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

I'm so afraid to love you, but more afraid to lose,

Clinging to a past that doesn't let me choose.

Once there was a darkness, deep and endless night…

You gave me everything you had. Oh, you gave me light.

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

I can't believe it! I can't fucking believe it! The press has the whole story. They know I'm a sentinel and Sandburg is trying to say he can explain this? I want to smack him or scream or, God, I don't know. How did this happen? Did I misjudge him that badly? Jesus. What the hell am I going to do? We're walking along this fucking dock and I don't have a clue what to say or do. I'm screwed.

"Why aren't you saying anything?" he asked me. Is he kidding?

"There's nothing to say, Chief. It's all been said. It's out. It's over. There's no going back," I replied. Dammit. "I just thought we had an agreement that I was going to read your thesis first."

"We did," he agreed fervently, still trying to reason with me. "Look, I didn't do this."

Who is he kidding? Who else could have done this? Nobody. That's who. He's the only one who knows, really knows. It's his damned dissertation. "Right. You didn't write the book and you didn't put my name all over it." God, I really want to deck him.

"Well, of course I did, but I was planning on changing your name and probably even mine to protect you," he said, as if there's still something to talk about here. Being reasonable. Wanting me to be reasonable. "I just hadn't figured out a way to do that without compromising the documentation."

The documentation? Well, we wouldn't want to screw that up, would we? Fine to plaster my name all over it, but let's not screw up the documentation. Does he hear himself? But all that still doesn't explain how the paper got out. Or why. "You said this Sid is throwing a lot of money in your face, right?"

"Yeah," he replied with a sigh, like he's sorry about it. Sorry? I'll give him 'sorry'. He really expects me to believe that the damned paper somehow flew itself to New York and into this guy Sid's hands. Does he think I'm stupid?

"All right, just to generate publicity for the sake of generating publicity without even having a deal because he wants to, what, toss it, uh, in your face, like a dangling carrot?" That's not how the business world works. No deal, no investment. It's that simple.

"Wait a minute, wait a minute. Stop. What are you trying to say? I was part of this from the start? You think that's what I'm about?" he protested.

Ah, the light dawns. Well, we don't call him Einstein for nothing. He's offended that I would think such a thing. No shit. What else am I supposed to think?

"Why didn't you say anything about this last night?" I demanded, sincerely wanting to know. God, how could he let me get sideswiped by those reporters? How could he not at least let me know what to expect? Because he couldn't face me, that's why. "It just looks like guilty conscience to me."

"I thought it was over," he exclaimed, still trying to claim that none of this was his fault. "My Mom was doing what she thought was right. She didn't know what it was about."

His mother? What the hell does Naomi have to do with any of this? What is going on? "How the hell did your mother get her hands on this? It was lying around like coffee-table reading?"

"No, look, don't you try to run some interrogation on me," he bitched. Like I care at this point. "You're not going to find some weak spot in me, all right? Look, I'm not a perp. I'm your friend."

With friends like this, who needs enemies? Enough. I've had enough. I can't listen to him anymore. I don't want to even look at him anymore. Well, I guess it answers the question of what happens after the diss gets published. He gets rich and famous and I get wasted. Shit. Everyone looks after number one. I fucking know that! I just didn't think…I thought he was different. And it's killing me, here, to know I was wrong. But, maybe it's just as well. I sure as hell won't have to worry about protecting him or wonder whether he'll be my partner in the future, not after this.

"Chief, you got a great opportunity here," I told him, sarcastically, as I turned and pointed at him, before walking away-getting away-from him. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime play. Go for the brass ring. Good luck, huh?"

He called after me, his voice caught between anger and sounding lost. As I paced away, I thought about his expression, the look in his eyes, when I told him to go for it.

It wasn't the look of a man who'd just gotten everything he ever wanted.

It was the look of a man who had just been condemned unjustly, but was going to die anyway.

Shit.

I can't deal with this. I can't deal with him or his mother or the damned press.

I've got a killer to catch.

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

The media hype caught us all by surprise. And, at first, I guess we thought it was a good thing. The secret was out and we could all deal with it. But it was galling to think they'd gone to the press without the courtesy of telling their colleagues, not to mention friends, first. So, we decided to give them a little of their own back, tease them a little. Make it fun to cover our own hurt and confusion and, well, I guess, anger.

But Jim didn't look like a happy camper when he stalked in-and was even less happy when H ragged him. "Hey, Jim, my wife's having lunch with the ladies across town. I wonder if you could put your ear out and tell me what they're saying about me."

"Yeah, she says your car's too small for her garage," he cut back nastily.

Now, saying something like that could hurt a guy. But I still thought he was teasing, you know? Maybe feeling awkward about not telling us?

Rafe chimed in next, "Hey-hey, Jim, Jim, uh, when are you going to start wearing, uh, tights and a cape?"

Ouch, I can see that might strike a sensitive note. And, yep, it did. Jim didn't even pretend he was playing nice when he shot back, "Uh... I don't know. You got some I can borrow, Peter Pan?"

I thought, maybe, I should try to smooth things over a little. Let Ellison know we were just funning him, that's all. So I ambled over to his desk, like this news about him being a sentinel and all was no big deal, not really. Yeah, right. "Come on, Jim, why don't you have a sense of humor about this whole thing?"

But he just sighed and looked pained as he asked, almost plaintively-and Jim's not a plaintive kind of guy, "Joel... let's just let it go. Give it a rest."

Something wasn't right here. He looked really upset. Not at all like a man who'd decided to share his secret with the world. I had to know. I had to ask why he'd never let us in on it. "Why keep it from us? Tell us what's going on."

"I-I-I got some work to do, okay?" he mumbled, turning away, almost desperate. "Could you excuse me?"

Holy shit. This wasn't his idea! He didn't want folks to know. Can't deal with talking about it. What the hell happened? How could the media have found out?

"Sorry. Okay, buddy," I mumbled, leaving him alone. But before I could get to the other guys, to tell them something was badly wrong here, Blair walked in and H was all over him.

"Hey, Sandburg, who's playing you on the sentinel TV show?" he teased, grinning broadly. "I know, Adam Sandler."

"Listen, I hear Denzel is playing me," I joked, trying to still believe that this wasn't as bad as I was beginning to suspect it was, but Blair looked sick.

"There isn't going to be a TV show, all right?" he stated, no 'ifs, ands or buts' about it, as he looked toward Jim. Sandburg's face was stark and he looked devastated. I couldn't figure out how the other guys couldn't see it. But they were still teasing.

"Just a Nobel prize," Rafe called out. Well, that's what the media had said could be expected. Before I could even think about it, the whole office was bowing down toward Sandburg, chanting, "We're not worthy. We're not worthy."

Sandburg looked like he wanted to throw up or scream, and Jim just sat there, folding his hands like if he didn't, he'd punch something…and he just looked away. Blair looked at him, and I swear there were tears in his eyes as he turned and ran out of the bullpen. Shit. What the hell is going on here?

Simon came out of his office and barked at everyone who was standing around laughing. Yeah, we got Ellison and Sandburg good all right. Showed them they couldn't get away without clueing us in.

But, why do I get the impression they weren't clued in either? How could the media have printed all that stuff? And how could there even be talk about a possible Nobel Prize, if neither Jim nor Blair wanted the secret known?

I don't understand what's going on. But I think we'd better figure it out pretty damned quick.

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

Joel was the first one who clued in that there was something ga-ga about it all, but it wasn't long before we all knew there was nothing to celebrate and one very ugly mess to deal with. Jim couldn't stand to hardly be in the same room with Sandy, and Sandy looked like he wanted to crawl into a hole and die. We don't know all the details, but we've gotten enough out of Sandy to know he never wanted this to happen and he couldn't feel any worse about if…well, he couldn't even come up with anything worse. And, poor kid, he doesn't have a clue how to fix it. And Jim, well, I could see it was killing him to be the focus of all the unwanted attention-to think Sandy had betrayed him. And that was stupid. As bad as it was, surely he knew it was stupid.

I tried to play peacemaker. Well, someone had to get them to try to build a bridge. We had a case we were working on and Zeller was no one to fool around with. We had to be focused. All of us.

"These Gunderson files are going to take days to go through," I said, making conversation as I looked from one to the other. This was ridiculous. "Although things might move more quickly if you two would speak to each other."

"There's nothing to say, Conner," Jim said, ever the iceberg. And he was wrong. There was so much to say that the air was thick with it, suffocating all of us.

"Sandy didn't do this on purpose," I tried to reason with him. Though why I'd have to tell him that, I surely don't know.

"Oh, no?" he shot back, then called to Sandy, his tone taunting, "Hey, Chief, let me ask you something. How did you intend to protect my identity and still keep your research valid?"

"I don't know," Sandy sighed, looking so sorry. But, well, maybe Jim had a point. It had gone a long way before something as basic as that had been addressed. Saying so wouldn't help now, though. I think from the look on Sandy's face, he'd already come to that conclusion himself.

But Jim couldn't leave it. He was just too mad, too hurt, maybe. "Ah! You don't know," he jeered. "That's a good answer, Chief. You couldn't have. You knew that and went ahead and wrote it down anyway."

Oh, God, why did I start this conversation? What had ever possessed me to think it might help? Now Sandy is angry and defensive, but arguing with Jim right now is not going to help anything.

"If I was going to help you understand your abilities," he shot back, "I had to track your development in a scientific manner and you know that, man."

It's not often that I think a robbery in progress is a good thing…but I did this time when Jim spotted it going down. At least it got us out of that wretched conversation before they came to blows.

How are we ever going to fix this mess? Or has it already gone too far?

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

I feel so badly about it all. I never meant to cause any trouble. I just wanted to help Blair, that's all. And now, it's all such a mess. I'm surprised Jim hasn't kicked me right out of his home. He'd certainly have every right to do so. I violated my son's trust. And I've maybe destroyed both of them-I've certainly put their friendship at grave risk. Blair stares at Jim with a look in his eyes that says he'd give anything to fix this but Jim won't even look at him, let alone talk to him. I can't believe Jim is still being civil to me-I think I'd rather if he shouted or raged at me, blamed me, not Blair. I did this. It's my fault.

But, maybe, since he is still at least talking to me, if not my son, I can repair some of the damage. I have to try. I've made tea. Maybe we can just talk about this calmly, like sensible people.

"Didn't surprise me to learn, Jim, that you had this...gift," I said tentatively, as I handed him a mug of tea. "I always sensed a special energy about you."

"Very kind, Naomi," he said so politely. So-distantly. "Thank you." Is he referring to what I said or is he just thanking me for the tea? I don't know how to read this man, but his aura is so dark right now, it scares me.

"I'm just...terribly sorry at how all this has...turned out, especially when I see what's happened to you two," I told him, meaning every word with all my heart.

"Naomi, I know you were just trying to help Blair," he sighed. He doesn't want to talk about it. He knows it's not Blair's fault, but I can tell he's blaming my son even more than he blames me. It's not right. And Blair looks like he's about to cry and trying hard not to. I've never known my son to not know what to say, to not have some words to cope with crisis.

"You two, listen to me," I said to them both, praying they would listen, that it wasn't too late. "You cannot let this tear apart your friendship."

But Jim doesn't want to hear it. Doesn't seem to want peace. "Thank you," he said abruptly, but still distantly, like it's taking everything he's got to remain civil. And, maybe, it is. Handing the tea back to me, he added, "Things happen, Naomi, you know? People change. You just got to go with it. This whole sentinel thing has just gotten too out of hand. I can't take this attention. That's not me. I just want to go back to the way things were."

"You can't just turn it off," Blair murmured wearily.

But Jim wouldn't even look at him. He was still looking at me, but at least he was acknowledging that Blair spoke, answering him-and he was beginning to sound desperate. "Sure, I can. There's got to be some way for me to let them go dormant. Some meditation you can give me or I can find somewhere to tune out and turn all this off. I'm just done with it."

"That's not who you are," Blair protested, but it seemed that was more than Jim could stand to hear. He turned to face my son then, and stalked over to confront him.

"Well, you tell me who I am, then 'cause I have no idea. At one point, I had a reputation of being a pretty decent cop. Now, people look at me and they-they perceive me as some goofball comic book character," he said sharply, almost shouting as he wheeled away and headed toward the door. Needing to get out of his own home because he couldn't stand to be there with us in it. "People are calling my father and my brother asking them what it's like to live with the freak. Now, how would you like that, huh? If I ever want to go back to being a good cop and live a simple life, it ain't going to happen this way. Your research is done, Chief. Why don't you just let it go?" Turning to me, he added harshly, "Thanks for the tea."

And then he was gone.

Blair just stood there, looking at the door and shaking his head. Helplessly.

I did this. Me. Naomi Sandburg. I just had to help. I couldn't leave things alone.

I want to go to my son, and hold him. But I don't think he'd welcome that from me right now.

And I can't blame him.

I don't know how to fix this. I don't know if there's any way to fix this.

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

Hell, I don't have the first clue how to fix this mess. The media are having a field day and because of them and this sentinel crap, Jim missed getting Zeller last night. All Jim wanted to do was ignore this disaster and get Zeller, but now the disaster has gotten well in the way of him doing his job. So we've got a killer on the loose, a popinjay union leader that Megan might just kill and save Zeller the trouble, a media circus, my best two detectives not talking to one another, the rest of my team walking around like they're afraid Mount Ellison is about to blow, which I'm only surprised hasn't happened yet, and the Chief, the Commissioner, the DA and IA all want answers. Answers I don't have.

When I talked to Jim when the news first broke, he didn't have any better idea than I do how to deal with this. We were caught flat-footed and we shouldn't have been. There was always a danger that his secret could come out. We've been lucky for almost four years that it didn't. It's not deniable, according to him, because it's all documented in the paper Sandburg wrote. And, typical Ellison, he wants to handle this all on his own. Even now, he doesn't want any help. Maybe, especially, now. I know he only wants to protect me. But, hell, I went into this with my eyes open. I'm not going to let him hang alone.

God, this couldn't have blown wide open at a worse time. Zeller is one of the most dangerous assassins in the world. None of us need the distraction of a media circus right now. We have got to decide how we're going to handle the 'sentinel' thing and get it out of the way, or at least in due process, so we can focus on our jobs.

"What are we going to do, Jim?" I asked when he came into the office. God, he looked wrecked. "By tomorrow morning, I have to have a full report on the Chief's desk and I don't know what I'm going to report. You know what this means? Every single case that you worked on is going to be brought up for review. That means the board of inquiry. IA's going to get involved…"

He shook his head and wiped a hand over his face before he said, "Captain, before we hear back from the review board or the brass tells us to go pack our bags, I'd like to go back to things the way they were before Sandburg, when I worked alone."

Oh, God. I'd seen this coming. He wanted nothing more to do with Sandburg. I knew enough to know it hadn't been the kid's fault, not really. But I'm not sure I can blame Jim.

"You talk to Blair about this?" I asked. It would make it all so much easier if Blair agreed-and knew how to turn off the senses, if that's what Jim wants. But, apparently, it's not that easy. Why am I not surprised?

"It's not his call, Captain," Jim insisted, rigorously formal. Never a really good sign. "This is my decision. His ride is over. I want to go back to being a cop, just a regular cop. And with this sentinel thing hanging over us, it's always right there and I...I'm tired of it. I just want out."

I wonder if that's possible? But he must know. He is the Sentinel, after all. "Well, maybe that's for the best." He probably doesn't even know how close he got to Zeller before the cameras blinded him and the media blocked his hearing and his approach to the assassin last night. He won't be very happy when he does know. But better he learns it from me than from anybody else at this point. "I got this picture back from the rally. Take a look. You were that close until your paparazzi got in the way."

Jim bent to look at the picture I'd pointed out to him as I turned to scan the bullpen, wondering if Sandburg was there. If we were ending this, we should likely do it now and get it over with.

But I don't see…

Jesus! What hit me? Can't get my breath…can't…

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

God, how could things go so wrong so fast? If Simon dies because I fucked up getting Zeller…dies because Zeller was gunning for me…I don't even want to think about having to live with that. And Conner? God, both of them innocent victims, caught up in a whirlwind of actions and reactions that neither of them had anything to do with or could do anything about.

When Simon fell-I remembered the vision of it happening when I was in the pool in Mexico. It was one of the scenes that had terrified me; that I had hoped never to see. Did that mean that this was inevitable? Or did it mean that if I'd paid attention to the visions instead of trying to forget them that I might have kept Simon from being shot? Could I have stopped it if I'd done something differently along the line somewhere?

The stark reality of it, the sick dread of thinking that he might die, has sure crystallized things for me somehow. Helped me see things more clearly. Killed my anger and my preoccupation about my problems and reminded me that there are things in life so much more important than whether the world knows about my senses or not.

Yeah, this tragedy has made it all pretty clear to me.

What happened to Simon and Megan wasn't Sandburg's fault. But I can tell, standing here beside him, that he thinks it is. That if the media hadn't swamped me last night, I would have gotten Zeller and Simon and Megan would be all right. He's right, but it wasn't his fault.

Oh, sure, he could have locked up his computer, but how could he know Naomi would have a handy publisher friend in New York? Or that she'd betray his trust in such a monumental way? That's got to cut him deep. She's the weirdest parent I've ever seen-ignores him for months on end-left him alone, for Christ's sake, when he was just a kid, so many times he probably can't even remember them all. And then she blows in and tries to order him about like he's still six years old, interfering in his life without the least idea of his dignity as a man. But she's been all he had and he loves her. Like I still love my mother, even though she walked away from me.

He tried to stop it. I know that. I should have known that from the beginning. If he'd meant the leak to happen, he wouldn't be standing here now beside me, as devastated as I am. He'd be drinking champagne and trying to figure out how to spend $3 mill.

But he hasn't gone away. I've accused him of outright betrayal of our friendship. And he hung in. I've ignored him and yelled at him. And he still hung in. I've walked away from him, walked out of the loft on him with the message that it's pretty much over, and he's still here. Trying to help. Sorry for what happened. So very sorry for what his mother has done.

So he's caught between her and me and blames himself, I know, as much as I blame myself, for the fact that Simon may well be dying. Shit.

One thing is crystal clear. Zeller is after me and it's up to me to stop him. I can't let anyone else be at risk. And, maybe…when it's all over, maybe if Simon is all right, and I can go back to the way things were before these senses came on line, maybe everything will work out fine…maybe Blair can have some kind of life back. Whether he wants it or not, he's famous now, and he'll be rich. He'll have his PhD and he'll have choices-choices that don't include having to risk his life by backing up a sentinel.

I'm so tired of it all. But I can't just walk away from it and go and hide in a closet somewhere. Somehow, someway, I've got to either deal with these damned senses or find a way to turn them off. And in the meantime, I've got to nail Zeller.

"No one was expecting this," he murmured, his voice low and tight, cutting into my thoughts.

"I should have been," I admitted bitterly. "I'm so off my game, Chief, with all this media crap. That bullet was meant for me."

"Don't...don't block out your senses," he asked-pleaded? "This is when you need them most and I can help you."

Like I'm going to risk him now? No way.

"Take a look at that man," I ground out, my voice hoarse. "That happened because of me. I don't think it's a good idea to be around me right now. The only chance I got of getting Zeller is if I'm on my own."

I could see he was going to argue with me but I just didn't have the energy. So I left.

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

Blair came home a little while ago, and told me what happened to Captain Banks and Inspector Conner. And that Jim has gone after the assassin alone, refusing his help. I can't stand this. He's sitting there on the sofa like it's the end of his world, and I'm so afraid he'll never want to ever have anything more to do with me. I know I'm not the world's best mother. I never have been. But I love him. I love him so much it hurts, and I don't know what I'll do if he never wants to ever see me again.

"Will you ever forgive me for making such a mess of things?" I asked him, needing to know. Knowing I was being selfish and self-centered, but I was just so scared of losing him.

"That's okay, Mom," he murmured, sounding so tired. I know he's trying to reassure me, but I can see he's devastated as he looks at the copy of his paper that he's holding. "We're all going to be fine," he sighed.

But, is that true? Is it even possible?

"Do you still love me even with all this?" I asked, wanting to hold him, to comfort him, and knowing I didn't have the right. Not now. Not after how I betrayed him. But I didn't mean it. I swear I wouldn't ever do anything to deliberately hurt my baby.

I guess he heard all that I didn't say. All my fears. How really, very sorry I am. Because he put down the paper and stood and took me in his arms. "I'm sorry," I whispered, sniffing back my tears.

"Oh, Mom. Come on. Don't be silly. Of course I do," he reassured me of his love. "Always. I mean, we were all doing what we thought was right. Right? Nothing happens in this universe randomly. It's all for a reason. That's part of what I was writing about," he went on, soothing me. Me. When I should be comforting him. "I always wondered if my work would ever amount to anything. If it's taught me one thing, it's taught me that Jim is right. I got it all. I got it all right here. The brass ring. And now I know what to do. So why don't you go call Sid?"

"Okay, sweetie," I told him. I'd do anything he asked to help fix this. Call Sid? I'd like to do more to Sid than call him. It's because of him that this has gotten so out of hand, so out of control.

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

Joel and I had just walked back into the bullpen, talking about the explosion and wondering whose body had been burned beyond recognition, when Rafe poked his head out of the conference room.

"Hey, guys," he called to us, waving urgently. "Sandburg's on TV. He's giving some kind of press conference."

What the hell? Joel and I followed him back and I saw the camera panning some room at the university. Naomi was standing there, looking very wan, and Blair was making his way to the podium. What's going on? He looked…I've never seen him look so grimly resolute. Like he was facing a firing squad.

The reporter's voice cut in, "Now we're going live…" And Sandburg started to speak.

"Hi. Thank you all for coming. I just have a short speech prepared here. Um..." he stammered, looking down at his cards before continuing with his formal remarks, his voice tight with the strain of maintaining control. "In our media-informed culture, a scientist receives validation by having his or her work published and after years of research there is great personal satisfaction when that goal is reached. However, my desire to impress both my peers and the world at large drove me to an immoral and unethical act. My thesis "The Sentinel" is a fraud."

Oh, God, what's he doing? I never wanted him to do this! But he was not done yet. He was still talking…

"While my paper does quote ancient source material, the documentation proving that James Ellison... actually possesses hyper-senses is fraudulent. Looking back, I can say that it's a good piece of fiction. I apologize for this deception. My only hope is that I can be forgiven for the pain I've caused those that are close to me. Thank you."

There were tears in his eyes. And he almost lost it. Ah, Jesus, Chief, what have you done?

I just stood there staring at the television screen, barely aware of the uneasy silence around me from the others, or the way they cast sidelong looks at me. They were angry; I could feel it in the air, heavy with their mutters and rasping breath, the pounding of their hearts. Why did he do that? He had it all and he threw it away. Everything he'd ever dreamed of…for me? Why?

I felt stunned. The magnitude of it. It was his life. All his dreams. His credibility and profession. All of it. Trashed in a few, strangled sentences. To protect me. To protect my secret. To honour our bargain and act with a kind of integrity that was staggering.

The look on his face…and he apologized for the pain he'd caused? After his mother betrayed his trust and that fucking publisher wouldn't take 'no' for an answer? After what I'd said to him? The way I'd been treating him? I couldn't take it in. What kind of courage did it take to destroy everything you'd stood for, represented, wanted…for a friend?

And what did he think he was going to do with his life now? Did he have any idea? Had he even thought about it, or had he just done what he'd believed necessary and figured he'd worry about himself later?

Without a word to the others, I left. I had to find him. Dear God…I never expected, would never have ever thought, never wanted…I had to find him.

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

I caught up with him at the hospital. I guess the doctor had just arrived with the good news, because the first thing Sandburg did was tell me that it looked like Simon and Megan were going to be just fine. But he was not meeting my eyes. Maybe he didn't know that I know what he just did, 'cause he was asking about whether we got Zeller.

"I don't know. Somebody probably got him. We still got Bartley to contend with. I don't know which one's worse," I answered, not wanting to talk about Zeller or Bartley. "I saw your press conference," I told him.

He cut me a quick look, and then shrugged, trying to make light of it. Trying to pretend it was okay. "Oh, yeah, you saw it? It's just a book…"

Ah, Chief. It was so much more than that. Don't you know I know that? "It was your life."

"Yeah, it was," he admitted softly, not looking at me. But he still tried to make it seem all right. He cut me another look as he said, his voice unsteady, "You know, you were right. I mean, uh, I don't know what I was expecting to do with it, and, uh...I mean, where do I get off following you around for three years pretending I was a cop, right?"

Ah, Jesus. He wastes himself, destroys his life and now is buying into my crap that what he's been doing for the last almost four years is worthless? 'Get off following me around?' What? Does he mean risking his life to back me up, to help me every way he could? 'Pretending to be a cop?' I can't stand it. I really can't.

"This self-deprecation don't suit you, you know," I told him. Wow. Now that's supportive. Jesus. Why did he hang around? Why did he do that for me? I gotta give him better than that. Gotta tell him the straight truth for once. "You might have been just an observer, but you were the best cop I've ever met and the best partner I could have ever asked for. You've been a great friend and you've pulled me through some pretty weird stuff."

God. He actually looked surprised at my words, even pleased, though sadness wais still pooled in his dark eyes and his skin was pasty white from strain and exhaustion. What have I done to this man? "Thanks," he murmured, but he could still hardly look at me.

"Are you ready to get busy?" I asked, holding out the olive branch. Holding my breath at the same time.

And he took it. God help me. He still hasn't given up on me.

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

When I came into the bullpen, I saw Blair in Simon's office, looking lost and so sad it shook me. I hadn't seen him since Zeller had rampaged through the office and he'd gone off to the hospital with Jim. And that had been more than a week ago. What was he doing in there?

"Hey, Blair, what you up to, man?" I asked, as soon as I reached the door, trying to sound nonchalant. Not sure I managed that. The look on his stone-white face scared me. It was too much like the look I'd seen in the hospital, months ago.

"I'm taking a last look around," he said with a shrug, a sad wistfulness in his eyes as he looked away. I didn't like the sound of that.

"Last look? You going somewhere?" I asked. The last time he'd looked this lost, we almost didn't get him back.

"Well, yeah. I cleaned out my desk over at Rainier. I thought I'd do the same thing here," he explained listlessly. And then he looked up at me with those eyes haunted by grief and sorrow and pain. He doesn't know that I know he's no fraud and it's all I can do, as he says the words straight to my face, not to slap them away, deny them, rage at them. "I'm a fraud, man. I don't think Simon's going to want me hanging around."

I nearly lost it. Nearly blurted out the truth, the truth we all damned well knew. He wasn't the fraud in this little scenario. He wasn't the one hiding who and what he was. The only lie he'd told had been in front of the cameras on national television.

I was saved from having to give it all away when the others arrived, Simon in a wheelchair pushed by Rafe, Megan in a sling and Jim with a cane, all coming straight from the hospital, with Naomi in tow. I guess one of them must've known he was planning to be here. H and Rhonda stood up, so there was quite a little crowd when Simon bellowed for Sandburg to come out of the office.

"Sandburg, that is not your office."

What? It's going to go down, here and now? In front of everyone? I knew what Simon and Jim had planned, we all did. But…I thought they'd ask him in private.

Blair didn't know what was going on. How could he? He looked so tired as he ambled out of the office, and I just knew he was wishing he could have escaped before everyone arrived. The kid didn't need this. Not like this.

"Hey, Simon, they let you out?" he replied, trying for a grin. Trying to act like everything was good, as I followed him out of the office.

"Nah, they threw him out," Jim teased. Well, he must be feeling pretty good. Teasing is not something Jim does in public, not often anyway.

"They didn't throw me out," Simon huffed, pretending indignation. "They said I was too cantankerous."

"You? No," Jim protested sarcastically and, I don't believe it. He pinched Simon's cheek! Would they just get on with it? They're having oodles of fun and the kid is dying here.

"Mom, what are you doing here?" Blair asked, surprised when he noticed his mother lingering at the back of the group. She rushed forward, lovely woman, to hug him, just bursting with sunshine and good spirit. She's relieved, I guess. Relieved that something might still be saved from the shambles she made of her son's life.

"I'd never miss this occasion, darling," she crooned, smiling widely as he stared at her, puzzled. Confused.

He doesn't know what's going on, you twits! Don't any of you get it? Tell him, for God's sake.

"Know what's great," Blair said, trying so damned hard to be positive, his voice shaking, low and almost inaudible, "everybody's safe and out and happy." If they don't tell him now, I swear I'll do it myself to put him out of his misery.

But will it? Is this going to be enough to fix this mess?

"That's not exactly why we asked your mom here," Simon finally began. "I understand you gave up your job at the university and I saw you over there in my office. So we decided you needed to do something to keep you under control."

Gave up his job? Gave it up? Who are they kidding? Could they make this anymore painful if they tried? I know they're doing their best. But, damn it…I'm not sure this is the right answer for Blair.

"You're, uh, you're finished in this department, Chief..." Jim said then, stone-faced.

I'll kill him. I swear. I'll kill him. The kid's broken. Does he have to grind Sandburg into the dust before he finally throws him a lifeline?

"Yeah well, I-I sort of...well, I figured that," Blair mumbled, stricken.

I was about to intervene when Jim tossed Blair the leather wallet. Finally. And said, "…as an observer."

"This is, uh...what is this? This is a detective badge," Blair stammered, looking up at them. "What's going on? I don't deserve this."

Well, I don't think they could have confused the kid anymore if they'd deliberately tried. I know this is supposed to be a great, wonderful surprise. But he's stunned. And he doesn't understand.

And what does he mean, he doesn't 'deserve' it? He's been paying his dues for years.

Oh good, now Simon's grabbing the badge away from him. That helps a whole lot.

"No, you don't, at least not until you go to the Police Academy and complete firearms training," Simon growled, but then added with a satisfied smirk as if everything was just fine now, "And if you do, Detective Ellison is looking for a permanent official partner."

Well, we surprised Sandburg all right. He was absolutely stunned and didn't have a clue of what to say as Jim hobbled over to stand beside him.

"Uh... yeah? So, uh...does this mean a paycheck?" Blair stammered finally, trying to make some sense of it all.

"Can you say 'back rent'?" Jim teased. But it was clear what he hoped Blair's answer would be. What we all hoped his answer would be. "Come on, what do you say?"

"Say something, Sandy," Megan encouraged softly.

"I'm still not cutting my hair," the kid replied, trying for bravado. He hadn't said he would accept yet, but Jim and Simon both looked like that was an answer as they laughed with relief.

"Ho-ho-ho..." Jim taunted, moving in on the kid.

"I'm not going to do it," Blair insisted. What? Cut his hair? Or be a cop? He hasn't really said. But Jim hasn't seemed to notice that. He's hearing what he wants to hear.

"That's what you think," Ellison asserted, hauling Blair toward him with his cane, and then, good Lord, pulling the kid into a headlock to rub the kid's hair as he exclaimed with great good humour, "They're going to love you at the Academy. Captain, I'm going to make a little Blairskin rug for you here..."

And Blair was protesting, but still trying to make it seem like he was having a good time here. "You're not going to scalp me! Forget it!"

And Simon was starting to sing, "We got to go down to the woods..."

Someday, please, just come and haul us all to the asylum and throw away the key…

Maybe Blair is okay with going to the Academy. And maybe all he wants in his life is to be Jim's partner. But he deserves more respect than this.

"I can't take this," H growled, his voice tight, riding over Simon's singing. "I'm sorry. But this isn't right. How many different ways does Sandburg have to die before we treat him with respect or acknowledge the truth?"

Turning to me, Henri sighed as he continued, "I just can't keep quiet anymore. I'm sorry. I know we agreed. But I can't do this."

Rafe nodded and so did Megan. There were tears in her eyes. I think-I think because we've been observers, for months now, we've seen what Simon and Jim haven't, can't or won't see. Blair isn't just an extension of Jim. And he's been suffering for months. Ever since he died.

And so has Jim, for that matter. Tense, losing his grip on his senses. Being less discreet. He must know we know with all the publicity and the way he and Sandburg had been acting, and he still hasn't acknowledged it. And that's not healthy. Surely he doesn't think any of us believed Blair's press conference?

H is right. The secret has been cloaked for too long. And this farce has gone on more than long enough.

Simon froze at H's words, and then bowed his head, while Jim looked up startled, giving Blair the chance to break away from him and try to regain some dignity.

The silence was heavy. The storm they thought was over may just be about to break.

"H is right," I said quietly, looking from Simon to Jim. "We know. We've known for months now. You are a sentinel. Blair's paper wasn't a fraud. And this isn't good enough."

Jim gaped at me.

"Whoa, hold on a minute," Blair intervened. Protecting him. Like always. "I don't know what you think you know but…"

"We know, Sandy," Megan sighed. "I found your notes when we were moving the furniture and your stuff back into the loft while you were still in hospital. Right after we got back from Mexico."

"Yeah, and we've all seen Jim using his senses," H added bitterly. "We just pretended to be deaf, dumb, blind and stupid because that seemed to be what you all wanted."

"Oh, God," he gasped, casting a quick look at Jim who was staring at the floor. But then Sandburg turned back to us. "Look, maybe you do know. But-nobody made me do what I chose to do in denouncing that paper. That was a professional, ethical action to protect my source. I don't regret it and I'd do it again. None of what happened is Jim's fault."

Oh, great, now Naomi is crying and Jim is shaking his head.

"Maybe I should just go," Ellison muttered, starting to move away, but Blair grabbed his arm.

"No, Jim," he insisted, not letting go. "This is where you belong, man."

Turning back to us, Sandburg told us fiercely, his voice cracking, "This isn't Jim's fault! None of it." He glared at H and then looked at all of us. "I won't have you treating him like it is. Like he's to blame, somehow, for it all falling apart. He didn't do anything wrong. You all saw what happened when the media found out. It was a circus! Jim couldn't do his job-and it would be dangerous for him, if the kind of criminals you all have to deal with knew how to use his senses against him. That paper was never meant to be public!"

"Chief, don't…" Jim tried to protest, mortified by it all.

"No, hang on, Jim," I intervened. "Blair's right. None of this is really anybody's fault. This isn't about fault or blame. It happened. And now we have to deal with it. Surely, if we all put our minds to this, there are other options. 'Cause, you don't really want to be a cop, do you, Blair?"

Blair looked at me and then at Simon and finally at Jim. Still holding onto Ellison's arm, he said quietly, his voice unsteady, "Honestly? Sure, I like teaching and I love anthropology, about learning how our societies work, but all I really want is to be Jim's partner. It's all I've wanted for a long time now. But-I can't. Not with the world thinking I'm a fraud. I'd have no credibility in law enforcement. I wish I could accept this. I'd find a way to-to do what all of you have to do as police officers. But I don't see how…"

"Well, then, we'll just have to figure out 'how'," Rafe cut in. "Because you're part of this team. Both of you. And we don't want to lose either one of you. So let's figure it out. How can we help make this right?"

Sandburg looked at all of us and at Jim. Finally, not knowing even if there was hope of any other options, he turned to Banks. I wondered if he was aware that Jim had slipped an arm around his shoulders or that Jim had raised his head and was looking at all of us with an expression of surprised puzzlement on his face.

Good Lord, didn't the man know without any shadow of doubt that we all want both of them to stay? That we'll collectively do whatever we can to help them? Apparently not. How sad was that?

"Simon?" Sandburg asked, his voice small, not really daring to hope. "Do you think it's possible? Is there any chance…"

Simon looked up, his face resolute. "We won't know unless we try. I'm not prepared to lose either of you without a fight. So, people, let's put our heads together and figure out our options."

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

We got some coffee and adjourned into the conference room while Rhonda covered the phones for all of us. We were prepared to wrestle with the problem for as long as necessary to come up with options we could make work. Sandy's mother followed us in, silent, sitting next to him. She looked…hopeful, I guess, is the only way I can describe it. No, more than that-like this was a lifeline she was holding onto. Rafe got up to the board to write ideas down as they came.

At first we just brainstormed, and Sandy insisted we had to put up every idea. Like the one in which he just walked away, which everyone groaned at and then shouted down. Jim then offered that they could both just walk away and start over together somewhere else. Which got the same reaction, well, sort of, except instead of Jim looking furious at Sandy for even suggesting he'd just wear this and disappear, Sandy gave Jim an odd look, like he was surprised. So, after we got the unacceptable ideas out of the way, we got down to business.

Sandy could go to the Academy. He could become a consultant. Jim could go public and Sandy could be reinstated at the university. Jim could stay silent but Sandy could sue the shit out of the university and Berkshire Publishing and things could back to the way they were. We could all quit and set up our own investigative agency. H came up with that one, and it was a lifesaver because things had been too intense and we all cheered and laughed at that idea. Well, we could, I guess but I wasn't sure I could get a green card for that, so they immediately booed down the idea-which left me feeling pretty chipper.

After we had the main options up, we started with the possible scenarios and assessed risks and viability.

Sandy could go to the Academy. Risks? He wouldn't be accepted, would be given a rough time, wouldn't have credibility there or when he graduated no matter how excellent a cadet he might prove to be. Viability? He would graduate regardless of the flack. But what then? Well, Jim could testify on a lot of their cases in court, but sometimes Sandy's testimony would be required. If he was still considered a fraud and a self-professed liar, even if we brought the DA's office into the circle, the defence lawyers would crucify him and a jury likely wouldn't believe him. Otherwise good convictions could then be at risk.

And then, though we hated to admit it, H made us confront the possible problem that Sandy might not get the backup in the field from other cops who didn't trust him and might well resent him. And that could be downright deadly.

Sandy pointed out that if he became a cop, even in the best case scenario, that people would wonder why MCU, and Jim in particular, would want to work with a liar and fraud. He insisted that would lead to people wondering about Jim, watching him. Other cops, the media…and the bad guys, would wonder if the much-denied paper was really true. He thought it was just too much of a risk to Jim's security.

But that assumed that Jim's secret was still a secret, as Jim so helpfully pointed out. If he stopped trying to hide his senses, then all the problems with this scenario would disappear. Sandburg started to protest, but Jim just held up a hand. "Do you honestly want to be a cop?" he asked.

Sandy swallowed. "I want to be your partner," he said firmly. Which didn't answer the question and we all knew it.

H came up with the idea that maybe we could somehow diffuse the impact of Sandy's press conference. We batted that one around for a while and decided that, yes that might be possible. We could say that the paper had always been intended as fiction and had been misrepresented by Berkshire Publishing-there was even something in Sandy's formal statement about it being 'a good piece of fiction'. And we could hold the line that Sandy had only held the press conference and gone the dramatic 'denial' route because our investigation was in a shambles and we needed to get the media off Jim's case in a hurry before the Iceman shot anyone else.

So, we moved into the idea of Sandy being a consultant instead of a cop but still assigned as Jim's partner. The risks were pretty much the same as for scenario #1, as was the viability of the idea, except the issue of Sandy's credentials became even more important. He'd really need his PhD to be a credible consultant with the department, the media, judges and juries. But we all knew the strength of this scenario over the cop scenario was that Sandy would likely be more comfortable in the role. Jim seemed to like it better, too. I think he figured he could still tell a consultant to 'stay in the truck', and hope said consultant would actually pay attention from time to time.

To get a PhD, he had to get back into the university. The 'reframing' of his press conference could help that happen, maybe. But Jim and Simon wanted to sue both the university and Berkshire Publishing. They'd acted without Sandy's approval. He'd never formally submitted the paper, so there was no basis for having terminated his doctoral program. We all liked that idea, actually, well, maybe all of us but Sandy-revenge is sweet and Sandy deserved some cash for 'pain and suffering'. But he contended that going the route of a lawsuit would bring the focus back on Jim and fuel further speculations.

Rafe asked what Sandy would do for a dissertation if he couldn't use the sentinel paper. I swear, the kid blushed as he cut a look at Simon.

"Well, um," he stammered. "I have another paper just about finished, in case it turned out I couldn't protect Jim's identity and needed a fallback option. It's called, 'Lives on the Line: A Study of the Law Enforcement Subculture in Modern Society'."

Simon gave Sandy a long, quizzical look. "You mean you actually wrote a paper on the 'thin blue line'?"

Sandy nodded sheepishly and Simon burst out laughing. "Okay," he spluttered. "So that makes this option viable. You can get your PhD, likely fairly soon. Only you, Sandburg. Only you would write two full doctoral theses, 'just in case'."

It was looking good. We had some real options going here. Everyone was smiling and a lot more relaxed by this point.

Joel looked up at the board and said, "I guess there's just one more option to work through."

Sandy cut Joel a narrow look as he immediately jumped in to say, "No, I don't think that's necessary. We've got enough…"

But Jim cut in quietly, but pretty firmly, "Yes, Chief, I think we do need to consider it."

"But, Jim," Sandy protested. "It's not necessary, man! And it could be dangerous for you."

"Maybe," Jim allowed, his expression carefully neutral. "But let's work it through."

So we attacked the last possible scenario. Jim goes public with his abilities. It had the advantage of clearing Sandy's name and reputation without question. But it did put Jim at some risk. H wondered if we could somehow minimize what became public-make it seem like, sure, the guy can see better than anyone else, but so what? I could see both Sandy and Jim seriously thinking about that possibility and nodding thoughtfully. It did mean, though, as Simon pointed out, that all of Jim's cases would be up for review and likely appeal. It would be a lot of work.

Rafe shrugged and said we could all help with the paperwork even if we couldn't do the court appearances-Jim and Sandy would have to handle them. The Chief, Commissioner and the DA wouldn't be best pleased, but if Jim's abilities were documented, then what he learned with his senses could, maybe, be admissible evidence. But that took us back to him having to be clear about what he could do, and Sandy really didn't like that, didn't like the risks. As for the senior officers and the DA knowing, well, they'd likely have to know anyway once we began our concerted campaign to clean up the mess-and once they knew and the circle of knowledge grew ever wider, the risks of full disclosure increased, so shouldn't we all get ready for that anyway? Wasn't it just a matter of time? With parts of the dissertation already widely publicized in the press, people would be watching Jim anyway and wondering-so, yeah, maybe it really was just a matter of time.

We'd been at it for three hours by then and were beginning to repeat earlier points or arguments when Simon raised his hand for attention. "I think we've beaten this to the ground in terms of what we could do and what might work or not. Now, how do we make the decision?"

"It's Jim's decision," Sandy cut in immediately, the look in his eyes daring any of us to contradict him. "These are his senses and it's his right to determine which way we go on this."

"It's your life, too, Chief," Jim replied. "I'm not the only one affected here."

But Sandy shook his head as he waved at the board. "There're lots of different ways I can be your partner, man. That's all that matters to me. The 'how'?" he shrugged. "I'll deal with whichever way we go on this."

Simon interjected, sounding weary and we all realized he still had to be hurting, "Tell you what. Why don't the two of you sleep on it and get back to us tomorrow?"

"Sounds like a plan, Captain," Jim acceded, nodding.

We all stood, well, except for Simon in the wheelchair, to head out. Rafe lifted a cloth in his hand, wondering whether to erase the notes on the board as he looked around the room. "You're right, Rafe," Sandy answered the silent question. "We can't leave that for anyone else to see."

As we began to move toward the door, Jim held up a hand and cleared his throat. "I just want you all to know," he said, his voice tight and moisture glittering in his eyes, "how much I appreciate your support on this. I was…wrong not to trust all of you long before now."

We nodded, accepting his apology. "Hey, that's all right, man," H said for all of us. "You have a right to your privacy. No hard feelings. But-it'll be better now. You won't have to hide from us."

Jim nodded and turned to go, but Sandy spoke then, an almost shy smile on his face. And I couldn't help but notice that he looked so much better. Like he used to look-before the fountain. Happy. "I want to thank all of you, too, for your support. For doing all this, being willing to back me up, so that I can stay. I've really loved working with you guys, all of you. You don't know how good you've made me feel."

Joel smiled back at him as he said quietly, "Oh, I think we can see that, son. You were ‘you' this afternoon. And you haven't been 'you' for a long time now. I gotta tell you, it's good to have you back."

With that, the meeting broke up and some went back to the bullpen while others of us headed home, still on injury recovery leave.

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

"Blair," I said, as we neared the elevators. "I think I'm going to stay with Mary Rose tonight, and maybe for the next few days. I think you and Jim need some time to talk about all this without having me hanging around."

"Thanks, Mom," he said with a smile. "I appreciate that. And-I appreciate you coming today and being here for the discussion. I know that, well, this probably isn't…"

I put my fingers lightly over his lips and shook my head. "I'm just glad to still be part of your life, Blair. I know I haven't always been-complimentary about pi-uh-police officers. But these are good people; I can see that. I can also see that they love you and you love them. You do good work, here, and you make a difference. And, well-Jim needs you. I think you need Jim, too."

"Hey, Naomi," Blair grinned, teasing. "I think you're making progress on those listening skills we talked about."

"I hope so, sweetie," I nodded, solemnly, not teasing at all. It had been a hard lesson. But even I could learn.

Jim had been standing to one side, leaning on his cane and I knew he could easily hear what we'd been saying. I turned to him, my first chance really since the day he'd stormed out of the loft, to say, "I really am very sorry, Jim. I know words aren't ever enough, and certainly not enough to make up for the damage I've done, but I meant no harm."

He nodded and gave me a wry look. "We've all had to learn things as a result of Blair's paper being made public, Naomi. Maybe-maybe we'll all be the better for it, in the long run."

"I hope so," I told him. "I really hope so."

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

As we drove home in Sandburg's Volvo, my partner was unusually quiet. But a smile played around his lips and he was humming slightly, just under his breath. I figured he was dividing his attention between the traffic and the ideas we'd been playing with back in the conference room, already dreaming up the specifics of what would need to be done to make any one of them work.

Content with the easy silence, I let my own thoughts drift back over the day. I guess, deep down, I knew very well that the others had figured out the sentinel hype was likely true, but it had still shaken me to have it stated so baldly by all of them. H's words kept rattling around in my head. And I kept thinking how I couldn't believe how they'd offered their support, without being asked, because we were a team.

I knew that we were a team, at least on some level. I've always been part of teams. Sports when I was a kid. The army. I knew that in MCU we were a 'team', but I'd not really thought about it. Mostly, the others worked their cases and I worked mine. I'd been a deliberate loner, cutting myself off almost completely before Sandburg came along. And even then, over the past three years, I'd held most of myself back from the others. Like I always did. It amazed me that they could get past the fact that I hadn't been straight with them for years. That it mattered to them that I stay. Oh, I hadn't had any doubts about them wanting Sandburg on the team even with the crap over the past couple of weeks. I knew they had never doubted him.

I just hadn't thought they'd actively choose to want me around.

That told me a lot about myself that I hadn't really thought much about-and it told me a lot about them.

When we got into the loft, Sandburg pointed sternly at the living room and ordered me to, "Take a load off that leg, Jim." Sounded like a good idea, so I hobbled over to my chair while he brought me a beer.

"You okay?" he asked.

"I'm good, how about you?" I replied.

He smiled and he tilted his head, pushing his hair back behind his ears. "Real good," he returned. "I'm just going to get something together for dinner. You've got some deciding to do."

With that, he turned and moved lightly across the floor, humming again under his breath as he pulled vegetables out of the fridge and started chopping and slicing them for a stir-fry. Maybe I should have been thinking, but instead, I found myself watching him. He kinda bounced, quietly chanting every once in a while, 'cha, cha, cha,' under his breath and then began humming again or whistling softly for a few bars. He was smiling unconsciously-and, well, he glowed.

He looked happy.

And I realized how long it had been since I'd seen him look genuinely happy.

And then I realized how long it had been since I'd felt the same way.

Which took my train of thought down a whole other track.

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

I'm so tired, but I can't sleep,

Standing on the edge of something much too deep.

It's funny how we feel so much but we cannot say a word,

We are screaming inside, but we can't be heard…

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

We didn't say much over dinner, and I think Sandburg was giving me time to think through the options at my own speed. I was thinking about them-but I was thinking about some other stuff, too.

As he was clearing the table, again telling me to go back to the living room, I reflected, "You said today that all you've really wanted for a long time now is to be my partner."

"Yeah," he nodded, looking up quickly before carrying the plates to the sink. Slipping them into the water, he shifted to lean against the counter to look back at me. "I can't really explain it, Jim. I always thought I wanted to teach and do research and publish, to further the learning of others. For most of my life, I thought that was my goal. But-finding you, working with you, changed all that. I like the immediacy of what we do-helping people who need it now. It's real, and it's important."

"I didn't know that," I mused, and then looked up at him. "I should have. For a lot of reasons." He just looked at me like he agreed. "Chief, I think we need to talk."

He grinned at that, surprised I think, but pleased. "Well, that's a switch," he teased. "But, hey, I'm always ready to talk, man."

"I know you are, Oprah," I teased back, standing.

"Just let me finish cleaning up here and I'll be right with you," he said, turning to wash and rinse the dishes, stacking everything to air dry.

In very few minutes, he carried in two beers and plopped down on the couch. "So-talk," he directed, waving a hand magnanimously.

I nodded and shifted to sit forward, wincing a little at the pull on the wound in my leg. Looking at the floor, I said, "I think I should tell you about the visions I had at the temple."

He stilled at that, and I heard his breathing hitch. He, too, shifted, curling to sit on one leg as he leaned forward. Waiting.

Taking a breath, I told him, "I don't remember them clearly, but it was pretty bad; lots of fragmented scenes of violence and people dying, or at least being hurt. And Incacha kept demanding me to tell him what I feared, asking me who I am." Looking up at him, I said, "You were in a lot of the visions, Chief. Some were of the past and I saw you…in the fountain. Some of the images I didn't recognize and they scared me because I assumed they must be visions of things in the future that hadn't happened yet, like Simon being shot-but that's happened now, and he's all right. Some were you smiling at me, encouraging me. I do know the visions of you kept me grounded. And I remember thinking that it was because of you that I didn't lose my mind in that pool, like Alex did."

Sandburg's eyes narrowed and he nodded, took a sip of his beer. I could see it was hard for him not to ask any questions or to comment, but he seemed determined to give me the silence I needed to think-and to talk.

Sighing, I blurted out, "I realized that what I fear most is you."

"What?" he exclaimed, not having expected that. "Why?"

"Because you control my senses; you control me," I replied, swallowing, my jaw tight.

"That's not true, Jim," he protested. "I may have helped you learn how to use and control your senses, but I've never controlled you."

"Yeah, in my mind, you have," I sighed. "I guess that's why I fought you on the tests. That, and because the tests always reminded me that I'm a freak of nature. Different. Not normal."

"Ah, shit," he muttered, before continuing. "We needed the tests, man. They were the only way we could both learn in a safe environment, not in the midst of some shootout. But I never realized-I'm sorry."

I shook my head. "No, I don't want an apology. You were doing all the right things. The problem was in my head. I know that now. And it persisted, I guess, because I always wondered what would happen when your dissertation was over. Wondered what I'd do then, when you were finished with me and moved on to live your own life."

"You've never really trusted me, have you?" he asked then, going to the crux of the issue. And I could see he was hurt.

I shook my head. "No, I guess I haven't."

"And now?" he asked, sounding weary, the light gone from his eyes as he watched me warily.

"H said something today that really hit me," I said then, frowning with the memory. "He asked how many different ways you had to die before you got the respect you deserved." Looking up at him, I said, "I realized then, what a fool I'd been. Every one of those times, you died for me or because of me, and yet, somehow, you always managed to come back to me. You have been here for more than three years, sacrificing your time, living through nightmares-dying for me."

"Whoa, hold on, Sherlock," he interjected, lifting a hand to stop me. "It's not like you forced me. I found you, remember? And I'm the one who talked you into letting me stay here for a week and then never moved out."

"I know," I replied. "That's the point, isn't it? You've been here for me since the moment you knocked me down in front of that garbage truck and saved my life. You gave up Borneo, and said it was for friendship. You jumped out of an airplane for friendship. And you've done everything in your power to show me that you are here for me. I was…I was too afraid to accept what you were offering. So, every chance I got, I challenged you on it, tested you and found you wanting, to prove my own twisted theory that nobody can be trusted. Sure, you may have made some mistakes along the line-but I was the one who kept pushing us over the edge. Even after the fountain, and what you went through after the fever, I was still ready to believe you'd betrayed me by releasing the dissertation publicly. I saw it in your face that day down by the harbour, when I accused you of that. I saw how much I'd hurt you."

When he just looked away, shrugging a little uncomfortably but not saying anything, I pushed, "I did hurt you, didn't I?"

He tried to brush it off. "I know you, Jim. I know every time you feel threatened or scared, you react with anger and defensiveness. I learned a long time ago not to take it all personally."

But he wasn't meeting my eyes. "But I did hurt you," I insisted.

"Yeah," he finally sighed, cutting me a fathomless look of pain. "You did."

I nodded. "I'm sorry," I said then, my voice tight. "You deserved better than that."

His eyes narrowed as he studied me and then a small smile curled around his lips. "Thanks," he murmured, and the pain dissolved and his eyes weren't darkened by shadows anymore. There was light in them again. Words. So hard for me. So essential to him.

I took a sip of beer to moisten my dry throat. Sighing, I confided, "I realized when Simon was shot, and Conner, that none of what happened was really your fault. That you were as much a victim as I was of circumstances that got out of our control. But despite how hard I tried to push you away, you wouldn't go. You never have."

He shifted then, at that, frowning. "That's not quite true," he said and then looked up at me. "When I heard you'd taken off for Mexico, I left…"

I waved that off. "You were sick, had a fever, convulsions…you couldn't help that."

"No," he shook his head. "I left deliberately." When I looked at him in confusion, he continued with a sad, reflective smile, "You never wanted to hear what happened with Gabe. So you don't know. It wasn't a miracle that time, Jim. Gabe told me that all I had to do was remember. He explained that when Dr. Jeffreys had said it looked like I was in a deep meditative state, that he was exactly right. I think, maybe, it was because I was already in such a deep state that the convulsions didn't really cause any damage."

Picking at the label on his bottle, he went on, "I hadn't felt so lost since I was eleven." Taking a deep breath, pushing his hair behind his ears, he told me, "I went back to before-before I was told that my mother had abandoned me, and had never wanted or loved me, and I was kicked out into the street to fend for myself. I put up a block in my head that wouldn't let me get to those memories-and also wouldn't let me learn anything that took me past that point in time."

"Eddie," I snarled, suddenly furious, wanting to do serious damage.

"Yeah, Eddie," he admitted. "I believed him at first. God, Jim-I was so scared. But I didn't know what else to do, so I went after her. And found out he'd lied to me." Heaving a shuddering breath, he blinked hard, and sniffed, unconsciously brushing his hand across his eyes. "Anyway, when I woke up in the hospital, and found out you'd left-I thought-I thought you still didn't want me to be your partner or friend anymore. I, um, didn't think I was welcome here anymore, either. So I felt pretty lost and abandoned. Stupid, huh? I'm twenty-nine years old. You'd think I could handle things better than that. But it was just such a vast emptiness, like I had no purpose anymore. I can't really explain it. Maybe it has something to do with this link we have, the Sentinel and Guide thing-but I felt I'd failed completely and that you were right to not want anything more to do with me. And that…that…"

His voice cracked and he couldn't go on, couldn't find the words to describe what that had felt like. I felt my chest tighten with a deep, sharp thrust of undiluted sorrow for what I had put him through. Clearing his throat, he added quietly, "I'm sorry. I guess I didn't trust you enough, either. So, I-took off. Lost myself inside my own head."

Hard to stay mad at Eddie when it was my own neck I wanted to wring at that point. Blowing out a breath, I asked, "So, Gabe, he, uh, just told you to remember and you did?"

"No," Sandburg shook his head. "Not exactly. I had to believe-I had to believe that you really loved me. Accept that you hadn't meant to leave me, not for good. That you'd always intended to come back."

When I didn't say anything, too choked up with self-disgust and the knowledge of how much pain I'd caused him, he went on, "You said that I keep hanging in, and don't give up. And I can tell you wonder why I put up with a lot of the crap you can dish out."

I licked my lips and closed my eyes, nodding. Yeah, I'd wondered that a lot.

"It's because I do believe you love me," he said. "You don't say it in words. But you say it in what you do. You do your best to keep me safe. You come after me when I'm in trouble. You've given me a home. You fuss over me when I'm sick. You've trusted me with stuff you haven't ever told anyone else. We have a lot of fun when we spend time together…here, fishing, grabbing dinner some place. And these last few months, and weeks, when sometimes it's been hard, I've remembered the guy who came after me in that park, and held me and told me I wasn't a freak. And told me that he would always be there for me. That's love, Jim. I heard it loud and clear. And you know what, man? I love you, too. You're not perfect, any more than I am. You've got some pretty deep scars. But you do your best and, for all your flaws, there isn't anyone I trust or respect or admire more than I do you. And even more than all that, I know that what we're doing here is important, man. I can make a real difference helping you so that you can help the people who need you, so that you help keep this city safe."

I sniffed and blinked back the burning in my eyes. "I'm scared you'll get hurt," I stammered. "Scared I won't be able to protect you well enough, and you might…"

"Die?" he offered, when my voice caught.

"Yeah," I breathed, looking away.

"Jim, you will always do your best, I know that," he replied. "Neither of us is immortal and we have no way of knowing what the future holds. You think I'm not scared of losing you? Hell, you're the one who goes up against the bullets, not me. You tell me 'Stay in the truck, Junior'," he mocked my gruff tones, and won a smile.

"Yeah, but you never do," I countered.

"'Never' is harsh, man," he whined. "I do sometimes. For a while." And then he added dryly, "But it's my job to watch your back, and that's hard to do from the truck,"

I nodded, trying to find my equilibrium, using the respite of humour he'd just given me.

"You never answered my question, though, and I really do need to hear the words this time," he said then, suddenly somber again. "I need to know you mean it, or we've got a serious problem."

"What question was that?" I asked, having forgotten, concerned by his sudden shift in mood.

"Do you trust me now, Jim?" he asked again.

Without hesitation, I replied equally soberly, "Yes, without any doubts."

"Then we're good," he said, seriously; and then he smiled as he added with typically Sandburgian confidence, "Whatever else comes at us, we'll deal."

I crooked a smile at him. He made it seem so easy. Stuff I'd avoided talking about like the plague and, then when we did talk, just a few minutes later, the clouds were gone, the sun was out, and we were 'good'.

"So, have you decided which of the scenarios you want to act on?" he asked, taking a swig of beer.

"I know what I have to do," I replied, and looked away.

"Uh, uh," he countered. "You don't have to do anything. You're thinking about revealing your senses, aren't you?"

I nodded wordlessly and took a gulp of beer. I felt parched, and I knew my heart had kicked up, as if I was running a race.

"Jim, if you're worried about letting more people know because it could be dangerous, you're right to worry, and I don't think making too much information available about your limits and tolerances is a good idea," he said, reiterating his position from earlier in the day. "It's not necessary to do your job-you've proven you can get the admissible evidence. But," he hesitated long enough that I looked at him, "if you're worried because you think people will see you as a freak, then…maybe we do need to talk about it. You are NOT a freak. You have amazing gifts that are damned difficult to live with. You use them to help people in trouble and to make this city safe. You have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, any more than I did when I was an eleven-year-old kid stuck in a twenty-nine year old body. You said you trusted me, Jim. Trust me, believe me on this, please."

"The guys at the station don't seem to think I'm…strange," I muttered then, thinking back about how amazed I'd been by their reactions.

"No, they don't, well, not because of your senses, anyway," he replied, grinning a little.

"Smart ass," I drawled. "Your mother doesn't think the senses are…odd, either," I added.

"No, she doesn't," he grinned brighter. "In fact, if you really want to know what she thinks of you…"

"Let's not go there, Chief," I cut in. "You told me about how she reacts to muscles and blue eyes…"

He laughed then, delighted I'm sure, to note that I was blushing. "Give me a break, Einstein," I growled. "She's your mother."

"Like that's the only reason you couldn't envision a relationship with her!" he crowed. "There's the small matter of sage, auras, meditation, bizarre ideas about the universe…"

"Hey, I got used to you, didn't I?" I teased back, pulling his chain.

And that made him sit up and blink. "Jim, she's my mother!" he blurted, suddenly serious and wondering if I did find her attractive…and not liking the idea much from what I could tell.

"I know," I assured him. Naomi was definitely not my type-even if she did have red hair. "Relax. One Sandburg in my life is quite sufficient and more than I deserve."

We both laughed then, the mood easy between us, easier than it had been in a long, long time. So I was able to ask the last question that had been haunting me since earlier that day, when he'd said he didn't see any way for us to continue to be partners…and I'd heard in his voice, and in the pounding of his heart, that he'd meant he couldn't see how we could even be friends anymore at that point.

"Chief," I asked, "what were you planning to do-if we hadn't offered the badge today, or had that brainstorming session?"

His eyes fell away and he shrugged. "At that point, I figured-I figured it was time to move on. With all that had happened, I couldn't see how I could even keep living here anymore without people wondering why you were putting up with me. Which would lead them back to wondering about the truths or untruths about my paper. And, well," he sighed. "I didn't honestly think you trusted me anymore. We need trust between us or this just can't work. I love you, man, but I can't help you if you don't trust me…and frankly, I couldn't keep taking the doubt and the shit that went with it."

"Were you going to talk to me first?" I asked curious, afraid I knew the answer.

"We hadn't been talking much, Jim," he admitted quietly, still studying the floor. "I didn't figure there'd be much point."

"I was afraid of that," I told him then, leaning forward, pinning him with my eyes. "Look at me, Sandburg, and listen up. No matter what ever comes down in the future, don't ever think I want you to leave or that it would be good for me if you left. If you ever do leave, leave for your own sake. Not for mine."

"I hear you," he said and smiled brightly.

"Can it, kid," I told him. "Remember, I know what that means. Don't ever take off without talking to me first, especially if you think you're doing me a favour. Give me a chance to give you my side, okay?"

"I can do that," he agreed with a candid look of promise. And then, looking around the loft, his face scrunched up thoughtfully.

"What now?" I asked him.

"Well, I was just thinking, we might need a bigger place…could get crowded when you get married and have lots of little sentinels."

I rolled my eyes and took another sip of beer, while he laughed at me. I thought how good that laughter sounded, and how long it had been since I'd heard it echoing in the loft.

'Little sentinels'. Right. Sentinels were quiet, well-ordered creatures. It was the little guides that would make all the noise and take up more space than they were allotted.

But, that was okay. Quiet and well ordered could also be lonely and boring. And besides, I'd discovered years ago that I liked the sound of the rollicking laughter of guides.

And I reflected that that could be the indicator that I needed to watch for. When my Guide stopped laughing, that was when I'd know we were in trouble and needed to do something about it.

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

The next morning when I woke up, Sandburg was already busy in the kitchen, preparing breakfast. Given that he wasn't inclined to be the first one up every morning, I figured he was anxious to hear my decision. Yawning, I stretched to loosen stiff muscles. I'd been up a good part of the night, staring out over my city, thinking about my choices and grappling with the decisions I knew I had to, even wanted to, make. Of course, my emotions, ever hesitant to commit to anything risky, had kept me awake long past the making of the decisions in question. When I headed downstairs, he looked up, reading me with a clarity no one else had ever mastered.

"You've decided," he said. "Care to share?" he asked as he poured me a cup of coffee and held it out.

I took a sip and then set down the mug to pull plates out of the cupboard, and glasses, then filled them with juice, taking them to the table. "Uh huh," I replied, waiting while he served up the eggs and moved to the table while I topped up his coffee and brought the toast.

When we were both seated, I told him, "It's a series of decisions, actually. First, we're going to sue the ass off Berkshire Publishing and Rainier."

"Uh, Jim," he began to protest, but I held up a hand.

"They deserve it," I told him. "Sid whathisname acted without authority, against your express wishes and continued to do so despite your repeated direction to him to stop. Rainier acted precipitously and without just cause when they terminated your teaching fellowship and your participation in the doctoral program."

"But I don't want…" he tried again to interject, but I cut him off.

"Don't worry. We'll settle for the opportunity to defend your other dissertation and whatever funds you need to pay off all debts from now until you retire. Remember," I added, aware that I wasn't really playing fair, but they owed him, "you told me you'd back me on my decisions."

He narrowed his eyes, not happy with the reminder. I guess he hadn't thought I'd go for that option. But, reluctantly, he nodded.

"Okay, next, you and I have to figure out how much we can say about my senses without giving away the whole game," I told him.

"Jim, you don't have to…" he objected, throwing up his hands and looking like he was really ready to argue this time.

"I know," I cut in. "But I'm tired, Chief. I'm tired of hiding and tired of being scared of being found out. I'm tired of what you have to do to cover for me. I just tired of it. I have to really accept these senses, accept they are part of who I am. It's time. Beyond time. You've shown me that. The guys showed me that yesterday. But I need your help to do it and maybe we can minimize the damage."

Sandburg studied me for a long moment, his eyes narrowed as he thought about what I'd said. It was really no more than he'd been telling me for years and we both knew we didn't have to give the whole game away. "You got it," he vowed in assurance of his support. "Whatever I can do to make this easy, I will."

I'd never doubted that for a minute, not after everything else he'd already done over the years. Finally, finally, I had 'got' the fact that I could trust him with my life-with my soul, if it came to that. But, when it came right down to it, it wasn't my life that I was worried about.

"And then, I think we want to go for the consultant option," I said thoughtfully. "But you have some say in that, you have to-it's your life. I just think that being a consultant would meet our needs without you having to go through all the stuff at the Academy."

"I wouldn't have to cut my hair," he grinned cheekily.

"No, and you could probably also take some classes at Rainier," I observed. "If you wanted to still do some teaching, that is. I'm sure whatever final arrangement we come to with them won't cause any hard feelings or close off that kind of opportunity."

His expression softened. "Thanks, Jim," he said then, taking the point that I really did want him to be happy, too. But then the cheeky look came back, "Just don't think that this means you can tell me to stay in the truck."

"Yeah, well, a man can dream," I muttered, not surprised that he'd seen right through me and knew very well why I preferred the consultant option. But, digging into the eggs, I couldn't resist a smirk when I heard him snicker.

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

Remember the good times that we had?

I let them slip away from us when times got bad.

How clearly I first saw you, smilin' in the sun.

Wanna feel your warmth upon me, I wanna be the one.

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

"Yes, sir," I murmured as I jotted down the notes as Captain Banks indicated all that he wanted to be sure was underway by the time he arrived later that morning. He shouldn't have been coming in at all. Injury recovery leave was usually spent at home. But I smiled, knowing it was in a good cause. I'd just have to make sure I got him to go home again before he overdid it and exhausted himself.

"Uh huh," I acknowledged, as he relayed that he'd spoken to Detective Ellison and that he and his partner, Blair Sandburg, would be in around the same time, ten a.m. give or take a few minutes. Detective Ellison was also on injury recovery leave. But then, as my glance drifted around the office, I noted that an injury hadn't stopped Inspector Megan Conner either, who had already arrived to clear her desk of reports that had languished there since she'd been shot ten days ago.

"Got it," I confirmed, jotting another note. "I'll see what I can arrange, sir." When it seemed he'd finished, I concluded the call. "All right, sir, I'll see you later this morning."

He wanted me to begin pulling all of Ellison's case files for the past more than three years, since the Switchman case. I looked at the pile of files that I'd retrieved from our own cabinets last night after getting the lowdown on the meeting in the conference from Rafe. The remainder of the outstanding files had been requisitioned from Records and would arrive by late afternoon. "Check," I grinned to myself.

Next, he'd wanted me to ensure that the detectives not on injury related leave, about half of our remaining strength, were finishing up reports on closed cases and generally getting their calendars cleared except for immediate cases. I happened to know that H, Rafe, Joel and even Megan worked late the night before and had all been in by seven a.m. this morning, busily at work doing just that. Since crime seemed to have taken a bit of a holiday, we were enjoying a brief respite from the usual havoc, so the current workload was down enough to let them get caught up. Captain Banks had also wanted to ensure that the conference room would be available to him all day. I'd already taken in a box of donuts and the coffee would go on fifteen minutes before he was due to arrive. "Check and check," I smiled.

Finally, he'd wanted me to arrange appointments with the Chief and the Commissioner as early as possible, later today or tomorrow. I sent messages to my two colleagues, Sherry and Linda, who had already cleared time in their bosses' schedules and were just awaiting confirmation of the times set for early and mid-afternoon. "And check," smirking as I hit the send button confirming the times.

The members of MCU weren't the only ones who hoped we'd find a way to keep Blair Sandburg around. Some of the old, hard-line cops who didn't know him well and were offended by his youth or his hair might not have cared much, but most of the administration staff who had worked with Blair on a regular basis as he took charge of the mundane matters of incident and case report compilation, forensic analysis requisitions, evidence inventory and the like, had come to appreciate him and we all wanted him back as soon as possible.

And most of us hadn't needed to see the headlines to know about Detective Ellison's enhanced senses.

Take his clothing for instance. Soft materials, washed in unscented soaps, showed he had to be careful of skin irritations. Or his hearing? Detective Ellison never missed anything that was said anywhere around him. What? Is it our fault the uniform and detective staff are too busy to pick up on the fact that he hears conversations from a floor away, telling Sandburg a report is ready in forensics when he's still in the evidence lockup, or gives Blair a heads up that witnesses are coming before they're off the elevator? He always notices new perfumes, and sneezes if they're too strong…so we've mostly stopped wearing artificial scent in the building. He doesn't like overly spicy or hot foods when lunches or dinners are catered to allow the team to work through breaks…foods that most of us would consider pretty mild. And he can read notes on a desk, like forensic findings, upside down from across the room. Better than half the time, it seems he knows what the results will be before the tests are even done.

Detective Ellison is an impatient man, and he gives himself away in little things everyday. You just have to be paying attention. And we had been, ever since a bunch of us had been taken hostage more than three years ago by Garrett Kincaid and his lot. We were grateful, to put it very mildly, that Detective Ellison and Captain Banks had saved our lives…and we wondered how they'd done it. Requisitions for doors blasted open, a new motorcycle and so on had to be processed by human hands. Our hands. Surveillance tapes, like of the two of them emerging from the manhole, and Ellison warning Banks that someone was coming on the other side of the closed door into the building before anyone could possibly know, had piqued our attention when we reviewed them for cataloguing.

So we'd watched, and listened to the usual rumour mill gossip of incidents out in the field. And figured out that the very pleasant and cute Blair Sandburg seemed to have something to do with the tall and attractive Detective Ellison hearing and seeing better-and covering for him with interesting obfuscations when anyone chanced to notice. We had a log going for our own amusement of all the different excuses Blair made. Currently, the one about how Ellison ate all those carrots and hence had great eyesight and the other one about how he'd worked in Covert Ops and either a) had picked up enhanced listening techniques or b) how to track perps through mazes of filthy alleys or rained out forested paths with ease, were tied for the 'most overused obfuscation award'. We'd also been keeping track of any tales of how Ellison seemed to freeze up for no reason until Sandburg touched him or spoke to him. We didn't quite know what that was until we'd read some of the newspaper stories about the so-called fraudulent dissertation a couple of weeks ago. 'Zones' they were officially called. We were just glad to know there hadn't been any gossip about such incidents for almost a year. They'd sounded dangerous.

So, they wanted to keep it a secret. Fine with us. It was our secret that we'd known for so long. But we hadn't been happy with Blair's press conference, or what too many of the uniformed officers, especially, had been saying about him afterward. We were pretty sure there hadn't been any lies in that paper, however illegally it had been quoted. I'd put copies of the references on copyright law, that Wendy had given me earlier this morning, on Jim's desk. When word of the team 'conference' yesterday afternoon and my subsequent request for time for the Captain with the Chief and the Commissioner had gotten around, Wendy had figured we might be ready to use the information.

I checked up on the status of the supply requisition for a new desk, chair, phone, computer and sundry other items. It took forever to get those things through the purchasing process, so I'd put it in originally a month ago. Well, Jim had said Blair was almost finished with his diss in a conversation with Joel around that time, so I figured Blair would need permanent office accommodation-he wouldn't be an unpaid observer once he got his doctorate. I wasn't sure of how the name plaque should read, though, so I'd requisitioned both. One that said 'Detective Blair Sandburg', and the other, Blair Sandburg, Consultant (name over title). I figured I could get the PhD added later at the engravers next door, as soon as it was confirmed. The way things were shaping up, I expected the Captain would want all the arrangements in place by the end of the week and would likely tell me so later today or tomorrow. It looked like I'd be able to meet that deadline. The purchasing order had gone out and delivery was expected within the next couple of days.

"Hey, Rhonda," Rafe called over. "Was that Captain Banks?"

"Yes," I confirmed. "He'll be in around ten, as we guesstimated, and he says Jim and Blair will arrive around the same time."

I finished up the grocery list I'd started during the call with Captain Banks and slipped it into my purse for reference when I hit the store after work.

It would be good to have Blair around full time. And maybe he'd get some rest if he didn't have to work at the university as well as play the part of unpaid observer here. We all worried that he never seemed to get enough sleep.

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

I gotta tell you, it's been one crazy week, man. While most of us have been sorting through files to summarize evidence acquisition and procedural process trails in case a bunch of appeals start coming in on Ellison's cases, Hairboy and Jim have been working with Simon to take on the big guns, like the Chief and the Commissioner inside the PD, and Berkshire Publishing and Rainier outside. Trust Sandburg to come up with a strategy that might leave us all clean. Must admit, I felt pretty good when he told us it was my idea, that we somehow make the whole Sentinel thing sound like it wasn't such an all-fired big deal, that got him thinking about how we might 'mitigate the circumstances' as he put it, with a little creative obfuscation.

Cap'n Banks looked a little singed around the edges when he got back from the first meetings with the Chief and the Commish a week ago. Guess they weren't too happy to find out they'd been outta the loop for the past three or more years. But-bottom line, how bad can it be to have a guy with super-senses on the Force? So, they dealt with the surprise and they kinda liked Hairboy's idea. Leaves them smelling like roses, if it works.

Weird stuff has been happenin' around the PD over the last few week. We keep hearin' about it in the gym and locker room downstairs. Seems a lotta guys are havin' a bitch of a time lately with the admin systems. Leave requests are getting lost, records are misplaced, shifts are getting screwed around, orders for take out meals are botched, reports're getting chewed up by the photocopier, or they are routinely assigned the lemons from the auto pool-irritating shit that's annoying as hell and takes hours sometimes to fix, but nothing really important, like evidence actually getting lost or forensic reports getting held up that might slow down an arrest.

The interesting thing is that all this sudden run of bad karma keeps happenin' to the same jerks. Like the universe finally decided to sit up an' bite 'em for their attitudes. What do I mean? Well, it just seemed odd to Rafe and me, when we thought about just who was havin' so much trouble lately, that it was the same guys havin' all the bad luck. It was weird, is all I'm sayin'.

But, hey, we're detectives, right? So we figured it couldn't really be all coincidence-detectives don't really believe in coincidences, ya know? Before long, we began to notice the common trends, like it's always admin or support systems that get screwed up around these twerps, like the whole PD processing infrastructure decided to get a hate on for them all at one time. And then we noticed that, aside from the troubles they were havin', that what they most had in common was the way they bitched about Sandburg behind his back or were nasty right to his face.

And we thought that was a very interesting commonality.

Rhonda overheard us talkin' about it yesterday, and she just sorta snickered, looked all pleased and shit. Well, we were on her like a dirty shirt, and told her to come clean, that we were onto her. Like that would impress Rhonda. She just laughed in our faces. Ah, she just shrugged and turned back to her computer, but she did give us this coy look as she told us how pleased she and some of her admin colleagues in the building were that Sandburg was still around an' it looked like MCU was tryin' to sort things out for him.

Oh, that's the other thing. While all those yo-yos are having so much trouble with systems and such, I must say MCU has never had things go so well. Everything we need or want from Evidence to Forensics, to Records, to Personnel, to the DA's office…well, it's like the skids are greased, man. Smooth sailing all the way.

Like I say, we're pretty good detectives. We've figured it out. Now all Rafe'n me are trying to decide is whether to clue in the idiots who're havin' such a hard time. Likely all they'd have to do is ease up on Sandburg and their lives would go back to normal.

But, it's kinda fun seein' those twerps suffer.

We figure we'll just sit back and enjoy the show for as long as it lasts. Cause it won't last long-once Sandburg gets wise to what's goin' on, he'll likely have Rhonda put out the word to lighten up on the fools. Hairboy's so damned fair, he figures they got reason to be down on him. Take yesterday, for example. Sometimes, I swear that kid is either a saint or has the patience of Job. Whatever. We were all coming in the front entrance, headed toward the elevators, when Ellison must've heard something that really ticked him off. I mean, he was ready to do someone some serious damage. I think it was Jenkins, personally. The guy has spent near thirty years in uniform, failing every promotion board that comes along, and he still figures he's brilliant. Go figure. Anyway, Jenkins was laughin' it up with some of his buddies, and it's my bet the laughs were at Sandburg and Ellison's expense.

Jim, well, he all of a sudden spins around, and I swear, he was growling. Man, you do NOT want to get in his face when he's THAT mad. But Hairboy just planted himself right in front of him, like a terrier barking up at a bull mastiff. I gotta give the kid credit. He does not do 'intimidated', not by Ellison, not by anyone. And he's the only one besides Simon that can get Jim to back down when he's really mad.

"Let it go, Jim," he said sharply though he kept his voice low. He'd put his hands up, like if he had to, he was ready to push Ellison back and away from the twerps.

"I'm tired of hearing crap, Sandburg," Ellison snarled, his eyes flashing dark, but he stopped movin' toward the idiots in question.

"They don't know any better," Hairboy snapped back. "Dammit, Jim," he said, "they don't even know me. All they know is what they read in the papers or see on TV. If some of the people who know me best believe I let them down, how the hell do you expect those guys to see it any different? You know, like my colleagues at Rainier, for example. I've worked with them for years and they believed the worst with no trouble at all. Now, that hurts, man. Who cares what those bozos over there think?" He shouldered Jim to move him back to the elevator and just kept on a'talkin', not really noticing the look on Ellison's face. "Who can really blame these guys if they think I'm some kind of a liar and fraud? Hell, they're just quoting me!"

But Jim, he looked like he'd just taken a roundhouse punch to the jaw. Hairboy didn't mean nothin' personal by his comments, I'm sure. All the same, nobody knows Sandburg as well as Ellison does, and he sure figured the kid had sold him out, at least at first. An' the kid's only been quoted as sayin' he was some kind of liar and fraud because he'd been keeping Jim's secret. Ellison threw a look back over his shoulder at Jenkins and his crowd, and he looked kinda sick. Maybe it's finally comin' home to him just how bad he likely hurt the kid with his doubts, and just how ugly those doubts were.

Anyway, I heard that the uniforms Jenkins sent through the departmental laundry service and was expectin' back that afternoon all somehow got lost. Word is, he's still tryin' to track 'em down. Damned shame for a bothersome inconvenience like that to happen to such a sterling member of our Force. Likely cost him a bundle to replace 'em short term so's he's got something to wear the next time the car he's using from the motor pool breaks down an' he's stranded in the rain, like he was the day before yesterday. Havin' a run of bad luck is Officer Jenkins. Yep, it's a damned shame.

Rafe just gave me an odd look, wondering why I'm snickering away to myself, I expect. Ah well, the fun'll likely be over soon as the press conference is done; leastwise, I don't expect that the resentment will be so public, no more, anyway. Those dumbasses can get away with their nastiness when nobody knows what's goin' down or why Sandburg's still workin' with us, but after today, well, if they still don't like the kid, they'll have to pretty much keep it to themselves or they really will look like the fools they are. An' I must say, some of us will be at lot less tolerant of the attitude.

Speakin' o' which, I guess it's time we headed down to the media briefing room. It's Showtime!

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

"Hey, Don, you have any idea what this is all about?"

I looked around to answer one of my print colleagues, Angie Nash, and shrugged. "Just got the media advisory like you did. So far as I know, there's nothing big going on. Crime's been slow since they took down the Iceman."

We shuffled to the front of the briefing room, exchanging chitchat, trying to suss out if anybody had any big stories in the works-like any of us would ever give anything away if we did-but it was a game and it passed the time until the room gradually filled and the hour arrived for whatever it was the Cascade Chief of Police was going to share with us on this rainy day.

But, I have to say, I didn't expect to see the whole Major Crimes team follow the Chief into the room…and they had that Sandburg kid with them. That was odd. I'd heard the kid was still hanging around with the cops but hadn't given the rumours much credence. Frankly, I was surprised the ever-impatient Ellison hadn't done the academic ride-along some serious damage given the hassle over the fraudulent dissertation a few weeks ago.

After checking to make sure my camera guy, Sam, had the film running, I settled back to hear what the Chief had to say.

"Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, thank you for being here this afternoon," Chief Barrows began. "No doubt you're wondering why I wanted to speak with you today. Well, a few weeks ago, you were all involved in an unusual situation that required extraordinary measures. I would have liked to sort it out before now, but Captain Banks prevailed upon me to wait until he and members of his team could recover from wounds suffered at the hands of Klaus Zeller, known in some circles as the Iceman. As this briefing progresses, I'm certain his reasons for wanting to be present will become clear to you."

Looking at my watch, I wondered if he was ever going to get to the point. Amazing how many words could be used to say absolutely nothing. Oh, hold on, what's that about Sandburg?

"Given that Mr. Sandburg performed a significant service to the Cascade Police Department to end what can only be described as an unfortunate confusion of facts, I've asked him to share the truth of the infamous Sentinel paper with you today. Mr. Sandburg…"

Well, this should be a little more interesting. Have to say, the kid looks better than he did a couple of weeks ago on the national network.

"Thank you, ah, Chief Barrows," Sandburg started, clearing his throat and looking at his little cue cards. Seems the kid gets nervous when confronted by the bright lights of media cameras.

"A few weeks ago, I announced that my paper, The Sentinel, was a fraud and, looking back, a good piece of fiction. Well, how good a piece of fiction it was is certainly debatable, given that it was mistaken as a serious academic dissertation." Looking up, he grinned a little, as he noted in an aside, "I hadn't been going for the dry as dust academic tone, so I guess it wasn't really very good fiction after all." He won a few chuckles and grinned a little brighter, then sobered as he returned to his formal speech. "The truth is, my mother inadvertently thought The Sentinel paper was my formal dissertation document. Since I've been attending Rainier University for something like a dozen years now, she was understandably hoping my PhD might be just over the horizon and decided to help the process along by sending the document to a friend of hers for a little critical feedback. The thing is, my real dissertation paper is called, 'Lives on the Line: An Examination of the Law Enforcement Subculture in Modern Society'."

He looked up again, shrugged diffidently and muttered, "Well, I guess that sounds more like an academic study, doesn't it? Anyway, things got out of hand from there. Based on what my mother told him, Mr. Sid Graham of Berkshire Publishing thought the Sentinel paper was factual, and got pretty excited about it. I tried to tell him it was never meant to be published, but he must've thought I was being humble or something. The next thing I knew, he'd released sensationalized 'excerpts' in the hopes of building interest in what he assumed was an academic paper that would soon be published."

Sandburg leafed through some documents he'd carried to the podium and waved a couple of sheets of paper in the air. "I have here, and there are more copies available if any of you want one, a statement given to the media in New York by Berkshire Publishing this morning. And, I quote, 'Berkshire Publishing deeply regrets having misconstrued the document entitled 'The Sentinel' by Blair Sandburg as a formal research document that was academically sound. We hereby acknowledge that the author, Blair Sandburg, never released the manuscript to us and indeed, demanded that our copy either be destroyed or returned to him. He repeatedly declined offers for the publication rights, insisting it was not what we believed it to be. It is unfortunate that we did not heed his direction. As a result of our inopportune action in promulgating some excerpts from the manuscript, albeit to generate publicity and consumer interest, we have brought considerable embarrassment to Mr. Sandburg and his colleagues in the Cascade Police Department, not to mention ourselves at Berkshire Publishing. We officially apologize to Mr. Sandburg for our involvement in this unfortunate situation."

So, they're now trying to suggest the paper was fiction all along? Why bother and who the hell really cares anyway? Why do I think we're getting a snow job here? Still, an official and public apology is rare and the kid must've had them by the short hairs. Wonder what kind of settlement he got in addition to the apology in lieu of a formal lawsuit for misrepresentation and violation of author's rights?

Clearing his throat once more, perhaps sensing the incredulity of his audience, Sandburg carried on, "This might have been a small and easily addressed situation, but for the fact that the confusion resulted in the impairment of Detective Ellison's capacity as a law enforcement officer at a critical time. The media excitement about the Sentinel paper compromised Detective Ellison's ability to capture Klaus Zeller before he assaulted and nearly killed several people. It became clear to me that something had to end the craziness and the confusion before someone actually did get killed. So-I 'created' another news story around the paper and I apologize to all of you now for having misled you into believing the work was a deliberate fraud. But, that was more newsworthy than simply saying my mother sent the wrong paper to her friend, Sid."

Well, this sounded unlikely in the extreme. And I have a limited tolerance for bullshit. "So, you're now telling us that you wrote a poor example of fiction, but you used Detective James Ellison's real name. I find that an extraordinary story, Mr. Sandburg-and not quite credible," I told him, breaking into his speech.

He sighed and nodded. "I can understand your disbelief, Mr. Haas," he replied. Blushing a little, he swallowed and admitted, "During my work at Rainier, I have pursued the legends of tribal watchmen or sentinels; it's a kind of personal obsession, I guess. My Masters thesis was on the subject of enhanced sensory perception as it relates to mythical roles and current realities. The mythical watchman or sentinel was responsible for the safety and security of the tribe. In our modern day world, people with enhanced sensory perception end up working for perfume companies or wine or coffee companies-necessary roles, certainly, but not very heroic. But, when I began working with the Cascade Police Department as fieldwork for my thesis on the law enforcement sub-culture, I noticed that a lot of cops, er, law enforcement officers, have much better than average abilities to see and hear and smell than the rest of us. In part, I guess it's required for the nature of their work, and in part, the training they receive enhances their natural abilities. But, I started thinking how neat it would be to have a modern day sentinel working with the police department, and how that would be a natural outgrowth of the ancient, mythical, tribal roles. Anyway, as a form of mental relaxation, I started writing this whimsical account of how such senses could be used in police work. I imagined the kinds of tests I'd use to benchmark the abilities in question and then dreamed up ways in which those abilities would be an asset in the field. Like on stakeouts for example, or tracking a suspect in the dark. I mean, a real sentinel would be like some kind of human crime lab, right? But, I gotta tell you, I feel like ten times a fool to have had my obsessive notions about the possibilities of sentinels in modern society made public for the whole country to see. I also very much regret that I caused considerable inconvenience and embarrassment to Detective Ellison. For a while, I didn't think he'd ever speak to me again because he had no idea of what this paper said, or that it had been sent improperly to Berkshire Publishing. He was completely blindsided by the media, and I'm really sorry about that."

"Uh huh," I grunted skeptically, looking from him to Ellison. "Why did you use Detective Ellison's name if it was all fiction in the first place?" Ellison was doing his well-honed impersonation of a stone-nothing there to determine what he thought or felt about the whole business.

Again Sandburg blushed, even more deeply and looked about sixteen years old as he took a deep breath and lifted his head, for all the world like a kid about to face the most embarrassing moment he could ever imagine. I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

"Well, you see, in the last three years, I've been riding around with Detective Ellison while I did my research. And, um, I have to admit, I didn't expect to be particularly impressed with the pi-, er, police. But, you know, you'll likely think me naïve, but these men and women really do put their lives on the line everyday. They really do care about keeping us safe, at whatever risk to themselves. And it's hard, after a while, after seeing that it's not just a sometimes thing but an every day commitment, not to really admire them, all of them. But, I, ah, especially came to admire Detective Ellison, and I have tremendous respect for him, for what he stands for. I think you probably know he's been named 'Cop of the Year' more than once?" When I nodded, he went on, "Yeah, well, anyway, it struck me that he embodies what I always thought a sentinel would be. He does have better vision, hearing and olfactory senses than I do, than most average people do, but so do most police officers, as I've already noted."

Sandburg hesitated as he set down his cue cards and cast a quick, sidelong look at Ellison, before continuing more softly, as if he was sharing a secret with us. "I guess the truth is, Detective Ellison is a kind of hero to me and well, when I began to imagine what a modern day sentinel would be like, I figured a sentinel would be like him. I mean, he is like totally committed to the safety and security of this community and everyone who lives in it. It's really the only thing that truly matters to him. I've seen him risk his life so many times to save other people or to apprehend dangerous criminals-I gotta tell you, it's a little mind-blowing to see that on a regular basis. That's a really awesome commitment, man. Really awesome. He's exactly how I always imagined a sentinel would be. Anyway, the paper is all about my personal passion and speculation, you know? And when I wrote it, it just seemed, I don't know, natural to me to use his name-I mean, it wasn't like anyone was ever going to see it, right? It's as simple as that, and I really feel bad about it-and pretty dumb, now that the whole world knows. I mean, most of us don't have our hero worship plastered all over national TV, you know?"

"Did any of your colleagues know you were writing this little bit of fiction before it was released by Berkshire Publishing?" I demanded, seriously wondering if anyone could be quite this innocently ingenuous. The kid looked like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, all wide-eyed and sincere. Sure the story hung together, and sure Ellison was a fine and upstanding example of the perfect cop, but Sandburg was almost too credible. Still-if he was snowing us, it was a performance worthy of an Academy award…and I'm not talking about the police college, if you get my drift.

"Um, yeah, actually. After I was drowned about six months ago, I went through a period of, ah, brain dysfunction. While I was in the hospital, some of our friends were helping sort things out at the loft. I, um, rent a room from Detective Ellison. He offered it to me when the place I was in burned down and I was pretty much homeless. I'm grateful to him for that for all sorts of reasons, and it sure helped with my formal research to be able to ask him questions and follow up on stuff when we were off duty. Anyway, yeah, some of them found my journals where I wrote this stuff down. They teased me pretty bad, and Detective Ellison as well, I regret to say, when the story actually got written up as if it were real. The other members of the Major Crimes Unit are here today specifically to answer those kinds of questions, if you want, later."

"I see," I muttered, frowning as I chewed my lip. I'd forgotten about the kid drowning a few months back-the story had been played down at the time by the cops. And this was the first I'd heard about any 'brain dysfunction'. I felt itchy and I just knew there was a story in here somewhere, and not the one he was dishing out to us. But, the cops from MCU all nodded and grinned a little as he told us about finding his notes and that they were there to confirm his story. Looked like they got a kick out of razzing him about it and the kid sure looked mortified by it all. They say truth is stranger than fiction but…before I could ask another question, he went back to his notes.

"The thing is, I am a serious anthropologist-I've dedicated almost half my life to the study of human societies and how they work-and I have written a real dissertation about the Law Enforcement community here in Cascade. Rainier University, once they had the facts about what had happened, reinstated me and I'll be defending my legitimate dissertation next week-I hope to receive my PhD shortly thereafter. I want to be taken seriously, as someone who can make a substantial contribution when I do receive my doctorate and that would have been impossible without clearing the air about what really happened and giving the full story about the whole Sentinel paper fiasco. I couldn't do the job I most want to do if everyone still believed that I'm really a liar and a fraud. That's why we're having this press conference today. My academic and personal reputation were pretty much trashed by my press conference a few weeks ago, but it was urgently necessary to end the media speculation about Detective Ellison and the interference with his duties to clear the way for the apprehension of Klaus Zeller."

Sandburg glanced over at Barrows as he said, "As the Chief said, it would have been nice to clear up the facts of the matter sooner, I guess, but I'm grateful to the PD for ensuring the truth finally does come to light. Well, actually, I'm grateful to the PD for a lot of things, not least of which was the opportunity to ride along for the three years it took for me to finish the research for my dissertation." He shrugged as he said, "As for the Sentinel paper, I think most of you can appreciate that nobody ever writes two fully documented PhD dissertations-I mean, why would anyone do that? My real doctoral thesis will be available for access as soon as it is defended next week so you'll be able to see what I've learned from the work I've been doing with the PD over the past three years. I'm hoping my observations and insights will give something back to the Cascade Police Department for all that they have given me."

"So, you're saying that Detective Ellison is not a sentinel and that your paper was never intended for submission as a doctoral thesis?" I pushed. This was all too weird. What did any of us care about an obscure grad student who was about to get his PhD? What were we really doing here today?

"I'm saying that sentinels are mythological beings which occur in all of our cultural traditions, and it was those references I noted in my account to give the aura of credibility, kinda like Michael Crichton uses scientific references in his thrillers. I am also saying that, for me, James Ellison embodies the principles of what sentinels were about, which is why I chose him as the 'hero' of my whimsical musings. I am further saying that he, and others on the Force, have better than average sensory perception as a basic competency for the work they do. However, the paper, The Sentinel, was written for my own gratification and is definitely not the document that is required as a serious academic piece of research and analysis in support of my PhD. I am also saying that as far-fetched as my Sentinel paper was, it was further sensationalized by Berkshire Publishing. Isn't that what fiction is? An extrapolation of the possible to create a dramatic scenario for one's own amusement and perhaps the entertainment, even the edification, of others? That's all I was doing. And, I've suffered considerable embarrassment, as has Detective Ellison, because the document was misconstrued. I'm sorry, more than sorry, for the mess that happened inadvertently because of my personal musings about what a modern day sentinel might be like and a mother's desire to help her son achieve his dreams."

"Well, it's nice to get the facts and to know your life is back on track, but it's hardly newsworthy and frankly, this has pretty much been a waste of our time," I replied caustically, getting ready to leave. God, academics-they could go on forever to clarify minutiae when a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer would suffice nicely, thank you very much.

Before I could tell Sam we were out of there, the Chief moved to reclaim the podium to tell us with glacial formality, "I regret you consider this briefing a waste of your time, Mr. Haas, as some of your colleagues might as well. However, a law enforcement community has a responsibility to ensure its members are credible. Since Mr. Sandburg has accepted to join the Cascade Police Department as a forensic anthropologist based upon his work with us as an unpaid observer, and the paper he has written for his doctoral dissertation, it was important to us that we make it crystal clear that Mr. Sandburg is neither a liar nor a fraud, but that he acted in the interests of the security of this community to allow Detective Ellison and his colleagues to get on with their jobs."

"What's a forensic anthropologist?" Angie called out, while I bit my lip and considered this unexpected piece of news. So, this was why the kid was stripping his soul bare? It was necessary for the job offer with the police department. Well, I guess that made some sense of it all.

"A professional, accredited anthropologist who advises police officials about the social and cultural dynamics that can impact upon crime. For example, this might involve a different perspective on the dynamics of gang behaviours and predictable responses to aggression, or analyzing the motivations underlying a particular crime, such as serial killers driven by certain beliefs or rituals. Several major cities in the United States have begun employing forensic anthropologists and given the value of Mr. Sandburg's assistance and insights over the past several years, we have been persuaded that he would be an asset to our Force. He will be formally assuming his new position in the Major Crimes Unit next week. Since this is a new venture for our police department and directly involves his area of responsibility, Captain Simon Banks wanted to be present for the announcement in the event that you have questions for him about the role Mr. Sandburg will be playing."

And, yeah, Banks sure looked pleased as punch to have this new capacity in his unit. Not likely he'd look that happy about having a total flake suffering from some kind of 'brain dysfunction' working for him. Have to admit, I've tried my hand at writing some fiction, and I wouldn't be all that happy about the world seeing it. Looked like the kid was just human and got caught with his imagination showing. Wonder how things are between him and his mother…she sure almost fucked up his life, even if she didn't mean to do anything more than help.

Well, at least it was finally clear why we'd all been assembled. If we'd been confronted with Sandburg in the course of his new duties without the explanation of the background of the Sentinel brouhaha, we'd've made mincemeat of the PD, and then've had to eat our own words. Not a pleasant meal. They'd actually done us a favour in sharing all this-kept us all from looking like fools in the future. Unusual, perhaps, for the cop shop to bother, but this media briefing would also prevent any future unpleasantness for them, as well, around Sandburg's employment.

I didn't really pay attention to the other questions. I had the story, such as it was, that I'd go with once Sandburg's real paper was released: the story of a man who got an inside look at the cop community and came to affiliate so strongly with it that he redefined his own heroes and risked his professional life to ensure those heroes could get on with their jobs. Not as cynical, maybe, as what I usually write, but I had to give the kid points for personal courage, both at the original press conference and now. Not everyone is prepared to make himself look a fool once, let alone twice, for what he believes in, let alone to be credible in the job he evidently wanted to do.

It was all about integrity, a commodity that seems increasingly hard to find in our jaded world.

It would make a good story.

The cynic in me wonders, really wonders, though, if we're still getting the straight goods. Sandburg seems just a trifle too ingenuous to be real. The problem is, I can't think of any way to find out for sure, not today anyway. Ah, what the hell, the whole Sentinel thing was, how did the kid put it? Yeah, 'far-fetched', to begin with. Well, that's an understatement. And he's right, nobody has the time to work up two doctoral research papers-and nobody would bother.

Still-I can't help wondering…

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

Things seemed to settle down after the press conference. The mumbles and smartass remarks toward Sandburg muted considerably except for the jackasses who'd never liked him. According to H, Jenkins still hasn't tracked down his uniforms and now the new ones have gotten misplaced as well. Sandburg hasn't gotten wise to the support from the admin staff and we sure ain't going to tell him! And, even Jenkins and his sorry lot keep their mouths closed around us. We don't take it kindly when a member of our team is badmouthed or given a hard time.

Blair defended his dissertation and two weeks later was quietly presented with his PhD. He'd already established himself at the new desk and computer that Rhonda had gotten all set up for him before he came in for work that first 'official day'. Man, the look on his face. Like someone had just given him the moon. If anyone had any doubts about this bein' where the kid wanted to be, well, he just glowed when he saw that nameplate and his own computer. No more perching on the end of Ellison's desk. I guess we were all a little surprised at how much it seemed to mean to him.

Normally, when someone achieves something big, like getting a PhD, somebody throws them a party. But Sandburg didn't clue us in to when he was going to get it, just set the party up himself, using the regular poker night as a blind. Megan and Rhonda don't usually come for the poker games, but Blair had persuaded them to show up that night. Said it was the first game at the loft since he'd been put on salary and he really wanted the whole team there-so how could they refuse? Only he didn't tell us guys, so we didn't get a hint that anything was up. He'd even wangled with Rhonda to have Jim delayed at work, so Ellison would arrive with the rest of us. When we got to the loft, Blair had champagne on ice, platters of fancy little munchies and bound copies of his dissertation to give us each our own copy. He also had a gift for each of us, nothin' big, but symbolic. He'd chosen little animal carvings that he thought represented each of us as individuals.

Took us all by surprise, he did. But then, that kid has been surprising us since the first day he showed up and brought down a chopper by claiming he flew Apaches in Desert Storm. He looked a little flushed with excitement, and surprisingly, kinda shy when we arrived and realized something unusual was going on.

As soon as everyone was there, he told us, "This, um, is going to be a little different tonight, and I hope you don't mind. But, well-I was officially awarded my PhD today and I wanted to celebrate that with all of you."

Well, we broke into cheers and slapped him on the back. Megan and Rhonda both took advantage of the situation to hug and kiss him, and he was just a'beaming. Once things had settled down some, he opened the champagne and poured out the glasses, while Ellison helped him hand them around.

Once we were all ready, he made the toast, "I owe today to all of you, and I'll never be able to thank you enough for all that you have given me. I wouldn't even be alive today without the people in this room. I wouldn't have the job I most want in this life and I sure wouldn't have this PhD. It's been forty-two months, one week and three days since Simon approved my observer pass and agreed to let me ride around with Jim. I know most of you had to wonder what, to quote my partner, a 'neo-hippy witchdoctor punk' was doing in the Major Crimes Unit. But you all made me welcome, those of you who were there from the first day, and those of you who have come since. You have all taught me so very much and made the dissertation possible. You made me a part of your team and, honestly, I think of all of you as family. So, to the men and women of Major Crimes-thank you from the bottom of my heart."

He saluted us and we saluted him back. Before anyone could get a word in edgewise, well, this was Sandburg after all, he'd moved to the next item on his agenda. "Um, I don't want to get too sappy, 'cause I know how much all you he-men hate that, but I really want to give each of you a little something to show my gratitude to all of you and, I guess, as a memory of today. So, uh, bear with me, okay?" Beside him on the dining room table was a stack of bound books and little wooden animals. One by one, he picked them up, told us what they meant and gave us each our animal fetish and a copy of the book.

"Rhonda," he said as he lifted a little squirrel, "you make keeping our office humming seem easy, but I've worked in enough offices to know it's not. The squirrel, though a humble creature, represents the ability to solve puzzles, resourcefulness, the ability to quickly change direction and storing for the future. Now, maybe it's just me, but you always seem to be at least two steps ahead of us in knowing what we need or what is going on in the office. This animal also represents balance in giving and receiving, the one who gives warning and the one who makes discoveries. Um, I've heard about the pool you guys have got going-you 'discovered' Jim was a sentinel just about the same time that I first met him." It was the first the rest of us had heard of any such 'pool' and Rhonda was blushing-definitely an unusual sight. We'd all be following up to find out what all that was about!

But, Blair hadn't quite finished and carried on over the shouts for more information, then and there. Grinning he said, "Finally, the squirrel is adept at change and smart enough to avoid danger by taking to higher ground. You always take the high road, Rhonda and you adapt to what we need, to what comes at us with never a blink of hesitation or a mumble of protest. You just get on with it. Rhonda, you are the most quietly and amazingly efficient person I've ever known in my life and we are lucky that you are on our team."

As he handed her the carving, he added a little diffidently, "Oh, and, uh, maybe, it's time to let Officer Jenkins get his uniforms back?" When everyone looked astonished that he'd known anything about what was going on, he laughed at the expressions on our faces. But then he sobered as he said quite seriously, "Hey, I appreciate the support and, well, he's a jerk. But since he doesn't seem capable of learning, maybe being an idiot isn't really his fault. The bottom line for me is, you and your cohorts have been absolutely great and your support makes jerks like him irrelevant. Thank you."

"Megan," he grinned as he picked up something that looked like a small dog, "of all the redheads I've encountered in the last several years, you are hands-down my favourite. I gotta say, you blew in like a cyclone from the South Seas." We all laughed at that, both at the redhead comment, that had Jim looking chagrined and at the memory of Megan's arrival at the airport. Simon just shook his head as he recalled what had happened to his brand new car.

Once we'd settled down, Blair looked down at the carving in his hands, as he continued, "Now, I know this little critter doesn't always get good press, but the dingo represents a reborn human soul and that's a bit of what you did, giving up all you had to come here to a new land to work amongst strangers. The dingo also signifies a correct use of intuition, the willingness to follow through, hunting and tracking skills-you followed your quarry half way around the earth to work with us to finally bring him down. Finally, the much-maligned dingo symbolizes the ability to find warmth in cold situations, companionship, loyalty and protection as well as being the representative of one who finds the truth and also understands silence. You've brought the warmth of the South Pacific to Cascade-and you were the one who found my journals and realized first what they meant. Megan, I love working with you and I'm grateful for your friendship. Personally, I hope your assignment here never ends."

Megan blushed and looked pleased and, surprisingly, a bit shy, as she took the carving of the dingo from him and hugged him fiercely before accepting a copy of the book. Endlessly curious, she immediately opened it and, later, she showed me what he had written in the personal inscription. 'Megan, you are the sister I never had but always wanted. Love, Blair.' Well, damn if she didn't get all misty-eyed and had to bite her lip as she looked up at him and just nodded before she smiled brightly as she said, "Thanks, mate. Right back at you."

"Rafe," Blair called out as he waved Brian forward, while he picked up a fox. "You don't throw around a lot of words, but what you say always makes a lot of sense, and you sure bring MCU a touch of class! The fox stands for shape shifting, camouflage, and invisibility and frankly, I think you count on folks seeing the clothes and overlooking the man. The fox also represents observational skills, ability to observe unseen, stealth, cunning-all of which you employ while people are distracted by the cut of your suit and everyday in your work on the job. In the time I've worked with you, I've also seen the other fox traits of courage, cleverness, persistence, swiftness and, finally, gentleness. Brian," he added quietly, "you were one of the people who wouldn't let me slip away when I was in that coma a few months ago. I gotta tell you, man, I really owe you big time for that because I'm sure glad I'm still here. Thank you."

They shook hands as Sandburg handed Rafe his souvenirs of this extraordinary evening.

"H, my man," Blair drawled then as he chose the next little animal from the table. "You have assumed the role of our team clown, keeping us all laughing, helping us to keep perspective. But a clown's face hides an astute, sensitive and often courageous soul, one that doesn't ever miss a damned thing. I want you to know, that it's only for you that I won't ever cut my hair."

Everyone broke up at that and H grabbed Blair in a huge bear hug as he mocked, "Ah, shucks, Hairboy. That's ever so kind!"

Grinning, Blair went on to explain the fetish he held in his hands. "The lion stands for brotherhood and strong family ties and you really value the sense of team and community that we have in MCU-you're the one who organizes the poker games and the nights out to give us the chance to get to know one another as people, not just as colleagues. I mentioned that you make us laugh; well, the lion is the symbol for letting go of stress, something you help us all do when you cut up down at the PD. But the lion also stands for strength, courage, and energy-all of which you have in abundance. And finally, the lion stands for self-fulfillment. I'll never forget that you were the one who started us down the road of really considering the options for how we might pick up the pieces of my life after the dissertation fiasco. You did that so that I'd find a role that would work for me as well as support Jim-so that I would have self-fulfillment. And, like Rafe, you sat with me and kept me anchored to this world that I might even have a life; for that there can never be thanks enough. You tell it like it is, man, and I'm really grateful that you do."

H was oddly quiet as he accepted the lion and the copy of the dissertation, called, 'Lives on the Line'. He shook Blair's hand solemnly and simply said, "I'm glad you stuck around, Hairboy-real glad."

"Joel," Blair called out then, but he seemed to have to pause a moment as he turned to pick up the animal he'd selected for me, and I could've sworn he was a little choked up. He sniffed as he looked me in the eyes-and I saw the tears glazing his own. Which meant I needed to huff a good-sized breath myself. He looked like he was going to speak but couldn't seem to get the words out, so he just moved forward and hugged me, hard.

Sniffing again as he pulled away, he swiped at his eyes, and his voice was cracking with emotion as he said, "The horse represents power, stamina, endurance, faithfulness and, man, you are all of that; but more, you don't try to control other people but to understand them and include them. The horse understands the need of freedom to run free and is real good at interspecies communication-I think mixing me in with cops is a pretty good example of 'interspecies communication' and you've always tried to help me find my way. The horse symbolizes control of the environment, which was what you had to ensure for so many years in the bomb squad, but this animal spirit also represents the awareness of power achieved with true cooperation. You are the heart of our team, bringing us all together to work cooperatively and not competitively. The horse is not afraid to change but symbolizes the capacity to expand one's own potential abilities, which you did when you joined our team. Finally, the horse is the embodiment of friendship, the guardian of travelers, who warns of possible danger and is the guide to overcoming obstacles."

Blair paused a moment and then looked me in the eye as he continued, "This is definitely who you are to me, man. You are my rock-solid, brave, dependable and always, always there when I need you. I would have died, Joel, I'm sure of it, if you hadn't made me want to stay. You really are the heart and soul of this team, the man who always knows when someone is hurting or needs a little extra support from time to time. And you've shown us all that a man can overcome anything he chooses when he has the will, the courage and the heart. I love you, man."

I took the finely carved horse and the book and then I just had to hug him again. "I'm so proud of you, son," I murmured as I pulled away. As I moved back to my place in the circle, I emulated Megan in opening up the cover to read the inside page. He'd apparently written a personal inscription in each of our books, and mine read, 'Joel, If I could choose my father, I would choose you. Love, Blair.' Well, I gotta say, I nearly lost it then and there. I looked up to see that he was watching me and that he realized I'd read the words he'd written. I nodded at him and said quietly, "Thank you, son."

I think it was the look on my face, as much as the words I'd just said, that let him know how much I'd love being his Dad and he smiled one of those blazing, unrestrained bursts of joy that just light up the world around him. God, I thought, whoever this man's father is, you have denied him such a wondrous gift in this life by never letting him know this son. But I'm glad to stand in his place-because I think this is one great man and he honours me with his love.

"Simon, uh, I mean, Captain Banks, sir," Blair called out then with a straight face he couldn't sustain, and ended up snickering at Simon's mock glare before he continued soberly. "You made it all possible, Simon. You put up with my brash behaviour and gave me a chance to belong. I know that sometimes I get, uh, overly excited, shall we say? And way too often, I'm afraid I don't show you the profound respect I feel for you."

Everyone laughed when Simon murmured wryly, "Well, that's certainly true."

Holding up the eagle that was perched on a promontory of rock, Blair continued, "The eagle symbolizes swiftness, strength, courage, wisdom, keen sight, the ability to see hidden spiritual truths and the 'big picture', respect for the boundaries of the regions and a connection with higher truths-now, doesn't that sound like our Captain Banks," he asked, holding out his hands for our concurrence and we all cheered enthusiastically. Simon beamed at all of us and looked well pleased.

But Sandburg wasn't finished and turned back to Simon to continue, "The eagle also has the capacity to rise above the material to see the spiritual, an ability to see the overall pattern, and illuminate the spirit-the eagle promotes healing, aids creation, has a connection to spirit guides and teachers, and has a knowledge of magic. Simon, you were the first to know about Jim's abilities and to make room for them, to accept and safeguard them and him, and to make room for me so that I could help him. However much you always protested your discomfort with the whole thing, you helped immeasurably by giving him time to find his way as a sentinel; and without your support and leadership, I sure wouldn't have the job I have today." I glanced over at Jim and saw him nodding thoughtfully in agreement as he put a quiet hand on Simon's shoulder.

"Finally," Blair went on, "the eagle represents an intuitive and creative spirit who wields great power but also acts with balance, dignity and with grace that is achieved through knowledge and hard work."

As he held out the carving, Blair said quietly, "You are a great man, Simon Banks, and I am proud to know you and to be a member of your team. I know I only have my job today because you went to bat for me. I consider it an honour and a privilege that you call me 'friend'."

"Thank you, Dr. Sandburg," Simon rumbled, emphasizing Blair's new honorific respectfully, as he accepted the token and shook Sandburg's hand-but Blair moved forward to hug him and for once, Simon hugged him right back and didn't push him away in embarrassment. "For the record, I'm very glad to have you on my team," he said just before he let Sandburg go and stepped back.

When Simon opened the cover of his book, I was close enough to peer over his shoulder to read, 'Simon, I can only hope to be a lot like you when I finally grow up. With profound respect and affection, Blair.'

"And, Jim," Blair said, turning toward Ellison. "Well, man, you're the reason for all the rest, all the good things that have happened in my life in the last forty-two months, one week and three days. All the magic. I would definitely be dead if not for you and everyone here knows that. You let me into your life and you've become my best friend; you gave me a roof over my head, and covered me more times than I can count when I've been short. You guard my life with your own."

Jim was looking distinctly embarrassed as Blair picked up the last animal carving on the table. He gazed at the carving while he spoke, and I think he did that deliberately, to take our eyes off Jim and allow Ellison time to get his emotions back under control.

"The black jaguar," he said then, "represents the ability to see the roads within chaos, to understand the patterns of chaos, to move without fear in the darkness and in unknown places-and isn't that what you do everyday? The jaguar also represents the ability to have psychic sight, your visions, and is a shape-shifter, like when your spirit guide shifts from being a jaguar to being you. The jaguar facilitates soul work and empowerment. The jaguar is closely related to the Black Panther, which is about reclaiming one's power and represents astral travel, which I think is maybe what you do in your visions. And finally, these animals represent an understanding of death and rebirth, and I guess I don't have to explain why I think that's so appropriate."

Handing the carving to Ellison, Blair continued, "You are my best friend and my partner, the brother I never had. The luckiest day of my life was the day I met you. I have to tell you, man, I wasn't just scamming Haas a couple of weeks ago-you really are my hero, Jim."

He hugged Jim quickly, again conscious, I think, of how embarrassed Jim was by his words and all the attention. We knew about the visions and stuff like that, but Ellison still wasn't used to hearing it all spoken aloud in front of us. I think Blair took a risk doing it tonight, in a 'safe' milieu, to reinforce that we all know the truth now and to help him get used to that new reality. In any event, Sandburg didn't give us a lot of time to think about it and, just as he had with each of the rest of us, he moved on without expecting any response or implying any need for one.

Turning back to all of us, he said quietly, "Kipling once wrote,

'One man in a thousand, Solomon says,
will stick more close than a brother.
And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days,
if you find him before the other.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine depend
on what the world sees in you;
But the Thousandth man will stand your friend
with the whole round world agin you.

'Tis neither promise nor prayer nor show
will settle the finding for 'ee.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine of 'em go
by your looks, or your acts, or your glory.
But if he finds you and you find him,
the rest of the world don't matter;
For the Thousandth Man will sink or swim
with you in any water.

You can use his purse with no more talk,
than he uses yours for his spendings,
and laugh and meet in your daily walk
as though there had been no lendings.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine of 'em call
for silver and gold in their dealings;
but the Thousandth Man he's worth 'em all,
because you can show him your feelings.

His wrong's your wrong, and his right's your right,
in season or out of season.
Stand up and back it in all men's sight-
with that for your only reason!
Nine hundred and ninety-nine can't bide
the shame or mocking or laughter,
But the Thousandth Man will stand by your side
to the gallows-foot-and after!'"

He paused, as he looked at all of us in turn and then said, "I am well blessed, for I have found two women and five men who are my 'thousandth man'. You all stood by me and gave me my life back, in so many different ways. I will forever be grateful to all of you, and I promise you, I will do my best to never betray your trust or confidence in me."

"So, um, that's it for the serious stuff, folks. I just really wanted every one of you to know how much I appreciate you and all you've done for me. But, there's lots of bubbly left and the food is plentiful, so dig in!" he said with jovial encouragement as he waved at the champagne and the food.

So we ate and drank and he put on some music and we even danced. We laughed and sang and told outrageous stories. It was a night I will never forget, sparkling moments in time as bright and special as the man who celebrated us the night he was granted his PhD…

I've heard it said that a person only sees in others what is first inside themselves; that others are, in fact, a mirror of who we are in the world. An incredibly efficient, adaptable, bright spirit of warmth and boundless energy, someone who hides more than he really shows behind the image he projects, the sensitive and astute clown who is brave, and steadfast and much loved, as well as respected-our man in a thousand, Blair Jacob Sandburg.

And we all felt damned lucky to know him.

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

"Hey, Blair," I called out when H and I got back in from the very long and very uneventful stakeout. "I read your book, man, and I have to say, it was really pretty interesting."

Sandburg looked up and smiled. "Well, I'm glad it if helped pass time on a long boring stakeout," he teased back, but I think he was pleased by my comment.

"Yeah, right," I allowed, a bit chagrined, but then carried on, "but, seriously, H has read it, too, and we thought you made a number of pretty insightful observations. Gave us something to think about. How about you, Jim-what did you think of Sandburg's diss?"

Ellison had been going through a file on his desk and not paying any attention to us. "Huh? What?" he asked, his attention still more on the notes in front of him.

"Blair's dissertation on us," I repeated. "What did you think of it?"

Shrugging, not really paying attention, Ellison mumbled, "Haven't had time to read it yet."

Well-that was sort of surprising. It'd been more than a week since Blair had given us each a copy. The rest of us had read it right away, curious about what his observations and perspectives were, and interested in seeing his analysis of how our community worked in comparison to others.

"Oh," I muttered, cutting a look back at Blair. He was studying Jim, a disappointed look in his eyes, but when he caught me looking at him, he just rolled his eyes and shrugged.

"You know my partner," he said with a sly grin. "If it doesn't come with pictures and words in big white bubbles, he's not really interested."

"Funny, Chief," Jim drawled, his attention back on the file, "real funny."

"Uh huh," I grunted. "Well, I just wanted to tell you I thought it was great piece of work…and, uh, I really appreciated that you dedicated it to us in MCU-we all did. The, um, personal inscription really meant a lot, too. Thanks."

"You're welcome," Blair replied easily, once again smiling softly. "I meant it. You've become a good friend, Brian."

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

Where is he? I wondered with no little irritation as I looked at my watch for about the tenth time. He knew we were scheduled to relieve Joel and Megan on the stakeout on Wardlaw's warehouse. I swear, if he's out trying to get more numbers for his little black book…

My thoughts were interrupted when Sandburg loped into the Ops Room, his hair flying. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he was muttering as soon as he got within earshot, which was about three seconds before the elevator arrived at our floor, "I was having a meeting with Captain Morriseau in Vice and lost track of the time." He dumped a file on his desk and grabbed his coat and backpack. Ready to go.

"What were you doing down in Vice?" I had to ask, curious. We weren't running any overlapping cases with them so far as I knew.

"Oh, well, I made an appointment to see him to discuss how I might be of help on some of their cases," he replied with a shrug.

"You what?" I exclaimed, unable to believe my ears. When he looked like he was going to answer, I waved it off and grabbed his arm, unceremoniously hauling him back to the elevators. "We'll discuss this later," I snapped. "Right now, we're late."

I couldn't believe the confused look he gave me. What had he been thinking?

I didn't want to talk about it until we'd started the stakeout-I didn't want to be distracted by traffic when I made a few little things crystal clear. Finally, once Joel and Megan had taken off and I'd done a quick pass with my senses to make sure nothing was going on, I turned to him. He was reading one of his newest books on criminology, using that little penlight he used to use to grade papers in the truck before he'd finally gotten his degree.

"Tell me again why you asked to see Morriseau?" I asked tightly.

"Hmm?" he mumbled then turned his attention to me. "Morriseau? Oh, yeah. Well, now that I'm the department's forensic anthropologist, I've been meeting with the other units to brief them on how I might be of help to them."

Chewing my lip, my jaw going tight, I nodded briefly. I'd been afraid that's what he'd done. Sighing, I told him, "Look, Junior, the consultant's title is just a convenience to get you paid. You could have as easily gone to the Academy and become a cop, but you don't want to carry a weapon. Your job is to be my partner, that's it. I can't believe you've been wasting time…"

"Excuse me?" he cut in, his voice brittle and his eyes flashing. "Wasting time?"

"Yeah," I nodded. "Trying to convince these guys of how you can help them when you already have a full time job. Like today…we were late because you were off volunteering for more work that has nothing to do with MCU or our jobs. On top of that, these guys probably think they've been doing a pretty damned good job for quite a while now without some fancy PhD waltzing in to tell them how they should be doing it. That is not your job, Sandburg. Keep it up and Banks will be getting complaints about your interference in…"

"Just a minute," he cut in again. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but the position of forensic anthropologist isn't just some scam, Jim. I've got the credentials and I can help them on some cases…"

"Maybe," I hedged, leaning back in my seat as I turned my attention back to the warehouse. "But not all that likely.

"What's that supposed to mean?" he demanded, flushing with anger.

"It means that they'll likely think your esoteric theories are just that," I told him, shaking my head. "Esoteric. Not practical. Generally not very useful and a waste of their time and they won't pay any attention to you."

"Oh really?" he snapped indignantly. "And here I was under the impression that I'd been of some assistance in the last few years-that those 'esoteric theories' of mine had helped actually solve a few cases that got you the Cop of the Year award more than once." He glared at me as he huffed, "Esoteric, my ass."

"I'm not saying you haven't been helpful, you have-Simon and the others didn't go to bat for you only because they like you. We all know you're smart and you've made a difference in our solve rate. But-how long did it take for us to take you seriously? You really want to fight those battles with the other units? Why? What's the point?" I allowed patiently. "The point is you were hired to be my partner. Period. End of story. I thought you understood that, but apparently not."

I could see him studying me with squinted eyes, his lips thinned in anger. But he didn't say anything more, just turned away to stare out into the gathering darkness, his arms crossed and his body tight. Looked like I'd pissed him off.

Well, maybe I did. But he couldn't keep going around offering his services like anybody wanted them or cared. Hell, I know he could be invaluable to the other units-but none of them know that. When he never got called back or when the rumbling about upstart academics started, he'd be hurt. He didn't need that, not after everything else. And Simon didn't need to be fielding complaints about Sandburg from his colleagues.

Besides, being my partner was a full-time job. He'd spent the last better than three years pulling double duty between the university and me. He didn't need to keep trying to do more than one job at a time.

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

"What's wrong with Sandburg?" Joel asked this afternoon. "He seems a little off his game."

"He's sulking," I muttered with a shrug. "I guess about something I said last night."

"Yeah?" Taggart pressed, curious. "What did you say?"

Rubbing the back of my neck, I shrugged as I replied, "Let it go, Joel. We'll work it out."

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

I'm getting tired of the silent treatment ever since the stakeout the other night. Oh, he's civil enough, but there're no spontaneous comments, no teasing, definitely no jokes or laughter and he spends all his time at home in his room. This snit of his has gotten real old.

Whatever, we can deal with it later. Now that the stakeout has paid off and the raid is about to go down, I don't have time to worry about hurt feelings.

He got out of the truck when I did, thinking I guess that he was going to follow me into a dark warehouse filled with armed and dangerous men in a situation where the good guys would also be shooting. Like I needed him caught in the middle of a firefight. No way, Jose.

"Stay with the truck, Chief," I told him as I secured my Kevlar vest and pulled out my weapon.

"What?" he hissed, surprised but keeping his voice low. "I'm your official partner now-I watch your back, remember?"

"Yeah, well, you can watch it from back here," I told him.

"Jim…" he began to protest.

"Look, I don't have time to debate this," I snapped. "I'm the senior partner on this team and you do what I tell you to do-or else."

Angry, he snapped, "'Or else' what?"

"Or else this partnership won't work," I grated and then turned away to lope along the side of the alley, keeping to the shadows.

The raid went fine, no casualties on our side and within half an hour the gunrunners were cuffed and being loaded into the back of the patrol cars. Two of their number needed escort to be taken to the hospital for treatment of their gunshot wounds.

Sandburg was standing by the truck when I came out of the warehouse. I waved at him, had a few words with Simon to arrange to do the formal report in the morning and by the time I got to the truck, he was sitting inside. And he didn't look happy.

"Look, I'm sorry if I was a bit sharp earlier," I began.

"Uh huh," he cut in, his voice hard and he was staring out the window. "I'm not an unpaid civilian observer any more," he went on. "I'm your partner. I can't do my job sitting in the truck."

"You can't do your job if you get shot, either," I told him. "It was too dangerous…"

"So this is about how I'm still not a real cop and don't carry a gun," he seethed.

Rolling my eyes, I didn't even bother to answer that. He wasn't a real cop and he didn't carry a gun and I wasn't going to let him waltz into extremely hazardous and volatile situations.

He didn't say anything more either. When we got to the loft, he led the way inside and headed straight to his room while I helped myself to a beer and sat down in the living room. A few minutes later, he strode back out, a well-stuffed carryall bag in his hand and his backpack over his shoulder.

"What's going on?" I demanded, standing, as he marched to the door.

Pausing with his hand on the knob, he turned to me as he said, his voice tight and carefully neutral, "Just what it looks like. I'm moving out."

"Moving out?" I exclaimed. "What brought this on?"

He shook his head and sighed. Not quite looking at me, he slowly and carefully explained, "It's taken a while, but I've finally figured out that you don't take me seriously. It's about more than trust, Jim; it's also about respect-and you quite evidently don't have much for me. I can't blame you. I've let you snarl, snap and boss me around for years while I've lived in the cupboard under the stairs in your apartment, abiding by your house rules, focused mostly on you and what you want."

Looking up into my eyes, his voice raspy with emotion, he said tightly, "I'm thirty years old and your official partner-not some kid you have to coddle and protect. If I start acting like a grownup and not a dependent, you might start letting me do my job whatever the risks might be. Maybe if I get my own place, you'll finally accept that I'm a capable adult in my own right, not to mention your colleague-and, if I'm lucky, you might even start to respect me like you do the others down in MCU. So I'm going to get a room somewhere while I look around for something more permanent. If my stuff's in the way, pack it up. If not, I'll do that once I've got a place."

Before I could figure out which part of that ridiculous statement to attack first, he was out the door and gone.

What the hell…

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

I was surprised to see that Sandburg had beaten me into the office-an early bird he's not. But there he was, diligently working on the case report for yesterday's bust. When I came in, he looked up, gave me a nod and a half smile like things were just hunky-dory and went back to the file.

"Chief," I said quietly as I came up beside his desk, "I think we need to talk."

"Could be," he shrugged as he looked up, absentmindedly pushing his hair back behind his ears. "But this isn't likely the time or the place," he added reasonably.

"When is?" I asked.

"Later?" he offered. "Somewhere else?"

"Fine," I sighed as I turned to my own desk and hung up my coat, relieved a little to think it might all still be open for discussion. I was tired. Hadn't slept all that great-no surprise there. What did he mean I didn't respect him every bit as much, or more for that matter, than I respected our colleagues? Surely it wasn't just 'cause I'd told him to stay with the truck yesterday? It was a volatile situation. Surely he could see that? And what was that crack about living in a 'cupboard under the stairs'? He'd never complained that he'd felt cramped before. Was that it? Did he want more space? Nah. If that was it, he would've just said so. Why does he think I don't respect him?

If it was any consolation, he didn't look like he'd slept all that well either.

I turned on the computer and started working on my own official statement for the case file and eventual court documents, but hadn't been pecking at the keyboard for long when Simon bellowed at Sandburg to come into his office.

Sandburg looked up, sighed, and cut me a glance as he headed toward Simon's office. Now, I don't like to listen in, but I needed some kind of handle here to figure out what was going on-maybe the conversation with Simon would help.

As soon as Sandburg walked in, Simon waved some kind of form at him as he growled evidently very unhappily, "What's this?"

I frowned, wondering myself what that document was. Had Sandburg applied for a transfer? No, he wouldn't, not without some discussion…

"Captain," Sandburg began and he sounded hesitant. Like it wasn't something he really wanted to talk about. "I need to do this. You saw what happened yesterday. Jim ordered me to stay in the truck, because I can't give him back up in situations like that-he's right. It's too dangerous. Maybe I should just have gone to the Academy in the first place…"

"Hold on, Sandburg," Simon sighed, lifting a hand to stem the flow of words. "We've got lots of cops around here who can give that kind of back-up when it's needed. You don't have to be weapons-certified and carry a gun to do your job."

Weapons? Gun? Blair was applying to carry?

"With all due respect, Captain, I'm not sure my partner would agree," Sandburg stated flatly. "If I can't protect myself, he won't allow me to participate in volatile situations. Look, if my job is to watch his back and I can't do that in each and every situation, particularly in stressful and difficult circumstances that are the most risky in terms of potential sensory spikes, then I'm not doing my job. Makes me feel like a charity case-getting paid to sit on the sidelines to watch."

"I see," Banks mused as he scratched his cheek. "Frankly, once my colleagues get the hang of how much help a forensic anthropologist can be, I suspect you'll be run off your feet. You won't have time to worry about being a charity case, as you put it. But, if it will make you feel better, I'll arrange for weapons training and certification. No doubt, you as well as Jim would be safer if you were more able to defend yourself in potentially violent situations."

"Good, thank you, sir," Sandburg responded, meticulously respectful and correct, but there was the barest sound of hope in his voice. Damn, did it mean so much to him to be of service to the other units? He'd never sound like that about learning to use a gun.

"What've the two of you got on deck today?" Simon asked, curious.

I could hear Sandburg's low chuckle as he replied, "We drew the short straw for this week's 'show and tell on community safety'.

Simon laughed. "Bet Jim loves that! Which school?"

"Wilton Elementary at 11:00 this morning," Blair told him.

"Okay, have fun with all the little kiddies," Simon chuckled as he waved Sandburg out of his office.

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

Simon had been right. I didn't much care for the job of briefing little kids about personal and community security. Oh, I know it's necessary and I'm glad to help ensure their safety, but it also meant telling them their world wasn't safe and that adults, who are supposed to look after them, might actually be harmful or dangerous. They always looked a little shocked and very definitely confused…wondering if they should believe the big mean cop talking to them or not. Sometimes, I wondered if these little lectures didn't serve to make the kids more afraid of the police than anything to make them feel safer with us.

So, my plan over the past few years, and it had been working well, was to have Sandburg do the talking while I lurked in a corner trying not to look scary. The kids liked him and he got them laughing, but he also got them to pay attention to what he had to say. He'd tease me about looking so tough and mean and get the kids giggling so that they relaxed around me-stopped being afraid of me. Yeah, my plan had been working great.

He had a backpack full of gimmicks and souvenirs for them that he tossed into the front of the truck before climbing in. Once I had the truck out on the street and was cruising toward the school, I said, "It's later and somewhere else. So maybe you can tell me why you have this sudden desire to relocate." Not to mention carry a weapon, but that conversation could wait.

He cut me a look and shrugged. "I don't know if I can make you understand," he sighed. "It's more about me than it is about you. I appreciate the home you gave me." Shifting uncomfortably, he went on, "It's just that you're so much like Naomi…"

"WHAT?" I demanded, shocked and not at all flattered by the comparison.

He lifted his hands in a calming gesture as he asked, "Just hear me out, okay?" When I gritted my teeth and nodded once, sharply, he elaborated, "The one thing the two of you have in common is me. And the way you treat me. Like I'm some kind of extension of yourselves. You make decisions for me without bothering to ask my opinion because you believe you're acting in my best interests, like her sending the diss to Sid and you throwing a badge at me publicly, just assuming that's what I'd want. You both treat me like some kind of perpetual kid that is never going to grow up-amusing and cute, but not anyone to take seriously. You both want to protect me. And-there's nothing wrong with that. I'm glad I matter to the both of you. But…I've gone along with it, even encouraged it or teased you, but not said when enough is enough or drawn a line until it's gone 'way too far."

Chewing on my lip, I thought about what he was saying. "You're still mad because I told you to stay in the truck yesterday," I charged.

"Yes, no, that's part of it," he muttered, turning to look out the window. "You've made a point of saying my whole job is to be your partner, but then you won't let me do my job. You don't think I've got anything else to offer, that my consultant position is more or less a sham-you couldn't even be bothered to read my dissertation on the police sub-culture. My work, who I am, hasn't ever meant much except in so far as I can help you with your senses. I feel invisible."

"Oh, now, look," I tried to protest, but he cut back in.

"I'm not blaming you," he said quickly, turning back to face me. "I figured I had to adapt, be useful, like I felt when I was growing up. So-I just blended in as much as I could. I mean, I wasn't about to cut my hair or start eating Wonderburgers, but I've really tried to be available to you and sensitive to what you want, even if it wasn't what I wanted. It's my problem- I've just 'gone along' when maybe I should have been staking out some of my own ground. Sometimes, I don't think either you or Naomi have a clue about who I am. About the kind of man I am. About the choices I make. If you did, she wouldn't have sent the damned paper to Sid and your first thought wouldn't have been that I'd sold you out."

We were getting close to the school and I wasn't sure I wanted to start something about the dissertation and my reaction to its disclosure when we wouldn't have time to finish. I was looking for a parking space out front when he went on softly, "Sometimes I'm going to make decisions that you don't approve of, and sometimes that may mean risks that you'd rather protect me from. But, Jim, you've got to let me do my job or you take my dignity from me."

Well, hell, all I'd wanted to do was keep him from getting shot. Was that such a sin?

"Look, just let me out here and I'll go on ahead-it's almost 11 o'clock. I'm sure there's a parking lot around the back," he suggested.

"What room number am I looking for?" I asked as I slowed to let him out.

He grinned then, his mood chameleon-like-probably getting into the mood to be playful with the kids. "Think of it as a test and follow my voice," he taunted.

"Sandburg, there're hundreds of kids milling around the halls before the class starts…" I protested.

"That's what makes it a test!" he said cheerfully as he slammed the door closed and loped across the street to the school's entrance.

I tried to feel annoyed, but all I felt was grateful that apparently I hadn't screwed up so badly that he didn't want to partner with me anymore-or stop coming up with stupid tests for my senses.

As I drove around back, I kept an ear cocked to the sound of his footsteps, heavier than those of the kids, and his voice as he casually said 'hello' to those he met or as he asked for directions. From the sound of the direction he was walking in, the classroom backed onto the parking lot.

"If you can hear me, Jim, I'm just coming up to room 22," I heard him say under his breath with a light laugh, as I was parking the truck. But then, his steps faltered and he gasped.

"My God!" he exclaimed, and then whispered hurriedly, "Teacher, dead-stab wounds. One adult male, about forty, dark hair, butcher knife. One kid, hostage."

I heard another voice yelling over his, harsh and grating, "Walk away and I'll kill the kid."

"Easy, man, just take it easy," Sandburg replied at normal volume, obviously speaking to the murderer. "Don't hurt the boy."

Son of a…! I pulled out my cell and called it in, "This is Ellison, MCU. Officer needs assistance. Murder and hostage taking in progress. Wilton Elementary, corner of Summit and Southby. Room 22. Two hostages. Teacher murdered. Send backup."

And then I was out of the truck, racing toward the school. And all the while, I was listening.

"What are you doing?" the perp growled.

"Relax, I'm just closing the door," Sandburg replied soothingly. "You don't want a bunch of other people just waltzing in here do you?"

"No, guess not," came the grudging reply.

Blair cleared his throat and I could hear his hesitant steps as he moved further into the classroom. "Um, why'd you do that?" he asked and I could only assume he was pointing toward the body.

"She cheated on me," the man growled. "Said she'd never come back to me."

"Uh huh," Sandburg murmured. "Well, you've sure made certain that that's true. She never will come back now."

"Shut up!" he snarled viciously.

Listen to the man, Chief, I thought, like that was a hope, as I charged into the school and got directions to the principal's office.

"You're scaring the boy," Sandburg ventured gently. "He's not going to hurt you and neither am I. You don't need to hold that knife to his throat."

I could hear the soft, terrified whimpering then, of the nameless child who'd walked into a real live horror show. Poor kid.

"Who are you? What are you doing here?" the perp asked, his voice shaking. Oh goody. A scared guy with tenuous control who'd already killed once holding a butcher's knife to some kid's throat.

"My name's Blair Sandburg," my partner told him. "What's yours?"

"What are you doing here?" the man demanded again, his voice rising in anger, with a slight whine of hysteria. Low impulse control. But then we sorta knew that already.

"I came to talk to the kids in the class about community safety," Sandburg replied. "You didn't tell me your name."

"What it's to you?" the guy growled.

"Well, I just like to know who I'm talking to," Sandburg replied evenly, keeping it calm.

The man snorted, but then replied, "Burns. Jake Burns at your service."

"And, uh, what's your name?" Blair asked softly, gently, likely to the kid.

"Bobby," the kid sniffled, scared. "Bobby Makins."

"It's going to be okay, Bobby," Blair soothed. "Jake doesn't want to hurt you, do you, Jake?"

Lost the answer as I told the Principal, Mrs. Fletcher, what was going down in her school and got her to begin evacuation of the building. Her secretary came with me to lead away any of the kids gathering outside Room 22 for their class. I could hear sirens in the distance, coming closer.

Loping back through the halls to the classroom, I focused in again on Sandburg's voice.

"Look, Jake, I can understand that you want a hostage," he was saying reasonably. "Makes sense. But, you don't want to hurt the kid. What's the point in that?"

Great, like a murdering maniac needs a reason for what he does. Nevertheless, Sandburg was doing good, keeping the guy talking. Getting the name helped. Mrs. Fletcher told me he was the victim's estranged husband.

"If I let 'im go, he'll just go screamin' for help," Jake snapped.

"Could be, but folks'll know soon that something's going down in here anyway," Blair replied, still trying to be reasonable. "Soon as they notice all the kids in the hall trying to get into this class."

"Anybody tries anything, and I swear I'll kill…" Jake shouted.

"Whoa, hold on there," Blair called out. It was killing me not to be able to see what was going down. "Look, man, you really don't need to hurt Bobby. He's just a little kid. He can't hurt you and he doesn't deserve to be so scared. Let him go."

Bobby's snuffles were escalating into wails and suddenly Jake swore, "Son of a bitch!"

"Aw, you just scared him, man," Blair cut in. "What'd you expect? Look, I'll make you a deal. Let the kid go and I'll be your hostage. He's too small to hide behind anyway when you make a break for it. I promise I won't give you a hard time if you let him go."

The sirens were close now and I heard Jake curse again. "What the fuck...?"

"It's the cops, Jake," Blair told him unnecessarily, but trying to make it all sound expected and unsurprising. "Somebody must've called them. They'll likely try to negotiate with you next."

"How do you know that?" Jake demanded. Suspicious.

"I watch TV, man," Blair replied impatiently, like it was obvious. "That's the way it always works."

"Oh, yeah-right," Jake muttered. Not the brightest light in the galaxy.

"So, um, what will you tell them?" Blair asked as if he was curious. "Do you have wheels to make a getaway? Money?"

"I gotta a car," he mumbled.

"Yeah, what model?" Sandburg asked.

"Will you just shut up and let me think!"

"I was just asking, cause unless you've got a pretty fast set of wheels, the cops'll catch you when you drive away," Blair replied, like he was getting into the problem of helping Jake get free. "So, what kinda car ya got?"

"'91 Cavalier," Jake grunted.

"Hmmm," Blair muttered and I could imagine the look on his face. No chance of that car making a fast getaway. Bobby just kept sobbing.

I was pressed against the wall outside the classroom and had snuck a quick look in through the window in the door. Jake Burns was a heavy-set, florid man who was sweating profusely with fear. His hair was a dirty blond colour and he was wearing worn jeans and a flannel shirt, his arms and clothing splattered with blood. Crouched in front of the desk, he still held the long and blood-streaked knife to young Bobby Makins' throat. The victim was lying on the floor at the end of the desk; she looked like she'd been pretty once, with short dark hair, but now she was lying crumpled in a large crimson pool, dead of multiple stab wounds. Bobby didn't look more than seven or eight years old, red hair, milky pale skin and he was hiccupping with terrified tears. Sandburg had his back to me and was standing with his hands raised in a posture of surrender as he tried to calm Burns and reassure the child.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, Sandburg asked, "You hungry, Jake? I'm starving-and thirsty, too."

"Are you nuts?" Jake shouted.

A reasonable question, I thought, given the circumstances.

"Well, we could negotiate for some food, you know," Blair replied, warming to his subject, sounding enthusiastic. "Build some rapport with the cops, start with the easy stuff. You know, like a couple of pizzas and some soda…work up to a car full of gas so it won't conk out in a block or so. I got a cell phone-I could call them if you want."

Ah…good idea, Sandburg. More than one good idea, actually.

I wasn't doing any good standing in the hall outside the classroom and rushing this didn't seem like the best idea, not yet, anyway. When a uniformed cop loped silently down the hall, I left him watching the door and ran back outside. Simon, H, Rafe and Joel were all there, biting their lips and looking tense.

"What's going on?" Simon demanded as I jogged over to them.

"Sandburg's got the guy talking, trying to make friends so he'll let the child hostage go," I told them. "He's suggesting we supply a car for a getaway with only enough gas in it to go a couple of blocks."

"Good idea," H muttered and Rafe got a phone, likely to begin the arrangements in case we decided to go with that scenario.

"How do you…" Simon began and then shook his head. "You can hear what's going on in there."

"Uh huh, the kid's name is Bobby Makins. Jake Burns just murdered his estranged wife, who happened to be the teacher of the class we were going to meet with this morning. Stabbed her to death with a butcher knife. No indication of another weapon at this time," I reported. "Sandburg's got the guy starting to think about how thirsty he is, and how good a couple of pizzas sound. I think Sandburg's trying to work up to trading the kid for food, offering himself as a compliant hostage in the kid's place."

I'd turned and was looking toward the classrooms, zeroing in on number 22. I could make out Blair a few steps in from the door, standing with his hands out by his sides and palms up, in the classic, 'I'm not a threat', stance. I couldn't see Burns or the kid and figured they were still squatting down closer to the floor, blocked by the desk.

"What do you think, Jim?" Simon asked quietly.

I turned and looked around the area. There were no buildings nearby that would give a good enough line of sight for a sharpshooter, the rooflines were all too low. The only way in or out of the classroom was through the single door into the hallway unless we busted through the windows-messy, noisy and not much of a surprise. Turning back, I could see the evacuation of the other classrooms was well underway, the kids being gathered on the far side of the street, and no doubt more were outside the front of the school, on the other side of the building.

"Let's give Sandburg a chance to at least get the kid out before we do anything to push the situation, Captain," I suggested finally. "If we try to smoke him out, the boy could get hurt-I think from what I can make out that Burns is still holding the knife to Bobby's throat."

"Damn," Simon muttered, his eyes narrowing. None of us liked hostage situations, but it was always worse when a kid was involved. Especially for the cops who were parents themselves. Too much imagination isn't always a good thing.

Joel finished hooking up the directional listening device just as the Principal jogged around the building to meet with Simon and my cell went off.

"Ellison," I snapped.

"Yes, um, hello," came my partner's voice. "I'm looking for the police officer in charge of the situation at the Wilton School…"

"Will I do?" I asked him dryly.

"Always, man," Sandburg replied with what sounded like deep and heart-felt sincerity. My throat tightened at that sound of trust even in the midst of our current argument and his vulnerable situation.

"My name is Blair Sandburg and we're getting hungry and really thirsty," I heard him give the spiel for Burns' benefit. "We were wondering if it would be possible to have a couple of pizzas and some bottled water, maybe some sodas, sent in. Kind of a gesture of good faith, you know?"

"You know the drill, Chief, he has to hear you give us more information about the situation or get on the line himself," I replied, waving toward Simon to indicate who was on the phone. Joel had the earphones on and was listening in.

"Yeah, um, I hear you," he muttered. "Just hold on a minute…"

I could hear his voice and Burns' as they discussed the situation. Burns didn't want his name given out and wouldn't come on the line but agreed to let Blair tell me about the dead teacher and the child hostage. As Sandburg relayed that information to me, Simon joined me and I cupped my hand over the transmitter.

"No kid, no food or water," Banks directed, his jaw tight.

I nodded and said into the phone, "It's a straight trade, Sandburg-the food and water for Bobby-to show good faith."

Once again I heard him talk with Burns, both through the open connection and directly-an oddly stereo effect.

"The cops'll give us the food and water, but we need to give them Bobby in return, as a gesture of good faith," Blair said steadily, though his voice quaked a little from the tension in the classroom. I could hear Bobby's breath catch in hope while Burns swore.

"I ain't given up no hostages," he snapped.

"Uh, man, think about it," Blair cajoled. "Bobby's too small to be a shield and he's so scared, you don't know what he'll do to distract you at a critical moment. He's just a kid. Let him go."

"What's it to you what happens to him?" Burns demanded, aggressive, frightened at the mess he'd gotten himself into. "If you end up my shield, you could wind end up dead."

I heard Blair sigh very softly, "Yeah, I know." But, more forcefully he carried on, "Better me than him. Look at him! He's just a kid! He hasn't had a chance to even hardly live yet! You and me, at least we got to grow up! C'mon, man. You had a beef against your ex, okay-but Bobby's innocent, man. You kill a kid and there's no hope for you. Ever since the Lindbergh case, it's been a federal offence punishable by death to kill a child hostage. You want to risk that? When it's not necessary?"

"He's easier to control than you would be," Burns sneered.

"I promise, I won't fight you," Blair replied soberly. "I'll do all I can to get you out of this alive."

"And why would you do something like that?" the murderer drawled, not believing Sandburg.

"Because it's the right thing to do," Blair said starkly. "It's not the first time I've put everything on the line for that reason…"

"Yeah? And what happened? You get a medal?" Burns sneered.

"I was drowned and then after I survived that, I lost my career," Sandburg replied stoically, but I could only imagine the look of surprise on Burns' face. "There are some things worth putting your life on the line. I think Bobby's worth it."

"Wait a minute," Burns muttered. "I remember you now. Yeah, you're the kid who drowned at the university a few months back. And then got caught up in a scandal over some paper that involved a cop…you a cop?" he growled, menacingly.

"No, I am not a cop," Sandburg replied impatiently, his irritation having the bite of truth. "I'm an anthropologist. A hungry anthropologist. C'mon, man, make up your mind. Do we eat or do you keep a hostage you don't need who could get you killed if you don't let him go?"

There was a long silence while Burns thought about it, and then, grudgingly, "Yeah, okay. His sniveling is giving me a headache anyway."

"Good decision, man," Blair replied and then spoke into the phone. "All right. We agree to exchange the child for the food and make sure you send lots of water. I'm dying of thirst here, man."

"Well, we don't want you dying, do we?" I replied tightly. "Give us fifteen minutes. The pizzas were ordered as soon as I heard your original suggestion. I'll bring them to the classroom door. We won't try anything until the kid is safe. I'll get you out of this, Chief."

"Good, thanks," Sandburg replied as if he were ending the conversation, but though I could hear the rustle of cloth as he put the phone in his jacket, I knew he'd left the connection open.

I handed the phone to Simon as I said quietly, "He's left the connection open. Burns has agreed to exchange the food for the kid."

Banks nodded and automatically covered the transmitter with his large hand to ensure no sounds got through to give it away to Burns that Sandburg had left us an open line to hear what was going on. I sighed as I looked toward the classroom and squinted to see what was happening. The reflections on the glass made it almost impossible for me to see inside the shadowed room-I knew no one else would be able to make out any details at all.

Sandburg was still the only one standing and Burns was still hidden behind the desk with the kid, Bobby Makins. For a moment, Blair's gaze lifted to the windows and seemed to be looking straight into my eyes.

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

A few minutes later, I was holding two boxes of pizza and a bag full of water bottles and cans of Coke while I rapped on the classroom door.

"Just a minute," Blair called out. I could hear shuffling steps from inside and then the knob turned, the door opening slowly. I could smell the sickening odours of blood and death that washed into the corridor from the room beyond.

I stepped back a little to the side but remained in plain view-and had to swallow hard at what I saw as the door finally opened enough for the trade. Blair had Bobby standing in front of him, his hands on the weeping child's shoulders. The poor kid had wet his pants and looked like he was almost in shock, his face ghostly pale and his eyes glazed with terror and confusion. Blair kept murmuring, "It's okay, Bobby. You're gonna see your mom real soon. It's okay."

I looked up and saw that Burns was behind Sandburg, holding my partner tight against him, the wicked, bloodstained blade held across Blair's throat. One misstep, one moment of panic, and it would be all over for my best friend.

"You wanted pizza?" I asked, my voice tight.

"Yeah, man, that's great," Sandburg replied, trying for a smile and not quite making it as his eyes met mine. "You go on now, Bobby. You go right past the nice man with the pizzas and keep going, okay?"

Blair's head was tilted back away from the blade, exposing his throat, but he still managed to give the kid a reassuring shove forward and as soon as Bobby had stumbled past me and into the arms of Rafe who was crouching just down the hall behind me, Sandburg opened his arms to take the pizzas. I had to step forward to balance them in his grip since he didn't have a lot of room to move.

"You need anything else?" I asked as I helped him get a grip on the bag, wanting to do something more than just stand there useless while that blade cut a thin line on his skin and he winced as hot blood trickled down his throat.

"No, uh, this is great," Sandburg replied. But when Burns tightened his grip around Sandburg's chest and hissed in his ear, he added, "Maybe a car later…something fast. I'll call you, okay?"

I nodded and stepped back-and the door between us closed. I could hear Sandburg inside, ordering Burns, "Back off with the knife, man, so I can set this stuff on the desk, or you'll have blood all over your pizza and that's not an appetizing image, now is it?"

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

We played around with different scenarios over the next hour while Sandburg kept Burns occupied, first getting him to eat and then carrying on with the effort to make friends with the killer. Hostage survival 101: play the Stockholm syndrome card and hope the perp will like you too much to kill you.

We could go with the car scenario, but it wasn't a big favourite. Right now, we had Burns locked down in the school, a more controllable situation than if he was on the street, even if the car was only running on fumes.

We could blow in a few smoke bombs and force them out into the hallway, and take Burns down there. He could either surrender or make us use force.

Either way, Sandburg was in the middle. We could have men on either side of the door in the corridor, so that Burns would have to turn his back on some of us, but if he kept holding Sandburg so tight, a body shot from the back could well pass through Burns and straight into Sandburg.

Not a happy thought.

Joel, Simon and I were keeping half an ear to what was going on in the classroom. Sandburg had gotten Burns to tell him the sorry tale of how his wife had left him for an insurance salesman. Through deft, sympathetic questioning, Blair had gotten the guy to admit he'd beaten his wife, 'when she needed it', 'when she wasn't listening', 'when she started fooling around-she said I was crazy, but I knew I couldn't trust the bitch'. Burns had just explained that he'd only intended to scare her into coming back to him when it all went bad. She'd started to scream and he'd lashed out at her…and then hadn't been able to make a run for it before first Bobby and then Sandburg had stumbled into the murder scene.

Unfortunately, being cooped up and surrounded by cops was beginning to wear on Burns' nerves and we could hear the tone of hysteria growing in his voice despite everything that Sandburg tried to keep the guy calm.

The media vultures had started to circle the perimeter, news van and guys with cameras, others with mikes keeping a concerned citizenry on the edge of their seats as they watched the real live drama unfold while safe in their own homes. H noticed Haas watching me like a hawk and wandered over to keep the astute and cynical reporter busy.

Finally, we were out of time. Burns wanted a getaway car and he wanted it immediately. The phone came alive with Sandburg's voice as he pretended to punch in the code. Simon murmured, "I hear you."

"Okay, um, well, it's time for us to be on our way," Blair said, trying to keep his own voice steady.

"We'll have men in the corridor when you leave the classroom," Simon told him.

Sandburg carried on with his mythical conversation for Burn's benefit. "We want a fast car outside the back door in ten minutes and nobody is to follow us or he'll kill me."

"We'll blow a couple of smoke bombs in through the windows in eight minutes," Simon told him. "Try to get away from him and out into the hall first."

"Okay, good," Blair replied. "Car in ten minutes, back door to the parking lot. Got it."

I kept my eyes glued to the classroom. The damned reflection had gotten worse as the sun sunk lower in the sky, but I could just make them out. Burns had his back to the wall, near the door and was holding Sandburg tight against him as a shield in case we burst in on them. The damned knife was back at Sandburg's neck. They were too close to risk any kind of shot to take Burns out safely.

If the kid tried to lurch away from that position, he'd get his throat ripped out.

The next eight minutes seemed to drag past like a river of molasses flowing up hill but we'd needed the time to get everything set up, everyone in position and to let Burns relax a little, believing his demands were being met. I wanted Sandburg away from that murderer so bad I could taste it. But all the time I waited with my back pressed against the classroom wall, silent, watching H and Rafe in front of me on the other side of the door and knowing Joel was behind me while Simon and Megan coordinated the action outside, I had more than enough time to think about the rift between me and Sandburg.

He'd told me I was just like Naomi. Shit. No way! Was there?

He was going to move out because he'd decided that I didn't respect him.

He was wrong. So wrong.

He'd told me if I respected him, believed in him, I'd never have doubted him over the leak of the dissertation. Ashamed, I knew the lump in my gut told me he was right. Why didn't I say that while he was still with me in the truck? Why had I sat there silent and just let him lope away with neither acknowledgement nor apology? Because I figured it would take too long to talk about. Because I figured we'd have lots of time later.

Because I'm a jerk.

Jesus, please, let there be time to talk about it all later.

We were ready, weapons in hand, pointed toward the ceiling. I'd warned them about not shooting Burns if Sandburg was so close he'd take the shot, too. I looked at my watch, my colleagues did the same, and we counted down the last few seconds.

I knew from the sounds inside that Blair was still locked in Burns' grip.

This could get very ugly before it was over.

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

We heard the crashing of glass as the grenades were blown into the classroom, and almost immediately, Blair and Burns started to cough and choke from the smoke and foul fumes.

"Got to get out!" Sandburg yelled.

"They'll kill me," Burns choked, gagging.

"Let me go," Blair shouted, choking and coughing. "I'll make them take you alive."

"No way," Burns gasped back as the door opened and they slid out, the two of them doubled over from the smoke inhalation, choking and gasping for air. But Burns had enough sense to keep his back to the wall and to stay crouched behind Blair. He had a hammerlock around Sandburg's throat and the knife was just visible, pressed to Blair's side.

"Cascade Police!" Jim called out, as all of our weapons lowered to aim at Burns-unfortunately, Sandburg was in the way.

"Back off," Burns rasped, tears streaming down his face as he dragged in air. "Back off or I swear I'll kill him!"

"Just take it easy," Ellison soothed. "Drop your weapon and let your hostage go. Nobody needs to get hurt here."

In response, Burns jabbed the knife into Sandburg's side, only about a half-inch, but enough to show he meant business. Blair jerked and gasped, his gaze coming up to meet his partner's blue eyes. Jim waved H and Rafe back towards the exit to give Burns some room. Burns started to slide his way along the wall toward the door to the parking lot, dragging Sandburg along with him. Blair gave an imperceptible shake of his head, and I saw the fingers on his right hand begin the countdown. His lips moved, but I couldn't hear what he was saying-though I have no doubt Jim could.

One. Two. Three.

Sandburg lurched sideways and forward, away from the knife and dragged Burns off-balance. Jim shot and Burns slammed into the wall, still gripping Blair by the neck, hauling Sandburg back with him. Sandburg stiffened suddenly, his eyes wide with shock as his left arm came up to hug his body, and they hung against the wall for a split second before Blair's knees buckled as he slipped toward the floor. Burns still had an arm around his neck and was pulled down on top of him.

It all happened so damned fast.

H hauled Burns off Sandburg. The murderer was wounded but still conscious and H made short work of cuffing him while reciting his rights.

Jim, Rafe and I had lunged for Sandburg, who remained facedown and too still on the floor, the hilt of the knife protruding from his side, while blood began to soak his clothing and pool under him.

Ellison got to him first, dropping onto one knee beside him to gingerly lift Sandburg's jacket and shirt to get a better look at the wound while Rafe called for an ambulance. Simon and Megan were slamming in from the parking lot, having heard the shot and wondering what had gone down. They both skidded to a stop when they spotted Blair on the ground, their faces reflecting their pained awareness that he'd been hurt.

"You with me, Chief," Jim called softly, lifting one hand to cup the back of Sandburg's head. I could see the knife was at an awkward angle, having a back to front and slightly elevated trajectory. Hard to tell how much damage might have been done, but there was blood welling around the blade and from the earlier, shallower, cut in Blair's side. I knew Jim didn't want to take the blade out in case that either did more damage or led to greater blood loss.

I closed the door to the classroom to try to contain the smoke from the grenades in there-the air out here in the hallway was already too compromised for someone who was panting for breath.

Blair grimaced in pain with each shallow gasp, his hands fisted against the floor. He began to shift, probably to breathe better, but Jim held his shoulders as he called, "No, don't move. Not until the EMTs get here."

"Burns?" Sandburg panted breathily, blinking, his eyes reddened and watering.

"He'll live," Jim said tightly. But then his voice softened as he gripped Blair's shoulder, "And so will you."

"Good," Sandburg sighed and let his eyes close, tears still streaming down his face as a result of the smoke fumes and tear gas he'd been exposed to. Rafe brought a handkerchief soaked with water from the hall fountain, and Jim used it to gently wash the irritants from Sandburg's eyes and face.

"Where the hell's that damned ambulance?" Simon growled.

"Good…question," Sandburg huffed. "Hard to…breathe. Turn me?"

Grimly, Ellison nodded. "Easy, kid, this is likely going to hurt," he cautioned as he waved at me to help support Blair as we rolled him gently to avoid jostling the knife, onto his side to rest against Jim's leg.

"Better?" Ellison asked as he laid an arm across Sandburg's chest to hold him steady, his other arm around Blair's shoulders to cup his head up off the floor.

I checked his wound from his new angle, and shot a look up at Ellison when I saw the tip of the blade sticking out of Sandburg's body, just under his ribs.

"Yeah, thanks," Blair panted, blinking, as he reached to grip the sleeve of Jim's coat. He grinned weakly up at Ellison as he muttered, "Some lesson in community safety-this turned out to be-huh?"

I couldn't see the expression on Ellison's face because his head was bowed as he gazed down at his partner, but Blair patted Jim's arm just before his eyes got heavy and he passed out, his arm falling heavily to the floor.

"Jim?" Simon called sharply, afraid.

"He's alive," Ellison replied hoarsely, his concentration fully on Sandburg. "Breathing sounds okay despite the fumes and the knife wound; heart is strong. Ambulance is almost here. He's a little shocky, but I think he'll be all right."

We all heard the siren a few moments later and not long after that, Sandburg had been stabilized on the gurney and was on his way to Cascade General.

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

I will remember you.

Will you remember me?

Don't let your life pass you by,

Weep not for the memories…

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

The doctors said he'd gotten off lucky. The wound was mostly superficial, the knife sliding through skin and muscle but deflected by his ribs and only just nicking the liver on its way past. He'd lost a fair bit of blood internally by the time they got the blade out, but that was easily replaced. The damage had been stitched up, and barring infection, he should heal quickly.

He was going to be all right. I saw him, briefly, after they got him settled in his room. Though more than half asleep, he mumbled my name and weakly gripped my hand before he went back down for the count. The doctor insisted I go home and clean up. I guess my blood-smeared clothing wasn't all that aesthetic, and to tell the truth, I needed to get the stench of his blood off me before I zoned on it. Joel and Simon had both had to pull me back a couple of times while we'd waited in the lounge during his surgery.

"And get some sleep, too, Jim," Simon ordered as he dropped me off at the loft. I noticed someone had already brought my truck back and it was parked in its usual place. "Sandburg is fine. You don't need to sit and watch over him all night."

I nodded wearily and mumbled, "Thanks," as I got out of the car. Though not quite midnight, it felt like it had been a very long day.

I'd had a lot of time to think while we waited in Emergency and then in the lounge outside the OR.

And a lot more time while I took a shower and then lay down on my bed to stare at the skylight.

The same words and phrases kept tumbling over and over in my head. He said I was like Naomi. That neither of us respected him as a man-that we still treated him like an extension of ourselves, as if he was just a kid, taking over decisions, acting for what we thought was his best interest.

It pissed me off. If there was anyone in the world I was not like, it was Naomi. Hell, the woman was a flake, had been a lousy, even incompetent parent and wandered wherever the wind took her, breezing in from time to time and expecting Sandburg to drop everything and dance to her tune. She was self-centered, selfish, had about as much empathy as a stick, was incapable of making commitments to anything except her own priorities-but as I irritably listed her faults, the words started to resonate uncomfortably.

How much had I known about Sandburg's life before I met the kid who was eleven-years-old? After more than three years, not a whole lot. How much did I ever know about his life at the university? Again, no more than a cursory knowledge that he taught classes, tutored students, wrote articles from time to time to bring in some cash, and was working on his dissertation…me. I didn't know he'd been working on a second paper in case it was needed. When he blew his life up on national television, how did I react? I said he was a great cop, because being a great cop is important to me. But, what about what is important to him? When I decided after all the traumatic events of his drowning that being around the station was too dangerous, did I talk to him about it? No, I just decided he should spend more time at the university. Because I knew best.

I hated it-but I had to agree there was some truth in what he said. Naomi and I were a whole lot more alike than was at all comfortable. I didn't want to think about that anymore.

Unfortunately, my next thoughts were even more disturbing. Terrible, haunting scenes kept playing themselves out in my memories. Finding him in the fountain, knowing he was dead on the grass. The grim moments in the hospital when he woke up and didn't remember who I was; locked in his eleven year old memories. Endlessly driving through the streets, searching for him when he'd run away, so afraid had he been of being some kind of burden. My angry words to him down at the harbour after I found out about the dissertation leak, and the way I kept cutting him off when he tried to explain. The look in his eyes when he denounced himself publicly. Chewing him out for having offered his knowledge and skills to others down at the PD. The look on his face when I ordered him to stay in the truck or risk ruining our partnership-and later, in his eyes, when he told me that he knew I didn't respect him. Just before he walked out.

Listening to him today, trying to keep Burns calm while he bargained for that kid's life. 'Because it's the right thing to do', he'd said.

The right thing to do.

Regardless of the consequences.

Like being murdered, or giving up his life's dreams and reputation…or offering himself as hostage in place of a child.

The right thing to do.

Like working two full time jobs for years to help me learn how to control and use my senses, to back me up in case they went wonky at the wrong time, putting in a lot more time and effort and facing dangers that sure weren't in the original plan or necessary to simply write his dissertation.

Like writing two separate dissertation documents, in case the second one was needed to protect me.

Like letting the world believe him a naïve kid guilty of over-the-top hero worship and bad judgment to protect my secrets.

The right thing to do.

Like giving up a dream chance to go to Borneo to jump out of a plane over the jungles in Peru instead, because 'it was about friendship'.

Like following me into a wet forest and jumping off a cliff into a rushing river, to help me rescue a friend from a cold-blooded killer.

Like risking his own life to keep me from being run over by a garbage truck when I was too zoned to save myself.

From the first day, Sandburg had been doing his best to 'do the right thing'.

Why the hell hadn't I seen that? How could I possibly still have doubted him when the dissertation was made public, no matter how circumstantial and convincing the evidence might have seemed that nobody else could have done it? How had I let his easy-going smiles, good-humoured babble and occasional obfuscations about unimportant things blind me to his ethical core of integrity?

He'd walked out two nights ago because I didn't get it. Still didn't get it. Didn't understand that he was driven by integrity and based his choices on 'doing the right thing', regardless of the cost he might have to pay for those choices.

Because he was a man of principle-and courage.

Son of a bitch. This damned fear response and the need for control was tearing us apart-again.

I could have lost him today. Lost him for good.

And he'd've died believing that I don't respect him.

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

I didn't get more than a few hours of restless sleep, but I wanted to be back at the hospital before he woke up.

And I just made it.

Stirring restlessly, mumbling a little in his sleep, he was pretty close to consciousness when I covered his hand with my own and called softly, "Chief? You awake?"

"Mmmm," he muttered, his face turning toward mine as he blinked and his hand curled to weakly hold mine. "Jim?"

"Yeah, I'm here, Sandburg," I told him, reaching out to brush the curls from his face and then rest my hand on his shoulder. "How're you feeling?

He sniffed and blinked, started to stretch a little and then winced, stifling a groan as his hand moved to brace his side.

"Easy," I counseled. "That's going to be tender for a few days."

"No kidding," he muttered. "Any water? I feel like the whole US Army trooped through my mouth last night."

I held the cup to his lips while I supported his head, and then eased him back down.

"When can I get out of here?" he asked, his voice a bit raspy and his eyes still glazed with pain and the medication they'd given him.

"Depends," I told him with a steady gaze. "You can either stay here for the next week, or come back to the loft where I can take care of you."

He smirked briefly. "You gave the doctor the line about being a medic, didn't you?" he charged.

"Well, it's true," I offered in my defence.

He snorted softly and looked away, considering his options. Before he could answer, I told him, "I want you to come back to the loft. All your stuff is still there. And we need to talk, right?"

Maybe it was the tone in my voice, or the expression on my face or in my eyes, but he turned his head to study me-and I had to look away. Damn. I felt so ashamed, you know? For so many reasons.

"I don't hate you, Jim," he sighed then, tightening his grip on my hand. "I love you, man. I told you that. I just think we need some space."

"After you're well, maybe," I muttered, shrugging, not really wanting to agree with him, but not wanting to fight about it just then, either. "But-just a week, Blair. Until you're stronger? Okay?"

He smiled. "I'd like that," he said simply. "Thanks."

Me? I nodded, swallowed the lump in my throat and remembered how to breathe again. I was afraid to hope for too much; I'd had an edge, after all, in getting the agreement that he'd return for a week-Sandburg really hates staying in hospitals.

But all I'd bought was a week with no guarantees of anything more.

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

After I'd gotten him settled in his room and he'd dropped off to sleep, I found the motel key in his jacket pocket and went out to retrieve his belongings and pay off the room charges. He was still asleep when I got home, and between the weakness from the wound, and the meds he was on, Sandburg slept most of that first day at home and half the second. When he was awake, he was uncomfortable and stiff, grumpy with discomfort and we both figured it would be better to postpone our discussion another day or so.

The second day, in the afternoon, he did manage to limp out to drape himself on the sofa under a blanket. I brought him a glass of cold juice and that's when we agreed to postpone any serious conversation. "Just one thing," I said quietly. "You're right. I haven't given you the respect you deserve. That's going to change as of now."

He gave me a skeptical look. Not that he didn't believe my intentions, just that he wasn't sure how capable I'd be to carry them out. He nestled himself more comfortably under the cover; just before he slipped off to sleep again, he murmured, "I told you…what happened was as much my fault as yours. Don't guilt out on me or we'll never get through this."

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

While he slept, I prowled the loft. I stood and stared at his room a long time, his words about living in the 'cupboard under the stairs', like some kind of troll, I guess, echoed in my mind. For the first time, I looked at the small room that barely allowed the narrow futon and the desk and bookcase. The closet was about the size of a telephone booth and the air was close and stuffy unless the window was open-something I told him repeatedly not to do for safety and security reasons. The desk was tiny, barely enough to accommodate the small laptop and a sheaf of paper or a reference book providing he didn't need both at the same time. The books that couldn't be accommodated on the modest three-shelf bookcase were in boxes beside the desk and at the end of the bed against the wall. He'd brightened the dark room with wall hangings and paintings, and a multi-coloured woven blanket on the bed.

I thought of my bright airy loft above, with the windows and skylight and room for a king-sized bed, a huge dresser and floor space left over to pace if that's what I felt like doing. Hell, my walk-in closet was almost as big as this small, cramped room.

He'd only ever seemed grateful to have a room in a warm, secure home. He'd never once complained until the day he'd walked out.

I thought about my 'rules', most of which he'd found a way around over the past almost four years. No flushing after 10 pm, even after he'd given me a white noise generator and earplugs so that the sound wouldn't have bothered me; perpetual growls over the hot water, often leaving him to finish with cold, when a larger water heater would have given us more than we could ever need. Though he'd moved some things out into the living room, to give colour and warmth, there was still little of him in the main living areas of the apartment; a constant, silent reminder that we might both call this loft home, but it was more my home than his and he lived here on a kind of sufferance.

The unspoken message had always been, 'If you don't like it, you can leave.'

Well, he'd left.

The only question was why he hadn't left long before now.

Sadly, I reflected that I'd been lucky he'd stayed as long as he had, most likely because he couldn't afford to live anywhere else. No, that's not right. I've got to stop thinking like I somehow saved him and that he's dependent upon me for survival. He'd been taking care of himself, one way or another, for a long time before he'd met me. He'd told me why he'd hung around the last time we'd had a serious conversation. He thought what we did makes a difference. He hadn't said it then, but now I understood that he'd stayed because it was the right thing to do, and also, I guess, because he cared about me and liked living here.

But, he was right. He was a man, not a kid, and he had a right to more than he enjoyed here. And now he could more than afford to live somewhere else a lot more comfortable than what he had in the loft.

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

On the third day of his recuperation, he'd chased me off to work, telling me he was more than capable of looking after himself for the day. When I got back home, he was propped up on the sofa reading his new book on criminology. He had papers and notes scattered around, a pen stuck behind his ear, and I was struck by how often I'd encountered similar scenes over the years and had growled at him to clean up his mess and keep it in his room. Like there was room in that cubbyhole, or warmth or light enough for any kind of comfort while he worked.

"Looks like you're feeling better," I observed as I hung up my jacket.

He looked up with a small smile and nodded, "Yeah, still a bit stiff and it pulls when I stretch, but not too bad."

"Feel like a cup of tea?" I offered, heading into the kitchen. "A beer isn't likely a good idea given the antibiotics and pain meds you're on."

"Tea sounds great, Mom," he replied with a cheeky grin.

He was teasing, but I know I stiffened at his words and I saw the grin fade as he turned back to his reading.

When I brought the mug of tea and a beer into the living room, I asked, "Feel up to some conversation?"

He thought about it as he took the mug and blew on it. "Yeah, I guess."

Not exactly the enthusiastic response I was hoping for, but I decided to press on anyway. Sitting down, looking at the bottle in my hands, I said, "I guess I know why you decided to leave."

"You do, do you?" he challenged lightly.

Swallowing, I continued, "Well, given that I'm a domineering and self-centered son of a bitch, and this place hasn't been all that comfortable anyway, and then add to that the fact that I treat you more like a snot-nosed kid than an equal…"

"Okay, that's enough," he sighed, wincing a little as he shifted to sit up with his feet on the floor. "I told you, this isn't just about you. It's about me, about how I've let us slide into a kind of morass."

"Sandburg, I don't see where you've done anything wrong here," I told him.

"I know, Jim, and that's part of the problem," he replied quietly, cutting a look up at me. "Do you remember what I used to be like, when we first met and, well, until Alex Barnes blew into our lives?"

I shrugged, wondering if we were going to play a game of twenty questions. "Sure. Bouncing with energy, laughing half the time, babbling incessantly," I replied, thinking I hadn't made that sound all that attractive. But I missed the energy and the enthusiastic, never-ending river of ideas and speculations about people and life and how the universe worked.

"Uh huh, and I was also in your face a lot of the time," he added. "I didn't back down, wasn't intimidated by the patented Ellison glare."

Grinning a little, I snorted and took a sip of beer. "No, you were never intimidated."

"And what have I been like for the last more than six months?" he asked then.

I frowned a little, thinking about that. "A lot quieter, you make your point but if I don't pay attention, you walk away…you haven't laughed much, not that there's been a whole lot to laugh about."

"Jim, for most of the time that I've spent around you, I've generally gone along with how you want things. Oh, I might have bitched and complained, but not seriously, but if it was really important, I did what I wanted and made you listen to me. Whenever you told me to stay in the truck, for example, I might or might not, depending on how I assessed the danger and your need for back up. But, lately, I've just pretty much been doing what you tell me to do." He shook his head and swallowed. "I didn't even clue in myself to what I was doing until earlier this week-and I realized then that I'd really screwed things up."

"What are you talking about?" I asked, confused.

He looked around the loft, but I don't think he was really seeing anything, just sorting through his thoughts. "When I was a kid," he murmured, "I had to pretty much accommodate myself to Naomi. If I got in the way too much, well, next thing I knew, she'd be telling me she had to do something and couldn't take me along because, as she put it, 'you're not a grown up, sweetie'. So, I learned to act 'grown up' as quickly as I could. When I moved out on my own, and she'd blow in to arrange my life to her definition of what was needed, I generally let her have her way. It was easier-and I was afraid that if I didn't, she might stop coming to visit. After she left, I'd go back to living pretty much the way I wanted. But she's never known, not really, when I've disagreed with her or that I long ago reached the stage where I can make my own decisions quite well-I've never drawn any lines with her. In psychology, the term is 'enabling'. Sure, she might have been treating me inappropriately, like she did with the dissertation, but I have been the 'enabler'. My behaviour was part of the dynamic between us. I have continued to allow her to treat me like a child, more like a child than I ever was. Because it makes her feel good. Because I don't have to risk losing her love by redefining our relationship. Naomi is really good at ‘detaching with love'. I never wanted her to completely ‘detach' from me, because, well, she's my Mom, and I love her and she's really the only consistent person I've had in my life, for most of my life."

"Chief, your mother…" I began, but he held up his hand, wanting me to hear him out.

Shaking his head, he muttered, "That stuff is only important to understand how I came to be an 'enabler'. I was afraid of losing the one person that was any kind of constant in my life, the only person I really loved unconditionally."

Looking up at me, he said softly, "Until I met you. At first, you were my 'holy grail,' the embodiment of a wondrous being I'd always believed could really exist in our world."

I know I must have winced at that, because he hurried on, "But, before long, you were so much more than that. You gave me a home, a pretty nice one for all the rules that I bitched about. That's something I'd never had, Jim. You allowed me into your life as your friend. And, man, believe me, that was hard work. You really don't trust easily and sometimes you can be real hard to get along with. But when I got to know you, I understood why you act like you do sometimes- the need for control, your emotional fear response, your need for a certain degree of predictable stability and peace in your personal space-and I didn't take it personally."

I guess I looked, uh, chagrined might be a good word, 'cause he grinned a little before continuing seriously, "And I'm so glad I hung in, because getting to know you, earning your trust, is so damned worthwhile. You're steady, and when you give your word, you mean it. I learned, finally, what the concept of 'best friend' really means. It's not that I haven't had friends and lots of them. I get along with people easily-but, hell, Jim, you would die for me. Nobody has ever made that kind of commitment to me before. When you fought with Lash, without waiting for backup, even when you'd lost your gun and fallen through the floor and you still didn't give up or go for help-when I heard the shots and knew you could have been killed protecting me-I knew I had never known anyone like you before. And I was so damned proud to be your friend. I still am and always will be."

I didn't know what to say to that. Too swamped by my memories of terror that I'd be too late to save him from that maniac to say much of anything. So I just bit my lip and nodded, not meeting his eyes.

He blinked hard and looked away as he took a sip of tea. Sighing, he continued quietly, "I guess that's when I started 'adapting', being what you wanted me to be more than who I am. By the time Alex breezed into Cascade, I was so dependent on our friendship that I would have seriously ditched the diss if you had ever really wanted me to-and I'd already pretty much decided I wouldn't go with it anyway, which is why I started working on the substitute paper. I wrote The Sentinel more for you than anything else; I never figured anyone else would ever see it. I wrote it to honour you."

I gaped at him, and my gut clenched at those words. He'd written it to honour me…and I hadn't so much as ever asked to even look at it, aside from making an ass of myself over the draft of the first chapter, any more than I'd read his second paper.

Slumping back against the sofa, he went on wearily, "When you threw me out, I didn't understand at the time, but I later thought I deserved it, because I hadn't been straight with you. When you took off for Mexico without me, I figured I deserved that, too, because I'd proven you couldn't trust me. When you told me to focus on getting my diss done and spend less time at the station, I figured you really just didn't want me around much longer. I almost blew it over Ventriss-I was so damned mad and confused. But I pushed you too hard, pushed Simon too hard. And I could see that I was on the edge of losing everything that I loved most in my world. You, the work we do together, my home. So I put my head down, did my best to keep my mouth shut and be the kind of roommate or partner or whatever that you wanted me to be. I didn't fight back. I 'enabled' you to sideline me. When the diss came out and it was such a mess, I figured that was it. We were definitely done. And all I could do was leave you as whole as I could-it was a matter of ethical responsibility to protect my source as much as it was about friendship. And when I got yet another chance to do what I really wanted-I grabbed at it. But the damage was done."

Looking up at me, he said sadly, "I'd allowed a situation to develop in which I was dependent upon you, upon your favour, at the same time that I allowed you to become obsessive about my vulnerability. I'm not that fragile, Jim. I don't need the kind of protection from the hazards of the world that you want to give me. At first, when you didn't read my diss on law enforcement, I figured you either weren't interested, or had heard all my theories first hand as they were being formed and didn't need to see them written down. When you steered me away from offering my services to other units, I let it go. But I believed that it was because you really didn't think I had much to offer them and were protecting me from being overtly told that I'm pretty superfluous. I told myself I could live with that because I still got to be your partner."

"That's what we both want, Chief," I interjected.

He nodded but then shrugged as he went on, "But when you told me to stay in the truck the other day, when you and Simon and others keep saying, 'you're not a cop, Sandburg,' it's just like when my Mom used to say, 'you're not a grown up, sweetie'. And I knew I'd only been fooling myself that things were all right. They aren't. I don't have a real job, man. Except for Molly, you haven't zoned in a year and you've shown for months that you don't need me to back you up. My theoretical and anthropological expertise is superfluous to the PD-it's a scam, mostly, to account for me being there. That means that half my life, everything I worked to learn and achieve is pretty much worthless, or it is if I allow it to be. And, well, when I finally realized all that, realized you don't really respect me as anyone who could be your real partner, well-I finally realized that I'd 'enabled' myself into an untenable position."

He set the mug down on a coaster, clasped his hands and looked at me earnestly as he said, his voice tight with emotion, "I want to be your partner, I really do. I've applied for weapons certification so that I'll be a more competent back up. And I really want to be your friend. But, honestly? I'm not sure any of it is salvageable. Our patterns of behaviour have become so routinized, so ingrained. You see me as a kid who is likely to fuck up and get myself and maybe you killed. I'm afraid you might be right. I've become so completely dependent on you that it isn't healthy. I used to have my own life at the university, for some balance, to just be me. But that's gone now. I don't know who I am anymore. And that's pretty scary, to tell you the truth. But-I have to try to save what we used to have. And the only way I can think to do it, is to break our pattern. To 'grow up'. To stop being the 'neo-hippy, witchdoctor punk' who lives in your spare room and start being a contemporary, an adult who takes care of himself and who is your partner at work." He managed a wry grin, as he concluded, "So you see, Jim-this isn't all your fault, man. I've let us get so far apart that we're in serious trouble. And I have to be the one to change, more than you-I have to risk really being me again and hope that you'll still want me around when I am just me and not the compliant shadow that I've become."

Shit. I didn't know where to start. The problem with having an articulate partner is that I'm still back dealing with what I think about how he was raised and he's telling me why it's all his fault why he has to move out. Worse. He's telling me that he doesn't think this partnership of ours, or even our friendship, is at all safe. Not messages that I wanted to hear.

Rubbing my neck, I offered, "I don't think this is all your fault any more than you think it isn't my fault. We've both screwed up, I guess. Without meaning to. If I hadn't let you down in some pretty serious ways, you wouldn't have thought that you had to change so much to protect our friendship. I don't want to get into a lot of debate about whose fault it is that you're feeling like you're on the edge of some abyss here. But, for the record, I messed up badly over the release of the diss. If I'd stopped to think for even a single second, I would have realized that you are not the kind of man who sells a friend down the river for money or five minutes worth of fame. Same thing over Alex. Pure emotional bullshit. If I've learned anything in the last few years, it's that I can trust you."

He looked ridiculously pleased to hear me admit that, so I thought I might as well go for broke. Sighing, I admitted, "When I saw your press conference, I thought you'd done what you did for friendship. I have seriously underestimated you for years and missed the bedrock of integrity that motivates your choices and actions. You just seemed so damned young and idealistic-I didn't know enough about how you'd had to find your own ethical boundaries when you were growing up to understand that those ethics are rock solid. I should have seen that a long time ago, but I took you for granted. I was wrong."

Looking away, I continued, "As for what you can offer down at the PD, well, I'm just afraid, I guess, that you'll get to be in so much demand that you won't have time to be my partner any more. Selfish, I guess, but there it is. You talk about this friendship and our partnership as if you're the only one who wants or needs it, Chief. I don't think you understand that whatever this Sentinel and Guide thing is, I-I need you to be around, nearby. You're a kind of touchstone for me, Sandburg-you keep me balanced and when I hear your heartbeat or sense your presence, it settles my senses down, makes them manageable."

Looking back at him, I told him, "This is a two-way street, Blair. We both have a stake in making it work."

He closed his eyes and seemed to slump into himself, and I knew I'd said something wrong, or at least, not right. Swallowing, I replayed my words in my head. I'd told him I needed him, as my Guide…damn, that's not what this was about. Not what he really needed to hear. Clearing my throat, I added, "But, see, the thing is-I want you around. Not just as my Guide. You're the best friend I ever had, Chief, and the only partner I want. I'm not good at this sappy stuff; I can't say the word 'love' as easily as you do, but," my voice cracked, damn it, "but don't you know…"

Why the hell do I have to choke up like this over simple words…I guess 'cause I don't give these kinds of emotions free rein too often; like, uh, ever. But he needed this from me. Hell, his mother can say, 'I love you' at the drop of a hat-and then she's gone with the wind. He'd told me once, a few weeks ago, that he knew how I felt from my actions and I'd been relieved to know that. But, I guess if you're someone who puts a lot of stock in words, you need to hear them once in a while. He was sitting perfectly still, listening, and not letting me off the hook this time. Taking a deep breath, I said hoarsely, "You are my family. I love you. I don't want to lose you."

He nodded then and sniffed as he swiped at his eyes. Yeah, I guess he needed to hear the words. "So, where do we go from here, Chief?" I asked. When he looked up, I swept an arm toward his room, "You're right-a cubby hole under the stairs isn't enough for the rest of your life."

"It's not about the size of the room, Jim," he sighed. "It's about independence-about being an equal, not a substitute kid brother."

"You aren't a substitute anything," I growled, irritated by his comments. What? He thought I just used him to fill in what I'd lost with Steven so damned many years ago. Taking a breath, I damped down my anger. The issue here was independence. Okay. I can deal with that.

"So you really want to have your own place?" I clarified, not really happy about it.

He nodded and bit his lip. "Yeah, I think I have to, we both have to have some space that is personal. I can't just keep being an extension of you. I have to be me." He shook his head. "Does that make any sense? It's not that I don't love living here. That's not what I mean."

"I think I get it," I told him. "How important is it that you find a place that is significantly geographically removed from here?"

His eyes narrowed and he cocked his head. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, do you have to live on the other side of town to be independent, or would a little closer be alright, providing it was your own place?" I clarified. "And how urgent is it that you get this place, wherever it is, right away?"

"How much closer?" he asked then, a little tentatively. "Cause, uh, I like the neighbourhood, you know."

"Yeah, well, I know you do, and I figured it would be more convenient, you know, for work if we lived close together," I replied, not looking at him.

"Makes sense," he allowed. "You have some place specific in mind or is this just all speculation and possibility?"

This was the tricky part. He could feel like I was trying to take control again. And, hell, maybe I was. So sue me. I wanted him close. Needed him close. "I asked around over the last couple of days and I, uh, found a place that will be available in three months. If you were interested in it, that is. It's a two-bedroom condo and the owner is elderly. Her family is fixing up a 'granny suite' for her, but it won't be ready for another few months."

"In the neighbourhood?" he repeated. "Sounds like a possibility. What's the address?"

I took a swig of beer, and then licked my lip. "See, I'd thought at first that maybe we could just get a bigger place, you know, buy it together, but I know that won't work in terms of you really feeling independent in your own home so…"

"What's the address, Jim?" he asked again, giving me a narrow look, made suspicious by my hesitation.

"I mean, your criteria is that you have your own place, right-that you own it, and it's separate from my place, not a room under the stairs. So that you have some independence, right?" I stumbled, lining up my ducks as to how the place in question met his criteria. "It's not like you want to avoid getting together, is it? You said you want us to stay friends as well as be partners…"

"The address?" he prompted again.

"Eight fifty-two Prospect, Apt 308," I told him in a rush and cut a quick look to get his reaction.

His mouth dropped open as he stared at me with wide eyes. "Across the hall?" he squeaked. "Mrs. Wilkins' place?"

"Well, actually, it's next door," I clarified. Tilting my head toward the wall behind the fireplace, I elaborated, "We'd share that wall. And, uh, if you wanted, we could put in French doors or something and maybe a new, longer, shared balcony…"

"Jim…" he began, shaking his head.

"Look, you'd own your own real estate. It's a separate domicile. It would just be…close," I interjected.

He squinted at me and then looked away. "This is about the heartbeat thing, isn't it?" he murmured.

"It helps me to be able to hear it, yeah," I allowed. "But I also figured that…" I tried to explain rationally, but then just blurted out, "Damn it, Sandburg. I'd miss having you around. I've gotten used to your company and I like it. I thought, maybe, we could still have dinner together when it was convenient, watch the games on TV, hang out…"

When he still didn't say anything, I sighed. "But, I guess if that's too close, and you wanted more space, well…"

"I don't know," he muttered, shaking his head. "I'm not sure French doors are such a hot idea. Not a lot of privacy. Maybe something that locks with opaque, smoked glass or something would be better."

It took me a moment to get it-the posture and the tone were saying 'no', but when I looked up at the meaning of the words, he was watching me through his hair, and he was giving me one of his cheeky grins, knowing he'd suckered me for a while there. I should have growled at him or thrown something.

But all I could do was grin back. Finally, when I found my voice, I replied, "Whatever works for you, Chief. Smoked glass is good."

"When can I see the place?" he asked then, straightening. I really didn't like the way he still winced whenever he moved.

"She said to come over any time," I told him.

"Does it need a lot of work?" he wondered, already thinking about renovations. Hot damn!

"Your settlement from Berkshire Publishing will more than cover the asking price and whatever else you want to do with the place," I assured him.

He nodded and pushed himself up from the sofa, still moving gingerly and holding his side, and then he shuffled toward his room.

"Chief, if you want something, I can get it for you," I offered.

But he just waved a hand back at me as he carried on. "I need to pull on a pair of jeans and a shirt. I can hardly go check out real estate in my pajamas," he called back.

I couldn't help thinking that, just like Scrooge on Christmas morning, I didn't deserve to feel so happy.

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

Sandburg had seemed-different, I guess I'd call it-for the past few months. It had started slowly, and I hadn't really picked up on it at first. But thinking back, it was the request for weapons training that had been the beginning of it. He was carving out his place in the PD, first by gaining the trust of the old hands who'd never accept a guy in the field who didn't carry and then pushing out, working with other units, showing them what he could do, not taking 'no' for an answer…and proving what he had to contribute. Solve rates were up all over the department.

I'd taken some ribbing from my colleagues, especially when the new nickname got started. They couldn't believe someone as pragmatic as I was valued some of the weird and wonderful theories and suggestions that Sandburg would make about taking a different perspective on a particular crime or on the prevention of crime in the first place.

It had started with an odd murder. There were hieroglyphics or something like that carved into the victim's body. Sandburg helped Homicide figure out what the symbols meant. Not only did they stop the perp, but they also stopped what would have likely degenerated into a new serial murdering spree. Sandburg just shrugged and made some crack about being glad to have helped the warriors, the hunters, to understand the 'sign', the 'spoor' left by the murderer. And then it was Gangs, and working with them and the communities to take a different tack on how we approached gang-related activity. He kept harping on ideas like affiliation, identity, choice and honour, linking those things to power, or the lack of it in the ghetto and explained that it all stemmed from a lack of pride of ancestry and an abiding anger at feeling somehow 'less' than the dominant white culture of the city. So he got the beat cops to begin working more actively with the community elders to create new strategies to address restitution, employing concepts like inclusion, formalized ostracism, shame and new definitions of honour and choice. The next thing I heard, he'd roped the cops and the elders into creating culturally diverse sensitization programs for the local schools.

After that, he hit up Vice again, getting them to stop focusing on prostitution, which he claimed was no more than a human response to poverty and a survival strategy, and, instead to focus on those growing wealthy from the trade in human passions. He got social services to set up programs for the prostitutes, safe houses and employment training, affordable housing and even, God save us, day care for when they were hooking. The role of the cops soon became that of protector of the women who were increasingly moving out of the trade. And then he focused on the child prostitution rings…and vice as it relates to human degradation has begun to show trends of decline. Drugs were next, and instead of looking at drug usage as the initial crime that fed the rest of the procurement and distribution markets, augmented by petty thievery to feed unhealthy cravings and habits, he organized community leaders into groups to actively look into the reasons behind the drug addictions. Well, that led to sad histories of overlooked abuse that had fueled anger and despondency and the drop out from the whole damned world by those kids who became users.

There were lots of other examples. He seemed to be everywhere at once. I'd heard from one of my colleagues that he often got challenged when he pushed hard to bring the communities of practice together, cops, citizens, business leaders, voluntary and public sector players, to work together in focused ways instead of just tackling their part of a single problem. He kept getting asked why it was his job or right to call such meetings to order, to get people involved in workshops to identify key needs or vulnerabilities, to envision different outcomes and be committed to them. Apparently, he only ever shrugged and said, "Hey, this is us, this is our town. Is what we have good enough? No? Well, there's no magic bullet. This stuff is generational and the only people who are ever going to create a future that is different from our past is us. Now, who wants to play?"

Somehow, he still always managed to be available when Jim needed him on a case. It was a lot like when he'd been a grad student actually. He juggled his schedule, worked ridiculous hours-and seemed to thrive on them.

Looking out over the bullpen, I noticed that once again his desk was untenanted. Ambling out to perch on Ellison's desk, I asked, "Where is he today?"

"Up in Family Services Liaison, talking to them about what happens to child victims," Jim replied.

When I frowned, not understanding and not having heard of this particular interest before, Ellison continued, "Well, we all know that victims often grow up to victimize, especially victims of abuse. So Sandburg is working with them on strategies to break that cycle, something that again draws in the community, makes a formal apology to the kids, and then works with them to feel successful and safe again, if they ever did."

"I have to say, I never envisioned any of this when we offered him the forensic anthropologist role," I sighed, rubbing the back of my head. "I thought, maybe, some profiling would result, but he's revolutionizing the concept of community policing in this city."

"Yeah, I know," Ellison quirked a grin. "He just sees such endless possibilities and he thinks in terms of community, not individuals. He thinks systems and generations, not incidental or immediate crimes. It's something to listen to him babble on about it with the kind of excitement he used to show when he first started learning about how things work around here. Endlessly exploring and learning and feeding that brain of his." Pinning me with a look, he said, "You do realize, he's using everything he learned about how our so-called subculture works against us, appealing to our better natures and the things we don't much talk about but really believe in or wish were possible."

"So you finally read his dissertation?" I observed. Well, that made it official. Finally everyone in MCU had finished reading the copies Blair had given to us. It had just taken Ellison a bit longer than most.

He shrugged. "Yeah, both of them actually. He's out at so many evening meetings that I finally got the chance to read them without him hanging over me to get my reaction."

Well, I couldn't help snickering at that. Jim was right and Sandburg would have done just that, driving him mad with distractions and questions as he tried to work his way through the documents. Ellison was sharp, but he liked time to think about things before having to react to them. But, when I thought back about what he'd just said, about Sandburg being so excited about all the endless possibilities, a light clicked on for me.

"That's it!" I exclaimed, coming to my feet. "That's what's different! He's more like he used to be, years ago. Smart ass and irreverent, pushy-definitely pushy."

Jim seemed taken aback. "Uh, is it causing a problem, sir?" he asked, clearly wondering if he was going to have to rise up in full 'partner defence' mode.

"Hell, no," I waved off his concern with a smile. "I was missing the Sandburg Zone. He'd gotten too quiet for a while there. I was worried about him-a lot of us were. But he seems to have found his stride again."

"Yeah, that's for sure," Jim replied with a snicker. "He wears me out just watching and listening."

"You know what they've started to call him, right? Around the PD and in the community?" I asked, wondering what he thought about it.

"Uh huh," he nodded. "I guess 'call the forensic anthropologist' is too much of a mouthful." But he grinned, evidently amused by the whole thing.

"Oh, sure," I drawled, not as sure I liked the hoodoo connotations. It was always something with these two. "Like 'call the Shaman' is so much clearer."

Ellison chuckled as he explained, "I guess it started as a joke because he's always putting things in tribal terms, but everyone seems to know who they mean, Simon…half the time when messages come in now, they just ask for The Shaman and Rhonda directs the calls to Sandburg."

"What does he think of it?" I asked, curious.

"He's still not too sure about it," Jim replied with a grin. "But it works for me."

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

It was a riot hearing about Hairboy taking on City Hall, like a fifth columnist leading from the inside. Nobody seemed to quite know what to make of him. Well, we all knew what that felt like. But, hey, we learned it wasn't so bad in the Sandburg Zone. I was pretty sure the rest of our confreres in blue would as well now that he was in full official flight.

Man, he hardly touched down, always be bopping off somewheres else. But the most fun to watch when he did hover long enough was the hard time he gave Ellison, everything from rapid fire checkups on the senses to grilling him about what he'd had for lunch that day. Even though he had his own desk now, Hairboy still tended to perch on Ellison's desk or drag his chair over as they went over files or discussed cases. He teased and lectured and frowned and threw the odd fit, waving his arms and moving right into Ellison's space the way no one else would dare to do…and not giving a hoot about who might be listening in.

The fun really got started though, when Ellison would just go right back at him. He'd loom over Hairboy, and give as good as he got, demanding to know what his partner had been up to, and forget lunch, when had Sandburg stopped to eat anything at all? Constant good-natured bickering. Like it used to be when Sandburg had first started coming around. Gotta say, they both look the better for it. No pinched, peaked looks on Sandburg's face. No irascible, irritated mutterings and glares from Ellison. They'd natter and hiss and sometimes snarl, and then Sandburg would start giggling and Ellison would roll his eyes-and then they'd settle right down to work up some brilliant solution to the latest crime they were investigating.

And you gotta know, we all get a kick out of teasing him about being the new Shaman of Cascade. He blushes like mad and waves us off…but that sparkle in his eyes and shit-eating grin tells us he doesn't really mind, and is even a mite pleased by it all.

Yep, seems like the team of Ellison and Sandburg have hit their stride and things are goin' good.

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

"What do you mean he's moving out?" I exclaimed after Ellison had told me about the house-warming party he was planning for his partner.

"Well, Joel, he couldn't live in that cubby-hole under my stairs forever," Jim explained, trying to make all seem reasonable and only to be expected. And by now, I could see my outburst had drawn the attraction of everyone else in the bullpen…with mixed reactions. Rafe nodded at Jim's words, while Megan frowned and H called out, "When's the party?"

"More like 'where'?" I called back, and then returned to my conversation with Jim. "You okay with him moving out?"

"Well, I wasn't all that thrilled, to tell you the truth," Jim sighed as he rubbed the back of his neck. "I really do need him close by or my senses start to go wonky after a while, and besides, I've gotten used to him."

"Yeah, right," Megan drawled, standing to join us. "Admit it, Jimbo, he's a better cook than you are."

Ellison rolled his eyes, not dignifying that with a response. "The point is, I'm trying to set this up as a surprise party on our regular poker night. Everyone is invited…just like that last time he suckered all of us into a party at my place."

I grinned. I kinda liked the idea of turning those tables. "Okay, where's his new place?"

"Across the hall from his old place, with a connecting door being put in as part of the renovations," Jim drawled and smirked at our astonished reactions. Not hard to tell the new address met with his approval. But that was an amazing thing for the two of them to have been able to pull off. I smelled something fishy.

"You're telling me that Sandburg decided to move out and the apartment next door just happened to come available?" I said skeptically, looking utterly disbelieving.

"Yeah, that's a coincidence that seems a little too opportune, shall we say," H chimed in. "Whaddya do? Buy off the former tenant? Scare 'em off? Do we need to start looking for the body?"

"I'm hurt by your suspicions," Ellison teased back-which only served to convince us that he was hiding something.

"You said you trusted us, Jim," Rafe interjected quietly, yanking Ellison's chain. "Was that just fluff? Or are you going to give us the straight goods for a change?"

Ellison sighed and looked a lot like he felt cornered. "I swear, if I tell you and I find out Sandburg ever hears about it, I will be forced to kill you."

"Hey, great, we got dirt," H chuckled. "Like my partner said, Ellison, give!"

He shrugged and actually looked like a kid caught with his fingers in the cookie jar. "Well, it's no big deal actually. I asked around the building for any possible upcoming vacancies when I realized Sandburg was determined to find his own space. And, well, I heard that Mrs. Wilkins' family really wanted her to go live with them, and she wanted to go, so she could spend more time with her grandchildren, but none of them could afford the cost of a 'granny suite' addition to their home…and she wasn't about to give up all her independence. It was just a matter of a small loan to be repaid on the sale of her condo…"

Megan burst out laughing, shortly followed by the rest of us. "You bought off the old lady so that you could keep Sandy next door?"

"And you're building a 'connecting door'?" I added, unable to contain my own rumble of laughter.

"Oh, Jim, that's sad, man, that's real sad," H snickered as he patted Jim on the back.

Ellison glared at us all in turn, trying for that old intimidating snarl, but he just couldn't seem to pull it off these days. Finally, he laughed, too. "I know, I'm pathetic. Just don't tell him how pathetic. I'd never live it down."

Actually, I don't think any of us were all that surprised by what he'd done. Those two had always had a closer relationship than most-it bordered on the mystical and we all knew and accepted that now.

"So, like I asked, when's the par-tee?" H demanded, returning to the important point of discussion. "And just how surprised do we want Hairboy to be?"

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

Well, it's my humble opinion that we got Sandburg good. Oh, he'd figured he'd break the news about his new place when we got there that night for our poker game and show us around as the renovations and furnishing was almost complete. The double smoked glass doors still had to be hung, and Jim had said he'd pick them up at the glaziers and get H to help hang them before the game got started. Apparently, since the doors were Jim's idea, he'd insisted on paying for that part of the renovations.

Anyway, when we walked in with our chilled buckets of champagne and arms loaded with gifts, well, Sandburg just kind of gaped at us, not immediately getting it, and then he looked over at Jim, smiling broadly as he shook his head.

It was a lot of fun. We'd decided we'd follow the general approach he'd taken the last time we'd gathered to celebrate a major milestone in his life, only this time, we'd be the ones making the speeches-and giving the gifts. Rhonda got it started as she said, "For the guy who has shown us how to work miracles," as she handed him the new plaque for his desk, 'Blair Sandburg, Shaman of Cascade'. He laughed out loud at that, but I think he was pleased if the sparkle in his eyes was anything to go by.

Megan stepped up to bat next, "For the guy who pops in and out so much, we can hardly keep track of him," she said as she handed him a pop-up toaster, one of the small appliances on the list Jim had given us that he needed for his new place.

Rafe presented him with a set of three silk ties with matching hair bands to hold back his unruly locks when he was trying to look like a serious consultant, "To bring just a little touch of class to all your many meetings," the sartorially splendid detective explained with a wink.

H smirked as he cut a glance at Jim and then handed over his gift…a stack of no doubt very loud and boisterous CDs by Blair's favourite contemporary artists. "Once them doors are up and closed, you can play the beat as loud as you like," the big detective laughed. And we all laughed with him-Jim's bitching about Sandburg's 'jungle drums' was an old complaint whenever they were teasing one another.

Joel was next, and he presented a framed text that we'd all signed, telling Sandburg that he could hang it either in his home or office, but we would be checking to ensure it was hung up in full view in one of those two places. It was entitled, 'To Our Thousandth Man' and included the whole poem by Kipling that he'd recited to us. When Blair took it, he didn't seem to know what to say. He just hugged Joel, who we all heard tell him, "We're so damned proud to have you on our team, son-you don't know how glad we are that everything has worked out so well."

Blair was blushing and blinking fast by the time it was my turn. I had a few things for him. One from me, something from the department and a gift from all of us. Wordlessly, I handed him a thin black leather wallet and he opened it to find an updated gold badge pronouncing him as Blair Sandburg, PhD, Forensic Anthropologist and Resident Shaman, Cascade Police Department, and under the plastic window opposite the shield was his newly minted permit to carry a weapon. He was still gaping at the badge, wondering if it was serious or a joke, when I dipped into the bag I'd brought along and I pulled out his new service revolver and two holsters, one to carry under his arm and the other in the small of his back, whichever he chose.

"You're not a cop, Dr. Sandburg," I said then formally, as I handed his new gear to him. "You're something more. A man who has earned the right to work as the official partner in every respect to one of Cascade's top detectives-but also a man who is teaching all of us how to go about preventing crime before weapons like this have to be used. You are a unique asset to our team, Blair Sandburg, and I'm very proud of the contributions you make."

"Thank you, sir," he stammered, taking a deep breath. I knew how much he didn't want to carry and respected him for realizing that it was necessary-and for having come to grips with that because it was the right thing to do.

"I have something else for you, from all of us," I added as I pointed to the fairly large box we'd simply set on the table with the champagne when we arrived. Pulling out my notes, wanting to get this bit right as the symbolism was important to him, I said, "I have to admit, as you well know, I find all this stuff about animal spirit guides just a tad outside my normal terms of reference. But, after what happened at the fountain, and Jim told me about your two spirit guides, and then when you seemed to find such appropriate symbols for each of us, I did a little research. And, you know, it's pretty damned spooky."

When H snickered at that, I leveled a stern look at him. "You tell me when I'm done if this doesn't strike you as at least a little odd in terms of coincidence of characteristics between Sandburg and his so-called animal spirit."

Clearing my throat, I turned to the paper in my hand, "Let me just quote for everyone what I found listed as the wisdom of the wolf. Facing the end of one's cycle with dignity and courage, death and rebirth." I looked up at him as I said, "You faced your professional extinction with a dignity and courage that was breathtaking, and you have shown how a man can die and be reborn anew-physically in body and spiritually, in life direction." Returning to peer at my notes, I continued, "Spirit teaching and guidance in dreams and meditations. You've shown us all how to bring our spirits and dreams back to work-you are showing our community how to make our collective dreams work for us. Instinct linked with intelligence -well, I'll never pretend to know how your mind works but your instincts are scary sometimes, your insights come from out of the blue, but they are always refined and illuminated by your intelligence. Social and familial values-your whole professional career has been about understanding people from a variety of cultural perspectives and then helping others understand as well. Outwitting enemies and the ability to pass unseen. People tend to underestimate you when they first meet you. Like Rafe over there, you camouflage yourself behind the way you present to the world. You're unexpected. Steadfastness, skill in protection of self and family-we learned a long time ago not to ever get in your way when you are protecting your Sentinel. And, taking advantage of change…you never seem to see threat, only new opportunities."

I gave H a stern look and he nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah, Captain, that's, uh, pretty close, I got to admit."

"Uh huh," I muttered, but then turned to Sandburg, not yet finished, because I'd found an odd correlation in my research. I didn't know if it was supposed to mean anything, but I'd found it interesting. "But, you know, I thought I'd do a little side research and I looked up the cousin of the wolf, the coyote. And it's almost scary to think about how closely these characteristics reflect the man you are. Understanding that all things are sacred--yet nothing is sacred; teaching that only when all masks have fallen will we connect with the source of our human spirit. Intelligence, singing humans into being; I think for 'singing', I'd read teasing," I drawled, looking meaningfully from Sandburg to Ellison. "Childhood trust in truth and teaching us how to rear our young." Sighing, I shook my head. "We've learned enough about what your childhood was like to understand your approach to truth, Sandburg. Only one well acquainted with the truth can obfuscate it the way you do, half the time turning it into a kind of parable for universal learning. And I have to say, you've helped me to better understand my son-for that I'm personally very grateful. Brings rain," I recited then and looked meaningful out at the wet, drizzling night. "I'd wondered whom to blame for that," I said sardonically and they all laughed. "Ability to laugh at one's own mistakes, and that you've never had trouble doing-you see mistakes as a chance to learn, and a humble man, you figure mistakes are only to be expected, though you try hard not to make them…and you don't make many. Placing the North Star. This is the navigational star, the one that keeps us on our course-you've begun to show our city how to find it again. Shape-shifting-I'm not sure we'll ever have a grip on all the men Blair Sandburg is, academic, cop, teacher, shaman, clown, steadfast friend, guide, hero, naïve one moment and wise the next, a trickster, unexpected and never to be taken for granted. Teaching balance between risk and safety," I intoned and looked over my glasses at Ellison, as I added, "No doubt lessons that are still on-going. Illumination, and you have definitely brought light and laughter. And, finally, stealth-you snuck up on all of us and stole our hearts before we even had a clue about what was going on."

Folding the paper and laying it on the table, I said, "All of those qualities and characteristics seem to fit you remarkably well, so I may have to rethink the validity of some of the nonsense you're always spouting about energy fields and karma and chakras and what all. But…let's not go into all of that tonight. For now, on behalf of all of us, I want to present you with this memento of your animal spirit and its cousin the coyote." Opening the box, I pulled out a foot high, finely carved wooden representation of a wolf howling on a hilltop…and its smaller relative replying from the valley below.

"Oh, my God," he sighed in stunned admiration as he took it from me. "It's beautiful. Thank you-all of you!"

"Well, we're not quite finished, Chief," Jim interjected then. He and H had fussed earlier with setting up the doors that would divide the apartment but hadn't removed the brown paper covering the glass. Striding over to the new doors, Jim said over his shoulder, "As I recall, you wanted smoked or frosted glass, to ensure privacy between our apartments when the doors are closed." He paused a moment, and then ripped off the paper quickly. And we all gasped.

It was magnificent.

The frosted and smoked glass scene was of a lush rainforest in hues of green, blue and gold, and in the centre of one door was a black jaguar leaping forward to meet the grey wolf leaping toward it from the other door. Maybe it was a trick of the way the glass had been cut, but there was an impression of bright illumination in a kind of aura around the animals that suggested a mystical, even transcendental, energy and power.

"Ah, Jim," Blair breathed, overcome, shaking his head with wonder as he moved across the loft to stand beside Ellison and gaze at the imagery. "It's what we both saw, man…that you never wanted to talk about."

"Yeah," Ellison agreed diffidently as he lifted a hand to grip Sandburg's shoulder, almost shy as he avoided everyone's eyes as he gazed at the doors. His voice was tight and a bit hoarse as he continued, "But not talking about it doesn't mean I ever want to forget it. That was the moment I got you back, Chief…the moment of the miracle that brought you back to me."

There was a silence then, and more than a few moist eyes. But H rescued us by flipping on some lively, loud music, while Rafe poured the champagne and our two ladies swept the former roommates into the dance.

Yep, all told, it was a pretty good party. And we'd left Sandburg speechless, which was always something memorable.

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

Once everyone had taken their leave, I helped Sandburg carry his gifts into his apartment. Blair wandered bemusedly around his new home while I moved to lean on the doorsill between the two lofts, watching him with a quiet smile of satisfaction.

"It was a great housewarming party, man," Blair observed quietly. "I've never had one of those before. Thanks."

"My pleasure, Chief," I murmured, glad it had all worked out so well.

Standing by the balcony doors to look into the night, Sandburg said, "Oh, and before I forget, Mrs. Wilkins' daughter called to say how grateful the whole family is that you helped them make their dream of a granny suite addition to their home possible by loaning them the money upfront. She assured me that her mother has put the check into the mail for you."

"Oh," I stammered and wondered if I should run for the hills or just face the firing squad like a man. "I, uh, I know you didn't want me to interfere; that when I do, it just reinforces that dependency thing that worries you but, uh…"

But Sandburg just turned from the window, his hands up to stop my babbling explanation. He shook his head. And then this blazing smile lit his face. "I'm not upset with you, Jim, for pulling this off. I just…I just want to thank you for making everything so perfect. I really like hanging out with you, too. And, well, you said there's a sentinel/guide thing-it doesn't work just for the sentinel. I need to be close to you, too."

Blowing out a relieved breath, I just nodded and smiled; glad he understood and was content with the outcome I'd manipulated.

I should have known there'd be a price.

"Uh, speaking of which, as I recall, some of your insights about sentinels and guides go back to the time you spent in the pool in Mexico," he reflected, giving me a sideways look.

And I knew I was in trouble. "Yeah, but, uh, I forgot almost everything as soon as it was over."

"We know how to bring up repressed memories, Jim. We've done it before…just a light trance, some leading questions to get you started…" he prompted, grinning a little, knowing how much I just loved delving into painful memories. Teasing…and yet I knew he was really very serious. The time had come when he was ready to confront all that Alex and Mexico had meant to both of us. Was it something about having his own place? Did he feel safer somehow now that he was standing on his own foundation and not dependent upon me? When I'd tossed him out of the apartment months ago, had I made this moment inevitable?

"Well, I don't know-Alex drugged me, so everything was pretty surreal…" I hedged. I guess, deep down, I'd known it was inevitable, but God, I really didn't want to dredge it all back up again.

"Or, maybe as soon as I get enough leave accumulated, we could head down to Sierra Verde together," he suggested, his eyes dancing. "I really want to see that Temple of the Sentinels for myself and we could recreate the whole experience…"

"A trance is good," I cut in, wishing that could be enough to satisfy him, knowing he really did have to see the place for himself.

"Thought you might see it that way," he chuckled. "But I still want to see the Temple…"

His tone was light but I knew he was serious and I couldn't help freezing up. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, about Sierra Verde or the Temple that I ever wanted to experience again. Hell, the memories were too much. When I didn't say anything, he sighed, all traces of amusement gone as he said quietly, "I'll go alone if you don't want to come with me, but I think this is something we need to do."

There was a note of resignation in his voice, as if he'd expected my hesitation and when I cut a look at him, I saw the distant look in his eyes of what…sorrow? And I knew I was doing it again, withdrawing when he needed me to be present, leaving him uncertain when he needed to know I was as committed to our partnership as he was. Swallowing, I took a breath and replied, "No, we'll go together, whenever you want."

He gave me a long look and I could see the compassion and understanding in his eyes…and the gratitude that I had accepted his assessment that this was needed. And then, he moved across the floor to stand in front of me as he said, his voice quiet, almost gentle, "It's a good place, Jim, a place built for special people like you…it's time we banished the last of the shadows…"

I nodded wordlessly. When he's right, he's right. We did need to go there together. Blowing out a breath, I straightened. "Well, it's late, I guess we should call it a night."

"Yeah," he agreed with a small smile. "Good night, Jim." And then as I stepped back from the doorway and turned away, he closed the doors behind me. This was his first night in his new place.

It's crazy, I guess…I mean, I knew he was right there, just on the other side of those panels of glass, but when I heard the latch click closed behind me, I felt the separation that those doors represented. We'd shared a place for almost four years. I don't know, I can't explain it, but my throat tightened and I felt somehow bereft. I gave myself a shake and told myself I was being ridiculous…

So I turned off the lights and continued on upstairs, all the while listening to him turning off lights and climbing his own staircase. I could hear his heart beating and though it was a little more distant than I was used to, the sound I needed to hear was still there. When I looked back down at the barrier that now separated us, the ambient glow from the streetlights and the moon streaming in through the balcony doors of both apartments illuminated the imagery etched on the glass. The colours were muted, but I could clearly see the jaguar and the wolf leaping toward one another in the splash of silvery light…

And it was oddly comforting.

The very doors that separated us also represented the one moment of all that had happened during that terrible time that I never wanted to forget and would always cherish-the symbol of how I sincerely hoped our lives would always be bound together….

Jaguar and Wolf…Sentinel and Guide.

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

And I will remember you,

Will you remember me?

Don't let your life pass you by,

Weep not for the memories….

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

Finis

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