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.

'If You Go Down to the Woods Today…'

by Arianna

Note: This story is dedicated to Aunty Hill and her wonderful photomanipulations, which inspired this story. I'm grateful to her for allowing me to use not one but four of her evocative works of art in the course of this tale, and for granting me permission to use them when the story is made available beyond the boundaries of the SentinelAngst community. Specifically, I've referenced 'Final Journey', 'Cast Adrift', 'Sentinel Lyrics', and 'Love Divine', in the order listed. I'm grateful to Starfox, for incorporating them into the posted version of the story.

My thanks, as always, to StarWatcher, for her wonderful, never-failing support as my beta, my sounding board and my good friend; and to my buddies, Romanse and Penny, who encouraged me when StarWatcher was too swamped with RL commitments to even know this story was in process!

Special thanks to Jess Riley for helping me with Megan's voice, to ensure I got the colloquialisms and idioms right!

This is yet another possible resolution to the conundrum of The Sentinel and how TSbyBS left us all hanging…

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

"If you go down to the woods today, you're in for a big surprise," Simon crooned with great good humour.

"Uh, please, stop," Blair requested quietly, once Jim had finally released him from the headlock, and he lifted his hand in an unconsciously vulnerable gesture to quell the singing and merriment. Nervously raking back his hair, he looked at all of his very dear friends and beloved mother, and regretted the confused expressions that replaced the smiles and laughter. But it couldn't be helped. His gaze dropped momentarily as he struggled to order his thoughts and emotions and, when he lifted his eyes, he smiled sadly. Waving toward the badge in Simon's hand, he said unsteadily, "I never would have expected this truly generous offer, not after all that's happened. You've, uh, really blown me away with your friendship and, well, your trust in me."

Licking his lips, he reached out to grip Jim's arm loosely as he gestured at the rest of them. "You've become family to me; Jim's the big brother I never had. And I love all of you; I always will. But…but I can't accept this."

"What?" Ellison gasped.

"Why not?" Henri called out.

"Oh, Sandy," Megan sighed.

Simon's lips thinned as sorrow filled his eyes. Joel bowed his head, while Rafe crossed his arms. Naomi looked like she might be on the verge of tears.

"Don't get me wrong," Sandburg replied hastily to their various exclamations. "I would love to keep working with all of you. What you do is so tremendously important. But I don't have the courage to be a cop, to make the kinds of decisions that you have to make every day. And I think we all know that my continued presence here would only be a really huge hassle for everyone. I don't…don't have the personal credibility to be a law enforcement officer."

"Blair, Jim has told us everything," Joel said into the heavy, uncomfortable silence. "We all know the truth now; most of us had guessed a lot of it long ago. You're no fraud, far from it."

"Damn straight," Brown growled. "Hell of a brave man, more like."

Sandburg swallowed at that and bowed his head, blinking hard. "Thanks, Jim," he murmured huskily with a quick look up at the man who had become the best friend he'd ever known. "I appreciate that." Clearing his throat, he said more strongly, "It's good that you all know. Jim has wonderful gifts, but they can also be a terrible burden. He's learned a lot and has great control now, but sometimes it's still hard for him, so I'm really, really glad to know that you'll all be able to support him, if and when he needs you."

"Sandburg," Banks intervened, his voice low and slow, "what are you planning to do now?"

Heaving a sigh, Blair summoned up a wan smile. "Well, I've got my Masters and that's worth a lot. There're lots of jobs I'm qualified to do, I just haven't quite settled on one particular direction yet. It's all been happening so fast, you know? But I'll be okay. You don't have to worry about me, though I really appreciate everyone's concern."

"Chief, there's got to be a way to work this out," Jim said then, having finally found his voice. "We can talk about this."

Once again Blair bowed his head, shaking it slowly. "I wish there was, but there isn't, Jim." Lifting his gaze to Ellison's eyes, reading the worry for him in their clear depths, he was deeply touched. "Think about it, man," he went on, his tone gentle and cajoling. "If I kept working here, backing you up, it would take the media about a nanosecond to start asking questions, making guesses and assumptions - and look what happened last time." He gestured to Simon in the wheelchair, Megan with her arm in a sling, Rafe with the bandage on his brow and, finally, Jim's cane. "People got hurt, almost killed, because you couldn't do your job with the cameras in your face all the time. It drove you nuts; you know it did. And it was dangerous, for you, for everyone. I won't stand by and let that happen again. I can't. I fixed it as best I could and I have no regrets about doing so, none. What happened with the diss was…an accident, more than anything. Nobody meant any harm. But it did happen and can't be undone. For your sake, mine, everyone's…it's time for me to get off the rollercoaster. I've spoken to a woman I know in Legal Aid, and I'll deal with Berkshire Publishing and Rainier, but quietly and with no publicity."

"I'm sorry, Blair," Simon said then, wearily. "I would have liked to keep you on the team. You did a damned fine job, especially for a civilian who was never trained for the role. We'll miss you."

Jim cast his superior a dumbfounded look as if he couldn't believe Banks was giving up so easily. When he gazed around at the rest of the silent group, he saw that Megan and Rhonda had tears in their eyes, Brown and Rafe looked pissed off and Joel looked deflated, older somehow. Naomi had turned away, one hand covering her lips.

"Thanks, Simon." Sandburg sighed sorrowfully but, trying to rally his ragged emotions, he straightened up as he continued, "I guess that's it. I left my observer's pass on your desk, Simon. I just want you all to know that…" His voice cracked and he compressed his lips as he swallowed the tears that threatened, "That you've all been so wonderful. I won't ever forget the way you welcomed me and made me a part of this team, or that you offered me a chance to stay. And now, I guess…well, I guess I should get Jim home and the rest of you need to either go home, too, to recuperate, or get back to work before Simon starts bellowing - and we know that wouldn't be good for his healing lung, now would it?" He gave them a reasonable facsimile of his trademark grin and then moved forward and bent to hug Banks, before turning to each of them in turn, to embrace them all as he made his way toward the exit.

Jim frowned and looked to Banks, who was swiping at his eyes. Catching Ellison's clear signal to do something, Simon shrugged helplessly. The kid had thought it all through, very clearly so far as he could see, and there didn't seem to be a whole lot more to say. Not many days ago, Jim had said himself that he was ready to work without Sandburg's support. It wouldn't be easy, and they'd miss the kid, but Ellison had shown in the last few months that he really did have good control now. He'd been working less and less with Sandburg for some time. Blair was right. He had his own life to live and he sure in hell didn't owe any of them anything more than he'd already sacrificed to ensure things in MCU could return to normal, or what passed for normal. Still, he sighed as he shook his head, deeply regretting the price Sandburg had paid for his loyalty to Ellison.

More than a little disgusted, Jim grimaced and began to hobble after Blair, who was talking quietly in front of the elevators with his mother.

"You're sure you'll be okay, sweetie?" she was asking, subdued and clearly anxious about her son.

"I'll be fine, Mom, don't worry," he assured her with a hug. "You go ahead and have a good time in Katmandu."

Katmandu? Jim huffed silently and shook his head. It seemed Naomi was doing her usual hit and run routine, heading off somewhere to process and continue her endless quest for enlightenment. Still, he wasn't sorry she was leaving. It would make it easier to talk with Blair when they got home if she wasn't flitting around, bemoaning the lack of sage to clear out the negative vibrations and making them all tea.

They took the elevator down together, Naomi getting off on the main floor to hail a cab to take her to some friend or other. And then they exited in the basement, to head to the underground garage. Jim was surprised to see his truck in its usual slot, having expected Sandburg's old jalopy.

"I thought I would be picking you up at the hospital," Blair murmured as he headed toward the passenger side to unlock the door. "With your bad leg, I figured it would be easier for you to get into the truck than to scrunch down into the Volvo."

Jim nodded and accepted Blair's help to slide into the seat, grimacing as his leg twinged, but grateful that Sandburg had thought about what would be most comfortable for him. Blair closed the door and went around to the other side. Getting in, he said quietly, "I really am grateful for the offer and your willingness to keep working with me, Jim."

Not quite knowing how to respond, Ellison nodded again and looked away. Truthfully, he didn't know what to think, let alone say. Jim had been sure that Blair would accept the offer to go to the Academy and stay with MCU as his permanent partner. It pissed him off that the kid so blithely rejected what would have been such a perfect, long-term solution. Sandburg had the makings of a great detective and he'd liked the work, he'd said so himself more than a year ago. But, though it shamed him, part of him was sorely relieved, even glad that there'd be no more media attention and that the circle who knew about his senses could be kept small. Still, he wasn't as convinced as Blair seemed to be that he didn't need Sandburg's specialized and intuitive help anymore. He felt more than a little rejected that his partner had made the decision to give up working with him without ever discussing it; and that made him feel defensive and very irritable. He didn't like to think he was dependent on Sandburg or anyone else. He was a damned good cop and didn't need anyone to help him do his job - but a small voice inside told him otherwise, a voice he didn't want to hear.

As they drove along the busy streets toward home, neither man spoke. Glancing at Sandburg, Jim was struck by how tired and pale the kid looked. He'd been through hell over the last week; that was for damned sure. Maybe he was right. Maybe it was time that he sort out his own life. But what was he going to do? Keeping things quiet meant that he would have to live with his notoriety locally. What kind of job did he think was likely to get? Jim's lips tightened, once again feeling a twinge of guilt for what Blair had done. Ellison would never have asked the kid to crucify himself, let alone so publicly. Sure, he'd been upset by the circus and feeling like the whole world knew he was some kind of freak, but that hadn't been Sandburg's fault. Not really. He could have been more careful with the document, but Naomi had made it clear that she'd gone into Blair's laptop to find the file without his knowledge. He couldn't blame Blair for thinking his work was safe and secure inside their home.

Sighing, tired before the conversation they needed to have even started, Jim absently massaged his sore leg.

"Turn your dial down, Jim," Blair murmured quietly as he pulled into the parking spot outside the loft. He got out and moved around the truck to help Ellison slide out, lending his shoulder for support. When Jim was standing solidly, Blair closed and locked the door, and then handed Jim the keys. When Ellison turned to hobble toward the entrance, Sandburg caught his arm and held him back. "I'm not going in with you, Jim."

Not understanding, Jim looked around. "What? You've got an errand or something? If it's just shopping, don't worry about it. We can order in dinner."

"No, you don't understand," Blair replied, his voice hollow, his eyes dark with sorrow. "I moved all my stuff out, most of it into storage until I figure out where I want it sent. What I need for now is in the Volvo. I'm leaving town. My, uh, key is on the ring with the truck keys and I've left a check for the last of the rent on the table upstairs."

"What are you saying? That this is it? You're just going to take off?" Jim demanded, completely stunned. When they'd left the station, he figured he'd have time to come up with another option to keep the kid as his permanent partner. They needed to talk, sort things out. It couldn't end like this - couldn't just be over.

"Yeah, pretty much," Blair replied with a shrug as he looked off down the street, the expression in his eyes unreadable. "There's not much hope of a job here in Cascade. Not right now, anyway. It's better if I just go."

"Jesus, Chief, can't we talk about this or something?" Ellison gaped. While he was in the hospital, he'd known that Blair had cleared out his office at Rainier, but the younger man had given no clue to the magnitude, or immediacy, of his plans. This wasn't right; couldn't be right. "You could have a good job here. You know that. I don't understand - "

"Jim," Sandburg cut in with a sigh as he looked up at his friend, "I went over this with you and everyone else downtown. I appreciate the offer and that you want me to stay, I really do. That means…" His voice caught and he had to stop to look away again and blink. The wind caught his hair and blew strands over his face; impatiently, he pushed it back behind his ears and turned back to Ellison. Swallowing, he went on, "I can't stay. I'm sorry. For your sake as well as mine, it's time for me to move on. Too many people would ask too many questions if I hung around with you any more. And I need to find my own way now; figure out who I am again and what I'm going to do with my life."

"Where are you going? For how long?" Jim asked, reaching for straws. Maybe the kid just needed some time; maybe this wasn't the end.

"To the future, man," Blair replied with the ghost of a smile. "For the rest of my life. The past is done, Jim. There's little that I'd change if I could, and I'll always treasure the memories of the years with you. It's been a hell of a ride. But you're okay now. You don't need me anymore and my presence could only hurt you. Your life is…is what you want it to be now. Your future is secure. I…I need to find my future." He took a deep breath and rushed on, "Look, I've stocked up the cupboards and the fridge, so you should be okay until your leg heals. It's getting late and I need to hit the road." Moving forward, he gave Ellison a quick tight hug. "I'm really going to miss you, Jim. You be careful and let the others help you when you need it, you hear me? I don't want to have to be worrying about you," he whispered, his voice catching again, nearly breaking.

And then, before Jim could think of anything more to stay or any way of stopping him, Sandburg turned and loped across the street to his car. He hesitated a moment before getting in to look back and then he slipped inside. When the engine caught, he looked up at Ellison one last time for a long sober moment, and then he drove away.

"Sonofabitch," Ellison cursed under his breath, in helpless anger, as he watched the Volvo turn a corner and disappear. But still he stood and watched the empty place where it had been, feeling suddenly, unexpectedly, utterly forlorn and more than a little lost. He tightened his jaw against the ache in his chest and covered his traitorous, trembling lips with one hand as he blinked rapidly to clear the burn from his eyes. And then anger surged again, that Sandburg had just taken off with no warning, little better than his mother at the cut and run game. After all the years, after sharing a home, he just…left. Like that. A quick hug and an 'I'll miss you', and not even the decency to say he'd be in touch. Well, hell. Turning away from the street, leaning heavily on his cane, Jim stomped into the loft, thinking he should be used to it. Eventually, everyone left. Damn.

As he viciously punched the elevator button and fumed while he waited for it, Jim told himself bitterly that he'd learned a long time ago that he didn't need anyone. But by the time the elevator finally arrived, that annoying little voice inside was telling him, quite bluntly, that he was a fool.

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

Blair made it out of Cascade and as far as Interstate 5, but he pulled off at the next exit and drove into the parking lot of a small, cheap motel by the highway. His hands were shaking too badly to drive and his mind was certainly not on the road; he was a hazard looking for a place to have an accident and he knew it. Taking a breath, he grabbed his knapsack from the seat beside him and went inside to get a bed for the night.

Once in his nondescript but adequate room, he threw himself onto the bed and stared at the ceiling; his thoughts were tumbling all over themselves, just as they'd been doing ever since he'd pulled away and left Jim standing on the side of the street. Was this a mistake? Should he have taken the offer of going to the Academy and been glad of it? He respected cops and had really liked helping Jim with his cases, but carrying a weapon was so not his scene. In all honesty, he really didn't have the kind of courage it took to face maybe having to kill someone someday, regardless of how it could be rationalized as self-defense or necessary for the greater good. If he'd wanted to be a soldier or a cop, he could've gone down that road a long time ago. He'd long gotten past the lessons of his childhood where cops were seen as the jack-booted enemy, but the 'peace and love' messages were engrained too deeply in his soul to start being someone he wasn't.

God, he was going to miss them all, though, Jim most of all. Miss belonging somewhere; miss doing work that was truly important and worthwhile. The early years, especially, when he'd been so excited about finding Ellison and helping him learn how to understand and manage his senses, had been the best years of his life, bar none. It had been a nonstop natural high, fueled by adrenaline and the rush of assisting Jim with cases - and by the terror, he thought with a wry grimace. Terror that he'd fail Jim; but Ellison had shown such confidence in him, such willingness to try anything, however crazy, that might help and, somehow, the ideas had kept flowing. But there'd been other moments of a different kind of terror, Sandburg recalled as his memories skittered across the surface of his mind. Moments like being in that warehouse with Lash, which would always remain one of the absolute worst, most frightening experiences of his life. But one of the all-time best, too, once he'd calmed down, sobered up from the sedative and could think straight, because Jim had successfully applied what Blair had taught the older man and had come after him; had saved his life.

Jim.

Blair had meant it when he'd said that Jim had become the big brother he'd never had. And Jim had given him the only steady and stable home he'd ever known. It nearly killed him to walk away from all that, all that it meant - God, he'd never hurt inside like he was hurting now. Rubbing his eyes and turning on his side, his arms crossed tightly and his knees pulled up, Sandburg swallowed hard against the tearing ache in his chest. He'd told Naomi that he'd had it all, had it all right there, and he knew he had, for a while. Until it all went to hell in a handbasket. The ache wasn't all sorrow at the grief of leaving. A lot of it, most of it, was the deep, deep hurt that when the chips were down, despite everything and all their years together, Jim still hated his senses and didn't trust Blair not to screw him royally. It was the knowing in the very fabric of his soul that as much as he loved Ellison like a brother and would have done anything for him - hell, had pretty much given up everything to protect him - Jim didn't feel the same way. Never had, maybe 'cause he was older, or maybe 'cause he already had a brother with whom he was repairing relations - or maybe just because Jim just didn't trust anyone, not completely. Who knew? Maybe it was because Jim found him annoying as hell, and had only been putting up with him out of need, and that need was pretty much gone. Jim hadn't really needed him for months, maybe as much as a year.

But then why had Jim been willing to keep working with him? Out of gratitude? Ellison had said he thought Blair was a damned fine cop, regardless of never having been trained. And he'd seemed sincere when he'd referred to how Blair had helped him with some pretty tough stuff. But you couldn't build a partnership on gratitude - a lifelong partnership needed trust; unconditional and unswerving trust. Had it simply been a kindness, knowing Blair had pretty much trashed his academic career and what passed for his life? God, pity? Well, that was worse than gratitude. Or guilt maybe, that keeping his secret safe had to cost so much? Shit. Guilt made pity look good.

Sandburg sighed and tried to shift the focus of his thoughts. He'd told Jim that was all in the past and it was time to move on. And it was. But to where, exactly? He'd been so busy clearing up the detritus of his life that he really hadn't had time to think about the future. Well, now he had the time. Plenty of time. All the time in the world. What did he want to do with his life now? What did he want it to count for?

But when he tried to focus on the future, the thoughts that had been flooding his mind mercilessly seemed to go on a coffee break, leaving nothing but a void behind. Puffing out his cheeks and then blowing a long, slow breath, Blair waited for inspiration to hit. And waited. And…nothing. Snorting, he rolled back to stare at the ceiling to see if suggestions were written in the plaster; nope, apparently not. Okay, so long-term planning wasn't on the agenda. How about - which direction to take in the morning? South, to California? Southwest to Arizona, maybe soak in the vibes of Sedona and replenish his energy? East, maybe, to disappear in one of the big cities? He had enough money to drift for a while, but not forever. Still, picking up odd jobs to supplement his income wouldn't be all that hard to do. He had time to decide where he wanted to go; all the time in the world, he thought again, bleakly.

Briefly, he toyed with the idea of heading to Mexico, to study the temple ruins near Sierra Verde, but his throat tightened and he roughly pushed the idea away. He couldn't keep working on sentinels. Been there, done that, got the Cascade PD sweatshirt. It was over. Time to move on. Time to get a life.

It had grown dark, thunder rumbling in the distance, while he pondered life and the question of his future without much to show for it. Too weary to think anymore, too worn out by the memories and regrets, he got up to undress and then crawled into the bed. Forcing his eyes to stay shut and his lungs to take deep, relaxing breaths, he told himself he could decide which direction to take in the morning. Flip a coin or something.

It wasn't like it really mattered.

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

Thunder cracked with the explosive power of a bomb going off on the roof, snapping Blair awake with a gasp. Listening to the rumble growl and then subside, and then noticing the sharp pinging of rain blown against the window, he sighed and rubbed his face; just the thing to make this day's drive truly a joyful experience. Grimacing, he crawled out the bed and, after a quick shower to wake himself up, Blair dressed and dashed out to his car. It was raining so hard that he was almost soaked by the time he'd unlocked it and tossed his gear inside. "Cold and wet is my world," he muttered with a shiver, wishing the heater worked. Sniffling, he pulled out to the road. Man, he did NOT feel like driving on the freeway in this shit; too much like navigating a muddy carwash every time a transport rumbled past, making it impossible to see a damned thing.

Shaking his head, looking down the road in the other direction, he realized it was actually a small, state highway. Shrugging, he thought, What the hell? and turned away from the Interstate. He wasn't going anywhere in particular, so what did it matter what highway he was on? Might as well take the chance to see a little of the backcountry; it would be a quieter drive and, on a day like this, that was a definite plus.

Before long, the long and winding road was climbing up into the mountains, a dark tunnel through a thick pine forest, and the asphalt surface slick with rain. At least the trees blocked the powerful wind that had been buffeting the Volvo unmercifully, making it a physical challenge to keep from drifting across the centre line. His windshield wipers slapped monotonously, scarcely equal to the task of keeping the drenching downpour at bay, tiresome and increasingly irritating, as he peered through the gray unnatural twilight of the endless storm.

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

The next morning, Jim clicked on the coffeemaker and turned to lean on the counter, his arms crossed, while he waited for it to perk. Disconsolately, he stared at the runnels on the outside of the glass door to the balcony, as the wind whipped the rain into almost horizontal sheets of nearly solid water. It had been raining hard all night, a constant drumming on the skylight and roof, accompanied by the low bass of rumbling thunder and the sharp, blinding shards of lightning. And, from the look of it, it was going to rain all damned day.

Grimacing, Ellison chewed on his inner lip as his gaze flicked around the loft. The weather didn't usually bother him. It rained or it didn't. But he felt restless, unsettled and the incessant whine of the wind, the hammer of billions of raindrops and, he winced, the relentless cracking explosions of thunder, weren't helping. God, one evening without esoteric chatter about the mating rituals of pygmies in deepest darkest Africa, one night of not being lulled to sleep by the click of laptop keys and the rhythmic beat of another's heart, and one morning of getting up without seeing a rumpled, cheerful grin broken by the predictable yawn that dimpled darkly unshaven cheeks, and he was bored, disgruntled and…lonely.

Pitiful; absolutely pitiful. He had peace and quiet, the loft to himself, his privacy all his own again - and it was irritating as hell.

Snorting, he turned to pull out the cereal and tipped some into a bowl. He added milk, poured his coffee, grabbed a spoon and went to the table where he'd already put the morning's paper. He'd been alone before and liked it just fine. He'd get used to being alone, and liking it, again.

He'd barely finished eating, his appetite not helped any by the headlines or the sorry stats on the Jags, when the phone rang. His heart leaped, treacherous thing that it was, but he let his legs join the party as he lunged to grab the handset. He only barely stopped himself from shouting, 'Chief?' and, instead, grunted warily, "Yeah?"

"Well, a cheerful hello and good morning to you, too, Detective," Simon drawled. "Who dragged you out of the wrong side of the bed?"

"Uh, hi, Simon," Jim muttered, rubbing his hand over his face, his heart sinking back down to its new home in his gut. "What's up?"

"Nothing much," Banks admitted. "I'm bored. Recuperation isn't what it's cracked up to be."

"Tell me about it," Ellison grated as he rubbed his aching leg. Lunging for the phone hadn't been the best idea he'd ever had.

"I wondered if you and Sandburg had a chance to figure out some things last night," Banks went on, his voice studiously casual as he revealed the real reason for his call. "What's the kid going to do now?"

Jim bowed his head. It was inevitable that people would ask; equally inevitable that he'd have to tell them. He'd just thought he'd have a little more time before he had to say hollowly, "He's gone, Simon. He dropped me off at the loft yesterday and hit the highway."

"Already?" his boss exclaimed. But evidently he couldn't think of anything else to say.

"Yeah," Jim mumbled into the lengthening and uncomfortable silence.

"You okay?" Simon asked then, concern deep and rich in his voice.

"Sure, why wouldn't I be?" Ellison almost snapped back, immediately defensive. Why did everyone assume he needed a babysitter, for God's sake?

"Uh, well…good," Banks replied, not sounding at all convinced, and then sighed. "I guess he figured there was no reason to stay."

"Guess not," Jim agreed, short and clipped.

"You ever want to talk about this, Jim," Simon offered, recognizing the too-familiar defensiveness with another, more long-suffering sigh, "you know you're not alone."

Jim's gaze wandered the loft and his jaw tightened. The fact was, he was alone. That was the point. But he replied neutrally, "Thanks, Simon. I'll keep that in mind."

He'd scarcely ended the call when the phone rang again. "Hey, Jimbo!" Brown pealed down the line. "Is Hairboy handy?"

"No, he's not," Ellison replied tightly.

"Oh," Henri hesitated, made wary by the tone. "I just wondered if he wanted to shoot some pool later. Let him know I called, okay?"

And what am I, chopped liver? I play pool, Jim thought, but didn't bother to point that out. He'd never been all that sociable. "He's not living here anymore," Ellison reported flatly. "He left town yesterday."

"What? You gotta be kidding me! And you didn't stop him?" Brown exclaimed, obviously not happy with the news.

"What? You wanted me to cuff him to the coffee table?" Jim snapped back. "He's all grown up, H. The man makes his own decisions."

"Yeah, right. I hear you," Brown sighed. "I'm sorry he's gone, Jim," he added before hanging up.

Twenty minutes later, Megan was on the phone. "G'day," she chirped. "Is Sandy there? I wondered if he wanted to…"

"Sandburg has moved out," Jim grunted, cutting her off. "He's left town."

"He's what?" she demanded sharply, and then challenged, "Well, that's a bit odd, isn't it? I mean - to go so soon? Where'd he go?"

"To the future," Jim told her, irritation clear in his voice. "And that's a direct quote."

"Oh," she murmured, suddenly subdued. "Well, bollocks. I'm sorry, Jim," she added before she hung up.

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

Sandburg's stomach grumbled in counterpoint to the thunder and he sighed. He should have checked the map to see what towns existed up ahead and how far, or eaten in the dive next to the motel. But the smell of grease had turned him off the night before and didn't do much for him first thing in the morning, either. Ah, well, he'd gone without food for longer than a day. Consider it a fast, he told himself philosophically. A cleansing ritual as part of leaving your old life behind and the process of reinventing who you are.

Who I am, his thoughts echoed then, drearily. He felt so…empty inside, hollow and insubstantial. Who the hell am I now? I'm not a doctoral student anymore; I don't have a teaching fellowship. Not a cop tagalong. Not shadow to a sentinel. Who the fuck am I now? Perversely, the question provoked a memory, and his gut twisted as he recalled Lash chanting, "I can be you." Snorting, Sandburg shook his head. "Why would anyone want to be me?" he asked aloud. "Hell, I don't even want to be me anymore."

He was beginning to seriously wonder where this little highway went and, more importantly, if there were any gas stations in his near future. As the gauge dipped closer to empty, he shook his head. He really didn't need to be stranded in the middle of nowhere in a raging storm. But, with relief, he saw the glare of lights ahead and gratefully pulled into a service station. He filled up the tank, loped inside to the restroom and then grabbed some milk, juice, bottled water, the most appealing of a totally unappetizing selection of Saran-wrapped sandwiches, and some fruit from the cooler before paying and heading back out into the miserable weather. He pulled over to eat the bland turkey and wilted lettuce on semi-stale bread concoction, one of the apples and then drank the small carton of milk.

And then he headed back onto the highway.

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

When the phone rang again, it was early afternoon and Ellison scowled at it, no longer leaping at it in the hopes of hearing Blair's voice saying his damned car broke down and asking if Jim could come get him. Resignedly, he answered, "Hello?"

"Hi, Jim, it's Joel," the older man replied. "How're you and the kid doing?"

"I'm fine, Joel, thank you," Jim replied civilly, though his teeth ached from being so tightly locked together. "I'm assuming Sandburg is equally fine."

"Assuming?" Taggart echoed. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means he took off yesterday for parts unknown," Ellison reported for, what, the fourth or fifth time that day. "He's moved on." It occurred to him that Rafe was the only one who hadn't called, most probably because Brown had gotten to him before he could check on the kid. With an uneasy feeling, he also belatedly realized that no one from the University, none of Sandburg's so-called friends, had called; guess they didn't associate with self-proclaimed liars and frauds, he thought with an unconscious grimace of regret and no little guilt.

"Ah, damn," Joel sighed softly, hearing the sorrow under the brusque, irritated tone. "We'll miss him," he added before offering, "If you need anything, you let me know, okay?"

"Yeah, thanks," Jim replied wearily before terminating the call, no longer irritated, just feeling empty.

When thunder exploded overhead, he winced and swore. Cold and wet is my world, echoed in his mind and he bowed his head, wondering when his heart had decided to take up residence in his throat.

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

Two hours later, the storm still hadn't let up and Blair was being to wonder if it was a metaphor for life, his anyway. But he was fast getting tired of his own misery. "It's an adventure," he told himself sternly. "Enjoy it for pity's sake. You're young, got your health, a graduate degree - the world has not ended. Get a grip and grow the fuck up." He straightened his shoulders, lifted his chin and raked his hair back off his face. Life went on and life was good. The universe worked in mysterious ways, and who knew what was waiting around the next corner? Taking a deep breath and blowing it out, he forced himself to grin, albeit wryly. Life went on. It could be good again, maybe, if he could truly bring himself to leave his past behind with no regrets and gave the future half a chance.

And this damned storm would eventually end.

Instead of fixating on how rotten he felt about leaving so much that he had dearly loved behind, Blair allowed himself to remember why the times had been good. A genuine smile curled on his lips as he recalled the fun it had been to work with Jim, and how amazing it had all been. He'd been lucky to find his Sentinel, to have the experience of living his dreams so fully. His natural sense of gratitude and abundance at the magic and mystery of life began to reassert itself, and he dared to believe that he would be okay. He'd really helped Jim; he knew that, and felt truly good about that. Ellison could manage on his own now, and he'd be okay, not a victim of his senses. Blair sincerely felt he'd been in the right place at the right time to fulfill some part of what his destiny in this life was supposed to be. So, maybe 'destiny' had some other good notions in mind for the rest of his life.

The Volvo sped down around a long curve and onto an old, rickety wooden bridge that was long past need of repair if not outright replacement, and Blair was on the long structure before he realized that muddy water was flowing fast and deep across the roadway. He blinked and cut a quick look to the side, his knuckles tightening on the steering wheel as he eased up on the accelerator before he started to hydroplane, when the bridge suddenly shifted, tilted, broke apart - and fell out from under his car.

"Oh shit!" he cursed, terror blooming in his belly, as the vehicle tilted sideways and slammed down into the raging torrent. His head banged so hard against the side window that he momentarily saw stars and nearly panicked, thinking he was about to pass out. Grimly, nearly frenzied, he fought off the darkness, because if he didn't, he knew he'd die. The Volvo was already under water and he had to get out of it, or he'd drown when it finally hit bottom and the water pressure outside was too great to force the door open. Dammit, he'd already drowned once in this life, and there was no way in hell that he wanted to go that way again.

Fear created a pure surge of adrenaline that cleared his head and kicked his fright or flight response solidly into overdrive. Without really thinking about it, he snapped off his seatbelt, took a great gulp of air, and shoved open the car door. Water immediately poured in, the force of it driving him half into the passenger seat. Using the gearbox for leverage, he gripped the steering wheel and hauled himself forward against the raging current and the heavy pull of gravity. Fumbling for another hold, he gripped the doorframe, and would have cursed if he'd had the breath to waste when his jacket caught on something, holding him captive. His jaw clamped rigidly closed, his lungs already beginning to scream for air, he shrugged out of his coat and pushed off from the seat. He banged the back of his head sharply on the doorframe but, with a painful wince, he kept going.

Once free of the car, he didn't fight the current but went with it, kicking hard as he angled toward the dim light of the roiling surface. His reaching hand broke clear and then his head. Gasping, coughing, he dragged in blessed air as he struggled to stay afloat. His sodden clothing and heavy shoes were a drag he couldn't afford, so he shucked off his shirt and frantically toed off his shoes. When his waterlogged jeans impeded his ability to kick effectively, he stripped them off, too. He'd worry about being cold once he was sure he was going to be alive long enough to feel it.

He felt like a piece of flotsam, completely at the mercy of the powerful, angry river that pushed him along at an alarming rate. Desperately, he tried to get his bearings. The water was freezing, and if he didn't get to shore soon, he never would. Spotting a broken tree branch, he struck out toward it and, once he'd caught hold, he clung to it for dear life to keep his head out of the surging water. Kicking hard, he angled toward the tree-shrouded, rocky shore and sobbed with weak relief when his feet touched the pebbly bottom.

Heedless of the sharp stones cutting his socks and feet to ribbons, shivering uncontrollably, he stumbled and slogged his way out of the water that tried to drag him back into the main current, and he lunged to grab hold of boulder, to give him an anchor to cling to, as he fought to keep his balance. Finally, he managed to half crawl out onto the slippery bank and he sprawled on the earth, as if embracing it, panting for breath. Shards of pain lanced through his head, and his gut rebelled with a sudden, sick cramp. Hastily, he shoved himself up onto his knees, his hands braced on the muddy ground as he gagged and heaved, emptying his belly. Groaning miserably, he wiped off his mouth with the back of his hand, and crawled away from the noisome mess.

Cold rain lanced down, an almost solid wall of tiny, battering pellets that stung his unprotected body, distracting him, making him feel disoriented. His head was pounding so hard he could hardly see and, when he tried to stand, dizziness sent him crashing back onto his knees. Weakly, he pushed his lank, soaking wet hair out of his eyes and looked around dazedly for anything that might resemble some kind of shelter. Numb with cold, he crawled toward the trees, trying to get out of the rain, but a sharp burst of white-hot pain seared through his head, and he crumpled to curl on the ground, moaning, until darkness claimed him.

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

Ellison spent a second restless, nearly sleepless night. The storm had finally passed, though he could still hear thunder rumbling over the distant mountains. His skin was annoying the hell out of him, too sensitive, and he couldn't get warm. The walls seemed to be closing in, the loft suddenly suffocating and he had a profound urge to just go outside and breathe the clean air, but it was the middle of the night and there was nowhere to go. But he felt twitchy, achy and anxious and just couldn't settle, couldn't relax. Wearily, he rubbed his forehead, trying to ease the headache that had started up the afternoon before. Nausea curled in his belly and he grimaced against it, forcing himself to take long, slow breaths. Despite the fact that he could hear every damn sound from the street outside and the building around him, the loft itself was too quiet.

Muttering a curse, he turned on his side and punched his pillow into a more comfortable shape. If he didn't know better, he'd swear he was going through withdrawal. Which was just plain stupid. It wasn't possible to be addicted to another person's presence, like some kind of drug. Was it? He sighed and rolled over onto his back to stare up through the skylight.

He found himself wondering where Sandburg was.

And profoundly wishing the kid had never left.

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

Dimly aware that a new day had dawned, Blair wondered if he was dying and figured with a shaft of profound sorrow and regret that he probably was. He tried again, as he had before, more than once during the long, bitter, stormy night, to crawl up under the trees. They seemed so close, but remained further than his strength could take him. His head pounded relentlessly, like a blacksmith endlessly hitting hot steel with a heavy sledgehammer, sending sparks flying to sear his brain. Nausea twisted again, inciting another wretched cramp, but he had nothing left in his stomach so the violent dry heaves only compounded the agony of his aching head. His whole body felt like one huge bruise, aching from the accident and from fighting the strong river's deadly embrace. He was beyond cold, shivering uncontrollably on the muddy earth, rain still stinging his skin.

Blearily, he remembered times when he'd been scared of dying in the past. When Lash had him bound in chains and was pouring that drug down his throat. But Jim had saved him. Or when he really had died, drowned in the fountain outside his office by Alex. But Jim had brought him back from the dead in a miraculous merging of their spirit guides that still left him awestruck and so very grateful.

Jim.

Jim wouldn't be coming for him this time. Nobody would. No one knew where he was or that he was hurt.

Tears of despair blurred his hazy vision as he wondered why he'd been brought back from the dead only to die alone and virtually friendless in the vast wilderness. He knew with hopeless desolation that it was highly unlikely that even his body would ever be found, once the animals and the elements were done with it. He thought of his mother, then, and his heart broke for her and her grief in never knowing what had happened to him; her inevitable but fruitless hope that someday he would miraculously reappear. But he'd had his miracles. He'd found his Sentinel, and his Sentinel had brought him back from the dead. God, why? What was the point? What had he born for, if only to come to this ignominious end?

But then he thought of Jim again, and he felt a certain peace. Maybe he'd been born to help Ellison understand what he was; to aid him in learning to control and manage his extraordinary and wonderful senses, so that his friend could fulfill his own destiny as the Sentinel of a Great City. It wasn't a bad reason to have lived. It was, in fact, a wondrous reason, and Blair felt a measure of gratitude warm his soul for having been given such an opportunity and for having done his best. He was even able to summon up the wry thought that dying was one sure way to leave his past behind, though it was just a little more complete and irrevocable than he'd planned.

He moaned again, as the terrible pain reverberating through his skull burned hotter and raged unchecked. But he didn't know when he convulsed; was only briefly aware of the balm of darkness that once again ghosted down around him…

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

It was late afternoon when Ellison caught the scent of Simon's cigars and his friend's distinctive tread in the hallway, and he sighed. Unlike times past, he couldn't be bothered to get to the door ahead of his boss, to open it before Banks knocked. He didn't feel like having company, though he resigned himself and went to answer when the knock came, expecting that Banks was seeking out his company to relieve the boredom of convalescence. But, when he opened the door, his boss's demeanor shocked him and he didn't know what to think when he saw Simon's solemn, deeply sorrowful visage, his eyes red-rimmed as if he'd been weeping.

"Come in," he urged, waving toward the living room. "What's wrong?" Unable to imagine any other reason for Simon to look so utterly devastated, he added softly, "God, don't tell me something has happened to Daryl?"

His head and shoulders bowed as if by a nearly unbearable load, Banks moved slowly into the living room but, at Jim's words, he turned and shook his head. "No, Daryl's fine. Jim…I think you should sit down. I have some pretty bad news."

Frowning in confusion, Ellison narrowed his eyes as he gazed at his friend and crossed his arms. "Someone from MCU get hurt in a bust or something?" he asked then, his gut tightening in anticipation of a hard emotional blow.

Simon tilted his head, and his eyes lowered to the floor as he thought about the question and nodded slowly. "Yeah, I guess you could say that," he murmured. Swallowing, he took a breath as he lifted his gaze to Ellison. "Jim, I don't know how to say this, except straight out. I'm so damned sorry." He took another breath, and then said hollowly, "Sometime yesterday, an old bridge on one of the state highways in the mountains washed out in a flash flood caused by the heavy rains. Late this morning, the wreck of Blair's car was found in the river when they dredged for any possible victims. Given that Sandburg's license and registration indicated he resided in Cascade, Highway Patrol called our police department for assistance in identifying relatives - it didn't take long for the news to filter up to Major Crimes."

Jim's face blanked of all expression as he stared at Simon for a long moment, trying to make sense of Banks' words. He felt numb, not able to take it in. Blinking finally, he shook his head and lifted a hand as if to stave off an attack. "I don't understand," he stammered, fear beginning to curl in his belly. "You're saying Sandburg was in an accident? How is he? Where is he?"

Simon looked away, and shook his head as he bit down on his lower lip. "Blair's body wasn't found, Jim," he replied tightly, his voice hoarse. "He's presumed d-drowned."

"No," Ellison snapped, shaking his head sharply. "No, that can't be."

Moving to grip Jim's shoulder, Banks tried to navigate his friend toward the love seat, but Ellison pulled away, his hands again up to fend off being touched - to deny the need for comfort. Simon frowned in concern but he straightened his shoulders, as if he felt someone had to be strong; someone had to deal with reality. "I'm sorry, Jim," he said again, maddeningly. "When Joel called me with the news, I thought I should come and tell you personally. Do you have any idea how we can contact his mother? She'll need to be told."

But Jim was still locked in denial. "Simon, no. We need to find him first," Ellison insisted, as he recalled the murmured conversation between Sandburg and Naomi days before. "There's no point in trying to track her down in Katmandu, of all places, until we know something about how badly hurt he might be." Licking his lips as he looked distractedly around the loft, he muttered, "I don't have a clue, anyway, as to how the hell we'd find her there."

"Blair's dead," Banks tried again to get Jim to face the inevitable truth. "His vehicle was under thirty feet of water, trashed from the impact of hitting the river at some considerable speed when the bridge collapsed. There's no way he could have survived that."

"If his body wasn't in the car, then he got out," Jim retorted, the shock wearing off and the need for action suddenly imperative. "Where exactly did this happen? I need to get out there, find him. He could be badly hurt." Whirling away, he began to rummage in a kitchen drawer and then pulled out a map, spreading it on the island. "Show me where the bridge was," he ordered impatiently.

"Jim!"

"NO, Simon," Ellison spat back. "Damn it! If I believed it every time there was a crash and no bodies found, you and Daryl would still be in Peru! He's not dead until I see that for myself. Period."

Banks gaped at the vehemence, and then he thought about what Jim had just said. A flare of hope sparked in his chest; hope that his mind said was ridiculous and tried to deny but, once ignited, his heart would not listen. Moving to join Jim in the kitchen, he turned the map around and squinted at itas he bit his lip. Finally, he pointed, "It would have been right about here."

"Fine," Ellison said as he folded it up. "I'll let you know when I find him."

"Hey, c'mon, you can't go out there alone," Simon exclaimed. "Your leg isn't healed yet." Banks hesitated but a moment, and then offered, "I'll go with you."

Surprised into a smile, Jim nevertheless shook his head. He gripped his friend's shoulder as he declined, "You're still recovering from nearly dying not quite two weeks ago. It's rugged country, Simon - you'd hurt yourself trying to do this."

Frustrated, Banks' jaw tightened, but then he blew a reluctant breath of agreement. He'd be more burden than help. "Alright," he agreed. "But you still can't go alone. You'll be concentrating your senses, trying to hear or smell him - you'll zone if you go out on your own. So, Joel or Conner; her shoulder has healed enough that it shouldn't be a problem. Which one will it be?"

"Simon, I - " Ellison tried to protest, but Banks raised his hand imperiously.

"Choose, or I'll sic Search and Rescue on you, and you know they'd only slow you down," Banks commanded.

Looking away, not pleased but knowing Simon was perfectly serious, Jim thought about it. "I'd rather take Joel, but I don't honestly think he's up to this kind of rugged search. It'll have to be Conner, if she'll come and she thinks her shoulder is up to a trek in the wilderness."

Simon was already moving to the phone. As he picked it up and punched in the number for MCU, he said, his voice gruff with emotion, "Joel said the whole crew was in shock when they heard, most of them crying like babies. She'll jump at the chance to maybe find him."

"Oh, I'll find him," Jim vowed grimly as he headed upstairs to his room to change and stuff the essential clothing and supplies into a light shoulder pack. "Don't you doubt that for a second."

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

The rain finally ended in the mountains, but the air remained chilled and damp. Birds came out of hiding, some of them landing on and around the still figure curled in the mud. They plucked at his hair for their nests, and flew off well satisfied with their find. Small animals crept out to sniff, made wary by the scent of a predator. The raspy breathing was enough to stave off their hunger lest the large, if sleeping beast, should waken and hunt them instead, but they lingered hopefully.

A gray wolf loped out of the misty forest, yipping and growling to drive off the curious birds and animals. When they scattered in sudden alarm, the wolf prowled toward the body and then sat beside it, lifting its muzzle to the sky to howl, long and despairingly.

From somewhere high on the cliffs above, a big cat roared furiously, and the wolf flicked a look at the black jaguar restlessly prowling back and forth on the ridge. Whimpering miserably, the wolf laid down beside the comatose man, to keep a lonely vigil over him.

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

Simon had been right; Megan had jumped at the chance to head out with Jim to search for Sandburg though not, perhaps, for the same reasons as Ellison. As they drove up to the location of the washed-out bridge, Jim uncomfortable in the unaccustomed passenger seat, he could feel anger rolling off her in waves. She looked at him as if she despised him and, when she spoke at all, her comments were clipped, brittle and cold. Their few exchanges were confined to their search strategy; they had agreed that they would search downriver, paying particular attention to curves in the bank where debris got caught in the eddying water, with the understanding that the current would have eventually born Sandburg into one of those areas. Jaw tight, shoulders stiff, she glared at the highway as she pushed heavily on the accelerator, as maniacal behind the wheel as Ellison was himself. He could understand her sense of urgency, but he didn't understand her anger. Fear was what he felt; cold, implacable fear, that they'd be too late - that it was already too late. Too caught up in his own anxious thoughts, he let the silence ride for the more than six hours of their drive until it was a tangible, oppressive thing between them, like a vicious carnivore laying in wait to attack.

It was getting dark by the time Megan pulled up on the shoulder near the wreck of the bridge's stone footings. Wordlessly, she slammed out of the car and stomped to the trunk to haul out their knapsacks. Both had packed light; a change of socks, a blanket each, and Jim had a warm pullover, socks and sweatpants for Sandburg in his kit. Megan carried their rudimentary medical supplies. Four bottles of water each and some 'power bars' for nourishment. They had dressed alike, both in jeans and boots, both with warm pullovers over tighter fitting T-shirts, light but warm all-weather jackets and gloves; and they both sported ball caps, the brims effective in minimizing the glare of the sun during the day. She had eschewed her sling, deeming it more trouble than it was worth, and had tied her wild hair back to keep it out of the way. Cutting a thin look at his leg as he limped to join her, she tossed him his pack, and banged down the lid of the trunk.

"You want to wait until it's light?" she asked tightly.

"No," he replied. "Can you keep up in the dark?"

"Yes," she snapped back, heading past him to slide down the bank to the river's edge.

"What is your problem?" he finally demanded, irritated by her rancor.

"My problem?" she muttered. "That's a bloody good one coming from you."

He frowned as he followed her more gingerly down the steep, rocky incline, grimacing with impatient frustration at the sharp pull from his healing wound. Shaking his head, he wondered if it was that time of the month, and decided that reticence, in this case, was probably the better part of valor. Getting into one of their typical heated exchanges would only slow them down. Once he'd gotten to level ground, he paused; his eyes went out of focus as he tilted his head and strained to hear Sandburg's heartbeat.

"You'd be better to use your sense of smell, don't you think?" she snapped, impatiently. "Hearing's not likely to do much good."

Becoming seriously annoyed with her attitude, Jim stiffened. The muscle in his jaw throbbed as he turned cold eyes to meet her equally hard gaze. "He'll have been in the river and his scent will be obscured by the mud and muck. And it's been raining for days - it will have washed away anything on the ground if he wandered into the forest," he grated, hating to explain but recognizing that, for this journey at least, she was acting as his 'guide', however limited her help was likely to be. "His heartbeat is the best beacon to detect and follow."

Rolling her eyes, she retorted bluntly, "It's damned hard to hear the heartbeat of a dead man."

"Dead?" Jim exclaimed, suddenly hot with fury. "He's not dead, dammit!"

Waving him on to set the pace with his wounded leg, she shook her head disparagingly. "You really just can't accept it, can you, you poor dumb twit," she sniped. "'Course that would mean having to accept some responsibility, and we certainly wouldn't want poor Jim to have to do that, would we?"

Unwilling to stand and argue, anxious to be on the hunt, Jim pushed past her, setting a fast pace but one he knew he could maintain over the long haul. It wouldn't do Sandburg a damned bit of good if he foolishly overextended and found himself unable to walk. "Responsibility for what?" he called back coldly, over his shoulder.

"For what?" she snorted, her voice rising in disgust. "How about for the fact that he was out here in the first place because of your bloody pride, and the fact you were too damned stupid or stubborn to ask him not to leave."

"Look," Jim grated, even as his eyes raked the growing darkness, the dim light of the moon and stars more than enough for him to lead the way. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about. I wanted him to stay. We offered him a badge so he could be my partner permanently. Leaving was his idea."

"A badge," Megan huffed. "You drongos ever stop to think about the fact that Sandy would hate to carry a weapon and might never recover from having to kill someone? Oh, no, certainly not. He should have bloody jumped at such a magnificent offer, beside himself with everlasting gratitude to be welcomed into the fraternity. You and Simon, both, have to be the biggest pair of dickheads I've ever met, Jimbo. Maybe if you'd used half a brain and suggested a job he could do with a clear conscience, he might have accepted. Maybe if you hadn't sprung it on him, like a pair of schoolyard captains offering him a vaunted place on your team, and given him a chance to even think about it, there might have been some chance. God. Men."

Jim opened his mouth to argue back - but he couldn't. He winced and gritted his jaw as he swallowed the words that it was damned good offer, one that wouldn't have been easy to pull off, because he knew she was right. Sandburg had never been comfortable around weapons or violence, though he could handle it when he had to, and was nobody's patsy or doormat. And they had sprung it on him. Nor had they considered other options, or given him a chance to suggest other possibilities that might have worked. And pointing out that 'it wouldn't have been easy' only brought him up against that godawful press conference and Blair's self-annihilation to protect his secret. Quietly, he reiterated his only defence, "I was pretty clear that I wanted him to stay if that's what he wanted. I didn't ask him to go. Didn't ask him to…to deny his paper."

"Yeah, right, mate," she muttered. "You treated him with more contempt than you would the worst felon, washed him in anger and rejection, blamed him for what wasn't his fault - but no, you didn't ask him to deny the paper. You didn't ask him to destroy himself. You don't ask for much, do you?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" he cut back.

He could almost feel the heat of her rage as her eyes bored holes in his back. "Well, let's see," she began sarcastically, no longer able to hold her fury inside. "You didn't ask for your senses; senses that any other cop would kill to have, to help them solve crimes and protect their communities. But, no, you didn't ask for them. In fact, it's obvious that you resent them and are ashamed of them; otherwise it wouldn't have to be such an all-fired secret. You didn't ask for Sandy's help, either, did you? After I figured it all out, I asked Simon how the hell the two of you had managed to even hook up together - I mean, you are a fairly unlikely pair of partners. He told me that Sandy found you, because he'd been searching for a sentinel. And I heard you myself have a go at him about how you had a 'deal' - he got to write his thesis in return for working with you to help you understand how to control them. Bet you never even thanked him, ever, for saving your sanity and probably your life - why would you ever thank him? After all, you never asked for a friend that any sensible person would cut off their right arm to have. And you had your much vaunted 'deal', after all. Bloody, prideful jerk. You took him for granted; just expected him to put you first and everything else second. And let's see - oh, yeah. You didn't ask him to leave. You really are a wombat, Jim, if you think that. What the bloody else was he supposed to do to protect you? If he'd stayed, the press would have been all over the both of you, wondering why you'd put up with a liar and a fraud who told such tall tales about you - and they'd be soon wondering if maybe those yarns were true. No, Ellison, you don't ask for a damned thing. You just expect it will all work out your way. God, no wonder he shot through; you didn't make it possible for him to stay."

Her words landed like blows, merciless and crippling. By the time she was finished, he felt almost physically ill. God, he wanted to deny her hard judgment. It hadn't been like that; couldn't have been as one-sided and as unconsciously arrogant and cruel as she made it all sound. Of course he was grateful for Sandburg's help. But he tried to remember the last time he'd said, 'thanks', and all he could remember was Blair chiding him for not saying 'thank you' for the gift of the white noise generator two years before. As he studied the river's current in silence and continued to stride resolutely through the darkness, his hearing on maximum to get any hint of Sandburg's familiar heartbeat, he found himself thinking of all the things Blair had done for him over the years, starting with pushing him under that garbage truck only moments after he'd slammed the kid against the wall and had walked out on him in disgust. Or when Sandburg had given up the chance to follow his revered mentor on the field trip of a lifetime to Borneo, because it was 'about friendship'. Or all the countless hours Sandburg had given to go out to crime scenes, to ride around on investigations, to sit in on stakeouts, to write and process the lion's share of the paperwork. He'd bitched when Blair had been late. Complained when the kid worked on marking papers in the truck. Sniped when Sandburg's typing on his laptop into the wee hours of the night sometimes kept him awake.

Sure, he'd taken a lot of it for granted. Sandburg was studying him, was going to get his PhD out of it. But he must have thanked Blair, right? When the kid pulled suggestions out of the thin air to sort out the sensory overload, to help him focus? He had expressed his appreciation and gratitude, hadn't he?

But it was true that he constantly bemoaned his senses - even after almost four years, in the loft when he was yelling about being exposed, he'd said he felt like a freak and had wished he could turn the damned things off. But Sandburg always winced when he said anything like that - Blair thought they were an amazing gift. And they were, when they were working; which was most of the time, now, because of what Sandburg had taught him over the years.

He would never have agreed to that hateful press conference. But it wasn't like they'd been talking, or that Sandburg could have asked his opinion of the idea. Jim knew himself well enough to know that, at the time, he'd've likely snapped a 'whatever, take the money, be famous, have a nice life,' response. Hell, that's pretty much what he had said when Sandburg first tried to explain what had happened, when they might have talked about what to do to mitigate the diss-aster. And he hadn't thanked Blair for what he'd done. Nor could he pretend there hadn't been time. He could have said something when he was telling Blair what a good cop he inherently was, and he acknowledged that Sandburg had helped him with some pretty tough shit - that was 'thanks' wasn't it? And he'd also acknowledged that Blair had trashed his life - but he hadn't actually come out and said 'thank you' straight up and unvarnished.

Because he hadn't asked for such a sacrifice?

Or because it made him feel guilty and sick about what Sandburg had given up for him, to protect him?

A hell of a reason not to say, 'thank you.'

His gut clenched, and he started to understand Conner's anger, even her loathing. He started to feel it himself.

They tramped for an hour without another word between them. When he called a brief halt to once again focus his hearing more precisely, letting the input of his other senses fade for a bit, she pulled out a bottle of water and sipped at it. Vaguely, he was aware she was studying him, squinting in the darkness; probably watching to see if he was zoning, he thought impatiently, finding her scrutiny a distraction. Frustration surged in his chest - there wasn't much danger of zoning on a sound he still couldn't hear, no matter how hard he tried. His shoulders slumped and he shook his head. A heartbeat was a subtle sound. He could pick it out across a crowded room, separating out its unique signature from the sounds of other hearts. But the rush of the river acted like a white noise generator, blanketing other sounds, as did the perpetual rustle of leaves in the slight wind. It didn't mean the heartbeat wasn't out there - it only meant his sense of hearing wasn't good enough to make it out. If Blair was with him, if he could feel Sandburg's hand on his back or arm to ground him, or the kid's voice guiding him on separating out and setting aside the useless noise around him, maybe - but his heart clenched. God, he had to find the kid! Had to. Couldn't imagine doing this, using his senses, straining to make them work for the whole of his life without Blair there to help him, to guide him. And he sure as hell wouldn't accept that he couldn't hear the heartbeat because it wasn't there to be heard.

"Take a whiff of the wind," she suggested again, her anger making her deliberately cruel. "It's blowing from downstream."

"I told you," he grunted, "smell isn't our best bet. His natural scent will be merging with - "

"The scent of a rotting body is pretty damned distinctive," she cut in brutally.

Furious at her insistence that Sandburg was dead, he whirled around to face her. "What the hell is it with you?" he shouted. "I'm telling you, he's not dead. Why the fuck did you bother coming out here if you are so goddamned certain that there's no hope?"

"Well, I sure as hell am not here for you, that's for damned sure," she hissed back. Blowing a breath, obviously struggling to contain her simmering rage, the bulwark she knew she'd been using against grief, she said tightly, "I'm here for Sandy." Looking up at the star-spangled sky, blinking hard, she said brokenly, "He loved you. It would…would break his heart to think you were out here alone, in danger of zoning, because of him. I'm here because he'd expect me to be here, to help you. It was damned near the last thing I ever heard him say, remember? When he asked me, all of us - to bloody help you."

She lost it then, a sob breaking from deep in her chest even as she bit her lip to stop its trembling and Ellison could see tears on her cheeks, tiny diamonds sparkling with reflected moonlight. Jim reeled at the pain in her voice; at her absolute conviction that Sandburg was dead, but that she honoured Blair so greatly that she'd do this, be here despite her animosity and the fact she clearly blamed him for the kid's death - a death he just could not bring himself to accept. But he was so afraid…his own eyes blurred and he had to swallow hard. Taking a breath, he stepped toward her slowly and, when she didn't flinch away, he gripped her shoulder gently. "He's not dead, Megan. We're going to find him," he offered quietly but with renewed and resolute confidence.

She turned her face away and scrubbed at her wet cheeks. "How can you believe that?" she demanded hollowly; the fight had gone out of her and her voice was ragged with grief. "If the accident didn't kill him, the river would have drowned him. Even if by some miracle he managed to make it to shore, it's been more than a day. It's cold and wet and he'd've been hurt. He'd've died by exposure by now."

"I believe it because Blair's not a quitter," Jim replied firmly. "I believe it because his life simply cannot be over, not like this. Not now."

When she turned back to face him, her expression was sad but thoughtful. "Because you brought him back to life six months ago, you figure there had to be a reason? That it wouldn't make sense for God or whoever to give him back, only to take him away now?"

Uncomfortable with putting the supernatural stuff into words, Jim simply nodded and muttered, "Yeah, something like that." Taking a breath, he went on more strongly, "And also because he's just about the strongest, most determined man I've ever known. And because he loves life, however tough it gets. He would not surrender his life easily. He'd fight and scrap and just…just hang on, because that's who he is."

Sniffing, she remembered how Sandburg had kept up in the Mexican jungle, though he'd had to feel utterly exhausted at the time. She rubbed the back of her hand under her nose and nodded; despite any of the very tight spots she'd seen him in, he never had given up. And she'd heard some pretty hair-raising stories from the others about how the funny little hippie stayed the course, though everyone had bet against him sticking around past his early, very up-close and personal encounters with a mad bomber, a murderous white supremacist, a rogue CIA agent and even a psychotic serial killer. But he didn't quit; he never had. Even in leaving, he was still doing what was necessary, regardless of how much she knew it had to have torn him apart. And she remembered his boundless curiousity, his endless enthusiasm and sheer joy and wonder at the miracle and adventure of life, his unflagging and unfailing energy. She nodded again, more firmly - and, for the first time, she felt the whisper of a desperate hope that, just maybe, this search wouldn't end in abject grief.

Looking at Ellison with more of her usual asperity, she demanded, "So what the hell are you doing standing here, wasting time? Let's get moving, Jimbo. Wouldn't want to keep Sandy waiting any longer than necessary."

He smiled then, and slapped her on the back. "Now that's the right attitude," he commended as he set off again into the darkness.

Hours later, the night had begun to lighten into dawn, the trees emerging as gray shadows, and the river gradually became more substantial than quicksilver reflection. Jim stopped again for the umpteenth time to listen and Megan, as she'd begun doing after they had spoken so candidly, moved up to lay a light hand on his back in an effort to help ground him. At first, Ellison thought this attempt was going to prove as frustratingly fruitless as all the others but, then, he caught something. Blinking, he tilted his head toward the direction of the faint, indistinct sound and closed his eyes - and he held his breath as he shut out everything but that distant…

"JIM!" she yelled and pounded him fiercely on the back, startling him out of the zone. "Bloody hell! Don't DO that," she scolded.

"I've got him," he rasped with breathless excitement and relief, as he set off in a fast, if limping, run.

For a moment she gaped at him and then, a blinding smile lighting her face, she raced off after him.

Ten minutes later, he was finally able to link sight with the slow pulsing throb of Sandburg's heartbeat, but he staggered to a halt, stunned to see the wolf standing watch and sick at his friend's deplorable condition. Blair was curled on the wet ground, as if huddled against the cold, his bare skin scraped and bruised, bleeding from innumerable shallow wounds and grazes, his disheveled hair hiding his face. The wolf lifted his head, his incredible blue eyes unblinking as they held Ellison's gaze, as if to demand what had taken the Sentinel so long to come to his Guide's aid. But when Megan stumbled to a halt beside him, the spirit guide yipped once and ceded his place, turning to lope to the forest's edge. The animal looked back once and then slipped into the shadows, vanishing from sight as it forsook the semblance of substantiality it had assumed to keep predators at bay.

"Was that a wolf?" Conner gasped, alarmed as her gaze raked Blair, seeking any sign that he'd been attacked or mauled.

"Yeah," Jim blinked and cut her a fast look, clearly surprised that she'd seen the creature. "It's Sandburg's spirit guide."

"Strewth!" she exclaimed softly, gaping a little at the spot where she'd last seen the wolf before following as Ellison strode quickly to his friend's side.

Dropping to one knee, Jim carefully turned Blair and supported his head and shoulders against his chest. "Damn, he's freezing," he muttered, and Megan immediately pulled out the clothing and blankets. Together, they swiftly got him dressed and covered and, while Ellison checked him for injuries, Megan hunted up deadfall.

"How is he?" she asked quietly as she built and started the fire to add some measure of warmth.

Jim shook his head, frowning with anxiety. "His lungs sound badly congested; might be pneumonia," he replied, his throat tight with the realization of how close Sandburg must have come to drowning. "And he's suffering from severe exposure. I can't rouse him," he added hollowly. "There're a couple of bad lumps on his head."

Nodding, she pulled from her backpack the satellite directional locator that Simon had pressed upon her. After switching it on, she flipped open her cell phone but swore under her breath when she couldn't get a signal, "Bloody damn mountains!"

Jim's jaw tightened in frustration, but his head snapped up at the loud call of a hunting cat. High above them on the ledge of a looming cliff, he spotted the black jaguar. Megan had noticed his sudden alert stance and followed his gaze, but couldn't see what had attracted his attention. "What?" she demanded.

"I'll have to climb up to the ridge - it should be high enough to get a signal," he replied flatly. Shifting his gaze back to her, he added, "It won't take me long. Keep him as warm as you can and keep trying to wake him."

"All right," she agreed, as she moved to take Blair into her arms. Though she was a bit reluctant to let Jim go on his own, afraid he might zone, there was little other choice. She watched Ellison lope away, biting back on her instinctive encouragement to hurry, knowing the Jim needed no such urging. Turning her attention back to the young man lying so still against her, deeply worried about his shallow rasping pants for breath, she firmly cupped his cold cheek. "Sandy? Can you hear me?" she called. "Sandy?"

Grimly, she thumbed open one eyelid and then the other, her gut clenching when she saw that his pupils were seriously dilated and slightly uneven. Her eyes burned and she blinked sharply as she trembled with fear for him. "Please be okay," she whispered as she hugged him close, in part to warm him as best she could, but more to comfort herself with the fact that he was at least still alive.

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

Unwilling to take the time to find an easy route to the heights, Jim simply began to free climb as soon as he reached the base of the nearby, nearly sheer, ridge. Keeping his hearing tuned to Sandburg's heartbeat to ground himself, he opened his sight to find even the smallest holds for his fingertips and the toes of his boots. The granite was still very wet and slippery; it took all of his considerable skill and concentration to cling to the wall of rock as he inched his way up. Driven by desperation, only too aware of how badly in need of medical help Sandburg was, he forced himself onward, biting his lip against cramping muscles, blinking against the sweat that stung his eyes. Still, he was as careful as he could be, and he warily tested each new grip to ensure the rock wouldn't crumble but would hold his weight - not so much out of fear that he might fall and kill himself as out of the knowledge that Blair's life depended upon him completing the climb as quickly as he could. Several times, his boots skidded on the slick stone and he hung from his fingertips, the muscles in his hands, arms, shoulders and back shrieking in protest but, resolutely, fighting back the panic that nipped at the edges of his mind, he stoically found the next niche, and the next…and the next.

Twenty hair-raising minutes later, he hauled himself onto the ledge where he'd seen the jaguar and laid there for a long moment to catch his breath. And then he rolled onto his knees and pulled out his cell phone to punch in the number for the emergency rescue service. He blew out a long sigh of profound relief when he heard the line engage and ring, swiftly requesting an airlift out when he got a response. As soon as he'd given the coordinates and received assurance that help would arrive within the hour, he terminated the call. Before beginning the torturous climb back down to the river, he called Simon to let him know that they'd found Sandburg and he was alive, but badly hurt, and to report that it would probably be at least three hours before they'd get to the hospital.

Then he turned to make his descent, a journey more perilous and tortuous than the climb had been. But when Ellison heard Sandburg's heart rate suddenly begin to race erratically, he let himself drop the last fifteen feet and then turned to lunge through the forest. He could hear Megan muttering fearfully, "Oh, God, Sandy, please…please…don't…" as he raced into the small clearing by the river and saw Blair convulsing weakly in her arms.

"Jesus," he gasped as he stumbled toward them and fell to his knees to help her support their friend just as Sandburg's body again slumped into limp lifelessness but for his husky, laboured breathing.

Megan looked up at him, her eyes haunted and dark with fear, her face pale. "He's convulsed twice since you went to call for help. It's bad, Jim, isn't it?" she whispered, her voice catching with grief.

Nodding mutely, he gently took Blair from her and folded his comatose friend tightly against his chest, his cheek resting on the damp, dirty curls. Sandburg's heartbeat slowed to a steady, but now slightly irregular beat and Jim bit his lip, feeling helpless and very afraid. Taking a breath, he murmured hoarsely, "A chopper's on the way. Should be here in a half hour or so."

Megan sat back on her heels, her lips tightly compressed to stop them from quivering. Watching Jim, she knew that if she had ever doubted his genuine love for the man in his arms, she'd been wrong. Ellison looked utterly devastated, as if he was barely hanging on - and the sorrow and guilt in his eyes nearly broke her heart.

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

They strapped Sandburg securely into the steel basket that had been lowered from the hovering Search and Rescue helicopter and, as the winch was strong enough, Jim rode up with his friend. Though Blair was too deeply unconscious to fear the swinging ride, Ellison could not bear to let him make that ascent alone. Megan would have preferred to go with them, but she undertook to get their gear back to the car and would meet Jim at the hospital as soon as she could. But she stood, rooted to the earth and motionless, watching the chopper until it disappeared from view, before turning away with slumped shoulders and bowed head to begin her solitary trek back to the ruined bridge.

High above, Jim grimly fought the roar of the engine and the high-pitched whine of the blades to listen past the ear-splitting noise and retain his sense of Sandburg's heartbeat. He and the rescue worker worked swiftly to get oxygen flowing through a mask over Blair's face, start an intravenous drip, and bundle him as warmly as they could under layers of wool blankets. His skin was cold, waxy and pale with shock, his breathing too shallow and rasping as he lay so scarily still during the whole of the more than two-hour flight back to Cascade - the closest centre with adequate medical facilities. Jim crouched over him, holding his friend's hand and stroking Blair's brow, his chest so tight with tension that he found it hard to breathe. The journey seemed a kind of hell, endless…

When they finally arrived, there was a flurry of activity as Sandburg was transferred onto a gurney on the roof of Cascade General, and rushed inside to the elevator. Jim kept pace, hastily briefing the emergency physician on Sandburg's injuries, unresponsiveness and convulsions. Nodding tightly, the doctor ordered an immediate series of x-rays and a CT scan of the skull and chest. Other possible injuries could wait for later diagnosis and treatment. Vital signs were taken and monitored, blood samples drawn and a quick examination of reflexes undertaken. All the while, Ellison stood rigidly in a corner, out of the way but adamantly refusing to leave Blair's immediate vicinity, exercising his right as the designated next of kin with Sandburg's power of attorney to approve whatever treatment was required.

It was almost an hour, in which Blair suffered another seizure, before the doctor turned from her study of reports and x-ray films to discuss next steps with Jim.

"There is evidence of pneumonia in the lower lobe of his right lung, and scarring of the lung tissue - "

"He drowned about six months ago," Ellison interjected tightly.

She nodded, her expression solemn. "That may complicate his recovery, but I've started him on a wide-spectrum antibiotic and we'll see how he responds." Pausing, she shifted to gaze at Sandburg before continuing quietly, "He's also suffered severe trauma to the skull. There is a hairline fracture in the temporal region and deep bruising there, as well as of the occipital lobe at the base of his skull. We have to take him into surgery immediately to reduce the pressure of slow bleeding on the brain." Turning back to Ellison, she told him, "I've alerted the Operating Room and called in Dr. Drew Reynolds, a neurosurgeon. As soon as he's prepped, we'll be moving him upstairs."

Jim's throat was dry and so tight he had difficulty forming words. "How bad…" he stammered, and then paused, needing to swallow. "The convulsions…" he tried again, but his voice cracked before he could finish his question.

Her eyes narrowed with compassion as she lightly gripped his arm to steady him. "The seizures are a result of the pressure from the bleeding and the swelling of his brain due to the severe concussions he suffered. But it's too soon to know what damage, if any, has been suffered. We need to take this a step at a time. He's deeply unconscious now and he probably won't wake up, if he wakes up, for days. Dr. Reynolds may well artificially sustain the coma with medication, to give his brain time to heal. The staff will give you the consent forms for signature, and then I'm afraid we can only wait to see how he responds. I would strongly advise you to go home and clean up, rest. It's going to be a long, hard few days."

Jim stared at her. "If he wakes up?" he echoed, trying to grasp what she was saying, not wanting to hear it. He trembled and ducked his head and then shook it. "He's going to be okay," he grated, needing to believe that. She only squeezed his arm mutely and then moved away to oversee Sandburg's preparation for brain surgery. A nurse had already shaved small sections above his left ear and at the base of his skull, and the doctor swiftly intubated him to ensure there'd be no respiratory complications if he seized again on the way to the OR.

Jim raked his fingers through his short hair and watched wide-eyed, pale and shaky and very, very scared.

When they wheeled the gurney out into the hall, he followed until a nurse held him back at the elevator, sending him to the Admissions' Office to complete the paperwork. In a daze, he limped out of the Emergency Unit, unaware of Simon's presence in the waiting lounge until the taller man moved into his line of sight and caught him by the arm.

"Jim?" Banks asked tentatively, as he regarded Ellison's evident state of shock with no little concern. "How is he?"

Lifting his haunted eyes to Banks' dark gaze, Jim licked his dry lips and then tightened his jaw to swallow the thick lump in his throat. "He's, uh, in a coma," he replied hollowly, his expression stark with dread. "They've taken him to the OR for brain surgery. They, uh, don't know…don't know if he'll wake up."

Simon gripped Ellison's shoulder as he turned his face away, his eyes pressed shut, and took a deep breath as hope turned to sour despair in his belly. Biting his lip, he shook his head sorrowfully. "I'm sorry, Jim," he rasped. "God, I'm so sorry."

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

Long before the delicate surgery was over, the rest of the Major Crimes' team had shown up in the dreary waiting room outside the 'no admittance' doors to the OR. All but Megan, who was somewhere en route, perhaps not even yet back at the car by the broken bridge. Big, tough men sat slouched in despondency or paced with anxious tension. Silence hung like a pall over the group of detectives and their Captain, and they consumed countless Styrofoam cups of bitter coffee as the hours trickled by.

Jim sat in a corner, hunched over with his face in his hands, his thoughts locked into an endless whirl of bits and pieces of memory that ripped at his heart and tore at his soul, leaving him sick and utterly disgusted with himself. He didn't need to see the way the others looked at him to feel their anger and their pity. They blamed him, all of them, and well they might, for it was his fault that Sandburg had been on that damned desolate road. If only he had done so many things, or even one or two things differently, Blair wouldn't have been caught in the flash flood that had destroyed that bridge. Wouldn't have been anywhere near it. Would have been home and safe.

So many wretched memories that twisted his gut and tightened his chest with despair and guilt. When had it all gone so wrong? Right at the beginning, maybe, when he'd only grudgingly agreed to accept Blair's help because he hadn't had any other choice? When he'd slammed the kid against a wall in fear and anger, too stubborn and willful to listen? Or when he'd lied to deliberately hurt the ingenuous young man who'd just saved his life, telling him that a young woman he was interested in had said he was a dork, when she'd really said he was 'adorable' and how much she wished he'd ask her out? Was it resentment at having to be dependent? Had he unconsciously blamed Sandburg all these years for the trouble he had with the damned senses? Or was his heart so shriveled, his soul so warped, that he'd simply been incapable of gratefully and wholeheartedly accepting the support and the friendship Sandburg had unfailingly offered?

But despite all that, they had become friends, the best of friends. Sandburg pushed and prodded, laughed and teased, blew up when necessary, ignored his moods when they weren't important. Blair listened and conjured up solutions to weird sensory spikes and reactions; the kid had simply been there, always there, to give support, to amuse, to apply his extraordinary mind to the challenges of the day. And somewhere along the line, Sandburg had become part of Jim's life, integral and intrinsic, like the broad bands of crimson and gold that illuminated a tapestry and gave it depth, texture and richness.

Was that it? Had he just taken the kid for granted? Assumed he'd always be there, while one dark corner of his mind dreaded the inevitable day when Blair would choose to move on? Was that why he'd gone off to Clayton Falls alone? Or why he went ape-shit over the draft chapter of the diss more than six months ago? Was almost losing Sandburg at the fountain at Rainier what had made that impending loss so much more real, the fear that much keener? Was that why he'd become increasingly cold and remote over the last few months?

And did he get so angry over the sudden notoriety of the unlawfully released excerpts because he'd needed to be angry - because the diss was done and that meant Blair would be moving on and Jim just couldn't deal with that reality? Was that why he'd refused to listen to any explanation, walked away from any discussion about how to deal with it all? Walked away before he could be abandoned? God, like some spoiled two-year-old who wasn't getting his way?

Jim's throat thickened and his lips quivered at the memory of the press conference telecast. Why the hell hadn't he stopped it then, before it had gone so far that Blair felt he'd no choice but to leave? What would be so damned terrible about people knowing about his senses? Jesus, as much as they were sometimes painful and unpredictable, they were also the gift that Sandburg always claimed them to be. Unique and amazing and so precious in his line of work; talents he'd drawn on and come to rely upon to do his job to the best of his ability. What the hell was wrong with him that he'd allowed the kid to give up everything to protect him and his desire to keep them secret?

How could he have let Blair just drive away?

Megan's angry words ricocheted through his thoughts, her fury and disgust lashing him over and over as he replayed their conversation in his mind. God, how could he have been so blind to not see what she saw, what no doubt all the others saw? When had he become so rigid and unbending, so sanctimonious in his own view of the world, so narrow and cold? So like the father he remembered from his childhood and youth?

Jim felt frozen inside, icy with fear and grief, stiff with guilt and despair, by the time the neurosurgeon finally appeared, looking weary and stoic. When he looked up and saw that controlled expression, Ellison's heart clenched, afraid to hear what they were about to be told.

"He's in a coma," the middle-aged man said briskly and without preamble, "and I'll keep him unconscious for the next couple of days, at least. We won't really know the extent of any damage until he eventually wakes up."

"But he will wake up," Jim countered. "Right?"

The surgeon pursed his lips as his gaze dropped away. "I hope so," he sighed. "But it's too soon to know for sure. For now, it's a waiting game. I should warn you…individuals who have been so deeply unconscious, who have suffered repeated convulsions from pressure being exerted on the brain, are often not the same people they once were when they wake up."

"You're saying he might have permanent brain damage," Simon grated, stricken.

"I'm saying he might not be the man you knew," Dr. Reynolds reiterated.

Then, despite again being told that he should simply go home and rest, Jim refused to leave until he was allowed to see Sandburg. Reynolds shrugged, too tired to argue the point and they were told to go to the visitors' lounge outside the Intensive Care Unit to wait.

As they made their way along the hospital corridors, Simon said firmly, "We need to try to find his mother."

Jim nodded tightly. "I'll call the State Department when I get home. All I know is that she was planning to go to Katmandu. I don't know if she's left or already there, but I'll try to find her."

Half an hour later, Ellison was permitted entry to the closed ward to see Blair for five minutes. Jim stood for a long moment at the foot of the narrow, raised bed as he silently stared at his friend. Warm blankets covered Sandburg to his shoulders, as he was still suffering from exposure, and a respirator covered the lower half of his face, while a wide bandage that circled his head covered his brow. Various wires linked leads affixed to his head with the EEG monitoring his brain waves. About all that was visible of his friend was one arm with an intravenous needle in the back of his bruised hand, his sunken, half-shuttered eyes and the mass of tangled curls tied loosely above the bandage. His heartbeat, monitored by the beeping EKG machine, was slower than usual, but at least it was regular again.

Slowly, Jim moved along the side of the bed and he reached to grip Blair's wrist. "You're safe, Blair - you did everything right to survive and now you just have to wake up," he murmured, hoarsely. Then, his tone more desperate, he added, "But you've got to give me another chance, Chief. You hear me? You've got to wake up and give me a 'do over', so that this time I can get it right. I want to fix everything that went wrong between us. Please, kid, give me that chance."

When the nurse came to tell him it was time to leave, Jim wanted so badly to resist, but he knew there was little point. Blair was deeply unconscious and heavily medicated to keep his brain inactive while the internal swelling from the severe concussions dissipated; there was no way the younger man could perceive his presence and there was nothing Ellison could do for him. So he nodded tightly to show he understood and lightly stroked Sandburg's still too cool cheek. "I'll be back soon, Chief. I promise," he murmured and then turned to leave.

Out in the waiting room, the others stood as he came through the double doors, their expressions anxious.

"He's unconscious, just like the doctor said he'd be," Ellison told them quietly, his gaze averted. His jaw tightened as he cleared his throat and straightened his slumped shoulders. Lifting his eyes to Simon, he asked, "Could you give me a lift home? There's nothing anyone can do here for now, not so long as they've got him so heavily drugged."

"Hairboy would have a fit if he knew all the stuff they were pumping into his system," Brown rumbled, his voice husky. Joel nodded and brushed at his eyes, while Rafe looked away, sniffing as he brushed his nose.

Their very evident anxious sorrow nearly broke Ellison's fragile control, and he felt his chest tighten as his eyes burned. He had to take a shuddering breath before he could sigh, "Yeah, he would."

Simon moved forward to grip Jim's shoulder. "Come on. You need to clean up and get some rest."

They all left then, a sad, subdued group, each man lost in his own thoughts - and each of them wordlessly praying that Sandburg would be okay.

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

Jim showered when he got back home and then made himself a cup of coffee. Moving to stare out the balcony window while he drank it, he pondered all that he had to do to convince Sandburg to move back home when he got out of the hospital. The possibility that the kid might never wake up simply didn't bear thinking about. Blair just needed a little time to heal, to rest from his ordeal, and he'd be fine. Had to be fine.

Returning to the kitchen to refill his mug, Ellison pulled a pad of paper and a pen from a kitchen drawer and moved to sit at the table. Methodically, he made his list of what needed to be done: find the storage company where Blair had put his stuff and get it moved back into the loft; get his room back to normal; check with Legal Aid to find out who was handling his lawsuits against Berkshire Publishing and Rainier, and get a status report; if need be, contact his father's lawyer to push things along. Talk to Simon about his senses. There had to be a way of sharing the information with those who needed to know without creating a media circus; and they needed to brainstorm other possibilities for how to keep Sandburg on the team in a role he'd be comfortable with - possibilities that would give the kid legitimate choices. Chewing on his lip, Jim thought about Blair's car. The Volvo would be a total wreck, but maybe some of the gear he had packed in it could be salvaged; he had to contact Highway Patrol and find out where the vehicle and its contents had been taken. Using Sandburg's Power of Attorney, he could begin work on the insurance claim, so that would all be handled by the time Blair woke up. He'd need to know that he could replace his wheels and laptop as soon as he wanted.

Sitting back in his chair, Ellison looked around the loft, wondering what else he needed to do to make the place as welcoming and warm as possible for when Sandburg came home. When his gaze landed on the kitchen cupboards, he made a note to get in a supply of the herbal teas Blair liked and a package of the algae shake mix. Turning to examine the living area, he noted the absence of candles and added them to the shopping list, along with incense for the kid's room; that made him think of shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and a new toothbrush, as well as razor. Clothing? Blair had been almost naked when they'd found him, so he'd lost at least his jacket, a shirt and jeans, and his sneakers. Jim knew he'd have to see what could be salvaged from the wreck before he bought much more than that. Some help would be appreciated, like having a new jacket to wear home from the hospital, but Sandburg was a proud, self-sufficient man and wouldn't accept more than what was absolutely needed.

When he finished the list of things to do, he got fresh linens and made up Blair's bed, and then he put the afghan back on the sofa. Looking up at the clock, he was surprised that it was still the middle of the night - time had no meaning and everything since he'd heard about the accident seemed to blend together. As restless as he was, as much as he felt drawn back to the hospital, Jim knew he had to get some rest; he hadn't slept during the last two anxious nights. So he hauled himself off to bed.

It was hard, though, to relax enough to sleep. His memory kept replaying the sight of Blair lying curled on the muddy earth, and seeing him convulse in Megan's arms. And watching him lying so still, his head wrapped in the bandage, so deeply unconscious he needed a respirator to keep breathing. Once again, Jim felt the weight of responsibility and guilt. Sandburg had only been on that road because of him - his failure to deal with his own senses; his fears of being labeled a freak; his reluctance to admit his need not only for a Guide but for the friendship they shared, so that he'd let Blair sacrifice himself and then drive away.

Vowing to himself, as he'd promised Sandburg hours before, that he was going to make things right, he rolled onto his side and forced himself to do the deep breathing and relaxation exercises Blair had taught him years ago. And, finally, he slipped off to sleep.

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

As soon as he woke just after six AM, Ellison called the hospital to check on Sandburg's status. Upon being informed that there was no change in his friend's condition, nor was any change anticipated for the next twenty-four hours, he sighed and thanked the nurse. He switched on the coffeemaker and then picked up his 'to do' list. It was too early to call storage companies or Legal Aid, but the State Patrol was open twenty-four/seven. It didn't take long to track down Sandburg's wreck and to arrange for his possessions to be shipped express to him, c/o Cascade PD. He had a quick breakfast and, after pacing restlessly, he grabbed his jacket and headed back to the hospital.

Gratified that the ICU did not have fixed visiting hours, Jim followed the nurse inside the closed ward and then made his way to Sandburg's cubicle. Though it was small progress, he was relieved to see the heavy layer of blankets had been removed and Blair's temperature was back to normal. But the kid was still on the respirator and hooked up to a variety of wires and tubes. It was disconcerting to see his eyes half-open but dull and unseeing; there was no way to pretend that he was simply asleep.

Once again, Jim stroked his friend's cheek and gripped his wrist. "I wonder if you can hear me," he mused softly, wishing that some part of Sandburg would know he was there - and know that he cared. "I've arranged to get your stuff salvaged from your Volvo and it's being shipped back to Cascade, but I'm afraid your car is a write-off. Don't worry; we'll get you a new one as soon as you're up and around. Same with your laptop, if it's so waterlogged it'll never work again." Sighing, feeling helpless, Jim shook his head. "Dammit, Chief, I feel real bad, you know? If I'd just done something or said something, you'd never have been on that damned bridge - you wouldn't be laying here now, so hurt." His voice caught and cracked, and he bowed his head as he swiped at his stinging eyes and sniffed. "God, you've got to be okay, Sandburg. You don't deserve any of this. Hell, after all you've done for me…" Again he choked up and had to clear his throat before he could continue hoarsely, "I'd rather it was me in that damned bed."

His time with his friend ended all too soon for his satisfaction, but he left without complaint and then drove over to Simon's place. It was still early, just after eight AM, but he was pretty sure Banks would be up.

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

"Jim, I wasn't expecting you," Banks said, surprised when he opened the door, still in his robe and slippers. "Come on in. You want some coffee?"

"Yeah, thanks, that would be great," Ellison replied as he followed his boss into the kitchen.

Once they'd settled at the table, Simon began, almost afraid to ask in case Jim had come bearing bad news, "So…how's the kid this morning?"

"The same," Jim sighed. "Maybe a little better. His core temperature is back to normal." Banks nodded gloomily as they sipped at the hot coffee; Sandburg's 'core temperature' wasn't the problem. Ellison's gaze skittered around the kitchen and then he took a deep breath. "Simon, we need a better solution than offering Sandburg a badge. And, uh, I think it's time that we figured out how to let people know about my senses."

Banks' eyes widened in surprise. "You sure you want to do that?" he asked with a frown.

"Well, I don't want to take out a full page ad," Ellison replied tightly. "But if Blair is going to be comfortable staying in Cascade, and credible working with the PD, we're going to have to come up with something eventually. Maybe we can admit that I've got enhanced senses, even put on a bit of a demonstration for the media - take the mystery and hoopla out of it and just make the senses seem kinda, I don't know, normal but a little better than what most people can see or hear or whatever." Sighing, his lips thinned and then he added quietly, "I can't live with the sacrifices he's made just because I'm uncomfortable with people thinking I'm some kind of freak. Conner…well, she blew up at me when we were looking for Sandburg. Pretty much told me I was an ungrateful bastard and any sensible cop would be dancing with delight to have the edge my senses give me. And she's right. It's time I…I stopped being a jerk about it all."

Simon's eyes narrowed as he studied his best detective. Leaning back in his chair, wincing a little at the pull in his chest and back from his healing wounds, he observed mildly, "I've never really understood why you felt so uncomfortable about people knowing what you can do. Sure, it's different, unusual, but you've never struck me as someone who thinks anyone who is different is bad or wrong or 'some kind of freak'."

Scratching the back of his head, Ellison looked away, the expression in his eyes clouded and distant. "It's a reflex," he admitted reluctantly. But Simon was a good friend, and so he carried on, "When I was a kid, and my father realized what I could do, that I was SO different, he ordered me never to let anyone else know because they'd think I was a freak." He swallowed and shrugged. "He scared me, I guess. Made me feel like there was something wrong or bad about me, about my senses. I repressed them, at least, that's what Sandburg figures, and they only came back in Peru, and then again during the Switchman case, because I was in isolated, dangerous situations and I needed them."

"I see," Simon murmured. He chewed on his lip for a minute and then leaned forward, his elbows on the table. "Okay, I'll talk to the Chief and the Commissioner again, and get their clearance to work with our Public Affairs people to come up with some strategies and scenarios for how we might do this. You'll be available if they want to talk with you?"

"Yeah, of course," Jim confirmed with a sober nod, hoping Banks couldn't see how uncertain he really was about taking this irrevocable step. He felt like he'd swallowed ten thousand butterflies and his mouth was dry with fear. But he had to do this. It was only right and fair. Only just.

"Jim," Banks said firmly, his gaze compassionate, "your father was wrong. You must know that, even if you don't feel it yet. You won't be doing this alone. We'll all back you up and support you any way we can."

Busted; apparently it was obvious how sick and scared coming clean made him feel. Ellison closed his eyes and bowed his head as he took a steadying breath. "Thanks," he managed to choke out. The care and concern in Simon's eyes and voice, his confident assurances that others wouldn't leave him high and dry but would help, rocked Jim to his soul. He was so damned used to being a loner, mostly because he'd never honestly believed that anyone really gave a damn about him - well, except for Sandburg - that the proffered unconditional support was very nearly overwhelming. Sniffing, he looked up as he added, "You're a good friend, Simon."

"So are you," Banks replied gently. Deciding that they'd had enough of the emotional shit for the time being, he asked, "So, you think Sandburg would be more willing to accept some kind of civilian consultant position?" When Ellison nodded, his expression turned pensive. "I was reading an article in the Police Gazette the other day about how some big city forces are hiring forensic anthropologists to better understand the micro-communities and cultures that make up so much of our population these days. I thought of Sandburg when I read it, and how he's helped bring a different perspective to our investigations over the past few years. I'll run the idea past the Chief when I meet with him."

Jim brightened visibly at that idea. "That would be perfect," he exclaimed with a smile. "Sandburg would love something like that!"

"Yeah, well, we'll see if I can pull it off," Simon replied with a cautionary tone. "I'll have to do up some stats that show how his influence has been helpful in our solve rate, and make the case for a budget increase for his salary and benefits. We'll probably have to be prepared to share him with other units."

"Whatever," Jim replied with a shrug. "I think Vice and Homicide, even Patrol, would benefit from his perspectives. If I can help with building the case, let me know."

Simon sipped his coffee, his expression troubled. "I know you don't want to hear this, Jim - but what if the kid doesn't wake up? Or is…damaged as a result of his injuries? Maybe we should hold off a bit."

"No," Ellison retorted unequivocally, shaking his head. "He's going to wake up and he's going to be fine," he insisted, however unreasonable he knew he was being intellectually. Emotionally, he could accept no other possibility. "And when he does wake up, I want us to be able to offer him meaningful options."

"Okay, I hear you," Simon sighed.

Jim looked at his watch and then stood. "Simon, I appreciate your support on all of this, I really do. I've got some other things I have to do today to sort things out for the kid. I'll give you a call later, okay?"

"Fine," Banks agreed as he stood to see Ellison to the door.

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

Back in the loft, Jim got busy on the phone. First, he called Sandburg's insurance broker. He didn't have the kid's policy number, but it didn't take long to sort that out and initiate the claim on the car and to flag that there might be subsequent claims for destroyed personal goods. Then he began calling storage companies and found what he was looking for on the fifth try. He made arrangements to have everything shipped back to the loft the next day by the simple of expedient of claiming he was Sandburg and that the situation had changed and he wouldn't be moving out of town after all. Legal Aid was next on his list. The kid's lawyer wasn't available to take the call, but Ellison made an appointment to see the woman later that afternoon.

And then, limping badly but ignoring his stiff and protesting leg, he headed back out to do the shopping, starting with Sandburg's favourite health food store, The Good Earth; he was determined to track down the teas, spices and whatever else he could find there. He didn't remember specific product names, but he knew he'd recognize some things by the colour and design of the packaging, and others he'd find by scent.

When the cheerful Earth Mother behind the counter asked if he needed any help, and he mumbled that he was doing some shopping for his friend, Sandburg, she brightened and asked, "Blair Sandburg?"

"Yeah," Jim acknowledged, somehow not surprised that the woman remembered his friend. Sandburg had a habit of making a favourable impression and getting to know the people he did business with.

Once she knew that Ellison wanted to pretty much restock all of Sandburg's supplies, she bustled out from behind the counter, grabbed a wicker hand basket and led him from aisle to aisle. In no time at all, he had the teas, Blair's favourite spices and incense, various candles, and the algae shake mix. She also added the granola mixture he preferred for breakfast, and the natural shampoo, conditioner and toothpaste that Sandburg usually bought; Jim tossed in a toothbrush and a razor. When Ellison lingered a moment at the collection of CDs that featured environmental sounds with various subtle instrumental music, and others that represented the music of a wide variety of cultures, she smiled. "He's bought a few of those over the years, for a friend, he said."

"I recognize some of them," he replied as he fingered a few of the jewel cases.

"There are a couple I know he likes but he said he couldn't really afford," she hinted and then pulled out three: Tibetan chanting, Aborigine music from Australia, and another that featured tribal songs from Africa. He nodded and she added them to the basket.

Strolling around the shop, he spotted a few other things he figured Sandburg both needed and would like. A new knapsack. A loose short-sleeved long shirt dyed in brilliant colours of blue, green, gold and splashes of red. A warm blanket made of llama wool dyed and woven by hand in Peru. A hand-woven V-necked pullover that was light but would be warm and was patterned with various shades of blue.

After paying for his purchases, he headed back to the truck and then set out for his favourite men's wear store. An hour later, he had a new jacket, a couple of pairs of jeans, assorted underwear, t-shirts and socks, and three more shirts, all of them flannel. In the shop next door, he bought a pair of sneakers in the brand Sandburg preferred because of something to do with the working conditions of the people who made them. He smiled to himself as he strode back to the truck, hoping Blair would realize that, sometimes, most of the time, he really did pay attention to what the kid had to say about corporate values and why he patronized some companies but scorned others.

From there, he headed back downtown to meet with Sandburg's lawyer, Shannon McCafferty. She was young, clearly just out of law school, or maybe even just articling before she took the Bar exams, and he initially wondered if he should relieve her of the work and engage his father's legal shark. But, once he explained his interest and Blair's current incapacity, and showed her his power of attorney, she crisply brought him up to date on the progress she was making on the suits against Berkshire Publishing and Rainier. Ellison was impressed with her incisive manner and determination, and decided she had matters well in hand. He also gathered that she would have liked to push harder, but Sandburg had stressed the need to keep everything low key, which handicapped, somewhat, the kind of settlements and public apologies she'd prefer to seek as reparation.

"Don't worry about keeping a low profile on these cases," he told her decisively. "In fact, if you think publicity would help, or the threat of it, go right ahead. I'd like to see him validated and vindicated publicly."

Her eyes lit up, much like a hunter who has spotted her prey. "You got it," she assured him with a predatory smile.

Yep, he figured she'd do just fine and, someday, she would make a high profile law firm proud.

Ellison swung by the hospital on the way back to the loft, and was glad to see that Reynolds was there when he walked in. The night before, he'd been too shell-shocked to ask many questions, but now he wanted information about Sandburg's condition.

"How's he doing?" he asked as he strode into the small, glassed cubicle.

The neurosurgeon glanced at him and then continued listening to Sandburg's chest through the stethoscope. A moment later he straightened and turned to face Ellison. "The antibiotics seem to be helping - his chest sounds are clearer. Heart and blood pressure are good. And he's recovered from the worst effects of exposure."

Jim nodded. He'd known that much without having to ask. "How long will you be keeping him unconscious?" he asked bluntly.

"Another day, at least," Reynolds replied. "I've ordered a CT scan for tomorrow to determine if the swelling is reducing and by how much. I'll have a better idea after I've seen those results."

Jim grimaced, wishing the healing would go faster. Chewing on the inside of his lip, he hesitated but then forced himself to ask hesitatingly, "You, uh, said there might be damage…or that he might never wake up. What are his chances of full recovery? What kind of 'damage' do you think there might be?"

The specialist waved to one of the two straight-backed chairs and, once Jim sat down, he settled in the other. "Mr. Ellison, I know you'd appreciate more precision, but until the swelling reduces and we cease to keep him under, it is very difficult to be certain of what his prognosis will be. But, your friend suffered serious head injuries, and as I said last night, the fact that he was having convulsions is not a good sign. However, there are some indicators that we will be monitoring. First, the longer he remains in a deep coma, the poorer the prognosis. Once we've discontinued the medication that is artificially suppressing his brain activity, it will be important to try to stimulate him. Music, talking to him, touching him may all help to 'call him back', as it were. The force of personal will is powerful, and if he wants to wake up, his mind will struggle against the darkness to find his way back. Second, the EEG will indicate if certain parts of his brain are failing to function normally and what, if any, abilities may be compromised. For now, it is simply too soon to predict anything with precision. Third, we'll see if his autonomic system works. For example, will he be able to breathe on his own? Will his reflexes respond normally, things like the reaction of his pupils to the stimulus of bright light? If autonomic functioning is compromised, it's unfortunately a very strong indicator of extensive damage and he likely would never wake up. If, indeed, he is unable to breathe on his own, or if his brain function is severely compromised, as the holder of his power of attorney and designated next of kin, you would be faced with the difficult decision of whether he should be allowed to expire rather than have his life hopelessly prolonged by artificial means."

Jim paled at that and hastily looked away, his fists clenching as he sat rigidly in the chair. He couldn't imagine having to make such a decision. Didn't know how he could face it. He shook his head unconsciously as he closed his eyes and tried to remember how to breathe.

Reynolds stood and gripped his shoulder. "I know you're afraid," he said quietly. "That's only natural. But if your friend has a living will, you will want to see what his wishes are in such an eventuality. It may make such a decision easier, if it comes to that. But, for now, we simply don't know what to expect and we have to wait to see how his brain heals."

Jim nodded stiffly but couldn't bring himself to look at the man before the specialist turned away and left the small chamber. Ellison felt like he might be physically ill and had to consciously slow and deepen his breathing as he swallowed convulsively. Finally, he lifted his head and stared at Sandburg, but his eyes blurred and he had to fight hard against the sob that built in his chest. He sniffed and brushed at his eyes to banish the tears, and he had to bite his lip to keep it from quivering. Memories kept flashing in his mind's eye. Sandburg hunched over his laptop, focused in concentration or laughing uproariously or grinning brightly as he teased. A sudden incandescent smile of surprised pleasure. Blair, dead at the fountain…and looking so devastated in front of the television cameras as he committed professional suicide by denying his own integrity and the value of his work. The kid looking at him so soberly before Blair had driven away and out of his life.

More than anything, Jim's deepest desire, even his instinct, was to deny the possibility that Sandburg would never awaken. But he knew the neurosurgeon would not have suggested such dire outcomes if there was no real danger. Ellison didn't need a formal living will to know what Blair's wishes would be; the kid would never want to be kept alive artificially if his brain was essentially dead. To the contrary, he'd want his organs and eyes donated to someone who could use them; hell, he'd probably want his whole body donated to some medical school. He wouldn't want his soul chained to an empty shell that would never awaken. A wave of abject and deep desolation swept over the detective, and he finally acknowledged to himself that there was one necessary action that he'd not put on his 'to do' list - something he'd have to do as soon as he got back home. He fought it; his heart and soul - the core of him that was a Sentinel who needed his Guide - didn't want to admit that Blair might never wake up…might in fact die. But he owed it to Sandburg to be prepared for such an eventuality. Blair deserved dignity and respect, and he'd want to have those who loved him to have the chance to make their own farewells and find some measure of closure, if the end was near.

Pushing himself to his feet, he moved to stand beside his best friend and dragged in a sobbing breath as he reached to cup Blair's cheek. "I need you, Chief," he whispered brokenly. "And I want to see you grow old. I want all of your dreams to come true, every last one of them. But if…" His voice failed him, and again he had to fight back his emotions. Clearing his throat, he promised as steadily as he could, "I'll do what I know you'd want - but, dear God, I hope it won't be necessary. Jesus, Blair. I don't want to lose you."

Then he left, and went home, and carted all the bags up to the loft. He put everything away as a physical act that said he expected Blair to eventually come home again, too. When he was finished, he called Simon to see what progress his boss had made that day. Hiding his fear that Sandburg might not recover, he thanked Banks for making the arrangements to meet with the departmental officials the next day.

And then he did what he'd been consciously avoiding having to do.

He called the State Department to request that Naomi be tracked down in Katmandu.

Wandering over to the balcony, he stood staring sightlessly toward the ocean. Reynolds had said that Sandburg's will to live was an important factor in his recovery, and Jim found himself wondering, with a shaft of pure fear, if Blair would want to wake up. The kid had been on his way to an uncertain future; had given up so much of what had mattered to him. Would life hold the same sense of adventure and mystery for him or was he tired and discouraged? From his perspective, why would Blair want to wake up?

Ashamed of himself for even wondering such a thing, Jim snorted. He'd told Conner that Sandburg wasn't a quitter, more, that he was fighter. He'd survived the accident and had gotten himself through the sudden flood and to shore despite being badly hurt. Blair wanted to live or he wouldn't have made it that far.

"He's going to wake up," Ellison told himself firmly. "He never gave up on you - don't you start giving up on him."

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

Despite his decision to remain optimistic, Jim spent a restless night and was up, showered and dressed long before the truck from the storage company arrived with Sandburg's boxes. But it finally did arrive around midmorning. When the deliverymen left, he put on one of the CDs he'd bought for Blair the day before and lit a couple of the candles. With the sound of monks chanting in the background and the scents that reminded him of his friend fragrant in the air, he spent the next two hours unpacking. Clothing was hung in the closet and folded neatly into dresser drawers. Books went into the bookcase. CDs were put on the living room shelf. The masks and pictures were hung back on the walls of the small bedroom and living room. Blair's collection of audiotapes and computer disks from his research, and his notebooks and personal journals, went into the desk. The empty boxes were broken down and taken out to the trash.

When he was finished, Jim forced himself to eat a bowl of soup and then he locked up the loft and headed back to the hospital.

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

When he arrived at the ICU, the duty nurse told him that Dr. Reynolds had asked to be paged when Jim arrived. Ellison went to sit beside Blair as he waited, so tense that he felt brittle and light-headed. When the neurosurgeon arrived, he stiffened defensively, terrified of what the man might say.

But Reynolds smiled slightly as he sat down. "The CT scan results are very encouraging," he began. "The swelling has gone down markedly and I'm going to discontinue the medication that is keeping his brain function suppressed. Tomorrow morning, we'll see how his EEG looks and will likely remove the respirator to see how he manages on his own. If the signs are positive at that point, I'll want you and his other friends and family to visit more frequently and stay as long as you wish, though you'll have to leave briefly when the nurses are caring for him. If you have a personal CD or tape player with earphones, you might want to bring that in, to let him hear familiar music. All right?"

Jim squinted a little and nodded, but his expression remained contained and guarded. He wanted to be hopeful but he was afraid. Tomorrow…tomorrow they'd know if there was any hope. He barely managed to thank the specialist before the man left him alone with Sandburg. After spending a long moment telling himself sternly to think positively, he stood and moved to grip Blair's shoulder.

"So, Chief, tomorrow you get the chance to fight your way back," he murmured. "I know you. I know you don't quit, don't give up, and I'll do everything I can to help you find your way back, kid." Leaning down, he kissed the bandage over Blair's brow. "I'll see you in the morning - and I'm bringing the drums, so be prepared."

As he walked through the parking lot toward his truck, Jim pulled out his cell phone and called the office. "Joel?" he said, when Taggart answered. "The doctor says that we're going to begin trying to wake Sandburg up tomorrow. He says that visitors are important, that the kid needs to hear us talking to him. So, uh, could you let the others know and, maybe, when they get the time, they could come by to visit him."

"You've got it, Jim," the older man replied, daring to sound hopeful. "And you can count on all of us doing everything we can to help."

Then, he called Simon to relay the same information, and Banks also committed to be there the next day. Ellison asked if his boss wanted him to go to the meetings with the brass that afternoon, but Simon demurred, saying he thought it would be best if he handled the initial discussions on his own. Well knowing that Banks had a far better grip on organizational politics than he did, Jim simply asked that Simon call him afterwards, to let him know how things went.

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

In preparation for the next day's 'Wake Sandburg' campaign, Ellison packed a carryall with Blair's favourite CDs and his Walkman. Very aware that hearing wasn't the only sense he could play to, he also tossed in a couple of chocolate bars, a bottle of vanilla, a few small envelopes of salt and pepper that had come with one of their past takeout meals, several different kinds of tea bags and packets of sharply scented herbs. Moving to the bathroom, he added the bottle of lotion that Blair used when he was massaging the kinks out of his neck and shoulders when his headaches were out of control, as well as Sandburg's shampoo and hair conditioner. If the incision on the back of Blair's head had healed well enough, he wanted to wash the kid's hair. He also tossed in his own razor, shaving cream and a bar of the hypoallergenic oatmeal soap Blair insisted he use. Moving upstairs, he packed two shirts and a handful of socks and underwear. He didn't plan to come home again until Sandburg woke up.

Simon called late in the afternoon, sounding positively jubilant as he reported that he'd have good news for Sandburg when he visited the next day. Both the Chief and the Commissioner were open to having a civilian consultant with the kid's skills on staff, especially as Banks had not only persuaded them that Ellison needed Blair's expert help, but that Sandburg had made substantial contributions to solving tough cases in the past. As for the release of information about Ellison's abilities, it had been agreed that Blair's input would be essential to determining how much was revealed and how, as he was the one who best understood the whole business of sentinels and enhanced senses. Jim couldn't help smiling as he thanked Simon for the good news. Banks' determined assumption that Blair would wake up, combined with Joel's clear positive response earlier that day, helped Ellison hold firm to his own belief that Sandburg was going to make it.

That night, he went to bed early, determined to get a solid night's sleep because he didn't plan to sleep much in the days ahead. Rigorously, even ruthlessly, he shut away his fears and anxieties, even his hopes, and went into 'soldier mode' - drawing himself down into sleep because it was necessary; because he needed to be rested and alert if he was going to do Blair any good.

The ringing of the phone just before dawn awakened him.

"Jim?" Naomi's voice was very distant and the line was filled with static, but he could clearly hear the fear in her voice. She knew instinctively that there could be only one reason that Ellison had tracked her down in such a remote place. "What's wrong?" she demanded anxiously. "What's happened to Blair?"

"He was in an accident a few days ago," he replied, keeping his own voice steady. Though he regretted the brutality of just hitting her with it cold, he kept it simple and direct. "I thought you should know that he's been in a coma, but the doctor says that the tests are looking positive and we're going to start waking him up today."

"Oh, God," she gasped, stunned. "Coma?"

"Yeah," Ellison sighed. "Look, give me your number and I'll keep you posted on his progress."

"Don't be ridiculous!" she exclaimed indignantly. "I'll get the first flight back. Which hospital?"

"Cascade General. He's in the Intensive Care Unit."

"It may take a day or two to make all the connections, but I'll be there as soon as I can," Naomi replied staunchly. But her voice was trembling as she continued, "Tell me the truth, Jim. Is he…is he going to be all right?"

"I hope so," he replied, his own voice tight in response to the tears he could hear in hers. "The doctor says we won't know for sure for awhile yet, but there's hope, Naomi. He's your son - you know, as well or better than I do, how strong he is and how stubborn he can be. He won't quit on us."

Sniffing, she replied with quavering strength, "Thank you, Jim. Of course, you're right. I'll…I'll see you soon."

He'd heard her reach for some vestige of the Sandburgian optimism and aplomb, and he'd heard how much it cost her. Hanging up, he bowed his head with uncomfortable remorse. Jim knew, all too well, that he had a tendency to see Naomi as a selfish bubblehead, amusing and frothy but insubstantial, well meaning but essentially self-absorbed. Sighing, he shook his head. It would have taken a strong woman to raise her son on her own, let alone raise such a compassionate, even courageous son without compromising who she was or her beliefs. Maybe she hadn't abandoned Blair so much as given him the wings to fly at the same age that she took off on her own, so that he'd have the freedom to choose his own path in life. But Jim could not doubt that she loved Blair and, if she lost him, especially now when she shared responsibility with Jim for Sandburg having been on that highway in search of his future, it would break her heart, too.

She didn't know, yet, why or how the accident had occurred, and he wasn't looking forward to telling her. Turning to make a carafe of coffee, he could only hope that by the time she arrived, Sandburg would be awake and well on the road to recovery.

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

The nurse who let Jim into the ward looked at the well-stuffed bag he was carrying and lifted a brow.

"Dr. Reynolds said we could start trying to stimulate Sandburg today so I, uh, brought some things to help do that," Ellison explained. "I wondered if I could wash his hair. People will be coming to see him and Blair would want to clean up for them."

She smiled as she walked with him toward Blair's glass cubicle. "I think that can be arranged. I'll bring you what you'll need."

Minutes later, the head of the bed had been lowered slightly and a rubberized contraption that fit around his neck, but formed a sort of trough to capture the water and let it drain downward, was secure under Sandburg's head. She removed the swath of bandage and cleaned the two small, sutured incisions, then covered them with a clear thin membrane that adhered to his skin and effectively sealed the wounds. She'd also brought a metal pitcher and pulled an aluminum washbasin from under the sink in his cubicle, setting it below the head of the bed to catch the runoff.

"There you go," she said. "Extra towels are in the bedside table."

"Thanks," Ellison replied as he dug out the shampoo and conditioner. After rolling up his sleeves, he carefully soaked Sandburg's hair with warm water and then worked up a lather. Gently, he massaged Blair's scalp, taking care to not put undue pressure on the still prevalent lumps or healing wounds. Jim found the intimacy of his ministrations soothing, finally feeling as if he was doing something for his friend. He rinsed off the bubbles and applied another dollop of shampoo, working it through the long curls, pleased when the hair squeaked with cleanliness when he rinsed the soap away. He took his time with the conditioner, again massaging Blair's scalp and ensuring all the strands were covered from their roots to their tips before carefully rinsing for the last time. Grabbing a towel, he carefully wrapped it around Sandburg's head before removing the trough and emptying the basin. Deftly, he dried the curls, soaking up all the excess water, pleased with Blair's more familiar scent, a fresh combination of green smelling herbs and aloe. He laid a fresh towel under his friend's head and combed out the knots with almost tender patience.

Then, on impulse, he refilled the basin with warm water and lifted the sheet away from Sandburg's feet. The cuts and scratches were healing well, more welcome evidence of the kid's inherent good health. Once he'd washed and dried each foot, Ellison rubbed them with the lotion he'd brought, gently massaging the soles and heels.

"Don't go expecting this kind of treatment at home, Junior," he rumbled. "But I kinda figure you need to be as relaxed as possible to be prepared for all the activity today." Jim suffered a pang, but couldn't help a small, wry grin as he imagined Sandburg chortling that a guy couldn't get much more relaxed than being comatose.

Ellison had just replaced the sheet and emptied the washbasin when Reynolds walked in, brisk and efficient. "Morning," he nodded as he moved directly to the EEG screen to study it and the printouts. "Well, so far so good," the doctor murmured, and then began his examination of Sandburg's reflexes. Jim watched closely, his eyes narrowed in concentration and his shoulders rigid, once again preparing for a blow he desperately hoped wouldn't come.

Blair's pupils were equal and reacting appropriately to light. Both feet curved in reflex when the soles were firmly stroked. Jim moved forward to lift and support each leg as Reynolds tapped just below the knee, and each foot jumped in response. But Sandburg didn't react when pinched. "Not bad," the neurosurgeon murmured. "Okay, let's see if he can breathe without help."

Reynolds waved in a nurse and they made short work of smoothly drawing out the endotrachial tube. Sandburg gagged in normal reflex and coughed and the specialist smiled as his patient drew in a healthy breath and then kept on breathing unaided. Nodding thoughtfully, the doctor turned to Ellison. "Okay, he's responding well. The EEG doesn't show any glaring abnormalities at this point, though he's still deeply unconscious. If he remains at least stable for the rest of the day, I'll have him moved to a regular room where a constant stream of visitors won't be as disturbing to other patients."

"I'd like him to have a private room," Jim stated. "I'll pay the difference that his insurance won't cover."

"Alright, we'll see what we can arrange," Reynolds replied as he glanced approvingly at Sandburg. "I see you've washed his hair and feet - that's good. He needs to be touched now. And he needs to hear people talking to him; use his name a lot and call to him, talk as if you expect him to hear you and answer. I'll leave him in your hands and we'll see how he responds."

Jim blew out a breath as the surgeon departed, his expression a little quizzical. Talk. Right. Okay. "Well, Chief, it's time to get to work here. You've been lying around doing nothing for long enough. Simon's got some great news for you, but I don't want to ruin the surprise, so you're going to have to wait until he gets here to hear it. Oh, and I talked to your mother this morning. I know, I know, you wouldn't want her to be worried; but you know damned well she'd skin me alive if she found out about all this later and I hadn't called her. Anyway, she's on her way back and should be here within a day or two. You want to be all chipper and alert when she gets here, right? You don't want her upset and scared. Good thing you've taught me so much about stimulating different senses over the years, and how to bring me out of a zone - cause you're sorta zoned yourself right now, aren't you? Anyway, I brought a bunch of stuff with me and we're going to keep trying different things until you cry uncle. Now, I warned you I was going to bring the drums, right? Well, you know my word is good. So let's see if the cellars of Chicago still resonate with the ancient rhythms of the Namagamo or whoever Indians."

Ellison had pulled out the Walkman and CDs while he was talking. Fitting the CD he'd first heard in Sandburg's office into the small machine, and settling the earphones on Blair's head, he started the music, tuning the volume to a moderate level. Then he squirted more lotion into his hand, rubbed it warm and began to work it into Sandburg's hands and arms, stroking and kneading in time with the beat he could clearly hear.

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

When Brown and Rafe arrived, they found Jim reading the newspaper to Sandburg and commenting on the various headlines.

"How's he doing?" Rafe asked, his expression tight with concern.

"Being stubborn as usual," Ellison replied sardonically as he folded up the paper. "Refuses to talk, if you can imagine that. So, here's your chance to get a word in edgewise. The Doc says he needs to hear us use his name, kinda like calling to him and expecting him to answer. And, uh, touching him is a good idea, too."

"Right," Brown acknowledged as he strode to the side of the bed and reached out to firmly grip Sandburg's shoulder. "Hairboy, you know this just ain't natural! Bein' so quiet an' all. 'Bout time you started dazzling us with your vocabulary again, doncha think?"

Rafe moved along the other side of the bed and diffidently covered Blair's hand with his own. "Don't mind H, Blair," he said more quietly. "It's just that you've got us all plenty worried. We'd appreciate it if you put us out of our misery and woke up."

Ellison leaned back in his chair and rubbed his hand over his mouth and chin. Giving his own throat a break, he settled in to listen to his colleagues bring Sandburg up to date on their caseload and the gossip from downtown.

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

Megan was the next to arrive. Brown and Rafe took off, but promised to be back later. Ellison alerted them to the fact that Blair might be moved to his own room by that evening.

"How is he?" Megan asked, pallid with worry.

"Holding his own but unusually quiet," Jim replied. "When'd you get back?"

"Late last night," she replied, still sounding weary from the long trip. "I called the hospital the other day while I was still on the road, and they told me there wouldn't be any change until at least today. So, I stopped at a little bed and breakfast place. When I got back yesterday, and called again, they told me to wait until this morning to come in."

"Just as well," Ellison murmured as his gaze shifted to Blair. "He was pretty heavily drugged and couldn't have known you were here. You needed the rest." He paused a moment and then stood. "Look, if you don't mind staying for a bit to talk with him and hold his hand, I'm going to get a coffee."

Megan gave him a ghost of a smile, appreciating that he'd give her some time alone with Sandburg. As Jim ambled down the hall, he heard her murmur, "Ah, Sandy, I have to say, you're looking a sight better than the last time I saw you…but you're scaring us here. You really do have to start talking soon. I mean, you're about the only one amongst us all that can actually carry a conversation, right? Um, while Jim's gone, I guess I should confess that I sorta blew up at him a little. I know you wouldn't have been happy with me, but some things just had to be said, you know? Anyway, I hope you'll forgive me when you find out I was pretty hard on him. He's not a bad guy; I know that. But he can be so infuriating, you know? Well, of course you do, you must. Better than any of us, if it comes to that."

Ellison's jaw tightened as he punched the elevator button, and willfully tuned out the rest of her monologue.

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

By the time Jim got back, Joel had joined Conner at Blair's bedside. The older man was rumbling, "Well, I hate to see you like this, kid, but I gotta say I'm glad we got you back. What were you thinking, taking off like that without a word to any of us? Anybody'd think that you thought you had to handle all the shit on your own, and that just ain't true. Well, whatever. You're here now, and all you have to do is wake up. We'll get things back to normal, one way or another, y'hear?"

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

Simon lumbered down the hall shortly after lunch, moving slower than usual and with one arm across his body, still favouring the wound in his chest. But his expression was determined as he came into the room. "He wake up yet?" Banks demanded brusquely.

"Not yet," Jim sighed, his voice sounding a bit raspy from so much unaccustomed talking. "How're you doing?"

"Coming along," Simon shrugged as he moved to the bedside. "So, we're supposed to talk to him, right?"

"Uh huh, and touch him, too," Ellison replied.

Not being a man who touched easily or often, Banks quirked a brow at that. With a chagrined grimace, he wrapped his big hand around Sandburg's as he said, "You listen up, too, Jim. You'll be interested in this." Turning back to Blair, Simon smiled slightly with some satisfaction as he reported, "Here's the deal, Sandburg. I talked to the Chief and the Commissioner, and they've agreed to offer you a civilian consultant job in the PD as a forensic and cultural anthropologist. You'll be assigned to Major Crimes, and be Jim's partner, but you'll also be on call to assist other units on cases and situations that would benefit from your insights and expertise. And, as of this morning, I've been assured of the budget to offer you a pretty attractive salary for your services." Banks spared Jim a glance and was rewarded with a smile.

"That's really great, Simon. Thanks," the detective said with no hesitation and considerable gratitude.

"Well, that's not all," Banks continued, as he turned back to Blair. "This morning, I also got a call from Leslie Thomas, the head of Public Affairs. She's been thinking about how we broach the subject of Jim's senses and what kind of storyline we can use about your press conference. And I think she's come up with a pretty good scenario."

Simon paused and tightened his grip on Sandburg's hand, wishing the kid could really hear what he was about to say. Well, he'd just have to say it again, when Blair could hear him, that was all. "The Chief is going to announce that the PD is planning to make an offer to you, Sandburg. And, in the course of that, he's going to 'inform' the press about some of your credentials, such as the fact that your Masters' degree was awarded on your study of people with enhanced senses and how that impacted on their career choices, like people with a good sense of smell working for perfume companies and those with good vision being pilots or those with great hand-eye coordination going into sports."

Simon glanced at Jim as he added, "It was a nifty piece of research by Leslie to find that out. Gives real credence to the next bit. Anyway, he'll say that though you were working on a study of the subculture of the law enforcement community for your dissertation, you were also doing some side analysis of the sensory capacities of police officers, as a kind of follow up to your masters. You'd found that cops often have enhanced vision or hearing capability, which aids us in our investigations and identifying clues."

Pausing to take a breath, and grateful for the glass of water Jim handed him, Banks swallowed a good gulp to moisten his throat. "The upshot of it all is that we'll claim you'd been working on a draft paper on that subject and that was the paper that was mistakenly released by your mother. In the paper, you'd likened law enforcement to the old tribal role of the sentinels, and were using your unofficial partner, one Jim Ellison, to illustrate your findings as, in fact, Jim does have genetically enhanced senses. We're not sure whether it's a good idea to mention he has five enhanced senses, though, or just how good his senses are. We need your input for that because, ultimately, we expect that you will table that paper, or some version of it, for your dissertation. Anyway, the Chief will tell the media that with all the foufarrah around Jim at the time, and the tricky situation with the Iceman, you nobly agreed to take the heat off Ellison by denying the validity of the draft paper. Your act will be lauded as a service to the PD and the community at large, and used as an example of the contributions you've been willingly and voluntarily making for years to ensure the security of the citizens of this fair city of ours."

Shrugging, Banks concluded, "So, that's it. We want to move ahead on this as soon as possible, but we need your input. The sooner you wake up, the better."

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

Reynolds checked back later in the afternoon, and he dared to be much more positive after examining the EEG readouts. "Whatever you're doing, Mr. Ellison, it's working," he said heartily as he looked up at Jim. "He's moved a step closer to consciousness."

"Really?" Ellison exclaimed, feeling a rush of hope. "What does that mean, exactly?"

"Well, we classify unconsciousness or coma at four levels. In the deepest, the fourth level, where we held Mr. Sandburg with medication, a person is totally unresponsive and requires life support. He was already bridging into level three this morning, as you could see when his reflexes were functioning, and he could breathe on his own, but he still was not responsive to pain stimulus. Now, his brain activity indicates he's entering level two." Turning to Blair, Reynolds pinched his ear lobe and Sandburg grimaced slightly. "He's responding to pain," the specialist murmured unnecessarily. Turning back to Jim, he went on, "At this stage, we believe that a patient definitely hears what's going on around him, though it may all seem hazy and dream-like. In level one, he will be restless, verging on semi-consciousness, somewhat responsive."

"I see," Jim replied, vastly encouraged. "Thank you."

"Don't thank me; I didn't do this - he did, with your help and that of your friends." Reynolds gripped Jim's shoulder in comradely gesture as he continued, "I'll authorize his move to a private room as soon as it can be arranged. Keep up the good work."

Before the doctor could leave, Ellison hastily said, "I don't want to leave until he wakes up. Can you arrange it so that the staff doesn't kick me out tonight or tomorrow night? He should wake up within a couple of days, right?"

"You need your rest, too," the specialist hesitated.

"I'll be fine," Jim insisted. "I can doze in the chair in the room, if I need to, but a couple of nights without much sleep won't be a problem."

Reynolds scratched his cheek while he thought about it. "Mr. Sandburg will need some respite from constant stimulation. So long as you agree to not overdoing it during the night, I think it might be a good idea if you kept working with him. At this stage, with too many hours of quiet, he could slip deeper again."

"Fine, agreed, just clear it with the staff," Ellison reiterated.

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

Within an hour, Sandburg had been transferred to his own, more comfortable room. Once he was settled, Jim rummaged in his bag and laid out the various samples of herbs, chocolate, teas and spices on the bedside table. He also sorted through the CDs, separating out those that were more peaceful, environmental sounds and soft music to use later, when he wanted to give Blair a respite but didn't want him completely disengaging his senses.

"Okay, Einstein, here's where we see if I can test and stimulate senses as well as you can," Ellison said as he broke open a tiny package of salt. Licking his finger, he stuck a few grains on the tip and then shifted to cup Blair's cheek while he slipped his finger into Sandburg's mouth. There wasn't much reaction that Jim could sense but, undaunted, he tried the pepper and then some cumin. Still nothing. Sighing, he tore open the bar of chocolate squares and broke off a tiny portion. Gently, he slipped it between Blair's lax lips and past his teeth, depositing it on his friend's tongue.

Immediately, Blair begun sucking on the morsel.

"Ah, you liked that, eh?" Jim smiled and brushed Blair's curls back from his brow. "You might be a health-nut, Chief, and consider your body a temple but you never could resist chocolate. Want some more?" Jim fed him two more small pieces and grinned at the reaction. Sighing, he nodded. "We're making some progress here, Champ."

Turning back to the table, he lifted several different teabags and wafted them, one after another, under Blair's nose. The cinnamon got a tiny, twitching wrinkle, but that was it. "Probably work better if you could breathe in the fumes," Jim mused. "I'll see if I can get some hot water when the dinner trays are being delivered. In the meantime, let's give your sense of touch another workout. You've got to be getting stiff just lying there. I'm going to exercise your arms and legs and then turn you onto your side. Bet you're a sucker for a backrub."

While he bent and stretched Blair's limbs, Jim went back over Simon's news that afternoon. "Sounds like a good plan to me, Chief," he enthused. "Of course, I know you like to teach, too. I've been talking to your lawyer, and I think we can get things sorted out at Rainier. Once the department vindicates your paper and your press conference, maybe even before, we can let them know the diss was true. It's gotta be worth a PhD, right? And maybe the settlement could include a position there, part-time anyway, so you can keep working with the students, if you want."

After rolling Blair onto his side and propping him with pillows, Jim warmed some lotion in his hands and then began to massage his friend's shoulders and back, alternating deep, penetrating work with his fingers and thumbs, with long smooth strokes. "Uh, I hope you don't mind that we've been moving ahead with these things, Sandburg. We'd all rather talk with you about them and get your input, obviously, but we also wanted to have some solid ideas and options for you to consider when you wake up. You've had to cope with way too much uncertainty, Chief. And like Joel said earlier, you've felt you had to do it all alone. I'm sorry about that, 'cause you're not alone, Blair."

Settling his friend back on plumped-up pillows, Jim gripped Blair's wrist and drew small circles with his thumb on Sandburg's skin. "I hope you'll want to stay, Chief, and haven't gotten so fed up with everything that you really want to leave. I know it's been tough, and not just over the dissertation. We've been, I don't know, not connecting for a while now." Jim paused and thought about the preceding weeks and months, his lips tightening. With no little chagrin, he sighed as he admitted, "That's mostly my fault, I guess. But I'm hoping you'll give me another chance, Blair. You've helped me a lot with my senses, and I've got good control now. But just in the short time since you left, I've realized I need your help to do my best." Once again he paused as he studied his friend and reached to brush errant curls from his brow. His gaze and tone both softened as he said quietly, "And, well, I missed you. I want you to come home."

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

That evening, the whole MCU crew dropped in again, one after another, until the room was crowded with tall cops. Conner perched on the side of the bed, while Simon snagged the single comfortable chair in the room, leaving the straight-backed, wooden chair for Joel. Brown perched on the window ledge and his partner, Rafe, and Ellison leaned against the walls. Rhonda came in with a batch of homemade brownies.

"I know he's not eating right now, but I thought the smell might tempt him," she said diffidently as she placed the Saran-wrapped plate on the bedside table.

"You might be surprised," Jim smiled gratefully. "The only thing he really reacted to earlier was the taste of chocolate - and I know how much he loves your brownies. They just might do the trick, Rhonda, thanks."

She glowed with pleasure, so pleased to do something that might help.

Before long, they were all discussing the options Simon had won from the Chief and the Commish, excited to know there were solid possibilities that Sandburg might well accept, once he woke up. That discussion slipped into reminiscing about the contributions Blair had made over the years, some of them hilarious, some courageous, and they all included him in the conversation, asking him if he remembered or teasing him about what he'd done.

At one point, Ellison noticed that Sandburg's eyes were no longer half open and empty, but his lids had closed more naturally and Jim hoped that was a good sign. A little while later, as the story-telling wound down, Joel sighed and gripped Blair's hand as he said with heartfelt emotion, "God, son, we've missed having you around. You've just gotta come back, y'hear?"

They were all transfixed when a single tear leaked from the corner of the young man's eye and slid down his pallid, unshaven cheek.

Taggart looked stricken as he shifted his gaze to Ellison. "God, did I say something wrong?" he demanded, his voice shaking. "I wouldn't do anything to hurt him, Jim. You know that."

"I know, Joel, and so does Sandburg," Ellison managed to rasp past the lump in his throat as he moved toward the bed and gently dried away the tear with his thumb. "I think the kid misses us as much as we miss him," he added quietly. "I hope so, anyway."

"Least it looks like he's hearing us," Simon rumbled.

"Oh, I'm pretty sure he's hearing everything," Jim replied quietly. "The doctor said it might not all seem real to him, more like a dream, but he's at a level of consciousness where he has some awareness. This is a good sign, Joel," he added with a slight smile, hoping he was right. "A really good sign. So don't worry about it, okay?"

The others left shortly after that, and Jim decided Blair needed a respite. So he loaded up a soft CD of waves lapping on a sandy shore, birds trilling in trees stirred by the wind and light pan flute music in the background. While the music played through the earphones, he again massaged Sandburg's feet. Then he put on the new CD of the chanting Tibetan monks as it, too, was restful if a little haunting, and he gently massaged Blair's fingers, hands and arms. Two hours passed peacefully and the detective thought his friend looked somehow more relaxed than he had in the preceding days. Sandburg's features were less flaccid, more natural and the older man hoped he wasn't deluding himself into believing a slight smile graced Blair's lips. The kid actually looked like he was sleeping and having pleasant dreams, so Jim removed the earphones and left him to rest quietly for another two hours.

It was after midnight when Jim slipped out to make a cup of tea with the cinnamon-scented and flavoured leaves. Carrying it back into the room, he raised the head of the bed and then held the steaming mug under Sandburg's nose. Once again, his friend's nose twitched a little, and when the brew had cooled sufficiently, Ellison supported Blair's head and carefully tipped the cup to let a little of the tea fill his mouth. Most of it dribbled out, and Jim used a face cloth to dry Sandburg's chin, and then he patiently tried again. It took a while, but finally, Blair swallowed some of it.

Next, Jim broke off a small bite of one of the brownies Rhonda had brought and eased it into Blair's mouth. When the kid swallowed it, Ellison fed him a bit more and still more until half the small square had been consumed. Popping the rest of it into his own mouth, Jim savoured the flavours and silently thanked Rhonda again for having brought the delicious treats. He made another mug of tea, this time chamomile, and Sandburg swallowed a good portion of it.

Whether the swallowing was simply automatic, or Blair was really tasting and desiring the flavours and textures, there was no way to know. But eating and drinking was something he couldn't do the day before, so Ellison took it all as yet more positive signs that Sandburg was coming out of the darkness. He let his partner rest for another hour and a half, while he dozed lightly in the chair beside the bed, one hand linked around Sandburg's wrist.

And then he played more music, and used more taste and olfactory stimulants, one after another, to keep teasing Sandburg's senses as the night wore on.

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

In the morning, Jim took a quick shower in one of the cubicles down the hall. When he returned to the room, he bathed his friend, exercised his limbs, massaged his back, and then he shaved Sandburg's fce before gently combing out his curls. He made yet another mug of tea, going back to the cinnamon and adding a dash of vanilla, and was gratified when most of it went down Blair's throat, if slowly, practically one drop at a time. All the while, he kept up a light patter of small talk, once more referring to the offer of a job as a civilian consultant and stressing that it was Sandburg's contributions and impact on the organization that had won him this opportunity.

Reynolds dropped in just after nine AM to check the EEG readout and test Blair's reflexes and level of responsiveness. This time, when he pinched Sandburg's ear, the young man grimaced and mumbled an inarticulate protest, his right hand lifting to push away the annoyance.

Jim couldn't help it. He broke out laughing with relief. The kid was waking up! Surely, it couldn't be long now. The neurosurgeon was also pleased, and he noted that the patterns of brain waves continued to be encouraging. There didn'tseem to be any evidence of lasting damage.

A bubble of joy built in Ellison's chest as the morning progressed and Sandburg became increasingly restless, mumbling from time to time and even occasionally blinking his eyes open to look around without recognition or comprehension. Jim kept up his campaign of stimulation, grinning when Blair spit out the salt and pepper but moaned softly with pleasure when given more of the chocolate. He played the drum CD again, the volume lower than before so that the kid would have to strain a little to hear it.

At noon, the gang arrived again en masse, carrying bags of Wonderburgers and fries, figuring if anything got Sandburg to wake up and start bitching at them, it would be the smell of all that grease. When Ellison happily shared all the evidence of progress since the evening before, the mood in the room became almost festive, with Brown calling out to 'Hairboy' that the burgers were oh, so yummy and that he should wake up and get one before they were all gone, Conner scolding Henri for teasing Sandy, and Joel's and Simon's deep chuckles rumbling as a counterpoint to the friendly bickering.

They were just finishing their impromptu picnic when Sandburg sniffed and grimaced, mumbled and blinked. Blair's gaze flickered around the room, and everyone fell still, scarcely daring to breathe as they recognized awareness and intelligence once again shining from his eyes. The kid frowned and muttered, confused, "What's going on?" When a low cheer broke out and several people started to explain at once, he flinched and his eyes narrowed as he watched them warily.

Just then, Naomi Sandburg burst into the room, rushing toward the bed. When she saw that he was awake, she stopped in her tracks, tears brimming in her eyes as she gasped, "Oh, Blair, sweetie - you're awake!"

Sandburg turned his head at the sound of her voice, and his expression was reminiscent of a drowning man who has spotted land within reach. "Mom!" he exclaimed with evident relief.

She rushed to his side and enfolded him in a warm, tight hug, her lips on his hair. "I was so worried, baby," she whispered. "I'm so glad you're all right."

"What happened, Mom?" he asked very softly. "What's going on?"

Shifting back to look at his face, she brushed tears from her eyes and laughed as she replied, "I don't really know, Blair. Jim just told me you'd been in an accident. He can explain it all better than I can. But you were in a coma for a while."

"Jim?" he muttered, shaking his head a little.

"He just woke up two minutes ago, Naomi," Ellison told her with a bright smile. "Your timing is superb!"

She grinned up at him and said, her voice a little tremulous, "Thanks for taking such good care of him."

"Who's Jim?" Blair asked then, a puzzled frown on his face. "Mom - who are all these people?"

"What?" she exclaimed as she whipped her gaze back to his. Jim paled and staggered a step back. Conner breathed, "He doesn't know us?" Simon frowned and lowered his gaze, while Joel looked like he might weep. Brown just gaped at the kid, and Rafe slipped to the doorway.

"I better get the doctor," he said as he loped into the hall.

"Sweetie, I don't understand; these are your friends," Naomi said, sounding stunned and frightened. "You must remember Jim," she added, waving toward Ellison. "He's your best friend."

Sandburg's eyes widened as he turned to stare at Jim, his mouth slightly agape.

Ellison could hear Blair's heart begin to race and his breath growing tight, fast and shallow. "Don't, Naomi," he called softly. "You're scaring him. I think we're all scaring him." Looking around at the others from MCU, he added, "Maybe we should give Sandburg some space and wait in the hall."

One by one, they stumbled out, each of them gripping Jim's shoulder or arm as they passed him. Ellison swallowed hard and then said with as much calm as he could muster, "It's okay, Blair. You suffered a pretty bad head injury, but I'm sure the confusion is only temporary. Naomi, maybe we'd best hold off on any more information until Dr. Reynolds gets here, okay? I'll be in the hall if you need me."

Stiffly, Jim turned away, but once out in the corridor, he slumped against the wall and lifted a hand to cover his eyes, while the others gazed at him with raw empathy.

"You okay?" Simon murmured.

Jim shrugged. What could he say? Okay? No, not at all. He felt as if someone had just shoved a serrated blade into his gut. Sandburg didn't know him. Didn't remember any of them. God. What if he never remembered?

A nurse bustled toward them, Rafe a half-step behind her. "I've called Dr. Reynolds," she told Ellison. "He should be here in half an hour, maybe less."

Jim nodded, but his head remained bowed. She moved into the room, and he could hear her posing questions to Sandburg, to assess his general level of lucidity.

"Well, I'm glad to see you awake," she said warmly. "Do you remember your name?"

"Sure, Blair Sandburg," the young man replied, his voice tight with anxiety.

"Good," she affirmed. "Do you know what year you were born?"

"1969."

"How old are you?" she asked then.

"Twenty-five," Sandburg replied innocently.

Jim heard Naomi gasp, and he closed his eyes as desolation swept over him. Blair had been not quite twenty-six when they'd first met.

Sandburg had forgotten everything about their lives together.

Everything.

So far as his partner and best friend was concerned, they'd never met - and the past almost four years had never happened. God, Sandburg didn't know that he'd trashed his academic career and had given up everything less than a week ago. How in hell was he going to tell Blair all of that, or even begin to try to explain it? Jim crossed his arms tightly over his body as he fought the nausea roiling in his gut, and the pain in his chest that made it hard to breathe. He turned away from his colleagues, and shut out their murmured speculations and words of anxious concern, to lean one shoulder against the wall and listen to what was going on inside the room.

The nurse cautioned Naomi against giving Blair any information pending the arrival of the doctor as, often, it was preferred that amnesia patients be allowed to remember as much as possible on their own; otherwise, they substituted the memories of others and could become confused when their own began to resurface. Nevertheless, after she left, Sandburg badgered his mother to at least tell him what year it was, so that he'd have some idea of how much time he was 'missing'. He also wanted to know whom all the people were that he didn't recognize, as none of them looked like traditional academic types. Specifically, he wondered how someone obviously so much older than he was had become his 'best friend' and was very curious to learn more about Jim.

Naomi, however, held the line and refused to answer his questions. Ellison could hear the terrible anxiety in her voice, but she did her best to try to calm her son, urging him to be patient for a little while, until the doctor came.

"Heads up," Simon murmured as he touched Jim's shoulder.

The detective turned and saw Reynolds striding down the hall. The group parted to allow him through and he paused to speak briefly with Jim.

"I hear Mr. Sandburg thinks he's four years younger than he is, and that he doesn't recognize any of you," the neurosurgeon said quietly.

Nodding, Ellison replied bleakly, "That's right, but otherwise he seems perfectly lucid. He's very anxious right now, and wants answers about how we came to be his friends, but we've not told him anything more than that. His mother, Naomi Sandburg, just arrived and is in there with him."

"Fine, give me a few moments, and then I'll probably call you in to join us, Mr. Ellison," Reynolds replied, then added with cautious reassurance, "Some degree of amnesia isn't uncommon after severe head injuries and it isn't usually permanent."

"Please, call me Jim," the detective replied wearily. They were 'way beyond having to observe formalities.

The specialist gripped his arm supportively and then disappeared into Sandburg's room.

Once again, Ellison tuned into the conversation, his colleagues falling silent so as not to disturb or distract him. Conner laid a light hand on his back to try to help keep him calm and grounded.

Reynolds introduced himself to both Blair and Naomi, each of them urging him to call them by their first names. The doctor conducted a brief physical examination, and once again verified the extent of Sandburg's memory loss - the last date the kid remembered, Jim realized with a qualm of disquiet, was the day before they'd met. Ellison couldn't help wondering if that was somehow significant. When he heard the physician call him to come in, he moved swiftly into the room.

Reynolds was scratching his chin as he studied Sandburg, his brow furrowed in thought. Looking up as Jim joined them, he said with a degree of deliberate obliqueness, "Four years is a considerable amount of time to not remember, and I'm sure many circumstances of Blair's life have changed in that period of time." He glanced at Naomi and Jim, who both nodded somberly. Continuing, he said, "I think we'll need to share certain information to help Blair feel less disoriented. But, just before we get into details, I think he needs to know the nature of his relationship with you, Jim."

When Ellison looked startled by the tone, Reynolds elaborated, "You have been extraordinarily solicitous and supportive of Blair's care since he was brought into the hospital, and I understand you were the one who searched for and found him in the wilderness in the first place. Though I've not mentioned it, I'm also aware of the incidents that occurred a couple of weeks ago and, frankly, I've found your continued involvement with Blair more than a little surprising - it argues for a profound friendship between the two of you, or you'd scarcely be speaking to him now, let alone have stayed with him on a continuous basis to facilitate his return to consciousness."

Sandburg gaped at them all. "What happened two weeks ago? Why was I lost in the wilderness? Would someone tell me what the hell is going on?"

"In a moment, Blair," the doctor replied, returning his attention to Ellison. "Jim, are you and Blair more than friends? If so, he needs to know that, or his eventual recovery of memories could be very disorienting and dislocating."

Jim's lips thinned and then he shook his head. "It's not what you're thinking. We're as close as brothers, though, and share an apartment. He has also been my unofficial partner at work since we first met." Holding Reynolds' gaze, he added firmly, "Everything in Blair's paper was, in fact, true. He's my Guide as well as my friend."

Reynolds blinked in surprise. Like everyone else in Cascade, he'd followed the media hoopla about the possible 'sentinel' in their police department and had seen Sandburg's press conference, in which the younger man had denied the truth of what he'd written. "I see," the doctor murmured as studied Jim with new and almost avid interest.

Ellison added then, "Blair has kept extensive journals, both personal and professional, to record his research findings and observations. Would it be all right for him to read those? They'd provide him with his own memories of what has transpired since the last day he can remember."

"Ah, that's excellent," Reynolds replied. "Yes, those journals, and anything else he personally wrote, may be very useful in triggering his memory. All right, here's what I suggest. For now, you and Naomi can bring him up to date on what year it is and some general information about the nature of your relationship. I'll keep him in the hospital overnight to ensure his apparent recovery from his injuries continues, but you can plan on taking him home tomorrow. I'll want to see you, Blair, in a couple of weeks to determine your progress." Turning to Ellison, he added, "Depending on your level of comfort with the idea, I'd like to spend some time with you, too, Jim. Your, ah, abilities are of considerable professional interest to me and I might be of some service to you, if you have difficulties with them."

Ellison shrugged. "Thanks, I'll think about it."

When the doctor left, Jim pulled up the straight-backed wooden chair and looked at Naomi, who was still perched on the bed. "You want to tell him?"

Her lips tightened and then she shook her head. "You've been a much more important and constant fixture in Blair's life for quite some time now. I think you should bring him up to date."

Jim looked at Blair, and was conscious that Sandburg was studying him with intense interest, his eyes sparkling with barely contained enthusiasm. When he crooked a brow in question, Sandburg blurted with eager excitement, "You're a sentinel, aren't you?"

Ellison smiled wryly and nodded. "You never do miss much, Chief. Yeah, you found me the day after the last day you remember. I was…confused. Didn't know what I was or why my senses were so out of whack. I thought I was going crazy, to tell you the truth. You've been so much help since, I don't even know how to begin to thank you."

Blair's eyes narrowed in reflection as he murmured with no little awe and astonishment, "I was thinking of giving up and changing my diss topic; I was beginning to believe my search was hopeless. Man, you don't have to thank me for anything - you're a dream come true! The paper you and the doctor were talking about, that was my dissertation, right?"

"That's right, but let's take this a step at a time," Jim suggested gently, unable to look the younger man in the eyes. There was so very much Sandburg didn't know - things that would wipe away that sparkle of discovery and elation. Shifting the subject, Ellison looked up as he said, "Chief, we've known each other for damned near four years, and you've shared my apartment for the better part of that time."

"Four years?" Blair gasped, his eyes widening in shock. "I've forgotten four years?"

"Yeah," Ellison sighed. "But Reynolds says it's all probably just temporary, so give yourself some time for your memories to come back. In the meantime, though, you should probably also know that you've been working with me unofficially, to help me and study me. I'm a detective, Chief, and the others who were in here are our colleagues and boss from the Major Crimes Unit of the Cascade Police Department."

Blair sagged back against the headboard. "I've been working with cops? You're kidding, right?" When Jim just quirked a brow at him, he gaped. "You're not kidding. Cops. Wow."

"Not only that, but the Department is offering you a job as a civilian consultant, as a forensic and cultural anthropologist, because of the excellent contributions you've made over the years, and you'd be made my permanent partner," Jim added.

Frowning at that, Sandburg asked, "Why would I want to work with the Police Department? I mean, it's an interesting concept and all that, but I'm a researcher and teacher - the last I remember, I was a Teaching Fellow at Rainier. And if my diss is done, then why would you want me hanging around?"

"Well, frankly, because I think I'll always want and need your help. As for your other questions, I think your journals will likely clear those up," Jim replied with a direct gaze.

Sandburg obviously wanted to the press the issue, but forced himself to patience. "Why was I lost somewhere in the wilderness?"

"You were on a trip and got caught on a bridge as it was washing out in a bad storm," Jim replied, sticking with the bare facts. "You managed to get out of your car and to the shore, but you'd sustained head injuries and were suffering from exposure when we found you. Megan Conner, the woman who was in here earlier, helped me track you down. You've been in the hospital for four days."

"And what did Reynolds mean by the 'extraordinary care' you gave me?" Sandburg asked then, curious.

Shrugging, Jim answered diffidently, "It was really no big deal. I used what you'd taught me, about how to stimulate senses through taste, scent, sound and touch to try to draw you back to consciousness, that's all."

Blair didn't look entirely convinced that Jim's efforts had been minimal, but let it go. "Four years," he murmured again as he gazed at Jim with a look that of uncertain confusion in his eyes. "God."

"Sweetie, you need time to process all this, and you should rest," Naomi said softly. "I think we should probably leave you for a while. Okay?"

"Yeah, sure," Sandburg agreed, looking preoccupied. "But, uh, feel free to come back later."

"I'll bring you some of your journals, so you can start to catch up," Ellison offered.

Blair brightened visibly as he enthused, "Hey, man, that would be SO great. Thanks. And, uh, I guess I should meet my friends - are they still waiting outside?"

"Uh huh," Ellison acknowledged and stood to call them back in. He introduced them each in turn as they stood with uncomfortable diffidence - what did you say to a guy who didn't have a clue who you were?

"Whatever you need, man," Brown offered, as Rafe nodded encouragingly beside him.

"I'm so sorry, Sandy, but you'll 'catch up' in no time, knowing you," Megan said with reassuring confidence.

"Son, you're important to all of us, y'hear?" Joel told him with touching sincerity. "Don't be afraid to, I don't know, lean on us, I guess, if you need to."

"You're a good friend, Sandburg, as well as a highly valued member of this team," Simon said formally. "Whatever happens, whether you ever get your memory back or not, remember that we very much want to keep you on the team and as a friend."

Blair was deeply moved by their evident concern for him and their solid offers of support. He'd been on his own a very long time and wasn't used to, or at least didn't remember, having people care so much about him. But he was also astute enough to pick up an underlying subtext from their words and expressions. He had a sense that there was more wrong than just his loss of memory, and he wondered anxiously what it might be.

"See ya later, Chief," Jim called, as he shepherded everyone from the room. Lingering for a moment, having detected the subtle signs of increasing anxiety, he added firmly, "It's going to be all right, Blair. One way or another, we're going to work everything out."

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

That evening when Naomi and Jim came to visit, Ellison put a knapsack with clothes for the morrow in the small closet. Then, as he handed Blair two of his journals dating from their first meeting, he looked away edgily. "Uh, I should probably warn you that I'm not always the easiest guy to get along with, and your notes will probably reflect some of that. I was used to being pretty much of a loner and, well, I've had trouble accepting my senses. They're not, uh, comfortable to live with."

Sandburg smiled gently, easily reading the anxious disquiet in Ellison's stiff posture and guarded expression. "Hey, man, don't worry about it. I expect I wasn't the easiest guy for you to deal with, either. After all, we don't seem to have a whole lot in common. But, obviously, we got past it, right? I mean, we must have if I'm still living and working with you, four years later."

Naomi turned her face away; that afternoon, Ellison had told her that Blair had moved out and had left for parts unknown when the accident occurred. Jim swallowed hard and he nodded, but when he looked at Sandburg, the shadows haunting his eyes gave Blair pause. Their behaviours convinced him, more than ever, that there was something going on that no one was yet telling him. But he shrugged to himself when Ellison and his mother left him alone for the night. How bad could it be? He'd actually found his sentinel! Had lived and worked with him for going on four years! Sandburg flipped open the first notebook, delighted to have this unusual access to his own memories, and excited to read all about the amazing Jim Ellison.

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

Blair read late into the night, and then spent another hour pondering what he was beginning to think of as 'adventures with my Sentinel'. It had been strange to read his own words but have no memory of writing them, or of the emotions that fairly leapt off the pages. Before long, it had come to feel like a novel of sorts, full of suspense and adventure. When he got to the end, just after the encounter with Kincaid on his first official day with the Police Department, he shook his head, marveling that in a few short days, he'd apparently helped subdue a mad bomber and save a whole bunch of lives, and then had claimed to be an undercover cop when he'd been captured by another maniac. His notes revealed that he been badly shaken by both cases, and very uncertain about his capacity to be of real help to Jim - who evidently simply expected him to come up with answers and ideas out of thin air. But he'd also been elated, almost euphoric, about getting the chance to work with Ellison - about having found his miracle, his 'Holy Grail'. Blair cringed at the term he'd written to describe Jim; somehow, it seemed to reduce Ellison to a thing, an object of immense value but which didn't acknowledge the older man's very real humanity. The Blair who had written his enthusiastic and sometimes anxious commentary seemed, somehow, very young. Someone almost alien.

He'd also noted that his Sentinel had wanted, very badly, to keep his remarkable senses a secret, and had even tried to conceal them from his boss, as well as his reasons for wanting Blair to work with him, at least initially. And he remembered that Ellison had had to tell Reynolds that the paper he'd written had held the truth, as if there'd been some doubt about that. Chewing on his lip, he assumed that meant that Jim, even after four years, at least until very recently, had still wanted his secret kept. So…how had the paper gotten out and how did the doctor know about it? And what had changed to make Jim admit the truth so directly?

Frowning as he pondered his questions, Blair felt a hollowness grow inside. It must have all been pretty public, and if Reynolds thought the paper was based on falsehoods, then Sandburg knew he must have denied it equally publicly, probably as a matter of professional ethics to protect his source, Jim. His chest felt tight as he realized what that would have meant for his academic career and aspirations. Rainier would have both fired and expelled him. And the physician had expressed some surprise that Ellison still had anything to do with him. Chewing on his lip, Blair added that assumption to the knowledge that he'd 'been on a trip' when his accident had occurred; odd timing, unless…unless he'd left in an effort to continue to protect Jim's secret? People would sure talk if they thought he'd lied about Jim but Ellison still tolerated having him around. And if he were fairly notorious locally, with nothing left for him at the University, there would have been little reason to stay in Cascade - and every reason to leave.

But, why would he leave if he had such a great job offer from the Cascade PD? And if he'd been thought a self-professed liar, why was he being offered such a job in the first place? Simon and the others must know about Ellison's senses, or they wouldn't still be so friendly. Hell, the whole hierarchy of the PD would have to know for such a job offer to be made, for him to be credible with people who kept the law and honoured truth for a living. But the general public evidently didn't know, or Reynolds wouldn't have been so surprised; so his presence in Jim's life would still raise a lot of questions and speculation. Biting his lip, he reflected on what his notes had told him about Ellison's vulnerability to zoneouts, and how he was easily disabled, even if only briefly, by unexpected bright lights and loud noises. In the job he had, Jim couldn't afford to have the bad guys know that, or he could be killed.

Sighing unhappily, Sandburg rolled onto his side and soberly stared at the wall. There was so damned much he didn't know, and it was beyond annoying as well as more than a little scary to be so much in the dark about his own life. His initial exuberant excitement to know he'd actually found his Sentinel was sorely dampened by his suspicions that he'd also, very recently, had to walk away from Jim; a man that Ellison himself had claimed that day was as close as a brother. Grimly, he told himself that reading all of his journals had to be his first priority. He had to know what was going on - had to know if he should leave Cascade as soon as possible to keep Jim safe.

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

When he arrived to take Blair home the next day, Jim couldn't help but notice that Sandburg looked like he'd hardly slept and the younger man was a great deal more reserved than the day before. It had to be because of what he'd read in the journals, Ellison surmised, and that made him uncomfortable. Despite long years of curiousity about what exactly his friend wrote down in those notebooks, he'd respected the kid's privacy and had never even considered reading them.

One of the nurses arrived with a wheelchair and, with a resigned sigh, Blair climbed into it and then smiled up at the attractive young woman. She grinned back at him and, while Jim held open the door, she pushed him into the hall and to the elevator. Once downstairs, Jim loped ahead to get the truck and she touched Blair's shoulder while they waited.

"I hope your memories come back soon," she wished sincerely.

His smile faded a little, and he looked wan, his dark blue eyes haunted with shadows, as he nodded and agreed, "I hope so, too. Thanks."

Once they were on their way to the loft, disconcerted by Sandburg's uncharacteristic silence, Jim observed, "You seem awfully quiet today, Junior. Something on your mind?"

Blair turned a steady, disconcertingly distant, gaze upon the older man and shrugged. "I've got a lot of questions, Jim, but there's no point in asking stuff I know you won't tell me. I have to read the rest of my journals to get the answers."

Ellison winced at the tight tone of sufferance. "Look, you know I'd like to tell you everything, right? But Reynolds didn't think that was such a hot idea."

"I know; I'm not blaming you," Blair replied mildly, shifting his gaze back to the street. "It's just…annoying in general. It's my life and it sucks that I'm the only one who doesn't know about it. I feel a little like I got pulled into this black hole, or part of me anyway, and that part of me is just…empty."

Grimacing, Jim nodded. "I can understand that," he replied quietly. "If you've ever got any questions about anything you've read, just ask and I'll answer as well as I can. There's all kinds of stuff I've begun to realize that we should have talked more about, so I suspect your journals will reveal the trouble you sometimes had getting me to open up. I won't hold out on you now, I promise."

"I appreciate that, man," Sandburg murmured. Turning his face away, consciously avoiding Jim's reaction, he said carefully, his tone solemn, "I've been thinking a lot about the little bits and pieces that I have found out, or think I've figured out already and, well, I'm guessing I was on that road because I was leaving Cascade. I need to know why, Jim, before we can talk about much of anything else. I need to know if our partnership was over before I can begin to consider the PD's offer of a permanent position."

Jim gaped at the younger man, shocked into momentary breathlessness. How the hell had Blair put that together, so fast, from the few cryptic clues he must have picked up on yesterday? Blowing out a shaky sigh as his gaze returned to the road, he muttered, "Shit, Chief. Sometimes you're downright scary, you know that?"

Sandburg bowed his head. Apparently, he was right on the money with his suspicions. But that still didn't tell him why Ellison seemed so sincere in wanting him to hang around, or why the MCU gang had been so supportive yesterday. Too many questions; too much he didn't know.

When Jim pulled into his usual parking spot, Blair gazed at the building with no sense of recognition. Subdued, he followed Ellison inside and up to the third floor. "Wow," he stammered as he looked around the loft, when Jim waved him inside. "You've got a really nice place, Jim."

"Correction, we've got a nice place, Sandburg," Ellison stressed as he hung up his coat. "This is your home every bit as much as it's mine."

Blair smiled at his mother, who was fixing something for lunch in the kitchen. But he shook his head as he looked back at Ellison. "The last I recall, I was living in a warehouse."

"I know," Jim replied dryly. "Ten thousand square feet for eight-fifty a month, if you didn't mind the rats of unusual size."

Sandburg shivered in memory. "Don't know how I got lucky enough to live here instead, but thanks, Jim."

Figuring it couldn't hurt to give the kid the facts, Ellison replied, "Your neighbours, ones you didn't know about, were gang members running a drug lab. It blew up and took your place with it."

Blair's eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. "You're kidding me?" he gasped. "Shit." Shrugging out of his coat, he looked around the loft again before whirling back to confront Jim uncomfortably. "Are you telling me you took me in 'cause I was a charity case?"

"Not exactly," the older man replied carefully. "You didn't have anywhere to go, that's true. And most of your stuff was fire or water damaged, and unsalvageable. But it only made sense for you to live here, anyway. At the time, I was in bad need of pretty constant help with my senses, and it gave you a better chance to study me."

Blair frowned. "That's the second time you've stressed that I was 'studying' you, man. Makes it sound like you were some kind of lab rat, Jim. I'm not sure I like the implications of that."

Ellison winced as he lowered his head and rubbed the back of his neck, uncomfortably reminded of his own words less than a year ago at Clayton Falls. Was he still giving out signals of resentment, however much he was trying to be as supportive and open as possible? Or were Sandburg's hidden memories somehow sharpening his intuition, giving him clues and cues he wasn't even aware of? "We had a deal, Chief," he finally said, his tone as neutral as he could keep it. "You helped me with my senses in return for being able to focus your dissertation on me. It was a more than fair trade. So, yeah, you were studying me, but you pretty much had to, to help me. Don't worry about it."

Naomi came away from the stove to give Blair a hug. "I know it's hard, sweetie," she said sadly. "We both wish we could just tell you everything right away. But it's best if you learn from your journals and let your own memories gradually emerge."

"Yeah, I know," Sandburg sighed, resigned. As he extricated himself from his mother's embrace, he added, "So I guess you both understand why I'm going to immerse myself in those notebooks until I've read them all. Where are they?"

"Your room's that way, Chief," Jim replied, waving toward the French doors. "All your journals and audiocassettes are in your desk."

"Thanks," Blair replied, and then he strode purposefully to his room and closed the door.

When Naomi raised troubled eyes to Ellison's unhappy gaze, Jim rumbled dejectedly, "He's figured a lot out already - and he's wondering if he should leave Cascade."

"Oh, Jim," she empathized as she reached out to touch his arm. "I'm sure he won't really leave. He loves you; you know that. And he was never as happy as he was living and working with you."

"Maybe," Ellison replied tightly as he turned away. "But he doesn't remember any of that, does he?"

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

Very conscious that he was as much rediscovering Jim as a sentinel, as he was learning about his own life during the past four years, Sandburg deliberately read his personal and professional journals in tandem. The candid and more detailed personal accounting of events gave context and depth to the discoveries he was making about Ellison's abilities. The more he read about what his Sentinel could do, the more in awe he became of Jim - and the more responsible he felt for Ellison's well-being, as it became increasingly clear how much the older man trusted and relied upon him for help with his extraordinary, incredible senses.

But his own story left him gasping at times, as well. A rogue CIA agent had called him Jim's 'guide', and that made Blair stop and think hard. He'd never given much weight to the role of the companion or guide that Burton had briefly mentioned, discounting it as anything integral to an individual, and seeing it more as a role that anyone trained could play. But the fact was, at that point of his rediscovery of times past, there was no one else who had any understanding of sentinels, and so it was natural that Jim would become so dependent upon him for support. It didn't really have anything to do with Sandburg as an individual; it was only reflective of his esoteric knowledge. Surely after almost four years, since the others from MCU clearly knew about Jim's abilities, any one of them could now do what Blair had done covertly in the beginning.

And that made him wonder about the trust he'd noticed existed in the way the journals described Ellison's consistent, if sometimes grudging, acceptance of pretty much whatever Blair had suggested. Now he wondered if it was trust that Jim was exhibiting, or merely the acceptance of having little choice. Caught by another thought, Sandburg realized he'd just thought of 'Blair' as someone apart from himself; a stranger every bit as much as Jim was a stranger to him now. It was disconcerting and very uncomfortable, dislocating in a profoundly unsettling way, to think of himself in the third person. Feeling slightly queasy, he returned to his reading.

"Oh my God," he murmured aloud in shock when he read about his encounter with the psychotic serial killer, David Lash. His mouth went dry as he contemplated how incredibly close he'd come to dying that long ago night - and how very much he owed Jim for saving his life.

One day and then another passed as he read on and on. There were times when he had to lay the documents aside, too touched or saddened by the immensities of the challenges and grief Jim had faced in his life, or amazed, almost overwhelmed, by the man's apparently limitless integrity and courage. He had to stop and think then about Ellison, this stranger who was his best friend, as close as a brother according to Jim. Blair felt shaken to his core that such a man would say he felt that way about him, would ever trust him that much, given that trust had to be incredibly difficult for Jim. And once again the nagging suspicion, that Ellison didn't trust him so much as feel compelled to take his advice, plagued him. Jim had said he wanted him to be his permanent partner - but wasn't trust fundamental to such an intensive partnership? Shaking his head, Blair set the question aside. He just didn't know enough yet to be certain one way or the other about the foundations of their relationship.

Sandburg wasn't really surprised to learn he'd given up Borneo, first to follow Ellison into Peru to rescue Simon, that very tall man he'd met the day before, and Simon's son (even to the point of jumping out of a perfectly good plane to stand by Jim and watch his back, though that was something he had considerable difficulty imagining himself doing); and then to commit to helping the older man in any way he could, as long as he could. It was 'about friendship', as he'd written in the journal. But already he could see that this was no ordinary friendship, not from 'Blair's' perspective, anyway.

Later, when he read about the Chopec coming to Cascade, and Incacha's death, once again, Sandburg set the journal down to do some hard thinking. For all the man's strength, Blair was now acutely conscious of Jim's vulnerabilities, and not simply those posed by his senses. He'd been hurt, abandoned and/or abused by just about everyone he'd ever cared about. And yet, Jim carried on, doing his best for others whether they were friends or strangers, holding his own life cheaply when it came to facing down felons. Jim deserved so much better than what he'd gotten out of life. He deserved to know how special he was as a human being. Oh, sure, Blair had picked up that Ellison could be terminally irascible - but the wonder was that he could still care so much, still be hurt so much. He'd had to build those walls emotionally to survive. Sandburg almost wept with empathy when he read about how Jim's father had made him feel like a freak when he was just a scared kid doing his best - and hurting badly after Bud, apparently a beloved role model, had been murdered. No wonder the boy and then the man had repressed his abilities, had willfully forgotten about them, and didn't want anyone to know about them.

But he couldn't help wondering about the fervent, deathbed message and responsibility Incacha had passed on to him. Sandburg had seen enough magic throughout his life, first as he trailed after his mother and later as he immersed himself in other cultures, to know that there were things that science couldn't explain. Biting his lip, he pondered the Shaman's words and shivered. Something powerful had happened in those moments but there wasn't enough in the journal to really understand what - probably because he hadn't understood it at the time, either.

And no wonder Jim had gone off to Clayton Falls to find some measure of peace, and some measure of confidence that he wasn't wholly and totally dependent upon Blair. Such dependence would have terrified Ellison because he had to know that it left him in too much danger of being devastatingly hurt when and if Sandburg ever failed him or left, as everyone else, from his mother on down, had left. Blair frowned as he thought about that. If he'd known all that, then how could he have brought himself to leave Jim recently, because he was certain that's what he'd done - unless it had absolutely been to somehow save Ellison, to protect him from exposure and/or being hurt even more by his continued presence.

Nor was Sandburg surprised by Jim's reaction to the first draft of the first key chapter in the dissertation about Ellison. By that point, he'd delved into his dissertation, too, and could well understand why Jim would have thought the descriptions insulting and his trust abrogated. Ellison, driven by fear and instinct to try to control the uncontrollable, and always to act courageously to ensure the security of others, would have a very hard time accepting that it was fear, principally of failure, that drove him. Insights like that could be disconcerting, even disorienting, and certainly very disturbing, especially to a guy who evidently wasn't all that insightful to begin with, and was more given to action than introspection.

He could also understand 'Blair's' sudden ambivalence about his dissertation, and his musings that maybe he should just let it go and write about something else - maybe the law enforcement subculture and how that micro-community survived by banding together as a kind of select fraternity. The 'kid', as Sandburg had begun to think of his alternate self, had been amused to imagine his ruse becoming his actuality.

So, from his current perspective - as an objective third party as opposed to the man who was emotionally caught up in what was happening as it occurred - when Sandburg started reading about Alex Barnes, he gasped, "How could I do that?" He could clearly see that, at that stage of their long partnership, his failure to tell Jim about Alex right from the beginning, and his blindness in grasping that Barnes was a dangerous threat given Ellison's vision of the jaguar and his odd, exaggerated behaviours of territoriality, were almost criminal acts of negligence and betrayal. God damn it, he'd obviously known very well that trust was a major issue for Jim! How could he have not seen how wrong he'd been in his initial actions to keep Alex's existence a virtual secret, however much his decisions had been appropriate with respect to research protocols?

But when he read about his own death and resurrection by Jim, the journal slipped from his fingers and he sat stunned, trying to imagine how it all must have felt, how incredibly miraculous…

And then it hit home. This wasn't just an amazing story about someone else's life - this was his life and that meant…

He'd actually died? And Jim had brought him back to life? It was beyond astonishing. Closing his eyes, Sandburg swallowed hard as he realized in that surreal moment that he owed Jim everything that he was. And that was when he knew, without doubt, that he'd give his life to protect Ellison without hesitation, just as the 'Blair' in the journal had felt that commitment. It was, after all was said and done, no more than Jim deserved. But he wondered if Ellison knew that? And if he did, did Ellison trust his friend's impulse to protect him, no matter the cost, or would he be wary of it, even resentful of it, and question Sandburg's judgment, and worry he might act impulsively in uncontrollable situations?

When he resumed reading, he noted with considerable chagrin that Megan Conner had figured out that Ellison was a sentinel, and that seemed to explain to him why she'd been the one to accompany Jim on his journey to find Blair after the accident. She'd have some understanding of Ellison's special needs and support in the event he zoned while lost in concentration on one of his senses and, at that point, seemed to be the only one besides Simon who knew about Jim's strengths and vulnerabilities.

As he read the remaining journal entries, he wondered if he'd ever told Jim how unsettled he'd apparently felt about having died and then having, essentially, been reborn; how inadequate it made him feel and how unworthy of such special cosmic dispensation. What purpose could his life have that he'd been allowed to live again after having died? He'd obviously been awash with emotion, not thinking straight for what looked like months. And he'd been oddly resentful of Ellison during that period of time - as if he had thought that Jim should have more time for him, treat him somehow better or differently because he'd died. And he'd clearly not been happy, either, about Jim's reaction to Alex Barnes in Mexico, and the fact that Ellison wouldn't discuss what had transpired in the Temple of the Sentinels, or the vision of the union of their spirit guides. The resentment didn't make sense to Sandburg, reading it without the emotional baggage he couldn't remember or feel - but then he told himself that emotionally driven behaviours rarely made sense in intellectual terms.

When he read about the disaster of his dissertation, he finally understood his mother's air of sorrow and the odd feeling he'd had from all of the others that something even more fundamental and devastating than his memory loss had occurred. He couldn't imagine how Ellison could ever forgive him, however much it hadn't been his hand that had brought down the ax. He'd written the document for Jim, without ever telling his friend that he had decided to never publish it - and so hadn't been concerned about concealing the older man's identity. It had been his mother who had unwittingly blown their world apart, because he'd allowed her to believe his long delayed diss was almost complete. Well, it was, but that was the other paper mentioned in his personal journal, the one on the law enforcement subculture that he'd finally decided to write and had been putting together for months after Jim had resurrected him. The ploy had ironically become the truth because he hadn't had it in him to ever take the chance of anyone finding out Jim's secret, most especially after the Sentinel had given him his life back. He'd evidently decided that Ellison would be too much at risk, his vulnerabilities too exposed if the Sentinel diss was ever submitted, given his line of work. And then, after everything had fallen apart, he'd apparently decided there was no point in trying to explain it all - nor did it appear that Jim was listening particularly well, anyway, at the time.

The final entry indicated that 'Blair' was planning to leave Cascade to protect Ellison as best he could, after making a last visit to MCU to turn in his observer's pass the next day. He'd packed up his personal goods and had most of them stored until he knew where he was going or what he was going to do with his life. Briefly, Sandburg looked around his room, and at the herbal tea in the mug on the bedside table. At some point after he'd left, which was really only a week ago, Jim had retrieved everything and had given him no indication that this wasn't his home anymore. Why? Surely Ellison could see it made no sense to keep him around.

Bowing his head, Blair couldn't begin to understand why Ellison would go to so much trouble for him or resist his decision to move out. Rubbing his forehead, remembering that Jim had said in the hospital that he wanted and needed Blair in his life, Sandburg figured it was simply another measure of the extraordinary man Ellison was, that he'd risk exposure simply because they were friends. But Jim didn't owe him a thing, and Blair honestly couldn't see from anything he'd read in the journals that Ellison in any way still needed to have him around.

Setting that little mystery aside, he returned to the realization that he'd been right in his first analysis based on Reynolds' guarded remarks. He'd walked, or rather driven, away to protect Jim. There was nothing in his notebook to suggest how the current offer of a permanent position with the Cascade PD had come about, nor could he imagine, after the press conference he'd apparently held, how he'd ever have credibility in a law enforcement community that valued honesty and integrity above all else. Nor was there anything to indicate that anyone but Simon and Megan knew about Jim's senses, so how did the others know, as know they must to still be so congenial and supportive of him? When and why had Ellison evidently decided to let people know about his talents, as he'd revealed them to Reynolds in the hospital a few days ago? And there was nothing to suggest why either the 'Blair' of the journals or himself as he was now would ever consider remaining in Cascade, given the risks his continued presence constituted for Jim.

As much as he'd learned, as incredible as the last four years of his life had been, he still had very fundamental questions that needed answers. He couldn't remember the emotions he'd felt, didn't remember any of the events - it was as if it had all happened to someone else. But regardless of the answers still to be learned, intellectually he knew Jim was owed his unswerving loyalty and deserved any sacrifice. Nevertheless, as he'd read the words he'd once written in the journals and the unfortunately disastrous 'dissertation', he had come to know the older man in a profoundly intimate way. As a result, Sandburg had formed new emotions that resonated with those in his papers, and resolutely reaffirmed his evident past commitment to safeguard Jim's well-being, whatever the personal cost.

He had to move on, had to leave Jim and Cascade, however much that decision had hurt and oddly still hurt, given he really didn't know the man, wasn't the friend he'd once been. There wasn't any other honourable or even decent choice. So what if that decision and his earlier actions pretty much trashed what his life had been? He owed the fact that he was alive at all to Jim; eschewing his personal reputation and career were small costs in comparison to that inescapable truth. He'd give up much more than that to safeguard Jim's life and, hopefully, retain some measure of his trust.

If he'd ever really had it. If he hadn't simply been someone Jim needed, but now needed no more.

Wearily, weighted by a sorrow that ached deep inside, he got off his bed to go out into the living room and get the remaining answers - and to tell Jim that he knew he had to leave as soon as possible.

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

Jim and Naomi had been on tenterhooks for two days as they waited for Blair to make his way along the pathways of the last four years of his life - and reach the landmine waiting to explode at the end of the trail. Neither was proud of how they'd behaved over the dissertation; and each wondered how Blair would react to knowing, without doubt, that his mother and his best friend, the two closest people he had in his life, had both let him down in spectacular ways. Jim reflected that Reynolds had said that people who had suffered convulsions and coma often weren't the same people if and when they woke up again. This Blair was quieter, more subdued and thoughtful - and he knew nothing of their friendship. Would he think his sacrifice made any sense now? Or would he be appalled that he'd destroyed his dreams and his career for a man he no longer really knew?

Jim had listened to Blair's unconscious murmurs and exclamations, and had monitored his friend's heart rate and respiration, as the younger man had read one journal after another. He could pretty much tell at any given time where Sandburg was in the retracing of the past four years. But Blair hadn't asked any questions, or said much of anything at all, when he emerged briefly from his room for meals, or his daily ablutions in the bathroom, or to make himself a cup of tea. The kid was remotely pleasant, thoughtful and preoccupied, and Jim knew his Guide's agile, brilliant mind was processing at light speed; the amazed awe and joy of realizing he'd found a sentinel had long since dissipated, replaced by a steady and sober solemnity whenever Sandburg looked at Jim. When there was a long silence after Sandburg dropped the last notebook on his bed, Jim tensed up. Blair now knew for a fact that he had, indeed, been leaving and, now, he also knew why. Anxiously, Ellison's gaze locked on the French doors as he waited for Blair to emerge.

Naomi had been dreading the moment when her son would realize that his own mother had torn his life asunder. For days, moving about the loft with the uncharacteristic quiet of a timid mouse, she watched Ellison with increasing concern. He was her best indicator for how Blair was reacting, because Jim stiffened every time he sensed her son rediscovering something painful or frightening. She was immensely sorry to see the usually so confident, typically self-contained, and obviously strong man appear increasingly nervous, and even a little lost. Sorrowfully, she understood all too well that his life, too, had been completely disrupted by her well-meant but disastrous actions. When she saw Jim tense up and look toward Blair's room as if he were waiting for an axe to fall, she bit her lip and then sat down quietly on the love seat, to also wait nervously for her son's reaction.

When the door opened slowly, and Blair appeared looking so very sad, weary and painfully serious, Jim's heart clenched, and he had to hold himself tightly against the sudden trembling deep inside that threatened to shatter his tenuous control. Naomi's eyes glazed with tears as she read her son's aura - she knew all of her son's moods and manners, and could feel the depth of his pain as if it were a physical force battering her body. Swallowing hard, she blinked quickly and sniffed as she took a deep breath and waited for whatever he needed to say to them.

Uncomfortably aware of their tension, Sandburg stiffened his shoulders and unwittingly moved to his traditional place on the sofa. But, before he sat down, he looked at his mother and melted at the despair in her eyes. "Ah, Mom," he sighed, "don't look so sad. You didn't mean to cause any harm, I know that."

Her eyes filled and her lips trembled, but she was determined not to cry. This wasn't about her. Sniffing, she swallowed the lump in her throat and replied huskily, "I'm just very sorry, sweetie. I never wanted to hurt either of you."

Shaking his head, he went to her and drew her up into a reassuring hug. "From what I wrote, I always knew that. Let it go. It's done and we have to move on." With unconscious irony, he assured her, "We'll get past this and, someday, it'll only be a memory."

When he released her and settled her back on the small divan, he turned and unconsciously took his regular place at the end of the sofa. He bowed his head for a moment and cleared his throat and then, raking his hair back behind his ears, he lifted his eyes to Jim's worried gaze. "I've got some questions, Jim, and I'm more than a little concerned about the discontinuity between what the situation was when I wrote my last journal entry, and what seems to be the case now," he began with slow and measured deliberation. "A week ago, only Simon and Megan knew for sure about your senses. And while some of the guys at work might have guessed some things, and figured out more from the media reports, my press conference should have dispelled their speculation. But, in the hospital, they all seemed, I don't know, so easy and supportive of me. They didn't project any doubts about me - so they have to know now what they could only have been guessing about before." His words sped up, concern rich in his voice, and he lifted his hands as he exclaimed, "And, God, I have no idea where a job offer from Simon would come from! There's no way I've got the credibility to work with the PD. It's crazy. But most of all, I'm really worried about the casual way you told Reynolds about your senses - where did that come from? You can't keep doing that - it's dangerous for people to know. That's why I left before and why I have to leave again. I can't - I won't - be the reason that your safety is at risk. I owe you too damned much - my very life - and there's no way I'd ever, then or now, trade on your friendship at the risk of your well-being."

Jim's jaw clenched tighter as he listened, his gaze narrowed in concentration and control as he watched Sandburg and fought the growing tightness in his chest at Blair's words. Shaking his head sharply when his friend finished, he held up his hand in an oddly imploring and vulnerable gestured as he blurted, "Wait a minute, just hold on before you decide anything. There's stuff you don't know. And whatever Reynolds thinks about how necessary it is for you to remember on your own, you need to know what happened just before you left and since we found you."

Shrugging, Blair looked around askance as he replied, "How much could happen in a week, for God's sake? For most of that time, you were either out in the wilderness looking for me, at the hospital caring for me or putting all my stuff back so I'd feel like this was home when you brought me back here."

"Lots can happen in a week," Ellison replied soberly. "The day you left, I'd already told our colleagues that everything you'd written was the complete, honest and simple truth. We surprised you in the office with the offer of a badge if you'd go to the Academy, and we planned…I hoped…you'd become my permanent partner. But you refused, for the same reasons you've just given."

"Absolutely," Sandburg affirmed. "There is no other viable option, Jim."

"Yes there is," Ellison snapped back, his fear and frustration translating, as it so often did, into irritation. "If you'd just listen for a minute, I'll explain it to you."

Blair's lips thinned and he was shaking his head as he looked away, but he said tightly, "Fine, lay it on me, man."

"Okay, bear with me, 'cause there're different pieces that all fit together," Ellison replied, and drew in a deep breath to calm himself. "First, I'm not going to sit here and let you pay an outrageous price to protect my 'secret' - it doesn't need, I don't need, that kind of protection and I won't accept it. It's not right."

"Jim, I…"

"Just listen," Ellison cut in quickly, sharply, overriding the predictable protest. When Blair subsided and nodded grudgingly, he went on, his tone desperately earnest, "We know we need your help to work out the details of how much to reveal, but I am going to come clean to whatever extent is necessary to fix this situation. Simon and our Public Affairs people have worked up a scenario that you were conducting a secondary study down at the PD on the senses of cops, as a follow-up to your Masters. And that the stuff the press went nuts over was simply a draft of your intended article, using me as an example of the kinds of enhanced senses that a lot of cops have. You denied it only to get the media out of my face, so I could deal with Zeller. That clears your credibility. The Chief and Commissioner are convinced that you've made substantial contributions over the years in your own right, with your different perspectives and knowledge - and Cascade PD isn't the only organization in the country to figure out an anthropologist has real value to offer to investigations and community policing. So, that gives you a viable and, I hope, attractive career opportunity that would allow me to keep you as my official partner. And…and I've spoken to your lawyer. I think we can make a teaching position part of the settlement with Rainier - I know how much you love to teach, and you wouldn't have to lose that. All you have to do is say you'll stay."

Blair bowed his head and sighed. "Jim," he said quietly, and then lifted his eyes, "can't you see that it's too dangerous for you to let any information into the public forum that could compromise your safety? You're a cop. Sure, most criminals are cretins, but not the ones you go up against. Not the international arms and drug dealers, the crime lords, the frighteningly intelligent psychopathic and psychotic serial killers and bombers and white supremacists. If even just one of those criminals figures out that all it takes to disable you is an unexpected loud noise or a bright light, you'll be killed. It's that simple. And that terrible. I owe my life to you - giving up a career is literally nothing in comparison to that. And, God, you don't owe me a damned thing - certainly not the kind of risk with your life that you're talking about. Jim, I really wish I could remember everything, but I don't have to remember to know that you're the best friend anyone could ever have. And I appreciate, I really do, that you're willing to bail me out and toss me a lifeline - but I won't compromise your life to save my career. Frankly, I can't even imagine why you'd want to take such risks. There's no need for that. You don't need me to back you up; anybody who knows how to help with your senses can do that. You have to let this go - let me go. "

"NO, dammit," Ellison erupted as he stood, looming over Sandburg. "Right now, you don't have a clue about what I need. Jesus, give me enough credit to know my own requirements. You don't want my life put at risk? Fine. Then stay here and give me the backup I need."

When Blair flinched away from the fierce anger, Jim closed his eyes, disgusted with his inability to remain calm and rational. Yelling at Sandburg wasn't going to help anything. Twisting away, he strode to the balcony door and stared out the window as he tried to rein in his emotions.

Naomi spoke up then, with quiet but steely strength, "I think Jim's right, Blair. You should stay."

"Mom, how can you say that?" Sandburg exploded. "We could be signing Jim's death warrant here! Don't you get that? It doesn't matter what we'd prefer. What matters is what keeps him safe."

"Jim believes you keep him safe, and I think he deserves the time he needs to try to help you understand why he's so convinced of that," Naomi retorted. "You told me, not two weeks ago, that nothing happens in this Universe randomly - that it all has a purpose, a reason. Well, fine. I believe that, too. So I don't believe it was an accident that you just happened to be on that bridge when it washed out in a storm. I don't believe that it was an accident that you were stopped from leaving Cascade and Jim behind and, instead, found yourself back here. And I don't believe that you survived what should have been a fatal accident just to turn around and leave again. There's a purpose here, Blair, and you need to take the time to figure out what it is. Give him a chance to help you do that…for both of your sakes."

Sandburg shook his head. "I can't stay here, Naomi. The longer I'm in this apartment, the more chance there is of the media finding out and speculation starting all over again. I have to leave as soon as possible."

"Then you can both leave," his mother replied tartly. "Go somewhere in the mountains, or along the coast, where you can have some peace and quiet, and enough privacy and time to work this out. Don't throw away a life that I know made you happier than I've ever known you to be, or leave Jim to cope with his senses on his own, without giving your decision about the options very careful consideration."

Jim turned from the window. "Your mother's right, Chief," he said with as much hope as he could muster. "If you ultimately decide to go, well, then you'll go. But we could leave today, now, to find someplace where I could do my best to convince you to stay. C'mon, Sandburg - give me that chance."

"Okay, man - so long as we get out of here and away from anyone discovering that you're still talking to me, then, yeah, I'd like to spend more time with you before…well, we'll see how it goes," Sandburg capitulated, trying not to indicate that his mind was firmly made up. Intellectually, even if not emotionally, he believed he owed Jim whatever time it took to make the older man more comfortable than he was now with the end of their partnership.

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

Within four hours, they'd packed, loaded the truck, driven out of Cascade and found a quiet cabin resort on the coast. Naomi had also left the loft, to stay with friends in the city.

After dumping their bags in the cozy cottage, Jim suggested they walk out along the beach. He felt a need to be outside, with wide-open spaces, fresh sea breeze, and the peaceful backdrop of the surf swishing up on the beach; he hoped that the tranquility would help Sandburg relax and listen to what he had to say.

He also hoped that, when it came right down to it, he'd find the words to convey the emotions that surged inside at the idea of Blair deciding again to leave for good. Hell, he didn't even understand those emotions fully - but he believed them; was utterly convinced he had to pay attention to them.

They walked for twenty minutes in silence along the hard-packed sand beach, the endless sweep of the Pacific to one side and the distant Cascade mountains rising to austere, snowcapped peaks on the other. It was a weekday, off-season, and so there was no other soul in sight. They could have been the last two people on the face of the earth, bound together by their concern for one another, but edgy with their vastly different views on how best to deal with the challenges before them. Blair was content to let the silence ride until Jim felt ready to talk. They were here for Ellison, after all, to help him come to terms with their separate futures; every once in a while, Sandburg paused and stooped to pick up a pretty bit of stone, unconsciously selecting evocative mementoes of this last journey with Jim.

Ellison walked with his head down as he sought the words, the right and perfect words, to convey exactly why Sandburg couldn't possibly leave. The only trouble was, whenever he thought he might fail to be convincing, he floundered badly as waves of pure, blinding emotion overcame his ability to think coherently. Finally, he spotted a couple of boulders and angled toward them, waving at Sandburg to take a seat across from him. Taking a deep breath to steady his nerves and voice, he began.

"Last week, when we offered you the badge, I was so sure you'd accept it, you know?" he said bleakly. "It seemed the perfect solution to me, and you'd make a great detective. When you refused it, I was stunned, to tell you the truth. But I figured that when we got home, I'd be able to talk you into it, or we'd come up with some other option that would make sense for both of us - an option that would allow me to keep you as my partner."

Looking out over the ocean, he shook his head and his jaw clenched momentarily as memories of hurt and anger assailed him. "But you never gave me that chance. You wouldn't come up to the loft with me, and you left me standing on the street when you drove away. At first, I was furious. I couldn't believe you'd do that. Just take off like that. Not after all the years we've worked together. I thought…I thought our friendship meant more than that."

"Jim, I left because of our friendship, not despite it," Blair murmured as he stared at the ground.

"I know that…I just didn't feel it," Ellison replied wearily. "Anyway, within a day, I was more irritated than furious, and increasingly uncomfortable, restless. By the day after that, I could hardly sleep. I felt like everything was closing in on me. My skin bothered the hell out of me. I felt nauseated most of the time; tastes and sounds and smells were all 'off' - and the loft was 'way too quiet. I, uh, felt like I was going through some kind of physical withdrawal and it just kept getting worse." He sighed and raked his fingers through his hair. "When…when Simon came to tell me you'd d-died in an accident, I wouldn't, couldn't believe it. It just couldn't be possible that you were…were gone."

Jim had to stop, his chest so tight that he couldn't seem to breathe as he fought the despair and grief that erupted at the memories. Swallowing hard, he continued huskily, "Simon insisted that I take backup with me on the search. He knew that I'd be so focused on trying to hear your heartbeat or catch your scent that I'd probably zone. Anyway, Conner came." He paused again, his eyes darkly shadowed with sorrow. "She, uh, she was completely pissed off with me. Figured it was my fault that you were probably dead - "

"What?" Sandburg interjected sharply, his eyes stormy with anger. "She had NO right to suggest any such thing! You had nothing to do with me being on that road. Nothing, you hear me, nothing about what happened over the diss or the accident was your fault or responsibility!"

Taking a deep breath, Ellison held up a hand for calm. "No, she was right in everything she said," he asserted hoarsely. "I've taken you for granted, never sufficiently expressed the gratitude you deserve for not only saving my sanity, but my life, many, many times. And she was right that I had more than my share of responsibility for the fact that you believed, and evidently still do, that you had no choice but to leave. When we were in crisis, I wouldn't listen or talk sensibly about our options. I reacted emotionally, partly in fear of being seen as a freak and partly because I believed that if your diss was done, you'd probably move on. All that had nothing to do with you or your commitment to me, or with our friendship. It was all just…just old fears raising their ugly heads."

"Jim, they weren't all unsubstantiated fears," Sandburg asserted. "From what I read in the journals, you've endured horrific losses in your life - it's no wonder that your first inclination is to believe you're going to be abandoned or betrayed one more time. And your father and brother were getting harassed by the media, as if you were some kind of comic book hero come to life, but still somehow less than human - you were being trashed, and hounded. It sounded like it was really, really bad."

"So what if my Dad and Stephen were unhappy with the questions and attention?" Ellison grunted, shaking his head. "I was a…a fool to care what they thought or to ever give their concerns precedence over you. Until recently, I hadn't seen either of them for almost twenty years. You were, are, my partner and the best friend I've ever had. There's no contest, Chief, about who is my real family here."

Sandburg frowned, and looked away; deeply sorry that Jim was so evidently distressed over a friendship that, despite all he'd read, didn't feel real to him. "They're your family, man," he murmured.

"So are you," Jim replied bluntly. Clearing his throat, he continued, "Anyway, like I was saying, Megan was right and that forced me to really think about what I wanted and needed in my life - and about what kind of man I've been. What kind of friend. I'm ashamed to say, I wasn't the friend you deserved, and sure as hell wasn't anywhere as good a friend to you as you've been to me."

When Blair opened his mouth to protest, Jim again raised his hand, silently asking for time to just say what he had to say. "We found you and, for too long, we didn't know if you'd live or die from your injuries." Ellison fell silent, his expression stony as he looked out over the sea. "When the doctor told me I might have to decide to pull the plug, it was…it was just about the worst time in my life. I thought I'd be physically ill and barely held onto any vestige of control." He laughed bitterly. "Control. Story of my life, huh? Even then I was worried about not losing it - and it was stupid and a complete waste of effort," he continued, his voice growing raspier, his eyes growing wet, "because…because I…I don't think I could do that and…and still be whole. Hell, I know I couldn't. You…you're a part of me, Chief." Biting his trembling lip, sniffing and swiping at his eyes, he bowed his head, shook it as he whispered brokenly, "You're the best part of me."

"Ah, Jim," Sandburg sighed as he stood to wrap his arms around the older man's shoulders and draw him into a hug. His own eyes had grown moist and, even though he couldn't remember the years or the feelings that had grown over time, he did feel great sorrow for what Ellison was suffering on his account. "I'm sorry."

But Jim shook his head. "I'm not," he asserted. "I'd gone so long without really feeling anything but anger or emptiness that I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to feel human again. You opened me up, Chief. Snuck in under all my defences, stormed the bastions, and took me prisoner. At least, that's what I thought for a long time when I worried about being too…dependent on you. But now I know that what you really did was set me free. Free to value these senses and not be ashamed of them. Free to risk trusting other people again and gain good friendships, like with Simon and Joel as well as you, in return. Free to not have to be perfect all the damned time."

Smiling a little at that, Blair rubbed Ellison's shoulder. "Well, if I did that, then I'm glad," he said quietly. "Jim, the more I read about you in my notebooks and the diss, the more in awe of you I became. You are truly an incredibly decent, brave and compassionate man. You've been hurt so badly, and yet you don't hesitate to give all you are to help those who are vulnerable and at risk. It scares me, to tell you the truth, how cheaply you hold your own life. How easily you risk everything for what's right."

Embarrassed, Jim shrugged as he sniffed and brushed at his eyes, his face turned away. No one else in his whole life ever came out and just said such things to him, no one. And God, sometimes he really needed to hear the words - hear the appreciation and know he was honestly valued for the person he was, just like any other human being needed to hear that.

Squatting down beside him, Sandburg continued soothingly, "We can still be friends, Jim, whether I live in Cascade or Timbuktu. Nothing's going to change that. Even without my memories, I know I never want to lose track of you."

"That's not good enough," Jim grated. "I need you here, not in Timbuktu. I want you here."

"Jim, you can't take that risk," Blair insisted.

"It's my risk to take and, besides, I think I'm a whole lot more at risk without you," Ellison asserted bluntly. Turning to face Sandburg, he continued, "Nobody can do what you do to help me use my senses to the best of my ability. Nobody knows what I need like you do. Nobody else can keep me as focused or bring me out of a zone faster than you. You're my Guide as well as my best friend."

"Anyone can do what I do, once they know how," Sandburg replied stiffly. "A sentinel can't rely just on one guide, Jim. You're too important to the tribe. A guide is just someone who tags along, who knows enough about what you're experiencing to assist you, no more special than that."

"That's not true," Jim snapped.

"It is true," Blair asserted wearily, standing to move away.

But Ellison grabbed him by the arm to keep him close. "You're not listening to me, dammit!" he charged. "You're not hearing me! Why the hell won't you just listen?"

"I am listening, and I value you and your friendship more than anything in my life, and that's the honest to God truth, Jim," Sandburg replied soberly. "But you give me 'way too much credit. And no friendship is worth risking your life."

"Maybe it doesn't seem worth it to you, though I think what you did proves that you'll give up your life to protect mine," Ellison asserted. "But, regardless, it's worth it to me. Keeping you close is worth any risk."

Blair looked away, his expression sad and solemn as he shook his head wordlessly, and Jim felt a stab of profound fear to know that he was losing this battle - and it wasn't a battle he could afford to lose. But then another sickening thought assailed him.

"Is it that you don't want to work with me anymore?" he asked, his voice oddly small and lost for so big and strong a man. "I guess I could understand that. I mean, you don't really remember me, or what we shared. You might not think it worth the risks to your own life - you've sure given more than enough already."

Blair didn't hasten to disagree; if believing that, however untrue it was, would help Jim accept his decision to leave, then so be it.

Misunderstanding, Jim felt something inside shatter and he started to tremble. His eyes blurred and his voice was cracking as he struggled to express himself. "I guess…I guess if you really want to leave, there's nothing I can do to stop you. But…but, Jesus, Chief, you're my Guide. I don't think I can…can do this without you. I don't think…I'll survive." Ashamed to still be harping on his own needs, he sniffed and shook his head. "I'm sorry. You don't need that kind of pressure. It's just…just that…"

But his voice broke, and he bowed his head, swallowing convulsively before he whispered hoarsely, "I hoped so much that you'd give me another chance. A 'do over', to get it right this time. To fix everything I did wrong."

"Jim, you didn't do anything wrong. And if I really believed that you needed me that much, nothing on this earth could tear me away from you," Blair told him quietly, compassionately. "But you don't need me. You call me 'Guide' like that's something special. It's not. You'll be fine and a whole lot safer without me."

Ellison bit his lip, hearing in the words the slim possibility of hope. "You're saying you'd stay if I could prove to you that your role as Guide is as essential to me as…as breathing?"

"Yeah, that's what I'm saying, I guess," Blair allowed. "But you can't prove that because it isn't true. Jim, I know as much as anyone can learn about sentinels, about their history and the roles they played in their communities, protecting their tribes. And sure, even Burton mentioned the guide in passing, but only in passing. I'm not the special one here, man. You are."

Ellison shook his head at that, his mind racing to come up with something, anything, to keep this conversation going. And, suddenly, he realized there might be one chance. He didn't know for sure, but his soul told him he couldn't be wrong about needing a guide who was attuned to him, someone that he could recognize in a crowd without even thinking about it. Someone who merged seamlessly into his space - someone he could trust, as he trusted Sandburg, when he wasn't given to trusting anyone. Blair was curious by nature and was driven to learn - maybe this was something he wouldn't be able to resist doing. With a last desperate hope, he looked up at Sandburg and challenged, "Wanna bet on that, Chief? Incacha sure thought you were special and I know he was right. You got time for a little jaunt to a temple in Mexico to check out the definitive source information on sentinels and their guides? I'm willing to bet that we'll find evidence there that will back me up and prove to you that I do need you in my life."

"The ancient Temple of the Sentinels?" Blair gaped and blinked in surprise. Looking away, he thought about what he'd written about the disturbing events in Sierra Verde and the surrounding jungle. If anything, reading about that experience had been partly what convinced him that Jim no longer had need of him. There was nothing in the notes about what the temple might reveal about the role of guides. Shrugging, having nowhere he needed to be, and satisfied that it was far enough away that no one would know Jim was still fraternizing with him, he nodded. Besides, his curiousity was piqued. It couldn't hurt to go for a look. "Sure, I'll take that bet, why not? Let's see what's there, if anything, that addresses the role and function of guides."

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

Two days later, they were tramping through the fetid, humid, rainforest of central Mexico. They took their time, in deference to Ellison's still healing leg. But Jim found it hard to go slow; too much rode on this search for knowledge and understanding. He'd bet it all on this last desperate gamble, and he was stiff with tension, but he had to believe he was right. He couldn't put it all into words, but deep down, in the core of him, he knew Blair was his Guide and was essential to him. He couldn't be the only sentinel since the dawn of time that had felt this need and affinity with one other person. It had to be inherent, as basic and fundamental as his senses were. A sentinel just plain couldn't function at peak levels, or even survive some of the most basic challenges, like zoning, without the support of a guide he or she trusted instinctively.

Sandburg, for his part, had to admit to himself that he was both curious and excited. He was retracing some of the steps he'd taken only six months ago, making some of that forgotten experience his own. And he was too much a scholar to resist the lure of long hidden mysteries. He didn't, for a moment, believe that Jim would be proven right, but he did believe he might well find information that would be of help to Ellison.

And so one man mounted the broken stone steps with mingled hope and trepidation, and the other skipped up them eagerly to see what secrets the temple held.

Inside, as they wandered from chamber to chamber, Sandburg's eyes narrowed as he studied the frescoes and hieroglyphics, and he shook his head, deeply disturbed by what the ancient text was telling him. Watching him, not sure what the kid was seeing, interpreting, Ellison found himself holding his breath. Sure, there were symbols even he could make out that invariably showed two figures, one holding various weapons, the other with a hand lightly resting on the warrior's shoulder, back or arm. But Sandburg had never disputed the existence of guides, only argued that anyone could be a guide given the appropriate knowledge and training.

Finally, blowing out a long breath, more than a little disconcerted, Blair murmured, "Well, I'll be damned." Turning to look up at Jim, he added hollowly, "Looks like you won your bet, Jim." Waving at the symbols, he explained, "All this says that the sentinels and guides bonded for life - that there was an inherent link between them that was essential to both."

"I knew it!" Ellison exclaimed as a smile lit his face. "I knew it!"

Sandburg studied him soberly and then looked back at the symbols and carvings. "Yeah, well, this pretty definitively suggests that you do need the right guide," he reiterated. "But it doesn't prove that I'm the guide you need."

Jim gaped at him, disbelief and then frustration on his face. "Oh, come on!" he protested, seriously aggrieved. "Who the hell else would it be?"

Blair looked up at him and shrugged uncomfortably. "I have no idea, man. Regardless, it's pretty clear that I can't just take off, not without being damned sure that you have the backup you need. We're going to have to deal with my credibility issues, and I guess, as much as I don't like it, that means figuring out how much to reveal about you and how to go about letting some of the truth out - I'm going to have to be your partner until and unless we find someone better."

"That's all I wanted to hear, Chief," Jim grinned as he gripped Blair's shoulder, magnanimous in his relief, and sharp, sudden, bubbling joy in having convinced Sandburg not to leave for parts unknown. "C'mon, let's go home."

Sandburg sighed as he followed Ellison out of the temple. Confused and uncertain, he struggled with the idea that it seemed he was bound to the older man in ways that he didn't remember or understand; tied for a lifetime, if the symbols in the temple could be believed. Well, he rationalized, he owed Jim his life, several times over come to that; perhaps it was his karma or destiny to live in what felt like a sort of servitude in return. God, he was going to be employed in law enforcement and work with cops, essentially be a cop, for the rest of his life? If he had his memories, would it feel natural and right, or would it still feel as if he'd lost his freedom and right to self-determination? Was this how Jim had felt, for years, before he'd accepted that having a guide was a good thing? Certainly, Ellison seemed positively jubilant about the news now, apparently not in the least concerned that his life was irrevocably bound to that of another man. Somehow, all the years he'd read about, dreamed about and searched for a living, breathing sentinel, Blair had never imagined that finding such an individual would so profoundly change his own life and choices. He wished it all felt as right to him as it evidently did to Jim. But he honestly didn't know if his misgivings were legitimate, or simply a part of the entire dislocation of not being able to remember his life at the older man's side - and his fear that he was going to fail Jim. Fail him badly.

When they reached the entrance, he reflexively moved forward to allow Jim to lean on his shoulder, and to support the older man as Ellison negotiated the steep steps with his bad leg. Licking his lips, he felt he had to offer some note of caution. "Jim," he said hollowly, "you're going to have to remember that I really don't recall our past the way you do. For me, it's an amazing story, but it doesn't feel real. I, uh, I'd be careful, if I were you, of trusting me too much or relying on me too much."

But Jim just shook his head as he tightened his grip about Blair's shoulder. "The one thing I have learned, and will never forget, is that I can trust you with my life, Chief. I don't have any doubts about that."

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

Blair's continued silence as they made their way out of the jungle, and then to a local hotel before catching a plane home the next day, began to weigh heavily upon Ellison. The younger man tramped along beside or behind him, helpful when needed, but Sandburg wasn't talking and that just wasn't normal. Whenever Jim looked at him, Blair's expression was closed, giving no clue to his thoughts.

And that wasn't normal either.

"You okay with all this, Chief?" Ellison asked when they finally got to their room. "You're not usually so quiet."

"Aren't I?" Blair replied a little stiffly. "Well, I guess not, from what I read in the journals. Seemed that I was always bugging you or Simon or whoever with my evidently constant chatter. Sorry, I thought you'd find the relative peace and quiet an improvement."

Jim frowned at that as he eased himself into one of the chairs beside a round table next to the window. "I'm not sure I'm understanding you here, Junior. You mean you're deliberately not talking to keep from annoying me?"

Sandburg wandered to the balcony door and looked down at the palm-encircled pool below. Shrugging, he replied neutrally, "I'm just trying to find my way, Jim. Watching, listening, observing - it's what I do when I'm in a strange situation with people I don't know."

Wincing, Ellison turned his face away; chagrined to realize that he kept forgetting that Sandburg didn't 'know' him now, and obviously didn't feel comfortable with him. "Yeah, well, just be yourself, okay? You don't have to be someone you're not to please me or anyone else."

"On the contrary," Blair sighed. "It seems my whole life is something I wasn't." Turning to look at Ellison, his hands thrust into his jean pockets, Sandburg continued, "Jim, when I woke up a few days ago, I thought I was a twenty-five-year-old grad student, with no more responsibilities than teaching a few classes, counseling some students and getting my diss researched and written. I was 'free', in every sense of that word. Free to explore whatever interested me; free to spend my time however I wanted; and free to choose my own life's path. Instead, I discovered that I'm almost thirty and have a whole life and set of responsibilities that I don't really know anything about. I mean, except for what I've read in the notebooks, I haven't a clue about police work - I don't even know where the office is. I've got a whole set of good friends, even a best friend, I don't remember anything about. And I don't have a right to my own life anymore, not from what you're telling me, and the temple writings and carvings told me. I don't even know if I should be happy about that or appalled, because I don't know who I am anymore, who I became in those years I can't remember. Maybe I should be jumping for joy to discover that we're bound for a lifetime! I just don't know. I just…"

But his voice broke and he lifted his hands in a helpless gesture before turning away to stare outside again. "I just don't know much of anything anymore," he murmured despondently, struggling to get himself back under control. "It's a…a little disconcerting. Actually, it's worse than that. It's…" he paused and then admitted in a low whisper, "it's terrifying."

Jim gaped at Blair, shocked, and realizing he shouldn't have been. But he'd been so caught up in his own concerns about whether Sandburg was even going to live, so overjoyed that he had and then so stunned by his friend's memory loss - so afraid Sandburg would still decide to leave - that he hadn't really thought about what the whole experience must be like for the younger man. His heart twisted in sorrow to see Sandburg look and sound so lost.

"But you weren't this quiet when we first met, and you didn't know me or anything about police work then," Jim protested, remembering how practically hyper Sandburg had been four years ago, full of energy and enthusiasm, not wan and quiet, like he was now.

"Yeah, well, four years ago I had something to offer," Blair grated. "I knew stuff about sentinels that you didn't. Now? Well, now you know a whole lot more than I do. I'm going to screw up, Jim. It's just a matter of time. You'll expect me to do something because I've done it before, but I won't remember and I'll fumble the ball."

With a low grunt, Ellison pushed himself back up onto his aching leg and limped over to grip Blair's shoulder. "I'm sorry, kid. I hadn't really thought about it from your perspective. First, you're not going to screw up. You've always had to pretty much fly by the seat of your pants, and you've done just fine going on your natural instincts and basic brilliance. And second, if there's anything I can do to make any of this easier, you know you just have to tell me."

"Thanks, Jim," Blair replied as he bowed his head. Then, looking up at Ellison, he suggested, "Maybe you could tell me something about the people we work with, so I won't feel like such an idiot the first time I walk into the office. Maybe even where things are, so I don't have to stumble around and get lost."

"Yeah, sure," Ellison agreed, waving to the chairs. "Let's get started."

For the next hour, Jim talked about their coworkers, pleased when he got Sandburg smiling from time to time, even chuckling once or twice, about the antics and foibles of their colleagues. He used the hotel's stationary to draw pictures of the office and the downtown building in general, giving Blair a sense of some basic things, like where the coffee room and men's room were, or where to find Forensics, Records, Administration and the Evidence Lock-Up. Blair listened intently, and studied the diagrams, finally folding them away in his backpack.

"You hungry, Junior?" Jim asked.

"I could eat," Blair replied with a shrug.

Jim's leg had stiffened up again, so they only went as far as the hotel's café, choosing a table under the outside awning. After they'd ordered and had a couple of cold beers in front of them, Sandburg asked, "What's it like being a sentinel, Jim? You said that it's not easy to live with."

"Well, when they're working, the senses are great," Ellison replied, and then he remembered that Blair didn't really remember what he could do. "Let me give you a few demonstrations," he offered. Looking around, he reported what was written on a small poster stuck inside a store window more than half a block away. And then he listened, finally hooking onto a conversation in English that he could easily report, and told Sandburg what a couple of tourists across the street were talking about. He was quite proud of himself, as he'd had to filter out a lot of extraneous noise from traffic, the sounds of dishes clattering and a variety of other closer conversations in Spanish, to do it.

Blair watched and listened, observing the Sentinel in action vastly different from reading objective reports and analysis of Jim's abilities in his papers, his eyes growing wider. "Wow," he murmured. "You're really good."

Ellison shrugged. "I can identify things at a crime scene by smell, sometimes taste. Even feel for clues on blank pages by picking up the tracings of what was written on the page that was torn away. You taught me all this stuff, Chief. How to focus and not be distracted by other stimulus, how to differentiate substances by feel alone."

Sandburg just cocked a brow and took a sip of his beer. "You'd have figured it all out on your own," he muttered as he set the glass down.

"No, on my own, I would've ended up in a straightjacket," Ellison replied dryly. "You've helped me in more ways than I could even begin to describe. It would take a year to recall each and every single example, and only then if we didn't stop to eat or sleep. And it's not just in terms of using my abilities. I zone sometimes. Not as much as I used to, but I can still get lost in one sense and lose track of everything else. You bring me back. And when I get overwhelmed by some light or noise, some smell that's too strong, or…or pain when I've gotten hurt, you help me cope."

"And that's why you still need me?" Sandburg observed. "For those times when your senses are out of control?"

"Yeah," Jim agreed, his jaw tightening. He still found it hard to be so dependent upon someone else. But it was more than just when his senses went wild. Clearing his throat, he added diffidently, "I need you as my Guide, Chief. But…well, I want you around 'cause you're my friend and my partner. I trust you and rely on you. I, uh, like having you around."

Blair's gaze dropped away as he nodded slowly. The journals had told him enough to know that Jim didn't say things like this lightly - usually didn't say such things at all. "Thanks, man," he murmured. "I appreciate that." But it was still strange, very strange, to be thought of so highly by a man he didn't know at all well.

Frowning a little, Blair recalled that the man who wrote the journal had been utterly convinced that, in fact, Ellison didn't trust him. Yet Jim certainly seemed completely sincere. How could he have missed that at the time, if it was true? More, Sandburg wondered what he'd done over the years to gain such a wary man's trust, and, apparently, unhesitating friendship, and if he'd 'instinctively' do the right things to sustain it all. He swallowed, his mouth dry, as he struggled with having to come to know the other stranger in his life - the man he, himself, had been, until the amnesia stole that man away.

Jim watched him and heard the slight increase in heart rate and respiration that typically signaled anxiety. "What's wrong, Chief?" he asked quietly. "What's worrying you right now?"

Blair's gaze flew up, surprise in the blue depths, and then he looked away, uncomfortable. "I forgot," he admitted with chagrined awareness. "You read my body's signals, don't you?" Sighing, the question rhetorical, he answered, "It's just the overall 'not knowing', Jim. I'll get used to it, I guess."

Their food arrived and they began eating in silence. Thinking about what Sandburg had said up in their room, Jim ventured uncertainly, "You said you were appalled by finding out that we're pretty much bound together. Is that why you hope that you're not my Guide, that maybe I should be working with someone else? Because you feel trapped and you resent that?"

Pausing in the act of lifting of his fork, Blair blinked at the older man, and then set the food back down. Ellison seemed barely able to meet his eyes, and his posture was tense. Ellison was afraid, Blair realized, and also understood that Jim felt badly for him. "If I remembered being your Guide, I'd probably be really happy to know that you want me around, and to know that what we have is assured for life," he replied quietly. "I'm not unhappy about it now, not exactly. It was just completely unexpected and I need to wrap my head around it. Once I get my balance back and get used to this life, I'm sure I'll be fine with it. It's just, in the meantime, pretty unsettling. Don't worry about it - it's my problem, not yours."

"See, that's where you're wrong, Chief," Jim replied with candid and touching sincerity. "The whole point of this, though I admit it took me 'way too long to figure it out, is that neither of us is 'alone' anymore in having to work out 'problems'. We help each other out. Support one another. So, don't feel you have to handle all this on your own, okay?"

Sandburg's gaze flicked around as he took a long breath, letting the reassurance and concern wash over and through him, deeply moved. He'd been on his own for pretty much his whole life, so far as he could remember, and it meant more to feel such an active and staunch commitment to his well-being from Ellison than Jim could perhaps realize. Some of the icy fear and dislocation that he'd been living with since he'd awakened were melted away by the sharp emotions that sparked deep inside like a sudden flashing heat, a rejoicing in his soul. But he was afraid to trust any of it - afraid to trust himself as much as Jim. If he came to count on the support and then it was withdrawn, Blair was afraid he'd be utterly lost. But, finally, he decided he had to try; living on the edge of uncertainty about everything was so damned exhausting. He had to start somewhere; if he couldn't depend on himself, maybe he could at least trust Jim. "Okay," he murmured, looking back at the stranger who was his best friend, the man who'd gone into the wilderness, despite his wounded leg, to search for him when he'd been lost, and to bring him home. "Thanks."

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

When they got back to the loft the next day, Sandburg called Naomi to tell her that he'd decided to take the job as Jim's partner. She wanted to be happy for him, for both of them, as she firmly believed it was the right decision, and said so, but her enthusiasm was muted. Working with Ellison put her son in danger and that scared her; but it was his life to lead, and she'd had to learn to let him live it a long time before. Indeed, given that whenever she tried her best to help Blair, it only invariably made matters more complicated or disastrous, she was guiltily reluctant to impose herself or her views on him. Naomi offered, tentatively, to return to the loft, to be close if Blair needed her, but he figured it was time that he started standing on his own two feet again. He had to get used to the empty place where his memories had been, and no amount of coddling or sidelong mournful looks was going to help him come to grips with his own anxiety. So he told her he was fine and encouraged her not to worry about him. It was an old game, one they both played knowingly, but she knew how important his independence was to him, so she agreed and said she thought she'd head back to Katmandu. He wished her a good trip, and that was that.

Blair then called Simon, to advise Banks that he would accept the position of a civilian consultant. The older man was delighted by the news, and arrangements were made for the partners to meet with him and the head of Public Affairs, Leslie Thomas, when they returned to work the next week. They needed to sort out the storyline for how and how much they'd reveal about Jim's special talents. When Sandburg hung up the phone, he stared at it for a moment, wondering at how glad Simon had been about his decision, and worrying about the confidence his new boss put in him when it came to the decisions about Jim's situation. Maybe the old Blair would know exactly what to do and say, but the current Blair found it all intimidating. God, how the hell was he supposed to come up with answers, take his place on the MCU team and just carry on as if he knew what he was doing, when he didn't have a clue?

"Relax, Chief," Jim said firmly as he came back downstairs, after having unpacked. "You're going to do just fine."

Startled, Sandburg looked up at his roommate. "What? You read minds now? I didn't see anything about that in the notes."

"No, but I read you pretty good, when I pay attention," Ellison replied as he limped to the fridge and pulled out two beers. Uncapping them, he handed one to Blair. "Just take it a day at a time. Your instincts are great; your mind is…well, is scary brilliant. Your judgment, based on what you've read and what you already know about sentinels, will get us through the script we have to come up with. Anything else is one step after the other. Just ask if it stuff isn't clear or doesn't make sense. Your memory will probably come back. And if doesn't, it doesn't. We'll make new memories."

Sandburg gave him a quizzical look, half bemusement, half resignation, and nodded. It wasn't like there were a lot of other options.

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

The next day, they paid a visit to Blair's lawyer, and he got reacquainted with the brisk and efficient Shannon McCafferty. She'd made considerable progress with Berkshire Publishing, as they didn't have a leg to stand on. Sid Graham had been entirely inappropriate in his release of unauthorized material to the press, and the publisher's representative simply wanted to settle as painlessly as possible. Sandburg's eyes widened at the amount mentioned and he gulped. And then he authorized her to have the settlement drawn up. It would be nice to be out of debt…and have a sizable nest egg to spare.

However, Rainier was being more difficult. Their stance was, as inappropriate as perhaps their dismissal of Sandburg had been, the fact was he'd admitted publicly to producing a fraudulent paper. Accordingly, he wasn't someone they would trust to teach or counsel students, and any continuing association with him as a student was equally unacceptable. She sniffed disparagingly, and assured her client that the University legal reps were just posturing. The facts, plural, were that he'd never submitted the paper, had not authorized its release, and they had terminated his employment and expelled him without grounds. But she was confident it would just take a little longer for them to see the light.

"The more aggressive stance you authorized on Blair's behalf last week is making the difference," she observed. Blair blinked in surprise and looked from her to Jim.

"That's not good enough," Ellison snapped, leaning forward. "Next week, the Chief of Police will be issuing a statement that Blair is being employed as a civilian consultant with the department."

"Jim," Sandburg said with quiet warning. They hadn't decided on the storyline yet, and it was 'way too soon to be giving out specifics to anyone.

But Ellison just waved off his concern. He wasn't going to sit still and listen to one more person refer to Sandburg's work as fraudulent. Period. "During the announcement, the Chief will reveal that Blair only denied his paper as a ploy to get the media off my back, so I could go after a dangerous assassin unencumbered by cameras and microphones being shoved into my face every time I turned around. Everything in that paper was the simple truth. When you're dealing with Rainier, you'll insist that not only does Sandburg here get a full and formal apology, the more public the better, but he gets reinstated as a Teaching Fellow, gets his student credentials reaffirmed with no question about his status, and is provided with a fair opportunity to defend his dissertation. That's basic. But in return for the humiliation and embarrassment he was required to endure, in large measure because of the University's own unauthorized dealings with the press on a paper he had not released, they will also confirm an offer for employment as a professor in the Anthropology Department after he receives his PhD."

McCafferty blinked as she tried to assimilate the astonishing information that the much-publicized, and now infamous 'sentinel extracts' of Sandburg's paper were, in fact, true after all.

Blair rounded on his companion, flushed with anger. "Do you mind? I'm capable of speaking for myself now and defining my own settlement requirements."

Jim flinched, but his expression tightened. "I know that. But I also know that you wouldn't push for what you deserve to get from those jerks. You don't have to work there, if you don't want to. I'd rather you just be fulltime with the PD; but you love to teach, Chief, and I'll be damned if they take that away from you through no fault of your own. The secrets and lies are done here. I'm not going to have you suffer on my account. Period."

Sandburg rolled his eyes and shook his head. Turning to Shannon, he said with clear but quiet intensity, "You will not reveal anything you've heard today about that paper or Jim's senses. You may indicate to the University's lawyers, as crisply as you like, that they haven't got a case, and what they think they have is going to crumble beneath them like sand. Tell them that we all want to end up friends, or they'll pay plenty for wanting to ensure my relationship with Rainier is severed for all time. Jim's right. I do like to teach, and I'd like to have that option, at least on a part-time basis. I'd also like to get my PhD. They need to commit that they will give me fair consideration for all of that. Tell them it will go easier for them if they agree to admit their culpability and quietly reinstate me now, than it will go next week when all the cards are on the table."

She leaned back in her chair; her sharp gaze moving from Sandburg to Ellison and back again, as she absently tapped her pen on the edge of her desk. Then she smiled, the light of the hunter back in her eyes, and leaned forward. "I think I understand your wishes exactly, Blair." Flicking a look at Jim, she added, "You can both be assured that you will be rendered blameless, and I'll get you what you want without tipping your hand - or they will pay dearly." Then she grinned like an imp. "It's really nice to work with clients who know what they want, and who have the cards to win the pot."

When they left shortly after, Blair was still simmering. "Don't ever do that again," he grated. "Don't start talking for me like I'm some kind of imbecile or incompetent. I don't need that kind of help."

"Okay, okay," Ellison sighed, shaking his head. "Maybe I was out of line. But tell me this, Chief. Would you have pushed so hard if I hadn't jumped in first?"

Sandburg walked a few more steps in silence and then shook his head, the tension in his shoulders easing. "No," he admitted. "I wouldn't have."

Nodding as if vindicated, Jim unlocked the truck for Blair and then walked around to the other side.

"What was that 'more aggressive stance' bit? What was she talking about?" Sandburg called after him.

Pausing, Ellison looked over the truck bed and explained flatly, "While you were in the hospital, before you, uh, woke up, I checked on the status of your lawsuits. You'd authorized a low-key, no publicity approach and I told her to do whatever she had to do to get results."

"Damn it, Jim," Blair exclaimed. "He was, uh, I mean, I was trying to protect you!" But he looked away and hastily got into the truck, unhappy about slipping and referring to the 'other Blair' as a completely different person.

Jim caught the slip and closed his eyes, feeling an ache inside, before sighing and climbing inside. He missed his best friend, missed him badly, but he gave himself a shake. This was the same man, the same essential person. They just needed time to put the broken pieces back together again.

Before turning on the ignition, however, he stared out the windshield and said quietly, "I know you don't remember doing what you did for me over the dissertation. But I'll never forget it; never forget the look on your face or the sound of your voice during that press conference, as you lied about your own integrity and the value of your work. You tossed away everything for me, Chief - it was probably the most gallant, courageous and principled act I've ever witnessed in my life. Nobody has ever done anything remotely like that for me; nobody has cared about me that much before. I promised you in the hospital, when I didn't even know if you were going to live or die, that I was going to make it right. And I fully intend to do just that."

Blair bowed his head, his lips thinning against the emotion that threatened at Jim's intensity and his manifest caring. Swallowing, he blinked and then looked up to gaze at the stern profile. "Jim," he said softly, "you aren't responsible for making things 'right'. What happened wasn't your fault. You were a hapless victim; your most basic and fundamental trust that I would protect your identity and secret, had been crushed. I know, from the journal notes, that I didn't blame you for anything, except, well, I felt badly at the time that you didn't trust me not to have been the one who did that to you willfully. But reading it objectively, I'm surprised you were speaking to me at all. I also know my decision to hold that press conference was entirely my own idea, for all sorts of reasons including my professional and ethical responsibility to protect my source. Stop feeling guilt for something that wasn't, in any way, your fault."

Ellison sat wordlessly for a moment, and then switched on the ignition. "Feel like going shopping for a new set of wheels?" he asked, effectively changing the subject.

Resigned that he wasn't going to get Jim to ease up on his guilt trip anytime soon, Blair sat back against the seat and nodded. "Sure, why not."

They spent the rest of the day checking out various car lots, and pleasantly bickering about what Sandburg should buy. Given the settlement coming from Berkshire Publishing, cost was not an issue. Jim wanted him to buy something as heavily armored as a tank, with all the latest safety options - he innocently suggested a Hummer could be quite a good investment.

Sandburg snickered helplessly at the idea of driving around in an assault vehicle, and insisted they stop at a lot that specialized in used classic cars. When they strolled through that lot, and Blair gazed fondly at a '68 corvette convertible, Jim dragged him physically away, muttering, "No. NO! You're going to buy something that's reliable, durable and safe." Briefly, Blair considered being stubborn, until he recalled the number of times he'd read about breakdowns, being late, being chased by car hijackers, and he let the bigger man haul him away. But he looked back over his shoulder, wistfully, at the pretty little classic.

But Jim didn't know what to say when Sandburg walked right past a sturdy, used Volvo that was very similar to the one that had been destroyed when the bridge in the mountains collapsed, and homed in on a Corvair convertible that still showed some vestige of blue paint under all the rust. He looked at the car, the identical make and model as the one Sandburg had owned before they met, but that had been wrecked two years before by that kid, Alec, at the University. Then he looked at the Volvo that hadn't warranted a second look, and his heart sank. Blair was happily oblivious to his shock - and his despair that this meant Sandburg's memories were buried so deep, if they still existed at all, that his partner might never reclaim them. Swallowing hard, not having the heart to deny the kid a vehicle similar to one he obviously remembered very fondly, he shook his head and waded in, insisting on the kinds of repair, restoration and modifications that would render the old heap not only road-worthy, but also entirely reliable and absolutely safe.

Blair shrugged, still thinking that Jim was a little over the top with his continual harping on safety, but he went along with it all, partly for the sake of peace, and partly because what he'd learned from his notes suggested that it wouldn't hurt to have a car that could withstand a fair amount of wear and tear.

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

On Monday morning, Sandburg followed Ellison out of the underground parking garage, along the corridor and up the elevator. He found it disconcerting to be greeted with warmth all along the route by people he didn't recognize, but who obviously knew him. Blair pasted a pleasant smile on his face, nodded and tried to catch all the names, but it was a physical relief to walk into the MCU bullpen and actually recognize people. At least he'd met most of their immediate team at the hospital. Simon called them directly into his office and poured them each a mug of a specially blended coffee he didn't bother to identify.

"I called Leslie when I saw you come off the elevator," he told them. "She'll be right up. So, are both of you feeling all right? Ready to get back into action?"

Blair nodded doubtfully as Jim briskly affirmed, "Yes sir."

Banks just lifted a brow and smiled sardonically. Choosing to ignore Sandburg's clear ambivalence, he focused instead on his best detective, but his decision would give them both the time they needed to settle in. "I see you're still limping a bit, Jim. Desk duty for the next couple of days."

"Simon, I'm - "

But Banks just leveled a hard stare and Ellison relented. Blair watched the byplay, amused and relieved. Whenever he thought about going out to a crime scene, and seeing a body, his palms got damp. Intellectually, he knew it was stupid. He'd obviously seen any number, too many, bodies in the past several years - he just couldn't remember what it felt like or how he'd dealt with it. Blowing out a silent breath to calm himself, he focused on what Simon was asking.

"I'm assuming you've got a good handle on the general scenario, Sandburg. But have you decided just how much we should reveal about Jim's senses?"

"Uh, yeah, I've been thinking about that," Blair replied, sitting up a little straighter. "First, in terms of context, we don't need to worry about anything the paper said. It was a draft, incomplete, speculative at best, pending more definitive research within the PD," he listed succinctly, and then added, "Besides, it's never going to see the light of day again anyway."

Banks and Ellison both frowned. "But, isn't that paper critical to getting your PhD?" Simon demanded.

"No, it isn't," Sandburg replied, looking from one to the other, knowing he was about to drop a bit of a bombshell. "I never said anything before because, well, I wanted it to be a surprise, apparently." Sighing, shrugging, he went on, "I'd been working on another dissertation for some months before the mess blew up - on the law enforcement subculture, actually."

Jim and Simon both exhibited considerable surprise and then amusement. "You're kidding, right?" Banks snickered.

"No. I need to go through whatever was salvaged from the wreck, but the CD should have survived," Sandburg replied, relaxing a little. "Evidently, when the shit hit the fan, I figured there wasn't much point in telling you guys." He shrugged again. "Sorry. I don't really know what I was thinking at the time. But the point is, damage control on that end is minimal. So, I think we just give up that Jim has enhanced smell, taste and sense of touch without giving away a lot of details. Personally, I'd hold back on the vision and hearing unless you really want to document them and validate them, so they can be used in court. From what I've gathered, there's never been much trouble in getting solid evidence that is admissible without that."

"Why withhold my sight and hearing?" Ellison asked. "They're the two I use the most."

"Exactly, and we don't want the bad guys to know that, do we?" Blair replied with a slow drawl.

"He makes a good point," Simon allowed as he nodded. "I'm okay with all that. Jim?"

"Do you really want everyone in the building knowing you can hear everything they say or do?" Sandburg asked quietly when he could see Jim hesitating, no doubt still stuck on his determination to reveal everything and consequences be damned. "Or possible felons knowing what you can see and hear during a stakeout?"

Jim looked away and thought about that, about how people would react around him, and the edge he could lose in doing his job. And he shook his head. "No, I don't."

"Right, well, I think we've got the basics of our storyline," Sandburg said, sounding more confident than he felt. They were Jim's senses, after all, and he wasn't comfortable with the power the others had given him to essentially make these decisions unilaterally.

"But I do want the DA and my colleagues here in the department to know what I can do," Ellison cut in. "That means Forensics, Vice, Homicide, Patrol…"

"Why not take out a full page ad while you're at it?" Blair snapped back. "Jim, we've had this conversation; the more people who know, the higher the risks to you. It hasn't been necessary up until now, and it's not necessary now, to let out more than I'm suggesting."

Banks stiffened at that. "You saying you don't trust the people who work here?"

"Not exactly," Sandburg sighed. "But it would be natural for people to talk - I mean, it's all pretty amazing. So, over drinks in the local tavern, at home with the spouse…it wouldn't be long before someone outside the PD picked up more than we want them to know and passed it along to the wrong people."

Grudgingly, Simon nodded and sat back, leaving the final decision to Ellison.

Jim scratched his neck as he thought about it. "Okay," he finally agreed. "If I need to give up more, like to the authorities at Rainier to clear things up there, we can do it one on one in with the assurance of confidentiality."

"Jim - "

But Ellison lifted a hand, palm out, toward Sandburg. "I meant what I said the other day, Chief. I won't back down from that position."

Leslie Thomas rapped on Simon's door and he waved her in, introducing her to Sandburg who wouldn't remember her.

Within twenty minutes, they had the details worked out.

Two days later, the Chief announced the newest member of the Cascade Police Department, and thoroughly cleared Sandburg's name, holding the young man up as a veritable wellspring of essential, if unusual, information, outstanding contribution and uncommon dedication. In passing, the senior cop mentioned the pending dissertation on the law enforcement community, and expressed his certainty that Rainier University would no doubt rectify their precipitate and unfortunate past decisions, to allow Sandburg to complete his well-deserved doctorate. Certainly, the Chief laughed confidently, he looked forward to reading the dissertation when it was published.

Sandburg bowed his head and tried very hard not to blush. The truth was, though, he'd never felt more like a fraud in all his life; the Chief was giving him credit for all kinds of things he didn't remember, talking about a man Blair simply did not know.

The senior official then called on Detective Ellison to perform a modest 'show and tell', to give credence to Blair's speculative 'draft' article on the sometimes better than average sensory abilities of police officers. Jim ostentatiously sniffed the air and told the women in the far back of the room what scent they were wearing and then, with his eyes blindfolded, identified various substances and obscure items by touch. Leslie had found two other officers, a patrolman who could see like a hawk, and a forensics sound expert who had unusually precise hearing, who also put on short demonstrations to add to the credibility of their storyline. Blair followed up with a brief summary of the findings of his Masters' thesis, on the incidence of exceptional sensory perception in society at large. It was all moderately interesting but not 'front page, exclusive' kind of stuff, so the reporters nodded, made their notes, took a few pictures and some modest camera footage, and went on their way.

Rainier folded before their shift ended, and Shannon called Blair to tell him he'd won all his demands, plus a reasonable settlement for their delay in settling sooner. Jim and everyone else in MCU cheered when Blair told them, and then they all trooped him out to their favourite local bar and grill to celebrate.

The next day, Sandburg's personal effects finally arrived from the Highway Patrol. Jim wrinkled his nose at the powerful scent of mildew when Blair opened the crate and began to sort through his stuff. Grimacing, he set his duffle bag of clothing aside, hoping a turn or two through the washer would render them usable again. Hauling out his backpack, he rummaged until he found his folders of CD-ROMs. Pulling one out, he slipped it into Jim's computer and called it up - and sighed with relief to see that his new and almost completed second dissertation was accessible and intact. Meanwhile, Ellison had pulled out the laptop. Setting the battered machine on his desk, he plugged it in and tried to power it up. When it failed to operate, he shrugged and looked at Blair. "We'll go out tonight and get you a new one, Chief."

Blair nodded philosophically. The machine could be replaced but he really hadn't wanted to start the diss over from scratch. But then he experienced a sick, sinking feeling as he wondered how he could possibly defend a dissertation he couldn't remember researching and writing. Replacing the CD in its casing, he found the whole idea left him decidedly queasy - it felt too much like plagiarism. This work wasn't his; it belonged to the other Blair. Raking his fingers through his hair, he sorted through the rest of his stuff to see what was intact enough to be saved, tossed out what was destroyed and carried the rest down to the truck.

The day after that, they went out to a crime scene, and Blair had to relive the experience of seeing his first murdered and mutilated body. His palms wet, his breathing tight and shallow, he was hideously ashamed to know he must be turning green as he flinched away, gulping convulsively. He was barely able to stay by Jim's side, to coach him through the use of his vision and olfactory senses, and felt dizzy and weak by the time they were able to finally go outside and get some air.

"Oh, man," he ground out as he leaned against the truck. "I'm sorry. I just…just…"

"It's okay, Chief," Jim murmured as he rubbed the younger man's back. "That was a bad one to begin with, and you never did like seeing dead bodies. Don't worry about it. You did great in there."

Blair nodded, grateful for the lack of criticism, but he seriously wondered how he could spend a lifetime dealing with such horrors.

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

"Shit, no," Blair mumbled and then cried out, "NO!" He writhed in the bed, caught in the blankets as he struggled against some unseen threat in his nightmare.

Jim padded hurriedly down the stairs and into Sandburg's room, flicking on the bedside lamp as he leaned over to firmly grip Sandburg's shoulder. "Easy, Chief," he called reassuringly. "It's just a bad dream. Easy!"

Blair started and jerked away, blinking against the light as he panted for breath. It took a moment before he raked his fingers through his disheveled mane, pushing it back off his face. "Oh, man, I'm sorry," he apologized; humiliated at having awakened Ellison for the third time in the past week.

"You want to talk about it?" Jim offered with a concerned frown.

"Uh, no, that's okay," Sandburg replied, waving off the suggestion. "Thanks, but I don't really remember this one any more than I remembered the last two. Just something…scary and…upsetting."

"You want a cup of tea or anything?" Ellison asked then, worried about his friend. Blair hadn't been sleeping well since…well, since he'd come home from the hospital, and it was starting to tell. The kid had dark circles under his eyes and was too pale. Jim was also afraid that Sandburg was losing weight.

Blair smiled wryly as he again shook his head. "No, thanks. I'm all right, Jim, really. You don't need to play nursemaid. It was just a bad dream. But, well, I appreciate the offer." Yawning, he waved toward the door. "Go on, you need your sleep, too. I'll try to let you get some."

Jim nodded reluctantly, but turned to head back up to bed. He didn't know what to do to help Blair deal with whatever demons were haunting his friend's dreams and that bugged him. God, it could be so very many things; everything from the crime scene a few days before to snatches of fragmented, returning memories, or even the kid's mind enacting the imagery from his journals.

Sandburg turned out the light and stared dismally at the ceiling. The nightmares were beyond annoying, especially since he couldn't remember coherent or specific details. When he woke, all he had were vague feelings of being trapped or hunted - and of Jim turning away in hurt and disgust at being betrayed. All he really knew was that somehow, in his dreams, he was screwing up badly. But he didn't know if they were old memories resurfacing - or new fears of mistakes he'd yet to make.

He rolled over and punched his pillow in frustration. All he really knew for sure was that the continued black hole of his memory loss wasn't subsiding. If anything, he felt more uncertain each day rather than more comfortable in his life. It was like walking over very thin ice and hearing little cracks, knowing it was all going to shatter and leave him falling helplessly into a dark, cold void from which there was no escape.

His chest tightened as he thought about how everyone went out of their way to treat him just like they always had, or he guessed that's what they were doing with their perpetual cheerfulness. It was driving him crazy, though. He wasn't who they thought he was. He didn't remember the guy they thought they knew. Didn't know what he'd done to win their friendship and was constantly afraid of putting a foot wrong, lest he mess up and create some kind of discontinuity in their perceptions of him. They'd had four years to get to know him, and he'd been trying to telescope the process of reconstituting his own sense of who they were in a matter of days. It wasn't working. More and more, he felt like an imposter, living another man's life, a life he'd neither earned nor deserved.

And he was tired of the way Ellison could read him like some kind of way too open book. The least little feeling of uncertainty and anxiety and Jim was all over him, telling him to take it easy, to not push so hard, that it would take time, that he shouldn't be so hard on himself. Shit. Blair knew from the journals that Ellison was NOT endlessly patient. Jim had to be getting sick of eternally trying to reassure him. He tightened his jaw and tried to force back the ever-present frustration and sick emptiness of being so completely unable to access his memories. It was a perpetual feeling of being lost somehow, of missing such a vital part of himself - hell, those memories held all the keys to who he was! Without them, he felt like a shadow or a ghost of himself; insubstantial and very incomplete. His gut roiled and he pressed his eyes closed against bitter, angry tears. Desperate to calm down, to not disturb Jim anymore that night, he forced himself to take deep, slow breaths and his breathing settled…

…but the emptiness was still there, a greater darkness looming over him, deepening the shadows, suffocating and crushing him…

Upstairs, Ellison lay staring sightlessly at the skylight. He could hear Blair's struggles to bring himself under physical control, to calm his shallow, rough, too fast breaths as he fought what seemed an almost perpetual anxiety. The kid resisted being comforted, seemed downright uncomfortable and embarrassed, impatient with himself for his very natural sense of dislocation. God, if anyone knew what it was like to have blank spots, huge ones, it was him. For years, he'd repressed his memories of Peru. But, maybe it was different when you didn't want to remember. Must be different. Must be a kind of hell to want so desperately to remember and not be able to get through the barrier in your mind. He swallowed a pity that would do Sandburg no good, and would only make his partner feel even more inadequate and unsettled, and blew a long breath, calming as Sandburg's breathing eased downstairs.

Jim shook his head dejectedly and pinched the bridge of his nose, struggling to come up with something, anything, that would make the kid feel better…help him somehow. Grimacing, he squinted into the darkness. All he could come up with was to keep trying to reassure Sandburg, and to just be there for him.

But his chest tightened with his own worry that Blair might yet decide it was too hard to recapture his old life. Jim had talked with the shrink down at the PD and had learned, to his dismay, that many people who lost some key part of who they'd been, gave up and took off to try to build a new life for themselves. Sandburg had said he wouldn't do that, and Ellison knew his partner's word was good; knew that all too well as a result of the press conference and Blair's original departure to protect him. But he wondered, with painful self-recrimination, how much it was costing Blair to hang in and hang on for his sake. His friend had sacrificed so much for him already, had lost so much - had been hurt so badly in so many fundamental ways - that Jim wasn't sure how much he could keep asking, before it all got to be too much. Was his need for Sandburg's support worth the kind of anguish the kid suffered every damned day?

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

They solved the case of the mutilated corpse; one more victim of a seriously disturbed guy who thought he was killing his abusive father over and over again.

And life went on.

Vice consulted Sandburg on a case that involved new immigrants. Patrol called him in to give short seminars to the beat cops on understanding how different cultures dealt with conflict and authority figures. On those days, Blair felt more confident, more himself.

But on most days, Sandburg just did his bet to hide his growing sense of incapacity and frustration…and fear. He felt like a coil was tightening and tightening inside, leaving him nauseous and giving him a raging headache. He could feel the ice under his feet getting thinner; could hear the cracking as his foundation crumbled away. But he owed Jim; owed him everything. He couldn't give up; couldn't walk away, not unless Ellison had better backup than he could give, however inadequate he felt.

Jim tried to reassure him and get him to trust himself. In Ellison's view, he didn't need to remember who he was - he just had to be who he was. With or without the memories, he was still the same brilliant, inventive, curious, capable, brave and compassionate human being. Blair would blink and nod, tighten his shoulders a little more, lift his chin a little higher and carry on. But he still wasn't sleeping any better.

And, much to Ellison's alarm, Sandburg was trying to get the others in MCU to learn more about what he did to support Jim and how. The Sentinel's fear grew that his Guide was slipping further and further away.

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

"Jim!" Simon called out as Ellison cut through the bullpen toward his desk, waving the detective to his office. "Where's Sandburg?" Banks asked as he closed the door and moved to lean against his desk, his arms crossed as he studied his best detective. He didn't like how weary and discouraged Jim was looking; almost as bad as Sandburg looked these days, and that was saying something.

"His new clunker is ready, so he went down to the dealership to pick it up," Jim replied, trying to sound nonchalant as he avoided his boss's concerned gaze.

But Simon was too worried to beat around any more bushes. "The two of you look like shit, you know that?" he grated. "Dammit, Jim. I'm concerned about both of you - and I'm not sure how much longer this can go on."

"He just needs time, Simon," Ellison sighed, leaning back in his chair, discouraged, feeling useless, and unable to help Blair adjust to a life he couldn't remember choosing and felt continually unequal to.

"Sandburg didn't have this much trouble the first time around," Banks observed with a frown. "What's the big problem now?"

Swallowing, Jim shook his head. "When we first started working together, he knew I was desperate for help and that he was the only one who could give me the support I needed. But now, he's not sure he has much to offer. I tell him I need him - the stuff in the temple in Mexico told him that sentinels always need their guides - but he can't see it. And, in some ways, he's right. I am more comfortable now, because of all he taught me."

"So…why do you need him?" Banks asked with no little frustration. "Because, I've got to say, I don't think this is working, for either of you."

Ellison sighed and sat forward, his elbows on his knees. "Sandburg had only been gone for a day before I started to lose it, Simon. Within two days, I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I can't explain it, but I need him close. He…grounds me. His touch, his voice - hell, the sound of his heartbeat - I need him nearby. Him. Nobody else can do it." Looking around the room, shaking his head, he said more tightly, "You think I can't see how much this is costing him? How hard it is on him? He feels like this huge chunk of him is missing. And he's right. It is. He's made an intellectual commitment; even one based on, I don't know, gratitude or some damned thing. He hangs in because he thinks he owes me something." Bowing his head, his shoulders slumped as he admitted, his voice raspy, "But his heart isn't in it. And I don't know how to convince him that…that he doesn't have to pull rabbits out of a hat. Or that he can do this, all of it. And even like it - have fun with it. He doesn't have fun anymore, Simon. He never…never laughs anymore."

"Maybe the two of you need to get away for a bit," Banks suggested. "Go fishing. Relax. Reconnect or something."

Jim leaned back in his chair and thought about that. "Maybe. Yeah, that might help. There's been nothing but pressure since Sandburg woke up in the hospital."

Simon bowed his head and nodded. Moving around his desk to sit down, he flipped through the calendar. "Okay, we've got the operation down at the docks tonight. Once we shut down that arms running deal, and get the paperwork nailed down, you could take a week. Good enough?"

"Yeah, thanks, Simon," Jim smiled wanly as he stood. "I really appreciate your support and patience on this."

"I don't want to give up on him, either, Jim," Banks replied sincerely. "The two of you used to be dynamite together and, though I don't begin to understand it, I do think you need him. I also think he needs you. The day he walked out of this office, believing he was never coming back…well, I never saw anybody look as sad or sick as he did then. I want to believe that, somehow, this will work out."

"So do I, Simon," Jim said hoarsely as he headed out of the office and back to his desk to finalize the arrangements for the takedown that night.

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

Blair pulled into the underground garage, glad to be out of the violent storm that had broken about a half hour before. Rain was coming down in sheets and thunder cracked and rumbled incessantly. As he locked up his car and loped into the building, he wondered if the weather could possibly be any worse for the action that was planned for that night. Punching the elevator button, he prayed to whatever gods might be listening that they'd get a break, and the storm would pass on before they moved in on the arms smugglers.

When he got to the sixth floor, he walked briskly to Jim's desk, pulling off his jacket and hanging it up as he said, "Man, it's bad out there. You gonna be okay with the thunder if it doesn't blow over?"

Jim looked around from the computer screen. "Shouldn't be a problem, Chief. The storm might actually help. I'll be able to see them but they won't be able to see us."

Blair thought about that. "Yeah, maybe," he allowed with a reflective nod. "You'll have to be careful not to open up your vision too wide, though. A burst of lightning at the wrong time…"

Jim shrugged. It rained or it didn't. The operation would go ahead regardless. "You get your car alright?"

"Yeah, and she's a real beauty, man," Sandburg replied with a trace of his old animation. "Handles like silk."

"Uh huh," Ellison grunted. "Just so she keeps working," he added skeptically. He rummaged through the stack of folders on his desk and handed Blair a file. "Would you follow up with Patrol? Make sure backup is all teed up?

"Yeah, sure," Sandburg agreed, taking the folder that outlined the scenario and timing for the night's activities.

"Oh, by the way," Jim called after him as he headed back to the elevator. When Sandburg turned around with a questioning look on his face, Ellison told him, "Simon says we can have some time off after we get done tonight. Maybe do a little fishing."

"Yeah? That would be good," Blair replied with a brief smile, grateful to know they might get a break. "So long as it stops raining!" he added with a chagrined grin, and then headed off on his errand.

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

Eight hours later, Sandburg hunched under an awning in a vain attempt to keep from being thoroughly drenched by the hard, cold rain. Squinting into the darkness, he listened while Jim and Simon went over last minute details; but when he heard Ellison saying he'd move out on his own, to get around the large containers stacked on the dock to get in close, Blair stiffened. "Ah, Jim, I don't think you should go alone," he cut in, his voice low. "This storm could mess you up."

Banks and Ellison turned to look at him, and the Captain offered, with a grimace at the heavy clouds overhead, "He might have a point, Jim. Between the thunder and the lightning - "

"I'll be careful," Jim interrupted. Pointing at Sandburg, he ordered, "You'll stay back here, Chief. With luck, this'll go like clockwork, but if something fouls up, I don't want you in the line of fire. You got that?"

Tightening his lips, Sandburg looked far from happy. "I don't like it," he grated. When Jim cocked a brow, as much as to demand if he wanted to make a big production out of it, he huffed, "Fine. Do it your way. But keep your head down and don't turn up your dials too high, okay?"

"Okay," Ellison agreed. He checked the fasteners on his Kevlar vest and jerked the brim of the ball cap low over his eyes. Pulling out his weapon, he checked the clip and then slapped Sandburg on the shoulder. "See ya in a few, Chief," he called quietly as he loped off into the driving rain and darkness.

Simon and Blair moved forward in a crouching run, taking cover behind one of the stacks of the containers that cluttered the dock in front of the warehouse where a cache of illegal arms was stored. The plan was to conduct the raid at the moment the dealer met with the buyer and money was exchanged, nabbing both players, and their henchmen, in the transaction. The backup patrol officers were further away, poised to race in, sirens blaring and lights flashing, when Banks gave the signal. Brown and Rafe were covering the far end of the dock and had signaled moments before that the buyer's entourage had arrived and gone inside. As soon as Ellison radioed that he was in position, Simon would call in the rest of their forces to surround the warehouse.

Sandburg peered into the darkness, barely able to make Jim out, his black clothing blending with the shadows as he moved stealthily forward. Ellison had just called Simon on the small microphone attached to his vest, when the doors of the warehouse slid open with a screech.

"Shit," Simon cursed and then called sharply to his radio, "Move in! Move in! The birds are flying the nest."

"What's going on?" Blair demanded, stiffening in alarm.

"The meet ended too damned soon," Banks snarled, as he pulled his revolver from his shoulder holster and knelt in a position next to the crate that gave him a clear line of sight.

"CASCADE POLICE!" Jim called sharply from somewhere up ahead. "DROP YOUR WEAPONS!"

Immediately, there was shocked shouting, and then bullets strafed the dock as the felons sought to fight their way out. Jim, Brown, Rafe and Simon returned fire to keep them pinned in the warehouse until the uniforms could circle in. Sirens screamed in the distance, close and coming closer but still too far away to do any good.

Blair swallowed hard, and tried to pick out Jim's shadow from all the other shadows, wordlessly cursing the damned rain and the thunder that rumbled and cracked overhead. He felt anxiety building, absolutely certain that Jim had cranked up his sight so that he could aim and fire with the accuracy to wound and subdue but not kill unless there was no other choice. "Come on, come on," he urged the patrol cars with a frustrated whisper, wishing they'd sweep into position.

The blinding flash of lightning came a microsecond before headlights flared from the inside the warehouse and cars revved, preparing to burst into the night.

Horrified, Blair saw Jim starkly illuminated against the dark sea behind him, hunched over, one hand swiping helplessly at his momentarily blinded eyes.

He saw the first bullet hit - and Jim staggered backward.

And the second, immediately after - that drove his partner over the edge of the dock into the sea.

"JIM!" he screamed as terror washed through him, and he started to push forward. But Banks caught him.

"NO, dammit," Simon snarled, as he tried to hold the suddenly frenzied younger man. "You run out there and they'll cut you down."

"Lemme go!" Blair yelled furiously, shoving back hard and unbalancing Banks, suddenly breaking free of the older man's grip. Sandburg wasn't aware of anything but the burning, driving need that utterly consumed him. He had to get to Ellison, and nothing was going to stop him. Careless of the bullets streaming through the night, he pounded headlong past the containers to the edge of the dock where Jim had fallen and then, without pause, he dove over the side.

The arms runners broke from the warehouse, car engines roaring and wheels screaming on the slippery, wet pavement, but the patrol cars had swung into position, sliding sideways to block the narrow lane along the docks to the wider industrial access road. The front getaway car couldn't stop in time and rammed into and over a black and white, spinning sideways and rolling over the edge and into the harbour. The heavy black sedan behind it managed to brake and slide sideways, impacting hard with the stationary police car. Patrolmen scrambled to haul the suspects from the wrecked vehicle, while others, Simon included, ran to the side to peer into the water for survivors, but the car that had gone over had carried its passengers to the bottom.

Brown and Rafe raced over to join him, leaving their uniformed colleagues to cuff the crooks and read them their rights.

"We saw Jim take two hits," Brown gasped as they anxiously raked the dark, churning sea, cursing the storm and the rain that made it next to impossible to see anything, especially with the contrasting glare of headlights and strobing red and blue lights behind them. "An' Hairboy went in after him."

"Yeah, I know," Banks snapped grimly, his jaw tight. "Get some damned flashlights and call in the Harbour Patrol!" he ordered gruffly, and Rafe raced back to one of the patrol cars to load up with the battery-powered torches and to have someone call in the specialized search and rescue support.

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

Blair sliced into the water, holding his breath against the icy shock and kicked hard, back to the surface. Gulping in air, he frantically searched the rolling surface for any sign of Ellison, squinting angrily against the rain that compromised his vision and cursing the rough water that made it even harder to see. "JIM!" he yelled once and then again, sick when there was no immediate answer.

Treading water, he spun in a circle, checking under the dock - and spotted Ellison being flung limply by the hard swells, only the back of his head and one hand visible as he floundered weakly and then sank from view, not ten feet away. "Oh, God," Blair gasped as he immediately struck out in a strong breaststroke and then dove beneath the surface. He could see that the currents surging against and around the concrete pylons were keeping Jim from sinking completely and the force of the water was pushing his friend toward one of the concrete pilings. The last thing Jim needed was to be bashed up against it - as if being shot and then drowning wasn't bad enough.

It seemed to take forever to the distraught Guide, but he finally reached his Sentinel and hauled Ellison over onto his back. Linking an arm around and under Jim's chin, he kicked desperately for the surface to get Ellison's head free of the water. "Jim? Can you hear me? Jim!" he cried as soon as they broke into the clear.

Ellison coughed and spluttered, struggling in his grasp, only semiconscious, but Sandburg kept a tight grip on him while he kicked them both away from the pilings. "Easy, man," he called, his voice as reassuring and calm as he could make it. "I've got you, Jim! Just settle down, okay?"

The older man must have recognized his friend's voice through the haze of pain and atavistic panic after having nearly drowned, for he quieted immediately, allowing Sandburg to haul him through the water. Blair fought the heavy swell, struggling to get out from under the dock before they were both crushed up against concrete. It took every shred of strength and determination in his soul, but he finally cleared the overhang and then fought to stay in place as he yelled, "I need a rope! Somebody! Send down a rope!"

Banks and Brown heard his frenzied call, though they could barely make out the two pale faces bobbing against the surface of the black sea far below them.

Brown ran back into the warehouse, and Simon yelled for EMTs before calling down, "Hold on, Sandburg. We'll get you out of there as quickly as we can!"

Blair coughed after a wave washed over them, driving them under the dock, and kicked hard to bring them back into open water. "Hurry it up!" he yelled when he got his breath back. Both he and Jim were fully clothed and the heavy Kevlar was also weighing Ellison down. Frantically, he jerked one-handedly at the fasteners, trying to loosen the vest and get it off, but they began to sink every time he stopped using his free arm to keep them afloat.

Brown came running back with two heavy coils of rope, Rafe meeting him partway and grabbing one from his shoulder. Together, they raced to the edge of the dock and, with Simon's help, hastily tied the ropes off around a stanchion. Quickly calling, "Heads up!" they flung the loose ends over the side.

Blair ducked and sheltered Jim from the falling coils, and then reached out to grab one. Cursing the water and the rain, the buffeting swells, he looped the rope around Ellison's back, and under his arms. Awkwardly, but tightly, tying it off securely in a primitive harness, he shouted, "Pull him up! Slow and easy!"

Once Jim was on his way, Sandburg swam to the other rope and got it around himself. But he waited, hanging on and desperately treading water, until he saw Jim hauled safely over the side and, only then, did he call to them to pull him up out of the freezing harbour.

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

Brown held the rope steady while Rafe leaned over to grab hold of Sandburg's arm. They clasped each other's wrists and Blair scrambled over the edge, dripping with icy water but with the slashing rain, everyone was pretty much soaking wet. "Thanks, guys," Sandburg gasped as he scrambled on hands and knees through the wet puddles that dappled the dock toward Jim. Simon was supporting Ellison's head and shoulders, his expression tight with concern.

White with fear, Blair studied his friend, noting the shallow graze on the edge of his brow and then he raked Ellison's body, looking for other injuries. "How is he?" he panted, looking up wild-eyed into Simon's steady gaze.

"He's not quite with it, but he'll be okay, I think," Banks replied soberly. "One bullet just grazed his hard head and the vest stopped the other round, but he might have some cracked ribs. Bound to have a headache, too."

Heaving a relieved breath, Sandburg shifted to sit on the wet pavement and gripped Jim's hand and shoulder. Leaning forward, he murmured, "You're going to be okay, Jim. But you need to find your dials. Turn down your pain dial, just a little, until you're more comfortable. You hear me, buddy? Focus on the dial and turn it down…"

"You mind telling me what the hell you thought you were doing, running out into the middle of a gun battle?" Banks charged, his voice still a bit shaky from the cold moments when he'd feared he was going to lose both of his good friends. "That was a stupid stunt, and you know it."

Blair looked up with an impish grin; his eyes sparkling with the relief of knowing Ellison would likely be fine. "Ah, come on, Simon!" he remonstrated, a teasing note in his voice. "I knew you guys would give me cover!"

Simon tilted his head a little as he regarded the younger man, caught by a grin and a sparkle that he hadn't seen in quite some time. "Bullshit," he snapped back. "You weren't aware of anything but getting to Jim, right?"

Shrugging, Blair gave him a wry look before returning his attention to Jim. Reaching to stroke his friend's brow, dabbing gingerly at the thin trail of blood, he admitted with a trace of his former sometimes nervous babbling, "Okay, you got me. But I got him, Simon, and he's going to be fine. So everything worked out, right? You know I had to - that I couldn't - I mean, when he was shot and went over…"

"Easy, Blair," Banks rumbled soothingly as he reached to grip Sandburg's shoulder. "You're right. Everything worked out. You just took about ten years off my life but, hey, when has that ever stopped you?"

"Honestly, never," Blair chuffed a laugh, cutting a quick look up at Banks. "I just don't think when…well, when he needs me."

Simon's eyes narrowed as shocked surprise flashed in them. He flicked a look at Brown and Rafe, who were standing over them, and he could see that they'd caught it, too. "Blair," he asked gently, "are you all right?"

"Me, yeah, aside from being freezing wet, I'm great," Sandburg returned, still preoccupied with Jim. "Where the hell's that ambulance?"

"It's on the way, Hairboy," Brown replied, squatting down beside Blair and gripping his shoulder. "You'd better go with him - get checked out, too."

"Thanks, H," Sandburg muttered, unconsciously employing the nickname he'd last used the day he'd turned down the chance for a badge of his own, "but, like I said, I'm perfectly fine."

Banks swallowed hard, pressing his lips together to hold in his emotion of sudden elation and wild hope. The ambulance was just pulling up when he was able to ask unsteadily, "Sandburg, what do you remember?"

"Huh," Blair cut him a quick, distracted look. "What? Remember? I - " But his mouth gaped open and his eyes lost focus. He blinked hard and fast, and then a smile burst over his face as he looked back at Simon. "Everything, Simon!" he gasped breathlessly, on the edge of laughter as tears of relief began to glaze his eyes as the reality sank in. "I remember everything!"

Brown gripped his shoulder hard and bowed his head, while Rafe's hand lifted to cover his lips and their sudden treacherous trembling. Banks had to blink salty moisture from his own eyes as he choked, "Thank God."

Sandburg smiled tremulously but when he looked back at Jim, his gaze darkened and the smile faltered, as he murmured again, "Everything." His lips tightened and then he moved out of the way of the EMTs, his eyes narrowed as he watched them work over his unconscious partner. When they loaded Ellison into the ambulance, Blair climbed in behind them.

Calling to Rafe to get Ellison's truck to the hospital, Simon watched them pull away, and then turned to ensure the crime scene was well secured. Frowning, he chewed on his cheek as he thought about Sandburg's sudden solemnity and wondered what it might mean.

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

"Chief?" Jim mumbled as he struggled back to consciousness in the ambulance.

"I'm right here, Jim," Blair murmured as he gripped his friend's hand. "How're your dials?" he asked, too softly for the attendant to hear under the wail of the sirens.

Frowning, Ellison focused on pain first and his hearing second and then sighed in relief. "Better." For a moment, he just gazed at Sandburg and then he seemed to notice his partner was soaking wet. "What happened to you?" he muttered before a dim memory surfaced. "You jumped in after me, didn't you?"

"Well, somebody had to and I wasn't otherwise occupied," Blair teased lightly with a fond look in his eyes.

Jim snorted softly. "Told you I could trust you with my life," he murmured, drowsily.

"Stay awake, big guy," Sandburg encouraged.

"I'm awake," Ellison asserted muzzily, just before he dozed off again.

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

When Banks got to the hospital, he found Sandburg sitting in the lounge, leaning forward with his elbows on his thighs as he watched the entrance to a treatment room down the hall.

"How's he doing?" Simon asked as he sank into the chair beside Blair.

"Okay," Sandburg replied with a quick glance before continuing his vigil on the room down the hall. "He woke up, briefly, on the way in. They sent him for a skull x-ray, and he woke up again - he seems more alert this time, a bit groggy but lucid, so they don't think it's more than a mild concussion and a couple of cracked ribs. He'll be stiff for a few days. I think they're going to let me take him home tonight, though."

"Good; that's good," Banks rumbled as he handed Sandburg the keys to the truck he'd gotten from Rafe. Both he and Brown had wanted to come inside, but Simon had sent them off to get the preliminary paperwork done, and then to go home, assuring them Jim was likely to be fine and promising to call if he wasn't. Leaning forward, he probed then, "How are you doing, Blair? Honestly?"

Sandburg bowed his head and then sank back against the chair as he raked his hair back behind his ears. "It's wild, Simon," he said reflectively, but he assayed a grin. "One minute I don't really have a clue who I am anymore, and the next it all explodes and I'm running and, like, it's all back. In a heartbeat. It's just all back. And I didn't even notice!" Looking up at his friend, he shook his head, "It's very weird. Great, really great, but mind-blowing."

"Uh huh," Banks grunted. Well used to the Sandburgian strategy of misdirection, he nodded and then pinned the kid with a piercing look as he asked again, "How are you doing?"

Blair's lips thinned and he quirked a wry brow before blowing a long breath and shaking his head. "I don't know," he admitted candidly, continuing in his old rapid-fire style. "God, one minute I'm dying on some muddy riverbank after leaving town for good, and then I don't have a clue who I am, not really - and when I finally 'woke up' for real," he sighed, miming quotation marks in the air, "I'm back in Cascade, working for you as Jim's permanent partner and I've helped, actually helped, release information about his senses to the press! Like that is so totally not something I'd ever agree to do. I'm in line to get my PhD, and I'm still a Teaching Fellow. This is like the Twilight Zone, Simon. Honest to God, it's like going through some time tunnel and coming out in a whole other world. And Jim, man, Jim," he shook his head as he looked back down the hall. "What the hell happened to him? I mean, when I drove off, I could see he was a little surprised but mostly pissed off. I figured he'd be relieved, you know? Once he got used to the idea? All he's ever really wanted was to get his life back. I mean, I appreciated the offer of the badge, but I…I just didn't think it was more than a kindness or maybe pity. That you all just felt sorry for me. But since I woke up, man - everyone's gone out of their way to help me and Jim's done everything he could possibly do to…to make me feel welcome and to let me know he trusts me." Shrugging, he looked back at Simon, confusion in his eyes. "I don't get it; I really don't. If there was any single thing I was sure of when I left town, it was that Jim didn't trust me, not really, not deep down, and he probably never would. What the hell changed in what? Two days? Three?"

Banks' expression softened as he recalled the days before he'd been shot by Zeller, and he sighed. At that time, Ellison had been doing his typical hardass routine, treating Sandburg like the proverbial piece of shit. Reaching out to grip Blair's shoulder, he said quietly, "He did a lot of thinking, Blair - and he realized how much he regretted a lot of things. When he didn't know if you were going to live or die, he, well, he was existing on the edge of panic. Denying that you were in danger, running all over town, getting things ready for when you woke up and could come home, and doing everything in his power to help you wake up. He had herbs and teabags, music, chocolate - he massaged and exercised your body, talked nearly non-stop - he did anything and everything he could think of to stimulate your awareness and help draw you back from the coma. Still, while you were the one who was unconscious, I think it was Jim who got the wake up call. What it boils down to is that he came too close to losing you forever, one too many times."

Blair took a deep breath and thought about it. "Jim told me that you were giving us a week off," he recalled. When Banks nodded, he added, "I think we really need that time." Looking down and away, he continued softly, "There're some things that we really need to sort out."

Spotting the doctor finally emerging from the distant doorway, Sandburg stood and moved to meet her. She looked at him quizzically for a moment and then smiled. "I remember you," the emergency physician stated warmly. "I'm glad to see you recovered from your accident in the mountains."

"Thanks," Blair replied with a surprised smile. "How's my friend doing? Can I take him home?"

"I've strapped his ribs and he's got a headache, but otherwise he's fine," she replied readily. "I've given him a prescription for pain meds, but I don't want him taking any before tomorrow, just in case. You know the drill? Wake him every couple of hours? Call if he suffers any nausea or dizziness?"

"Oh, yeah, I know the drill," Blair grinned wryly. "Thanks for your help," he added, just before she moved away to attend to other patients.

Simon joined him and they strode down the hall and into the small treatment room. Jim was sitting bare-chested, but for the wide swath of bandages, on the narrow treatment table, gazing gloomily at his sopping wet shirt.

"You ready to go home, partner?" Blair asked, not showing much sympathy as he was still soaking wet, too.

Looking up, Jim smiled slightly and nodded. "Good to go," he replied and slid off the table, but seemed a little unsteady on his feet. Simon grabbed his arm to support him, while Sandburg helped him pull on the damp shirt. Jim made a face but it wasn't like he had any other dry clothes handy.

Simon and Blair helped him out of the hospital and Banks kept a strong grip on him while Sandburg went to get the truck. Once they got Ellison settled inside, he offered to follow them home in case Blair needed help getting the bigger man inside, but Blair assured him they'd be fine. It was late and Simon also needed to be getting home.

"Okay, if you're sure," Banks agreed, readily enough. It had been a very long day. "Jim, I hope you'll feel better in the morning. And remember, I don't expect to see either of you back at work for a week. Have a good time fishing, or however you decide to spend your time off."

He patted Ellison's arm and gave Sandburg a warm smile before closing the door and turning away toward his own car. Pulling a cigar from his inside coat pocket, he looked after the receding taillights of the truck and kinda wished he could be there to see Jim's face when he realized that Blair was back.

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

In deference to Jim's headache, Blair was quiet on the drive home. When they arrived, he helped Ellison out of the truck, lifting his partner's arm up and around his shoulders, to support the older man inside.

"I know you probably just want to lie down, but I want to wash off your skin - there's so much crap in the harbour and it's bound to irritate you," he said quietly as he eased Ellison across the apartment to the bathroom.

Settling his friend on the closed toilet seat, he helped Jim out of his sopping wet clothing and tossed it all in a corner, to deal with it later. Filling the basin with hot, soapy water, he sponged off Ellison's body, and then rinsed, before drying him off. Tired and hurting, Jim sat slightly dazed and quietly appreciating Blair's care of him. Sandburg helped him into his bathrobe and then supported him up the stairs to his bedroom.

Jim yawned, exhausted. "Did we get those guys?" he asked as Blair helped him into his pajamas and then his bed.

"Some of them," Sandburg replied, his tone neutral. "Some ended up at the bottom of the harbour when their car rolled over the edge."

Wincing, Jim shook his head. "Right where I'd be, if you hadn't come in after me. Thanks, Chief."

"It's what partners do," Blair replied with a smile. "Don't worry about it. Look, I'm going to wake you every couple of hours, so don't growl at me when I do, okay?" he teased as he tucked the blankets around his friend's shoulders.

Feigning hurt feelings, Ellison protested, "Hey, I don't growl anymore! I've turned over a new leaf."

"Uh huh, I noticed," Sandburg snorted. "I'm just not sure how long the new and improved you is going to last. Go to sleep, Jim."

Ellison grinned sweetly, feeling comforted by his friend's easy manner. It had been a long time since Blair had seemed so relaxed. Yawning again, he nodded. "Go get dry, Sandburg. See you in a couple of hours."

And he drifted to sleep thinking that maybe things might work out after all, even if Blair never did get his memories back - but his last conscious thought was that he hoped Sandburg would recover fully someday, so that he'd feel whole again.

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

Sandburg showered, cleaned up the bathroom and set his alarm, but found it hard to go to sleep. He kept wondering how best to tell his friend that he could remember everything again. There was the simple and straightforward, "My memories are back," but he felt as though he wanted something more…special than that. Jim had been so great through all of it that Blair also wanted to thank him. Finally deciding what he'd do, he slipped off to sleep, waking when the alarm rang not long after.

And so it went through the night. Jim responded well, waking easily and then drifting back to sleep, so Blair relaxed, too, easily dozing off in-between checks. Sandburg deliberately set his alarm a last time, so he'd be up early enough to get some goods fresh out of the oven from the bakery downstairs.

Despite the frequent forced wakenings, both men woke feeling pretty good, if a bit stiff, the next morning.

While Jim took his shower, Blair puttered in the kitchen, making breakfast. When Ellison emerged, Sandburg bound his ribs firmly, and then set a minor banquet upon the table. Orange juice and a basket of bagels and two of Jim's favourite buttermilk donuts were already set out, along with the morning paper and the older man's brows lifted in surprise. Eggs scrambled firm, just the way he liked them, with sausages, home fries and sliced tomatoes were arranged on the plate Blair set before him, and then Sandburg poured their mugs of coffee.

"Hey, this is great," Jim sighed with pleasure. He dearly loved a good breakfast and they hadn't done this since before…and he blinked. Blair didn't know what his favourite donuts were anymore - nor had he scrambled the eggs just right since…

His mouth gaping a little, he looked up to see Sandburg grinning at him, eyes sparkling with mischief. Swallowing, he realized he hadn't seen that look in the kid's eyes in far, far too long. Still, he was a cautious man by nature, at least when it came to personal matters, so he asked with a certain degree of circumspection, but unable to keep all trace of hope from his voice, "You trying to tell me something, Chief?"

Immediately, Blair assumed an exaggerated expression of disappointment and shook his head as he slumped with a great show of dejection. "And here I thought you were such a great detective," he sighed theatrically, waving his hands at the largesse spread out before them. "Give you all these clues and you're still not sure what they mean."

But then he grinned again impishly as he leaned forward eagerly and added, "C'mon, make a guess, big guy - odds are, you'll be right."

Big guy. Blair hadn't called him that…since last night, in the ambulance. "Son of a bitch," Jim gasped, and then a smile lit his face. "You were holding out on me last night!"

Shrugging, Blair reached for a bagel as he replied diffidently, "Well, I figured you had enough to contend with."

"When? How?" Jim demanded eagerly as he looked at Sandburg with an expression normally seen on the delighted face of a child on Christmas morning as he gazed at the gift he'd most hoped for but had feared he'd never be good enough to receive.

"When you went over the edge, I think," Sandburg replied, sobering. "I don't really know, for sure. It was all happening so fast. Simon actually noticed before I did - I was too worried about you to even think straight."

"My God, Blair!" Jim exclaimed in awe, and then he got up and moved around the table to pull Sandburg up into a tight hug. "Jesus, I've missed you!"

"I've missed you, too," Blair murmured hoarsely, hugging him right back.

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

They decided over breakfast that they'd head out to their favourite fishing spot as soon as their gear was packed. Jim insisted upon doing the kitchen cleanup and loading up the cooler from their supplies in the fridge, while Blair went to the basement to dig out their camping equipment and take it out to the truck. When he came back upstairs, Jim was on the phone with Simon, telling him where they were headed, and Sandburg smiled as he heard the two men evidently sharing their mutual relief and happiness that he was himself again. Then, both men packed their personal clothing and supplies, and were ready to go. Backpacks over their shoulders and fishing gear in hand, they locked up the loft and headed down to the truck.

Despite Ellison's protestations that his ribs and head were fine, Sandburg rolled his eyes in a long-suffering manner, but grinned as he pointed to the passenger side. "Get in and relax, Jim," he ordered with playful ferocity. "You can drive home."

On the drive out of the city and up into the mountains, Jim just couldn't stop smiling and Blair wondered if he'd ever seen his friend so relaxed and pleased with life. It gave him a warm feeling inside, and helped ease some of the concerns that still haunted him. Deciding to simply enjoy this day, and that the discussion they still needed to have could wait, he deliberately began to talk about recent cases, gossip downtown, his plans to finish his dissertation and whatnot - all normal, everyday things, and soon they were bantering like old times.

When they got to the campsite, they set up their tent and sorted out their gear. And then they headed down to the river to catch their dinner. It was a gorgeous day, the sunlight dancing on the rippling water, the sky above blue and cloudless. The scent of pine and good earth filled the air around them, and the sound of the rushing water was soothing. Blair kept tabs on Jim, reminding him to turn down his dial whenever he grimaced or grunted softly from the pain of his cracked ribs, and Ellison beamed with deep satisfaction to have his Guide back and in full form.

After dinner, they sat by the fire, idly feeding dry sticks and larger chunks of wood as necessary to keep the flames alive. They reminisced about other camping trips, and Blair got Jim laughing as he recounted a variety of unlikely but vastly amusing tales of other campfires in distant lands, and his experiences in learning about the people he was with at the time. When they turned in for the night, both were tired but content, and both slept better than they had in weeks.

The next day, the weather continued to be fair and they spent an easy day going for a long walk in the morning and then fishing again throughout the warm afternoon. But after they'd cleaned up the remains of their dinner, and were once again sitting peacefully by the fire as night darkened around them, Blair said, quietly, "Jim, I think there are a few things we should talk about."

Ellison's relaxed expression tightened a little as he sat up straighter. "What things?" he asked.

"Well, first off, I really want to thank you for coming after me when you heard I was missing," Sandburg replied, his gaze candid. "I remember thinking that nobody would ever find me, or ever really know what had happened to me. I, uh, really thought I was a goner - and I remember thinking how many times you'd saved my life in the past, but there was no way you could even know I was in trouble, so you wouldn't be doing one of your last minute saves. Only - you did. You found me and you brought me home."

"You shouldn't have been out there in the first place, Sandburg," Ellison muttered, the peace of the preceding two days giving way to the remnants of grief and guilt, not to mention outright fear, he'd felt during those terrible days.

"Let's come back to that in a minute," Blair replied mildly. "I also want to thank you for everything you did to bring me out of the coma, and for making sure the loft was as welcoming as it could be when I got out of the hospital, as well as for so much else, like working so hard to get me to stay; for setting things up with Simon that I'd have a job, a good job, one I could enjoy; for meeting with my lawyer to keep things moving on that end - in short, for giving me my life back. And finally, for being so patient while I was lost and didn't know who I was or what I was doing most of the time."

Shaking his head, Jim pushed away the gratitude. "You don't have to thank me for any of that, Chief. You'd've done the same for me; I know that. I'm just glad you're back."

"I know," Blair smiled softly. "But I really was floundering, Jim. I felt lost and scared and pretty overwhelmed by everything, but you never faltered. You were patient and supportive; when I no longer trusted myself, you had enough trust in me for both of us." Pausing to stir the fire, he continued softly, "You said, once, that you didn't think you'd been as good a friend as you should have been - I have to tell you, man, nobody could ever have a better friend than you have been to me through all of this."

Ellison looked down and away, very moved by the absolution that Sandburg was giving him for all the times when he hadn't been such a good friend. He swallowed and nodded, and then looked back across the flames at his partner. "Are you really okay with the job we set up? If it's not working for you, if there is some other idea you think would work better - "

Blair raised his hands to cut off the worry. "It's perfect, Jim; my dream job. I get to be an anthropologist and make use of all my learning, and still get to be your partner. And I get paid pretty well for it, too. I really am very grateful because, honestly, I never wanted to leave in the first place. But, well, I do wish we hadn't had to say anything about your senses to the media. I still worry that the bright crooks out there will put two and two together and realize there was more to that earlier paper than we admit to now."

"It was my decision to make, Chief - and it was necessary," Ellison replied with a shrug. "You'd paid too much. It was out of balance. We'll be okay, don't worry."

Sandburg cocked his head at the 'we'. Jim really did seem to see them as an intrinsic whole, something that hadn't been the case when he'd left town. "Are you sure, really sure, Jim," he asked softly, "that the next time we hit rough water, you won't start doubting me again?"

Nodding soberly, Ellison replied, "Yeah, without a doubt." He inhaled deeply as he looked into the night. "I was so far out of line," he continued quietly. "And so much of it had nothing to do with you, not really. It was all about shit that had happened before we'd even met, and I just felt like it was happening all over again. I reacted without thinking." Turning back to Sandburg, he said sincerely, "You've always done your best for me, Chief. I know that - I've always known that. I just…just wasn't ready to accept it for a long time. Didn't trust life, I guess. Figured it would all go sour, someday, like always. I've said and done things that I wish I could take back, but I can't. I can only go on from here and try to do better."

"I screwed up plenty, too," Sandburg replied thoughtfully. "When I read the journals, I couldn't believe some of the stupid, thoughtless, things I did. It wasn't all you, Jim, not by a long shot. I'm sorry about not clueing in earlier that the diss was impossible because, well, because it put you at risk and we'd moved past any kind of 'deal' to a friendship and partnership neither of us expected would happen when we first met. And I was an idiot not to tell you about Alex right away. I did try, but gave up too easily and told myself I was doing my job as a scientist - when that wasn't the point anymore. And I should have told you months ago that I was writing a different thesis paper." Shrugging, he sighed. "I'm glad to have a 'do over' chance, too. There're a lot of things I need to do better, and learn more about. Like getting a grip on just what Incacha was telling me at the end, finding out what that means for us. I'd like us to go back to the temple one more time. Maybe there will be more answers there, if I'm open to them and able to see them more clearly than on our previous visits. I know I saw references to shamanism in the context of the guide's role but didn't take it all in." Looking across the flames, he added, "I know I was uncomfortable about what we learned in the temple about this being a lifetime thing - but that was only because I didn't remember that a 'lifetime thing' was what I wanted most. So long as I know you trust me, Jim, then I've got no worries about the future. We'll be better than 'okay', man. We'll be great."

"Well, know it, Chief," Jim said, his voice husky. "I meant it when I said that I trust you with my life. I've never trusted anyone as much as I trust you, and that includes Jack and Incacha…and even Bud. And we'll go back to Mexico whenever you want. We learned what it means to be a sentinel together - I want us to learn what being a guide and shaman means, together."

Blair's throat tightened; he had to take a deep breath and let it out slowly. The last of the tension he'd felt since truly remembering who he was and all that they'd shared, eased away; his heart was gladdened by Ellison's words and his soul was finally at peace. "I love you, my brother," he murmured hoarsely.

"Yeah, well I hope so," Jim smiled wryly, though his own voice was tight with the emotion that shone from his eyes. "Ideally, brothers do love each other - and you're my family, Chief. Don't ever forget that." Realizing what he'd just said, Ellison quipped, "Well, unless you get amnesia again, and then I'll just have to remind you, that's all."

Sandburg snickered and then laughed outright, Jim joining in, finally easy in one another's company again, the balance of their friendship and partnership fully restored.

That night, as he lay under the stars, Jim listened to Blair's soft, regular breathing as he slept soundly on the other side of the fire, and found himself smiling as he realized he was happy, truly happy, for the first time in as long as he could remember.

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

They spent another idyllic two days by the river, enjoying the respite from the constant pressure and tensions of their work. Teasing by turns, napping when they felt like it, walking forested paths or fishing from the edge of the rushing river, they laughed and bantered, and relaxed completely.

On Friday evening, Jim was surprised to hear the sounds of vehicles approaching their relatively isolated campsite, and alerted Blair that it seemed that company might be coming. A few minutes later, Brown's 4x4 came into view, followed by Taggart's SUV, and then the whole MCU gang spilled out, laughing and shouting that they couldn't let Sandburg and Ellison have ALL the fun.

The partners called out greetings, and helped their friends unload their gear. In the process, one by one, Henri and Rafe, Joel and Megan all found an opportunity to tell Blair how very glad they were that he was fully with them again.

"We missed you, son," Taggart rumbled as he slung an arm around the younger man's shoulders. "It's good to have you back where you belong."

And Conner just flat out hugged him tight. "I was so scared we'd lost you," she murmured. "But Jim never gave up."

"I heard you were a bit hard on him," Blair scolded lightly, but he smiled to take the sting out of it.

Shrugging as she pulled back, she looked at him from under her lashes and pouted a little. "Well, he deserved it, Sandy," she said in her own defence. "You're not too mad at me are you?"

"You went with him, like I would have wanted you to do," Sandburg replied soberly. "I appreciate that, Megan. So, no, I'm not mad at you. I'm just very grateful that you were there, to help him and me, too."

Meanwhile, Simon had sauntered over to stand by Jim, and he handed his finest detective a beer. "So, you two work everything out?" he asked with a hopeful look.

"Absolutely, sir," Ellison assured his boss and good friend with an easy smile. "Everything's A-OK."

"Glad to hear it, Jim," Banks replied with a wide grin as he slapped Ellison on the shoulder, deeply pleased that everything was finally back on the right track. Then, he turned to amble toward the river and, as he thought back to the time when they'd offered Sandburg a badge, intentionally sang softly with good-hearted high spirits, "If you go down to the woods today, you're in for a big surprise…"

Hearing him, Brown broke up laughing and called out, "Hey, Hairboy, looks like we're finally going to have our Teddy Blair picnic! 'Bout time, man!"

Chuckling in response, Jim ruffled Blair's curls before slinging an arm around his partner's shoulders. "The extremes some guys'll go to, to avoid having to cut their hair," he teased softly with an exaggerated sigh, but his expression was fond and his heart rejoiced when Blair slipped an arm around his waist and looked up at him with a glorious smile and joy sparkling brilliantly in his eyes.

Simon turned around at Henri's riposte and began to croon the whimsical tune a little louder, lifting his hands like a choir director. Brown was already chanting along at the top of his voice, and the others quickly joined in. Soon they were all singing and snickering…and this time, Blair was laughing merrily right along with them.

Finis

Note: At the very end of the episode, 'The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg', Jim referred to making Simon a 'Blairskin rug', and Banks began singing the opening lines of 'The Teddy Bear's Picnic'. One can never know for sure, but the song may have been chosen for the episode because it evokes a feeling of light-hearted celebration, but also contains darker references to being in 'disguise', as in Jim hiding his Sentinel skills and Blair posing as a fraud; potential danger, perhaps a subtle warning to Blair that becoming a cop is not without risk, and that it might be 'safer to stay at home'; and secrets that 'nobody sees'. However, that's all quite cryptic so, probably, such references were never intended by the show's creators, and I'm simply seeing symbolism where none was originally intended.

Nevertheless, I've chosen to use references to that song in the title of this story, as well as in the opening line and here at the end, to bring it all full circle. As well, I thought the 'woods', 'disguise', 'safer to stay at home' and 'secrets' themes were evocative of Blair driving off alone and having his accident in the woods; Jim's 'surprise' when Megan laid on a few home truths; Jim and Megan finding Blair in the forest; Jim deciding the time for secrets was over; Jim and Simon coming up with a potentially safer and more appropriate role for Sandburg; Blair being 'lost in the woods' of amnesia, and the 'surprises' he discovers as he reads his journals; Jim and Blair going to the virtual 'woods' of the sea coast and then the jungle, to resolve whether or not Sandburg should stay, as well as the 'surprise' of the guide's true role; and then, finally, of them going to the 'woods' together, to regroup and reaffirm their friendship, wrapping it up with the entire crew present for a celebratory picnic.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the song, and may not have recognized it during the episode, I've reprinted it below.

The Teddy Bear's Picnic Song

If you go out in the woods today
You're sure of a big surprise.
If you go out in the woods today
You'd better go in disguise.

For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain, because
Today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic.

Picnic time for teddy bears,
The little teddy bears are having a lovely time today.
Watch them, catch them unawares,
And see them picnic on their holiday.
See them gaily dance about.
They love to play and shout.
And never have any cares.
At six o'clock their mommies and daddies
Will take them home to bed
Because they're tired little teddy bears.

If you go out in the woods today,
You'd better not go alone.
It's lovely out in the woods today,
But safer to stay at home.

For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain, because
Today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic

CHORUS

Every teddy bear, that's been good
Is sure of a treat today
There's lots of wonderful things to eat
And wonderful games to play

Beneath the trees, where nobody sees
They'll hide and seek as long as they please
Today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic

CHORUS

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