This story is dedicated to Smitty, a man without a home or much money, who sold newspapers and was one hell of a storyteller. One day he didnít show up on his corner and soon another man took his place. I found out later that he had died at a shelter and had been buried shortly thereafter.
I hope he won't mind being my muse for this story.
Warning: This AU story is mostly angst and a bit talkative, so if you'd rather read a story that has more action - you have been duly informed.
Thanks to Starfox for a place to put my writings and to all of the great readers who e-mail me. I hope you find this enjoyable.
Most people ignored him. He was after all one of societies ignored obstacles in life. A physical reminder that there was a down side to life and it was a reminder people tried vainly to avoid. He fought in the war for these people, faced being beaten; captured or worse in order that these individuals continue living the lives they took for granted. Lives they now preferred he not participate in. He had a name though no one seemed to ask it. Instead, they called him other names like "hey you", "stinkin bum", "loser", and an assorted others that he pretended not to hear. He had been injured in Viet Nam and the injury caused damage to his motor skills. In another life he was an electrical engineer who dabbled with carpentry, he was not bad to look at and he had been respected. The small stool he had behind him was testament to the final piece he was able to create before going off to war.
Marriage, careers, home and friendship were all something he came to see as part of a life that belonged to the world outside his own. He had accepted his role with the only thing he had that was truly his own, dignity.
Seven years later he met a strange young man, some called him "loser" as well. People never bothered to search for the good inside. People, in general, based their opinions solely on appearance. Yet this man didnít follow this rule of thumb. He wasn't one of the bible types who preached that God would take care of things. He wasn't some student searching for a study topic on why vagrants existed. He said his name was Blair and he simply wanted to 'hang out'. At first he ignored him and wondered how long it would take for the kid to lose interest but the kid just kept coming back, sometimes every day, sometimes once a week, he always returned. This Blair shared unbelievable stories about being in jungles and studying other people and their lives, hell he even said he worked with the cops, but strictly as an observer. Once happy with solitude, the recluse found himself looking forward to the next visit. So when Blair wanted to know his name, one day he gave in and told him his name was Art. No last name because he no longer had any family. He no longer was society's child. Blair gave him a smile that seemed to cheer Art somewhere deep inside, some place that hadn't seen such cheer directed in his way in a while. Art decided that he would keep the memory of that smile to cheer him up whenever he was depressed. The smile was devoid of judgment and was pure.
Art and Blair had lunch regularly in the park each and every Thursday. Sometimes, Blair would show up an hour late but he would always come. Whenever the kid was expected to be gone for a while, he always let Art know by sending a student to give him a note and an envelope with a $10.00 bill in it letting him know to eat lunch on his own.
Blair often said he enjoyed these get togethers because these were special lunch breaks for him even though sometimes the young man was unable to make it at all. He seemed to be in the hospital quite a bit but he always apologized for his absence and he always had two or three good stories to share in his wake. The kid was a wonder.
Art grew to enjoy the young man's company. He was smart and had a future ahead of him. He even seemed to have found that certain something that most men searched for. That reason to live and try to make the world a better place. A reason Art had lost along the way.
If Art ever had a son, Blair would be what he hoped his son would be like. Honest, open, ignorant of societies prejudices and friendly. Blair had shown the homeless man that there was a reason to exist, even though that reason was one day out of a week, a sandwich and conversation shared by two human beings. This was priceless to an invisible man and though for most of his life he would continue to be invisible to most, there was one who saw a human being.
Jim had had enough. The loft was covered in nothing but paper. It looked like a parade had passed through. "SANDBURG!!!"
The roommate hesitantly stepped out of his bedroom. "Yeah?"
Ellison took a deep breath, "Look, Chief, I realize that you have several classes to grade term papers for and I realize that we share living space with each other but, I need room. I can't even find the remote under all this confetti."
Sandburg quickly moved to clear the couch of his test papers. "Sorry Jim. I guess I got a bit carried away."
Jim sighed. The kid was still treading lightly around the older man, usually they would get into some sort of verbal argument and end up laughing. It had been several months after their trip to arrest Barnes and two weeks after Blair's little excursion with two students who decided they were rich enough to get away with murder. Jim had tried to keep away from the younger man at the time. He reasoned that it was because he wanted to give Sandburg space to recover. In reality, it was Ellison who wanted to distance himself from his friend. He had discovered what it meant to lose the only person who mattered to him and it was positively terrifying.
Blair was the only person who really understood, believed and trusted James Ellison and when Blair almost died, well, the loss was unbearable and Ellison had come to realize that this feeling scared the hell him. The closeness, the need to have the young man nearby at all times, frightened him more than he wanted to admit, even to himself. Then there was the dissertation nightmare. He had judged his friend and guide unfairly and had worked hard to repair the damage. Blair remained at Rainier and had been vindicated. The university allowed the grad student to continue with his goals free of any fees. It was better than a long drawn out lawsuit. Though Jim welcomed the fight but remained silent. Blair wanted his doctorate and felt the situation was beneficial to all.
Simon also worked hard to keep the younger man on his team. Initially the offer of detective had the younger man reluctant to accept due to the fact that he would be required to carry a weapon and possibly expected to kill someone. On this no one could convince him otherwise.
Banks was a wise man and had covered his bases well. He had a Plan B.
Since most cities had profilers within their ranks and since Cascade was one of the cities that had a high crime rate, it just seemed a good idea that it should also have a profiler on board. Idea and words were exchanged and Blair graciously accepted the position, thankful that it was one that didn't expect him to be 'packin'. Better still was the fact that he and Jim would remain partners.
Simon also got the Chief's permission to allow the younger man to continue working with the Major Crimes Unit. "Keeps the kid informed and up to speed with what goes on which guarantees a smooth transition for all."
Still things remained strained between the two and Ellison wanted things to be the way they were before. Before Blair, when he handled things on his own. He wanted to distance himself from this fear of losing and the need to care for someone.
Eventually, time, as the saying goes, healed his wounds and he worked past his fear which enabled him to know he would always care for the younger man whom he considered his brother and he wouldn't change a thing about the man. Still Blair was acting very cautious around his roommate. He shared jokes and worked with Jim but everything seemed to be done hesitantly. Even the occasional touches that had become a part of their friendship seemed calculated and often times uncomfortable. It wasn't the usual spontaneous relationship that the detective had grown accustomed to.
Being a man who likes results that ended in his favor, Jim wanted things the way they used to be - Today. That was when he suddenly realized that he had just done such a terrific job deconstructing their friendship that he now wondered if the damage could be repaired.
"Hey, Jim I got to go to the U today. Is it all right if I catch up with you later?
Ellison nodded, "I'll see you at 2 - Okay?"
Blair nodded as he made his way towards the door. "Oh and tell Joel that I will bring that information on South Dakota for him to read."
Jim frowned. "Chief I really wish you'd wait until the end of the day to give him that stuff. The man never stops talking about the information you supply him with. It's like some sort of strange info drug."
Sandburg slung his backpack over his shoulder and smiled. "Look every new partner has a few faults. Just tell him what bothers you and later he'll try to do better. Gotta go, see ya at 2."
The door closed leaving a stunned Ellison behind. "New partner?"
Blair drove to the University and quickly entered his class, "Alright people. I have in my hands the results of your finals. Please wait until everyone has gotten their paper back before we begin discussing the reasons for your grade."
The morning went along as planned and Sandburg was able to set aside any personal thoughts he had regarding his roommate and Sentinel. As afternoon approached Blair smiled. At least Art likes to have me hang around. Thank God it was Thursday.
Lately, Sandburg noticed that Jim was putting up the signs that usually indicated a friendship was ending. Signs Blair was very familiar with. Jim was distancing himself. No more working only with Sandburg, now he preferred to work with Megan or Taggert. No more consulting with Sandburg on a case, now Jim simply brought it up in passing. Even when Blair had a situation with two students who turned out to be murderers in the death of a fellow professor, Jim seemed to have to force himself to show interest. The Guide was easily ignored, the friend was not welcomed and the man no longer vital.
Still, Blair wanted to work with the Sentinel and wanted to continue the friendship he once had with Jim but realized that it had to be a two-sided deal. Jim was distancing himself like he had with people such as his ex-wife and his father and brother forcing Blair to accept that it was time to move on. Slowly the young Guide was shutting himself off from the one person he thought would always care about him and be there no matter what. The one person he, too, had promised the same and knew he could never completely turn away from.
Old thoughts made themselves heard. Naomi warned you not to get so close. He had failed in listening to her words of apparent wisdom.
After a quick stop, Sandburg crossed the field and headed to the park. He smiled, Art was already waiting for him on their usual bench and waved at him. "Art, I'm so sorry. Did I keep you waiting long?"
Art smiled. "Kid, how many times I got to tell you? I own the corner market in time."
Blair chuckled as he handed over one of the deli sandwiches he had purchased at the cafeteria. Art loved ham and eggs subs, something Blair noted Jim loved too. Life was so strange, both Jim and Art were war veterans, men of action, and yet Art was dealt a low blow. In Blair's mind, no man deserved the life that Art was leading. Still, the world's view on the homeless veteran didn't damage the man's soul, he was fun to be around with. Art was interesting. Secretly, Blair wished more people stopped to enjoy the lives around them.
Art noticed the usually talkative boy's silence. "So tell me kid, what has caused you to seem so down?"
Blair smiled shyly. "It shows, huh?"
Art nodded. "Any respectable friend could see it."
Blair frowned. "Yeah well lately, me, myself and I are the only friends that care." Blair paused and mentally shook himself from the depressing thoughts that threatened to overwhelm him. "Look Art, Iím sure my problems are nothing compared to those of the world. How about we take a walk and take in the sights."
Art smiled. "How bout we finish up with these terrific sandwiches and you give me your story. I won't accept another offer."
Blair smiled and slowly shared with the man, all of his latest problems. He was careful to exclude names and exact details but Art didn't seem to mind. As Blair spoke he mentally noticed that Art and he were similarly dressed. Both in cargo pants, both wearing windbreakers and both had on different colored socks. Art walked with a slight limp and his hands constantly shivered. It was sad that life could be so hard on a person. Blair wondered if someday he would take Art's place in life and shook the dark feeling off. Art didn't need pity and Blair wasn't here for that. Human companionship shared by two starving men who discovered how to satisfy the hunger needed to be tended to. As the shaman of the great city, Blair had his duties as well.
Art listened to the other and felt for the younger man. He had the problems of youth and those always were the worst. Those problems created what you became in the end; they defined you. Art didn't want the hope that shined in the younger man's eyes to dull. "It seems you and this friend have a lot to discuss. If you really want to continue being friends one of you has to speak up. Ask where it is you stand."
Blair looked away. "Art, I'm tired of trying and fighting to keep this friendship going. Lately I wish he would do some of the work to save it instead of me. Maybe I need to move on or something. Maybe it's time I place some distance between the two of us."
Art smiled. "When I was in the war, I served beside a friend named Mike, the guy was everything to me. We shared a closeness that was similar to the closeness between brothers. People today like to label this type of friendship as sick or too close but you and I have had the pleasure of knowing the beauty that goes with unconditional friendship don't we?"
Blair smiled, "So what happened to you and Mike?"
Art's face grew serious, "I was older and I thought I knew it all. At the time I was a grade higher than Mike, and was in charge. We had a fight about his inability to follow my orders when the time came and he felt I mistreated him because he was a friend. It was true I often took him for granted and gave others better assignments because I was afraid to loose their trust if I treated Mike with special assignments."
Art frowned. "You see, he and I grew up together and, well, I was always the leader. Mike never fought for the role, he just seemed happy to accept it. I should have known that sometimes it's all right to let someone else take the lead." He paused to clear his throat and then continued. "The last time I saw Mike, we were rushing the enemy. I asked him to stay back but he ignored my order and during the battle a grenade landed between the two of us. When I woke in the medical unit I was given Mike's tags and, after it was decided I was no longer an asset, allowed to accompany the body of my best friend home."
The older man paused and looked away for a moment. Blair remained silent, waiting for the rest of the story to follow. "The one moment Mike decided to take the lead had caused his death and now I got to wonder if I hadn't been so pig-headed and had allowed him to lead once in a while or given him fair treatment... Well, I wonder if that one last time he would have listened to me and stayed back and ... lived. But you see Blair, neither of us thought to talk it out. Neither of us thought the friendship was worth the struggle."
Art looked at the younger face before him. "I miss him a great deal and hope he forgave me."
Blair nodded. "I would have."
Art smiled. "Ya know kid? That is the first and probably the only time I will ever tell that story. Thanks."
Blair sighed. "Jim is a special guy and I truly value his friendship. I just think maybe he is trying to ask for some time to be alone, no pesky friend tagging along. You got to admit I-I can be a pest at times and I just don't want him to have to toss me out."
Just then five teens wearing gang colors walked up, "Well what we got here? A fag trying to do it with a bum in our park and on our bench."
Blair stood up. "Look we don't want any trouble. Just move on, man."
The leader, if five tattoos on one's arm were an indication of title, pulled out a knife and placed it near Blair's face. "Let's begin with you." He took the knife and plunged it deep into Blair's left upper arm. Blair tried to fight but two other gang members came to the defense of the one who started the attack. Blair felt something strike the side of his head twice and his energy seemed to evaporate. He glanced over to Art and passed out.
Art tried to fight, but a man with no hand - eye coordination didn't really stand a chance. He managed to remove the hand alarm that Blair had given him months before and set it off. The assailants took off but not before they took Blair's backpack and one of them stabbed Art in the arm after delivering several well aimed strikes at the now downed man.
Ellison waited for an hour for his 'partner'. Maybe I should get a new partner. "Hey Joel how about you and I head out to see about this lead on the Postner case."
Taggert paused before responding carefully. "Not that I mind but where's the kid?"
Ellison tossed Joel his coat. "Probably caught up doing something he couldn't tear himself away from."
Taggert smiled. "Developing the cure for boredom."
Ellison smirked. "Yeah, I just wish he'd consider his time with the department just as important."
Taggert frowned at the angry response. "Hey I don't want to step in the middle of a partner problem."
Ellison stepped into the elevator, "Don't worry Joel, Iíll protect you."
The doors closed on the two as they laughed.
Simon Banks was elbow deep in paperwork when Rafe came in with the report of an assault on two homeless people in Stamish Park. Simon sighed. "God, one of these days I wish you'd run in here with the news that we were no longer needed due to world peace."
Rafe chuckled. "Iím sure there would be a job for us to maintain this so called world peace."
Simon nodded. "You're on this one, just keep me posted."
Rafe was also bothered by crimes such as this one. It was a case of the able picking on the unable. Rafe motioned for his partner to join him and the two quickly left.
Brown also shared a distaste of such crimes and was determined to help wherever possible. "You know Rafe, I hear that there is a place far from Cascade where water flows and the trees grow along the mountainside. What say you and I find the women of our dreams and locate this place? Live there forever."
Rafe smiled, Brown was a dreamer. Rafe on the other site was a bit more practical. "Sure pal, and right after we build the perfect homes, furnish it and pay our taxes we'll be too old to enjoy it."
"Maybe, but if we sleep in tents, live off of the wild and avoid contact outside of our ladies, we'd be alright."
Rafe got into the car and looked at his friend. "H, you find me a girl willing to live off the land, not into home comforts and good-looking as well as intelligent and I am there."
The EMTs were working quickly on the smaller of the two victims. He had a very deep knife wound, was bleeding heavily and had received repeated blows to the head. The overall outlook seemed not too good. He was immediately taken to the hospital.
The older of the two had already been prepped for transport and the EMT noted that the man was extremely concerned about his friend and kept mumbling something about not losing Mikey again. He had received several blows to his chest and had a cracked rib as well as a deep wound on his left arm. The patient was extremely weak and needed to be tended to quickly.
Rafe and Brown arrived at the scene just in time to see the last of the two rushed off to a medical facility.
The officer in charge quickly informed them of how they were located and where the attacks were thought to occur. "Seems this 'Mikey' tried to protect the older man and took most of the blows."
Rafe frowned, "Well let's see if we can take a statement from any witnesses and then head to the hospital and find out if either of the victims could give a statement."
Jim was worried now and called the University to find out if Sandburg had shown up. Dean Strugis answered in response to the call and the detective was informed that Blair hadn't shown up for two of his classes. The Dean was concerned. "Mr. Ellison, Mr. Sandburg always turns in his results on time. Please call me if you hear from him."
Taggert and he came up with nothing regarding the Postner case. Seems the man just vanished somewhere in Stamish Park two nights ago and was never seen again. It was noted that there were gang problems in this park but nothing serious enough to indicate murder.
"Hey Jim, Rafe and Brown say that there has been another attack in Stamish. Homeless guys. How about we check it out?"
Ellison frowned. "Taggert, I need to check something out first. How about we stop off at the precinct and then head over to the hospital?"
Taggert shook his head. "Jim, I swear you are worse than a man with a five year old son."
Ellison didn't hear the comment. He was too busy trying to shake off the feeling that something had gone terribly wrong.
Rafe and Brown had the permission of the doctor to speak with the older of the two victims. The man was in his fifties and seemed exhausted. "We were just talking. We weren't bothering anyone. They came at the kid first. Damn kid was trying to protect me. I'm nothing; the kid is the special one. Always made sure I was okay even knew my name when no one else bothered." Art coughed hard. The duty nurse came in to usher the detectives out when Art grabbed Rafe's hand, "Please tell Blair that he had better get well. I need my Thursday lunches." The grasp weakened and the man drifted to unconsciousness.
Brown gasped when his friend, who now seemed three shades paler, finally emerged from Art's room. "Rafe what happened? Did the guy die?"
Rafe looked at his partner. "No, but he said the other victim's name is Blair. Oh God H, Blair's the other victim."
Ellison and Brown had left for the hospital. Having called several of his friend's haunts and coming up with no results, the concerned detective kept hoping that Sandburg was simply caught up in some kind of research. Still, it wasn't like him to just disappear. He was not in any of his study hangouts and had left his graded papers in his office and his car was in the lot. As soon as his shift ended, Ellison was going to hunt for the wayward academic and have a long talk with him about the usage of cell phones.
Taggert looked over at the man beside him and sighed. "Jim, if I am out of line here, please take no offense but, are you and Sandburg considering terminating this partnership? I mean he's been telling me about some of your idiosyncrasies, like you never let anyone drive but you and that you like to be left alone first thing in the morning, you know stuff like that, and well, I wondered if you told the Captain that Blair was leaving or if this was a gradual thing."
Ellison gripped the steering wheel tightly. "No Joel. You are a terrific man and a fine officer. No offense intended but Sandburg is my partner, I really don't want anyone else. I guess I just haven't been making that too clear to him lately."
Taggert smiled. "Good." He noticed Ellison's slightly stunned look. "Oh, no offense taken but I hear that Megan needs a partner and she is a lot easier to talk to. Not to mention she isn't too bad to look at."
Jim smiled. "Sure Joel. You just prefer red hair to my blue eyes."
Taggert chuckled. "Well red hair is more interesting."
Rafe and Brown met Ellison and Taggert as they entered the hospital, Simon, who had apparently just arrived, followed behind.
Taggert smiled. "Jeez guys who died?"
All eyes were on Ellison. Jim didn't need to hear anything else, he just knew, "Sandburg." He took off down the hall without another word.
Sandburg had been placed in the Intensive Care Unit. The trauma to his head was being carefully monitored and the stab wound on his left arm had been surgically repaired. The damage was not serious. The patient would heal but would suffer from headaches.
Ellison found himself growing furious. Sandburg was not working on a dangerous case with Major Crimes, he wasn't in a bad neighborhood, he was simply enjoying the day in the park. What right did anyone have to hurt his friend?
Ellison walked closer to the bed, placed a hand on top of his guide's head and smiled. Sandburg would survive, he had to. This man was his only true family, his light.
Slowly Blair struggled toward waking, wondering if Jim would be on the other side and then quickly chastised himself for the thought. It was time to move on.
He hesitantly opened his eyes and noticed his roommate sleeping in the chair beside his bed. He opened his mouth to call to the sleeping figure but quickly closed it. He looked over to the left of him and noted that Art wasn't there. He was suddenly hit with the idea that the older man was no longer alive. He closed his eyes and felt tears begin to form. "Art?"
Jim woke when he heard his friend call for someone named Art and realized that it was the name that belonged to the other victim in the park. The man Rafe and H said Sandburg tried to protect. "Hey Chief, easy. Art is in a room two floors below. You're in Intensive Care. Those perps struck you pretty hard on the head and the doctors just want to keep an eye on you for a day or so."
Blair seemed to distrust his friend. "Please, I just -I want to see him. I need to see him."
Ellison placed a hand on his friend. "Chief let me get the nurse and find out if that is possible."
Blair closed his eyes and nodded. "Thank you."
The doctor had confirmed what Jim already understood. Sandburg would be under strict bed rest for the next two days. However, Art would be able to visit later today. Ellison noted the way Sandburg seemed to relax from that information. The kid cared for everyone around him and never once considered his condition. Still Jim was bothered by the formal way his friend seemed to act towards him. Was Blair closing him out?
Sandburg was given medication to alleviate the headache forming behind his eyes and soon was left with Ellison standing near his bedside. "Hey Chief, do you think you can ID the guys that did this to you and this Art guy?"
Blair smiled tiredly. "Sure Jim, they were gang members. You know that gang from the West side, the Evil Ones. There were five of them and they all were slinging blades. One of them had five tattoos on his right arm, two skulls and another with a naked lady and the name Chika under it, I don't remember anymore." Blair paused and yawned. "Iím sure you and Joel or Megan can track them down. They looked like new recruits, young but definitely mean." Blair yawned again.
Ellison frowned; the kid kept assuming that he was no longer his partner. "Look Chief about you and I and ..."
Blair was asleep. Jim looked up at the ceiling and wondered when this whole friendship/partnership/guide thing would ever get simple. In response he remembered the old saying. 'Life is never easy'. Slowly he tucked his friend in and whispered. "Iíll be by later. You and I really need to talk."
It was about 7 p.m. when Blair woke again and smiled when he discovered Art was sitting in a wheelchair beside his bed reading the newspaper. "Hey kid. How you feeling?"
"Great Art. How about yourself?"
Art coughed hard and then frowned. "AHHH. You know these doctors, always trying to find a way to keep a good man down."
Blair chuckled. "Yeah. I hate hospitals too. When do you get out?"
Art smiled. "Tomorrow, most likely. Anyway, I spoke with two detectives and gave them as much info as I could. Thought I might get to meet that Det. Jim, you speak about but..."
Blair turned away. "Jim's busy. He stopped by earlier and took my description and stuff. Iím sure he'll get one of the other detectives to assist him in the investigation and we'll hear about it later. Jim always gets the bad guys." Blair's frown didn't go unnoticed by the older gentleman.
"Did you have a chance to talk about things?"
Blair looked at the man beside him, slightly surprised.
"You're an easy read when it deals with matters of the heart, kid."
Blair again looked away. "No we haven't talked. I was too busy falling asleep. Anyway I don't see a reason for it. He's doing okay without me tagging along and he doesn't need a ... Anyway, like I said before maybe it's time to move on." Blair sighed; his energy level seemed to be lowering faster than he was used to. "I just don't know anymore, Art. I feel so tired of fighting and trying to make him see that I am on his side, that I would never betray his trust and just when I feel I've made some headway, that's exactly the moment that he proves me wrong. I didn't think friendship could be so difficult and I really wonder if it's worth the effort. He doesn't seem to want this as much as I."
Art smiled and placed a hand on top of Blair's. "Iím sure he must feel similarly. You need to talk to him."
Blair looked at the man beside him. "Maybe I need to disappear for him to notice I was ever there to begin with."
Art shook his head. "Kid, running never solved anything."
Blair smiled and decided to change the subject, "Hey did you happen to see the head nurse? She has quite a nice pair of ...
Jim Ellison was considered a tough man by most but unbeknownst to his friend, the man had heard every word and something in him broke. One of the advantages and disadvantages of being a Sentinel.
Blair was giving up because he had pushed him too far. Slowly Ellison turned and left. Unknown to him, Banks saw the change in the detective's demeanor and knew that he had been listening to the occupant in the room. Though Simon never understood how Ellison could not feel shame in eavesdropping on his roommate, he tried to overlook it. Whether Sandburg knew this or not, Banks decided to remain silent. But at this moment, the Captain decided to see if he could determine just why Ellison suddenly looked as though all the air had been sucked from his body.
The idea forced the normally biased man to take a moment and consider his actions. It had taken a while for the Captain of Major Crime to realize that somehow, Sandburg was responsible for enabling James Ellison to be the man he was today. Gone was the 'do-it-my-way' detective with the cold evasive behavior and in his place was a team player and someone others looked up to and tried to emulate.
Still with the good there is always a bad side and now James Ellison had one very obvious blind spot - Blair Sandburg.
The kid seemed to find a corner deep in the detective's heart and no one could remove him from his spot. Blair Sandburg had become the perfect partner to Ellison. He accepted orders, followed most of the guidelines and he had gained the trust of one of the hardest asses in the Major Crimes Unit; one James Ellison. Thus, Ellison confided in the kid and seemed to need the young man safe and protected.
Simon frowned as his current concern came to fore. "So why didn't he visit Sandburg?" Slowly he opened the door to the younger man's room and was met with a familiar yet strange sight. Sandburg was asleep on the bed, unfortunately that was the familiar sight, and beside him was a man seated in a wheelchair. A man who was not James Ellison.
At first glance the visitor seemed like a military type and like Simon and Jim, someone who would never associate with the grad student, yet if one looked hard, you could see the concern the man had for the patient. The kid has a knack for attracting father types.
Art was startled by the newcomer and motioned for him to assist him quietly out of the room. "Thank you sir. Are you Jim?"
Simon smiled. "Fraid not. I'm Captain Banks."
"Oh, hello, my name is Art. I was there in the park with Blair. I was hoping to meet with his friend Jim. Seems the two need a good talking to."
Simon laughed. "How about I treat you to some of the slop they refer to as coffee."
Art tilted his head, "Sure Captain."
Jim sat in his truck for an hour. He had nowhere to go really. Loneliness was the only thing that was waiting for him at the end of his journey. He closed his eyes and sighed. Sandburg was supposed to have been temporary and somehow the damn kid became irreplaceable. He had incorporated himself into every part of James Ellison's life. When he needed to talk, share his fears, talk about the loss of a friend or just do his job, one way or another Sandburg helped. Sandburg was there.
Jim opened his eyes and looked out the truck window. He remembered all the times he had made life difficult for the kid, hell he had even allowed Barnes to kill his friend. He paused and tried to remember if there was, at any time, a moment when it was he who was on the other side of the spectrum. Had Sandburg ever treated him unfairly or didn't trust him in some way? The answer was quickly delivered; Blair Sandburg was simply incapable of malice.
Jim closed his eyes and decided that he had better either head to the loft or go back inside. It was 7 and visiting hours were an hour away from ending. He opted to go to the loft instead. Maybe he could figure out how to handle this.
Blair woke at around 7 and looked off to his left. Chastising himself silently but bothered that Jim wasn't there. He's probably with Joel, talking about my case, hashing out plans. He sighed and smiled grimly. "Well Sandburg, what did you expect?" Jim would definitely always consider the young anthropologist a friend, someone he would send a card to on holidays, maybe even call when he had a particular query or two but Jim was moving on. Again he sighed. "Well at least we got to know each other. No regrets."
Still Blair waited for two hours for the man to either call or sneak in. He did neither. Hesitantly, Blair reached for the phone and paused. Instead he withdrew his hand and rubbed his temples. Slowly he fell into a restless sleep.
Jim was hardly relaxing and instead was pacing in front of the couch, it was 8 and still he couldn't bring himself to call the kid. What would he say? Would Blair pretend to care? Does he still care? His thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door.
Banks strode in. "You and I have to talk."
Ellison paused. "Alright. Want a beer?"
"Sure. Don't mind if I do."
Simon walked to the couch and sat. Ellison handed a can to his friend and sat in the smaller couch nearby. "What brings you by? Any news on the gang members who attacked Sandburg and the other man?"
Simon shook his head. "No but we do have a few leads. We'll discuss that tomorrow at the office. What I want to discuss at this moment is whether you are entertaining the idea of getting yourself a new partner." Simon ignored the shocked look coming from the man seated across from him. "Taggert is a good man and a hard worker. You and he seem to be getting along. Still Megan needs a partner also and you know quite a bit."
Ellison shook his head, "No. Sir. In fact, I've had this very conversation with Taggert. He wants to work with Meggan and was a bit pleased with the fact that I am happy with my current partner."
Simon paused. "Really. Would you mind telling me who that might be? It seems to me that each time I ask for a volunteer to work with either Joel or Megan, your hand is the first to go up."
Ellison slid forward. "But sir..." He was ignored.
"Now the reason I have trouble finding people to assign to my two newer detectives with is because of the third wheel in the unit - you. Everyone else is content with his or her assignments. Do you know how I know that? Simon held up a hand that silenced the detective. "Iíll tell you, because they like who they are working with. They don't want to change."
Ellison looked away. "I don't want a change, I told you I have a partner."
"REALLY!!! I just know it isn't Sandburg. He's too busy playing secretary for the entire unit and, by the way, he is doing a wonderful job. Seems this is the first time in the history of the whole force, that all of our departmental reports are completed on time and easily read."
Ellison stood and moved towards the windows facing the balcony. "Did Sandburg put you up to this?"
"No. He would never and you should know that by now."
Jim lowered his head. "I just - I wanted to see if I could do this on my own. I needed to... "
"What? Prove you don't need anyone? Revert back to the cold hearted bastard who thought the law was his to maintain and manipulate?"
Ellison turned to face his superior. "Who the hell do you think you are? You have no right to come here and dictate to me how I should conduct my relationship with Sandburg. Our friendship is none of your concern."
Banks placed his beer on the table, stood and walked towards the door, "Tell me something Ellison. How long before you realize that Sandburg is the truest friend you will ever have. Everyone sees that but you. He went to Mexico and endured your unbearably cold treatment; just after he was brought back from the corner of 'Death and Brain Damage Alley' and still you continue treat him as though he still has something to prove. For the life of me, I don't understand why he is still here. He deserves better. I'm slowly beginning to realize that you have placed the kid under the microscope so often, that it is you who treat him like a lab rat." Simon paused. "F.Y.I. Sandburg is a human being and one who believes in you, trusts you and would probably die to protect you. Hell he's already sacrificed all that he dreamed to protect your abilities. So I suggest that you let me know when it is that he has been put through enough of your emotional land mines. For now, you had better deal with whatever issues you two are struggling through and let me know whether or not Sandberg needs reassigning. Unlike yourself, there is a line of people who want to work with that boy."
Banks reached for the door and paused once more. "One more thing, never question my position again, detective. Remember it is I who decides whether Sandburg stays or not. Not you. Remember also that I make this choice because I am also yours and Blair's friend."
Jim suddenly neared his superior. "Captain wait, step away from the door."
Simon tensed wondering if they were going to come to blows over the discussion. "What? Why?"
Ellison took his Captain's arm and pulled him over to the kitchen, to hide behind the service table and quickly turned off the lights. "Sir, we are about to have some uninvited visitors."
Simon withdrew his weapon, Ellison aimed. "Jim, I can't see a thing."
Jim tilted his head and then after a moment he whispered. "It's a couple of teenagers and I don't believe they know Sandburg has a roommate."
Just then two gang members entered the loft, using Sandburg's key. "Hey Michael, you know Ricky is not going to like our coming here."
The older of the two searched for the light switch and turned them on. "Look Tavio, the way I see it we canít go to the hospital, because the bastard is being watched, so we wait for him to come home and kill him. But for now we can take some stuff and get some money for the trouble he's put us through."
Suddenly the lights flicked off and when they returned five minutes later, both trespassers were handcuffed and read their rights. Banks smiled. "I love it when the arrest is clean and simple like this."
Ellison nodded as he went to close the fuse box. "I have to agree with you sir. Let's get these two downtown, I think they need to share some information with us."
"I ain't sharing nothin with you man."
Simon laughed. "Sure kid, sure."
Ellison returned home five hours later with a ticket slip for Sandburg's backpack, which was now in Evidence. Tavio and Michael were charged with breaking and entering. Their leader, Joe the tattoo freak, and two others were arrested for assault and battery. Seems Tavio and Michael hoped to bargain their sentence down and were also quiet talkative about the Postner case. The man had been murdered and left to die in an abandoned vehicle by Joe. Ellison would see Art in the morning with photos of the little idiots in order to verify their story on who did what. Then he would see Sandburg. The two of them had a great deal to talk about. For now Ellison decided to get at least three hours sleep.
Sandburg never fully slept. His blood pressure rose and his headache became unbearable. Even in his now drug induced slumber, nothing seemed to calm him.
The doctor, who had been informed of the recent status of his patient, had asked if Sandburg wanted to notify a family member, just in case something serious occurred. Standard procedure. Blair had avoided eye contact and simply replied. "Fraid not. I'm on my own at the moment. However, please send a letter to this P.O. Box should anything, well, anyway that's where my mom retrieves her mail."
The doctor took the information and immediately scheduled the patient for more tests.
X-Rays were given and examined. Still the doctors continued to test. Sandburg remained in a great deal of pain and felt as though his sanity was slipping.
Around 7 a.m. Art wasn't feeling very good and decided he needed a boast in spirits from the kid. When he reached Blair's room he was met with a disturbing scene. The young man was in a coma, tubes were hooked up to him and he looked extremely pale. Art inquired to a passing nurse about Blair's condition and was informed that it had become quite serious and any further information would be issued to a family member. Art was also informed that the kid told the doctor he had no one available to ensure he got proper treatment.
The older man reached into the robe provided to him by the hospital staff and pulled the card Simon had given him. "Please call this number and inform Captain Banks of Sandburg's condition, he is his superior and he knows how reach his next of kin." Art looked back at the kid and shook his head, the young man was being bullheaded. He hoped this Jim would be better.
The nurse quickly contacted Simon Banks, who then called Ellison. Thirty minutes later, both men were standing in the Waiting Area.
Ellison was furious. "What the hell did he think he was doing? He knows I'd be there for him."
Simon was about to say something when Art stepped up. "Hello Jim, I'm Art. The one who had the nurse contact Simon."
Ellison paused, recognizing the voice as belonging to the visitor from Sandburg's room yesterday. Sandburg confided in Art and right now Ellison was feeling a bit possessive about his Guide. "Thank you sir. I really appreciate your having me alerted."
Art smiled. "I have heard a great deal about you. Blair certainly enjoys talking about your times together."
Ellison paused. "He's never spoken of you to me Iím afraid."
Art smiled and knew he was treading on personal ground with the man before him. Still life was too short to be cautious. "Blair told me that you didn't ask many questions about his life and he figured that it meant you didn't want to know."
Ellison sighed. "He was wrong."
Just then the doctor informed the three men that Sandburg was awake. He allowed Jim to see him but for just a few minutes.
Ellison entered the room and took hold of the cold, limp hand. "Hey Chief."
Sandburg smiled. "Hi Jim. How'd you know to come down?"
"Chief, why didn't you have them call me? Why did you tell them you were alone on this?"
Sandburg closed his eyes and Ellison thought that he had fallen asleep again but then he spoke softly. "I-I just thought it was better this way. If something happened, you would get hurt. I know you want to avoid heavy situations and I know you've been trying to end this friendship thing so..."
Jim's grip on the smaller hand tightened. "You're wrong kid. So very wrong."
Sandburg searched the eyes of the man seated beside him and frowned. "Jim, I know you want to end this whole 'me being around thing'. I don't want to be a pest. "Just then Sandburg frowned in pain.
"Jim, It hurts...," Sandburg closed his eyes and slipped into unconsciousness and his grip loosened.
Ellison called for the nurse. Blair's blood pressure was dropping and his heart rate was slowing.
Jim leaned against the wall. "Please not again. Sandburg, please don't."
Twenty minutes later, Sandburg had been stabilized.
The doctors continued to X-Ray the young man. A CAT Scan was scheduled in two hours. The situation baffled them. Nothing showed on the X-Ray.
Meanwhile, Ellison was becoming frantic. Sandburg wasn't getting better.
While Art sat beside Jim in the Waiting Room, he spoke softly. "He values your friendship a great deal. I envy you two."
Ellison smiled at the older man. "Yeah well Iíve been doing a hell of a job deconstructing our friendship."
Art nodded. "Jim, with the kid it's more important to focus on how to repair the damage."
Ellison looked at the man beside him and frowned. "You have been around the kid for a while. You sounded just like him."
Art looked at the detective and stared deep into cool blue eyes. "Jim, if I had met that kid four years ago and he had somehow gotten past my defenses, I swear, today I would be a better man because of him. He has a way of making a person look inside and see only the good there because it is what he sees."
Ellison nodded. "Yes he's a very rare and good person."
Art coughed. "I'm a homeless man that was ignored and brushed aside by a society I dedicated 12 years in the service to protect. I never asked for a favor or expected any handouts. I did what I had to do because I felt it was what I needed to be done. I was discharged due to medical reasons and basically my life changed from there. I became closed-off, detached. Yet here comes this hippie kid who doesn't smell the bad body odors that come due to a lack of a good bath, doesn't notice the lack of hope, and he doesn't offer pity. He merely accepts and seems to see something inside that I forgot I had. He sees me as special - fun. The way I had been before. And I found myself asking, is he for real?"
Ellison smiled. "He saved my life the first day we met. He'd never admit to doing it but he did. He has since become my partner, my roommate and my best friend. I also used to ask if he was for real. The kid never sees evil in people. Never. And I have come to realize that he is incapable of seeing any person as completely evil. He hopes for the better in all man and I have come to treasure this about him. Hell, I know he isn't a child but I protect him as though he were because of his rareness."
"So why can't you tell him all of this? He needs to hear that you want him to hang around. To be his friend."
Ellison closed his eyes. "Art, for me it's just not that easy."
Art stood. "Don't be stupid. Life only lasts so long. You and he share a friendship that is very special. I had just such a friendship once and I tell you if I could go back and somehow change time, I would." Art paused. "Jim, you and I both know what loneliness is and how mankind can be so very harsh. To find someone who believes in you, well it's rare and you sir are a fool if you let it go because of some irrational fears."
Ellison look hard at the man and then sighed. "I know you're right, it's just so difficult."
"Guess that's why people like Blair are a rare and valuable find."
Art looked over at Simon Banks, who up until this moment simply sat quietly and listened to the discussion. "Thank you for your time gentlemen. Please let me know how the kid does, I'll be back in my room."
Captain Banks walked over to the man. "Art, how'd the tests go?"
Art laughed. "Seems my number has been up for quite a while. Don't worry Simon, Iíve been ready for this for some time."
Simon placed a comforting hand on Art's shoulder. "Thanks for helping these two. If there is anything you need, well, any friend of Blair's is a friend of mine."
Art smiled. "Thank you, I feel the same way and appreciate the offer."
Art walked away hoping his talk with Jim helped. Blair was very special and it pained him to think that the kid might change.
The doctors had found the trouble. Sandburg had built up a small blood clot just behind the ear. It required a minor but serious surgery. Jim, as the executor under Blair's Power of Attorney for Healthcare, was informed of everything and asked to execute papers to allow the surgery to proceed.
Blair was never allowed to wake. There was a danger to him if he had. The surgery took two hours - it was a matter of waiting to see if the patient would recover.
Jim was ordered to go home and get some rest after keeping a sleepless vigil over his friend for two nights by Simon.
Simon wondered why Art hadn't come by. When he went to inquire about the man, he was informed that Art had had a massive cardiac arrest the night prior and he had passed on. Banks hadn't known the man long but he came to respect him. Art would be missed. He reached for the phone and started making arrangements for a man who once served this country and who died in quiet dignity. Art was a hero of sorts and Simon wanted to ensure him a proper burial.
Sandburg slowly drifted towards consciousness and smiled when he saw Art sitting beside his bed. "Hey Art how long you been here?"
Art smiled back. "I told you kid. I own the corner market in time. I spend it anyway I want."
Blair smiled. He was amazed at how healthy Art looked. He seemed younger and stronger as well. "God, I feel so weak."
Art stood and came near Blair's bed. "I don't have much time. I wanted you to know I got to meet Jim. He seems like a good man. A good friend."
Blair looked away. "Yeah he's a good person."
Art smiled. "He's not here because Captain Banks sent him home, he hadn't slept in two days."
Art looked past Blair and smiled. "Talk to him kid. Listen to him. Not all of us can speak bravely on what we feel in our hearts." Art paused as he seemed to hear something in the distance and smiled at Blair. "I'm glad we met Blair. You made a difference."
Blair smiled. "I'm glad too."
Art looked over his shoulder and then back at Blair. "Iíve got to go kid. Thanks for seeing me as a human being and for being my friend. Don't ever change. You're special."
Blair smiled and felt himself blush. "See you on Thursday."
Art laughed as he patted Blair's hand. The laughter seemed to echo. "Take care kid and remember to live a full life for me."
Blair smiled when he felt the older man patting his hand and slowly drifted back to sleep.
A nurse was adjusting the tubes and bed sheets around the patient. She smiled when she noticed that the sleeping man was smiling in his sleep. He was obviously having a good dream. She patted his hand and left him to his happy dream.
Jim was later informed by Simon about the death of Sandburg's friend, Art. He knew the kid would take the loss deeply. "Simon what do I do if he asks about Art?"
Simon frowned. "The truth but don't bring it up unless he asks."
Ellison nodded and entered Sandburg's room. "Hey Chief."
Blair was awake and seemed better. He greeted his friend. "Hi Jim. Man my head feels heavy."
Ellison stood near the bed and smiled at the now lucid and bright blue eyes that met his. "You had surgery because of the head injury. It'll be alright in time."
Blair closed his eyes and smiled. "Did you and Taggert catch the guys from the park?"
"Actually, Simon and I caught them using your key to get into the loft. I tell you Chief it was the easiest arrest I have ever made."
Blair smiled. "Sorry, I didn't mean for them to come to the loft."
Jim noted the tone. "Chief, you have nothing to be sorry about."
Sandburg nodded. "So, no trouble with your senses?"
Jim sat on the edge of his friend's bed. "No, I havenít had any problems but I think you and I need to get some things straight." He heard the rate of his friend's heart pick up and placed a calming hand on his friend's. "Chief please, I don't want you to be nervous."
Blair nodded and looked away. Sometimes it was difficult to live with a man who could hear your heart beat from across a crowded room.
"Sandburg, after going to Mexico and being in the Temple of the Sentinel, I guess I realized that no matter what - I need you. The thought terrified me. You, see I have never ever needed anyone - ever. If I couldn't make it on my own, then I had failed."
Sandburg lowered his gaze and decided to follow Art's advice. "So you want to call this whole partnership/roommate deal quits? I only need a little time to call around and find a place and ..."
Ellison placed his hand on Sandburg's shoulder. "I don't need you as a roommate, as a guide or even as a partner. Be those things only if you're willing to be them. I do however need you as my friend, my brother and as a part of my life that I can't begin to explain. I just need you around Chief. Without you life seems so empty."
Blair sighed, "Jim, I just don't want to be some kind of burden. I will be all right out on my own. You don't have to keep me around out of some kind of obligation or responsibility. We can write and keep in touch. I promise I will be around when you need me."
Ellison stood and walked over to the window. "Please Sandburg don't." Blair had stopped speaking and Ellison felt a surge of fear grip his heart. He began visualizing himself alone, not speaking to anyone unless he had to, doing his job and coming home to frozen dinners, television and solitude. He had lived like that once before but knew he couldn't do it again.
Ellison looked at the man seated in the hospital bed and looked out the window again. He knew some day Blair would eventually marry and move, but that would be different. That would be because it was meant to be. Jim never expected to remarry. Life with a Sentinel was very difficult and what woman wanted to marry a man predisposed to protecting the city. His personal lifestyle was one that most would consider eccentric and difficult to deal with.
Still he felt content with the knowledge that he had family. Blair and his wife would welcome him. He would be Uncle Jim to Blair's brood and would be able to share the experience of seeing children grow. When the time came he knew he would have family to mourn his passing. His grave would have flowers on it.
These thoughts forced the stoic man to realize that he had to make things right.
"Chief, I have my father and Steven for that kind of treatment." He turned away from the window and faced the other. "Look, I know Iíve been avoiding you, trying to work without you. I wanted to know if I could work, exist without you being around all the time. I thought that way no harm would come to you and that I would never have to find you like I did that morning in the fountain." Ellison paused, realizing that this was so very hard to do. "I let you down that day after the reporters swarmed around the truck. I let this partnership fall apart. I damaged your faith in me and in this friendship and I just didn't want to cause any further harm."
He stepped closer to the bed. "But Blair nothing can prevent harm from happening. Look at this whole thing in the park. Things happen. I guess what I am saying is, if you still want to be my partner, I would love it. If you want to stay in the loft as my roommate, I promise I will never ever do what I did to you that night - the loft is your home, it always has been and is from now until one of us decides he'd rather live elsewhere and if you still want to be the Guide to someone as pigheaded as I am, I would be eternally grateful. But Chief it's your presence in my life that I need the most. I want to know if we can start over."
Blair looked away. "I thought you didn't want me around. I thought you hated me for working with Alex and I figured that you wanted me to disappear. Y-you hurt me."
Ellison walked over to the bed and sat on the edge. "Please forgive me. I am so sorry."
Blair felt some tears drop from his eyes and blushed in shame. "I'm afraid."
Jim scooted closer. "Of what Chief?"
Blair looked at the man beside him. "That you'll come to hate me and that our friendship has come to a point where it would be best to put some distance between us. I mean even my own mother can't stand to be around me all the time. You're a Sentinel and my constant presence has got to be unsettling."
Ellison grabbed the hands in front of him, "I need to know that you want to stay. I want you to understand that I will never tire of your presence. I want you to understand that this - this nearness, closeness, whatever you want to call it, it's right. I can't live normally knowing you're not around. It's strange and scary but I can't -- without you. Please lets try to work this through."
Blair was pulled into a tight bear hug which he slowly returned. "Okay."
Ellison closed his eyes and smiled, "I meant what I said, I am so sorry."
Blair nodded and held on. Something seemed to right itself between the two. Slowly Blair relaxed and fell asleep. Knowing that when he woke Jim would be there no matter what.
Ellison released the smaller man and looked closely at the life he held in his arms. Blair was such an enigma, asleep he looked vulnerable, small, young and innocent. Ellison wondered if this was part of the role of being a Guide? Was a Sentinel supposed to see all this and feel compelled to care for the innocence before them? Was the naive behavior supposed to bring out the fierce protector in a Sentinel? He smirked at the thought because he also knew that the kid was intelligent beyond his years, brave, feisty, strong-willed and forgiving.
Jim saw the son he wished was his and the brother his heart accepted unconditionally. He brushed an errant curl from the face and smiled when Blair uttered a sleepy,'Night Jim'.
Slowly he laid his friend down and tucked him in. "I promise Chief, I won't let you down. Ever."
Sandburg woke and noticed that Jim was asleep in the bed beside his. Slowly, and against doctor's orders, he exited his bed to enter the bathroom and answer a call from his bladder. He felt like a stretch, bed rest was not something he could endure for long lengths of time, and decided to let his friend continue to sleep. All this friendship talk seemed to drain the man. Blair chuckled at the thought.
Jim was strong and faced creatively vicious criminals daily but when it came to personal affairs, Jim's energy level was easily drawn away. Blair reached for some sweats Jim had brought and changed. Then he put on his robe. Doctor's orders be damned. He decided to check on Art.
He made it to the room his friend had written down for him and went to the front desk nearby to inquire about his friend's condition. The nurse called the attending doctor who noted that the man he spoke with seemed to need to be in a hospital bed but was too busy to press the issue. He quickly informed the man that Art had died three nights ago. Blair didn't hear anything else after that. He suddenly felt he needed to be elsewhere.
No one noticed or said anything as he stepped out of the hospital and into the rain. Slowly and lost in thought, Blair disappeared into the night.
Ellison woke with a start. Maybe it was the fact that Sandburg's heartbeat could no longer be heard by the man or the fact that something seemed wrong. In either case, the empty bed proved that Sandburg was missing.
Jim quickly questioned the nurses and discovered that Blair received the news about Art. "Damn."
Four hours later and after a call to Rafe, Ellison found the bench in Stanish Park which had been the place of recent violence. There, huddled in the darkness was his roommate.
He approached the damp man "Chief please let's get you inside."
Blair looked dazedly at his friend. "Jim? Jim, Art is dead."
Ellison took off his coat and placed it on the shivering figure. "I heard, I am so sorry." Blair continued to look off in the distance and seemed despondent. "Please Chief you need to get inside."
"No, it-it's Thursday and we always have lunch together. He likes ham and cheese." Blair's shoulder hitched. "Oh God, I'm gonna miss him."
Ellison reached for his friend and hugged him tightly. "I'm so sorry Chief. Please I need to get you back to the hospital." He eased a compliant Sandburg to his feet and walked him towards the truck. Carefully he helped his friend into the passenger seat and quickly drove to the hospital.
Blair seemed withdrawn. The doctors were concerned that his little trip outdoors and this sudden change in behavior might hinder the patient's recovery. Jim shared the concern but didn't know what to do.
Sitting beside the bed of the sleeping man he hoped the condition would change. The doctor had suggested that Sandburg see a psychiatrist but Ellison decided that it was too soon.
"Jim, maybe your way is the best way."
Ellison was startled from his thoughts by the welcomed voice of his guide. "What do you mean?"
Sandburg looked off in the distance. "My mother often warned me not to get too close. To move on before I formed any close attachments. I ignored her. Then I met you and although you offered friendship, you've taught me that it's best to always keep a slight distance from those around you. It hurts too much when they leave. Maybe the two of you are right."
Ellison wiped his hand over his face in frustration. "No Chief. It's you who's got it right."
Blair shook his head.
Jim went to sit beside the younger man and placed his hand on Sandburg's knee, "I met Art and we had a great talk. He told me that you made him feel like a part of society again. You made him want to be a better person. Chief the one thing he and I had in common was the fact that we both feel that you made us want to go on. Please Chief, please don't give up on us hard cases. We needed you. I need you."
Sandburg smiled and nodded. "I need you too."
Ellison reached and hugged his best friend. "I promise I will be here for you no matter what. Just be patient with me."
Sandburg returned the embrace and sighed. "Thanks Jim. Thanks."
ONE MONTH LATER
Blair had finally been able to return to his regular routine. The headaches had disappeared and his arm had healed. He still suffered from a severe case of an overbearing Blessed Protector but for the most part he'd survive.
Art's ashes were buried at The Lord's Angels Cemetery. Simon had made certain that the records of Col. Arthur P. Jorn had been retrieved and that heroic remains were buried in military fashion. Blair attended the service flanked by Simon and Jim. He was happy that Art had a chance to meet the two men and that his friends had welcomed the man.
The gang members who had broken into the loft were sentenced to six months jail time due mainly because they were adults. The boys who attacked Sandburg and Art were already out on the streets. It would be three or four years before they were treated as adults. Minors got certain privileges but children like these eventually landed in jail. The leader, Joe, was sentenced to one year in jail with no chance to appeal. Postner's body was located and also buried, sentence on this matter was pending.
Classes proceeded as usual. The students were please to see that their favorite TA had returned. The dean was also pleased to note that Sandburg had maintained the departments schedules and was able to complete two papers for the departments newsletter. Blair had made it back to his office and noted that it was Thursday. He decided to go to the bench one last time.
It was a slightly cloudy day but every now and again the sun would slip through making it seem warmer than it was. Blair slowly walked past Art's corner and wondered what had happened to the stool the man seemed to hang on to as proof of who he once was.
Slowly he continued on, heading towards the park. It was the beginning of autumn and the leaves were changing. Life was moving on.
He reached the bench and sat down. The park was empty due to the cooler temperatures and Blair took advantage of the solitude to speak his thoughts out loud. "I don't know if you can hear me. But I miss you. I know I'm just some guy who harassed you into these Thursday lunches but the past two years of meeting with you here were special to me. You were special. I just wanted you to know that I will always think of you and I hope you and Mike got to set things straight. Jim and I are working on it. He says he'll try to be more open but, well, we'll see."
"Don't get me wrong, Jim will always be my best friend but he still has this one last wall where he hides behind the moment things seem too much for him to handle. I'll keep working on it though. I promise. I just hope some day we'll get past it all."
Blair paused and looked around himself. The leaves fluttered and he suddenly felt lonesome. "I wish you didn't have to die." He stood and felt tears forming in the corner of his eyes. "You take care of yourself, Art. I promise to live a good life if you promise to be there when it ends." Blair started walking and felt tears dropping from his eyes.
He paused and for a moment he felt confused about which direction to go. That was when he felt a hand squeeze his shoulder. "Hey Chief."
Recognizing the voice, Blair didn't meet the other's eyes, he was ashamed of his tears. "Hey Jim. What brings you here?"
Ellison knew the kid was trying to hide his tears and smiled. "Thought you might want to go eat and, you know, talk with a friend."
Blair shrugged. "I could eat."
Ellison moved his hand and pulled Sandburg into a hug. "Good because I can smell the pleasant odor of ham and egg sandwiches coming from Perry's."
Blair looked at his friend and realized Jim was indeed trying and he smiled even more. "Jim?"
"Just - - Thanks."
A bit wordy but hey, that's what communication is all about. Thanks for your time, hoped you enjoyed it.
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