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

Author's note: this mini-series goes hand in hand with my previous story Graduation. I wanted to give some realism to what Jim would be doing while Blair was at the Academy and answer the all-important question - why would Blair, the gentlest most peaceful person in Cascade decide to take a job that made him carry a gun? Originally I was going to focus on different detectives in the department, but Simon was so indignant that I had to let him have his say. I hope I was listening correctly

Shedoc

Worth it

by Shedoc

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I decided it had been worth the discomfort of coming to work when my detectives grinned and came in to say hello.

True, I was regretting having to put my comfy chair on the other side of the desk so the damn wheelchair would fit, but like I said - it was worth it.

So it came as a total surprise that Blair Sandburg came in early that morning and closed my door.

"Where's Jim?" I hoped that he and Ellison weren't about to call the whole official partner deal off.

"Still in bed asleep - I turned his alarm off last night," Sandburg stood opposite me, giving me a very appraising look. It came to me that he was the only person in the city who could sneak under Ellison's radar like that.

"Sit down and quit staring, Sandburg," my growl made him grin and he plunked himself in my comfy chair. He opened his coat and pulled out two cigars.

"Here," he handed one to me and bit the end off the other.

"You're going to smoke that?" I couldn't believe my eyes, "What about all those times you jibed me about these things!"

"The desperate plea of an addict trying to avoid his drug," Sandburg lit up and leaned over to hold the lighter for me.

"And what will Jim think?" my heart wasn't really in the comment as I watched him slump back after the first puff.

"I'll tell him I've been talking to you," the kid grinned at me unashamedly and I sat back.

"So besides being your alibi - and you're never doing this again, Sandburg, so don't get comfortable - why are you here?" I asked, sarcasm rich in my tone.

"This partnership between me and Jimů"

"Is non-negotiable," I held up my hands but Sandburg kept on like I hadn't spoken. I liked that when it counted I couldn't bully the kid.

"It could go either way. Jim might tell me to go again, or he might become totally dependent on me to function."

I was shocked the kid could describe impending disaster so casually. He didn't let up.

"If Jim tells me to go I will, but I'm not gonna become his security blanket. Do you follow me?"

Yeah, I did; the kid already gave up his life's work and dreams for Jim Ellison. Now, less than a week later he was ready to do it again.

"Anything you need, kid. I'll get it for you," my voice was a little hoarse and Sandburg looked at his cigar carefully, giving me space.

"I can see only one way to head this off," Sandburg's voice was calm and dispassionate, "While I'm at the Academy, Jim needs to work with another Guide."

"Conner is free," I anticipated. After all, our Aussie exchange cop already knew the truth and had the experience. Sandburg grinned and shook his head.

"What makes you think I'd inflict that on the department? They'd be a double homicide in a week!" he laid the cigar down and leaned forward a little.

"I was hoping you'd give him Taggert. Joel would be perfect for this."

I looked out into the bullpen and saw Taggert at his desk. He looked up and I waved him in. As the ex Bomb Squad captain entered Sandburg came up out of his chair and spoke before Taggert could do mare than say hello.

"You're right Joel - I was lying my ass off."

The cryptic comment had Taggert's eyes wide open and he pulled Sandburg into a back thumping bear hug.

The kid was dwarfed by the older man, but leaned into him trustingly.

"So you owe me," was the first audible thing Taggert said and Sandburg pulled a third cigar from his inner pocket. Obviously Taggert and Blair had discussed the dissertation and Blair had tried to maintain the lie.

"Where's yours?" Taggert asked and Blair gestured. I watched Taggert light up and Blair settled back into my comfy chair, his legs folded beneath him. He puffed on the cigar and blew a smoke ring at us.

"So apart from the mind-blowing idea of you smoking a cigar, what am I here for?" Taggert looked at me and I realised he had a fair idea of what was going on. You don't succeed in my squad by being slow.

"You're going to be Ellison's Sentinel Guide while Sandburg's at the Academy," I confirmed it for him.

"I hope you're going to give me a copy of that dissertation, Sandburg, 'cause I really don't know how to do that," Taggert didn't disguise his nervousness.

"I'll tell you all you need to know and do," Sandburg nodded to me and started to get up.

"Stay there," I ordered, "I could use a refresher course."

"Ok, Simon," smoking seemed to have mellowed Sandburg a lot. He blew another smoke ring and settled back to present part of his Sentinel dissertation - probably the only chance he'd ever have.

"The main thing you have to watch for is a zone out - Jim's senses haven't flared up on him in ages. He zones when he puts everything into one sense and gets lost. You'll know he's zoning if he turns into a Jim statue or simply folds up and falls over.

"To call him back you need to touch him - on the arm or shoulder, whatever you can reach. Then you call to him. Use his name; tell him to come back. If this method is going to work he'll hitch his breath a little. You'll know if he can hear you in the first thirty seconds.

"So he responds and you keep on talking. Tell him about the weather or your personal philosophy on sport. Remember to use his name a lot and ask him to come back. He'll twitch a little and grimace - just be calm and encourage him until he starts talking back and making sense."

"How long will that take?" Taggert interrupted. Sandburg shrugged and shifted a little in his chair.

"Sometimes less than a minute," Sandburg told the tip of his cigar, "There's no real base line."

"What's the longest you've had to do this for?" I pressed the issue. Sandburg drew on the cigar and sighed, his face obscured by a cloud of smoke.

"Eight hours," his voice was reflective, "We went hiking early in the partnership and Jim zoned on an eagle. I talked to him for eight hours."

"Why didn't you just slug him - like Conner?" Taggert sounded bewildered. Good question. I tilted my head at Sandburg and waited for the answer.

"The same reason you don't wake someone who's asleep with an electric shock - it has unpleasant side effects. When you shock Jim out of a zone he gets a migraine - among other things," Sandburg shrugged at my look and smiled at Taggert, "Don't worry, we've never come close to that mark since then."

He puffed again and leaned over to tap ash.

"So - danger signs.

"If Jim is going into a zone he gets shaky, drowsy. He stops making sense when he's talking or doesn't respond to what you say. His balance will go out a little. His breathing slows right down. Don't sweat it Joel. Jim doesn't zone every day."

"Hey we can always just call you," Taggert cheered up and nodded.

"That's not going to happen," I vetoed, "Not unless it's a real emergency."

Taggert shot me a startled look but didn't argue. Wise man, after all I'm the Captain. Sandburg backed me up by ignoring our little side discussion and continuing his presentation.

"Now, if you can't get Jim to respond - remember that little hitch in his breathing - then you need to do something to stimulate his other senses.

"Pain works well - hit or slap or pinch him. Shine a light in his eyes or blow a whistle in his ear. He won't thank you for it - in fact he'll probably give you a piece of his mind. Just remember it's not personal."

I wondered how many times my best detective had abused his slim partner for doing his job. How hard did Sandburg work to keep Ellison operating at peak performance? Sandburg met my eyes and I had the idea that the kid knew exactly what I was thinking; there was a wise gleam in his eyes.

"Well," Taggert broke in, "I guess I can do this."

"Sure you can," Sandburg's tone was neither falsely hearty nor patronizing, "Do you think I'd recommend you if I didn't know that? You're the one I trust most, aside from Simon here, to keep Jim safe."

Taggert straightened, proud at the endorsement and looked over at me. I nodded a dismissal to him, impressed by the kid yet again. Not that I'd tell him that. Blair waved in farewell to Taggert and waited until the door closed before looking over at me.

"If Taggert hits the eight hour mark you should call me," the kid said seriously then held up his hands before I could tell him off.

"It's better to be dependent and alive, than independently dead," he leaned forward to stub the cigar out as Conner walked in without knocking, like usual. Her arm was still in its sling so I didn't yell at her either.

"What are you trying to do, sir? Set off the smoke alarms?" Conner flapped her file at the smoke and then dropped it in shock.

I wish I had a camera to record the expression on her face as she caught sight of Sandburg and his cigar.

"Sandy! What are you doing?" she exclaimed in horror.

"Relax Megan - I'm not gonna smoke all of it," Sandburg unfolded himself from the chair and stood up.

"I gotta get going - pack for the Academy, let Jim know about Joel," he nodded to me as he dropped the remnants of the cigar into my bin.

"Dismissed," I nodded back and he grinned at me.

The door closed gently behind him and I sighed.

"That is one of the bravest men I've ever met," I muttered mostly to myself.

Yep, coming in today had definitely been worth it.

To be continued in part 2

Comments, criticism, suggestions? Please e-mail Shedoc.