Disclaimer: They don't belong to me. I'm not sure who they belong toanymore, but I'm certain that it's not me. This was written for enjoyment, not profit.
'Thank you's: I'd like to thank Kaci for helping me with the timelines in SentinelToo, Parts One and Two. It was a great help, Kaci. Thank you! Thanks, Robin, for convincing methat it should be finished sometime in this millenium. I needed the push. Last, but neverleast, thanks for the fine-toothed comb, Tonya. I promise I'll get the hang of those commas one ofthese days. Remaining mistakes are mine.
Stepping back into the shadows of the darkened office, Simon watched in stunned silence.The last three years had taken every notion he had about friendship and loyalty and changed it. Aborn again cynic, after his divorce from Joan and the loss of custody of his son, the police captainhad come to question almost every new relationship he formed. Be it personal or professional. Inhis mind there was always an angle... a bit of a risk. Never expect too much and you'll never bedisappointed. Too often it seemed that the good buddies met after work would remain goodbuddies only as long as someone was buying the next round. One by one, they all became part of along line of names and faces that changed with each transfer and each promotion. Or, sadly, thefriendships ended as he stood at military attention next to a graveside, stoically listening to theheart-wrenching sobs of loved ones left behind.
These friendships held the same intensity of the job he went to every day. They flared andburned with a heat that could never be maintained. The passionate camaraderie of the smallbrotherhood of a squad would inevitably give way to polite nods to near strangers passed in thehall. Simon Banks had accepted that. It was the nature of the job as each day held uncertainty. Hehad buried too many friends to believe in constancy. He had drifted apart from one too many'good buddy and partner' to look for the friend who would be there for the long haul. That wasthe kind of friendship that only lived in the books he had read as a child. He had admired hischildhood idols-- heroic in their selfless dedication and love for the person blessed enough to becalled friend. He had learned long ago to never expect those friendships outside the pages of abook.
Or so he had thought.
Three years had changed that. The old adage that death and taxes were the only things thatone could count on now held new hope as Banks was able to add one more truism to that list. Heknew with the same certainty that, no matter the situation, Ellison and Sandburg would never giveup on each other. That realization had forced him to take a second look at his thoughts on thesubject and shed some of his cynicism.
But if that was the case, then who were the two men that stood arguing just a few feet fromhis door? Perhaps arguing was the wrong word for it. Jim had shut down completely. His stonyglare never wavered as he listened to the impassioned pleas of his partner. The detective's rigidbody posture contrasted sharply with Sandburg's gesturing. The observer's agitation and neardesperation with his inability to sway Ellison were becoming more pronounced with each passingsecond.
Bits and pieces of what was being said drifted across to where the police captain stood. Hedidn't need to hear the words to understand what was going on. Their faces said it all. Sandburgwas fighting a losing battle. As that battle continued, Simon feared that the looks of exasperationand frustration on Blair's face would soon meld into one of defeat. Turning to grab his coat, hedecided that the kid could use some back up. Lord only knew that Ellison had given new meaningto the word 'asshole' in the last few days. But in the few seconds it took for him to look away andreach for his coat it happened.
Blair now stood quietly in front of his partner, head down. Banks saw the observer'sshoulders heave as he took in a deep breath before looking up again. And Ellison, Ellison's coolstare held a certain smugness that Simon hadn't seen in a long time. At least not since Sandburghad arrived on the scene. The younger man's voice was quiet, too quiet for Simon to hear whatwas being said. But the expressive face and eyes spoke volumes more. With Blair they alwayshad. Was Ellison so far gone that he couldn't see it? Look at him, Jim! Listen to him.You may have won the argument, but you're about to lose so much more. The captain feltand tasted the pungent leaves of the cigar that he rolled between his teeth. He had clamped downso viciously on it that it had been severed in two. Spitting out the bitter stump into the palm of hishand, he listened as Blair's voice became stronger.
"You know where to find me."
Simon had never thought to see this day. Sandburg was giving up. He didn't need enhancedsenses to hear the anger and hurt. Had the sentinel become so insensitive to the one person towhom he owed so much? Blair had given Jim answers and a way back to sanity when all others,including Ellison, had given up hope. Don't let him walk away, Jim. Banks stared atSandburg's retreating back. C'mon, Sandburg, turn around. You can't give up, damn it.But neither man followed his silent advice.
Shrugging into his overcoat and heading for the elevator, Simon stopped in front of hisdetective. When Ellison finally turned ice cold eyes on him, Banks held back his surprise. If thiswas the same glare he had fixed on the young anthropologist, the captain wondered how the kidhadn't crumbled. Nothing remained of the Jim he knew. He had lost his friend without one shotbeing fired. The man, and friend, Jim Ellison had been only a few short days ago was gone, buriedin his own personal hell. And hell it must have been to force someone like Ellison to retreat backto the solitary life he had so recently left behind. But the sentinel wasn't sharing. Not that he everreally did. Banks doubted that he would ever hear from Jim what it was that had driven the wedgebetween him and Sandburg.
"I hope you're right about being able to do this alone." The words shot from Simon's mouthwith venom that surprised even him. Returning the sentinel's cold gaze, he ran to catch up withSandburg.
Blair stood at the elevator doors, willing them to open. He knew his legs didn't have thestrength to carry him down the seven flights of stairs, but he needed to get out... get away...before the tenuous control he had over his emotions finally gave way. How had things gone sowrong? How had he let them get to that state? He was the observer. He was supposedly watchingand studying. How had he missed the change in his friend? He had handled it so badly. He shouldhave made Jim listen that first time he had tried to tell him that he suspected Alex was a sentinel.Hadn't he, Blair Sandburg, scientist, concluded that sentinels were territorial and often had fear-based reactions? Jim's reaction was normal and to be expected if looked at within thoseparametres. So why was he feeling so shocked or upset by what had happened and hadbeen happening? If he was feeling miserable right now, it was a misery of his own making. Hehad failed, not only as the scientist he had one day hoped to become, but also as a friend andguide to the one person he had sworn to stand by and defend.
Every sentinel had a guide and would remain a sentinel without that guide. But what of theguide? Blair tried to suppress these thoughts, wondering if he weren't being selfish even worryingabout it. But damn it, it was his life, too. He knew he couldn't just walk away with a shrug of hisshoulders and go back to being who he had been. He needed to be a part of Ellison's life as muchas Jim needed someone to guide him. Even if his friend couldn't see that right now, and maybewould never again see it that way. He knew Jim was angry with him, probably feeling as betrayedas he had ever felt, but he was feeling angry and betrayed, too. Sure it was Jim's loft and he wasthere at the sentinel's invitation, but it was his home as well. He had long ago earned the right tobe there. Earned that right from Jim! To find all of his belongings gone, packed away like someold things that weren't needed any longer had rattled him. It had also driven home how close tothe edge his friend really was. What was Jim thinking? Tossing him out like that! They werefriends, partners, sentinel and guide. There was so much history between them. He deserved to atleast know why Jim was throwing it all away as if nothing could be salvaged.
God, why won't he talk to me!
It would be so easy to blame it all on Alex for not living up to his ideals of what a sentinelshould be. He could blame Jim for not trusting him enough to tell him that things were goingwrong. Hell, he was sure that if he tried hard enough he could blame it on not enough sunshine ortoo much caffeine in a sentinel's diet. He could shift the blame anywhere he wanted, but it wouldalways come back to rest on the shoulders of the one person truly responsible.
He had been the one who had approached Jim Ellison and pitched himself as being the self-proclaimed saviour. He would help Jim find the answers because only he understood. What abunch of crap! He had been no better than some charlatan or soothsayer, promising to dazzleand delight with a few practiced parlour tricks. What had he really known? Arrogance had carriedhim into Jim's life and arrogance had gotten him booted out. He would introduce Alexand Jim when the time was right. He would control the setting. Could he have been anymore arrogant? These were two human beings. Two very special human beings! Not some lab ratsto be manipulated and put through paces so that he, always the objective observer, could watchand record what followed.
The quiet 'ting' of the elevator car's arrival halted Sandburg's thoughts. With a relieved sigh hesaw that it was empty. Stepping in, he knew that in another few minutes he could make hisescape. He punched the button for the ground level and fell back against the far wall of theelevator completely exhausted. Just as the doors were about to close, Blair's eyes widened. Hesaw a large hand reach between the closing metal sides and shove them open again. A tall figureslipped into the car and turned a reproachful look on him.
"Were you just going to take off, Sandburg? I think we need to talk."
Not saying anything, or acknowledging that someone else had entered the elevator car, Blairleaned forward and hit the button to close the doors.
"Do you want to tell me what just happened?" Simon asked, stepping closer to the smallerman. "What's been going on this past week with you and Ellison?" He felt his temper start to riseas the anthropologist only shrugged his shoulders and continued his scrutiny of the floor."Sandburg? Talk to me."
Slowly raising his eyes to meet Banks', Blair debated having "the talk". He wasn't really surehow much the captain knew. "I...I think that this is a conversation you should have with Jim, sir."
With a satisfied grunt, Simon relaxed against the metal wall of the car. At least Sandburg wastalking. "And I plan to do just that. But I want to hear your side, too. I think I have a right... no, aneed to know what's happened. As your captain." He saw a flicker of emotion crossBlair's face and watched as the anthropologist swallowed hard.
Digging deep into a jacket pocket, Blair pulled out the small plastic square that had becomealmost part of his uniform as guide. "I guess I won't be needing this anymore." He held it out tothe other man. "I can come in to sign whatever I need to tomorrow."
Banks looked at the observer's pass, not willing to accept it--suddenly feeling uncomfortablewith the way the conversation was progressing. His intention had been to re-unite his best team,not watch its disintegration. Growling, he pressed the large red button on the control panel,bringing the elevator car to a jarring halt. "Enough!"
Blair's eyes widened and his breath became a gasp as the car shook with the sudden stop."What the hell do you think you're doing?" The death grip he had on the handrail whitened hisknuckles.
"What I should have done days ago." Folding his arms across his chest, Simon looked downat the young man who had become his friend. "I'm looking for answers, son."
"And you came to me for them?" Sandburg's laugh hovered between bitterness andsarcasm. "I obviously don't have them, Simon." Running his fingers through his mass of curls, hestared up at the pocked and stained ceiling. "God, I'm not even sure I know what the questionsare anymore." He lowered his gaze to look back at his captain. "Do you?"
Banks worked hard to school his features. The pain and uncertainty he heard in that one shortquestion threatened to break through the gruff exterior he erected around himself, keeping hisfeelings hidden and his position as "boss" secure. He knew, without a doubt, that at that moment,Blair needed him to maintain that facade.
"I only know one, Sandburg." Simon kept his voice gentle, hoping that it would put his youngfriend at ease. "It's the one I've been asking since this all started. What happened?"
Wrapping his arms around himself, Blair slid down to sit cross-legged on the floor of theelevator car. "What happened?" Closing his eyes, he began to recount the beginning of the end."The dissertation. Alex Barnes..."
"Whoa, slow down, Sandburg. What about the dissertation? You've finished it?"
"No." Blair's voice cracked and he cleared his throat before starting again. "No, not yet. I'malmost there." Still not able to face the police captain, he kept his head down and rubbed at a spotof dried mud on the hem of his jeans. "Jim read some of it."
Simon saw the rueful grin that was almost obscured through a curtain of hair. He would askthe question, but he was sure he already knew the answer. "And? What did he think about it?"
"Oh, I think it would be safe to say that he was less than thrilled." Blair sighed, shaking hishead in hopes of dislodging the less than pleasant memories of the arguments that had followedhis partner's reading of the introduction. Harsh words and hurt feelings. The first fraying of thethreads that connected them as partners and friends.
"Alex Barnes?" the captain supplied.
"...is a sentinel. And what a great chapter she would make." Sandburg's quiet laugh wasmirthless. "Her being here, and how this seems to be affecting Jim, is validating a lot of theconclusions I've come to in my dissertation." He stole a quick glance up at Banks. "Too bad Iblew it, huh?"
"Now, Blair," Simon started, only to be interrupted.
"What?" The anthropologist's voice shook. "You going to tell me that I'm wrong?" He lookedup at his captain with pleading eyes. "I blew it, Simon. Jim says that he can't trust me anymore.He said that he wants a "real partner" that he can trust. There's no one to blame for thatexcept me. I kept things from him. Things that he should have known about right from the start."
"If that were a crime, Sandburg, then Ellison would have to admit that he's just as guilty ofit." He raised an eyebrow at the anthropologist and grinned. "Maybe a little more guilty of it."
"Not this time. Maybe it's all tied into his being a sentinel. Maybe he can't really help how he'sfeeling or reacting to things." Blair gently banged the back of his head against the wall. "What amI saying? There is no maybe. There's more going on here than I understand, but he won't talk tome about it. He shut me out long before he kicked me out."
Simon was sure he had heard wrong. "He kicked you out?"
"Would you want someone you couldn't trust around anymore?" He leaned forward anddropped his head into his hands as if it was suddenly too heavy to hold up. "There's just so muchhappening. I'm the one he's supposed to be able to count on, but he can't. Man, I did more thanrock his faith when he saw what I had written in that introduction. I think he felt threatened by it.Like it was going to expose him. We both know how private he is."
"You know, Sandburg, it sounds like you're not willing to put any of the blame for what'sbeen happening on Ellison." The amount of guilt Blair was heaping upon himself had Banksworried. He wanted to bring things back into perspective. "Jim's my friend, but I don't know thatI'm willing to let him off the hook for all of this. He's a rational man and is responsible for hisactions. You're making it seem that he has no control over any of it."
"I'm not sure that he does." Blair got up, needing to move. "Right now, it's like he's reactingto everything more on animal instinct than anything else. Primal." He laughed softly to himself at amemory. "You know, when we first met I told him he was some kind of genetic throwback. Man,the only thing that got thrown was me. Right up against a wall. The more things change, huh?"Suddenly realizing how weary he was, he sighed. "Do you think we could get this thing movingagain? They're going to have the fire department in here to rescue us pretty soon."
Reluctantly, Banks leaned forward and started the elevator's descent once more. The feelingthat things were now somehow beyond his control, and about to go desperately wrong, hadsettled in the pit of his stomach. He wasn't sure he was willing to cut the kid loose. Hearing Blair'ssoft "Simon?" he turned back to look at him.
"Why aren't you willing to put more of the blame on me?" Blair had put on his glasses andwas shifting his backpack to sit more comfortably on his shoulder. "A lot of this is my fault."
Not sure how to answer the question, and suspecting that deep down his reasons were morepaternal than he was ready to admit, Simon cleared his throat and sidestepped having to answer itwith a question of his own. "So where do we go from here? What are we supposed to do to getJim back on track?"
The elevator doors opened and Blair stepped into the empty lobby. "We don't doanything. Jim's made it clear that my time as his guide is over. You're going to have to convincehim to trust someone else when he's on the job."
"But," Banks reminded him, "you both insisted that it wasn't that easy and that not anyonecould do it."
"That was a long time ago. Things are different now. Jim's got more control." Sandburgstarted to back away from the elevator and the conversation. The door and his escape were only afew feet behind him. "Besides," Blair tried a smile, "you always thought he needed a real cop towatch his back."
"But," the police captain started again.
Feeling his own control slipping, Blair knew he had to end the discussion. "Don't you get it,Simon?" He finally let free every emotion he had been holding back. "It's over. Whateverconnection Jim and I had that made the whole sentinel thing work is dead!" He fought to keep hisvoice steady. "He knows how to reach me if he needs to. But I don't think he's ever going to needto."
Banks leaned on the elevator doors, keeping them open. "Don't give up yet, Sandburg. Youand Jim can work through this."
"You're asking me to hold onto something that isn't there, Simon." Blair slowly turned andheaded for the lobby exit. "I can't do that."
Stepping back into the elevator, Simon watched his friend's retreating form through theclosing doors. He fought back the notion that Sandburg looked like a lost kid as he remindedhimself that the "kid" had travelled the world and was able to take care of himself. Taking in adeep breath and slowly releasing it through his nose, he pressed the button for the garage level.As the elevator descended down to the basement he tried to convince himself that what he hadsaid to Blair was the truth. His friends could work things out. Sandburg would be okayand Ellison would cool off. Things would go back to normal or what passed for normal. Sighing,Banks wished he believed that, but the bad feeling he had had earlier refused to let go andcontinued to gnaw at him. Needing to release some of his frustration, he slammed a fist into theelevator wall. "Damn." The whispered curse was as much for the pain of having to watch thecollapse of the friendship and partnership of two friends as it was for the ache that now throbbedacross his bruised knuckles. "Damn."
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