Warnings and such: Language and violence. Not mine (Jim and Blair that is) and I make no money therefrom. Thanks to Shallan for the great Beta! This one is the result of several marathon bull-sessions about possible post TSbBS life for the guys. It's my idea of how I would have started the next (never happened) season. I know you're sick of these but this one might surprise you.... just keep reading....


AFTER ALL



Crowswork






"Now this is the Law of the Jungle -- as old and as true as the sky;
And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk, the Law runneth forward and back --
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, the strength of the wolf is the pack."

Leaning on a cane, Detective Blair Sandburg limped out of the hospital, his partner at his side. Jim was trying to get him to sit back down in the wheelchair -- to behave.

"Leave me the hell alone, Jim! I don't need help from you or anyone."

"Come on, kid. I told you... IAD will have those creeps on the carpet. Those bastards should have come as soon as you called for back-up."

"They would have if you had been with me." Blair's voice dripped with venom. "I guess a 'fraud' isn't worth the time of the 'brothers in blue', huh, Jim?"

"It's just a few of them and..."

"Can it!" The young man whirled angrily and almost fell over as his injured leg buckled. When Jim steadied him, his hands were shrugged off as if his touch was distasteful. "I fucking can't believe you are sticking up for your cop buddies."

"I'm not." Jim stepped back, stunned by the venom in his partner's voice and the near hatred in his eyes. "I wanted to shoot them myself." The young detective had fallen through a flight of rickety stairs, in the basement of a tenement. He'd had to hold off three hoods for over a half-hour before Jim and Simon arrived. And he had been calling for backup the whole time. At least two patrol cars in the area had better things to do than to answer his call.

"Oh, let's just go." Blair hobbled toward the truck and waited for Jim to unlock his door. "I want to go to the station."

"Let me take you home." Jim waited for his friend to climb into the passenger seat, afraid to offer assistance. "You can get some rest and calm down."

Blair turned in the seat and started to climb down again. "Never mind! I'll call a cab."

"No...no... I'll take you." Jim closed the door and trotted around to the driver's side.

The trip to Headquarters was made in silence. Jim kept glancing at the sullen man at his side. His hair had grown out a little after the academy, and now it fell forward and hid the angry features. All the detective's skills, both natural and learned, were wasted on Blair lately. Even before the incident, Blair had been unhappy. All the joy seemed to go out of him and he began to withdraw from his friends, especially Jim.

Since shortly after the press conference fiasco, Ellison had been working behind the scenes to clear his partner's name. William Ellison had his most carnivorous lawyers on the case. If Jim had his way, Blair Sandburg would have his name cleared and get his PHD. He wanted to wait until he was sure before he got the kid's hopes up. Jim didn't think Blair could take another disappointment.

Blair had gone through the academy with top academic scores. He had even surprised the instructors with the speed he picked up martial arts and marksmanship. Jim knew he had had a hard time with some of the cadets, but the usually voluble kid had been tightlipped and grim about his problems. Jim had always tried to protect his guide from bad guys. Now he wondered if he needed to be protected from his fellow officers.

They had barely parked before Blair clambered awkwardly out of the truck. Leaning heavily on a sturdy cane, he headed for the elevator, leaving Jim to follow in confusion.

Heads turned as they passed officers and support staff in the halls. The sentinel could hear whispered conversations all around them.

"I think it's terrible... those officers didn't help the kid."

"Little liar shouldn't be on the force anyway."

"He's a good guy. He helped my kid get ready for college."

"...cops waiting to make detective for years, and he just gets a badge handed to him..."

"Cops have to back-up other cops."

"If I fuck Ellison, djya think they'd make me a detective."

"That's bullshit! Blair is a good cop."

Jim's jaw tightened angrily as the murmured voices echoed around them. He prayed that Blair couldn't hear them.

Blair hobbled relentlessly through the bullpen. Simon saw them coming. "Sandburg. What the devil are you doing here?" The tall man smiled warmly until he saw the expression on his young detective's face. "You're supposed to be home, taking it easy."

"Is that an order, Captain?" The tone made the title into a slur.

"Sandburg!" Jim hissed out of the corner of his mouth.

"Ellison," Simon said in a controlled voice. "Take him home and see that he cools off."

"Oh, that's just perfect!" If anyone in the bullpen wasn't already listening, Blair's shout got his or her attention. "Telling Jim to control me. Like I was a freaking pet. This is such a crock!"

"Sandburg!" Simon's tone made every officer in the room cringe. "As long as you are an officer under my command..."

"Well hell, Simon." A parody of a grin crossed Blair's face as he fumbled in his pocket and came up with his badge case. "If that's all...." He tossed the badge at Simon, letting it bounce of the big man's chest. "Here!"

A gasp made its way around the room as Simon seemed to be stunned into silence. Blair turned and walked away without another word. Jim's jaw dropped and he tried to think of something -- anything -- to say to Simon. "Uh, sir. He didn't mean... I mean, it's just this whole mess has him crazy."

The captain bent and picked up the badge. The fancy hand-tooled case had been a gift from Simon for Blair's academy graduation. He seemed about to say something -- then turned and went into his office, closing the door with a quiet, and very final sounding click.

Jim looked around the room at the shocked faces. "It's not him... he's not thinking." Then he stalked to the elevator and punched the button angrily. The kid hadn't even waited for him.

Jim climbed into the truck, and slammed the door. "What the hell were you thinking?"

Blair leaned back and closed his eyes. He turned away from Jim and remained silent. His heart was pounding; his scent was unhealthy and tinged with chemicals.

He's sick, Jim thought, silently counting to ten. That's what's wrong. He doesn't need you shouting at him. He put up with your craziness during the Alex mess. Now you can help him. Pull him back from the edge. He needs to go home.

"Come on, kid." Jim stopped grinding his teeth and said in his most stringently calm voice. "Let's get you home. Let me take care of you."

"Take care of me?" Blair didn't turn, but his voice sounded broken. "I finally stand up on my hind legs and tell it like it is, and you think I'm going insane?"

Jim clutched the steering wheel and repeated his silent mantra. He put up with you. Now you can put up with him. He put up with you... "I just think, you need to rest. To get better."

"I think you need to leave me alone, Jim." Blair's voice was hoarse with emotion. "Just leave me the hell alone!"


Jim left him alone. He told himself that Blair just needed time. Time to cool down. Time to think.

So he got him to the loft, then he left him alone.

Jim drove around aimlessly for an hour. He ended up at a park, overlooking the ocean. Sitting perched on a damp picnic table; he pondered the disastrous path his life had taken lately.

After the press conference, he had felt an almost crippling sense of guilt. Blair had seemed to go along with the idea of being a cop. The academy could not have been easy for him, but he had made it. He never knew that Jim had been working to clear his name the whole time.

Jim wanted to clear up the fraud question right away. Simon had suggested they wait for things to cool down, get their ducks in a row, then float the notion that the whole press conference was a trick to capture Zeller. God knew the diabolical terrorist had shown everyone in Cascade just how dangerous he could be.

Meanwhile, William Ellison's lawyers were leaning on that sleaze ball publisher Sid Graham. As soon as Sid agreed to 'admit' that the dissertation was really a novel (a novel that he had no permission to disseminate), Jim would drop most of the six-figure lawsuit he had filed. As soon as they had that cleared up, Rainier (and especially the chancellor) would have to legally answer for their part in Blair's undeserved disgrace.

Of course, Jim knew that when he was no longer considered a fraud, Blair might leave him. As much as he wanted Blair to be his partner, to be a cop, he wanted it to be the kid's choice.

Now after this mess, he would be lucky if Blair stayed in Cascade. Hell -- Jim shuddered as a small stream of water found its way down the side of his neck -- he would be lucky if Sandburg stayed in the U.S. It had started to rain again. His steps dragging, Jim returned to his truck and drove home.

Sandburg's car was missing from its place in front of the building. Jim raced to the third floor and found the door ajar. There was no sign of violence in the empty loft. Just an empty box, with a few books tossed into it. In Blair's room most of the clothing was missing, along with his backpack and his extra blankets.

It felt so empty.

The room -- the loft -- it all felt so damned empty.


He found Blair two days later. It was amazing that it took him that long, considering that the younger man never left Cascade. Blair had paid cash for a room in a motel on the worst street in the city. The place made Jim's skin crawl.

The inebriated clerk had breathed high-octane fumes on him as he snatched the twenty and told him Blair's room number -- and offered him the key with a wink and a leer. "But he ain't there, mister," the man wheezed. "He's down the street at Mahoney's."

Mahoney's was a dive. Cops usually requested back up before going inside. Gangs -- drugs -- gambling, all found a home in the innocuous bar. Jim paused for a moment as he entered the smoky, rank smelling establishment. It was almost noon, but the place was dark and filled with shadows. His eyes went to a familiar figure seated alone in a booth in the back.

"Blair," Jim whispered the name and strode past the dozen or so other customers.

"Fucking crazy cop!"

"Cop?"

"That prick, Ellison."

He registered the muttered comments as he passed, but ignored them. He slid into the booth, heedless of the fact that his back was to the other patrons. Red rimmed, blue eyes looked up at him, out of a shadowed face. Blair's jaw was stubbled with days old whiskers, and he obviously hadn't showered since he left the hospital.

He was drinking beer, but there were several empty shot glasses pushed to the side. "What do you want?" Blair's voice held only a hint of a slur.

"Blair. You have to come..." Jim stopped himself. "Please come home. This isn't a good place for you to be."

"No where to go. No job. No friends. No nothing."

"You don't understand, kid. I'll do anything to make it right. Hell... I'll prove you were telling the truth. I'll give my own press conference if that's what it takes."

"FUCK!" Blair grabbed his beer glass and threw it, smashing it against the bar. The other patrons turned and watched as the smaller man, who was speaking low and fast, pulled the big cop across the table. When he let go of Ellison's jacket the pale-faced cop reeled back in shock. The curly haired man -- Ellison's partner, someone said -- dragged himself out of the booth and started limping for the door.

"Damn it, Blair!" Ellison roughly grabbed his shoulder and spun him around. "You can't just piss your life away."

"I said, leave me alone!" The expression on the youthful face as he snarled the words, made the cop and several of the patrons draw back. Dark blue eyes darkened to almost black as they filled with tears.

"No! Sit your ass back down!" The cop's tone made several patrons spines stiffen and a few bellies tighten

Blair raised the thick cane and swung it at Ellison. Jim sidestepped against the bar and caught the blow on his forearm with a loud crack. Hissing with pain, he slid down the dirty wood to the floor, cradling his arm against his chest.

The young man stood, looking down for a moment, his expression unreadable. Then he turned and once more started for the door. Once there, he glanced at the bartender and said harshly, "You better call an ambulance. I think the pig has a broken arm."


Blair walked blindly toward the motel. The alcohol he had consumed threatened to rise with every step. At the end of the block, a black Mercedes stopped and the door opened. A figure inside leaned forward and smiled. "Hey, Brainiac. Need a lift?"

"Hey, Zack."

"Get in, buddy." The handsome dark-eyed man gave a beckoning gesture. "I got an offer to make to you."

Blair dropped into the soft glove-leather seat and leaned back with a sigh. The car's interior was warm and smelled new and clean. He felt grungy and foul and the luxury around him only made it worse. "Drop me off at the Shangri-La Motel."

"Brain... you don't need to be staying there." Zack looked at him sadly. "That place is a dump."

"That place is all I can afford," Blair grumbled. "I seem to be out of a job -- out of options -- and most importantly, out of cash."

"I offered you a place to stay."

"No. I don't take charity." Blair shot him a sideways glance. "You want me to take someone else up on their offer of room and board? That's how I got into this mess."

"I could help you out. See that you earn some quick cash." Zack grinned and patted his shoulder. "I'm doing real good... well now and I could use a man like you."

Blair shuddered at his choice of words. "What use could you have for an aging professional student, with no prospects and a bum leg?"

"I heard about the cop thing. What the hell were you thinking, anyway? That all the sudden, the cops would be your friends?"

"Temporary insanity." Blair gave a bitter laugh. "They showed me the error of my ways soon enough. I told them where they could stick their badge."

"Maybe you learned s...s...some useful crap from those cops?"

"I wasn't exactly privy to their innermost secrets."

Zack thought for a moment and then grinned. "Nah. I didn't mean secrets. But I bet they taught you how to take care of yourself and stuff. Come and work for me. I need someone smart. Someone I can trust."

"Someone who was a cop until a few days ago?" Blair asked, incredulous.

"Hey, B. Even as a cop, you still gave me the heads-up on that Federal sting operation. I trust you, Bro. We're diaper-buddies, man."

Blair smiled and shook his head. They had sometimes worn diapers from the same all natural, unbleached bolt of cotton fabric. Zack's mom had been Naomi's best friend, Sarah Rothstien, and their sons were born days apart. When Sarah was killed in a car accident, Naomi had taken two-year old Zack on to raise as blithely as she would a puppy or a kitten.

It was over two years before Sarah's estranged brother Tony found them. He was angry at first, but then, as often happened, he fell for Naomi in a very big way. The four of them moved into Tony's handsome estate and -- for a time -- made a very happy family.

Though she refused to marry Tony, Naomi settled into playing June Cleaver with surprising ease. They lived apart from the rest of the world, as insulated and protected as birds in a cage, for over five years.

As if he could read Blair's thoughts, Zack grinned. "Those were good days, when we were kids in Tahoe. I still remember -- that last night -- us sneaking down to watch them leave. Mom looked so pretty in that sparkly green dress." Zack looked away and paused, "I mean... your mom."

"Naomi would have taken you with us." Blair felt the need to reassure his childhood friend. "If she could..."

Zack cut him off. "I know it was Uncle Tony that kept me. I think he wished he could keep you instead."

"You're his family, Zack. He loves you."

"Yeah, but he always planned for both of us to take over the business. You were supposed to be the brains. I'm just the m...m...muscle."

"I don't think Uncle Tony wants me anymore." Blair grinned ruefully. "I've been contaminated."

"What?" Zack grinned suddenly and punched Blair on the shoulder. "Oh. You mean from the cops. Uncle Tony will come around, don't worry. What say we go to my house? I'll have someone pick up your stuff from that flea trap." Zack held up his hands when Blair started to protest. "Please. Don't say no. I'm all by myself in that big place."

Zack sounded so forlorn that it was easy to imagine him as the child he had been. Always bigger than Blair, he'd nevertheless depended on his 'brother' for leadership in most matters. Zack was the natural athlete, popular and handsome. Blair was the natural student, sharp witted and inventive.

"The Dynamic Duo strikes again?" Blair chuckled, but didn't open his eyes.

"Sure. Why not?"

"Come on, Zacky." Blair sighed wearily and leaned back, resisting the urge to rub his upper arm. "Take me back to my motel."

"Please... B... Come to my place for a while. I worry about you. You're not looking too hot."

"OK." Blair sighed again and closed his eyes. "Just for a while."

"GREAT!"

In an alcohol tinged haze, Blair listened to Zack as he ordered the driver to take them home.


"I'm partnered with Ellison? Just like that?" Megan Connor looked from Simon to Jim, then back. "What about Sandy?"

"Sandburg made his choice." Jim looked down at the soft cast on his left arm, held against his chest by a sling. "He never really belonged here."

"Jim! I can't believe you're saying this." Megan was dumfounded. "I saw you that day at the fountain. You were absolutely devastated. And I watched Sandy as he dragged himself through a jungle when he could barely breathe. To find you... to protect you from that crazy Barnes bitch."

"The kid turned in his badge," Simon grumbled and looked down at his desk. "He practically spit in our faces."

"But he was upset about the shooting. And he had reason to be." She turned to Jim, looking for understanding.

"The shooting was just proof that he can never be a cop." Jim's voice was a monotone, but his eyes burned like blue flames. "I offered to do anything to help, and he turned on me. If I hadn't caught that cane with my arm, he'd have split my head open."

"Are you going to press charges?" Megan asked quietly. She hadn't believed it when she'd heard that Sandy struck Jim, but apparently it was true.

"No," Jim said quickly, before adding. "But I'm through with him."

"But, it's Blair. He's hurting... he's not himself."

"I don't care." Jim didn't change his expression. "Just so he stays away from me."

"Oh, Jim." Megan wanted to cry.

"Ellison is going to be on desk duty for two weeks." Simon didn't look up. "After that, he'll be working with you. You know as much about this sentinel crap as anyone."

"Sandy gave me some notebooks... in case something happened to him. He wanted me to be able to help you."

Pain seemed to flicker behind Jim's icy eyes for an instant, and then his handsome face became a mask once more. "That was real thoughtful of him."

Megan stepped back, unable to accept the cruel sarcasm that she heard in Ellison's voice. She had the uneasy feeling that this was the Jim Ellison she had heard about. The man who inspired animosity in almost everyone who met him. The heartless, ice water pissing bastard she'd heard about from the older officers.

Megan backed away, shaking her head. "I'll work with you. I guess there's no one else who can." Or will, she thought despondently. I'll do it for Sandy.

"Enthusiasm," Jim smirked. "I like that in a partner."


"You're looking good, B." Zack circled his friend and grinned as he stood in front of the mirror. "It's 'bout time you started dressing right."

Blair looked at the stranger in the mirror. His hair had been styled by a master. It was even shorter, but somehow the waves being shaped and controlled made his face seem leaner, and his eyes more vivid. The tailored black suit made him appear taller and the white silk shirt felt wonderful against his skin. To Zack's dismay, he skipped a tie and added a bright blue and silver silk vest instead.

He shook himself as he grimaced. Why don't you just stand there all day admiring yourself, Sandburg? "It's nice, Zack. I'll pay you back as soon as I get my life together."

"You already helped me. You went over those books from the linen company. Hell, I looked at those things for a week and I never spotted the problem. You caught it in an hour."

Blair smiled up at the tall man. Usually, Zack seemed to be so much in control. To most people he was the perfect young businessman. He was well dressed and handsome enough to be a movie star. All this, plus a bit of a 'wiseguy' flair that gave him a certain cachet.

But with Blair, he could let down his defenses. He could be Zacky, who sometimes stuttered and had trouble making heads or tails of numbers. "I'll help you any way I can, Zacky. Heck, you gave me a place to stay when I was practically on the streets."

"Well, if you're coming to Tahoe with me, you got to have some threads." Zack called the tailor and handed him a list. "Uncle Tony will expect his boys to make an impression."

"I still haven't said I'll go." Blair had insisted that Tony know he was coming. He refused to let his arrival be a surprise. "I might not be welcome."

Zack took out his cell phone and punched a couple of buttons. "Check it out for yourself." He handed the slim silver device to Blair and went back to talking to the tailor.

"Tony," the deep voice rasped when the ringing stopped.

"Err... Uncle Tony. It's Blair. Blair Sandburg." There was a long silence, and he continued warily. "Naomi's son?"

"Like I don't recognize my boy's voice after all these years?" Tony sounded annoyed. "Like I don't remember you? You think I'm senile?"

"No, Uncle Tony."

"Good, cause I been waiting for you to call since I saw you on the TV." Tony Roth hadn't changed over the years. He still had all the delicacy of a bulldozer. "Shit, kid. What the hell was you thinkin'? Blowing off your whole career for a freakin' cop? You went to college for fifteen years and you didn't learn anything?"

"It was complicated."

"And then, suddenly, you're a cop?"

"Yeah, well... like I said, it's complicated."

"But you still took care of Zack. Don't think we didn't appreciate it."

"Yeah." Blair knew Tony was talking about his warning to Zack about the DEA sting. "Maybe we shouldn't talk about this now."

Tony laughed so hard that Blair had to hold the phone away from his ear. "That's my Little Bear. Always thinkin'. I can't wait to see ya, kid. I told Zack to find you."

"You want us to come to Tahoe?"

"Nah. I'm going to check out my place in the mountains out there. I got it off one of those dot com fellas -- cheap."

"I'll tell Zack."

"I'll be out next Friday." Tony hesitated then asked quietly, "so... how's your mom?"

"She was in Nepal last time she wrote me."

"Oh. Well. Anyway, we'll talk when I get there." Tony sighed and continued. "It'll be good to see you, kid."

"You too, Uncle Tony."

Blair stood staring at the phone for a long time after the connection was broken.


The place in the mountains was a mansion. Hell, it was a compound. The beautifully landscaped acreage around the house was surrounded with high electric fencing, topped with strands of razor wire. The house had seven complete bedroom suites, a huge computer room, and an indoor swimming pool.

"This place is great!" Blair followed the driver who carried his new luggage into the black and white marble foyer. "Amazing."

"Tahoe is getting a little dull for Tony lately." Zack looked around appreciatively. "This place is for his retirement." He caught the driver's arm and pointed to a door on the left. "Put his stuff in there."

When Blair looked confused, Zack shrugged and said, "I figured you'd like a room on the ground floor till your leg gets better. The hot tub and pool should help you too."

"You think of everything."

"Keepin' you happy, Little B."

Blair grinned at the childish nickname as he leaned on his cane and walked to the room. "Thanks a lot, Big Z."


The hall outside the clinic at Cascade General was almost deserted as Blair arrived. The doctor was an old friend from his many visits to emergency. The nurse led him to an examining room in the back, and left him there alone, with a cotton gown in his hand.

He shucked down to his shorts and tee shirt and perched on the crackling paper covering the table. The room was chilly so he put the gown over his bare knees. After a few minutes, the door opened and a man slipped inside the room.

"Hey, Hardesty." Blair glared at the FBI agent as the man locked the door. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"It's as safe a place to meet as anywhere." Victor Hardesty was a stocky, balding man in his mid forties. "So when do you leave for Tahoe?"

"We aren't going."

"Vegas then?" Hardesty was already calculating the change of location. "AC?"

"AC?"

"Atlantic City. Duh!" The agent spoke too fast and his impatience was obvious.

"Here."

"What?"

"Uncle Tony is coming here. To Cascade."

"What the... WHY?" Hardesty rounded on Blair angrily. "It's not what we planned. You read his file, kid. This guy doesn't do anything without a reason."

"Hey, it wasn't my idea." Blair shrugged and shook his head. "I'd rather this went down somewhere else, too." Somewhere far from Cascade -- and Jim.

"You want to tell me what that scene with Ellison was about."

"Scene?" Blair asked innocently.

"In the bar?"

"Oh." Blair couldn't tell the agent the truth. That Jim had volunteered to go public and explain to the press about his senses. "I had to fill him in on the truth, he could have blown my cover. As it happened, it helped my credibility. I took down the mighty Ellison in front of a crowd of hoods."

He had dragged Jim over the table and -- in a few desperate seconds -- whispered the secret he had been keeping from his partner for months. Then he had, God help him, hit him with his cane.


Blair had been recruited soon after his press conference. He had been picked up and taken to the federal office building. There, he was told of the secret mission that he was 'requested' to undertake.

Simon and Jim had really believed that he could be a cop. That, with the chief's help, they could keep him with Jim and no one would know. Just like that.

Blair had his doubts from the beginning. Then, that day in the Federal Building, Hardesty and the Chief of Police explained what the price of his gold badge would be. They offered to clear his name. To say that he was working for them all along, and the press conference was part of the scheme. Even though the plan would call for him to turn in his badge, the chief assured him that he would still be a Major Crime detective, on loan to the FBI. That he could be a Major Crime Detective or a paid consultant if he preferred, for as long as he wanted. All of this was happening because of his past relationship to Tony and Zack Roth. He finally found out -- because Hardesty told him -- why his mother left Tony. It seems that on that last night the couple went out, someone tried to make a hit on Tony. He failed, and Tony, in a rage, shot the unconscious hitman in the head. In front of Naomi.

At last, it all made sense to Blair. Tony begging... then simply ordering Naomi to stay. The hurried exit in the middle of the night, with his mom driving for hours until they reached Mexico. The reason for the different names she used. The constant moving from place to place and from man to man.

Damn Tony. His mother might have been a flower child, a protester, and free spirit. But Tony turned her into a fugitive who spent years dragging her reluctant son through the shabby world of the underground.

Now, Tony was the head of a shadowy organization that was mostly legitimate. He had apparently distanced himself from the criminal aspects of his past. Apparently.

In truth, Tony Roth was a killer a dozen times over. He had become famous for the gruesome and painful ways he executed his enemies. The photos in the files Hardesty gave him to read made Blair ill.

Lately, Tony was the banker for the Russian mob and assorted arms dealers around the world. His continued success and control rested in the information he held. The information was hidden -- buried deep -- but Tony also kept a copy with him at all times. It was his insurance policy. His protection against the people he dealt with.

"What do you want me to do?" Blair had asked suspiciously.

"Get us a copy of those files," Hardesty answered bluntly.

"WHAT?" Blair almost laughed. "I think you're mistaking me for James Bond."

"Blair... may I call you Blair?" The Chief stepped closer and spoke in a confidential tone. "If you can't help us, maybe Ellison -- with his special talents -- could. We could explain to Agent Hardesty..."

"No!" Blair drowned out the rest of the whispered words. "We keep Jim out of this." And far, far away from the feds. "I'll try... but we keep Jim out of this."

"It's you we want, Sandburg." Hardesty grinned wolfishly. "We'll give you any special training you'll need. I understand you're a pretty bright fellow."

"You should also understand that I live with a detective... a good detective." Blair was already wondering how he was going to keep this from Jim.

"The Academy, Blair." The Chief smiled suavely. "While you are at the Academy, you will have some special classes. Then, after you enter the department, well, we'll think of something. Some trumped up argument with Ellison or Banks and you pretend to resign in a fit of anger."

They sketched out the whole plan for him. He really had no choice in the matter. He would do almost anything to stay by Jim's side. He knew he couldn't do that unless he was no longer a fraud.

Besides, he hadn't missed the threat in the Chief's words. He could tell the FBI agent about Jim's senses. If the government found out about the Sentinel... well, Blair didn't want to think about it.

"I want it all in writing." Blair had (thanks to Naomi) a healthy distrust of people in authority. "That I'm undercover. That I have been undercover since the diss came out. That everything that's happened since, has been at the request of my government."

"That's not necessary," the Chief started.

"It is, if you want me to work for you." Blair was amazed at how cool and curt his voice sounded.

"We'll give you your contract... whatever." Hardesty was dismissive. "You just get us that information. Then next year, maybe the brothers in blue will vote you 'Cop of the Year'. You'll be a hero."

"Hopefully a live hero." Blair plopped into a chair and let them fill him in on all the details.

"SANDBURG!" Hardesty's voice snapped him out of his reverie and back to the present. "We don't have all day to go over this stuff."


Jim sat at his desk and tried to scratch under the blue cast on his forearm, using Megan's letter opener. It was especially galling, since his arm wasn't really broken.

It hadn't been much of a plan, but it was the best he could come up with on thirty seconds notice. The best he could do, to protect Blair. He was still reeling from the astounding discovery that his partner was undercover.

His offer to give a press conference, and go public as a Sentinel, had been met by an astonishing reaction from his young partner. Throwing his glass and smashing it, Blair had shouted an obscenity. The smaller man had grabbed his shirt and literally lifted him off his seat, and dragged him across the table. The voice that only moments ago had been slurred with drink, was now a fierce, almost cold whisper.

Unbeknownst to Simon, Blair was working for the FBI. He was still a Cascade Police Officer. And Jim was putting him in danger at the moment. A few terse words, and Jim filled in between the lines. The kid was, in effect, being coerced into doing something incredibly dangerous. The tenement shooting incident was simply a 'lucky' accident that gave him an excuse to blow his top.

"Hit me with your cane!" Jim had leaned forward again and hissed the words into Blair's ear. "Act like you're leaving, and hit me. Aim for my head."

"No!" Blair's whisper sounded like a bellow so close to his ear.

"It's not like I'd let you bean me. I'll catch it."

"Ooookay?" Blair struggled to his feet, swaying slightly. Jim grabbed him and forced him to turn. He could see the pain in the kid's eyes as his weight landed on his wounded leg. Real anger flared in his guide's dark blue eyes, and Jim almost recoiled from it.

He had easily parried the blow from Blair's cane, his other hand slapping the hollow side of the bar to make a nasty cracking sound. Now, the word on the street was that Ellison's partner had beat him down and made him look like a punk.

In truth, he felt like an idiot. Jim had assumed that if he told the Chief of Police the truth about his senses, that Blair could be a cop. He wanted to magically remove the stain from Blair's name. Give him a job to replace the one he'd lost. A career to replace the one he'd destroyed to protect his Sentinel.

Trust Blair to risk even more -- life itself -- to be with his friend. Trust him to keep it from everyone, in an effort to protect them.

Trust Blair.

How could he have failed to do that? Jim wished he could forget, repress (whatever the hell it was that he did) the words he'd said. But every vicious, angry accusation was burned into his memory. The next time he saw Blair, he was going to apologize. He was going to ask -- hell, beg -- for forgiveness.

When he saw Blair. If he saw Blair. If his friend survived this insanity with the FBI. If Tony Roth didn't kill him. If...

Jim realized that the letter opener was cutting into the flesh of his tightly clenched fist.

Hell.


Blair Sandburg was eight years old again. Uncle Tony lifted him of his feet and engulfed him in a massive bear hug. Tony hadn't changed. He was still tall, powerfully built and fond of silk suits. He still smelled like Bay Rum, and cedar closets. At fifty-four, the man looked to be Jim's age.

"How's my boy?" Tony no sooner set him on his feet before he roughly tousled Blair's curls.

"Pop. Take it easy." Zack laughed as he handed Blair his cane. "His leg ain't a hundred percent, yet."

"Oh." Tony was instantly contrite. "Jeeze... sorry kiddo. I wouldn't never want to hurt you."

"You didn't hurt me." Blair leaned on his cane and smiled up at the older man. "It's so good to see you, Uncle Tony."

The older man caught Blair's jaw in his big hand and studied his features. "You look a lot like your mom."

"Ha!" Blair laughed at the comparison. "I should be so good looking."

"You crazy kid." Tony threw his left arm gently over Blair's shoulders, and then drew Zack to his side with his right. "This is so great. I got both my boys back with me at last."

Blair leaned closer and -- for a moment -- reveled in the happiness of the moment. Then he remembered why he was there. What Tony was and what he had done. He was here to betray Tony, and he was going to use Zack to do it. It was his job.

Hell.


"I'm still wondering what we're doing here?" Megan tugged at the top of the strapless gown she was wearing. "I know your dad's here, but I didn't think the society scene was your cup of tea."

"We're here on official business," Jim said absently, scanning the room behind her. The hotel ballroom was the site of The Cas~cotillion, a charity event that raised funds for troubled kids. "Tony Roth may be moving his business to Cascade, and he's supposed to show up here tonight."

"Tony Roth?" Megan looked surprised. "I read he was in town, but..."

Her words were caught in her throat as she spotted a familiar figure entering. Sandy looked splendid in the tailored tuxedo, leaning on an ebony and gold walking stick. It had been a week since she'd seen him, but there he was -- Blair Sandburg -- standing between two tall men, all three dressed in elegant evening wear.

The older man said something and Sandy laughed. Megan wondered if they were family members she'd never met. She felt Jim brush against her, and turned to see him staring at his former partner. Then he was moving, single-mindedly, toward him.

Megan tagged after and wondered if she should try to stop Jim... because she finally recognized the older man. Sandy was talking to Tony Roth. One of the most powerful crime figures in America. What the hell was going on? How could Sandy be so familiar with this... this gangster?

She cringed as Jim grabbed his former partner's arm and jerked his head. "Sandburg. I got to talk to you, right now."

"Still giving orders, Buddy?" Blair sneered as he held his ground.

"Please." Jim's voice was strained and sounded like it might break.

"Let go of him right now." Tony growled and stepped forward. "You okay, Blair?"

"It's all right, Uncle Tony." Blair's expression softened as he glanced back. "Jim and I have some unfinished business. I'll be right back."

"What ever you say, Son."

Megan watched as Blair shrugged off Jim's hand and walked away. Jim hesitated, watched the retreating figure and then followed quickly.

Left alone with the strangers, Megan forced a polite if tense smile. "I'm friends with Sandy... err... Blair. So... you're his uncle?"


"Oh, Christ." Jim sagged against the wall as soon as the door shut. He scanned the small cloakroom and made sure that no one was listening, "I can't stand this."

"You have to." Blair seemed almost angry. "It would have seemed suspicious if you didn't, at least, try to talk to me. To warn me."

"This is all my fault."

"Yeah Jim." Blair's lips quirked wryly. "As usual. This is all about you."

"Stop this now." Jim was so tired all of the sudden. Blair seemed like a stranger -- an elegant, almost dangerous stranger. "Dad's lawyers got that creep Sid to admit that he didn't have your permission to publish your book. He'll go public... admit he lied to Rainier."

"Jim... what are you talking about?"

"We're gonna fix this. Simon and me. We'll say you lied for us... so we could catch Zeller."

"This is such old news." Uncharacteristic bitterness tinged Blair's voice. "I'm doing the only thing I can. It's the only way I can be a cop. The chief made that pretty clear."

"But, you don't have to be a cop. I fixed it..." The rest of Jim's comment was cut off when he was slammed backwards into the wall he was resting against.

"I am so damn tired of you telling me... what I want... what I need... what's best for me!" Blair was not performing for an audience this time. He was furious.

"What can I do?"

"Just stay the fuck out of it. You didn't think of asking me? Me! The person who's life you're trying to fix. The person who's spent the last dozen years in academia." Blair sounded angry, but Jim could also sense the panic and fear pouring off him. "Anyway, the Fed's are involved in this now. If they find out about your senses -- and their buddy the Police Chief knows... because you told him -- they'll 'disappear' you. And you know what's even worse? They'll probably take your trusty guide, too."

"That's kinda paranoid," Jim resisted the urge to free himself and kept his tone calm. "If the government took us, my dad would have half of Congress looking for us. He paid good money for a couple of them."

"Jim..." Blair relaxed a little, but kept his aggressive stance.

"And meanwhile, your Mom would be mounting a one-woman, guerilla assault on the White House."

A corner of Blair's mouth quirked, as he stepped back and let go of Jim's lapels "Nah. Naomi is non-violent. She'd just chain herself to the main gate." The quirk threatened to turn into a smile as he shrugged. "Maybe she would be dressed as the Statue of Liberty... maybe she'd be naked..."

"So do you believe me? The government will not just scoop us up?"

"Maybe." Blair sighed and his features hardened. "But I have to do this anyway."

"These people were your family once. Undercover is tough enough when you're lying to strangers." Jim could remember too many times when he'd betrayed people who trusted him. Sometimes they were just innocents caught in a web of intrigue, but in the end it didn't matter, because it had always been for a worthy cause. His country or justice, always for the greater good. "You can get in so deep that it turns your head around. It destroys a little of your soul each time you betray someone."

Blair stepped back as if stung. "But I'm so good at betrayal. You've said so yourself."

"I promised myself... I would ask you to forgive me for that." Jim whispered as he closed his eyes. "The first chance I get, I fuck it up."

"It gets harder to forgive each time."

"The guilty accuse. You ever here that old adage, Chief?" Jim knew this wasn't the time to talk, but he was terrified that he might not get another chance. "I've lied to and deceived so many people that I've lost count."

Blair assumed the publicity when the dissertation came out was what made him go berserk. And it was awful. But it was the thought of Blair leaving him that made him crazy. He was sure that Blair wouldn't be able to refuse the fame and money. How could someone work half their life for something, and then not grab it when they got the chance?

He'd judged Blair, using the skewed values his father had pounded into him at an early age. Years in Special Ops, and the Police Department hadn't improved his cynical worldview. He wouldn't know innocence, decency and loyalty if he fell over it.

Or if it knocked him down to save him from a garbage truck.

"Jim... Jim!" Blair touched his hand and Jim reeled backward as he returned to the present. "You have to be more careful till I come back."

"Come back right now." Jim's voice sounded whiny to his own ears and he cringed.

"I can't." Blair used his 'guide voice'. "It isn't just a matter of them clearing my name or even keeping your secret. Tony is selling weapons, major weapons, to anyone with cash. Killers... Terrorists... I have to stop him."

"At what cost?" Jim whispered.

"I have to get back out there. They'll be suspicious."

Jim accepted defeat. "Let's make it look good."

Blair stormed out of the room, throwing open the door with a crash. Following close on his heels, Jim could see Tony and Zack watching from across the room. They pushed past Megan when Jim grabbed Blair by the shoulder with his good hand.

"Damn it! You shouldn't do this." It wasn't hard for Jim to sound angry.

"I told you. Get your freakin' hands off me!" Blair grabbed the front of Jim's jacket and pushed. "I'm where I want to be. With my real family."

"Let him go, cop." Tony came into the alcove and snarled at Jim, and the two men glared at each other. They were of a similar height and build, and an unspoken challenge hung in the air.

"Come on, Uncle Tony." Blair turned and smiled tightly at the furious gangster. "He isn't worth it." Catching Zack's arm, he turned and walked away.

"No." Megan stepped in front of Jim and he realized that he had started to follow. "Let him go, Jim."

Jim could see the pain etched in her lovely features, and imagined it reflected his own. Looking down, he saw white lining sticking out of his jacket front. Blair had ripped the front of his dinner jacket from pocket to waist, and he hadn't even heard or felt it tear. "Let's go." Jim stalked toward the nearest exit, grateful that the secluded alcove had hidden the incident from the partygoers. "There's nothing for us here."


"We might have to do something about that cop." Tony's words fell like a bomb in the back of the limo.

"When I first came to town t...to find you. And... well, you were hanging out together so I kinda' had him checked out. The word on the street was that he's a hard-ass, but a pretty good cop." Then, Zack added helpfully. "I bet you could get him busted for harassment."

Blair knew instinctively that Tony hadn't been talking about filing a complaint about Jim. He had read the FBI files, and knew -- in graphic detail -- just how Tony 'did something' about people.

"Forget about him." Blair forced his voice to sound indifferent and blase. "Jim is a well connected rich boy who likes to play with guns and cars."

"I heard he was voted 'Cop of he Year'?" Tony wasn't so easily convinced.

"Yeah... because he used me to figure stuff out for him and write all his reports." Blair shifted to flippant and bored. "He's a showboat."

"You wrote a book about him." Tony was watching him. Blair knew 'The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg' would come up sometime. The resulting notoriety was how Zack had found him in the first place. "You made it sound like he was some super hero."

Blair chuckled. "Jim Ellison offered to get me a ride along, so I could study police societies for my diss. It turns out he wanted a researcher, secretary and housekeeper, all free of charge."

"That book...?"

"Jim was some kind of sniper in the army. He has way better than twenty/twenty vision. I was studying stuff like that and he suggested I write the novel about him." Blair shrugged then continued bitterly. "I think he wanted to ride the war hero, super cop thing into a career in politics eventually. Anyway, when the shit hit the fan and the book was reported as fact, my good buddy Jim left me swinging in the wind. Pretended not to know what was going on."

"But they made you a cop." This was Zack, and he seemed to be trying to make Blair feel better.

"That was Jim's boss, Simon. He knew how many of Jim's cases that I actually solved."

"Wow." Zack grinned, and butted Tony with his elbow. "I told you he knew stuff. He's gonna be a big help."

"And this cop Ellison?" Tony pinned Blair with a searching gaze.

"Like I said. Jim is a well connected rich boy that the press likes to take pictures of." Blair gave Tony a mocking grin. "He's a hothead sometimes, but mostly he's a paper tiger."

"If you say so." The older man grinned and ruffled his hair. "So? You know if your mom is coming to town soon?"

"No... I mean with Naomi you never know." Blair wondered at Tony's dizzying ability to change the subject. He wondered if there was any way to write Naomi in Brazil and tell her to stay away. Some way that wouldn't have her turning up on his doorstep the next day.

No, she was probably safer, wherever the hell she was, if she knew nothing.


Jim Ellison sat and mechanically punched the keys on his computer. He was painfully aware of the others in the bullpen, walking on eggshells around him. Even Simon was giving him deferential treatment.

Something Blair once told him came to mind. The kid had been rattling on during a stakeout, and Jim hadn't been paying much attention.

"No really, Jim." Blair had lectured in that breathless, 'I'm making this up as I go along,' way he had of talking. "I think Sentinels were always genetically superior. And on some level, the people around them knew it. Sentinels were the original BMOC's -- like war heroes crossed with star athletes -- so they got special treatment -- because they were special."

"Sound like egotistical jerks to me," Jim said absently as he sipped his cold coffee.

"When the tribe depended on one man for their safety, their lives even, it makes sense."

"I don't like it when people treat me different."

"That's why you push people away!" Blair sounded like he'd made some remarkable discovery. "You knew that people were drawn to you and looked to you for leadership. All your life, you inexplicably got deferential treatment. Tell me you weren't voted Captain of every team? Leader of every squad? Even people who treated you badly, did so out of fear... or jealousy."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"...And what was the result of all this adulation... it made you suspicious. You thought people were always after something. Because you don't think you deserve..."

The suspects had picked that moment to start shooting and Jim had not recalled the uncomfortable conversation until today.

"Would you like a cup of coffee, Jim?" Henri offered the steaming cup with a sympathetic smile. It was the fifth cup he'd been brought today

Jim almost snarled no, then took a breath, and then another. "Okay, sure. I guess I could use a fresh cup."


Zack swam another lap, then surfaced next to Blair, his black hair plastered sleek around his head. "How's your leg doin'?"

"The water helps a lot. This place is great." Blair walked back and forth at the shallow end and looked around the huge tiled room. "I'm starting to feel like a leech, though. I should be doing something to earn my keep." Blair shrugged and kept walking. "Maybe I should just take off. I can get a job somewhere and..."

"No! Uncle Tony has big plans for you, Brain."

"It's been three weeks." Blair shrugged again.

"He's letting you get better, that's all."

"Well," Blair laughed and kicked his legs, splashing the other man. "Unless he wants me to run a marathon, I'm pretty much better."


The plan worked. A few hours later, Blair was summoned to the senior Roth's suite of rooms on the second floor.

"Hey, Little B." Tony opened the door to his office. "Come on in. I want to talk to you."

"Sure, Uncle Tony." Blair sat down and straightened his leg. "What did you want?"

"I bought this factory down in Seattle. They make some kinda' computer chips." Tony tossed a folder toward the younger man. "I can't talk to these guys."

"You want me to help out?" Opening the folder, Blair scanned the first few pages. The factory workers were on strike. "You want me to... do something about the strikers?"

"This is totally legit." Tony grinned, holding up both hands. "I just want you to talk to these eggheads. See what they want?"

"I can do that." Blair surreptitiously studied the office. In the corner was the elaborate computer console that Tony had brought with him. It was the first chance Blair had to check it out and he tried to memorize every detail. Sewn into he top flap of his backpack was a special disk. All he had to do was attach its wires to his cell phone and insert the disk into the computer. It was supposed to transmit everything on the hard drive to a special government computer. Then he could leave and go back to his life. It was something he wanted so badly it made him ache. Jim was going back on regular duty, and even with Megan's help, Blair was afraid he might get himself killed.

"I got to go to Tahoe tomorrow, jus' for the day." Tony grinned and added conspiratorially, "I got a big deal going down."

"Is it okay if Zack goes to Seattle with me?" Blair smiled back.

"Sure, kid. You two players can check out the nightlife in the big city."

Blair glanced at his new Rolex, a recent gift from Tony. "I have to go. Doctor's appointment -- my last -- I hope."

"I wish you'd let me send you to a specialist."

Blair did a little dance step, before he headed for the door. "Too late. I'm almost better now. See ya." In truth, he didn't want to be late for this meeting with Agent Hardesty.

Tony had stayed close to home in the previous weeks. His bodyguards slept in rooms on either side of his office, and when he did go out, he insisted Blair and Zack go with him. Being undercover was like playing chess. Blair made a move and Tony countered with his own. Each time he thought Tony was on to him, he'd be assured he was trusted. Each time he thought he was secure, Tony would hit him with a measuring look or suspicious questions.

If Tony left town tomorrow, he would take the bodyguards, Leo and Kenny, with him. This could be the chance Blair had been waiting for. Hardesty was leaning on him to hurry. Making not-so-subtle comments about the delay costing lives. Possibly many, many lives.


"What are you doing here?" Jim could see that Blair was agitated when the detective entered the examination room with Agent Hardesty. "You have to stay out of this. It's almost over."

"Ellison went to the Chief of Police," Hardesty answered unhappily, glaring at the silent detective. "He convinced him -- somehow --that he could help."

"Can we have a minute?" Jim whispered, obviously to the agent, though he never took his eyes off Blair.

"What... no, wait." Hardesty threw up his hands in defeat, and headed for the door. "I don't want to know."

"Damn it!" Blair snapped and turned his back on his friend, but not before Jim saw the anguish in his eyes. "I worked so hard to keep you out of this."

"Sorry, Chief." Jim sat down on the rolling chair and studied his friend. Blair was dressed in a gray silk suit over a dark red shirt. Typical of Blair, he wore no tie. Two diamond studs glimmered in one ear and a slim expensive looking watch peeked from beneath one cuff. "You sure look different."

It had the desired effect. Jim could almost feel the fear leave his guide. Of course, it was replaced with anger. "I look different? I've been eating dinner with a man who's been known to strangle people with their own intestines. And you say I look different."

"It was a compliment."

And some woman hasn't grabbed you yet, Blair thought sarcastically, because he knew that really was Jim's idea of a nice compliment. Blair turned and looked him up and down. "Well, you look like crap."

Jim knew he was right. He had seen the stranger in the mirror when he shaved this morning. He barely ate anymore because the food all tasted weird. He couldn't sleep knowing that Blair was in danger and he could do nothing about it. "I'm okay."

"So why did you insist on sticking your nose into my business at this late date?" Blair was trying to sound cold, but he wasn't capable of the emotion when it came to Jim.

"I had a feeling," Jim ground out the words vehemently.

"What?"

That got him. Jim almost smiled at the irritated look on his partner's face. "I had a feeling. I need to be close from now on."

"Just like that?"

"Yes." Jim stood up. "You're the one who told me I'm a freakin' caveman. That I have all these damn... things... that I can do. Well, I Had A Feeling."

"And just how are you going to 'be close'. Tony knows you're a cop."

"You're going to make your move soon." Jim didn't say it as a question. "You're going for the computer, aren't you?"

"Tomorrow." Blair frowned as if he wished he hadn't said that.

"I'll be within earshot." Jim wanted to reassure him. This was Blair's play and he was just there to back him up. "Outside the compound, just in case there's trouble."

All the steam seemed to go out of the younger man. He perched on the exam table and swung his feet absently. "Since you're here, you have to help me convince Hardesty to cut a deal with Zack."

"He's Tony's second-in-command." Jim had read the files and he knew that Tony kept his nephew in the dark about the worst of his crimes. Zack Roth was Tony's front in his more legitimate enterprises even if he wasn't exactly the brightest bulb in the lamp. "Worrying about him could get you killed."

"He's a good guy." Blair gave him that earnest look of his. "He's never even been arrested."

"I'll talk to Hardesty." Jim couldn't resist, as usual. "I'm sure they'll want him to testify to some of the stuff in the files. Maybe he could get him in the witness program."

"That would be great." Blair brightened for the first time and he smiled. "Zack just needs a chance. If he gets away from Tony, he'll be fine."

There was a knock on the door. "Anytime," Hardesty hissed.

Blair sighed, "Better let him in."

Jim hesitated and leaned closer to his friend. "Remember the Kluges stakeout?"

"Yeah." Blair looked puzzled. "I usually remember when I almost get my hair parted by a bullet."

"In the car... before... you said something. That I was treated different," his voice dropped to an urgent whisper, "because of the Sentinel stuff. That I got freaked out because people treated me different... you know, better."

"BMOC?" Blair's lips quirked a little.

"Yeah, something like that." Jim nodded impatiently. "You said I got mad cause I thought people wanted something from me. That I didn't think... well, then the shooting started and you didn't finish. What were you going to say?"

Blair looked at him quizzically as he thought for a moment. A sad look passed over his face like a cloud in front of the sun. "I said that the reason you push people away is that you don't think you deserve to be loved."

"Oh." Jim didn't know what he expected, but it wasn't that.

Or the sentinel soft words that followed. "But you do."

Jim felt his throat tighten with emotion and backed away. "I'll get Agent Hardesty."


Blair and Zack took Tony to the airport the next morning. Well, actually they rode in the limo with him. Tony shooed them off, as he waited his turn at security. "Go. You're gonna miss your own flight." He hugged them both then signaled Leo and Kenny, who followed him to the gate for their flight to Reno. Blair and Zack headed in the opposite direction as it was almost time for their own commuter flight to Seattle.

"So." As they walked away, Blair handed Zack the itinerary he'd made up. "We are meeting the union leaders for lunch. I made reservations so we'd have a conference room for the whole afternoon. There's the information I found out about these guys." Blair pointed to a separate sheet of paper. "You might want to look that over and..." His cell phone ringing cut off the rest of his words. He flipped it open and answered. "Sandburg."

Zack stood patiently while Blair gave terse one-word answers to whoever was on the line. "Who was it?" he asked after Blair put the phone away.

"That girl I was dating a month ago. I told you about her... Kelly. She has to see me."

"Right now?"

"It must be important." Blair looked around nervously.

"Jeez, Brain." Zack leaned closer, his voice worried. "Did you knock her up?"

"No!" Blair rolled his eyes and went to the flight departure screen. "Look Zacky, there's another flight in under three hours. You go now, get everyone started on lunch, and I'll be there as quick as I can. I shouldn't be more than an hour late."

"Brain..."

"Do this for me, Zacky. Please?"

"Okay, but don't leave me alone with those nerds for too long."

"Hey." Blair grinned and headed for the exit. "I'm a nerd."

Zack's laughing voice carried over the din in the airport. "Don't call my little brother names."

Blair called the limo as he walked. The driver hadn't gotten far, and by the time Blair made his way to the pick-up zone, the car was waiting.

The chauffeur, Bobby, drove him to an apartment complex near the university. A tall, beautiful blond was waiting and met him with a kiss. Blair could feel the driver watching, so he made a great show of kissing the disguised Megan, before going inside with her.

As soon as he was sure he wasn't being followed, he ducked out the back and got into a second limo. It was a perfect replica of Tony's, right down to the license plates. If Bobby tried to phone out of the other car, all he would get would be static. If he tried to leave the car, he would be arrested.

Meanwhile, Blair realized that his new driver was very familiar.

"Jim!"

"It's supposed to be 'Home James'."

"I keep finding gray hairs. Why am I surprised?" Blair leaned back, apparently talking to himself. "You don't have gray hair, but you're a carrier."

"Calm down, Chief."

Blair leaned forward and looked at his friend. Even though he knew it wasn't real, he was somehow relived to see that Jim wasn't wearing the cast anymore. The young man eyed the two familiar looking white bags on the front seat. "Did you eat anything?"

"Drove through Wonder Burger." Jim picked up a sack and passed it over his shoulder. "Got you a turkey club. There's some other stuff back there, for you, too."

Blair looked down at the familiar items on the seat beside him and swallowed. "I'm not hungry."

"Okay," Jim shrugged and opened the sack. "I'll eat it." And so he did. While he drove, and without getting so much as a crumb on his black blazer, Jim inhaled the multi-layer club, and two Triple Wonders with everything, (or as Blair called them, Heart Attacks on a Bun).

For once, Blair said nothing. Jim had very little reserve of body fat, and it looked as if he'd lost most of it. His eyes were shadowed behind the prominent bones of his face and he looked like someone recovering from a near fatal illness. Opening the mini-fridge in the back, Blair snagged a bottle of cola, opened it and passed it forward without a single comment about 'battery acid sweetened with refined sugar'.

"So," Jim took a huge swallow of soda and parked it in the drink holder after stifling a burp. "What happens when we get there?"

"You stop at the gate until I slide the key card. Then you take me into the circular drive, pause at the front door long enough for me to exit, then haul ass back out before anyone recognizes you."

"Who all will be there?" Jim had a rough idea of the inhabitants of the house, from spending several nights on the hill over-looking the compound.

"There are two guards outside the house, the housekeeper and Tony's trainer... and Louis, the chef, and a maid I think. It's my best chance to do this."

"You sure you want to?"

"Kind of late for that, Jim." Blair didn't want to spend these minutes arguing with his best friend. "So, how are Simon and the guys? Anyone notice I'm gone?"

"I had to tell Simon a week ago."

"What?"

"He won't tell anyone," Jim said hurriedly. "You should have seen him. It was like a double whammy -- first you get hurt, and then the whole back-up thing. Simon pushed for the maximum against those creeps, you know. Then you quit and it seems you turn crooked. Cap' was walking around like he lost his best friend... saying how he couldn't trust his own judgment anymore. He even talked about retiring."

Blair winced. "And after you told him the truth?"

"He said he was going to hit you so hard you wouldn't grow any more."

"Oh." Blair figured Simon was joking. At least he hoped so.

"I told him someone already did that."

"Nice, Jim."

"There was also talk of him planting his foot in your ass..."

"So?" Blair tried to sound casual. "Did you tell anyone else?"

"Just Megan... last night." Jim got quiet, then finished, "she cried."

"Oh man. What about Joel?"

"He looks at me, then at your desk, then he gets this real sad look."

"Oh God." Blair hated the fact that he was hurting the man who loved him and treated him as a son.

"When Rafe and Henri first heard where you were and who you were with, they got pissed."

"They think I'm scum, don't they?"

"They wanted to kidnap you and deprogram you or something." Jim wasn't joking. "After they smacked some sense into you."

"They should all hate me. I'm a dirty cop... a liar and a fraud, as far as they know." Blair was awed at the faith they had in him. He felt better than he had in weeks.

"They know you're the best of us. You always have been." Jim stopped at a red light and looked back. "When this is over, everyone will know."

"When this is over." Blair sighed and leaned back against the plush seat. Please let this be over.


Jim slipped the aviator style sunglasses on as they cruised through the gate and up the circular drive. "Be careful, Chief. If you need help... just... well I'll hear ya."

Blair opened the door and was out in one smooth movement. Jim resisted the urge to watch him go inside and smoothly turned and went back through the gate. It went against every instinct, every fiber of his being to leave his partner behind. And he had to do it. He had to let Blair do this on his own.

Even if it killed him.

Jim shook off the terror those words caused him. The powerful motor carried him up the steep dirt road behind the compound. Before when he'd been here, he'd hiked in wearing camouflage. He'd spent the last few nights listening to everything that went on in the house. Soaking in every word Blair said. Worrying about every nuance of every conversation. It was more terrifying than any time he had gone undercover.

He left the key in the ignition, and raced to the crest of the hill, dropping to his belly on the damp earth.

Instantly, he zeroed in on his guide. Blair told someone the chauffeur was coming back in a few minutes to take him to the airport. He then asked the housekeeper to tell the chef that Tony wanted a dinner party tomorrow. She laughed knowingly when he mentioned that Zack had forgotten something. Jim tracked the young man's steps through the house. The chef and the housekeeper were talking in the kitchen. The hot tub was bubbling, and a young woman was tittering. The trainer's cajoling words made her giggle more. Four down.

The two guards were walking around the perimeter, with one hand under jackets that didn't quite hide the machine pistols there. Tech 9's. Street sweepers, or as he referred to them, inaccurate pieces of nine-millimeter crap.

A stereo was clicked on and loud rock music blared suddenly. Damn! Jim dialed down his hearing and worked on filtering out the thumping rhythm.

He had to find Blair. The 'feeling' was back. Big-time. Something wasn't right here. Jim took out his cell and called for backup.

Blair was in trouble.


Blair made his way to the second floor. The housekeeper was in the kitchen with Louis. The trainer, Jeff, was romancing Sara, the maid, in the hot tub. Blair wasn't going to get a better shot.

The lock on the door to the office was very high tech and supposedly tamperproof. It was wired with two very sensitive alarms. The FBI specialist who trained him spent many long, exhausting nights at the academy teaching him to break the unbreakable. To hack the un-hackable. The alarms were disabled, and the small handheld computer soon found the combination.

Stepping inside, Blair could hardly believe that he made it this far. He had already attached the disk to the special cell phone they'd given him. One false move and the computer would crash, erasing everything. Somewhere in the house, raucous music boomed unexpectedly making him jump. Calm down, he chided himself.

As he reached for the computer, a voice came from somewhere behind him. "The password is 'Naomi'. I guess I'm a sentimental kinda guy."

"Tony!" Blair forced the word past the frozen lump in his throat as he turned. He had to make Jim hear him. "Tony! What are you doing here? You were getting on the plane."

"The fed.'s will be surprised when my boys arrive without me in Reno," Tony chuckled evilly.

Damn, Blair tried desperately to force his brain to work. Tony must have somehow gotten off the plane at the last moment. "So. What happens next?"

"I loved your mother, even if she was a dumb broad. You know that?" Tony seemed very casual except for the large caliber automatic in his hand. "Then, she went and saw something she shouldn't have. You know, I never thought she'd leave. I thought the was too ditzy to do anything on her own."

"She got away from you, didn't she?"

"The crazy bitch stole some very important papers. I coulda' found you two anytime I wanted, but she let me know if anything happened, the papers would go to the feds."

"She beat you." Blair got angry all over again. This man had caused so much pain. Somewhere at the heart of this whole charade was a sick plan to hurt his mom.

"Even secrets get old eventually, kid. Naomi's insurance has -- let's say -- lapsed."

"You leave her alone." Blair was painfully aware that his mother was still a witness to a cold-blooded killing. And there was no 'statute of limitations' on murder.

"I got her baby boy," Tony gloated. "If you'd been serious about working for me... it would have just about killed her. This way, you just disappear and she wonders what happened to you. For as long as she lives, anyway." The big man gestured with his pistol toward the door. "Let's go Little Bear."


Jim drove down the hill, the limousine barely in control. Below him, the gate opened to let another car enter. It was swinging closed by the time he got there, but it didn't matter. The heavy car crashed into the ornate wrought iron and sent it flying. The guards started shooting, the bullets turning the armored glass into a series of crystalline webs. Jim turned the wheel and clipped the nearest man. He went down and didn't move while the other thug took cover and kept shooting.

The limo almost overturned as Jim drove it as close to the front door as he could. Using the armored door as a shield, he exchanged fire with the guard while keeping an eye on the house. The machine pistol wasn't accurate at this range and the gunman tried to get closer. It was his last mistake, as Jim was able to target him as he moved.

The obnoxious music still throbbed inside the house and Jim could hear at least one woman shrieking. Satisfied that there were no more shooters outside, he hit the front door hard. When it swung open, he used it as cover while he scanned the foyer. In an arched doorway, a woman stood, crying hysterically while a tiny, foreign looking man in a white jacket tried to comfort her.

"Get her out of here." Jim waved the couple off, then tried to find Blair. All he could smell was garlic, tears, onion and gun oil... Jim turned just in time to see the chef push the woman away and raise the machine pistol he had hidden behind her.

The detective fired as he dove onto the glossy marble floor. The little man went down, but not before Jim felt the numbing punch of bullets hitting his chest.


Blair tried to stall as Tony herded him toward the back of the house. He could hear the gunfire from the drive, and knew that Jim was nearby. "Tony. Unless you're thinking of surrendering to me, I'll just slow you down." They were in the huge, blue tiled room that housed the swimming pool. The trainer, Jeff had apparently already fled and taken Sara the maid with him. "You might be able to get out before the cops surround the place."

"And leave you here?" Tony paused and raised the weapon. "I don't think so, Blair."

"No!" Zack's voice echoed off the vaulted ceiling. "Let him go, Uncle Tony."

Blair's relief at the stay of execution, however brief, was leavened with sorrow and anger that Zack had become a part of this. "So I guess no-one caught their plane today?"

"I knew Tony was up to somethin', so I came back." Zack strode closer to Tony, placing himself between his uncle and Blair.

"He's working with the cops, Zack," Tony ground out the words, without lowering his gun. "Always was. Making fools out of us."

"Leave him be!" Zack stood tall and stared resolutely, the gun in his hand, a twin to the one that Tony held.

"He's a cop, damn it!"

While Tony sidled around, trying to get a clear shot at him, Blair waited for a chance to make his move. Now would be a good time for the troops to arrive, he thought frantically.

"Leave him be!" Zack repeated stubbornly.

"Throw your weapon into the pool... Roth... you're under arrest."

Blair turned to see that the latest player in this drama was Jim. With his pistol held steady in his right hand, he tall detective swayed slightly. From his left arm, crimson trickled, gathering in an ever-increasing pool of blood around his feet.


Jim lay unmoving on the cool, black and white marble of the foyer. His lungs struggled to draw in a breath and he had to resist the urge to tear off the bulletproof vest. Only his right arm seemed able to move, and he used it to awkwardly lift himself to a sitting position. His left arm was broken above the elbow and the pain of moving it made his vision go dim.

Blood was flowing steadily, and Jim hoped the bullet or bone hadn't nicked the artery. It wasn't severed, or he'd already be dead.

Blair's voice -- strangely hollow and resonant -- telling Tony to leave.

Jim picked up his automatic and stood. Pain and weakness were forgotten for the moment. Only Blair mattered. He followed the sound of his voice, increasing his pace when he heard Tony deciding Blair's fate.

Zack Roth beat him to it this once. By the time Jim entered the huge room, Zack had placed himself between his uncle and Blair. Meanwhile, Tony was single-mindedly trying to get a clear shot at Blair, arguing with Zack the entire time.

Jim couldn't be sure of his own ability to stay vertical for much longer. He couldn't be sure of Zack. He had to do something now.

"Throw your weapons into the pool..." The echoes were playing hob with his hearing. Steam and the smell of chlorine rose from the water a few feet from his side making it hard to breathe. "Roth... you're under arrest."

With worry evident on his face, Blair turned and started toward him. Jim had known the younger Roth would be the wild card. Zack's reaction confirmed that he was, just as Blair had insisted, a good guy. Zack turned and innocently tried to explain to Jim that even though he had a gun, he wasn't going to shoot anyone.

It was the opening Tony needed, as the automatic in his hand barked twice before the wounded detective could react. Jim fired almost simultaneously, striking Tony in the face. The sound of the shots resonated again and again, as time seemed to slow for the injured sentinel.

Blair was thrown forward as Tony's bullets hit him in the back... Zack shouted something as a third shot rang out... across the room, Tony slid down the gore splattered wall... "Jim..." His guide's agonized cry joined the shots as they swirled and reverberated into the infinite.

Dazed, Jim took a few faltering steps and tried to catch his partner as he toppled toward him. When the solid form of the guide hit his wounded arm, Jim's own strangled scream was cut off as everything went black.

numbing darkness... smothering silence...

Blair slipped out of Jim's grasp as the floor vanished from beneath his feet. The blood warm water caught and cradled his tired body like silk and he knew no more.


Ringing

Blair tried to open his eyes to see what that noise was.

"Jim?" He tried to talk, but his mouth wouldn't co-operate.

"You alive, Brain?" Zack's voice wavered in a pained whisper.

"Za-ey?" Blair tried to take a deep breath, groaned and pushed himself off the floor. "Wh's 'im?"

"He's... in the pool."

"Wha... Sh 'ih...?" Blair crawled to the edge of the pool and froze. Jim floated face down in the crystal clear water. "...'IM!" There was a shot and the tile in front of Blair shattered, spraying him with shards and making him draw back.

"I'm gonna... kill ya'... B." Tony's mouth was filled with blood. His face was a hideous mask of shattered flesh and gore. Blair wondered how he could be alive, let alone still be conscious. Nevertheless, the terrified young man could only spare him a moment's glance. 'Yr... gonna die for nuthin. Tha' compu... er it ain't got nuthin on it..." The words bubbled red as they slurred from his lips.

"Then shoot me now, cause I'm getting Jim." At least that's what Blair meant to say. He crawled forward while Tony rambled on. His face felt numb, he couldn't move his jaw and his words were just garbled sounds. Just as he was about to leap into the water, another shot rang out. Blair didn't pause, but tumbled forward, hoping somehow that the bullet would miss him. He had to save Jim.

The bulletproof vest he was wearing was state of the art. Hardesty had bragged that it was almost as reliable as the one the President wore. It also weighed less than two pounds, which was a good thing in this instance. Blair splashed toward Jim single-mindedly, ignoring the fact that Tony was going to shoot him -- probably in the head this time -- at any moment,

"...'IM!" Blair choked, grabbed his partner around the waist and struggled toward the shallow end. The tall body was terribly heavy and limp. Even as he struggled with the dead weight, a thought flashed through his mind. He'd been told that Henri and Jim had pulled his body from the fountain. Now he knew why it took two of them. Using the buoyancy of the chest deep water, Blair clenched his hands together under Jim's ribs.

Using his remaining strength he lifted hard and was relieved to hear the water gush from the tall man's mouth. I don't think I can do CPR. Maybe...Blair swayed and felt his grip weaken. No! The injured young man forced his weary body to move forward, holding Jim in his arms.

"Blair!" Simon's wonderful, deep voice had never sounded so sweet. "Jim? What the hell?" There was a splash as several men entered the water.

Strong hands took his arms and tried to remove them from around Jim's waist. "Let us take him, now." Jim was lifted away from him and Blair felt himself let go. Behind him, a soft voice was reassuring. "We'll take care of you and Jim, Hairboy. Come on." Others joined the man that held him as he was carried from the water. On the tile floor, paramedics were surrounding Jim and Zack. Tony was lying in a lifeless heap as an officer checked him.

Simon and Henri eased him down to a sitting position, with Brown supporting his back. Simon held his shoulders and looked kind of sick as he stared at the younger man. "We'll get you to the hospital quick, kid. Just stay put."

Blair didn't want to think about what his face must look like. "...'im?"

"They got him breathing, Kid. He wasn't in the water long." Rafe joined them, patting Blair's arm. "Roth is dead."

"Thak?" Blair stiffened and tried to see past the medics.

"No." Rafe leaned closer and held his gaze. "Zack got shot in the side. He's hurt, but alive."

"...im." Blair held out his hands, the gesture of entreaty clear.

The two partners started to protest, but when Simon nodded, they helped him to Jim's side. The big detective coughed as the medics placed an inflatable splint on his arm. Behind the oxygen mask, the sentinel looked horribly pale and ill, but he was breathing and that made Blair very happy.

I wish I could talk to you, Jim. Blair tried to silently communicate with his friend. Or even touch your hand.

Unexpectedly, Hardesty knelt in front of Blair and filled his range of vision. "Sandburg! Did you get into that computer? Did you get the information?"

"Not now," Henri growled.

"Haven't you caused enough trouble?" Rafe snapped from the other side.

"Nuhhthin in comp...pu...er. T..ick ...fahk"

"What?" Hardesty shouted, making Blair cringe.

"Brain?" Zack's voice was weak. "Come here for a sec."

Blair scooted over to the nearby stretcher and took the injured man's hand. Zack was ready for transport, and the paramedics stepped aside impatiently.

"I killed Uncle Tony." Zack was crying.

"S...ok."

"What he said... Brain... he really did carry all his records with him when he... They're on microfilm. Inside the cover of that big check book on his desk." Zack squeezed his hand and nodded. "It's all there. Under the leather cover."

"S...gud, Thakee." The paramedic's whisked Zack away, followed by two FBI agents.

"Stay with him, every second!" Hardesty ordered. "Seal this house! I want that office sealed.

The damn list had been there, in plain sight, all along. Hell! Blair tried to focus as the burly federal agent trotted out of the natatorium. I wonder if they'll put that in the report? The suspect was killed in the Natatorium. Darkness began to claim him as he felt the events of the day come crashing down on him. Thoughts twisted and curled in confusion as he fell back against his friends.

"We need a medic over here." Henri's anxious voice seemed to be coming from a great distance.

"Just relax Blair." Simon appeared as a really big, blurry shadow and his words sounded like an order. "Jim will be okay and so will you."


"Ellison! Are you awake?" Jim opened his eyes to see the dark, worried face of his Captain. "You just got out of surgery. You got some pins in your arm, but everything is okay."

"Blair?" The patient took an inventory of his circumstances. Sore ribs, lungs that felt like he'd been breathing fire, one arm held immobile in an awkward, full-length cast supported by a pillow. The usual oxygen, catheter (he hated the damn thing already) and IV's.

"The kid's still in recovery," Simon spoke more quickly when he saw the panic in his detective's eyes. "He needed some special surgery. His jaw was broken pretty badly and his back was banged up some. But he'll recover completely."

"Sure?" Jim remembered the horror of seeing Blair shot twice by the heavy automatic. For a moment, he'd forgotten that his partner was wearing a vest. Even with the vest, that caliber weapon could cause a good bit of trauma.

"I talked to the doctor myself," Simon assured him. "They were a little worried about his back -- there was swelling effecting some nerves -- but they say it'll be temporary."

"Jaw?"

"The medic's thought he hit that tile floor when he fell."

"When I dropped him." Jim closed his eyes and tried to take a deep breath.

"Don't start, Ellison," Simon barked as he stood up. "Your arm was useless and you almost died from blood loss."

"Hurts to breathe..." Jim fought the urge to cough, because he knew it would hurt even more. "Ribs?"

"You... you fell in the pool." The Captain seemed to be debating how much to tell him. "When the kid dragged you out, you weren't breathing."

"Oh God!" Jim was instantly overwhelmed with images of an injured Blair struggling to drag his lifeless body out of the water. It was his own worst nightmare replayed, but with the roles reversed.

"He's going to be okay, Jim. Zack Roth will pull through, and that should make him feel better."

Jim closed his eyes and tried not to think how much lifting his lifeless body would strain an already damaged back.

Nothing is going to be okay.

He was afraid that this whole mess would be the last straw. That Blair would turn his back on everyone and everything in Cascade.


Epilogue

Blair spent the better part of the next two days in a very pleasant haze of painkillers. He was in some sort of traction device to ease his back, and his jaw was covered in bulky bandages. The doctors asked him to try not to speak. Then Simon ordered him not to talk. They had put him in a room with Jim and the detective had taken to sitting on the side of his bed and watching him. It was unnerving in the extreme. When Jim wasn't staring at him, he was busy writing in a yellow tablet on his tray table.

All the detectives from Major Crime came for visits, but much of what happened was confusing in his buzzed state. Hero. They said he was a hero. More importantly, Simon assured him that Zack would recover completely. The FBI had whisked him away to an undisclosed location as soon as he could be moved. The younger Roth would be a protected witness, and he would be all right. Zacky was much smarter than anyone gave him credit for.

Blair listened patiently as his friends congratulated, apologized, reassured and comforted. All except Jim -- he just sat there, in his big clunky looking cast and watched for a while, then wrote some more. Confused, Blair would look at that cast and wonder if it was real this time.

They cut back on the painkillers on the third day and as his head cleared, his body let its displeasure be known. His back felt like, well, like he'd been shot in the back, twice. At least they had released him from the traction apparatus, and allowed him to get out of bed. Meanwhile, his jaw throbbed as if someone had pulled all his wisdom teeth out through his ears.

Jim came out of the bathroom, wearing jeans and cut to fit tee shirt. Usually he'd leave the hospital as soon as he could walk, but he'd been up and around for a day and a half now. The tall man walked over and looked down at him. "Are you in pain? No, don't try to talk. You can click that button, it'll give you some medicine." Jim pointed to the little device that would give him a measure of relief, and oblivion.

Shaking his head didn't seem to be such a good idea, so he waved a hand side to side in a negative motion.

Jim looked into his eyes. "You look sober today. Can I talk to you?" Jim added hastily. "Blink once for yes."

Blair rolled his eyes and blinked -- once.

Jim went and got his ubiquitous yellow legal pad. "I wrote down some stuff. Thought I'd get it said while you can't tell me to go to hell."

"This is something I want to give you." Jim laid the tablet on the bed, so he could turn the pages with his right hand. "Not a gift, Chief. Payback for everything you did for me. Remember that. It's just suggestions."

Jim started to read. "Number one. You can go back to the University. The new Chancellor over there thinks you're the most noble guy ever -- and Eli already made you a job offer -- which you probably don't remember cause you were kinda loopy." Jim gave him a doting look. "If you want to, you can also work as a civilian advisor at the station part-time. Hell, you could do it full time. But you don't have to. I'll get by okay if you don't.

"Number two. You can be a cop. You got a Presidential Commendation, Chief. That list helped the FBI nail a major terrorist cell in the nick of time. And I'll bet you get a Medal of Valor, too. Believe me when I say that no one will question your honor or your right to be a detective, ever again. If you chose that, you can still be my partner, or not. You could have your pick, now.

"Number three. I can still go public. I will if you think it will help..." Jim looked up from his reading as his uninjured arm was lightly punched. Furious blue eyes told him what Blair thought of that suggestion.

"Then you probably won't like the FBI's job offer either." Jim grinned slightly. "Okay... and remember these are just suggestions. Number four. You can go abroad and study mud people or headhunters or whatever. I am pretty good in the jungle, you know. So if you'll have me, I'll come too. If not, I'll be all right here alone. I swear."

Blair was startled as his eyes stung and he had to blink back tears. In his own, goofy, overly deliberate, anal-retentive fashion, Jim was giving him the luxury of choice. Even if the choice was not to be Jim's guide. Setting him free to see if he would come back. Knowing that if he didn't, it could mean the end of the Sentinel, and perhaps Jim, too.

"There are some other things here." Jim gestured at the paper and laid it on Blair's tray table. "My dad offered to get us both jobs -- lots of money, a lot less blood loss. Or we could go to Peru and I could introduce you to the Chopec." Jim shrugged rather badly since his left shoulder was heavily encased in the cast. "Wanna be private eyes... it looks pretty cool on TV."

Blair rolled his eyes yet again.

"Well, then. They're kicking me out today, but I'll come back to see you." Jim grinned but it didn't quite reach his eyes. "The doc's said you can be released in a couple of days."

The younger man rapped on the table and grabbed Jim's hand. NOW Blair drew the letters in the air.

"Maybe tomorrow. Did I tell you Naomi's coming? The Fed's are bringing her here and putting her in a safe house until they're sure they've rounded up all of Tony's hoods and..." Jim paused, listened intently then looked at the door nervously. "My dad's coming to take me home. If you want, the fibbies will take you to be with your Mom. Or you can come to the loft."

Jim picked up a jacket and walked to the door. Without turning, he said quietly. "Please, take your time, Chief. Think about it and decide what is best for you."

Jim left and Blair watched as the door swung closed. Strangely, he felt abandoned and confused. He had choices now. He had to make the decisions -- no fate or circumstances to blame if he made the wrong one -- just himself. His future was in his own hands and what he did next would affect a lot of people.

Was he a Teacher? A Scientist? A Shaman? A Cop?

It felt so right being Jim's partner. But he loved teaching and he had enough material to get his Ph.D.

I can pretty much write my own ticket. Simon said so.

I think I liked it better when I had no choice.

Tension made his jaw throb and his back twinge, so he depressed the button attached to his IV.

I'll think about this later.

Blair picked up the yellow legal pad, but couldn't make out Jim's small writing without his glasses.


Later the nurses would comment about the sweet young man holding the tablet firmly nestled against his chest. Even though he was deeply asleep, he refused to let it go.

Deciding it must be something very important to him, they tucked his blankets around his shoulders and let him be.

The End


MY ONE TRUE FRIEND

And now, is it too late to say. How you made my life so different in your quiet way?
I can see the joy in simple things, a sunlit sky and all the songs we used to sing.
I have walked and I have prayed.
I could forgive and we could start again.
In the end, you are my one true friend.

For all, all the times you closed your eyes, allowing me to stumble or to be surprised, by life,
with all it's twists and turns.
I made mistakes, you always knew that I would learn.
And when I left, it's you who stayed. You always knew that I'd come home again.
In the end, you are my one true friend.

Though love may break, it never dies. It changes shape, through changing eyes.
What I denied, I now can see. You always were the light inside of me.
I know, I know, I know, I know it was you.
I have walked and I have prayed. I could forgive and we could start again.
In the end, you are my one true friend.

My one true friend. I always, always knew,
I always knew that it was you, my one true friend.


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