Notes: My thanks to Mo and Beth (for her beta), whose reactions to this story made me smile all day. As always, my undying gratitude goes to Lola for her eagle eyes. I can't even imagine sending out a story without her looking it over first. However, I rewrote portions of the story before I got my betas back, so any mistakes are mine.

This story is dedicated to Wolfpup, who knows why.

I've been told this story is a little darker than what I normally write. I'd be interested in your opinions as to what you thought of it.


GUIDES



Rimilod






Have you ever been haunted by a phrase? Something which didn't make an impact on you right away, but which came back in the middle of the night and whispered to you in your dreams? I've been haunted by a particular phrase -- a phrase which has completely changed my perceptions about guides.

It happened back during the dissertation fiasco. Sandburg had already thrown himself on his sword and the general consensus was that Zeller was dead. The Iceman, however, was not only alive but decided to have a meltdown in Major Crimes. After shooting up most of the department, he made his way to the roof with me in hot pursuit. During the gun fight which followed, I took a ricocheted bullet. Maybe that's why the phrase didn't sink in at the time, what with my leg burning and trying desperately to figure out a way to keep Zeller from escaping.

The international assassin must have lost his mind. I can't think of any other reason why he would have tried to shimmy down a rope from the roof of an eight story building. About that time, Sandburg appeared; and with his support, we raced to the point where Zeller disappeared.

"What are we going to do -- pull him up or knock him off?"

Such an innocuous phrase.

Easy to attribute to the heat of the moment.

Easy to ignore.

If only...

If only the one speaking wasn't a guide.

My guide.

See, despite what Sandburg says, I believe some people have a genetic predisposition to being a guide, just like sentinels. I had always assumed guides were innately good. Maybe good isn't the right word. Pure-hearted, maybe?

That's not to say Sandburg is evil or not pure-hearted. It's just suddenly my eyes were opened in a way they never had been before.

I've given this matter a lot of thought and I've come to some interesting conclusions.

Want to hear them?

Guides are neither good nor evil. They are simply guides. They lead, direct, assist. They heal. They provide another perspective. While every guide I've run across could technically qualify as being good, they don't necessarily guide good people.

There are all sorts of guides in real life; they don't only assist sentinels. A lot of teachers are guides. Many mentors qualify. I was surprised to realize that there were more guides in the world than sentinels; however, there are way fewer guides than are needed. Guides are special souls; people who want to help others, who teach, who bond with others and make them more than they could be alone.

I believe there are basically two kinds of guides. One who guides groups, like teachers, mentors, and tribal shaman. The others guide individuals -- like Sandburg. Although, they can guide more than one person at a time (just look at the changes Sandburg has made to Major Crimes), they claim only one. When everything falls apart, they'll protect the one to which they've bonded -- at all costs.

While Sandburg would never have bonded to Alex, being a guide made it impossible for him to watch her suffer. He had to try to help her. It's his way. If she hadn't been so unbalanced, Sandburg probably would have succeeded in finding a way for her to control her senses until he could locate a guide for her. Our bond would never have been in jeopardy. I see that now. I just wish to God I had seen it then.

Another thing I've noticed is that guides always recognize other guides. It's a totally innate talent, one I'm sure they don't even consciously realize. They are also fiercely protective of other guides.

I had this forcibly demonstrated to me a few months ago.

Sandburg had been my official partner for nearly a year when members of the Montanobi cartel began showing up dead in the most spectacular ways. All circumstantial evidence seemed to point to the perpetrator being Vincent Delanado. Delanado had his fingers into everything: racketeering, arms smuggling, protection, prostitution, you name it and his name would eventually come up; but as far as criminals went, he was fairly law-abiding. He was a quiet man who ran his businesses efficiently and with a minimum of blood and violence. While we had been trying to pin something on him for years, there was never enough evidence to implicate him. I really hate dealing with intelligent criminals.

We were all confused as to why Delanado, something of a gentleman's bandit, would suddenly start a killing spree which rivaled even the worst turf war. The answer finally came to us through an unusual source -- Sneaks. Apparently, the Montanobi cartel had kidnapped a young associate of Delanado's by the name of Joseph Spantonio in the hopes of forcing Delanado into certain concessions. The word was quickly put out that if Spantonio was killed, no force in the universe would be able to protect the members of the Montanobi clan. While apparently they took his threat to heart, they made no move to return the young man, even though members of their clan were dying around them. It must have been an honor thing.

Sneaks, blessed snitch that he is, gave us the location where Spantonio was being held. I have never seen Sandburg as focused as he was during this operation. He moved with unerring accuracy toward the room where the young man was being held, leaving me to provide cover fire in order to prevent him from being killed.

The scene has forever been burned into my memory in the most minute detail.

Spantonio had been tied to an old wooden chair. His face was bloody and bruised. As Sandburg entered the room, the boy's almost blind gaze turned unerringly toward my partner.

"Vinnie?"

"No. My name is Blair. I'm here to take you to Vinnie," my partner said in soothing tones, which up until now I had only heard used with me.

"You mean you're taking me home?"

Sandburg moved quickly to release the wire which bound the boy's wrists. "Yes. But first we need to get you to the hospital. We wouldn't want Vinnie to have a coronary looking at this mug of yours in its current state."

The boy grinned. "I'm guessing I'm something of a mess?"

"A master of understatement, I see. Next thing you're gonna tell me is that it doesn't hurt at all."

"Naw. It hurts like a son of a bitch."

"I hear that, man. I definitely hear that. Here. Let's get you to your feet. Can you walk?"

Spantonio lurched awkwardly before Sandburg caught him by the waist. "Guess not."

"No problem. I got you."

"Joey," the young man breathed quietly as Sandburg helped steady him.

"Pardon?"

"My name. It's Joey. I figure if you're gonna haul my ass out of here, we should at least be on a first name basis."

"Pleased to meet you, Joey. I wish it had been under better circumstances."

"Yeah. You and me both. You a cop, Blair?"

"Yes. I'm afraid so. Sorry."

"Don't be. I've never been so happy to see a man of the law in my entire life." Joey's grin reminded me of Sandburg's -- the one which lights up the room when he uses it.

"We're not such a bad sort once you get to know us. Well, except for Jim," Blair teased as he walked past me.

Joey squinted at me, then grinned. "That Jim?"

"Yep. He's mine."

"I bet he's a handful."

"You don't know the half of it. I'm guessing Vinnie's something of a handful too."

"Naw. He's not too bad, but he's got a wicked temper -- not that I see it too often."

"Well, there's an ugly rumor going around that he's in a bit of a snit at the moment."

"Wouldn't surprise me," Joey said through pain-gritted teeth as they moved toward the ambulance.

He's mine. Not, he's my partner. He's my best friend. He's a sentinel. Just, he's mine. And Joey never blinked.

The only time Sandburg left Joey's side during his stay at the hospital was when Simon came to check things out.

"When are you bringing him in?" the Captain asked as he looked at the young man at the far end of the emergency room.

"I'm not."

Simon shook his head as if he couldn't possibly have heard my partner correctly. "I beg your pardon?"

"He's already given me his statement. He's promised to come in tomorrow afternoon to sign it. I'm taking him home."

"Home? Sandburg, maybe you've missed some of the current word on the street, but Vincent Delanado is not a nice man," Simon said in a sarcastic voice.

To my amazement, Sandburg entered the captain's personal space. "And what does that have to do with Joey?"

"Surely, you're not that naive, detective?" The captain's voice was cutting.

Amazingly, Sandburg did not back down. "Since when has it been procedure to interrogate kidnap victims about their friends?"

"Sandburg--" the captain started, warningly.

"Simon, we have never received any information regarding Joseph Spantonio in connection with any of Delanado's dealings. This young man has been kidnapped and beaten and the last thing I am going to do is delay his return home. If you feel the necessity to question him, do it tomorrow when he comes in to sign his statement. Otherwise, leave him be."

I remember blinking in disbelief. Surely, this was not my unassuming guide. Simon tried his best glare, a look which has made grown detective's knees quake in unadulterated fear. Nothing. Sandburg didn't even blink.

Simon sighed deeply. "You're right. I'll have an officer take him home."

"No, sir."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I'll take him home."

"Over my dead body," I interjected.

Sandburg turned slowly to face me. "You can come; but you do as I say, when I say it. Understood?"

I remember staring at him, taking in his stance and realizing there was no way I was going to win this battle, so I simply nodded. Whatever was going to happen, I was going to be at his side when he faced it; for that's what sentinels do -- they protect their guides.

I expected Vincent Delanado to live in an expensive mansion on the upper east side, but Joey directed us to a large building downtown -- saying something about Vinnie liking to be near his roots.

When we pulled up to the brick fortress, Sandburg looked at me and said, "Leave your gun in the truck."

"Are you nuts?"

"Don't make me remind you of your promise," he said simply.

Sandburg and Joey walked in front of me as we approached the building. A man came out and greeted the kid warmly, then turned a frown on Sandburg.

"It's okay, Richard. These are the guys who rescued me."

Richard's appearance screamed Mafia, someone who was used to busting heads. I had to wonder how many of the Montanobi bodies he was responsible for. "Vi... Mr. Delanado is in his office, Joey. He's going to be extremely happy to see you."

We passed several more check points as we progressed through the building. Several times, the muscle tried to prevent us from going forward, but each time Joey would take the lead and smooth the way. Finally, we were at Delanado's office door.

Joey fell back behind Sandburg, without a word ever being spoken. Delanado was a lot younger than I had expected. He was a man in his mid-forties, black hair without a trace of gray, and bright green eyes. Those eyes gazed toward us as the door opened. He couldn't help the smile which slowly took over his face, as if he hadn't quite believed the reports which surely had preceded us to his office. I could also tell the exact moment when he realized Joey hadn't come alone. He seemed puzzled by the fact that the kid didn't immediately go to him.

"Mr. Delanado," Sandburg said pleasantly, reaching his hand forward, over the desk. The crime lord shook the offered hand almost absently. "I'm Detective Blair Sandburg and this is my partner, Detective James Ellison."

"These are the guys who rescued me, Vinnie," Joey interjected.

"Well, technically, there were several other officers involved in the operation," Blair said, always giving credit where credit was due.

"What can I do for you, Detective?" Delanado asked, eyeing me suspiciously as I leaned against the door, probably wondering why the older detective wasn't taking charge.

"Nothing, actually. I just came to return Joey home. He's been very brave throughout this ordeal. You should be proud of him."

Delanado looked at Joey, a tender smile slowly spreading over his face. Sandburg touched Joey's arm and the young man moved quickly around the desk to be engulfed in a bear hug from the older man.

"I thought I'd lost you," Delanado whispered in the boy's ear.

"I'll admit I had some doubts myself," Joey responded just as quietly.

Sandburg turned and headed toward me, but just before he reached the door, he stopped and looked back at the happy reunion.

"Joey basically has four clusters of bruises," Blair said conversationally.

I wondered if my partner had lost his mind.

I watched as Delanado restrained himself from pulling off the boy's shirt to check for himself.

"And your point, Detective?" he asked, chilling the room with his voice.

"Six Montanobis are dead. I think it's over."

Delanado looked as if he were about to protest, but Joey gently touched his cheek, forcing the older man to look at his charge. "I'm okay, Vinnie. Thanks to Blair... and Jim."

The crime lord looked back at me. "You belong to him?" he asked, his chin jerking slightly toward Sandburg.

"Yes."

"I bet he's a handful."

"You don't know the half of it," I said with amusement, although not with a smile.

At that moment, I realized that Vincent Delanado belonged to one Joseph Spantonio.

Delanado looked back at my partner and simply nodded. No confession of guilt. No acknowledgment of what had been said. Simply nodded.

Sandburg closed the distance between us, then turned back toward Joey again. "Don't forget what I said about Professor Watterman. He may have a rep for being a hard ass, but he knows accounting backward and forward. If I can learn it, he can teach anyone."

Joey laughed, a bright happy sound which made Delanado hug the boy again. "I won't. Thanks, Blair. For everything."

"Don't make me come looking for you again, Joseph; but if you ever need help, you know where I am."

The boy nodded. "That I do."

And with that, we left, with all our limbs and major organs intact.

Members of the Montanobi stopped showing up dead, although the cartel was systematically driven out of Cascade -- not that I'm complaining, mind you.

I wondered why Delanado hadn't threatened us before we left the room. Upon reflection I realized that Delanado, and Joey for that matter, had been responding to a senior guide -- one with more experience and wisdom than his own.

Was Joey the reason Delanado ruled his business without blood? How could such a bright kid hook up with a criminal like Delanado? The questions burned within me until I decided I had to unearth the answers. My investigation showed that Vincent Delanado grew up in the Little Italy District of Cascade. His mother's best friend was Delores Spantonio. Both were single women trying to raise their sons as best they could. When Joey was five, his mother was gunned down in a grocery store robbery. She had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead of allowing the boy to be taken by social services, Mrs. Delanado took the boy in as her own. Vincent, at that time, had been in and out of trouble with the law, but the arrival of the child into their home brought about miraculous changes in the twenty year old. From that moment on, he set about to provide for his mother and Joey.

Somehow, even as a child, Joey guided Vincent down a path which was probably less violent than it would have been had he never entered Delanado's life. He was unable to reform Vincent. My guess is that he had never really tried. But perhaps it wasn't about reforming the older man. Maybe it was about showing Vincent a different perspective, or simply accepting him as he was. There was no doubt in my mind that Joseph Spantonio was a guide. He had made a difference, not only to Vincent Delanado, but to Cascade as well. Who knows how many people are alive today because this young man saw only good in the crime lord who raised him?

So, circumstances determine a guide's path.

I could find no other explanation.

But does that mean there is only one guide for each person needing one? Yes and no. I know Incacha guided me, but we never bonded. There were probably others who might have been able to guide me had I stumbled across their path instead of Sandburg's, but now that Sandburg and I have bonded, there can be no other.

For a period of time, I worried that maybe our bond could be broken.

By all accounts, electricity sparked between Sandburg and Garrett Kincaid during the siege on police headquarters. Once, when Joel was very drunk, he confessed he had been worried that Sandburg could have turned to the dark side as he called it. Kincaid apparently had gone so far as to tell Sandburg that he could use a man like him before hauling him to the roof and into the helicopter.

Had Kincaid sensed that Sandburg was a guide? Would the kid have gone with him voluntarily if he hadn't already bonded with me? Apparently, the chemistry between them was right.

One Saturday afternoon not too long ago, I went down to the vault and watched the videotape which had recorded the events of that day in the squad room. It had been saved for Kincaid's first trial.

I was mesmerized.

Kincaid invaded Sandburg's personal space and stuck a gun in his face -- Sandburg hardly blinked. Reminding me of a time when I grabbed the shirt of a neo-hippie witch doctor punk and slammed him up against a wall, threatening to slap him with larceny and false impersonation. Sandburg hadn't moved then either.

I had gotten to Blair first. Thank God. Our bond had taken root. While still new and fragile, it had withstood the full out temptation to dump a reticent sentinel. What if Sandburg had accepted the unspoken offer? Where would we all be now? The implications make me shudder.

Could Sandburg have guided an evil man?

What would happen to us if I suddenly decided to turn to the dark side?

What are we going to do -- pull him up or knock him off?

What had Sandburg being telling me? That he would have backed me no matter what decision I made regarding Zeller? That the choice had been completely in my hands before the German idiot shot his own support rope? Would my non-violent guide have helped me murder a man if I had so chosen?

The only answer I can come to is yes.

Emphatically, yes.

I look back at the examples from our past.

Even though he had expressed his unhappiness at my illegally wiretapping Tommy Juno's telephone calls, he was by my side when I followed Juno into the warehouse, knowing full well I was violating direct orders from Simon.

He had my back when I was blinded by Golden, assisting me when any sane person would have locked me in the loft and thrown away the key.

He never blinked when Hector Curasco got away from me, not once, but twice.

He never wavered in his support for me when I proclaimed Jack's innocence. He never even questioned me about whether or not Jack might have done it. He simply took my word.

That sort of personal loyalty is staggering. It's also heady. It's given me the freedom to discover things about myself I never would've discovered if Sandburg hadn't been there providing a safety net for me.

I wonder if that's what Joey does for Delanado? Had Vincent found a more efficient means to crime than the threat of blood and violence because Joey gave him a safety net to explore his other options -- to believe in him when no one else did?

What would I do without Sandburg? Could I survive without him?

There was a time when I thought I could. Hence the fiasco with Alex and, to a certain extent, the dissertation disaster. In his panic to prove his loyalty to me, he destroyed his career. Talk about your sobering, eye-opening experiences.

Yesterday, he was almost killed again by a drug addict trying to rob a convenience store. Sandburg, as usual, was simply in the wrong place -- again. You'd think I'd get used to these near death experiences of his, but I haven't. I can't ever take them lightly. I've teased him a few times about his propensity to find trouble, but I find the thought of being separated, by death, from my guide too awful to contemplate, so I don't rag him about it very often.

I've heard people say in the past that they would die without a certain someone. I always thought of them as being overly dramatic. But I've discovered that even though I have almost total control over my senses now, it's only because I have Blair at my side. I would quite literally die without him. The thought shocked me because for the first time in a long time, I realized I wanted to live. I wanted to experience life with Blair walking beside me through all things.

I sat beside his hospital bed, keeping watch as usual; waiting for his big, blue, expressive eyes to open. Sighing in relief when they finally did, I squeezed his hand; trying to convey to him what he meant to me.

"Yours," I finally whispered.

"I know, Jim. I know," he said in a soothing voice, squeezing my hand back and pulling me onto the edge of his bed.

"You don't know." I was shocked that the broken voice responding to his was mine.

"Yes, I do," he replied softly, placing the palm of his hand over my heart. "I'm never going to leave you, man. You know that," he whispered. "You know that."

I leaned forward until our foreheads touched. "I do know it, Blair; but try not to push the envelope so much, okay?"

He graced me with that smile which makes me feel like I can move mountains. "Only if you make me the same promise."

"I'll try to do better in the future, Chief."

"So will I, man. So will I."

I'm watching him sleep now, the darkness no barrier for my sight; reveling in the gentle rhythm of his breathing, listening to the comforting beat of his heart.

And finally, I believe I have the answer to the most important question. Why do guides do it? Why do they put themselves on the line, time and time again? Why do they dig deep into their charge's psyche finding only the goodness within?

It's quite simple really.

They do it out of love.

This man has guided me through so much; has believed in me when no one else did; has made me want to be a better man. I now know he would never turn away from me, even if I should choose another path. This man has loved me when I thought myself unlovable.

He may think sentinels are the holy grail, but I'm rather partial to guides myself.

~finis~


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