Author's Notes: No profit, copyright laws bent but not broken; beta'd by the generous Arianna - remaining errors are mine

Spoilers: Post TSbBS, Blair is a detective

Warnings: None

Making The Team

by Roslyn

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

"I hate this. Really, really hate this!" Blair griped, also hating the whining tone he could not seem to suppress. He leaned weakly against his larger and blessedly stable, partner.

Jim looked down at the man he was helping to the couch. "I know you do but you can't keep ignoring the signals of an impending respiratory infection until you're on the verge of collapse. We ...you ... might have gotten off easier, admitting you were sick two days ago." Jim tactfully refrained, for now, from tearing a strip off Blair for lying to him throughout two days of repeated questions about his obviously declining well being. That would come later along with a few, stricter 'house rules' concerning a certain young officer's health.

Coughing hard, Blair still caught the hasty switch of pronouns in that gentle reprimand. When would he learn that what happened to him directly affected his partner? "I'm sorry," he choked out as he was carefully settled in a chair.

"I know, Chief." Jim sighed, deciding to table that discussion for the time being. "Let me put some bedding on the couch for you. Then I'll make some tea and go pick up the prescription. But, so help me, if you dare protest taking the antibiotic, I'll have the doctor prescribe it in suppository form and then tell you where to stick it!"

Blair would have laughed but knew his partner was deadly serious behind the jocular tone. He certainly had screwed this up royally. Following a couple of days of listlessness and building congestion, a sudden spike in temperature at work caught both men unaware. Still protesting, Blair had literally been dragged to the doctor. Some fluid in his lungs was a definite possibility, according to the physician who was familiar with Blair's tendency to get pneumonia since his drowning.

Jim withheld his confirmation of Blair's condition as it would be impossible to explain that his hearing was superior to the stethoscope wielded by the medical school graduate. Blair's baseline state of health was well known to the Sentinel through sound, appearance, touch and scent. He laughed inwardly at the inevitable consequences, should he be foolish enough to reveal all of that information to his insatiably curious guide. The academic would want to test out the last remaining sense on this premise, taste! Not going there, Jim mused.

Ellison abruptly stopped making up the couch to open the front door, revealing his disgruntled captain standing there with a hand poised to knock.

"Geeze, Jim. What took you so long?" Banks complained sarcastically. Jim normally had the door open before he left the elevator.

"Had his hands full, Simon." Sandburg listed to port as he turned too rapidly in his chair to greet his boss. Simon moved swiftly to keep Blair upright, allowing Jim to return to his housekeeping tasks.

"What did the doctor say?" Simon felt a twinge of guilt about his ulterior motive for checking in with them in person, despite his genuine concern.

"Pneumonia," Jim supplied.

"NOT! The doctor only said there might be fluid in my lungs."

"I hear the fluid, Junior. We just passed up the X-ray since there is no point exposing you to radiation when I can confirm your condition easily enough. Besides, the doc assumed you had to be treated for it anyway as a precaution."

"Well, you can't actually see it," Blair grumbled. Petulance could be excused in someone who hadn't slept much in two days. Now that he had his shield, a higher standard of performance was required and he didn't have time for illness.

Unacquainted with the faulty reasoning currently governing Blair's behavior, Ellison ignored the cranky remark. Helping his guide to rise and totter over to the couch, it was obvious that the kid was running 'hot'. "Your temp is now over one hundred and three, so lie down before you fall down. And that is not a request, Einstein, just a reminder that the laws of gravity are operating here."

Blair collapsed bonelessly on the soft cushions before serving up the inevitable rejoinder, "I don't think Einstein studied gravity, Jim. That was ..."

"This is what I came over here for? A physics lesson?"

Jim delivered a mug of herbal tea, sweetened with honey, to his partner and cast a sidelong glance at his stewing 'guest'. "Simon, can you hang out here while I make a run to the pharmacy?" He grabbed his jacket and keys, not really expecting an answer. Banks waved him off and sat in the chair recently vacated by the 'patient'.

Left alone, Banks looked at his rookie detective speculatively. "How soon will the medication lower that fever?"

"About twenty-four hours or so. I'm kind of fuzzy with this amount of fever but not entirely useless for short periods. That's why I went to work ..." Simon was not surprised when a fit of coughing ended Blair's usual chatter. If you wanted something said in twenty words rather than ten, this was undeniably your man. He moved to the kid's side, rescuing the mug from his loosening hold until the spasm subsided. Returning it to Blair's grasp, it was obvious this detective was not going to be available for consultation on the newest case assigned to the Major Crimes division.

"Take it easy, kid. You're gonna be alright if you don't pull any more stupid moves like the one you pulled this morning!" At the sight of Blair's stricken expression in response to the justifiable reprimand, Banks sighed his surrender. No doubt about it, he was becoming a wuss. "It's okay, Sandburg. You're gonna be fine and if you follow orders, I have a case waiting on my desk with your name written all over it. But you don't hear word one about it until you show me you're on the mend, got it?"

"Yes, Sir." Yeah, the words were that of his superior officer, but the tone? That was a friend speaking.

Jim entered the loft briskly, a man on a mission. Simon shook his head warningly and Blair's curiosity was forced to take a back seat to the ministrations of Nurse Ellison. Meekly swallowing various noxious, FDA approved concoctions, Blair dwelled on the plans Simon might be formulating for him. Perhaps, finally, he might be needed to take the lead on an investigation as Detective Sandburg. Damn, this was a bad time to be sick.

"I better go. Jim, you'll call in and let me know if you need a day or two at home for paperwork?" Simon decided his need for Blair's input could wait another day. Twenty-four hours would make a big dent in that fever and fatigue, as well as give forensics the time to gather the information that would be needed by a newly assigned detective. "Take care of yourself, Blair, or I'll give Jim the perfect alibi for whatever crimes he decides to commit upon your person."

"Hmmm, yeah, promise." Eyes drooping, Blair was asleep before the Captain could take his leave.

"Jim," Banks whispered as he moved to the door, "Don't you have a meeting with the D.A. tomorrow morning?"

"Damn, I forgot about that. All I need to do is go over the transcript of my deposition with him. The revision notes will be clear enough, but he likes to do this stuff in person."

"You got the transcript here?"

"Sure, I was going to review it tonight."

"Okay. I'll stop by on my way to work tomorrow morning and see how you're managing here. If you need to stay with the kid, I'll take the revised transcript with me and the D.A. can live with the disappointment." They both smiled at their similar readings of the wind-bag prosecutor currently handling some of the MC cases on the docket.

"Thanks, Simon."

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

Twelve hours later, in a rare slump of activity, Jim was contemplating ways to keep his sleeping charge healthier. Indulging his sadistic side, his thoughts ranged from a permanent thermometer implant in the orifice of his choice for ongoing monitoring, to borrowing a confiscated set of padded handcuffs from the Vice squad to ensure Blair got eight hours of sleep each night.

Sighing wearily, Jim figured he was entitled to fantasize after nursing one, very sick, Sandburg. The past hours had been filled with the need to ply him with hot liquids and medications; keep him elevated to prevent choking each time he slid down his mountain of pillows into a horizontal position; replacing cool compresses on a fevered brow; monitoring a bubbling stockpot of broth; anticipating the revolt of Blair's stomach from the strong medications ... hell, yeah, he was entitled! And in-between everything else, he'd had to go over that damn transcript.

Jim dropped his head in utter exhaustion. Time to check the kid again. A run to the john would be needed, then more fluids and pills. After that, just maybe, a few hours of sleep for them both? Not likely with Sandburg slipping off his pillows so often.

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

As promised, Simon arrived at 7 AM to check on his team. No sentinel appeared to open the door and startle him, indicating they were either asleep or at the hospital. He let himself in with his key quietly, to avoid waking Sandburg if the kid was still parked on the living room couch. The room was empty of residents, disordered with an assortment of sick room accoutrements and the couch was bare of its cushions. Blair's cubby of a bedroom was also empty. The kitchen table boasted those transcript notes that the D.A. would need later today.

The hum of some appliance drew him upstairs to Jim's bedroom. The machine turned out to be a humidifier, perilously near to running on empty. Simon's relieved gaze shifted to his missing officers, both fast asleep on Jim's bed. Blair was propped up on a veritable hill of pillows. He was prevented from falling off his supports by Jim's large frame on one side and a chair, piled high with couch cushions, acting as a blockade on the other side. The kid must have kept both of them up all night, given the way Jim continued to sleep in spite of Banks' presence. Well, no reason to perceive him as a threat and the humidifier's hum might also be covering up extraneous sounds reaching the sleeping sentinel's ears.

Shaking his head and smiling indulgently, he decided to let them both sleep. He would take the notes with him and call Jim later for an update on the kid's progress. Softly padding back downstairs, Simon looked for the distilled water needed to replenish the well of the humidifier. Finding the water under the sink counter, his gaze fell upon the contents of an open drawer. There among the various and sundry contents of designated 'junk drawers' everywhere, rested two disposable cameras. Blair used to carry them around to take occasional, candid shots of his dissertation subject. Simon confiscated one of them, grabbed the bottle of water and returned upstairs. Moments later, grinning to himself, he left with the required papers and headed downtown to begin his official workday.

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

Ellison bullied Blair awake at 9 AM for morning ablutions, meds and fluids. The young man appeared steadier on his feet, once he was restored to a reasonable level of alertness. Both were the better for their uninterrupted hours of sleep. Blair's temperature was down to 100 degrees, although his breathing remained harsh. Jim was surprised the humidifier had continued to run for so long without being re-filled, until he connected the unexpectedly high water level with the faint scent of tobacco lurking in the apartment. The missing papers confirmed it. Thinking of the sight they must have presented to their Captain, Jim was not looking forward to seeing Simon at the office. However, Blair's improvement indicated Jim could spare a couple of hours for the D.A..and it was, after all, his responsibility to take the meeting personally.

Despite Blair's protests, an elderly neighbor was enlisted to wake the impatient patient at noon for pills and lunch. Blair tended to sleep around the clock when sick and Jim was taking no chances on upsetting the medication schedule. Settling Blair back on the couch for ease of access to bathroom, kitchen and entertainment, Jim assured him of his plans for an early return.

Blair croaked a protest. "No need to cut your day short, man. You've done more than enough and I can take care of ... "

"Yourself. Right, sure Chief. Just do as you're told."

"Sheesh, sleep with a guy and he thinks he owns you! Wow, that's interesting. I don't think I've ever seen you blush like that before." The rest of Blair's teasing remarks faded into a congested snore and Jim reluctantly left for headquarters.

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

Simon welcomed Jim into his office and cordially offered him a cup of 'the good stuff'. It was gratifying to know he could save an hour by not having to cover for Jim with the D.A. "How's Sandburg doing today?" he asked, returning Jim's notes to him.

"Better, but still pretty weak. I hope to wrap things up in another hour and get back to him if that's okay with you. A neighbor will check on him at lunchtime though, if you need me for anything."

"No problem with your leaving early, Jim, but I'll have to see the kid at some point today. I know he's sick but it's urgent that he put in some hours at home on a possible kidnapping case requiring his expertise. Sorry, but it won't wait any longer."

Jim's automatic protest died in embryo at the serious look on Simon's face. The Captain had obviously exercised great restraint up until now, in deference to his partner's illness. Blair would also be justifiably upset if he was not consulted, now that he was marginally improved. "I know you wouldn't ask if it weren't important, Sir." Jim decided to take the plunge with his next remark. "Sorry we were dead to the world when you arrived at the loft earlier. Things had been a bit hectic during the night."

"Figures you would have picked up on my arrival. Uh, I suggest you get Sandburg settled in the living room," Simon advised delicately, "and I'll stop by with Joel around 3:30. Yesterday, I mentioned to Sandburg that I had an interesting case for him but he'd only see it if he followed doctor's orders."

"And here I thought it was my commanding presence that had him cooperating with his medication schedule," Jim quipped with a tired smile.

"Sure, Jim, that must have been it. Here, take these files with you and review them with your partner. And ... call if his condition worsens, you know, ah ..." Simon finished lamely.

"Sure, Cap." Sandburg always brought out the best in people. Unless they were psychos, of course. Jim left for his meeting with a new bundle of papers, wondering what kind of case required an anthropologist's attention. Might actually be good for the kid to be 'first string' for a change.

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

Arriving home just as their neighbor was preparing to enter the loft, Jim thanked her and took over lunch duty. Predictably, Sandburg was asleep and still feverish. However, his breathing was much less audible at 'normal' hearing levels. A 'closer' check indicated a large reduction in lung congestion and Jim sighed in relief at seeing that corner turned. He busied himself preparing grilled cheese sandwiches and soup, before waking his partner.

Blair woke to milder levels of discomfort than he'd encountered that morning, but was still annoyed at his continuing weakness. Toying with his food, he tried to eat a bit to placate his 'Blessed Protector' and line his stomach for more antibiotics. They always upset his gut and kept him tied to the john. He really, really hated this.

Taking in his partner's lethargy, Jim baited the hook. "You're working this afternoon, Chief, assuming you've got the energy to see Simon and Joel at 3:30 today. Still time for a nap before they arrive."

"Sure, Jim," Blair replied, recalling his Captain's hints from the day before. "What's up?"

"Finish half the sandwich, Junior, and I'll fill you in before you start sawing wood again."

"Blackmail doesn't become you, Jim." Blair poked at the food on his plate as he reproached his friend.

"Yeah, but it's SO effective."

Jim accepted Blair's efforts to eat part of his lunch and removed the tray from his patient's lap. Tired from the effort of eating, Blair settled back into his pillows and waited for Jim to scan the files and brief him on this latest case. The kid's lack of extraneous movement was kind of unnerving. "Okay, 'once upon a time'..."

"Funny, man. You're a real riot."

"Looks like a missing persons case with a twist, Chief. This twelve-year-old boy, one Kevin Rangel, ran away after studying about the Mayan civilization in school. Left a note about examining some artifacts and that he would be back soon. Apparently, he had enough smarts and funds in his bank account to get transportation to the border, but never called home as promised. The kid was bright enough to know he couldn't cross the border alone and he doesn't even have a passport. The assumption is that he met someone on the internet who used his interests in archeology as a lure. Simon left you some downtime while the kid's computer was being taken apart for content. He'll bring the printouts from all the emails in storage. It'll help to figure out if the kid was lured away by a pervert or someone who mistook him for an adult scholar and needed his knowledge in antiquities."

Jim looked at his friend to see if he was processing all this. "Evidently, the kid is in some kind of fast-track program like you were in school. Just great, Chief, we have to delve into the psyche of someone just like you. The mind boggles," he teased, hoping to be rewarded with some showing of the old Sandburg enthusiasm.

The expected retort was uttered quietly but with spirit. "Of course, Jim, that's why Simon has to bring in a bona-fide anthro-detective, namely me, to solve this case. None of you appear capable of outwitting a little kid." He smiled at his partner's mock show of affronted dignity. "But, well, if this mystery internet guy was a pervert, wouldn't he have arranged a meet closer to Cascade? I mean it's hard to set up a kid to travel all that way just for, uh," Blair floundered in his fatigue and innate reluctance to actually name the worst-case scenario.

"Easy, partner. It's possible that the circumstances imply a legitimate meeting with a dealer but we'll know more when the captains get here with the evidence."

Too tired to think anymore, Blair settled back against his pillows again. "Maybe I will nap awhile before Simon and Joel get here. Wake me in time to shower and change. And, Jim - thanks for taking care of me."

Blair was suddenly out for the count and Jim approached him to tug the blankets more securely about him. His guide was certainly going to drive himself into the ground to save this kid if he wasn't watched closely. Jim found himself distracted by the tray of dirty dishes and grimaced at leaving them unwashed. He didn't want to wake the kid with the sounds of running water and clinking plates. 'Well, it's character building," he thought, wryly, "like getting rid of that tupperware two years ago." Quietly moving the tray into the kitchen, he sat down to review the rest of the file, unconsciously keeping watch over his guide's vital signs.

At 3:25, Jim escorted a sleepy Blair to the bathroom in order to wash and change into fresh sweats for the meeting. "No shower," Jim ordered. "Your balance isn't up to it yet."

"I really need one and it will help me wake up."

"Not likely. You'll either be unconscious from the fall you'll take or from exhaustion at the effort of remaining upright for that long."

"Hey, I don't need permission here, ya know?"

"Chief, the only way you're having a shower is if I get in with you, which will make an interesting show for our visitors. They're due in exactly three minutes!"

Blair glared at his 'guardian' in frustration. "Why the hell didn't you wake me up earlier?"

"So I could win this argument," Jim replied smugly.

If looks could kill, Jim would have been in an advanced stage of decomposition. Thoroughly disgusted, Blair lurched into the bathroom, swearing in several dead languages. Suddenly finding himself too out of breath to continue the verbal chastisement of his tormentor, he sat down heavily on the toilet lid. Maybe a sponge bath wasn't a bad idea after all.

Banks and Taggart arrived and were promptly greeted by a grinning Ellison, just before Simon's knuckles could successfully meet wood. Simon was forced to refrain from expressing his annoyance in Joel's presence. Jim noted the presence of two cartons on the hallway floor. "Good thing the elevator is working for a change. That looks heavy. Joel, let me have it." Simon grabbed the other one and followed Jim into the living room.

"Drop it here by the couch, Captain," Jim directed. "Sandburg will last longer reclining on his pillows, than in a chair by the table. He's just washing up and will be with you any minute."

"These cartons contain the computer printouts," Simon explained. "Very revealing records of emails by a clever kid and an extremely sharp perp. This kid didn't just get lost, that's for sure. Blair can advise us whether this 'Indiana Jones' type scenario is for real. Forensics got the last of the files printed out just an hour ago and left the key files on top for us. The correspondence is extensive, but the email address appears encrypted. They're trying to trace it right now."

"Is Sandburg up to this?" Joel asked with the paternal concern he often adopted when interacting with the fatherless young officer.

"Yeah, if we don't push the envelope. I'm not happy about doing all this right now but, obviously, Blair's expertise is needed. You should have seen his eyes shine when he heard the particulars of the case."

Heads all turned as a refreshed Blair approached the MC crew. "Hi, Captains! Why are you all in the living room? Shouldn't we use the kitchen table?" Blair's smile faded as three, very large men pointed authoritatively at the couch.

Simon and Joel simultaneously gave their orders:

"Lie down."

"Sit."

Blair responded pertly to the terse orders normally heard from dog trainers. "Aarf!"

Jim laughed, "Okay, 'Lassie'. Get settled in before one of these officers writes you up for insubordination." He could tell by the relief on Blair's face at returning to his nest, that this meeting should not be prolonged unnecessarily. His sidelong glance to their two superiors was intercepted and nonverbally acknowledged by both men.

Joel handed the first series of emails to the young detective so that he could get a sense of the two correspondents at the earliest stages of their interaction. "Blair, it's good to see you. Be sure to tell us when you need to rest, okay?"

Jim snorted his disbelief that such an event would occur in this lifetime. Simon chuckled in apparent sympathy with that sentiment. "Officer Sandburg! You will tell us when you are no longer efficiently processing information or I'll have you directing traffic for a week when you return to duty," he growled, not entirely facetiously.

Blair recognized that threat as being far from empty. "Yes, Sir!" He'd actually been relegated to crossing guard duty for three days, shortly after graduating from the academy. In the excitement of one of his early calls to duty, he'd forgotten to put on his Kevlar vest and Simon was death on violations of safety procedures. Having to buy his own patrolman's uniform from his first paycheck was the worst part of the punishment. Being around the kids at the elementary school had actually been kind of fun, but Blair had wisely kept that tidbit to himself. However, when he'd applied to his partner for sympathy, Jim had only said he was lucky to be let off the hook so easily. The exact terms had been, "Live with it, Junior. I told Simon that he ought to hang you by your thumbs over a barbecue pit." Well, Jim had been a bit upset about the matter himself.

Glasses perched on his nose, Blair now started scanning the emails and rapidly produced leads for his fellow officers to pursue. "Okay, some guy calling himself 'Josiah' hooked this kid into a dialogue but he doesn't appear to be your average pervert. He is very well informed about antiquities and Mexican archeological sites. These emails appear to be a 'backchannel' continuation of discussions begun on one of those internet special interest groups. That's where they likely met, so have forensics check all the 'cookies' in the kid's computer for the websites he's visited, along with any group memberships. Then someone should join each of those groups and check their archives for records of Kevin's and Josiah's initial list conversations. If the meetings were in chat rooms instead of email message groups, then you probably won't find records of those conversations."

Simon checked over the record of forensics' activities to see if these measures had already been taken. Joel was taking copious notes as Blair analyzed their data. Not being computer literate, he requested clarification of some of the jargon being used. Blair explained that 'cookies' referred to markers in the computer indicating which sites the user had visited on the internet, and that 'backchannel' referred to email exchanges conducted privately between persons who shared membership in public forums.

"Hey, guys. This kid is really precocious. I bet Josiah thought he was dealing with an adult for most of the time he was writing to Kevin. Definitely not your average bait sent out by a pedophile." The group shared a sense of relief at that hopeful observation only to become alarmed again at Blair's next conclusion.

"Josiah looks like a black marketeer, the way he keeps sending Kevin bits of scanned writings from his artifacts. He wants them identified but is afraid to send too much information, in case Kevin shows signs of being acquisitive. See, here is where he tells the boy to delete the attachments after reviewing them. I'd bet the kid hung on to them. I certainly would have. Check for an external 'zip' drive where they might have been stored if they can't be found in the hard drive. The information may lead us to the archeological site that Josiah is intent upon guarding. Typically, Mayan sites are located on the Yucatan Peninsula, but the dealers tend to congregate near the border areas." Blair ended that observation with a wheeze.

"Breathe, Sandburg," Jim ordered with the ease of long practice. Except that Blair was not finding it easy to comply. This session would have to come to a close soon, before the kid turned blue.

Blair subsided briefly, more to mull over his conclusions than to re-energize. He looked up anxiously. "These guys play rough. Josiah probably set up a meeting with Kevin down by the border to either show him the stuff there or to cross into Mexico with him and view the site itself. If he didn't let Kevin go immediately upon seeing his age, he'd either keep him for his own purposes or ... well, sending him home to identify a black market ring isn't good business."

Enthusiasm and voice both failing, Blair sank back against his pillows.

The men drew up a list of leads to be followed and agreed that Jim should confiscate the cartons of documents while the patient rested for a few hours. Protests from said patient were vociferously overridden by virtue of superior rank, size and numbers. Jim gauged his temperature with a touch but refrained from showing off with a precise number. "Your temp is up, my friend, and you're short on air. Cooperate and you can get in another couple of hours at this later tonight or tomorrow. We can't do much more anyway until we get the answers to the questions you've already raised."

"Good work, Sandburg." Simon rose heavily, concerned at having exhausted the young man but knowing there had been little choice. "We'll be back tomorrow to continue if Jim tells us you are up to it." That was an obvious bit of polite fiction. They all knew that Blair would have to go through the rest of the evidence for an effective investigation to be conducted.

Taggart, hoping to take some pressure off of Blair, took another tack. "Blair, is there an expert on Mayan culture we can draft? At the University, perhaps?"

Blair winced at that painful but sensible suggestion. When the attachments to the emails showing the inscription were found, they would need someone proficient at reading those pictographs. It was not really his own area of study. "Yeah, Dr. Sanborne might be able to help, although I'm not sure which department is funding him at the moment. He has a few areas of expertise but the registrar can look him up for you."

Blair also kept one bit of knowledge to himself. He had contacts in the antiquities black market in Mexico that he'd known since his teen years. Naomi hadn't discriminated between the reputable and disreputable 'archeologists' that she arranged for Blair to meet, once his passion for the subject had blossomed. Naomi had already planned on an early University admission for her brilliant son and wanted him to have the advantage of some letters of recommendation from internship experiences. Since she was planning to spend the summer in Mexico anyway, that was the location where she set out to make her contacts.

As it turned out, Naomi's contacts were not actually archeologists but antiquities dealers. They would never write letters of recommendation since their place in the hierarchy of scholarship was, of necessity, an invisible one. However, profit motives bred strong scholarly interests and a fifteen-year-old Blair had the time of his life while living and working with Alan Kiley. And if Kiley and his mother also had the time of their lives during that period, well, Naomi had done far worse for herself in the past.

Blair knew he needed to contact some of these dealers in secret for their valuable, 'inside' information. However, he could not bring their existence to the attention of law enforcement agencies on either side of the border. Conflicting loyalties were cast aside at the rationalization that every detective had his 'snitches', whose anonymity was guaranteed. Or protected wherever possible? Well, the line of demarcation could stay unclear if no one else knew about the contacts. It was certainly unlikely that anyone would complain about a happy outcome.

Exhausted, Blair accepted Tylenol, antibiotics and fluids under six watchful eyes. He was asleep before the two Captains had filed out the door. Blair slept the sleep of the just until 9:00 P.M., when he was awakened for more substantial nourishment. Making it through a portion of vegetable soup and half of a chicken breast served up by his self-appointed 'nanny', the roommates exchanged some desultory conversation about local news and sports until 11:00.

Blair again descended into sleep after the dispensing of the last of the day's medication allotment. He remained on the couch this time, his breathing no longer labored. Jim retired to his own bed and a light, 'sentry-type' sleep that would respond to any signs of distress from downstairs.

At 7 A.M., a thermometer confirmed Jim's feeling that only a low-grade fever was now in evidence. He had trouble gauging those mild elevations so insisted on the confirmation over Blair's good-natured protests. "What good is living with a sentinel who can't even measure a simple temperature?"

The amused and abused sentinel hastened Blair on his way to the shower with a gentle swat to the back of his matted hair. "And don't forget the conditioner, Sampson. Wait, take your meds with you." Jim dropped a capsule into Blair's hand. "I put a fresh supply of paper cups in the bathroom for us."

Blair was busy making plans even as his roommate was calling out instructions to his patient while preparing breakfast. "I'll wait till you're done and eaten something before I go to work. Can I trust you to eat the left-over chicken for lunch? I'll call to make sure you wake up at medication time."

"Sure thing," was the muffled reply as Blair tugged his grungy sweatshirt over his head.

"I'll write down a schedule for you." Jim was less than convinced that Blair even heard what he'd just agreed to do. The sound of the shower running ended his monologue of instructions.

The hot running water felt heavenly on clammy skin, now that the fever had broken. Blair luxuriated in shampooing his long hair and in the feeling of rejuvenation that is often left in the wake of passing illness. Still, there was a kid to find and he could manage a bit of clandestine detective work, if he paced himself. Blair toweled himself dry and tugged on a few shirts, along with his softest pair of old jeans. His capsule of antibiotic was history. A day or two of flushing his medications wouldn't hurt much. He simply couldn't take that stuff and travel anywhere since it kept him in the john for half the day. Just need to take a trip to the library and access a phone booth, so that his calls to Mexico wouldn't be traced. That wouldn't kill him either.

"Come and get it, Chief!"

On the other hand, Jim just might kill him. Jerked out of his reverie about solving the case, Blair shuffled into the kitchen.

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

Blair planned his jail break for mid-morning, when no one would be looking to feed or medicate him. The phone booth at the entrance to the main branch of the library would do nicely. He could make his calls and get his research done without added travel time. After stopping at a convenience store to buy a phone card, Blair made good time through the light, post-rush hour traffic.

"Kiley, this is Blair Sandburg, Naomi's son?"

"Blair, how are you, my old friend? Tell me, did you enter my profession after all?"

"Well, perhaps a more legitimate branch of it."

They both laughed, recalling how the suave dealer had made out like the bandit he was, when an unsuspecting Blair became a 'mule' during his summer in Mexico. He hadn't known that some of the papers Kiley had asked him to carry for him in his backpack were actually provenance papers. Such documents were written by experts for use as certifications of the origins of valuable antiquities and art. Without them, replicas of such artifacts could not be moved on the open market as being 'genuine'. While Kiley, himself, never peddled fake merchandise, he was not above financing his purchases of the real items with the profits from black market provenance papers. The authorities would certainly not be interested in the contents of a backpack from a fifteen-year-old in the company of a reputable business man, known for his philanthropy within the local community. It wasn't until Blair actually studied one of these documents, during a rest stop on the way back from a visit to an interesting gallery, that he had reason to question the legitimacy of his 'role model'. While the sense of betrayal had been bitter at first, Alan never insulted Blair's precocious intelligence with denials or excuses. Instead, he accepted Blair's refusal to participate in such scams and offered reparations in the way of some unique travel opportunities to rarely accessed sites in the Yucatan. Along with assurances of 'No funny business, scout's honor.' Well, Kiley might never have been a scout but he'd kept his word and been real nice to Blair and his Mom that whole summer. Blair had fond memories of the old thief and hoped he would use his wide network of connections to help him out.

"Yeah, man. I became an anthropologist and I'm currently helping the cops with a kidnapping case, involving someone in your world."

"Cops? Blair, have you forgotten ..."

"That's why I am calling you from a phone booth. The cops will never hear your name from my lips, but they will shake every tree down there in which a black market dealer is roosting. Listen, there is a missing twelve-year-old boy who was lured to Mexico by some rogue dealer who calls himself 'Josiah'. No trace of the kid now and we know there is some connection with Mayan artifacts and inscriptions. I may have more information for you later, but I figure if you dealers can come up with this creep on your own, you can avoid big problems down the line."

"Understood and appreciated, my friend. We will find this renegade, but I will need all the information you can give me."

"I'll have some more facts for you soon. Expect my next call this afternoon, and maybe by then you will have heard of someone showing up with a savvy kid possessing a lot of knowledge on the topic."

"Ah, another Blair, right? And does this one have a charming mother as well? How is Naomi?"

"She's good, but I have no idea where she is at the moment."

"Ever unpredictable. I had hopes once ... but she could never settle anywhere and still be Naomi. Later, my friend."

A brief stint of research on Mayan linguistics confirmed what Blair remembered about their inscriptions. They used forms representing whole words and syllables. How could a kid have learned enough about such an idiosyncratic system to be useful to a dealer? A glance at his watch had Blair bolting from the library to return to the loft.

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

Blair made it home just barely ahead of Jim, who'd decided to cater lunch and generally satisfy his mother hen instincts. Ellison wasn't happy to see the kid's temperature was still above normal and that he was coughing a bit more than he had that morning.

Angelically spooning soup into his mouth, Blair gave no sign that he'd done anything that day other than rest. He was again settled on the couch, as Jim handed him a folder of new evidence and brought him up to date on the case.

"Forensics finished with the kid's computer and found several internet groups that he frequented in history and archeology. That is where he met this Josiah, although the origin of the perp's email address has not yet been pinpointed. There was a zip drive with several attachments in which Josiah sent scanned photos of some artifacts along with blow-ups of inscriptions for Kevin to examine."

Blair looked over the pages and found them very confusing. Several sets had been provided. "Jim, this isn't my specialty but these inscriptions are not consistent with the apparent dates on these artifacts."

"What's wrong with them?"

"The symbols are too regular, like you'd see with an alphabet. Except that the period of the pieces predates the Mayan alphabet. They used pictograms, representing words. This looks more like the modern system which did not exist when these pots were made."

"I don't understand. You mean these are faked?"

"Impossible to tell from these pictures. Inscriptions were pretty rare, anyway. Maybe this Josiah is taking genuine pieces and ..." Blair's voice faded as his mind raced with the new implications that might actually lead them to Kevin. He had to get back to Kiley with this information right away.

"Well, Chief? You were saying?"

Blair coughed his way out of responding immediately. "I need to rest now and think this through. Why don't you have Dr. Sanborne at the U check over this set of pictures and confirm what I suspect about the inscriptions not fitting the time period. I have to think about this some more before I can make a recommendation. Call me on my cell phone when you get word from Sanborne about his take on all this."

"Why your cell phone?"

Blair thought fast. "I won't be out here by the phone the whole time," he offered lamely.

"Oh, going back to your own bed? Good idea, you'll rest better if you're not jumping up and down like a jack in the box to answer the land line."

Blair repressed a deep sense of guilt at his deception. Well, he hadn't lied, just allowed Jim to make certain assumptions.

Jim offered some rare praise to his partner for working under such difficult circumstances. "You're doing a bang-up job on this investigation, Chief, even running on half your usual cylinders. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a commendation for it in your future."

Yeah, Blair thought morosely, to be awarded posthumously.

Jim returned to work while Blair dumped the erythromyacin capsule he'd palmed at lunch. After a brief rest, Blair headed for the nearest phone booth near a copy shop with a fax service.

"Kiley, it's me again."

"What do you have for me, Blair?"

"Give me your fax number so I can send you pictures of some artifacts with blow-ups of their inscriptions. Something isn't jiving here though; the inscriptions seem to post-date the pots themselves."

"Funny you should say that. I heard of a rather shady dealer who is making the rounds with Mayan pots that appear authentic, but have unusual inscriptions that increase their value. I have not heard that their quality is suspect. But I don't know that any locals will deal with him."

"Can you or someone else buy a piece? I'm starting to suspect that the missing kid may be creating inscriptions for him using the modern Mayan alphabet. Maybe sending out an SOS with his location. I would offer to pay for it, but Id have to get funding through the police department. Perhaps your group would fund this endeavor to avoid any, uh, 'official' gratitude?"

"Clever, my boy, clever. Yes, we had better clean house ourselves. Fax your pictures to this number, just changing the last digit to a 'six'. I assume this stuff was Josiah's early attempt at forging inscriptions. I will get a new piece that your missing young one may be helping him to fabricate. Then I will fax to you that inscription for analysis at a, shall we say, neutral, location?"

"Kiley, I love you, man. I'm heading right now for a copy shop where I can send and receive faxes away from prying eyes. The papers you get will have the fax number of origin on it."

"Good. Perhaps you can finish this most unpleasant business soon. Then you can get over here sometime for a vacation. Forgive me, but you sound like you need some Mexican sunshine. Better yet, perhaps your mother can accompany you."

"My mother rarely repeats history, man. Sorry."

"Ah, well. You are always welcome, my boy, even without your backpack." They both laughed and arranged another phone conference for the next afternoon. Feeling encouraged, but moving considerably more slowly than he had earlier that day, Blair entered the copy shop.

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

Blair was asleep on his bed when Jim arrived home. He was alarmed at the evident rise in temperature and the return of harsh breathing patterns.

"Chief? Hey, buddy." Jim sat on the edge of the bed and gently shook a quilt-covered shoulder.

"Huh?" Eyelids at half mast, Blair turned over to squint at the large man speaking softly to him. Or perhaps he was still dreaming of a Mayan priest, speaking in an unknown language to him. "Oh, Jim. Thought you were a priest," the confused man mumbled in tones requiring sentinel acuity. Blair struggled to sit up, only to groan at a pain in his back that had not been there when he'd decided to take a nap.

"A priest, huh?" Jim helped the sleepy young man to a more upright posture, placing pillows behind his back. "The things you come up with, Junior. I have never been mistaken for any branch of the clergy. Easy, you hurting someplace? Deep breaths now."

Memory returning, Blair tried to take physical inventory and recalled why his condition seemed to be worsened. "Just a bit stiff, nothing more." He coughed emphatically and long to his roommate's obvious distress. "Just been lying too flat, Jim. Nothing to worry about."

"Chief, you're getting worse. I think you need to see the doctor again. Hell, why don't we head to the ER and ..."

"No way, man. I mean, well, all the doctor can do is change medications if this one isn't doing the job, right? That can happen over the phone. The ER doesn't need to treat me, so they'll just advise me to go back to my doctor and charge me a hundred bucks."

Ellison couldn't fault that reasoning but every alarm bell in his head was going off. "Maybe I should stay home tomorrow and take you back to the doctor."

"Let's see how I'm doing tomorrow first, okay?"

"Alright," Jim allowed, reluctantly. "Come and try to have some dinner before I turn completely gray."

"You have to have hair in order to turn gray, Big Guy. Now, now ... can't hit the sick and infirm, you know. That's against the Sentinel bylaws."

"You ever notice how all the Sentinel 'bylaws' seem to work in the guide's favor?"

A cheeky grin confirmed Blair's knowledge of that interesting fact. Jim was not proof against it and he smiled his own acknowledgment of his guide's influence over him. Transitioning the reluctant patient to a standing position, Jim herded the young man into the kitchen. Blair choked down some dinner and went back to bed, leaving his protector to fret in privacy.

By morning, Blair was absolutely miserable. He had to wrap this up fast and get back on his meds. Waking to the sounds of Jim cooking, he hid in the bathroom. Jim couldn't sense his temperature elevation from another room. When the knock on the door came, announcing breakfast, Blair had to lie.

"Not coming out any time soon, man. You know how the meds give me the runs." His hoarseness led to another question from his worried partner. "Nah, just my waking up voice. I'll be able to eat a bit later and wait a bit to take the medication until then. I'll call the doctor about switching drugs. He can always call it in to the pharmacy and they'll deliver." Blair touched his nose, convinced it had just grown a foot in the past sixty seconds.

Jim assumed the increased heart rate he was registering was due to Blair's stomach distress. He reluctantly agreed to that plan but said he would come home early and make some easily digested dishes for dinner.

Blair felt like a first-rate heel but was committed to finishing this case. That was his job and his contribution to his co-workers, and he could concentrate on getting well once Kevin was back home. The drive to the phone booth was a nightmare. Blair's vision and attentional focus was impaired by his rising fever and hacking cough. Hoping to avoid being stopped by a cop, he drove slowly and finally reached the booth near the copy shop. He would be able to receive a fax there if Kiley had been able to obtain a sample of whatever Josiah was currently peddling. Blair shivered in the cold Cascade rain as he took shelter in the booth and placed his call.

Kiley had set up a buy that was to go down in just another hour. Blair would sit in the car and await a fax of the inscription appearing on the newly purchased artifact. "I owe you one, man."

"No, Blair. I used you shamelessly when you were just a child and it is my pleasure to help you out now."

"Thanks, Kiley. I'll let you know how it all comes out."

"You sound terrible. Please take care of yourself." The call ended.

Blair shivered in his parked car and retrieved the long awaited fax ninety minutes later. He was sure the writing was in the modern version of the Mayan language which would be well within the capacities of a gifted kid to learn and replicate. The note accompanying the fax assured him the inscription appeared to be of recent vintage and a description of Josiah was also provided.

The rookie carefully tore off the number of the originating fax machine and decided to take the evidence straight to headquarters for immediate action. Then he'd throw his sick body on the mercy of the 'court'. Simon would understand that the job always came first and Blair was certain this was the key to Kevin's whereabouts.

Barely able to stand and shivering uncontrollably, Blair made it to work and dragged himself from the parking lot into the elevator. Arriving at the sixth floor, the doors opened and he stumbled into the Bullpen. Time became confused and suddenly his cheeks stung from recurrent pats, while his ears rang with pleas to open his eyes. He complied with those orders, only to look up into the worried blue eyes of his best friend.

"Chief, talk to me. You're burning up. Come on, breathe slowly and deeply, that's it. Someone call an ambulance and get Simon out here, now!"

Simon's large shadow fell across the pair on the Bullpen floor, as Blair fought off the hands restraining him. Struggling into a sitting position, the rookie croaked out his news to the expanding audience gathering around him. "Listen, take these papers over to Sanborne at the U. I think Kevin has been writing inscriptions for Josiah to put on older artifacts to increase their value. He may have used this to call for help and give us his location. Take it, Jim, please."

Ellison and Banks understood little of the points Blair was trying to make, but Joel was immediately dispatched to the University with the new evidence. Blair felt as if his chest was on fire now and lay limply in his partner's arms, ready to submit to whatever ministrations they willed. Anything to stop the feeling that someone was rubbing sandpaper along the insides of his lungs. He heard a siren and remembered nothing more.

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

Dr. Gladstone was surprised to see only Detective Ellison 'on duty' so to speak. Usually, when Blair Sandburg wound up in the hospital, a veritable crowd of concerned colleagues and friends clogged the hallways. Peering over the top of his reading glasses, chart in hand, the physician decided to ask. "Where is everybody?"

Ellison shrugged, weary after his hour-long wait for news. Alone, he'd been afraid to listen to the proceedings in the treatment room in case he zoned. "Just me for now but the others will be along soon. I'll relay the details."

Nodding, Dr. Gladstone proceeded to summarize the treatment plan. "Mr. Sandburg is stable for now. Because he interrupted the use of his antibiotics in mid-cycle, the pneumonia had a chance to become more firmly entrenched. Possibly the bacteria are no longer sensitive to that drug now. We started him on a more aggressive antibiotic but it will be at least twenty-four hours before we see the symptoms abate again. He should remain here until he gets through the rough spot because of his previous lung damage, a potential need for intubation, and the chances of febrile seizures if the temperature gets any higher. Nonetheless, I think we'll see him through this."

The release of tension was visible in the detective's large frame, even as that jaw set more firmly. "I'm going to kill him." Fury was always easier than worry.

"That kind of defeats the purpose of my work here, Detective." The doctor's mild tone reflected the degree of his familiarity with these men.

"Then I'll cripple him!"

"That's fine as long as his insurance premiums are current. We're discouraged from treating the uninsured and make out pretty well on our rehab cases." He smiled warmly at Jim but beat a hasty retreat as the first wave of oversized and overprotective police officers arrived, to see to the welfare of one of their own. Enroute to the elevator, Dr. Gladstone tossed a parting comment over his shoulder. "Of course, you have free access to your partner while he's here. A nurse will be by shortly to take you to his room, once he is settled in."

Ellison called his thanks and sat down heavily on a hard bench, as Simon and Joel approached. They sat on either side of him as he briefed them on Blair's condition. Joel then reported that Sanborne agreed with Blair's assessment of the situation and was currently decoding the inscription. The results would be phoned directly to the Mexican authorities that Simon had established contact with across the border, so they could act immediately upon receiving the new information. The captain then returned to the subject of their more immediate, mutual concern.

"Jim, I know you'll be seeing Sandburg through the next, critical hours. But we are gonna meet about his idiocy. The most brilliant detective work in the world is useless if it isn't pursued in tandem with your team!"

"Yes, Captain," Ellison replied numbly.

Simon sighed, recognizing the signs of a stressed man going on auto-pilot. He gripped Jim's shoulder comfortingly. "I'll check in with you in the morning. Call me if you need anything before then." Joel offered to stay with Ellison as he was officially off-duty, but was waved off with thanks. Exchanging concerned glances, Simon and Joel rose and headed for the nearest exit.

Jim slumped against the wooden slats of his bench. He abruptly stopped reaching out with his hearing to locate his friend, realizing it wouldn't do for the nurse to come by and find him doing his imitation of a statue. His patience was quickly rewarded as the floor supervisor efficiently swept him into a semi-private room. The bed opposite Blair's was empty.

Blair's pallor stood out even against the crisp, white sheets. The sensitive features were visible through the clear plastic of the oxygen mask. Ellison shuddered as his gaze fell upon the suction machine ready for use at the first sign of choking. His partner was familiar with the pain of that procedure. More comforting was the sight of the life saving fluids and antibiotics flowing through the IV tubes.

Approaching the still form, Jim slid into the chair placed next to the head of the bed by some kind soul. Resting one hand on Blair's shoulder, he simultaneously grounded himself to take further 'readings' and offer what comfort his guide could perceive through the tactile link. The heart rate was higher than expected and Jim knew the harsh breathing would prevent sustained sleep. He looked down at the suffering man and lowered his head to speak softly into Blair's ear.

"I'm here, Chief, and you're going to be just fine. The next day or so won't be much fun, but then the new meds will kick in and you'll be home soon after. And all your work was passed on to Simon. They'll find the kid now and get him home safely."

Blair coughed weakly and grimaced without opening his eyes. He nodded slightly, acknowledging the reassurances but saving his energy for breathing. Ellison sat up a bit straighter and took one of the limp hands into his own. The return clasp was a welcome sign that his best friend was with him. Ellison's anguish broke through his usual reserve.

"Chief, this time you 'left me in the truck'. We're together, not just as partners, but by some mandate of nature itself." The hand not gripping Blair's hand lifted to smooth the long strands of hair away from the oxygen mask. Jim continued to stroke the thick hair after that task was accomplished, while he reached more deeply for understanding.

"You can't prove yourself as a cop this way because teamwork is at the heart of the job. I had to go solo before because no other partner would do for me ... and you hadn't found my stubborn ass yet. But the isolation limited my accomplishments as a cop. How many years did it take for you to pound that into my head?"

Blair's grasp tightened slightly as he tried to articulate his remorse. "So sorry." The whisper brought on more coughing.

"Shhh, I know. I feel it and we're good, Chief. Rest now." The older man crooned a lullaby of plans for a fishing trip and the Fourth of July picnic a couple of months away. The soothing cadence of the voice, more than any of the words, finally ushered Blair into a restless sleep.

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

It was early morning when Simon stepped into the hospital room before heading to the office. Blair seemed to be asleep but his entry caused Ellison to sit up on the other bed and stretch himself into a state of alertness. Simon motioned him to come out into the hallway so Sandburg would not be disturbed.

"How's the kid doing? He looks like hell lying there."

"Better, Simon. It was rough for awhile and they had to suction him twice. But the fever broke at dawn and he finally fell into a deep sleep." Jim's voice was tight with fatigue and the emotions of the night.

"I knew you'd get him through the night. I'll pass along the good news to the crew."

Ellison's response was abruptly terminated as his head turned towards the door to Blair's room. "His heart rate just increased. Gotta be there when he wakes up."

Simon hung back slightly as Jim went to help his partner orient himself to waking reality. A nurse bustled in, startling Ellison, whose senses had been cranked up to monitor his friend's state.

"Are you awake, Mr. Sandburg?" Her overly loud voice pretty much guaranteed it, unless the patient happened to be in a coma.

"Easy, Chief. Open 'em slow and easy."

The words provoked a tiny smile as Blair obeyed orders and was gratified to see both of his 'protectors' present. The hovering nurse set a clip on Blair's index finger and checked his oxygen saturation levels. "Back up to ninety-eight, Mr. Sandburg. You can remove the oxygen mask if you want or keep it on for comfort for the next few hours."

Blair endured the placement of a cold stethoscope on his chest, knowing his sentinel wouldn't need such 'primitive' aids. After recording his vitals, the nurse clucked her satisfaction. "The doctor will be here soon and then we'll have a nice sponge bath." She exited before Sandburg could draw sufficient breath to express his rather profane thoughts on that subject.

Simon chuckled at the show of spirit. Sandburg's answering grin was only at half its usual 'wattage', but served as balm to both of his protectors' abraded souls. The Captain hastened to report the good news about the results of their labors in the kidnapping case.

"I'm very happy to report that Kevin was found, safe and sound. He did put his location on the most recent inscriptions placed on those doctored artifacts. He was also able to provide the Mexican authorities some leads on Josiah's most likely choice of destinations. Kevin's dad wants to meet you, Blair, and introduce you to his son since you appear to be kindred spirits. Of course, his son will be grounded for the next millenium so you may have to wait awhile!"

"Good, that will give us time to alert the FBI and CIA before any such meeting takes place," Jim quipped. "I'd hate to think what those two might come up with in any joint effort."

Blair emitted a rusty sound that passed for laughter at the good news. However, the feeling of vindication for his actions passed quickly as his eyes rested upon his partner. The effects of the stress he'd brought down upon them all were clearly etched on the tired face. A slight flush tinged Blair's cheeks that had nothing to do with the remnants of his fever and everything to do with his recall of Jim's words last night. "Guess you're gonna kick my ass when we get home," he whispered.

Jim was spared having to generate a response as Simon moved to the bedside. The Captain's normally gruff voice was now tender.

"Nah, Ellison will take you home soon ..."

Blair focused his bleary eyes upon his boss.

"... and he'll spoil you rotten."

The corners of Blair's lips began to lift.

"In no time at all, you'll be good as new."

Blair's smile was now complete and beautiful to behold.

"Before you know it, you'll be back in the Bullpen."

Blair pushed aside his oxygen mask and sighed happily.

"And then, your ass is MINE, Sandburg."

Sleepy blue eyes fully opened in wide-eyed wonder at the softly uttered, but emphatic, message. Another pair of blue eyes narrowed dangerously, as Jim instantly moved to deflect his Captain's ire.

"May I see you outside, Captain?" Jim's tone indicated that a negative answer was not to be contemplated.

Banks confused both of them by smiling and carefully replacing the oxygen mask over Blair's nose and mouth. He then fussed slightly, smoothing invisible wrinkles from the blanket already tucked securely around the patient. "You will follow doctor's orders now, son." The patient nodded his acquiescence and Simon patted his shoulder. "Good man," he approved. "I'm all yours now, Detective Ellison."

Blair watched the two men exit his room, grateful for once to have Jim in 'Blessed Protector' mode. At least it looked like he didn't need to worry about going home.

Outside the door, Jim hissed a protest only to have Simon bark, "Stand down, Detective."

Silenced, Jim again observed his stern superior return to 'friend' status. Simon led Jim to the hall bench and sat, indicating the troubled man should do likewise. Assured of Jim's attention, Simon began to explain his position.

"I'll take care of departmental discipline. Blair may be your partner but he is also guide to your sentinel and kid brother to the man. Sure, you and the crew can address his willingness to put you all through the wringer with his impulsive behavior, but as peers and friends who are concerned for his welfare. As far as his penchant for heroics and ignoring PD protocols, well, I've seen plenty of rookies through that stage of their development as professionals in law enforcement." Simon wagged an admonishing finger in Jim's face. "In fact, YOU are my only failure in that endeavor!" Jim smiled at that, encouraging the Captain to continue.

"Leave it in my hands, Jim. You and Blair need to be civilians at home, not a rookie and his senior partner. Even when you talk shop, the kid can't always be wondering when you will turn from defender to disciplinarian, under some misguided notion that he works for you. Let Blair rest and come to grips with his failures in this matter as your friend and partner. Let him bask in his success at saving the kid as well. We shouldn't forget his accomplishments here, although if you tell him I said that, you'll be directing traffic by the city dump until you are a very old sentinel! Time enough for the trouble magnet to face the music once he is back on official turf. My turf, specifically." Simon studied his friend's expression as the points registered.

Jim felt a sudden release of tension and anxiety. Since Blair had gotten his shield, the line between experienced senior partner and superior officer, had seemed very thin. While still a 'ride-a-long', the kid had been more or less in Jim's charge. Simon had ordered Jim to respect the difference between partner and superior officer after the fairly recent business with the kevlar vest, but Jim had just fretted about the ambiguity of his position. Jim now summarized his new understanding of the situation. "Render unto Caesar ...," he quoted, smiling broadly.

"Exactly." The Captain was determined to do all he could to preserve a healthy relationship between this special pair. Command prerogative demanded it as well. "Call me later with an update on the kid's condition and try to get some more rest yourself. I'll see to arranging leave time for you during Sandburg's convalescence."

Jim extended a hand and his Captain grasped it firmly. The two shook on the 'new order' that would help stabilize the precarious balance of their lives. His eyes conveying silent thanks, Jim rose and returned to Blair's side. Simon watched him enter the hospital room and then made his own way to the elevator. Content with the morning's work, he patted the shirt pocket which contained a newly developed, and very interesting, photo of two sleeping detectives. Can never have too much blackmail material on that pair, he thought. Just call me Captain Machiavelli.

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

EPILOGUE:

Blair adjusted the bright orange vest over his patrolman's uniform as he shepherded a few second-graders across the street. Two weeks of this already with one more to come of crossing guard and traffic assignments. The weather had been unusually dry and warm so he couldn't even guilt his superior into canceling this punishment tour for health reasons. A few days of this was an okay break but three solid weeks was another story altogether. He'd watched Jim negotiate their captain down from a month-long banishment, since the loss of his guide restricted Jim's own activities. Simon had growled, "Fine, three weeks then, but let this also be a lesson to you, Ellison, to be a better model of PD protocol for your partner." That had gotten Jim ticked off all over again, although the Big Guy had made a heroic effort to put aside work matters at the loft each night. It seemed that new practice was getting easier for them to do with each passing day. The young man shuddered briefly, remembering that a final ass-chewing still awaited him upon his return to regular duty. But his record now had one official commendation! Okay, so it appeared alongside one official reprimand ...

Ellison watched his despondent partner from his own lunchtime 'post' a couple of blocks away. It was reassuring to see his friend wasn't physically stressed and gratifying to note that the punishment seemed to be making an impression upon the usually exuberant young man. Blair had tip-toed around the Bullpen that first week, entering twice daily to clock-in before heading off to his 'Siberia', then again to clock-out at the end of his day. He'd worn his 'kicked puppy dog' look rather ostentatiously but no one had bought it. Even Joel had eyed him with disapproval and Blair had always looked to him for relief from communal censure of his more outrageous acts. However, that contrite expression was now genuine, seen each day when Blair reported in at headquarters. After holding in their collective laughter until Blair had exited the building that morning, the Major Crimes team had clearly expressed their wish to have their head cheerleader back in his usual good spirits. By now, the rookie had learned the only safe duty a cop could perform 'solo' was directing traffic. Otherwise, you worked with your team! It was likely that they would all gang up on Simon this afternoon and try to get the kid's sentence commuted so he could come back to regular duty next week. Simon really missed him, although the tough superior would prefer to undergo a root canal than admit it aloud.

In the meantime, the kid's loneliness was palpable. A speed dial on his cellphone could take care of that. Jim watched his partner grab for his cell and clumsily juggle it into the open position. "Blair Sandburg," was the eager response.

"Hey, partner!" Jim was gratified to see a beatific smile lighting the solemn face.

"Hey, Jim! What's up?"

"Just taking a break and missed your company. How about dim sum for dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant tonight, on me?"

"Sounds great!"

"Any cute teachers there, Chief?"

"Well, there's this awesome assistant principal ..." the happy deluge began.

The Sentinel wore a satisfied grin as he started up the truck.

The End

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