He was just tired.

So very tired.

He had no idea what time it was when he was startled back to wakefulness by the sharp rapping on the window. Frowning, he registered the pulsing red and blue lights that swept through the darkness and looked up to see a uniformed highway patrol cop peering in at him.

Smothering a groan, he shoved himself up and popped the door open, climbing out to face the cop who had backed up to watch him warily. Holding out his hands in a non-threatening way, he asked, "Is there a problem?"

"Are you Blair Sandburg?" the police officer asked.

"Yeah," Blair replied with a hint of resignation. It didn't take a genius to figure out that Jim must have put out an APB. "I've got ID in my wallet." When the cop nodded and held out an expectant hand, Blair pulled his wallet out and handed it over for examination. "Am I under arrest?" he asked, wondering what story Jim had given to justify the alert.

"No," the police officer replied as he shook his head and returned the wallet. "We were asked to watch out for your vehicle and to ask you to follow us in. I don't have a lot of details, but the police in Cascade are looking for you for questioning."

"Right," Blair grunted as he shoved his wallet back into his hip pocket. "What if I just head back there?"

But the cop shook his head. "No, that's not on. We were specifically asked to ensure that we could account for your whereabouts. So…if you wouldn't mind heading on up the highway about ten miles to our detachment office, we'll call it in and follow you there."

Well, so much for trying any more avoidance measures…they'd follow him every mile of the way. Shrugging, holding the emotion that surged within him tightly inside, he nodded, "Okay, fine, whatever." Turning, he unlocked the front door and climbed in. Maybe there'd be a cot there that he could use for the rest of the night. If he had to wait for Jim, he might as well try to get some sleep in the meantime.

As Blair drove off, he tried to figure out what this was about. Sighing, he realized he shouldn't have left the whole journal. Probably shouldn't have left any of it. Jim would be worried about him and feeling guilty right about now. Would have reacted without thinking.

For a while, Blair wondered if this was more passive-aggressive shit on his part. Had he left the journal and held onto his car hoping Jim would come after him and make it easy to be found? But he shook his head. No, he just hadn't really been in any shape to think about it all logically. Sighing, he figured this was just going to be one more painful conversation, and then he'd be on his way again. Jim just needed a chance to offer an alternative, something so that he could say he'd done what he could and it was up to Blair to decide how he was going to live his life. Peering out at the dark highway unfolding under his beams, Sandburg cynically wondered if Jim would play the guilt card…the 'how dare you abandon me' card.

Not likely.

Blair didn't figure that Jim wanted him back that badly.

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

Ellison had given up pacing because his leg was giving him a hard time. So he sat and fidgeted as he waited for the phone to ring.

Finally, about two in the morning, he heard someone approaching his door and his heart clenched. He could tell from the tread and the scent of aftershave that it was Joel. Why hadn't Joel just called, or had the night shift call for that matter, once they'd located Blair? It was just a matter of passing on information, wasn't it? Surely, please God, nothing had already happened to the kid?

Trembling with anxiety, he was pulling the door open even as Joel was lifting his fist to knock. Marginally startled, but setting that aside, Joel nodded in a brief greeting as he reported, "We've found him. He's almost three hundred miles south of here on Highway 5, waiting at the detachment office. I came to drive you down there."

"You don't have to do that…" Jim began.

"The hell I don't," Joel cut. "Look, I don't know what's been going on between the two of you, but the kid looked like death warmed over today. I'm worried about him, too. Besides, with your leg banged up, you're in no condition to drive."

Swallowing, Jim nodded, grabbed his coat and followed Joel out into the night.

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

Joel drove in silence until they pulled onto the highway heading south. "So, you gonna tell me what's going on, or does this have to do with the secret?" he asked caustically, tired of all the games.

"Secret?" Jim repeated, distracted, his thoughts having been a long way ahead, down the dark highway.

"Yeah, you know the one, between you and Blair that Simon knows all about?" Joel replied, his tone verging on sarcastic. "The rest of us have been speculating for years about it…well, except for Megan. Ever since you guys got back from Mexico, she just goes silent whenever we talk about it, so I guess she's now a member of the inner circle."

Jim cut a look at Joel, surprised at the bitterness. "Years?" he murmured, frowning in thought.

"Uh huh," Joel nodded. "Ever since Blair started working with you, it's pretty clear you can hear stuff and see stuff the rest of us can't. Oh, the kid runs interference real well, creating distractions or giving wild but plausible explanations, and Simon just ignores it all, which is how we figured out that he was in on it."

Ellison sighed as he stared out into the night. Swallowing, he admitted quietly, "I'm a…Sentinel. I have enhanced senses."

Joel snorted. "No shit," he drawled. "The stuff the media leaked from Blair's paper pretty much explained what we'd been noticing. Tell me something I don't know…like why you couldn't trust us. Why you didn't tell us in the first place."

Ellison rarely saw Joel angry. Anyone who worked with bombs for a living had to be pretty laid back and cool, especially under pressure. And, anyone who could be blown up on a regular basis in the course of his duties learned not to sweat the small stuff. But Joel was angry now.

"I'm sorry," Jim replied with a tired sigh. "I didn't want anyone to know."

"Why the hell not?" Joel demanded. "Why does having good eyesight and great hearing have to be such a secret?" He'd gone along with the deception willingly enough until the last week. But when it had cost Blair his career and his credibility, Joel had had enough. And so had H and Rafe. They were all spitting mad and deeply worried about their young friend. Blair had looked truly dreadful at the office yesterday. It hadn't come as much of a surprise to hear that the kid had bailed.

"It's not just seeing and hearing," Jim replied. "I can smell stuff…"

"Like the fumes from an aerosol spray," Joel inserted.

"And feel stuff…"

"Like static electricity and the indentations made by a pen on paper," Joel cut in. "Like I said, we've figured it out…you can taste stuff, too. So, why wouldn't you tell us?"

Ellison shook his head, a look of self-disgust on his face. "I don't know," he finally murmured. "I felt like some kind of freak, I guess. At first, all my senses were so out of control that I couldn't handle them and I was, well, scared. I'd be blinded by light or deafened by sounds. I thought if everyone knew, the bad guys could use the information against me. Blair…Blair found me through a contact at the hospital who'd told him about the problems I'd been having, the medical tests I'd been taking to figure out what was wrong. He's been helping me understand and control my senses ever since."

Joel cast the younger man a sympathetic glance. Knowing how much Ellison needed to feel he was in control, he could understand how scary it must have been in the beginning. "I guess I can understand that. But, that was almost four years ago, Jim. You don't seem to have a lot of trouble with them now. I still don't understand why Blair had to lie about his dissertation and destroy his life to protect this secret."

Ellison sighed heavily as he turned his face away to look into the dark countryside. Shrugging, he shook his head. "Because I was still scared. Because I still didn't want anyone to know. Because it isn't his secret to reveal…I don't know. I just reacted, Joel. I wasn't thinking. I couldn't get Zeller, the media was in my face…"

Joel's lips twisted in disapproval as he shook his head. "You let the kid crucify himself because you don't want people to know you can see real good," he reflected sarcastically. "You are a real piece of work, Ellison. I thought you were his friend. No wonder the kid took off."

"Yeah," Jim replied abruptly, biting off the word as his jaw clenched. Staring into the night, he repeated softly, "A real piece of work…"

Joel lapsed into silence for a while as he thought about it. A few miles down the highway, he observed musingly, "You know, Blair hasn't been himself for a long time now. It's not just this dissertation thing. I've been trying to remember…but I think ever since, well, since he died, that he's been quieter. He doesn't wave his hands anymore when he talks, and there isn't that light in his eyes that used to be there. He almost never smiles. Buttoned-down somehow, like he's holding himself tight or he might fly off into little pieces."

When Jim didn't respond, he continued, frowning in thought, "We tried to cheer him up that time, remember? About the ghost, what was her name, Molly? Rafe and H and I were worried about him, how he never laughed anymore…and we thought maybe we could tease him out of whatever the problem was. But it just blew up on us. He thought we were making fun of him, not having fun with him." Joel sighed and shook his head. "I've been worried about him, but I haven't had a clue what to say to him. Do you think something happened when he drowned? Do you think there was some damage after all, that killed that spark that he had?"

Jim turned his head sharply to look at Joel, his eyes wide with shock at the question. "No!" he objected vehemently. "No part of Blair died that day…he just…"

"He was dead, Jim," Joel countered with a tight shake of his head. "He hadn't been breathing for at least half an hour, not counting how long he was in that fountain before you found him. The man was stone cold dead."

"You weren't there," Jim protested.

"Maybe not, but the others told me what went down. You did something, brought him back to life," Joel replied. When he cut a quick look at Ellison and saw the surprise on the man's face, he rolled his eyes. "Jesus, Jim, we're detectives. You think we don't notice little details like Simon asking you if you hear a heartbeat, bright blinding light and a dead man starting to breathe again?"

With a quirk of his brows, Jim shrugged. There wasn't much he could say to that. God, he'd been a fool. How could he ever have imagined that his colleagues hadn't noticed anything? But he frowned as he thought again about what Joel had said. Had there been brain damage? Thinking back, he remembered those moments when Blair had been alert in the hospital, and later in Mexico, when he'd been so much himself… exuberant, playful, animated…up until the moments on the beach. "I don't think there was any brain damage, Joel," he finally replied quietly. "I just think he was scared, and hurt…and he still is."

"I hope you're right," Joel sighed. "I'd hate to think that we've lost that brightness and that we'll never get it back…and I hate to see Blair looking like he's in pain all the time."

The muscle along Jim's jaw pulsed as he turned to look into the night. Was he the only one who hadn't noticed how different Blair had been after Mexico? The only one to not notice how much he'd changed… that he seemed always to be in pain? What good were Sentinel senses, eyes that could see for miles, ears that could hear a whisper in another room, if he couldn't see the pain in his friend's eyes, or hear the anguish in his heart?

Enough. Blair had suffered enough, more than enough, beyond what should ever have been required of him. Whatever it took, Ellison was determined to get Blair back, whole and intact…and fully alive again.

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

They had left the door between the office area and the cellblock in the back open, allowing light to stream into the dark passage and illuminate the dreary accommodations. Blair lay on the bunk, his arms crossed over his chest as he stared up at the shadows of the bars on the ceiling. Too agitated to sleep once they'd brought him back there, he was struggling to accept this latest turn of events. Somehow, being locked up in a cell befitted the kind of day he'd been having perfectly…make that the kind of week, or month, or almost year.

Sighing, he rubbed his temples, wishing the headache would ease up. Tension, not enough sleep, too much emotion. Licking his lips, he sighed, and then tried to concentrate on his breathing to make himself relax. But somehow the reality of being in a jail cell wasn't conducive to meditation. He didn't blame the highway patrol for putting him back here, and in some respects, the accommodation was more comfortable than sleeping in the back of his car. But there was an indignity about it all that he just really didn't need right now. He was humiliated to think the guys who had brought him in probably thought he was a suspect in one crime or another.

Maybe he should have ditched the car immediately and taken a bus to parts unknown. If he'd been thinking straight, he would have realized this was something Jim would have done, especially when he thought about how Jim would have likely interpreted those last lines in the journal. Damn it, Blair sighed again, shaking his head. He probably shouldn't have left the journal behind, but there was no way he'd been able to picture staying in the loft a moment longer, and without any explanation at all, Jim would have probably dragged him back up the stairs before he'd even made it out of the building, bad leg or not.

Why was Jim doing this? What was the point? He couldn't seriously want his roommate back. It had been only too clear for months that he'd tolerated Blair's presence on sufferance. Oh, sure, he likely felt a little guilty now that he'd read the journal, so because he felt guilty, Blair had to cool his heels in jail?

Well, they'd have their little talk if Jim wanted it so badly for closure.

But it wasn't likely to change anything.

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

As they neared the detachment office, Joel asked, "How do you want to handle this? I can wait outside, if you want."

"No, Joel, I don't want you having to wait around," Jim replied. "I can get a ride back to Cascade with Sandburg."

Joel shook his head as he chewed on his lip. "You're assuming Blair will want to go back. Either that, or you figure the need for a ride will coerce him into taking you back," he observed, his tone a bit caustic. Deciding that Blair needed time to decide what he wanted to do, Joel suggested another option, "Look, none of us are going to be in any condition to drive much farther this morning…it's almost dawn. So, how about we get rooms at a motel about five miles further on, get some rest and the two of you can talk."

Jim didn't much care for the suggestion that Blair might not want to go back home, but he was honest enough to admit to himself that he'd been prepared to play the 'I need a ride' card. Joel was right. That was too manipulative and disrespectful. Sandburg had the right to make his own decisions about going back or not. They'd all be tired and a little time to sort things out here wouldn't be a bad idea. "Okay," he sighed. "Drop me off and we'll catch up with one another at the motel later on today."

Pulling off the highway and up the ramp to the detachment office, Joel stopped in front of the entrance. "Good luck," he offered, figuring Ellison might well need it.

"Everything's going to be fine," Jim asserted with more confidence than he felt as he popped the door open and climbed out, wincing a little at the stiffness of his injured leg. "Thanks, Joel, see you later," he said as he closed the door and turned to limp into the building.

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

Blair heard Jim come in and identify himself. From the tight silence after the officer on the desk informed Jim that Blair was back in one of the cells, Sandburg concluded that his friend wasn't very happy about that. He heard the steps as they approached down the short hallway, and the clang of the key in the metal lock. Staring up at the ceiling, refusing to turn to look at Jim, he tried to marshal his emotions.

Waving the patrolman back to the office, Jim hobbled into the cell, leaning heavily on his cane. "Come on, Chief, let's get out of here," he said quietly, knowing from the sound of Blair's heart and respirations that his friend was awake.

"What do you want?" Blair asked, his voice flat.

"We need to talk, Sandburg…and I don't think this is the place to do it," Ellison replied, keeping his own voice calm and reasonable. But the reception Blair was giving him wasn't encouraging.

"I thought I'd made it clear that I didn't expect you to come after me," Sandburg replied, still staring at the ceiling.

Jim rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Yeah, I know," he muttered. "But we still need to talk. Come on. We're supposed to meet Joel at a motel a ways down the highway."

Blair twitched at that information, his head turning toward Ellison, but the shadows hid the expression in his wide eyes. "Joel's with you?" he exclaimed. "Oh, man…" he muttered, rolling to sit up.

"He wouldn't let me drive myself with this bum leg," Jim explained. "Look, it's all right…he's just worried about you."

"Right," Blair sighed as he stood, resigned and suddenly feeling humiliated all over again. "All right. Let's blow this pop stand."

As he moved past Ellison, Jim reached out to touch his shoulder, but Blair flinched away. "Don't touch me," he murmured, but his voice was hard. Ellison let his hand fall away, frowning at the tone, but he followed Sandburg wordlessly from the cell.

Back in the office, Blair was given his personal belongings, his face stiff as he put on his belt and sat in a chair to lace up his sneakers. Jim signed the transfer papers, taking Blair into his 'custody', regretting that his friend had been treated like a criminal, though it had only been requested that he be detained. They didn't speak as Blair led the way back out to his car. Solicitously, Sandburg held the passenger side door open for Ellison and helped him inside, recognizing the signs of strain and pain around his friend's eyes. "Dial it down, Jim," he muttered reflexively as he closed the door and circled the car to the driver's side.

As he started up the engine, Ellison said quietly, "I'm sorry about that back there. I didn't want them to treat you like that."

"No?" Blair replied wearily. "Maybe you should have thought about that before you had the APB put out on me."

The drive to the next off-ramp was a short one, and moments later Blair pulled into the Best Western parking lot. Since it was the only motel in sight, it had to be the one where they were to meet Joel. "So, are we meeting Joel in the coffee shop?" he asked, moving to open the door.

"Uh, no," Jim replied. "Joel suggested we get rooms, get some rest and maybe talk a bit before we head home."

Sandburg froze as he looked out the windshield at the motel. "I can't afford a room here, Jim," he said flatly. "So, tell you what, why don't we just get a coffee, get the talk out of the way and then you can check in and get some sleep."

Well, that doesn't sound encouraging, Jim thought. "Don't worry about the cost of the room, Chief. I've got it covered. Come on…you could use some sleep, too," he replied, still being reasonable.

Blair ducked his head, his face covered by his hair as he sighed, then nodded. Jim wasn't going to let this be quick and easy. He got out of the car and pulled his duffle from the trunk. Might as well be comfortable. Maybe a shower would make him feel less soiled.

Jim arranged for the double room, ignoring the look of forbearance on Sandburg's face, but Blair didn't feel he could complain since he wasn't paying. They took the elevator to the next floor, in deference to Jim's leg, then down a long hall to their room. Jim unlocked the door and Blair followed him in, claiming the bed closest to the door. Sitting down, Blair again shook his head, his jaw tight as he fought the feelings that surged within him.

Picking up on the accelerated heart rate, Jim frowned as he looked down at him. "What's wrong?" he asked quietly.

Sandburg shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Wrong?" he repeated, his voice thin. "You have me chased down, tossed in a cell, drag Joel into what is between us, and probably Simon, too, if I know you, because you're afraid that I might be suicidal or something. That's what you told them, isn't it? You've probably got everyone in Major Crimes thinking I'm a nut case by now just because you couldn't stand the idea that I'd taken off. I told you I'd call Simon in a couple of days," Blair blurted out, anger flashing in his eyes. "Damn it, Jim…you know I'm not the type to take a life, not even my own."

Looking down and away, Ellison leaned on the cane as he lifted one hand helplessly. "Those last lines in the journal were…ambiguous, at best. You know that. I was worried."

Blair snorted and lay down on the bed, his back to his friend, facing the wall.

"Sandburg," Jim tried again. "I know you wouldn't do anything deliberately…but I was afraid if you drove too long, got too tired…that you might have an accident…"

"Great," Blair returned sarcastically, "you figure I can't even kill myself efficiently."

"I don't want you to…" Jim shot back, his voice rising with his temper until he took both rigidly back into control. Taking a breath, he started again, "There's a lot we need to talk about. The last few months…well, I've been a jackass. But, there's one thing I want crystal clear right now. You are not supposed to be dead. It wasn't some cosmic mistake that brought you back at that fountain. Just the opposite. That was the right thing; that was what was supposed to happen. You weren't supposed to be dead in the first place."

Blair didn't respond.

"Blair…talk to me," Ellison asked, a plaintive tone in his voice.

For a moment the silence continued, then Sandburg replied, "I'm too angry to talk right now. It wouldn't be productive."

"Fine, then listen," Jim grunted as he moved to sit on the chair by the small desk that was bolted to the wall. "First, I owe you so many apologies, I don't even know where to begin. When I read that journal, and saw myself, saw what I had been doing…it made me sick to my stomach. All the time you thought I didn't want you around, I was trying to convince myself that I wasn't completely dependent on having you around…because, I am. I need you."

Blair shifted on the bed to lie looking up at the ceiling. "Did you hear what you just said?" he asked wearily. "Essentially, you said that given your druthers, you'd rather not have me around."

"Dammit, that's not what I said," Jim snapped back. "I said I didn't want to be completely dependent. Because it scares me. This has to do with me, my 'fear-based responses' as you have so aptly described them. I'm afraid of needing anyone as much as I need you. You think I've got the senses under control, well guess again. When you're around, yeah, sure, they work, because your presence grounds me. But, when you're not around, I'm a basket case. And I can't believe you are going to live your whole life just to give me what I need. One of these days, you are going to meet some woman who deserves you and you're going to marry her, or you're going to get your doctorate and be famous…hell, I don't know. But, it's just a matter of time."

"You're saying you don't trust me," Blair replied flatly, letting the reference to the doctorate go for now. As things stood, that particular future wasn't likely. "After almost four years, you still don't trust me to be there for you."

"That's not what I'm saying," Jim replied, exasperated, as he rubbed a hand over his head and kneaded the back of his neck. "I'm saying that I don't deserve the sacrifice…and that you deserve more in your life than baby-sitting an ungrateful, cold and self-absorbed jackass."

"Well, you could be right about that," Blair allowed, crossing his arms as he mumbled, "You weren't that cold on that beach in Mexico." But then he blew out an irritated sigh. Dammit, he had not wanted to get into this, hadn't wanted to sink back so deeply into the anger he'd been fighting for months now.

Ellison sagged at the shot. "I'm sorry," he muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I couldn't explain that then, and I can't explain it now. But I can tell you that it had nothing to do with not trusting you or not wanting you around. I was out of control, completely out of control…driven. The memory disgusts me and I hate myself for what I did. For that, for kicking you out of the loft, for shutting you down, pushing you away, treating you like shit…for all of it."

Sandburg turned his head to study his friend. He could see the pallor and the lines of strain on Jim's face, could hear the weary sincerity of his words. "You mean that, don't you?" he reflected.

"Every word," Jim sighed as he nodded. Looking up to meet Blair's eyes, he begged, "Give me another chance."

Blair held his gaze for a moment, and then looked back up at the ceiling. "Why?"

The question hung between them as the silence lengthened. Jim felt emotion tighten in his chest and his jaw clenched until it ached. Shifting his gaze from Sandburg, he stared at the floor, blinking against the burn in his eyes. He crossed his arms to fight the trembling that rippled through his muscles. The emotions surged within him and overwhelmed his capacity to express what he felt in words. There was need, and fear, guilt and sorrow, and an ache he recognized as a love that was so fierce it hurt. Swallowing against the lump, he struggled to draw in breath, to calm himself enough to form words.

In the silence, Blair closed his eyes. "It's hopeless, Jim, can't you see that?" he murmured. "You don't want me around anymore than you want your senses. And…I haven't got anything more to give. It's all gone, man. You resent me, your need to have me in your life. You have for a long time now. And I'm tired of fighting your anger. I'm tired of my own anger at feeling so helpless and useless. I'm tired of the shots, of the lack of respect. I'm tired of being sidelined…hell, after this past week, even if we wanted to go back to the way it was, we couldn't. I'm a fraud, a self-proclaimed liar. No way can I be your partner anymore. You're a cop, man. Cops don't hang around with people who have no integrity. Who use them and set them up for the kind of crap you took from the media. I have no credibility anymore, Jim. None. And I didn't have a whole lot to begin with in your world. Don't you see? It's over. And I can't even hold you responsible. It was my own fault. I did write the paper. I tried to keep it secure by only ever working on it in the loft. But…it got away from me anyway. Because of that, Simon and Megan almost got killed. Rafe and others were wounded. The citizen you were protecting could have been killed. Even if you can get past that, even if Simon can, can the rest of the cops? You think they'd ever forget or forgive me? That I can forgive myself? Face it, Jim. There's no going back, man."

Blair sighed and swallowed, finally turning his gaze to Jim and frowned at what he saw. In a flash he was up and off the bed, kneeling beside his Sentinel. Jim's face was wet with tears and he was literally shuddering with his attempt to maintain some kind of control, the knuckles of the fists clenched on his arms bone white.

"Breathe, man," Blair said quietly, his voice low and steady as he unconsciously slipped into his guide role. Gently gripping Jim's shoulder, he called again, "Breathe, Jim, before you have a heart attack. Come on, just relax. Relax."

Ellison shook his head, unable to look at his friend. His voice thick with emotion, he choked, "I'm the fraud, Chief, not you."

"What's done is done," Blair sighed, rubbing Ellison's arm in a soothing gesture. "Come on, loosen up."

"No, it's not done," Jim grated, lifting his eyes to his friend's concerned gaze, shuddering again to realize that somehow Blair still found it in himself to care. He lifted a hand to grip Blair's shoulder, holding him in place, holding him near. "I'm going to fix it…make it right. Like I should have done a long time ago," he vowed.

Shaking his head, Blair replied, "You can't fix this, man. It's gone too far."

"I have to," Ellison insisted, the muscle bunching along his jaw.

"Why?" Blair asked again, his eyes again slipping away. "You've got your life back, man. You can be what you want to be…a good cop. Your secret is safe. You don't have to do anything."

"The cost is too high, Chief," Jim replied, his voice hoarse. "I'm not prepared to have my life back at the cost of yours."

Shaking his head, his face hidden by his hair, Sandburg said wearily, "It's done, Jim. Let it go."

But, when he tried to pull away, Jim's grip tightened on his shoulder. "No," Ellison said again. "I can't, don't you see? When I read your journal, I realized what it's really about. What's at stake here. You wrote it down, Chief. When you wrote about Bromley, you said how sad it was that people let fear get in the way of what's really important. How crazy it is to not realize that life is too short, to not make the right choices. And, when you did what you did about the dissertation, you said it was about integrity… and it is. You gave up everything, your whole life, and your dreams…because you have integrity. But you didn't write the rest of it."

"Rest of it?" Blair asked, not understanding, looking up to search Jim's eyes to divine his meaning.

"You did it for friendship, Chief…and, and love," Jim clarified. "You gave everything you had because you wanted to give me back my life. That's why it all hurt so much, for so long. Early in the journal entries, you wrote that losing what we had would be like dying again. You were right. It does feel like dying…it's what I felt when you walked out that door…when I read the journal and understood what I'd done to you."

"What are you saying, Jim?" Blair asked, his voice soft, uncertain.

Swallowing, taking a deep breath, Ellison replied with a voice tight with emotion, "I'm saying…I'm saying I don't want you to go. I…don't want to do this without you…I don't think I can. It scares the hell out of me, Chief, but I know I need you; I need your help and support. And, well, the loft is empty without you in it. My life is empty without…"

But his voice cracked and he couldn't continue.

Unable to accept the words, believing they were still only driven by fear, Blair closed his eyes and shook his head. Again he tried to pull away as he said, "You'll be okay, Jim. You know how to control your senses now and I've left the information if you want to share it with Simon or Megan. You don't need me."

But Jim wouldn't let him go. "You don't understand what I'm saying, Blair," he insisted. "For once, this isn't about fear…it's about love."

Blair went perfectly still under his hand. His head bowed, he murmured, his voice cracking, "It's too late. I can't be your partner anymore. I can't be a cop…not with what I've done…not with the way I feel about using a weapon on someone."

"It's not too late," Ellison argued, finally finding a sense of calm as he told Blair what he intended to do. "Whether you forgive me or not. Whether you decide to come back or leave. It's time I started to show some integrity of my own about all this. I'm going to tell the truth, Chief. You'll get your life back."

Blair's head snapped up at that, his eyes wide and he lurched away as he protested, "NO! You'd hate that! The media…man, it would drive you crazy! And you'd never even consider such a thing if…if that paper hadn't become public."

Jim spread his hands wide. "Chief, in your notes, you said I was a decent man, that I'd do the right thing…to help a lost ghost, a man who'd spent his life robbing banks…for a woman who had betrayed me. How can you imagine I'd ever do less for someone who has never, not once, betrayed me? Who has only ever been there for me from the first moment we met? Who has given up everything for me? Sandburg, you're the most important person in my life! Even while I was treating you like shit, you were there, believing in my senses more than I do. Molly should have thanked you, kid, not me. Who did I turn to when I needed help when it went bad with Veronica, or when I was out so far on a limb over Harry that it's a miracle I didn't crash? Who do I trust with my LIFE?"

Sandburg shook his head. What he was hearing was so diametrically opposed to everything he'd been thinking and feeling that he couldn't assimilate it. "Yeah, but…" he tried to argue, but Jim cut back in.

"Look, you said it yourself in the journal…that if we could legitimize the senses, then I could use them overtly in my work. And, besides, it's not a secret anymore anyway. The guys at work have all figured it out and are pissed off that I haven't trusted them enough to be straight with them. And, all those fears that you documented. Shit…the only person who thinks I'm some kind of freak is me. Nobody who knows has ever seen the senses as anything but a good thing," Jim argued, wondering if he was trying to convince Sandburg or himself as he resolutely pushed away the memories of how his father had made him feel. "As for the media, well, I'll just have to learn to deal with that."

"But, you would be putting yourself at risk, Jim," Blair argued. "The criminals you go after would know how to use your senses against you. It's too dangerous."

Ellison shook his head. "As your journal noted," he sighed, "Brackett already knows and so does anyone else who has the intelligence of a fig tree. And, as you said, most of the psychos we go up against could care less about what I can or can't do. Sure, there might be problems, but that's why I need you with me…why I need you to back me up."

Blair wasn't buying it. "You could let the people who need to know in the Police Department in on the truth without it having to become public. Simon and Megan, and the others as well could give you the back up you need. You DO NOT need to go public on this…it's not necessary," he lectured.

"It is necessary if I'm to make things right for you," Jim replied quietly. "The University needs to know, and frankly, I'm prepared to tell the whole damned world, if that's what it takes, to get you your life and your own credibility back."

"Jim…I'm not worth the risk to your life," Blair replied steadily.

"You're wrong, Blair," Jim said simply. "You're the one person in my life who is worth any risk. I'd die for you…a little publicity won't kill me."

Blair tried to smile as he pointed out, "You risk your life everyday, man…it's what you do. You'd die to save anyone in trouble."

"That's my job, Sandburg," Ellison said, and then swallowed. "You're my life. There's a difference."

"You are your job, Jim," Blair sighed, looking away.

Ellison closed his eyes as his jaw clenched. Dammit, what was it going to take to get through to Sandburg? Standing, he hobbled over to loom over his best friend as he grabbed him by the shoulders. "Stop it!" he ordered. "Stop trying to diminish who you are or what you mean to me. Stop trying to convince yourself that you don't matter. Why won't you hear me, dammit?"

Blair pushed back and stumbled away from his grip. "Because I don't believe you!" he cried. "I KNOW you! This isn't about me…it isn't because you want me back, because I do not believe you really do! You feel bad, guilty, so you want to make it right. But, your behaviors have been too consistent over time, man …too unconscious to have been contrived. You've told me in too many ways that I'm crowding your space. That you don't want your senses. That you want things to be the way they were. Well, fine, you've got your career back, your home and personal space. I can't take it anymore, Jim. I can't go back, hoping that this time it will be different and go through all that shit again. I just can't." Turning away, he stated firmly, "And I won't."

"So you'd rather martyr yourself than let me do the decent thing?" Jim slammed back, angry and scared.

"Whatever," Blair replied, flinching a little at the harsh attack. Was that the way Jim saw it? That he'd 'martyred' himself? Jim obviously didn't understand the concept of martyrdom…when people did something to bring them joy, something transcendental and essential to their souls. That's not what this had been, this destruction of his career and dreams. It brought no joy, no peace…all it did was make things right for Jim, and it had been necessary professionally to protect his 'source'. It wasn't martyrdom or even a gift…it had simply been necessary. "You never asked for my help," Blair said, his voice weary. "I forced myself on you, right from the beginning. Well, I'm done with that."

Jim smiled bitterly, "Yeah, you forced me all right. Saved my life…interesting way to compel me to take you seriously, Chief. A little over the top, maybe, but you were never the one to do things by halves."

"Hey, it wasn't personal. You were my 'holy grail', man," Blair replied, his voice tight and verging on sarcasm. "I could hardly let you get all bent out of shape."

"Well, this time it is personal, Chief," Jim countered. "You trashed your dreams, your future, your credibility, academic reputation and career, your job both at the University and the station, your whole life, to protect me. You did it out of friendship, and you did it because you have the courage of your convictions, you have integrity. What's it going to take, Sandburg, for you to believe me when I say that I will do anything it takes to make it up to you, to get you back? Name it…anything. I'll do it."

When Blair didn't answer, Jim shook his head and sighed. "You want me to beg, Sandburg? Okay, then I'll beg. Please don't do this. Please don't give up on us…on me. You want me to grovel? Okay, I can do that, too. I've been an idiot, a complete and utter fool who doesn't deserve a friend like you. I've been cold, even cruel and I hurt you when the truth is, if I'd stopped to think about it for even one second, I'd cut off my right arm before I'd willingly hurt you. You want to punch me out? Go ahead. You want me to be honest? Fine, I'll tell the whole fucking world about being a Sentinel. You want me to be sensitive? To be more aware of your needs and less consumed by my own pitiful little view of reality? Then, talk to me… tell me what it was like to die. How much it hurts to not know who your father is…I'll listen, I promise… I'll listen. I'll do whatever it takes, Chief…please…"

Ellison's voice broke and he swallowed convulsively. "Whatever it takes," he whispered again. "Just don't shut me out."

When Blair still didn't respond, didn't turn to face him, Jim shook his head, feeling lost and helpless and desperate. "Don't do this," he pleaded. "Don't leave me with the knowledge that I destroyed the one good thing in my life. Don't make me live with knowing that I drove away the one person I love most in the world."

"I didn't think you'd do it, man," Blair murmured a little cynically. "I didn't think you'd actually play the 'I need you' card. But the 'love' card…man, that's too much."

"Oh, I have a whole deck of cards I'm prepared to play, kid," Jim replied, his voice tight. "Yes, there's the 'I need you' card, the 'I'm sorry' card, and the 'I respect you more than anyone card'. I'll play the 'I'll do anything for you' card and, to make it a full house, yeah, even the 'I love you' card. But, Chief, this isn't a game…we're talking our lives here."

Unable to sustain the anger, weary of trying to deny the words he'd wanted, even needed, so badly to hear, Blair's shoulders dropped as his head dipped and he crossed his arms tightly. "I love you, too, Jim," he whispered, his voice hoarse.

Pushing back the lump in his throat, Ellison moved then to pull Sandburg around to face him, and then into his arms. Holding his friend in a tight hug, he murmured, "Okay, then…we can work all the rest of it out. But, I swear to you, I'm not letting you go…if you won't come back to Cascade, I'll go with you to wherever the hell it is you're going. You invited me into the water with you, Sandburg, after you drowned. I wasn't ready then, I was too scared. But, I'm ready now. We're in this together, Chief. All the way."

Sandburg's last defences crumbled and he began to tremble in Ellison's embrace. Tears burned in his eyes and leaked past his tightly closed eyes as a sob built in his chest. "I thought…I thought you hated me, man," he choked. "I didn't know what to do. How to make it right."

"I know," Jim murmured, feeling his own eyes burn. "I'm so sorry…so damned sorry."

"I never wanted to hurt you," Blair stuttered plaintively.

"You didn't," Jim replied firmly. "YOU didn't hurt me."

"You…you don't have to…to tell anyone about your senses," Blair said then, worried about what that could ultimately mean, the dangers the truth could pose to Jim's safety.

"Yes, Blair, I do," Ellison replied quietly. "Will you come home?"

The question hung in the air for a long moment. With a sigh, Blair pushed himself away from Jim and shook his head. "No, I won't."

"But…why not? What do I need to do to convince you?" Jim demanded, at a complete loss. He'd laid himself bare, had begged…what more could he do?

Blair swallowed and looked up into Jim's anguished gaze. "I don't doubt your words, or your good intentions, Jim," he said quietly. "But…I don't trust that you won't just slip back into the usual routine. And, I just don't have anything left. I need to find myself, now."

"So, do that back in Cascade," Jim protested, stung badly by the idea that Blair just didn't trust him anymore. He couldn't really mean that…could he?

"I can't!" Blair exclaimed, moving away, pacing in his agitation. "How would I live? I don't have a job and wouldn't be likely to get one in the same town where everyone knows I'm a liar and fraud! I can't work with you anymore…how could any of the rest of the cops take me seriously? I'd be lucky if they didn't try to get some of their own back on your behalf…I'd be an outcast at best and a target at worst. If I went back, I'd be completely dependent upon you, more even than I've been…and I can't stand the idea of not being able to stand on my own two feet. I was on my own for years before I met you…I managed just fine. I need to know that I can do that again."

"If I reveal the truth about my senses, then your problems evaporate," Jim protested.

"No," Blair snapped. "I won't have you at risk just because you feel guilty. NO!"

"I'd make sure nobody would hurt you…" Jim began, not willing to consider that Blair could be in danger from other cops, not simply by the bad guys they went after together.

But Blair cut in. "And who would protect me from you?" he asked bluntly. "When you decide you need to prove yourself again, that you don't need my help? Because you've proven over the past few months that you don't. You're fine now. You know how to control your senses…and if you did get into trouble, Simon or Megan or Joel can help you out. What happens to me the next time you decide the world is crowding in on you and you need your space? How long before you start to resent my dependence upon you, more than you resent your dependence on me?"

"That's not going to happen…" Jim exclaimed, feeling his sense of helplessness, resenting it, feeling it begin to shift toward anger.

"Sure it will," Sandburg retorted. "Jesus, Jim…I died and that didn't change anything. Except make things worse, maybe. These last few months, you have shut me out, distanced me, treated me like shit…you didn't want to hear me when I talked about Ventriss and asked for your help. You didn't care when I got beat up, just ridiculed me. You've been impatient and hostile…and you sure proved you have no trust in me, not when you were so quick to believe I betrayed you. Even when you found out I hadn't, you still blamed me…still wanted me out of your life. Be honest, Jim…you don't really want me around anymore, if you ever did. You said a few minutes ago that you respect me…but you don't. I've seen the way you treat people you respect. Simon. Incacha. You'd never treat them the way you've treated me."

Ellison stared at Blair for a moment, unable to hold the anger in the face of the truth of how he had, in fact, acted, however thoughtlessly or unintentionally. Silently, he shifted to sag down on the foot of the bed and hung his head as he tried to think of something, anything, to make this right. To convince Blair to give him another chance. His chest was tight, making it almost painful to breathe. "I was scared," he murmured. "Scared to need you so much. Scared to know how easily I could lose you. At the fountain…I…you don't know…"

But his voice cracked and he had to stop before he lost complete control. Clearing his throat, he took a breath and continued, "So…yeah, I pushed you away…not consciously. Just because I was scared. I was so caught up in my own fear, I didn't think about what my behavior was doing to you. And, the fiasco over the dissertation? I felt like my whole life had been laid bare…that everything was out of control and I could never get my balance back. And, bottom line? Either you had betrayed me or you hadn't, but I'd lose you anyway, because you were famous now and would be rich, and you could do anything, go anywhere, you wanted. So…I shut down and just focused on the job, on getting the Iceman. I had to know I could still do my job. I never…" he had to pause again to master his voice, "I never imagined you'd destroy yourself…never wanted that. You have to believe that, Blair."

Jim raised his eyes again, desperate to know that Sandburg believed him. He'd been thoughtless, even paranoid maybe, but however angry and hurt he'd been, he'd never, ever, wanted Sandburg hurt. He saw sorrow in Blair's eyes; saw the lines of weariness on his friend's face, in the way he was standing. When Blair didn't speak, just looked away, Jim said plaintively, "I don't know what to do or say to make this right, Chief. Help me out here…tell me what to do."

Sandburg rubbed his hands over his face, wishing he didn't feel so damned tired…wishing it wasn't all so horribly sad. Pushing his hair back behind his ears, he stood a little straighter as he turned to face his friend. His expression was compassionate but his eyes guarded as he finally replied, "You can do your job, Jim. That's the most important thing in your life, being a cop, helping people. You can do that, with or without your senses, with or without me. You don't ever need to be afraid of losing that, not now, not ever. And… I accept that you didn't intend to hurt me, didn't imagine what the mess about the dissertation meant for me, and my career. I had to stop it, not just because it was all hurting you, but because I had a professional responsibility to protect my source at all costs…even the cost to my credibility and career. That responsibility, that choice, was mine and mine alone. Having made that choice, I now have to figure out what to do with my life. You ask me to tell you what to do? Go home, Jim. Get on with your life. Give me the space and time to get on with mine."

Ellison closed his eyes and turned his head away. Blair's words sounded so final. He felt numb. If Sandburg left now, like this, he might never see him again.

And he couldn't imagine that…didn't want to imagine it. Grasping at one last straw, he murmured, "You said you'd call Simon in a couple of days…"

Blair's lips tightened as he looked away. "Yeah," he sighed. "I have to thank him for the offer. But I can't accept it. Even if I thought I could get past the idea of using a weapon, which I can't, there's no way I could find a place in a closed society that despises liars and frauds."

Ellison winced at the emptiness of Blair's voice and the way he casually referred to himself now as a liar and fraud, the way he accepted that this was how the world saw him, would always see him. Jim felt the roil of nausea and shook his head. "Because of me, my senses," he said quietly, unable to look at Sandburg, "you've lost everything."

Blair quirked a wry, bitter smile as he shook his head. "You didn't force me to help you…it was my choice all along the line. And, honestly, I wouldn't go back to change time, even if I could. I wouldn't want to know what life would have been like without knowing you…without having had your friendship," he said. "But like you said to Naomi, people change and sometimes it's just time to move on." Quietly, he moved to stand close enough to grip Jim's shoulder. "Take care of yourself," he said quietly. "Give my notes to Simon or one of the others, so they'll know what to do if you ever need help."

Ellison reached up to grasp his wrist, not letting him go. "I'm worried about you," Jim blurted out. "Where will you go? How will I find you?"

Looking into his friend's eyes, Sandburg saw genuine fear for his well being…the fear that had driven Jim to put out the APB in the first place. "I'll be all right," he said quietly. "I promise…I won't hurt myself and I'll be careful."

"You weren't meant to die, Chief…you're not meant to be dead. It wouldn't be somehow better if you were…that's not the way things are supposed to be," Jim said in a rush, afraid to let him go, afraid of what might happen if he did. "None of what happened was your fault…nobody thinks it was."

Blair swallowed and nodded, looking away. But, he wasn't so sure of that. Looking back, at Jim's fingers gripping his wrist, he said firmly, "Let me go, Jim."

For a moment more, Ellison hesitated, but then he loosened his grip letting his arm fall away. "At least tell me how to get in touch with you," he asked, desperate that it was all getting away from him, all too conscious that he had no control of the situation, of Sandburg's choices.

"I'll call when I get situated somewhere. In the meantime, if you get really worried, you've got my cell number," Blair said as he picked up his duffel and turned toward the door.

"Chief, wait," Jim called again as he stood. "You don't have to leave yet. Keep the room, get some sleep. I'll…I'll get myself another room, if that's what you want."

His hand on the doorknob, Blair shook his head. Looking back over his shoulder, he replied, "I've taken enough from you, Jim. I'm on my own now…don't worry, I'll manage."

And then he was gone, the door closing softly behind him. Jim listened as the sound of his footsteps receded along the carpeted hallway…as the sound of his heartbeat became distant, finally too distant to hear. Sinking back down onto the end of the bed, Ellison bent forward, his face in his hands, unable to stop the silent tears that leaked past his lashes to wet his cheeks. Sandburg had left him. Like so many others in his life, Sandburg had finally had enough and walked away.

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

Joel was sorry to hear Sandburg had left, but wasn't surprised. The kid had been through hell and needed time to find his own balance again. In a way, Joel respected him for refusing to simply return as if nothing had happened and everything was fine again. It wasn't fine. Hadn't been for a long time. Over the years, particularly the past year, Joel had seen Sandburg relinquish more and more of whom he was to fit into Jim's world. Had seen the kid suck up insults and allow himself to be pushed more and more into the background.

Dying had seemed to finish it.

Sandburg just hadn't been the same since. The enthusiasm and energy, the simple joy in life had been extinguished. His eyes were dull and dark. Some might say he'd just grown up, but it was more than that. The kid had looked empty and lost. Like a fine piece of crystal that has endured too much pressure, Sandburg had finally shattered after Simon and Megan had been hurt. Thinking about watching the young man during his press conference, Joel reflected that that was the moment when all the pieces of Sandburg's life had splintered apart, crushed into shards. The older detective ached for the younger man's grief and loss. He wished there was something he could do to make it better, to give it all back…to restore Sandburg to what he had been. Alive, fully alive and eager for all that life had to offer, in love with the adventure and mystery of life.

But there was nothing he could do. Probably nothing anyone could do. As he pulled onto the highway, his eyes drifting to the rear-view mirror, he wondered where the kid was now, how far he'd gone along that highway behind them.

Ellison was silent throughout the drive back to Cascade. He just sat, staring sightlessly out of the side window. Joel shook his head, sorry for the pain that Ellison was also very evidently suffering. What a mess. What an unholy mess, he thought dismally. Weary to his soul, he concentrated on driving through the driving rain.

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

They went directly to the station, Jim making his way straight to Simon's office as soon as they were back. The Captain had taken as much recovery time after having been shot by Zeller as he was prepared to allow himself and had returned to work that morning.

When he rapped on the door, Simon looked up, his gaze at first hopeful when he saw Ellison there, but fading quickly into regret when he saw the expression on the detective's face, and that he was standing there alone. "He didn't come back with you, did he?" the Captain observed as he shook his head and waved Jim in.

As Ellison shook his head and sank into a chair, Simon rose a little stiffly to close the office door, and then leaned against his desk, his arms crossed over his still tender chest injury. "So…what now?" he asked. "Is Sandburg just taking a bit of time to think over his options or what?"

His expression stiff, Jim replied, "No…it's more than that. He's gone to…to find his own way again. To find some way to put his life back together."

"He's not going to accept the offer of a badge, is he?" Simon asked then, wishing he wasn't so sure of the answer. He hated to lose Sandburg from the team. The kid made a lot of valuable contributions. Maybe he should have told him that more often.

Shaking his head, Jim said, "No, he's not. He can't picture himself using a weapon, Simon. And…he figures the rest of the Force wouldn't accept a self-admitted liar and fraud."

Sighing, Simon looked away, out of the window. "I guess he's probably right about that," he admitted.

Taking a breath, straightening in the chair, Jim looked up at his boss. "I'm going public, Simon. I'm going to fix this. Whether he comes back or not…I can't let it be my fear to admit to my own damned senses that destroys his life."

Simon's gaze snapped back to Ellison's eyes. "I'm not sure that's the best idea you've ever had," he countered. "You could be putting yourself at risk, Jim. I don't think Sandburg would want that."

"I know he doesn't want that," Jim replied with an exasperated tone. "He told me that himself when I offered. But that's not the point. It's not about what he wants. I can't live with this…with what it's cost him. Besides, to be honest, if he never comes back I think I'm at more risk if people don't know. If I zone at a scene, the cops backing me up won't know what to do…and I could put them in danger. Better if people know what to expect…they'll be more careful around me, less dependent on my back up…and can pull me out, maybe, if I lose it."

Simon heard the tone that verged dangerously close to self-loathing in Ellison's voice. It damned near killed the man to think he might put other police officers at risk by working with him. He also heard the determination and knew Jim was not about to be talked out of doing this…of going 'public'. Biting his lip, he thought about what it would mean, what they'd have to do to prepare. It wasn't all about Ellison anymore. It was about all the cases he'd worked on…all the appeals they could expect once people knew of his sensory advantages. Lifting off his glasses, he rubbed his eyes, and then went to sit at the table beside Ellison.

"Okay, Jim," Simon sighed. "I've been thinking about this since you told me last night you intended to at least clue in the Chief and the Commissioner, as well as the authorities at Rainier. I've had them begin on pulling all your cases that have gone to trial. We'll need to get ready for the appeals. I think we have a good chance of winning them, because the evidence was always solid, but we have to be prepared. In the meantime, I think we should give the guys upstairs a heads-up, so they can be prepared for the media fallout."

Nodding, Jim replied tiredly, "Okay, set up the meeting with them. I want to tell them myself. And I'll call Rainier to set up a meeting with the Chancellor." Thinking about that, he smiled wearily. "I wish Sandburg could be there to see her face…"

"All right, you start work on the files I've had stacked on your desk and I'll call the Chief," Simon said as he rose. But he paused a moment before moving away, laying a hand on Jim's shoulder. "I'm sorry about Sandburg, sorry he wouldn't come back with you."

Rising and moving toward the door, Ellison sighed, "Yeah, so am I."

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

"I'm a Sentinel," Jim said, his gaze focused steadily on the two officials across the conference table. Simon, who had set up the meeting at his request, was sitting to his right.

The Chief of Police and the Commissioner gazed at him, surprise blooming in their eyes. They'd wondered why Banks had called this meeting, and were surprised when Ellison had walked in behind him. "The things the media said were true, then," the Commissioner observed, his voice tight. "You're some kind of superhero? Why weren't we told this long ago?"

Banks stirred, intending to take the heat, but Jim's voice silenced him. "No, I'm not a 'superhero'. I have enhanced senses that allow me to perceive things beyond normal human range. I'll give you a demonstration, if you want, and I've brought a copy of Sandburg's paper for both of you, to help you understand what I can and can't do. I hadn't wanted to reveal this earlier because, well, frankly, I'm not in perfect control of these senses. Sandburg had helped me with that…it's why I needed him to be my partner. Still need him when it comes right down to it, but he's left Cascade."

The Chief's eyes swiveled to Banks. "You knew about this and failed to inform me?" he snapped. Neither official appreciated being left in the dark to look like fools when the news had unexpectedly broken.

"It was a matter of respecting the privacy rights of one of my people," Simon replied calmly. "We've made certain, every step of the way, that the use of Detective Ellison's senses has not compromised the law, nor anyone's rights. His cases stand on the merit of the admissible evidence that was collected. Until Sandburg's dissertation was made public, without his approval or knowledge I might add, there was no need to concern you with Ellison's unusual range of abilities."

"And if Sandburg hadn't left town, you'd still expect him to be accepted as your unofficial partner?" the Chief demanded, swinging his gaze to Ellison's.

"I need him, sir, to function most effectively," Jim replied, matter of fact and to the point. "If I can talk him into coming back, I want him offered a position as a consultant with the Force."

"A consultant? Why shouldn't he go to the Police Academy and become a legitimate police officer like everyone else?" the Commissioner interjected, irritated with even having to consider making special allowances for a man who'd created such disruption.

"Sandburg isn't philosophically suited to be a law enforcement officer," Simon interjected.

"Philosophically suited? What does that mean?" the Chief cut in, impatiently.

"He won't shoot at anyone, sir," Simon replied dryly. "I think that would disqualify him from being a member of the Force."

Shaking his head, the Chief turned to face the Commissioner. "I don't see how we could ever give him a position even if he came back to Cascade. Everyone in the department believes him to be a liar and a fraud. He'd never be accepted."

"I agree," the Commissioner replied, his voice heavy with censure. "Those bridges are burned."

"Well, I'm going to rebuild those bridges," Jim replied aggressively. "I'm going to hold a press conference to reveal the truth about my senses…"

"That's not going to happen," the Commissioner cut in repressively. "This whole fiasco has made the entire department a sideshow. I forbid any further involvement of the media in this matter."

"Forbid?" Jim repeated, his voice low and dangerous, his eyes glinting with anger. "With all due respect, sir, this isn't your call. Sandburg willingly sacrificed his professional life and his academic career, not to mention his personal credibility, to protect this department and me. That's unacceptable."

"Maybe from your perspective," the Chief replied sharply. "Consider it an order, Ellison. You will not be holding any press conferences."

Jim glared at the two senior officers for a moment, his face rigid with fury. Nobody was going to stop him from doing what's right. Pulling out his badge and his gun, he slammed them on the table. "Fine, then I resign," he grated. "I'm going to tell the truth about this, whether you like it or not. If anyone asks why I've resigned, and you can bet they will, I'll tell them the truth about that, too."

"Now you listen here, Detective," the Commissioner began, flushed with anger.

"No, sir, you listen," Banks cut in. "I'm prepared to resign right along with Jim, and stand beside him to give credence to his story."

Silence reigned in the boardroom as the two senior officers steamed with fury. Simon shook his head, determined to bring this mess back into some semblance of control.

"Look," Simon offered quietly, "it doesn't have to be like this. I don't want Jim going to the media, either, believe me. I think it's too dangerous for him. But, he's determined, and it's his right. And he's also right about needing Sandburg, if we can persuade him to come back. If you would just take one look at the arrest records of my Unit, you'd be able to see that Sandburg has been an invaluable asset, not just to Detective Ellison, but to all of us. We'd be extremely fortunate if he would agree to a paid consultancy with the Force. If you're worried about his credentials, how about a compromise? If he can get his Ph.D., would you agree to hire him as a consultant to work with Jim? Believe me, it's my opinion that Detective Ellison will need his specialized support even more once word is on the street about his senses."

Taking a breath, the Commissioner brought his anger under control. They were between a rock and a hard place and he knew it. If Ellison resigned and was explicit as to why he'd felt forced to do so, it would seem that he and the Chief were trying to suppress the truth. They couldn't afford that. Looking at the Chief, he could see the same awareness in the other man's eyes. Finally, he nodded. "All right. If Sandburg gets his credentials, and he agrees to return to Cascade, we'll agree to a consultancy for him."

"Thank you, sir," Jim replied, his tone only a little caustic.

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

Jim tried to arrange a meeting with the Chancellor, though he almost preferred to leave her in the dark and let her suffer the shock and embarrassment of learning the truth from the media. Let her explain with no warning why she'd terminated Sandburg so precipitously and inappropriately. But that wouldn't endear her to Blair, and Jim didn't want to be the source of any more strain between the two of them. But, she wouldn't return his calls. Finally, he called Dr. Eli Stoddard, who agreed to see him.

When Jim knocked on the open doorway of the old professor's office, Dr. Stoddard waved him in to a chair. "Sit down, Detective Ellison," he offered, then pinned Ellison with an astute gaze, taking in the man's air of depression and exhaustion. Though he guessed what this was about, he asked with a neutral tone, "Why did you wish to see me?"

"Thank you for agreeing to this meeting, Dr. Stoddard. I need your help," Jim began, unaware that he was twisting his hands together in his nervousness. Taking a breath, he looked up into Eli's eyes as he said, "I need to see Chancellor Edwards, but she won't return my calls. I was hoping you'd help me arrange an appointment with her."

Quirking a brow, Eli asked, "Why do you need to see her?"

Swallowing, Jim replied, his voice a little hoarse from the strain of actually admitting the truth to someone he didn't really know, "I have to tell her the truth. I'm a Sentinel."

"Well, it's about time you admitted that fact, young man," Eli replied dryly, unsurprised.

"You…you knew?" Jim stammered, then his eyes clouded as he wondered if Blair really had compromised his secret.

"Of course, I knew," Stoddard snapped, irritated by what he read in the detective's eyes. Suddenly, his own anger at the disaster that had occurred spilled out as he lectured heatedly. "And don't go thinking Blair told me. He didn't. But I've been his adviser for years…ever since that brilliant young man arrived on campus and I know him as well as I know myself. He's an ethical, highly capable and professional man. He's been searching for a Sentinel for most of his life…and if he wrote a document saying he'd found one, then he did. As his adviser, I've followed his research though he never revealed his 'source' to me. He was extremely concerned about protecting your privacy, to the point of questioning whether he should finish his paper. I was in the process of negotiating a 'closed defence" to protect your privacy, when everything blew up. But, I'd long ago figured out it had to be you, and I respected his desire to keep your name secret, even from me. When he opted to destroy his career, and his personal credibility, to protect you, I was saddened. There could have been other options if he'd come to see me. But, he chose to ensure your privacy was in no way threatened. Frankly, I've thought the secrecy ridiculous. You could be so much more functional if you didn't have to hide your natural abilities and your reticence has cost my field one of the brightest minds we have…and I resent that fact. Resent it deeply."

Blinking, Jim sat back, a little stunned at the tirade. He hadn't thought about any of this from the perspective of the 'field of anthropology'. Shaking his head, looking away for a moment, he found he still didn't care much about something so esoteric. It only mattered because it mattered to Sandburg, as the career he'd loved.

Watching him, Eli shook his head. "You don't understand, do you?" he asked. "What about others, like you, who don't understand what they are? Who are as afraid and lost, almost crazy with out of control senses, like you were when Blair found you? If his research could become public, it could bring hope to those people, and they could get the help they need."

Thinking about the possibility of other sentinels made Jim think about Alex and he stiffened. Angrily, he looked back at the old professor as he protested, "I don't want other sentinels to know about Blair…about his ability as a Guide. The last one he found damned near killed him. I'm sorry if they are in pain, believe me, I know what that's like. But I will not risk him. Maybe this is a bad idea, after all. Maybe going public will only put him in danger."

Eli sat back as he shook his head. "Maybe it would. But, right now, he's lost everything he's worked for, for the last thirteen, almost fourteen years…virtually half his life." Biting his lip, Eli revealed his anxiety for Blair as he asked softly, "Where is he? Is he all right?"

The question blasted away Ellison's anger. Shaking his head tightly, he confessed, "I don't know. He left Cascade…I don't know where he is. I…I'm afraid for him."

Sighing deeply, Eli leaned forward to plant his elbows on his desk. "So, what do you want me to do? Help you reveal the truth, or keep it buried?"

Jim's eyes skittered around the office as he weighed the pros and cons, tried to imagine the danger Blair might face from other sentinels, especially if they were as crazy and violent as Alex had been, but what were the odds that there were more like her around? And then he considered the emptiness of Blair's life now, the magnitude of what he'd given up…that loss was all too real and immediate. "Call the Chancellor," he said finally, his voice tight with strain. "I want to see her as soon as possible."

Eli graced him with a smile then. "Good, I think that's the right decision…for you and for Blair," he said. Reaching for the phone, he paused a moment, to add, "I know you fear for him, and that tells me that you love him as much as I know he loves you. But, life is full of risks, Detective. His work may be able to help more people than you or I can imagine. As a minimum, this will give him his own life back and free you from having to hide who and what you are. Your senses are a gift, Detective Ellison. They are a natural part of who you are…a magnificent gift."

Jim heaved a sigh as he muttered softly, "So Sandburg has tried to tell me…"

Stoddard called the Chancellor's office and insisted upon seeing her immediately. After a few minutes of wrangling, he got his wish. Hanging up, he stood to come around his desk. "Let's go see the lioness. It's time her fangs were pulled."

Jim's brows quirked up in surprise at the venom in the professor's voice. When Eli noted the look, he shrugged. "She is not one of my favourite people…and her treatment of Blair was unconscionable. Had he decided to take legal action to sue for being dismissed without grounds from the University, he would have won," Eli explained. "But, I suspect he chose not to do so as that would only have prolonged the controversy over whether or not his paper revealed the truth."

Biting his lip, Jim stood to follow the professor out of the office.

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

When they walked into the Chancellor's office, she was surprised to see the man she recognized from the evening news accompanying the professor. "What's the meaning of this?" she demanded coldly.

"Well, Dr. Edwards, it seems that we never got all the facts about this Sentinel business and it's time to clear up the confusion," Dr. Stoddard replied calmly, waving Jim toward the chairs in front of her desk since it didn't appear that she was inclined to do so.

"I've heard all I want to hear on that matter," she snapped, her tone dismissive as she deliberately returned her attention to the documents on her desk.

Refusing the offered chair, Jim stood foursquare in front of her desk, nailing her with the intensity of his gaze. "Well, that's too bad," he said aggressively, "because you're going to hear the truth whether you want to or not. I'm a Sentinel."

"What? Don't be ridiculous! Sandburg debunked his paper, admitted it was a fraud!" she shot back.

"He lied to protect me," Ellison countered, his voice harsh. "I have five enhanced senses. Everything in his document was true. I'm prepared to provide you with any kind of demonstration you wish to prove the validity of his findings."

"There's also the small matter that Blair's termination was, perhaps, precipitous," Eli interjected, his tone not quite sarcastic. "Blair had never submitted the paper, never claimed that it was true, had forbidden its dissemination and was, in fact, a victim of this University's desire for a certain notoriety and acclaim for having made such a tremendous discovery."

Chancellor Edwards leveled a venomous glare at the older man. No fool, she understood the point he was making. If they pushed this, Sandburg could sue the University for unlawful dismissal. Sitting back, she turned her gaze to Ellison. "So…does this mean Blair Sandburg is now prepared to submit the paper as his doctoral dissertation?"

"I don't know," Jim replied. "That's up to him. I came here to warn you that I'm going public with the truth. It's more than you deserve, but Sandburg would want you to have the time to prepare for the questions the media will no doubt have."

"Then why did he write it?" she demanded. "And where is he? Why didn't he come here with you?"

"He had hoped for a closed defence and to have the University's agreement to seal the paper for at least twenty-five years before making it public," Eli interjected. "But, the media attention has made that option untenable. He clearly denied the paper to protect his 'source', Detective Ellison. In doing so, he acted with unparalleled integrity and courage."

"As to where he is," Jim replied then, "the answer is, I don't know. He's left Cascade. But, if I can get him to return, I would expect the University to welcome him back and give him the chance to defend his dissertation, to be awarded his doctorate."

"I'm not prepared to give him the kind of extension he'd require to come up with a whole different dissertation if he chooses not to submit the Sentinel paper," she said then, shaking her head. "He's not a reliable candidate…"

"No further time is required," Eli interjected smoothly, though he bristled, as had Ellison, at her words and tone of censure. "Blair has written a second paper, entitled 'The Thin Blue Line' about his research on the police subculture. I've had a look at it and I'm willing to schedule an immediate oral defence. It would be up to him, ultimately, as to which paper he chose to submit formally."

"I see," she murmured. "And, if I refuse to welcome him back, we're back to the matter of Mr. Sandburg's precipitate dismissal."

"I'm afraid so," Eli replied, though neither his tone nor his expression were apologetic.

"I'm not prepared to offer him a position on this faculty," she stated firmly.

"That wouldn't be expected," Jim replied coldly. God, she was such a bitch. "The Police Department will give him a position, if he wants it, as a consultant as soon as he's received his doctorate."

Looking at each of them, much as she hated to concede given the degree to which she had come to loathe Blair Sandburg, she considered the options lying before her. The teaching fellow had made her look and feel like a fool too often. The fact that that was her own fault wasn't something she was prepared to acknowledge. But the bottom line was that she scarcely had a choice but to agree. "Fine," she snapped with ill grace, "if he chooses to return, and passes his oral defence, then the University will award him his doctorate."

"Thank you," Jim snapped, and then turned on his heel to leave before he said things Sandburg might regret.

Back in the hallway, Ellison turned to Dr. Stoddard, as he said with heartfelt sincerity, "Thank you for your help."

"No thanks are needed," Eli replied. "I just hope he'll come back."

"So do I," Jim said as he shook Eli's hand and gripped his shoulder for a moment. "I'll do all I can to encourage him to come back."

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

Ellison sighed then straightened his shoulders as he rang the doorbell. A moment later, his father opened the door, a look of surprised delight on his face as he saw who was there.

"Jimmy! I wasn't expecting you," William Ellison exclaimed, and then stood back to wave his son inside.

"Dad, there's something I need to talk to you about," Jim said as he moved into the spacious hallway, looking around uncertainly, not wanting to just blurt it out, but unable to think of anything else to say.

A slight frown of concern on his face as he took in his son's air of scarcely contained anxiety, William Ellison replied quietly, "Come in and sit down, Jim. Then you can tell me why you've come."

Once they arrived in the luxurious living room, Ellison found he was too agitated to sit. Turning to face his father, he blurted out, "I'm going to go public about my senses. I just wanted you to know before I did. I know the media hounded you when Blair's paper was released…"

"Whoa, slow down, Jimmy," William said, a look of astonishment on his face. But, then the look of surprise faded to one of mingled pride and concern. "Sit down and tell me what's going on," he said quietly.

Sighing, Jim perched on a chair. Running a hand over his hair, he said, "Well, you know Sandburg denied the validity of the paper to protect me."

"Yes. It was a courageous thing for him to do," William replied gravely.

Swallowing, Jim looked away. "It…it cost him everything, Dad. Everything he ever dreamed of," Jim murmured. "He's left. I don't know where he is. He said he has to try to put his life back together again, find out who he is now."

"And you can't accept the cost to him," Ellison senior observed.

"No, I can't," Jim replied tightly, returning his gaze to his father's concerned eyes. "These are my senses. I have to live with them and it's long past time I admitted to them. I'm sorry if that causes you or Steven embarrassment, but…"

Holding up his hands, William cut in, "Just you hold it right there, Jimmy. I don't want Blair hurt over this any more than you do. He's a fine young man and he doesn't deserve to have his life ruined. I don't care what people say about me…I never did." Sighing, William shook his head as he looked away into the distance. "I…I was only ever afraid of people hurting you," he sighed, a frown between his brows. "You were so young when I realized…kids can be so cruel. I thought it was best to…to hide what you could do. To pretend your extraordinary gifts didn't exist." Turning back to face his son, he straightened his shoulders, as he said sincerely, "I'm sorry, son. I was a fool. It would have been better to help you with them…but I didn't know how."

Jim blew out a breath, his jaw tight as he shook his head. All these years thinking his father thought he was a freak. Blair had been right all along the line. He should have confronted his fears years ago. Had this discussion years ago. Swallowing, he asked, "What about Steven? How will he take this?"

Shaking his head, a soft smile playing on his lips, William replied, "Steven and I will survive a little media attention. There are worse things in life than having it revealed that your son or brother is an extraordinary human being, with rare and special gifts. I know that now. I've known it for a long time. And so does Stevie."

Jim's gaze drifted to the carpet. "Thanks, Dad," he murmured, feeling as if a tremendous weight had been lifted from his shoulders. "I'm going to hold a press conference tomorrow morning. I wanted you to have time to get ready for the fallout."

"Jimmy, look at me, son," William asked softly. When Jim lifted his eyes, the older man went on, "I'm proud of you, Jimmy, I always have been. Knowing what this costs you, how intensely private you are, I'm even more proud that you would do this to clear Blair's name. If I can help with the media…if I can do anything at all, please…just let me know, okay? I love you, Jim. I know I didn't show it, not the way I should have…but I hope that you'll forgive me, someday. I hope you'll let me back into your life, son."

Jim felt a tremor pass through his body and his eyes burned. Swallowing convulsively, he stood to move toward his father, his arms wide. When William stood to meet him, Jim took his father into his arms, hugging him tightly. "I love you, too, Dad," he finally managed to choke out.

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

It had been three days since he'd driven away from that motel, from Jim. Though he'd intended to go further, all the way to L.A., Blair found he couldn't keep fighting the exhaustion that assailed him and had finally stopped in Portland, Oregon. Jim had been right to be concerned, and he knew it. If he kept going, kept driving himself onward with no sleep, he'd end up having an accident. Though he wasn't really sure he cared one way or the other about that, he'd made a promise to be careful, and he'd keep it. After finding a cheap motel, he'd crashed for twenty-four hours, unable to stay awake, but sleeping fitfully, haunted by nightmares.

Deciding he couldn't stand the cramped, dreary room a moment more, he'd headed out again to roam the city. But, the noise and confusion only aggravated his headache. When he happened upon a park, he wandered in and found a bench overlooking a small lake. Disregarding the rain that had begun to drizzle lightly, he sat and allowed his thoughts to roam where they would.

And they kept wandering back to Jim. To what Jim had said back at that motel. Shaking his head, Blair leaned forward, his elbows on his thighs, his hands clasped loosely as he stared at the ground, wondering what to do.

He'd never felt so beaten and broken in his life…had never felt so lost. Part of him wanted to go back to Cascade so bad that it hurt. But part of him was afraid. He'd allowed Jim to abuse him, whether it had been intentional or not. Sandburg sighed as he reflected that he should have drawn the line long ago, letting his partner and friend know what was acceptable and what wasn't. Why hadn't he done that? He wouldn't've put up with that crap from anyone else. Leaning back, lifting his face to the drizzling rain, letting it cool his face, he pushed his hair back as he thought about his own actions. His own complicity in the problems that had grown between them. He'd been an 'enabler', he could see that now. He'd allowed Jim to behave the way he had until it had gotten to the point where Sandburg had resented it. Why? Because he was too quick to make excuses for Jim, too ready to accept the older man's need for control, and the legitimacy of his fears. Too insecure in his own role to demand respect or even courtesy.

Sighing, Blair scrubbed his face with his hands and rose to pace around the lake. If he did go back, it would have to be under different conditions. He had to stand up for himself, like he used to before…before he'd died. Kicking at a stone, Sandburg thought about that. Thought about how scary that had been. How he hadn't been able to shake the anger. It was all so…unresolved. He'd died. He knew that. And he also knew that Jim had called him back…and that his spirit had responded, joyfully. But then, Jim had shut him out again, worse than ever before, and it had left him feeling bereft and confused. All that shit with Alex hadn't helped. The image of Jim and Alex on the beach rose again in his memory and he cursed aloud, stumbling to a stop, his arms tight across his chest as he stared out sightlessly at the lake.

"I need to talk to you about that, Jim," he whispered. "I need to get past that. Intellectually, I know it wasn't your fault, man…but it just hurts so much."

His head dipped as he thought about what Jim had said back at the motel. He'd said he'd talk about it, would talk about anything Blair wanted or needed to talk about. Sandburg rubbed his face again as he sniffed, glad of the rain that could obscure saltier moisture and wash it from his face. Nodding to himself, he sighed as he accepted that if he were ever to find any peace, he'd have to go back to Cascade to at least rebuild something of the friendship they had known. The deep ache he felt at the alienation from Jim wasn't going to just disappear by itself.

But, Sandburg couldn't see how he could possibly stay in Cascade. There was no way he could face being completely dependent upon Jim or anyone else. He had to find work, and he wouldn't find it there. And, much as he wanted to believe that Jim really did need him, he couldn't delude himself that much. For months now, the Sentinel had been functioning just fine on his own. Jim knew how to control his senses now. He hadn't zoned since long before Alex had shown up, well, maybe once, with Molly, but how often did he encounter a ghost? But, maybe, they could still be friends. It was almost scary how much he wanted that, even needed it. Jim Ellison had become the most important person in his life and not having him there anymore was like a huge, gaping wound.

Sandburg started walking again as he tried to understand the need he felt for Ellison's friendship. He had other friends, made friends easily for that matter. But, he'd never gotten so attached that he'd allowed himself to be virtually submerged in another person's world. Had never allowed himself to deny his own needs so consistently…had never lost himself in an effort to please. Was it just the whole idea of 'belonging' somewhere? Was that a deeper need than he'd imagined, having grown up as something of a gypsy? Shaking his head, he couldn't accept that. He'd 'belonged' at Rainer for ten years before he'd even met Jim. Cascade had become his home, even if he hadn't had a permanent residence. Having the stability of a decent home had been wonderful, but he wouldn't have sold his soul for it.

No, he'd sold his soul, all his hopes, all his dreams, his future, and his personal credibility, everything that he was, for Jim Ellison. Why? Because Jim was his 'holy grail'? Snorting as he shook his head, Blair tossed that thought away. Jim had stopped being a symbol just about the time he'd pulled the big guy under the garbage truck. He'd come to admire Ellison, for his courage. And had come to love him for his vulnerability. God, the guy had suffered so much in his life, but he'd just forged on, doing the best he could. He respected Jim's strength of character, though he could wish his best friend were a trifle less rigid about his silly rules.

Not so silly, Blair chastised himself. Ellison needed a safe haven to recover from the blast to his senses that he suffered every damned day. Needed the structure and order. Needed some silence to soothe frazzled nerves. Needed some haven of peace to recover his balance and his energy. It had been a supreme act of tolerance and generosity to allow that safe haven to be invaded by a hyperactive, habitually noisy, roommate. That knowledge was why Blair knew he'd always wondered how long Jim would be able to tolerate his presence. Something else we need to talk about, he sighed. He'd allowed Jim to take all the blame for his insecurities after being kicked out of the loft, but that wasn't true. He'd been insecure ever since he'd moved in. After almost four years, he should have learned to trust Jim more than he had, should have talked to him about his fears.

Approaching another bench, Blair sank down on it. So, he'd put up with the crap because he loved Jim, was that it? Maybe, he thought, that was a lot of it. And, because he'd been afraid of having a confrontation, not trusting his friend enough. But he should have known better. Jim, for all his tough exterior, was a kind-hearted, compassionate man. And he didn't do things he didn't want to do. He wouldn't have put up with Blair for so long if he hadn't wanted him there. Hell, they didn't need to live together for Blair to help him with his senses.

But…love wasn't all of it. Why did they both have this need to be together? Because that's what Jim had been talking about back at the motel. The need he felt, that scared him so much that he'd erected desperate barriers to prove to himself that he could function without Sandburg in his life. That's what had driven Jim to such extremes of cold, often even rude, words and behavior. Need.

Biting his lip, Blair reflected that that was exactly what he felt, too. Need. Raw, aching, relentless. It had taken everything he'd had to walk away from Jim at that motel. His instincts had screamed at him to turn around and go back. To hold onto what they had with both hands and never let go. Frowning as he thought about it, Blair found himself remembering Burton's research. That every 'watchman' or 'sentinel' had a companion, a guide. To keep him grounded. To watch his back. Rubbing his forehead and pushing his hair back, Blair thought long and hard about that. He'd never had any difficulty accepting whatsoever the genetic reality of a Sentinel. Was there a similar genetic reality for a Guide? As much as he'd always doubted himself, often cursing his lack of knowledge, was he as irrevocably what he was, as Jim was a sentinel? Was that what Incacha had meant when he'd named Blair a shaman? That this was all a part of who he was and he'd been denying that reality for too long?

It just all seemed too incredible. More incredible than that such things as Sentinels still exist? Blair wondered with a touch of wry humour. Biting his lip, he thought that it was the only explanation that made any sense of what had happened at the fountain. That Jim was right…that he hadn't been meant to die. That he'd been meant to live, to be the Guide his Sentinel needed. Had come back when his Sentinel had called him and sent the energy of his spirit guide to restore that which Alex had stolen from him when she'd drowned him in the fountain. Maybe it was time that he stopped being apologetic about what he didn't know, and started acting like the Guide he seemed to have been born to be. Stopped denying his ability to be a Shaman and started learning what that really meant. Which meant that he had to stop being an 'enabler' of inappropriate avoidance behavior on the part of his Sentinel…and stop second-guessing himself to the point of being a non-entity.

But, if that was the case, then he had to go back to Cascade. But going back to Cascade meant facing the pain of what he'd given up every damned day. Meant having to face people who believed him to be a fraud. Meant more hassle in trying to find work to support himself. And how could he help Jim on the job, how could he protect his friend's back, if he couldn't work in the police environment anymore because he'd trashed his credibility? Once again, he felt caught on an endless loop that only trapped him in indecision. Suddenly, he just felt cold, wet, and infinitely tired. There were a whole lot more questions that he didn't have the answers for.

One step at a time, Sandburg, he counseled himself. First things first. You need to talk to Jim…need to clear the air, sort things out and figure out with him where we both go from here. If you can't stay in Cascade, fine…but you don't have to be days away, either.

Surprised to see that it was already dark now that he was again aware of his surroundings, Sandburg shook his head as he stood to make his way back around the lake to his car. He'd had no idea how long he'd wandered, muddle-headed and confused until he'd sorted his way through the tangle of his thoughts, at least this far. Heading back to the motel, he showered to chase away the chill of having been out so long in the rain. Then he packed up his gear, checked out, and headed back north. Though he knew he'd have to stop somewhere along the road to sleep that night, if he didn't waste time, he could be back in Cascade by noon tomorrow at the latest. Flipping on the radio, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel in time to the beat of the music, he found himself smiling for this first in he couldn't remember how long.

And he found he didn't feel quite so lost anymore. However they worked it out, running away hadn't been the answer and heading back was the right thing to do. Whatever else he might end up doing, being…he was a Guide, he knew that now. Could feel the rightness of the acceptance of that deep inside. He was a Guide heading back to his Sentinel…and he couldn't help the sharp burst of happiness that awareness brought. They'd find a way to work it out, somehow. If Jim got scared again, started acting remote and cold again, he'd call him on it…that was his job and it was time he started doing it right.

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

Early the next morning, as they had agreed, Simon and Jim met with the rest of the team in Simon's office. As the others sauntered in, they wondered what the meeting was going to be about. Both Simon and Jim had been as jumpy as cats on a hot roof for three days now. They all knew Blair had taken off, and hadn't come back, but Joel hadn't told them anything about the abortive trip south.

Once they were all seated, Simon nodded to Jim. This was his show. Straightening in his chair, his gaze moving around the room to take them all in, Ellison said quietly, "I owe you all an apology. I should have told you long ago about my enhanced senses…should have trusted you. All I can say is that I was afraid because I didn't know how to control them and I wasn't, I'm not, all that comfortable with them. But you are my colleagues, I respect you, and I should have been a lot more forthcoming with you."

He paused for a moment to lick his dry lips. They waited, not sure what to say. He was right; he should have trusted them and they resented the fact that he hadn't. And, they were deeply angry about the price Sandburg had paid to keep Ellison's secret. Clearing his throat, Jim continued, "Everything Sandburg said in his paper about my senses is true. I've had copies made for each of you, so that you can get all the details, not just those leaked to the media. You need to know what I can and can't do…what to expect when we're in the field." Ellison paused again to pass around the stack of documents he'd brought into the office with him. "I, uh, I 'zone' sometimes, which means I lose complete track of where I am, freezing in place, unaware of what's going on around me. That could be dangerous for you and you need to be aware that it can happen without warning. Sandburg has taught me a lot, and I'm much better able to keep control than I was four years ago, but it still happens."

They each took a copy of the manuscript. "What do we do to bring you out of a 'zone'?" Joel asked.

Jim shrugged. "Different things. Depends what caused it in the first place. If it's light, then blocking my eyes and talking to me, touching me, might do it. If it's sound, then touch again, a pinch or slap, whatever it takes. Sometimes, Sandburg has had to bring other senses into play, like scent or taste."

"Is Blair coming back?" Rafe asked, his voice as neutral as he could make it.

Looking away, Ellison shook his head. "I don't know. I hope so, eventually," he said, his throat tight. "But, I have to clear up the current mess before that's possible. Sandburg labeled himself a liar and fraud. You know, as well as he does, what that means for him…what it means about him being accepted by other cops. Simon and I have already told the Chief and the Commissioner the truth and I met with the Chancellor at the University yesterday. At ten this morning, I'm holding a press conference to tell the rest of the world. I wanted you all to know the facts before I did that. Once he hears about it, well, I'm hoping he'll at least come back to Cascade, finish his doctorate and maybe accept a position as a consultant to keep working with me. But that will all be up to him."

They thought about that, each of them hoping that Sandburg would come back. He'd become an integral member of the team and they all missed him. Missed the contributions he made with his far-out ideas and different ways of seeing things. Missed his wacky humor…missed the warmth he'd brought to a group of people who had all long ago learned to view the world through more than slightly cynical eyes.

Looking around at them all, Simon realized they needed time to take it all in, to read the paper and come up with their questions. "All right, people," he said in his matter of fact way, "that's probably enough for now. Once you've read the document, Jim and I will answer any questions you might have."

They all stood, but Simon held Jim back from leaving with the others. "Have you called Sandburg? Let him know about the press conference?"

Shaking his head, Jim replied, "No. He doesn't want me to do this…he thinks it's too dangerous. And I don't want to fight with him anymore. Once it's done, and he hears about it, if he wants to talk to me, he'll call."

Simon studied his friend for a moment. "He could be right, you know. It might be dangerous."

Shrugging, Jim looked up to meet his friend's eyes. "It's as dangerous, maybe, for him as it is for me, Simon. His professor, Dr. Stoddard, pointed out that once the truth is known, other sentinels may well come here looking for him, to get his help." Looking away, his voice a little lost, he continued quietly, "I'm scared, for him as much or more than for myself. But…I have to do this. I have to tell the truth or… or he has nothing left. If he comes back, I'll do everything I can to protect him. If he decides to disappear, well, that's up to him." Looking back at his superior, Jim said, "I have to believe they aren't all like Alex Barnes. I have to believe that most of them, if there are others, are like me…like I was. Lost, scared, in need of help. Sandburg would want them to know there's hope, that there's a way of controlling the damned things. If I call him now, he'll likely think I'm still trying to manipulate him…like it's some kind of deal. That I tell the truth with the expectation that he now has to come back to help me. I don't want that. If he comes back, I want it to be because he wants to, of his own free will."

When Simon sighed heavily and nodded, Jim turned and left the office. Going back around his desk, Simon picked up his unlit cigar and toyed with it, wondering if he should involve himself further or just stay out of it and let Jim do things his own way. Finally, setting the cigar aside, he lifted the phone. Maybe Jim couldn't call…but Simon didn't feel bound by the same constraints. He was worried about both of his friends and he believed Sandburg deserved to know what Jim was about to do, not be caught off-balance, God knows where, and hear it from some news broadcast.

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

Blair was about an hour out of Cascade when his cell rang. For a moment, he hesitated to answer it. There'd been so many calls from reporters that he'd taken to screening the messages. So far, there hadn't been any he'd been inclined to follow up on. But, it could be Jim, or his mother. Compromising, he pulled off to the side of the road and checked the number of the caller.

His blood ran cold when he saw Simon's number on the miniature readout. Flipping open the phone, he asked breathlessly, "What's wrong? Is Jim all right?"

Despite himself, Simon grinned. This didn't sound like a man who no longer cared. "Relax, Sandburg," he drawled, "Jim is fine. But I need to talk to you."

Blowing out a long breath of relief, Blair pushed his fingers through his hair as he replied to what he thought Simon was calling about. "I'm sorry, Simon…I should have called you sooner. I really appreciate the offer of a job but…"

"I'm not calling about that," Simon cut in. "If I'd thought about it for two seconds, I would have realized that wasn't the answer. You're not a cop, Sandburg, however much you might be a great detective. You never will be. But, I respect your reasons, I really do."

Sitting back against his seat, Blair shook his head. "Well, if Jim's fine, and you knew I was going to turn down the offer, why are you calling me now?" he asked, confused.

"Well, I could be calling just to make sure you're all right," Simon replied a bit tartly, but then decided he'd delayed long enough. "But, that's not why either. Blair…Jim's holding a press conference this morning…"

"HE'S WHAT?" Sandburg shouted into the phone. "No, no, no, Simon…NO! He can't do that…"

"He can and he will," Banks cut in sternly. "It's scheduled for ten in the media room downstairs."

"Damn it," Blair muttered, "I told him NOT to do that! It's too dangerous…"

"He knows the risks, and to be honest, he's more worried about you right now, about other 'sentinels' popping out of the woodwork to get help from you, than he is about himself," Simon sighed.

Blair closed his eyes and shook his head. "Look, Simon…I'm already on my way back, about an hour out of town. Try to get him to delay this, please. He's doing this for me, I know he is. There has to be another way," he said urgently with almost desperate sincerity.

"Well, you're right about why he's doing it," Simon confirmed, but he closed his eyes in relief to know that Sandburg had already decided to come back. "But I doubt there is any way of stopping him now. He's already told the Chief, the Commissioner, your Professor Stoddard and the lovely Chancellor…"

Blair groaned, "Please…don't tell me that."

"It's done, Sandburg, and he told the rest of MCU this morning," Simon went on. "The truth is, he is only interested right now in making things right for you. He doesn't expect you to just fall back into the way things used to be. Whether you choose to finish your doctorate, which paper you submit, if any, whether you accept the position as consultant here that he got the Commissioner and Chief to agree to offer you, is all completely up to you."

"He's done all that already?" Blair exclaimed. "Simon…I've only been gone a few days…"

"What can I say, he's a man on a mission," Simon replied. "Look, Blair, I'll try to stall him, but I have to say, it's not likely to work. I can't tell you how glad I am to know you're on your way back. Can I tell him that? It might make a difference."

"Sure, absolutely, whatever, just keep him away from those cameras!" Blair exclaimed. "Look, I've got to go…I'll be there in less than two hours."

"I'll do my best," Simon replied, but the connection had already been cut when Blair cast the phone aside and steered his car back onto the highway.

Rolling his eyes, Banks stood and called Ellison back into his office. When his detective was again seated, he shut the door and turned to confess what he'd just done. "Jim, before you start yelling, I want you to hear me out," he began, wincing a little at the narrow, suspicious look Ellison flashed at him. "Just hear me out," he repeated.

"What's this about, Captain?" Jim demanded.

"I've just spoken with Sandburg," Simon replied, holding up his hands when Jim stiffened and looked like he was about to explode. "Hear me out, Detective, and that's an order!" Banks growled.

His jaw tight, his eyes blazing, Ellison stared daggers at him, but he held his tongue.

"Blair's an hour outside of town…he was already on his way back, Jim," Simon told him, his voice soft, even compassionate.

The look on Ellison's face spoke volumes. Incredulity gave way to relief, and then he looked aside, his hands gripping the arms so tightly that his knuckles were white. "He's coming back?" he whispered, scarcely daring to believe it.

"Yes, and he wasn't happy to hear about the press conference you have planned," Simon continued. "He wants you to call it off, or at least delay it until he gets here."

Jim's eyes skittered from the floor to the window and back again as he held tight to his emotions. Blair was coming back. He felt his eyes burn, and his chest ached with the relief of it. Biting his lip, he shook his head. It didn't change what he had to do. Looking back up at Simon, he finally replied, "I have to do this, Simon. You know that. And if he thought about himself instead of me for one second, he'd know that, too. It'll be all right. We'll find a way of dealing with it…I'll find a way of coping with the firestorm that's likely to follow. But I have to do this. If I don't, people, other cops, won't trust him."

Simon closed his eyes against the truth of it all, but he nodded his head in mute agreement. It had all gone too far. If Sandburg was ever to be credible as an affiliate member of the Force, with all that that entailed, all the way from how other cops worked him, right up to when he'd have to give evidence during trials, his reputation had to be cleared. "Okay, Jim," he said as he straightened, unaware that he'd sagged back to lean on his desk. "But…give him time to get here. All right? I'll call Public Affairs and get them to push it back an hour or so."

"Okay, Simon…I'm willing to do that," Ellison replied. Suddenly, a slow smile grew on his lips and his eyes lit with a boundless joy that was almost painful to see. "He was coming back…even not knowing…he was coming back?" he asked again, needing to have it confirmed.

"Yeah, Jim, he was…he's almost home," Simon replied, fighting the lump that had risen in his throat at the sight of what that meant to the man sitting in front of him. Ellison could be such a hard, cold bastard, so remote and so ready to stand alone, so ready to embrace loneliness. But there could be no doubt of what Sandburg meant to him, of what it meant to Ellison to know the kid was coming back of his own volition. "It's going to be okay, Jim," he said then, his voice low but confident. "If the media gets out of hand, I'll have a restraining order slapped on them. I will not allow them to interfere with police business."

Jim nodded in gratitude, feeling almost weak with relief. Unable to speak, his heart too full for words to find their way through his emotions, he stood and gripped Simon's shoulder. Understanding, surprised at himself, Banks pulled him into a tight, if quick, hug. "Now go on," Simon said. "Go to one of the meeting rooms and get your thoughts in order. You'll need to be ready to counter Sandburg's arguments, 'cause you know he's going to arrive shouting them at the top of his lungs."

Chuckling a little, Jim was smiling broadly as he moved toward the door. "Let him shout," he said over his shoulder. "I'm ready for him…so long as he's back, I'm ready for anything."

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

"Damn, damn, damn, damn, DAMN!" Sandburg muttered, as he had been muttering for the past hour. Forcing himself to drive at least halfways sensibly, he sighed with relief as he finally exited from the highway and wove his way through the city traffic. "WHAT is the man thinking of? Trust James Joseph Ellison to go off the deep end and jump before he looks to see if there's even water in the pool! Come on, come on," he growled, impatient and frustrated as he was stopped by another red light. "I don't have time for this!"

But, finally, he pulled into the lot across the street from the Police Department, and sprinted across the street, only aware enough of the busy traffic to keep himself from being run over. Simon was watching for him, so when he bolted out of the elevator, the Captain stood and went to meet him.

"Jim's in meeting room three. We've got about half an hour before the press conference starts…and he's determined to go through with it," Simon told him, pointing him in the right direction.

Nodding, Blair just turned to race down the hall, not even bothering to knock on the closed door…just bursting in and slamming it behind him. Simon grinned and turned back into the operations room and almost laughed when he saw everyone's attention was riveted upon him. However, that wouldn't be in character, so instead he scowled as he drawled, "Yes, people, Sandburg is back. And, I even dare hope he's back to stay, but that's still to be determined. In the meantime, there's work to be done, so get back to it!"

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

"What do you think you're doing?" Sandburg shouted, his eyes blazing, his arms gesturing to emphasize his words and sense of agitation. "Are you nuts? This isn't necessary…I told you that! Why won't you ever listen to me?"

Jim had looked up when the door burst open, and couldn't stop the happy grin that lit his face when Blair had burst in. "I do listen to you when you're right…or I do at least most of the time," he replied calmly.

"Then listen to me now, you blockhead," Sandburg shouted. "This is a mistake. If you go public, every weirdo from here to New York will try to take you on just to see if they can beat the famous Sentinel! They'll have the stuff the media printed, and they will know how to hurt you! This is stupid, Jim…really stupid. You can't do this."

"You done yet?" Ellison asked, aware that he was still grinning like a fool and not particularly caring.

Sandburg narrowed his eyes as he studied the cheerful, grinning features of a decidedly happy Sentinel. Frowning, he demanded, "What is with you, man? Are you on drugs? Did someone slip some happy juice into your coffee this morning? This is serious, Jim…you're putting yourself in danger. I don't want that."

"You came back," Jim replied in a complete non-sequitor. "Why'd you come back?"

Lifting his hands in a helpless gesture, Blair shook his head as he sank into a chair across the table from his friend. "I had to…running away wasn't the right answer. I'm your Guide and we have to figure out how to make that work given the current situation. But that's not the point right now. Jim, please, you have to cancel the press conference. We're almost out of time and there's going to be enough damage control to handle just from the fact that you called one in the first place. Is there maybe some announcement you can make about a case or something to explain why you needed to talk to the media? Something? Anything?"

Ellison shook his head. "Nope, not a thing. And I'm not going to cancel it," he said, lifting one hand to stave off any further objections. "I know, I hear you, Chief…but I've made up my mind. These are my senses. It's my decision to go public. We'll deal with it, if you're here to stay…and, God, I hope you are. But, I would do this anyway. I've been living a lie, Sandburg. A lie of omission until it all came out, and I could live with that. But, I can't keep quiet any longer."

"But…" Blair tried to intervene.

"No 'buts', Sandburg," Jim cut in again. Taking a breath, he continued, "Look…I'll never be able to thank you enough for the sacrifice you made for me. It took courage and integrity…and you did it because you care about me, wanted to 'make things right' for me. But the cost was too high, Blair. I'm not prepared to pay it, even if you are." Shaking his head as he looked into the distance, he went on, his voice quiet, "I've thought about this a lot, Chief. To stay silent now would be wrong…just wrong. And, well, from here on in, people would always wonder anyway. Those wackos you're so worried about, they're likely already on their way, just dying to find out if there was any truth to what the media had to say. Whether either of us wanted this, or would have done it of our own volition, the fact is, the genie is out of the bottle and I have to learn to live with that."

"Oh, man, I'm sorry," Blair whispered. "I never wanted this. I should never have written that damned paper."

But Ellison shook his head. "No, Chief, none of this is your fault. It was inevitable," he stated with weary acceptance. "Hell, the rest of the guys had figured it out long ago. Brackett figured it out years ago. As I've gotten more comfortable with my senses, I've become less careful about hiding them. Oh, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared. The idea of the media feeding frenzy that this is going to cause scares the shit out of me. But it won't go on forever. I have to get past the fear. I have to finally accept what I am. But…but it would mean a lot to me, if you were there when I tell them the truth…even if, well, if you don't want to move back in, or keep working with me."

"Ah, Jim," Blair sighed. "What am I going to do with you, man? Of course, I'll be there. And, well, we have a lot of garbage we've got to work out, but…yeah…I want to keep working with you. I'm your Guide, man…it's my job."

Jim let out the breath he'd been holding. Blair hadn't said anything about moving back into the loft, but surely they could work that out, too. But there was something else he had to say. "I'm worried about you, Chief. I'm worried about those other possible wackos, the ones who'll come after you, wanting your help…"

"Well, they can't all be like Alex," Blair said with a long-suffering look. "And, hopefully, they won't all be as stubborn and pig-headed as you are. But if they're hoping to find themselves a guide, they'll be disappointed. I can probably help them to gain some degree of control…but this Guide is taken. We are stuck with each other, Jim…and we're going to have to find a way of making that work for both of us."

"I'm not the only person in this room who is stubborn, Chief…but I'm willing to live with that," Jim replied seriously. "I'm glad you're back, Blair…more than I'll ever be able to say in words. And, I'll probably screw up again, but I want this to work. I really do."

"Yeah, well, I'll likely screw up, too," Sandburg replied with a dry tone, but his eyes had started to sparkle as he teased his friend. "That's the problem with being human, Jim. Neither of us is perfect…though I'm, perhaps, a little more perfect than you are."

"Oh, yeah?" Ellison replied, a smile on his lips. "The jury's still out on that one, Chief. You're just easier to get along with so people forgive your imperfections faster than they forgive mine."

Whatever comeback Blair might have had to that was interrupted by the sharp knock on the door as Simon poked his head in. "Show time, folks. The media is here and waiting."

"I'm ready," Jim said, suddenly all business. "Let's get this over with."

Taking a breath, Blair stood and followed him to the briefing room.

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

Detective Jim Ellison moved directly to the podium, a sheaf of paper in his hands. Taking a moment to steady his breathing, he listened to the silence that had descended when he'd walked into the room. Lifting his eyes, he locked on Sandburg at the back of the room, and then began. "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming today. Almost two weeks ago, Blair Sandburg told you the paper that he had written, which had been released without his knowledge or approval, was fraudulent. He claimed to have lied about the fact that I have enhanced senses. In fact, it was his statement that day that was the lie. Everything in his paper is true. I'm a Sentinel…"

The room erupted in a clamour of shouts as reporters shot their questions at him and light bulbs flashed adding to the already harsh light from the cameras. Reflexively, Jim raised a hand to shade his eyes, wincing against the noise and the blinding lights, the sensory overload stunning him.

"Stop it!" Blair shouted from the back of the room as he pushed his way forward, furious at the sensory assault. Jim was on the edge of a zone. "Be quiet, dammit! And get those flash cameras out of here. NOW!" He moved as quickly as he could to Jim's side, to lay a hand on his arm and ground him, even as he turned to the reporters to continue his harangue.

Startled by his vehemence, amazed to even see him there, the reporters were silenced for a moment, long enough for him to clarify a few points for them. Taking a breath, he lowered his voice, but kept it hard and business-like. "If you keep shouting at him, Detective Ellison will leave the room and that's all the information you will get from him, or me, or anyone else. Am I clear? The same goes for the flashbulbs. The video cameras are too bright as it is. Now, settle down or get out."

When shouting broke out again, he shook his head. Turning to Jim, he covered the microphone with one hand while he said quietly but firmly, "That's it, you've made your announcement…we're out of here."

Jim wanted to resist, but the confusion, the noise, the lights all added to his already jangled nerves and he found it almost overwhelming. He was ready to give up, frustrated that they just wouldn't shut up and listen, but he had to try one last time…had to try to finish what he'd come to say.

When Blair saw him shake his head, and realized Ellison wasn't going to take the easy way out, he moved back around to the front of the podium, blocking the cameras, his hands up to command their attention. "One last time," he stated loudly above their shouts. "If you want to hear the facts, give the man a chance to speak. BE QUIET!"

Simon had moved in beside him, lending the force of his own considerable presence to Blair's words. "You heard him, people," Simon growled. "This is not a circus. Sit down, calm down, and you'll get the facts. After that, if you have questions, and you are civilized about it, we might answer them."

Gradually, the reporters subsided, understanding that they had little choice if they wanted the full story. Once silence had again fallen, Blair and Simon stepped back. Jim began again. "As I was saying, the document Blair Sandburg wrote details the facts about my enhanced senses. Let me be very clear. I am NOT a superman. I can see better, and hear better, than the average person. I also have enhanced senses of touch, taste and smell. Before you ask, I can assure you that none of the charges that have been laid in the cases I've worked on rely on those enhanced senses. In all cases, we had acquired evidence through normal, exhaustive police work and that evidence will stand."

He paused a moment to again look toward Blair as he continued, "I have chosen to tell you the truth now because I could no longer accept the cost that my personal privacy demanded. Blair Sandburg is my partner, my friend and my Guide. Every Sentinel needs a Guide, to keep them grounded, to help them control their senses. Because of the feeding frenzy that erupted when his research first became public, my work as a police officer was compromised, an assassin escaped when he would otherwise have been apprehended and two police officers were subsequently severely wounded when he tried to kill me. As a result, Mr. Sandburg chose to sacrifice his own credibility and future to stop the madness. That price is too high. Blair Sandburg is the most honest, ethical man I know. He acted with courage and integrity when he stood before you two weeks ago…and denied the truth. To protect me and to protect this city, so that my colleagues and I could get on with our jobs. I am grateful for his sacrifice, but I cannot accept it."

Turning back to the news people, Ellison continued, his voice hard as he said, "I understand that you will have questions, and I'm prepared to answer them, if as Captain Banks indicated, you constrain yourselves to some semblance of civilized behaviour. But I am not prepared to have you interfere with legitimate police business or compromise my personal privacy, or Mr. Sandburg's privacy, as private citizens. If you get in my face when I'm doing my job, I'll charge you with the obstruction of justice. If you hound us, I'll get a restraining order and make it stick." Taking a breath, he steeled himself for what was to come and offered, "Now, if you have any questions…"

The words were scarcely out of his mouth when the shouting began again, as each reporter jockeyed for attention, to get the answers for their paper or news station. Jim looked at them and shook his head marginally, rolling his eyes. Scratching his cheek, he looked over to Sandburg, who jerked his head toward the door. After all, the media reps couldn't complain that they hadn't been warned. Nodding, Jim stepped back from the podium…might as well show them from the start that he meant what he said. Simon, Joel and H cleared his way as he headed toward the door. Blair watched him go, and then moved to the podium. If he could answer their questions, maybe they'd give Jim a break and not keep hounding him relentlessly.

When the reporters lost their prime target, they turned back to him. Unconsciously he assumed his mantle as teacher. For a man able to hold the attention of a hundred or more restless students, a room full of journalists eager for information was a piece of cake. Blair straightened his back, held up a hand for order and when they'd once again settled down, he said with quiet dignity, "I'll answer all your questions, one at time." Pointing to a woman in the first row, he said, "Ladies first. What's your question?"

"How many other Sentinels are there?" she asked.

"I don't know," Blair replied. "Up until I met Detective Ellison, I wondered if they still continued to exist in our modern day society. There are any number of people with one or two enhanced senses…people who work for perfume companies, or vineyards, for example. However, the incidence of individuals with five enhanced senses would appear to be rare."

"Why do you call him a Sentinel?" she asked again before he could shift his attention to another reporter.

"It's the word used by an anthropologist who wrote about his discovery more than a hundred years ago. Dr. Richard Burton, NOT the actor, discovered the existence of 'watchmen' or 'sentinels' as he called them, in a tribe that he was studying in South America. The sentinel had the duty of protecting the tribe, being alert to weather patterns, or the incursions of enemies. More than a scout, the sentinel patrolled the boundaries of the tribe's domain, ensuring their safety…much as Detective Ellison and his colleagues on the police force protect this city."

Turning quickly to the next person, Blair said, "You're next. What's your question?"

"Just how powerful are these senses?" the man asked.

"Detective Ellison can see more clearly in the dark than you or I can. He can see further with more clarity. For example, he can clearly identify a man more than a block away and describe in detail the individual's expression, what he's wearing and the weapon he's holding. He can hear whispers in a crowded room. When he tastes something, he can isolate the individual ingredients with little hesitation. He can feel the difference in ashes, between those that were once wood and those that were plastic. He can smell well enough to isolate the scent of perfume or aftershave, shampoo, deodorant, and so on, to identify some of the characteristics of the perpetrator of a crime when he's examining the crime scene."

Blair pointed to the next person in the row. "Your question?"

"What does he mean that you're his Guide?" the woman reporter asked.

"Because I have studied the incidence of heightened senses, I am able to assist Detective Ellison in focusing his abilities when too many stimuli are coming at him at once," Blair replied, then pointed to the next person. "Your question?"

"Don't his senses contradict the principles of privacy and human rights? I mean, who needs a wire tap if he can just listen in?" the reporter demanded, ready to take the Constitutional attack as his own.

Blair shook his head. "Detective Ellison's senses are genetically normal in that they occur naturally. It's a police officer's duty to use their observational skills to the best of their ability to protect the innocent citizens of this city, to detect crime and to act on the evidence they find and the informed assessment they make as a result of that evidence. Accordingly, when Detective Ellison sees or hears something within the normal range of his capacity, he is simply doing his job. Next question."

"The University fired you after your press conference. Are you going to sue them?" the reporter asked.

Again Blair shook his head. "The authorities at the University acted in accordance with the information they had at the time. The situation has been clarified with them and I will be completing my studies at Rainier. I hope to defend a dissertation in the near future as the final outstanding requirement to attain a doctorate in Philosophy. Next question."

"Why has he kept his abilities a secret?" someone called out from the back of the room, tired of waiting for their turn.

"When Detective Ellison's abilities first emerged, he was startled by them, didn't understand them and had some difficulty controlling the intensity of the sensory input. He was understandably reluctant to shout his abilities from the rooftops. Since then, it really hasn't seemed an issue, not until my paper was improperly made public. At that time, Detective Ellison was in the midst of a difficult and dangerous case, which ultimately resulted in Captain Banks and Inspector Conner being shot and almost killed because his attempts to capture the perpetrator were foiled by media interference at the scene of an assassination attempt. Detective Ellison was himself later wounded by the assassin, known by the popular press as the Iceman, before Klaus Zeller's insane actions resulted in his own death. It was imperative to end the frankly outrageous media circus that was inhibiting the police in their duties. At the time, it was best to simply deny the truth of his senses to let Detective Ellison and his colleagues get on with their jobs. Since then, he has been in hospital and recovering from his injury. You might have noticed that he still needs a cane to support his injured leg. In any event, this was the earliest opportunity he had to set the record straight."

"Why did Detective Ellison make your 'sacrifice' sound like such a big deal then…if it was just a temporary measure to defuse interest and distract attention away from him?" another astute reporter called out.

Blair smiled, a warm, genuine, bright, charming smile, as he replied, "Detective Ellison regretted deeply the implications and impacts my statement had for me at the time. He's not just my partner, he's my friend, and he would have preferred that we had another option. Unfortunately, the unremitting pressure from the media was impossible to ignore and made such admittedly dramatic action necessary. However, much as the censure I suffered was only temporary, he is genuinely sorry that it was required at all. Jim is an honest, decent, honorable man and he needed to set the record straight as clearly and fairly as he could. Though those remarks of his were not at all necessary, I appreciated his words, and I'm grateful to him."

"When will we have access to your full paper on The Sentinel?" someone called.

Lifting his chin, Blair said clearly and without hesitation, "You won't. The document was never intended for publication. I wrote it as a scientist, recording my observations, as an aid to Detective Ellison should something happen to prevent me from giving him support in the future. I have one copy only of the document, and that copy is for his reference and mine, exclusively. It was knowingly released against my will, without permission and without my knowledge, and its release was a violation of my legal intellectual property rights. From this time forward, I will sue any individual, association or corporation who prints or quotes, in whole or in part, any of the excerpts released earlier this month."

"Sounds like you're trying to hide something?" a reported accused, avid with curiousity.

"Not at all," Blair contested mildly, even with a slight tone of mockery as he continued. "Detective James Ellison is entitled to the same rights of privacy as any other citizen of our nation. While the information in the document is of little interest to anyone but Detective Ellison and an individual assisting him to focus his concentration in a situation of complex stimuli, its release would compromise his privacy rights. For example, at a crime scene, as I've noted earlier, Detective Ellison is able to differentiate the various scent strands of a complex herbal formula. This ability assisted us in identifying the bomber known as the Switchman several years ago. Because of his ability, he was subsequently able to intervene in an intended bombing, saving the lives of almost forty innocent men, women and children…which I'm sure you'd all agree is a good thing. Now, as a scientist I find the process fascinating, but I doubt it is really the role or responsibility of you as the representatives of free speech and a citizen's right to know to print excruciating details about how Detective Ellison had to sniff hundreds of bottles of scent in order to identify the three or four which were used in combination in a special client order."

However, his voice hardened as he concluded, "Furthermore, the excerpts were released out of context for maximum media impact. They are misleading, would lead to inaccurate assessments and conclusions, and are useless in and of themselves. As a scientist, such blatant disregard both for my intellectual property rights and the gross misrepresentation of data offends me. Next question?"

"Isn't it up to us to determine what is newsworthy?" a woman called out, not liking the idea of never having access to the details.

Blair rubbed his eyes as if made tired by the inanity of the question, then replied with the weary manner of a pedantic pedagogue replying to an unbelievably, even astonishingly, intellectually challenged slow learner, but nevertheless committed to assisting the poor soul to learn. Very clearly, very slowly, as if ascertaining while he spoke whether she was understanding his simple words and sentences, he said, "Absolutely, when you are dealing with events or issues in the public forum, when the information is critical to the safety, security or well being of our fellow citizens. However, as I have explained in some detail, Detective Ellison's senses are wholly natural. The picayune details contained in my document concerning how he focuses those senses concern his privacy, and publication would violate his personal privacy rights as a citizen. It would be as interesting and informative to the public as having a detailed analysis of the degree to which you begin to perspire under what temperature and physical exertion circumstances, with corresponding explicit details regarding the exact nature of the scent of your personal odour at the time. I'm sure you can agree that such an analysis is not something you would deem 'newsworthy' in your personal circumstances. Further, as I have also indicated, the document has been developed as a tool, to be shared by Detective Ellison upon my demise should he find the need for another Guide. Until my death, I hold the intellectual privacy rights to the document, rights that are guaranteed by the laws of our nation. Violation of those rights is a violation of the law. Again, I'm certain you would not wish to place yourself in a compromised position with respect to knowingly committing an illegal act. I have simply endeavoured to alert you to the risks you will incur if you disregard either Detective Ellison's rights or my own. Does that clarify the situation for you?"

There was a brief silence as the gathered assembly absorbed his words and blinked a bit at his chutzpah. They'd encountered few individuals so willing to make such a clear and public declaration of war should his will be crossed. Eyes narrowed as they studied this man whose appearance was so deceptive. He was far from a young, innocent and possibly naïve academic nerd.

"How did you first meet the Sentinel?" a reporter called out.

Blair smiled again, relaxing the crowd despite their uneasy sense of sudden disquiet and alert. "As some of you who may have done your research on me when I was so newsworthy a couple of weeks ago know, I am a teaching fellow at Rainier University working on the last requirement for the award of a doctorate…that is, the production of a dissertation. I am a student of Anthropology, and I readily admit to an all-consuming fascination with the cultures and societies of my fellow human beings. The topic I chose for my dissertation was the sub-culture of the law enforcement community and I call it 'The Thin Blue Line'," he explained in painstaking detail. But, his natural enthusiasm for his love of anthropology and learning rose quickly to the surface as he spoke increasingly quickly in an energized, animated style. "Men and women in law enforcement stand between us and danger in our society, safeguarding our rights and often our very lives. They do so at great personal risk, not for glory but because they feel a strong and abiding personal responsibility to do what is right, to make a difference for the good in our community."

Warming to his subject, Blair's eyes lit up and he began to gesture with his hands, appearing like nothing so much as an excited student talking about his favourite obsession. "Anyway, I obtained permission to 'ride-along' with a detective to study the people who stand on the thin blue line, to understand how they support one another in the course of their daily lives and throughout the whole of their careers. Now, as you might understand, immersing oneself in a community, being 'on the ground', to study them on a day-to-day basis, is critical to acquiring knowledge of human behaviour and interaction. Which accounts for my need to 'ride along'. I had specifically requested the opportunity to ride with Detective Ellison. It's public knowledge that he is an outstanding law enforcement officer who has been honoured with the Police Officer of the Year Award on any number of occasions. Well, I thought if I was going to find myself in potentially dangerous situations, better to be with a guy I know who is exceptional and likely to be able to save the butt of a neo-hippy, academic nerd. Right? So, anyway, in the course of my observation of Detective Ellison and his colleagues, I began to notice that he had the ability to see a lot farther than I can and hear stuff that I missed completely. We got talking and while he didn't think much of his capabilities, they are natural to him as I've said, it twigged for me as an example of other studies I had undertaken for my master's degree." Blair shrugged and grinned happily, disarmingly, "It was pure serendipity that we happened to meet…but I'll be forever grateful for the opportunity. He's an extraordinary man with or without his enhanced senses, but it was especially intellectually satisfying to me to find that people with five enhanced senses can still exist in our modern society."

By the time he'd finished that answer, his audience was looking a little dazed. Smiling innocently, he prompted, "Next question?"

It took more than an hour, but finally all the immediate questions appeared to have been answered. By the time he was done, Blair had given a series of mini-lectures liberally salted with lots of anthropological detail but short on any real specifics about Jim's abilities…and nothing on his vulnerabilities. He'd covered the whole business of how enhanced senses surfaced after a period of prolonged isolation in stressful conditions, citing the already well-known facts about Jim's stint in Peru when he was in the military. He'd gone into detail about the genetic nature of the senses, using example after example of the other cases he'd studied of people having enhanced sense of smell or taste. He'd reminded the reporters of how soldiers in Vietnam had had to change their diets. In short, by the time he was finished with them, the idea of enhanced senses didn't seem as extraordinary as they'd at first thought them to be.

As the session wound down, Blair reminded them, "As Detective Ellison pointed out, you will be obstructing justice if you interfere with the performance of his duties by accosting him in the street. If you have further questions in the future, send me a fax here at the station, an email, or call me here or at the University. I promise I will get back to you. If your question requires Detective Ellison's personal response, he will call you back. However, if you invade his privacy, you will not get the answers you seek. Period. I cannot be plainer than that so I hope it's crystal clear."

They didn't like it, but they couldn't complain that he hadn't answered all their questions. Sandburg's matter of fact, confident, professionally academic manner had diffused much of the initial sense of the bizarre about the whole situation. Some would push the limits, and they'd eventually learn that it didn't get them anywhere. Those who played by the rules that had been set out would get the information they sought or at least as much information as would satisfy them. When there were no further questions or comments forthcoming, Blair nodded. "Thank you again for coming this morning."

Then he turned and left the room with the fervent hope that he'd given just enough information to satisfy them and diffuse their ravening interest, and not so much as to put his Sentinel at risk.

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

Jim, Simon, the Chief and all the members of Major Crimes had been watching the question period from the transmission from the closed circuit cameras in the media briefing room. As it wound up and Blair left the room, Simon grunted, "The kid's damned good, I'll give him that. He told them everything and nothing."

Proud of Sandburg's performance, not to mention grateful as hell that Blair had taken on the chore of dealing with the media, Ellison nodded. "That's my Guide," he said with no little satisfaction. He'd felt a sick twinge or two whenever Sandburg had referred to his possible 'demise', but had pushed them firmly away. That just wasn't going to happen. He'd gotten Blair back and no way was he ever going to lose him again. Turning to the Chief, he added, "And you've just had a front seat look at why I need him. He made it sound like we knew what we were doing all along…and conveyed very clearly that it was all for the good of the community, in the interests of law and order. You might want to consider that when you decide what salary to offer him in his new job as a consultant."

The Chief huffed a bit, but he knew Ellison was right. The kid had brushed aside any focus on his own sacrifice, leaving the impression that it had been expedient at the time and that there'd been no real risk to himself. They'd all come out smelling like roses…and the Force owed Sandburg for that, especially when the truth of the matter was so very different. "I'll bear it in mind," he grunted as he turned to leave.

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

When Blair entered the MCU operations' room, he was met by a standing ovation, piercing whistles and loud acclaim.

"Man, you are one, SMOOTH dude!" H sang out, laughing gleefully. "They were eating right out of your little hand."

With a self-deprecating shrug, Sandburg protested the loud congratulations. "Hey, man," he drawled, "they were playing in my sandbox. Who knows more about Sentinels that I do?"

"No one, not even the Sentinel himself," Jim laughed. "Good job, Chief."

"You looked like you could keep lecturing for hours, Blair," Joel observed with an appreciative grin.

"Well, yeah…I've been studying this stuff for more than fourteen years…if I can't talk for an hour about it, I'd be ashamed of myself," Sandburg replied, but he smiled cheekily.

"You did good, Sandburg…just the right touch of academic professionalism mixed with youthful enthusiasm. When you did hit them between the eyes a time or two, you just about knocked them right out of the game," Simon observed approvingly. "And you also did a deft job of distracting their attention from 'the Sentinel' onto you, and then shifting them onto the greater glory of the Cascade PD before they quite knew what was happening."

"Just doing my job, Simon," Blair observed. "A job I don't get paid for, I might point out."

"Apparently you got a dissertation out of it, Sandburg, which was, I recall, the original deal," Banks drawled, unphased by Blair's teasing. "Two dissertations, if I heard you right. You, uh, made quite a point of stating there is only one copy of the Sentinel paper, and that it is never going to be disseminated."

"That's right, Simon," Blair replied, sobering. "It's my property and nobody gets to see it without my permission."

Banks' brows lifted as the room went suddenly silent, everyone carefully avoiding Blair's eyes. "You want to field this one, Jim?" Simon asked mildly.

Frowning, Sandburg looked from Banks to Ellison. "What's going on?" he asked, suddenly suspicious and wondering if he really wanted to know.

Jim shrugged uncomfortably, then admitted, "Well, Chief, when it wasn't clear if you were going to be away from Cascade for a while, I decided that a few other folks needed to read your paper, so I had a few copies made…"

"A few? How many is 'a few', and who has them?" Blair snapped.

"Uh, seven copies, Sandburg," Jim replied, wincing when Blair rolled his eyes. "Simon, Joel, Megan, H, Rafe, the Chief and the Commissioner, all have their own personal copies now."

The tension immediately went out of Blair's body as his expression shifted from alarm to acceptance. "Well, sure, everyone on the team needs their own copy, and everyone knows to keep it locked up," he said as if that was patently obvious. He frowned again though as he turned to Simon, "The Chief and the Commish…they'll keep the document secure, right?"

"They have a professional responsibility to respect Jim's privacy, Sandburg," Simon assured him.

"But, they know not to share any of the information, right, like to impress fellow police chiefs at conventions or at political soirees?" Blair pushed, worried about the unguarded dissemination of information that could leave his Sentinel at risk.

"Well, I'm sure…" Simon began, but a steady, pointed look from Sandburg had its impact and he amended, to mumble, "I'll make sure the information is held completely confidential."

"Thank you, Captain," Sandburg replied with no trace of humor.

As things began to quiet down, Sandburg moved over to Ellison and asked softly, "How're you doing? Alright?"

Jim nodded, though his eyes shifted away. Having his skills broadly known, being the subject of public speculation and attention, was his worst nightmare…and up until a few weeks ago, he would never have imagined himself, personally, 'going public'. He worried about what they'd encounter once they left the safe haven of the police station…and worried even more about how he'd handle himself. An intensely private person, this kind of scrutiny was torture, pure and simple. But, he'd done it of his own volition, and he'd make the same choice again in the same circumstances. He'd done it for Sandburg.

And Blair knew it.

Seeing the avoidance behavior, Sandburg pushed, "C'mon, talk to me, okay? It was rough with the flashbulbs going off and everyone screaming at once, I know that."

"If you know it, then I guess I really don't have to talk about it, do I?" Jim countered sarcastically, falling back on old habits and behavior. But he caught Blair's stiffening posture and he amended quickly, "Look, I'm sorry, Chief. I guess, yeah, I'm a little on edge about it all. Don't worry, I'll be okay."

Avoidance and then denial.

Blair shook his head. This was going to take a lot of work.

But, then, they had plenty of time…a whole lifetime's worth.

"Let's get out of here, okay?" Sandburg suggested. "There's a lot we need to talk about."

"You're absolutely right, Chief," Jim agreed as he stood to grab his jacket from the hook behind him.

They were just making their way out when an interoffice messenger arrived. "Mr. Sandburg? I have a letter for you," the young part-time student said, as she passed over the envelope.

"Thanks," Blair replied, as he took the official looking correspondence and then noted the Chief's seal in the upper right corner of the envelope. Pointing it out to Jim, who shrugged, Blair opened it and pulled out a single sheet with handwriting on it. As he read, he began to smile, and his eyes widened at the end of the message. Wordlessly, he handed it to Jim.

Figuring it couldn't be bad news the way Sandburg's eyes were sparkling, Jim read,

"Mr. Sandburg, I want to compliment you on your very professional handling of a delicate situation today. Exceptionally well done and your remarks reflected very well on the Cascade Police Department and those who dedicate their lives to law enforcement. I look forward to reading your dissertation on 'The Thin Blue Line'.

I am aware that you have made other substantial contributions over the past several years as you've pursued your studies. As I understand that you may receive your doctorate shortly, I wanted to ensure that you are aware of our interest in engaging you as a full-time consultant, attached to the Major Crimes Unit. While no doubt you will have other career options, I hope that we might agree to a mutually beneficial arrangement. While we would need to finalize the details and benefits, I can advise you that the department is prepared to offer you $50,000 as a starting annual rate of remuneration.

Once you have obtained your doctorate, a more formal offer will be forthcoming. Again, allow me to express my appreciation both for your contributions today, and for those you have made over the years as a civilian 'ride along' observer.

Murray Franklin

Chief of Police"

"Well, well," Jim murmured as he smiled slowly and then refolded the note to hand it back to Sandburg. "You don't get notes like that everyday."

"No, I certainly don't," Blair replied. Looking down to shove the note back into the envelope he paused then looked up at his partner. "I know that you are responsible for this, Jim. Thank you."

"Just looking out for my own best interests, Chief," Ellison replied, but his smile widened and he looped an arm over Sandburg's shoulder as they made their way to the elevator.

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

When they got down to the lobby, they could see the cluster of reporters outside on the street and Jim couldn't help himself…he just froze up, dreading the confrontation that was to come. Blair put a steadying hand on his arm as he pulled out his cell and punched in a number. "Uh, Simon?" Blair murmured into the phone, "looks like we've got a crowd of admirers outside. How do you want us to handle this? Full steam ahead, damn the torpedoes, make nice, take a dive or wait for escort across the enemy lines?" He listened for a moment, nodding, grinned, murmured, "Okay, thanks," and hung up.

Edging Jim toward a group of officers so they blocked the view from outside, Blair said, "It's okay. We don't have to deal with anymore of this today, at least not here. Rafe is coming down to run interference."

Jim blew out a breath and visibly relaxed. "I've got to get past this, Chief," he muttered, disgusted with his sense of paralysis in the face of media attention that was directed at him personally as opposed to dealing with reporters in the course of an investigation.

"Yep, but not all at once," Blair replied evenly. "You've done your bit for today, hero."

Rafe exited the elevators and Blair handed him the keys to the Volvo, explaining where he'd parked it. "Thanks, man," he called as he steered Jim back toward the elevators to head down to the garage. Ellison was still having enough difficulty with his leg that he hadn't been driving his own truck, which was still parked at the loft.

Moments later, Rafe wheeled the old car down into the underground garage, grinning as he climbed out of the car. "I know you think this heap is a classic, Sandburg," he teased, "but when you get a real job, you have got to spring for a new set of wheels!"

"Hey, watch it!" Blair protested. "You'll hurt the lady's feelings!" Patting the hood lovingly he crooned, "Never mind, sweetie, I love you. These philistines just don't have any taste."

Ellison snorted as he got into the passenger side while Rafe just laughed and waved as he headed back into the building.

Blair had pulled out of the garage and was heading toward home when Jim said quietly, his eyes averted, "Thanks for coming back, Chief…and for handling all that today."

Blair cut his friend a quick glance and caught the slight trembling of Ellison's hands. Unselfconsciously, Sandburg laid a gentle hand over Jim's hand as he replied, "I might not have if you hadn't have come after me the other night. But I finally realized that this is really bigger than both of us, man. We'll work it out, but there are some things that are going to have to change."

Jim nodded as he thought about that, his eyes on the passing street. But, the trembling stopped under Blair's calming hand and he took a deep, steadying breath. "I'll do better," he promised, his voice hoarse.

But Blair surprised him when he replied, "This isn't just about you, Jim," Sandburg advised him. "I realized that I've been screwing up pretty well on my own. We both have to come to grips with a few things that have been festering for too long."

Jim turned to gaze at him, his eyes thoughtful. "Okay, Chief…when we get home, we'll talk."

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

When they got to the loft, the crowd of reporters surrounding the front entrance was hard to miss.

"Great," Jim grunted, shaking his head.

"No worries, mate," Blair replied cockily, mimicking Megan's accent. "We told them no hassling, and this is where we make it stick."

Sandburg pulled into the lot and jumped out of the vehicle to race around and make a show of helping Jim out. By then, the reporters had spotted them and had run over to surround them, shouting questions with the video cams running. Blair made no bones about looking up at them with profound irritation. "Weren't you people at the police station earlier?" he demanded, ignoring the questions as he stood between them and Ellison, keeping Jim against the car.

"You said if we had follow up questions…" one began, but Blair cut in sharply.

"I said if you had questions to fax, email, or phone the police department or university. Both Detective Ellison and I stated that we would not accept being harassed on the street. Follow the protocol and you'll get your questions answered. For now, no comment," he stated bluntly, his arm crossed, his expression stern.

"But…" another called out.

"NO 'BUTS'," Blair snapped. "You insensitive dolts don't seem to have even noticed that Detective Ellison is still recovering from a wound he sustained because you and your rabid colleagues interfered in a police operation and allowed a murderer to escape detention. He, Captain Banks and Inspector Conner were all seriously injured because of your irresponsibility. You might at least have the decency to allow him to return to his own home in peace to recover from a bullet wound he received defending the people of this city. I said 'no comment' and I meant it. Either get out of our way or I will call the police to have you arrested for harassment. MOVE!"

And they moved.

Wordlessly, he supported Jim through the gauntlet, all the while staring daggers at the men and women who surrounded them. Once they were inside and the elevator doors were safely closed behind them, Jim chuckled as he said, "Geez, Sandburg, am I going to have to get you shots for distemper? What was that?"

"That was a Guide in a full spate of righteous indignation," Blair replied calmly. "Don't mess with the Guide when he's watching out for his Sentinel…you could get hurt."

"Right," Jim replied, as he gave his Guide a speculative look.

A few minutes later, they were back in the loft, and Blair sent Jim to sit in the living room while he ambled to the kitchen and pulled out a couple of beers. Snapping off the tops, he moved to hand one to Jim, then plopped down on the sofa.

And that was when he saw his journal lying on the coffee table and bit his lip. Yep, they had a lot to talk about, all right.

Jim caught his glance and winced, remembering all the pain contained on those thin pages. Swallowing, wanting to get to what was worrying him most, he asked, "Are you going to move back in, Chief?"

Blair picked at the label on the bottle for a moment before answering. Finally lifting his gaze to Jim's, he said, "I know you need a safe, quiet place to restore your balance after dealing with everything, all the sensory overload, every day. And, I know that I'm a disruptive influence that you have made welcome in your home for years now." Sighing, he admitted, "I've never been certain that it wouldn't one day become too much, that you wouldn't crave having your own space back. When you booted me out over Alex, all those fears seemed to have been given credence. I'd believed all along that it was only a matter of time."

"But…" Jim tried to intervene, only to have Blair hold up a hand.

"Hear me out," Sandburg said. "This is one of the things I have to deal with and set aside…one of the ways I haven't trusted you enough. I now believe that you would not have allowed me to stay so long, or move back in, if you didn't genuinely want me here. My fears were not founded and did not take into account the fact that you never do what you don't want to do, not for prolonged periods, anyway. What happened with Alex was an aberration caused by sensory overload. And that's all it was. So, am I correct in my assessment that you genuinely want me to live here?"

"Yeah, you're correct," Jim replied with no hesitation, though his voice was tight. "You're not a 'disruptive influence' Chief. To the contrary, I relax better when you're around…as if your presence grounds me, makes me feel safe. I don't like it when you're gone. I…uh…I miss you."

"Okay, then, I'm back," Blair said and took a swig from his bottle. Outwardly, he appeared calm and collected but inwardly he was caught between a sense of jubilation and a sick anxiety that without sufficient distance he might begin to lose himself again in the Sentinel's world.

Ellison, the Sentinel in question, wasn't fooled by external appearances. "What's wrong?" he asked with a frown of concern. "Your heart is tap dancing all around your chest and it's making quite a racket."

Blair snorted and looked chagrined as he lowered the bottle, holding it in both hands. "Jim, don't mistake this…I want to be here. I want to live here. I want to think of this place as my home, our home," he said with deliberation.

"But?" Jim prodded.

"But…" Blair sighed as he leaned forward to put his beer bottle on a coaster then sat back, pushing his hair behind his ears, "I am your Guide. That means that I have a driving need to look after your well-being. Which, over the past few years has led me to unconsciously bury who I am in you…to lose myself, until I wasn't sure anymore who I am. That was compounded by my insecurity in really believing that I could do this, be your Guide, without letting you down badly some day…and maybe getting you killed because of my ignorance. The fear, the anxiety, the need to please and care for you…well…I got lost somehow in the shuffle. That's not healthy, Jim…I can't live like that anymore."

"So?" Ellison prompted, holding his breath. Was Blair going to tell him that he couldn't live here?

"So, I've decided that as ignorant as I may be, I'm the best available, and more, that somehow I was always meant to be your Guide. So, by definition, while I might screw up from time to time, I'll likely, mostly, get things right. I can't be perfect, nobody can," he sighed, still wishing he had more answers than he did. "So, first, I stop beating up on myself. And, second, to take care of you, I have to be in good shape…and taking care of you doesn't mean becoming a party to the things that get in your way. Like fear, or anger. I've… I've bought in so much to the reasons, the legitimate reasons, for those feelings that I haven't confronted you on them…worse, I haven't confronted you when they are directed toward me and drive you to shut me out. That stops, now."

His gaze shifting to the journal on the table, Ellison asked quietly, "You mean, like when I treat you like shit, ignore you and push you away, you will push back from now on, not just take it?"

"That's exactly what I mean," Blair replied soberly, then grinned. "I can't keep allowing you to hide behind painful and dysfunctional emotions. It's not good for you. Like I said, don't mess with the Guide when the Guide is acting in the Sentinel's best interests…you might get hurt."

"Okay," Jim agreed easily, "I can live with that. But…that wasn't all your fault. I have responsibility for my own behavior."

"Yes, you do, and you treat me again like you've been treating me for the past almost year, and I'll kick your butt," Blair promised, and though he still grinned cheekily, there was steel in his eyes.

"I'm sorry, Blair," Jim continued, determined to accept his own part of what had gone wrong. "I honestly don't think I was treating you badly on any conscious level…I was just so scared. But, that's no excuse. You deserve a whole lot better than I've been dealing out for too long."

Sandburg leaned back against the sofa, his legs stretched out in front of him and crossed at the ankles, his hands clasped lightly over his belt, as he studied Ellison. "Talk to me about being scared, Jim," he said quietly.

Feeling as if his stomach had just taken the elevator to the basement, Ellison sat back and looked away. His mouth went dry and his mind went blank. He heard Sandburg say softly, "Just take your time. There's no rush here, man. But you've got to get rid of the garbage that is cluttering up your soul and making you act crazy from time to time. So…tell me what you're afraid of…"

"Being out of control scares me," Jim rasped. "You know that. Worse, knowing that I'll never have control without you terrifies me…leaves me feeling vulnerable and helpless. I hate that."

Blair nodded, then leaned forward. Keeping his voice low and calm, he replied, "Okay, that's the fear. But the fear is not reality, Jim. You have control of your senses. You know how to deal with the dials. You know how to prepare yourself for expected or probable sensory blasts. You hardly ever get taken by surprise anymore. You are neither vulnerable nor helpless on a day-to-day basis. YOU know that."

"Yeah, but when I lose it, it's a disaster," Jim grated. "Like with Alex…"

"Okay," Blair allowed. "But that was the first time either of us had ever confronted another Sentinel, and she had to be crazy and viciously aggressive to boot. Neither of us knew what we were doing at first. But…we know the signs now. We won't get surprised again. Another Alex isn't going to happen. You don't need to fear something that is unlikely in the extreme. And, if you do get hooked again by some primal directives beyond your conscious control, I'm here and I'll know what to do about it. That's the point of having a Guide, Jim. We compliment each other. Neither one can function to full effectiveness independently. In an odd way, we are a single unit…and as a unit, we can adapt to address whatever challenges arise. We got into trouble last time more because I screwed up than because you did. When it came right down to it, at the temple, you handled Alex all on your own."

But Jim shook his head. "No, I didn't," he replied. Lifting his eyes to Sandburg's steady gaze, he admitted then, "I never told you what happened inside the temple…in the pool." Swallowing, he looked away as he tried to recapture the fragmented memories and sensory impressions. "She gave me some kind of drug, and it caused these visions. It was like I could see into the future, events that hadn't happened yet. And Incacha was there, demanding to know what I feared. Terrible things happened in those visions, and I felt such fear, such loss of control and helpless uselessness that I couldn't…couldn't stop it. But, after each terrible vision, I flashed on you. I saw your face. When I really listened, I could hear your voice."

Looking back at Blair, he said, his voice hoarse, "I would have gotten lost in that pool, like Alex got lost, if I hadn't had you to ground me. You were there, with me, Chief. We got through that together. I couldn't have done it alone. And I realized that the thing I feared most of all is losing you."

Sandburg held his gaze for a moment then looked away as he thought about that. "It's like when I'm in trouble, I think," he murmured, "and I always know you'll be there for me. Somehow…you'll be there."

"But, I wasn't, was I?" Jim muttered, his voice thick with guilt and self-loathing. "I almost let her kill you again on that damned beach. What was wrong with me? How could I have ever betrayed you that way?"

Blair pressed his own eyes shut against the single memory that hurt him like no other. Once again, he felt the stab of fear and betrayal, the shock of it…the horror and grief of it. "I don't know, Jim," he whispered, almost choking on the lump in his throat.

Sentinel instincts overrode the grief of the man as he picked up on the agitation of the Guide. His head snapping up, Ellison saw the tremors rippling through Sandburg's body, heard the hammering heart and the tight respirations, smelled the salt of the unspilled tears. In a flash, oblivious to the stiffness of his leg, he was across the room and on his knees in front of his Guide, reaching out to cup Sandburg's cheek and turn his face so that the Sentinel could see his expression fully.

Blair blinked against the moisture that burned in his eyes, and lifted his gaze to Ellison's…and saw pain there, and a bottomless grief…and a promise.

"Never again," the Sentinel swore passionately, "Never again will I betray you that way. On my life, I vow that to you."

Blair swallowed as he murmured, "I think you were punishing me…for having abandoned you. For daring to die and leave you behind. You could read her vitals signs as well as you can read mine…you knew she wasn't going to fire immediately, that she was warning me to stay back. But you let me experience the fear in retribution for the fear you had felt."

Ellison looked confused, then appalled as he shook his head. "I wouldn't…"

But Blair nodded and persevered. "I think you were giving me a message. That my life is yours and is in your hands. That I live or die by your will, not some action that I take without you. I don't think it was conscious, not really…but I think, in your mind at that point, when you looked at me and lowered her arm, moving the gun away…I think you were thinking, 'Mine'."

"Jesus, Sandburg!" Ellison blurted, shocked to his core. "What are you saying? That somewhere inside of me I hold the capacity to kill you? Deliberately…at my will?" When Blair hesitated, Ellison looked away, stricken as he recalled the dream. His eyes shifting as he thought about it, he murmured, "The dream…I never told you about that dream."

"What dream?" Blair demanded.

"I was…I was in the jungle, and felt hunted. I heard a wolf howl and tracked it, even as it was tracking me. And then I shot it with my crossbow," Jim whispered, a look of horror on his face. "When I…when I went to check the kill, the wolf whimpered once and died. And then it morphed into you…and you were lying there, dead at my feet…killed by my arrow."

"When did you have this dream?" Blair asked, remembering his own very similar nightmare.

"Before I kicked you out of the loft," Jim murmured, his throat dry and tight.

"You were afraid of hurting me…it wasn't just a need for space. You were trying to keep me safe?" Blair asked, trying to get at the underlying emotions that had been driving Jim at the time.

"Yes…no…I don't know," Jim replied, sounding lost. "I just knew I couldn't have you around right then."

Blair leaned back as he thought about that and all that had been said and done after. Sighing, he said, "I think you felt I had betrayed you. You could smell her on me and felt I was somehow conspiring with her against you. So you killed me…"

"But, I wouldn't ever hurt you," Jim protested, unable to accept where Blair was going with all this.

"Actually, I think you would. If you thought I had betrayed you, I think you'd execute me for it," Blair replied, but his voice was calm, untroubled. At the horror in Jim's eyes, he continued bluntly, "And, if I ever did willfully and consciously betray you, I would deserve to be executed by your hand…at least insofar as we're talking Sentinel/Guide primal directives as opposed to the modern day civilized approach of apprehension and the reading of rights. I think that's why I had the same dream…to warn me that I was heading into dangerous territory, however much I didn't understand at that point that Alex was a Sentinel."

Jim pulled back, shaking his head, his throat thick with his denial. "No," he grated. "No…I couldn't."

Blair sighed and shook his head. Moving forward again into the Sentinel's space, he said matter of factly, "Yes, Jim, you could…you might regret it afterward, but you would be virtually driven to exact retribution for such a fundamental breach of faith as a betrayal by your Guide. That's what the dream was about, and I think that's what the Sentinel was telling me on the beach. But…there's a bright spot here. Listen to me, and hear me well. I will NEVER willingly, knowingly, betray you. I screwed up with Alex, big time. I know that…but it was never intentional. I think you knew that at the time despite your anger and pain…I think that's why you pushed me away in lieu of killing me. But if you ever find yourself wondering if I've betrayed you, know that it is not so. I would die, Jim, before I betrayed or willfully hurt you in any way. Period. I would die first. Do you understand that?"

Jim crouched on the floor, his arms crossed tightly over his chest, as he tried to come to grips with what Blair was telling him. It terrified him to think he could ever be capable of hurting…his mind flinched away even from the thought. But, he grasped onto Blair's words, the assurance and comfort they brought. Blair would never betray him, so there was no need for fear, no danger. Never betray him…would die first.

Ellison's thoughts froze and his face bleached of color and expression. Lifting his eyes to Blair's compassionate and steady gaze, he gasped, "The fountain…you died before you'd betray me…at the fountain."

Sandburg's eyes dropped away from the anguished despair in his friend's eyes. Swallowing, he nodded slightly and murmured, "Yeah…"

Ellison's thoughts spiraled inwards and he became lost in the memories, the emotions that had ravaged him as H and Simon had pulled him away. Blair at his feet, cold and blue, no sound of a heart, no respirations, deathly still…dead. Gone. Lost. 'He's gone!' Simon's voice echoed in his mind. 'He's GONE! Let him go!'

"No!" Jim groaned unconsciously, unaware that his body was trembling uncontrollably or that there were tears on his face. "No! Not gone! Not dead! Can't be dead!" His voice rose in volume, in desperate appeal as the shudders wracked his body. "NO! BLAIR! Please, God…don't do this! NO!"

Alarmed, Sandburg lurched off the sofa onto his knees, and wrapped his arms tightly around Ellison. "I'm here, Jim. I'm not dead. Listen to me…hear my voice. You brought me back…I'm fine. I'm here. I'm not dead. I'm alive. I didn't leave you," he chanted in a mantra as he held on with all his strength.

Gradually, the tremors subsided and Ellison's tear-glazed eyes came back into focus. His chest was tight and he found it hard to breathe for the horror of the emotions that still gripped him. Hearing Blair's voice, feeling his tight hug, smelling his own unique scent, hearing his heartbeat, he drank in his Guide through his senses. Drank in his living Guide. Lifting his eyes to Blair's anxious gaze, he whispered, "You don't know what it was like. I thought…I thought I'd lost you forever. You were dead and I couldn't get you back. I've never felt pain like that…I never want to feel anything like that again."

"You did bring me back, Jim…" Blair told him. "You called me back…and I heard you. And I had to respond. I couldn't leave. You sent your spirit guide to restore my energy and strength, to…to give me life again. You did that, Jim. You."

Ellison closed his eyes and worked to bring his breathing back to normal. "I was so scared," he whispered. "So lost…and after…so angry that I could lose you so easily. That you might leave me so suddenly."

"I know," Blair murmured quietly, still holding on tight.

Jim's jaw tightened and he shook his head. "So, I pushed you away. To prove I didn't need you. To hurt you for deserting me, for being able to abandon me with no warning." His voice echoed with the sense of self-disgust that haunted him.

"And I let you," Sandburg replied steadily, unwilling to allow his Sentinel to shoulder the whole burden. "I was angry about it all, too…angry about dying…scared that I'd had no control, that I'd been destroyed so easily. We were both angry and scared. But that's all over now. We weren't thinking, either of us, just reacting… we understand now what was happening. It's over, Jim. We're fine now."

Ellison finally opened his eyes to focus on his best friend. "You were scared and angry…you'd died and I didn't help you deal with any of that. I'm so sorry. Are you sure that you're all right now? Do you need to talk about it, Chief? I want to be here for you…I really do," he said quietly, with utter sincerity.

"Here and now, finally, yeah…I'm really okay," Sandburg assured him. "I was just so confused for so long. I didn't understand either my own feelings or yours. I couldn't figure out why you kept pushing me away…and I thought you didn't really want me around. But, I know now how wrong I was…I'm okay."

Ellison searched his eyes, seeking the truth of his words, and found it there. The light that had been gone for so long was glowing brightly again…Blair was back. Completely back, well and whole. With a sigh of immense relief, Jim wrapped his arms around his best friend and pulled him close, burying his face in Sandburg's curls. "Don't ever leave me, Chief…I'm scared to know how much I need you…but I'm a lot more scared of losing you," he admitted, his voice hoarse with his need and his fear.

"I'm here…and I'm not going anywhere," Sandburg assured him. "I need you every bit as much as you need me." As emotionally tumultuous as the last hour had been, Blair couldn't restrain a grin of satisfaction, even of joy, as he heard the low, guttural growl that Jim was likely scarcely aware of making.

"MINE!"

"Yours," he murmured in return.

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

Blair was so excited that he was fairly bouncing in the elevator as he and Jim headed up to the office for his first day on staff as an official consultant to the Police Department. Ellison glanced at him out of the corner of his eye and couldn't resist a smile of pleasure to see that glow back on Blair's face and the sparkle in his eyes. Reaching out to grip his friend's shoulder, he asked, "Ready for your first day?"

"Well, it's not like it's the first day I've ever been here," Blair babbled. "I mean, I've been your partner for four years now so nothing's really changed. Except that now I'll get paid for it. And I've got credentials. I'm official!" Grinning, he looked up at his best friend, scarcely able to believe even now that everything had turned out so well. "Ready? Yeah, man…I am like SO ready!"

Laughing as the doors opened, Jim waved Blair out ahead of him, grinning in anticipation. Though the loud cheer made him wince a little, the smile on his face only widened as he caught the sharp spike in Blair's heart rate and his gasp of surprise.

There was a massive banner over the doorway that welcomed him. "Congratulations, DR. SANDBURG!" it read. And, gathered under it, were all the members of the Major Crimes Unit as well as staff from the evidence lock-up, administration, technical support services, pathology, representatives of the uniformed branch and the DA's office.

"Wow!" Blair breathed, a brilliant smile lighting his face. "Like, I never expected this!"

"We missed you, Hairboy!" H called out exuberantly.

"Yes, we did," Simon echoed with a tad more decorum as he stepped forward to hand Blair a slim black wallet. "I'm glad it only took a couple of weeks to get your academic credentials confirmed."

Taking the wallet from Simon, Blair opened it and his breath caught at the sight of the gold detective's shield, labeled 'Police Consultant'. For a moment he couldn't speak past the lump in his throat and he had to blink to clear his vision. Feeling Jim's grip on his shoulder, he took a breath and looked up at the gathered assembly. "Thank you. I…uh…I promise to do the best I can, to never let you down."

"Oh, we're not worried, Sandburg," Simon drawled. "If you screw up, we'll just shoot you." But he smiled warmly and jerked his head toward the operations room. "Come on…let's move this party inside."

As Blair moved forward, he felt people slapping his shoulders and back, calling out congratulations. Rafe, H, Megan and Joel all hugged him. A celebratory breakfast was laid out buffet style on Rhonda's desk, and she gave him a quick peck on the cheek as she handed him a plate. "It's so good to have you back," she murmured.

For an hour, people milled around, enjoying the opportunity to make it clear to Sandburg how glad they were to have him an official member of the department and then Simon shooed them all back to their desks, bellowing that there was work to be done and it was time to get back at it.

Blair automatically headed to Jim's desk where he'd perched on the side for four years. "Where are you going, Chief?" Jim asked, an amused glint in his eyes.

"To work, like Simon just said," Blair replied, looking back at his friend, a little confused by the question.

"Not at my desk, Junior," Jim drawled. "You work over there," he continued, pointing to the desk beside his.

Blair noticed for the first time that there was a new name plaque on that desk. "Blair Sandburg, Ph.D.' was printed in bold black letters on a brass plate. Sniffing a little as he nodded, he felt the reality of it finally settle in. He really belonged here now. He had his own place, his own space. "This is SO great, Jim," he sighed happily.

"Yeah…well, it usually is when things work out the way they should," Jim replied softly, ruffling his hair. "C'mon, partner, let's get to work."

happens in this Universe randomly…it's all for a reason.

Finis

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