Standard Disclaimer: I don't own the boys, Pet Fly does. However, they needed more exercise than they were getting. It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it!

Warnings: Don't panic, keep reading. By now you should know that I love plot twists. I am... relaxed.... I am reading past the hook.... I am relaxed. A few bad words, nothing that would make my mother blush, though.

Hankie warning: This is a two - no, three hankie story. What can I say, Jim does angst so well!

Spoilers: This is set after Sentinel Too, part 2 and Murder 101. You will note several minor references to them, but if you haven't seen them yet, it won't spoil them for you. A small reference to my story "Puppy Love." You don't need to have read it first, but it will help you pick up some of the smaller detail.

Thoughts are indicated with italics.

Thanks to Wolfpup for giving my ramblings a home. Thanks also to TAE and Daydreamer who make my ramblings make sense. Writing is a lot like giving birth, they are the best literary midwives a "mom" could ask for.

For those of you who read my disclaimer and are wondering what the cat is up to - He's asleep. We're hoping that he doesn't fall out of the chair.


SUICIDE WATCH



Emerald






Tuesday, 6:00am

"Hey Sandburg, what are you doing up so early?" Jim paused on the stairs, tying his robe. His partner was sitting at the table nursing a cup of coffee and did not notice his arrival. "Chief, are you okay?"

"Sorry Jim, I didn't hear you." Blair stood up and grimaced at his cup before walking into the kitchen to dump it.

"Are you all right?" Ellison repeated the question, becoming concerned as he took in the tired expression on Blair's face.

Sandburg leaned against the kitchen counter, chewing on his lower lip. When he finally looked up, the smile on his face was forced. "Sure Jim, I'm fine." Sensing Ellison's doubt, he continued. "I've just got some stuff going down right now, that's all. Nothing for you to worry about."

"What's wrong with letting me worry? Isn't that what 'Blessed Protectors' are suppose to do?"

A feeble smile touched the corners of the young man's mouth. "It's just school stuff, man. Anyway, one way or another, it'll be settled today."

"That sounds ominous, Chief."

Sandburg picked up his backpack and walked towards the door. "With any luck...." He stopped and looked back at his friend. "I'll see you tonight Jim." The closing door echoed around the Sentinel, clutching at his heart.

Ellison picked up the cup Sandburg had left. Residual warmth from his Guide's grasp reached the Sentinel's sensitive fingers, but the inside of the cup was cold. How long were you sitting there, Chief? His uneasiness grew as he surveyed the loft, finding nothing of Sandburg's in sight. A flash of black fur drew his attention back to the door, then it was gone.

Standing in the center of the room, Sentinel warred with cop. The cop won, as witnesses needed interviewing and depositions needed taking. Forgoing his shower, Ellison returned upstairs to dress. The quicker the work was done, the sooner he could return home that evening. We will talk about this tonight, mark my words Sandburg.


Tuesday, 3:00pm

Captain Banks stared at the telephone in his hand. His eyes squeezed shut for a moment as he wished to still be a beat cop, hell even a meter reader. Anything to keep from having to do this. Opening his eyes, he glanced one last time at the receiver before hanging it on its hook and turning to face the bullpen. Ellison was already heading for his office door. He heard my heartbeat. Damn, I wanted a few minutes to pull myself together before I had to face him.

"Sir?"

"Jim. Come in and close the door."

"Simon, you're starting to worry me here. Tell me what's wrong." The bullpen became deathly quiet, as Ellison's voice spilled over. Simon groaned to himself. Telling Ellison was going to be the hardest thing the tall man had ever done. Telling him in front of others was close to impossible.

Every man and woman in Major Crimes knew without a doubt that something had happened to Sandburg. The pain in their captain's eyes when he looked at Ellison told them that. Not one of them made an overt move towards the office, but their attention was locked on what was happening inside it.

Simon's gaze never wavered from the face of his friend as he walked to the front of his desk and leaned against it. As Simon did so, Jim quietly sank into the closest chair. "Jim, there's been an incident. The black and white that responded recognized the address and called me."

"An incident? What kind of incident, Simon?"

Please, Lord, give me strength. "A suicide attempt, Jim. He....he slashed his wrists. It's bad... he may not make it Jim. I wish I didn't have to be the one to tell...."

"NO." The chair fell over as Ellison jumped up and began to pace around the small office. "He wasn't.... he couldn't. I didn't think he was that upset. Why didn't he talk to me? WHY?" A fist slammed into the wall as the question echoed in the air.

"Jim!"

Ellison shook his head blindly as he bolted for the door. The Guide was in trouble, nothing else registered.

"H, stop him." Banks didn't have time for tact or gentleness. There was no way Ellison was safe to get behind the wheel of a car right now.

Brown understood his captain and blocked the doorway with his massive body. Ellison didn't even realize he was there until contact was made.

"Out of my way!" He shoved hard, but Brown didn't budge. Four years on varsity had taught him how to hold his ground. Ellison shoved again, but by then Banks was there.

"You are in no condition to drive. Either you ride with me, or you sit in lock-up until you cool down. Do you understand me?"

Ellison stared for a long time at the people in front of him. Banks wasn't sure he even recognized them. Eventually he nodded, resigned to the fact that he had no other choice. "Let's go then, sir."

Banks followed the other man out the door, stopping only once to make eye contact with Joel Taggart. Taggart glanced away until the captain left to catch Ellison. After the two men left, he pulled out a battered photo from his desk drawer. Joel studied the photograph before returning it to the drawer. Megan Conner touched his hand. "Joel?"

"Not now, Megan. Not now."


Tuesday, 6:00pm

"How could this have happened? Why didn't I see that he was in trouble?"

Simon Banks pondered the other man's questions. As many times as he had stood vigil at the hospital, it had never gotten any easier. And this time was the hardest of all. "I don't know Jim, I wish to God I did." He looked up, then past his friend, as a doctor walked into the waiting room. "Jim, the doctor...."

Emergency rooms were busy places, the doctor couldn't afford to waste time or mince words. "I'm Dr. Andrews. Mr. Sandburg is out of danger. He will be receiving two more units of blood before he is fully stable, however."

"How soon can he come home?" With effort, Jim kept his voice steady. "He really hates hospitals."

"Detective, your partner will be here at least a week."

"But you said..." Jim's voice was no longer masking the fear he was feeling. "I thought he was okay."

"Physically yes, he will recover. However, Mr. Sandburg attempted to take his own life this afternoon. That needs to be dealt with before we can allow him to leave. At the present time he could be a danger to himself or the people around him. You're a police officer, detective. I'm sure you can understand this."

"Blair would never hurt me."

"This morning, did you think he was capable of suicide?"

Jim turned away for a moment, the doctor's words so cutting as to cause physical pain. Dr. Andrews' voice softened as he observed the other man's discomfort.

"I didn't think so. He can get the help he needs while he's here, both physical and emotional. Try and remember that. He's being moved upstairs to room 312. Go and see for yourself that he's recovering, then get some rest. He's going to be needing you the next few days."

As the doctor left, Ellison sank into the nearest chair, his face etched with exhaustion. Simon knelt in front of him, rubbing his own forehead briefly before he spoke.

"We'll get him through this, Jim. Whatever it takes, we will get him through this, my friend."

Ellison nodded briefly at his captain, his attention already caught by the movement of a stretcher in the hallway. He jumped up to follow it, Banks right behind him.


As the last of the duty nurses quietly withdrew from the room, the Sentinel let his senses stretch out to his Guide. Using his abilities as Blair had taught him, he assured himself that the young man was indeed going to be all right. When his hearing noted a change in Blair's breathing he moved next to the bed, waiting for him to awaken.

"Jim..." The voice was weak, but the Sentinel was ready for it.

"Right here, Buddy." Strong warm hands surrounded the smaller cold ones. "You're okay, you're safe." Ellison allowed a ghost of a smile to cross his face as deep blue eyes slowly focused on him. "Hey there, you're going to be all right."

Blair watched the two men for a moment before he spoke. "Please don't be angry with me Jim, but I need.... "

Ellison cut him off before he could continue. "I'll take care of it Chief. Whatever's wrong, I'll fix it Buddy."

"That's not.... Jim, please, I need to talk to Simon." Blair winced at the pain on his Sentinel's face. "I'm sorry, please don't take it like that, Jim.... Jim?"

"It's okay Blair." Jim stood up, brushing the hair off his friend's face. "Whatever makes you more comfortable. I'll wait for you down the hall, Simon."

Three steps and Ellison was at the door. Blair reached for his friend. "No. You don't have to leave. It'll just be.... easier to say this to Simon. I'm sorry, I know it doesn't make sense."

Banks stood behind Ellison at the door. He reached out and squeezed the other man's shoulder, making physical contact. "Don't you see, Jim? sometimes it's safer to talk to someone less emotionally involved. He's not shutting you out. Whatever is wrong, he wants you to know." With that established, he urged his friend to a chair at the far end of the room before perching on the edge of the young man's hospital bed.

"I'm tired, so tired Simon.... I think I can only say this once." Blair struggled to sit up, to look the captain eye to eye.

"Here, let me help you." Simon's voice was low and his touch gentle, as he steadied the pale young man. "I'm sorry, we both are, that you didn't feel you could come to us for help. I'm so sorry that it came down to this."

At that moment Ellison was grateful his young friend had asked to speak to the captain and not to him. He could barely swallow past the lump in his throat. Talking would have been out of the question. Instead, he listened, as his best friend talked to one of the few people they both trusted and admired. Simon Banks.

"I don't remember doing this. I couldn't have done this...." His voice trailed off as he stared at his bandaged wrists and forearms.

"Blair, son, it's not unusual to be confused after what you've been through."

"NO!" With more energy than either of the two older men thought possible, Blair adamantly shook his head. "I've been there Simon. I know what it's like to hurt so bad that you want to end it. I wasn't there, man. Nowhere near it." Blair took a shaky breath and continued before Banks could respond. "Things are different for me now. Offing myself - it just isn't in the cards anymore, never again."

That simple speech, by such a complex man, sparked a hundred questions in Simon's mind. The only one he could form was the most important one. "Why? What's different? Tell me what you're hanging on to, son. I think we really need to know what that is right now."

If it was possible, Blair looked even younger as his blue eyes filled with tears. "I never had anybody to leave behind until now. No matter how bad things get, I could never do that to Jim. The other people in my life, yeah they'd feel bad, but they'd go on. Even my mom would be okay. Jim would blame himself." Blair made a small sound somewhere between a chuckle and a sob. "You know how good he does guilt, man. I'll never.... I can't hurt Jim like that, ever."

The floor that had opened up under Jim Ellison's soul that afternoon was replaced by a safety net. One woven of the friendship and brotherhood found in the younger man's words. Ellison felt his knee bump against the edge of his partner's bed. It startled him. How did I get over here? His mouth moved, but no words came out as his friend's gaze turned to him. Blair shifted ever so slightly towards him. That slight movement was all that he needed. Jim dropped to the bed and gathered the trembling young man into his arms. Dialing his senses up, one by one, he knew the truth behind Blair's words. He felt humbled by what they represented. Then it hit him. Someone had done this to Blair. That unknown someone would pay for hurting him.

Never more so than at that moment was Simon Banks awed by the friendship shared by these two men. He knew it was time to leave, to give them some privacy. As much as Simon knew it, he couldn't make his legs follow orders. Instead, he did the only thing he honestly felt he could do. He laid a hand on each man's shoulder, giving support and getting back so much more. Getting back a glimpse of what real friendship was truly about.

"Tell us what you remember Sandburg. Let's see if we can piece this together." The captain released the pair and was down to business.

"Not much, sir, I'm afraid." Blair paused while his partner shifted around, finally leaning against the headboard with Blair's back against his chest. "I left the University about 2:00pm. My late appointment was canceled and I thought I'd get more work done at home. I stopped at the bakery and bought some sourdough bread for dinner. It took about thirty, maybe forty minutes to get home. I remember getting to the loft, then...."

"Then what, son?" Banks leaned forward, his hand on Blair's knee. "It's hard, I know, but we need to know everything that you can remember."

Blair nodded, a shaky smile on his face. "I'm trying, Simon. The rest is just so strange. I remember closing the door, then everything went dark and I couldn't breath. For a second I thought I was back in that fountain. It felt like a bee stung me and then there were flashes of color and light and I was falling. The next thing was waking up in the emergency room with some doctor telling me that I tried to kill myself." Blair turned and pressed his face into Jim's chest. "I didn't. I wouldn't have done that to you, Jim. Especially not in our home, not where you would have been the one to find me."

"Shhhh, I know Buddy, I know. Ellison soothed his young friend before turning to his captain. "Could someone have done this to get to me, knowing that I would have found.... his body?" The last of the question was barely a whisper.

"I'm not sure I'm ready to call this an attack just yet, Jim." Simon Banks was on dangerous ground, and he knew it.

The response was instantaneous and loud. "What the hell else could it have been, Simon?" The young man in his arms flinched. "Sorry, shhhh, I'm sorry." Ellison continued to comfort his friend.

One look at Ellison's jaw proved to his captain that that part of the discussion was over. Time to prove the theory. Banks began to think out loud. "Whoever it was, had to drug Sandburg somehow. That would explain the blackout. We'd better have the lab take a closer look at his bloodwork. The older man frowned, rubbing his forehead, as he studied the younger two men. Nothing was ever easy with them. He paused as a thought struck him. "Who called 911? That person could answer some questions for us."

"Or be answerable to us, sir. Sandburg was alone when the paramedics got there. What kind of person would leave him alone to bleed like that?"

A soft snoring interrupted them. Jim Ellison might be considered a hard as nails cop by many, but there was no mistaking the gentleness in his touch as he settled his friend onto the bed. Simon couldn't help but chuckle at the sight. As Ellison fussed with the blankets and double-checked the IV and transfusion lines, Captain Banks began making calls. One way or another, he was going to get to the bottom of this.

Banks steered his best detective out of his partner's room. "Come on, let's find some answers."

With one last look at his pale and sleeping friend, Ellison followed his captain into the hallway. As the door closed behind them, a hand brushed the Sentinel's shoulder. He turned to see a wistful expression on Simon's face. "I envy you, sometimes. Most of us never have a friendship like the two of you share. Nowhere close."

Jim Ellison turned back to his captain, smiling through his pain. Never argue with your captain, especially when he's right.


The news that their favorite anthropologist had slashed his wrists hit the people of Major Crimes hard. Joel Taggart paced the bullpen as if it really was a pen. No work was accomplished as reports were started, then discarded. A coffee mug shattered against the wall as Taggart finally had enough. "I want some answers, and I want them now!" With that shout, he stormed towards the elevator.

The silence in his wake spoke volumes. Never had the men and women of Major Crimes witnessed such anger from the big man.

"I'm going with him." The voice was Rafe's but they all shared the sentiment. En mass, they moved to catch the next elevator. Even Grant and Martindale, who were only passing acquaintances of the young man, felt the need to check on him.

The detectives caught up with Taggart in the hospital lobby. Before they went upstairs, Conner cornered the men with her. "As hard as this is for us, it's a hundred times worse for Jim. Sandy is his partner and his best friend. Barging in there, loaded for bear, won't help either of them." The last of her comments were aimed at Joel, and he knew it.

"Yeah Megan, I know. I know."

Megan took a deep breath before she plunged in. Something was eating at Taggart and it was affecting him greatly. "Joel, who is the boy in the photograph? The one in your desk."

A tear threatened to spill over as Taggart appeared to be lost in thought. When he finally spoke his voice was hollow and flat. "Davy. David, was my son, Megan. He committed suicide when he was only 16, the same age Daryl is now. It was before I transferred to Central. Simon was the only one who knew."

"Sandy's not Davy."

"I'm trying to remember that."

She gently squeezed his arm. "What would Sandy tell you to do Joel?"

"Find my center. He'd tell me to find my center."

Brown spoke up then, in his best impersonation of the curly haired young man. "I am.... relaxed....I am.... relaxed...." wisely keeping Rafe between himself and Joel.

Any comment that might have been made was interrupted by the arrival of the elevator. Once inside, Rafe spoke up.

"Remember, Jim's probably a basket case by now. He's going to need us as much as Sandburg will." Still murmuring their agreement, the group exited the elevator car and walked towards room 312.

As they rounded the corner, Banks and Ellison could be seen just closing the hospital room door. the captain's back was towards the group of detectives, but they could see the slightly shorter man listening to Banks, and then they saw him smile.

"Basket case, my ass." Any calmness that Taggart had achieved in the lobby shattered as he charged Ellison. For the second time that hour, the rest of Major Crimes rushed to keep up.

"Joel, wait."

"Taggart, calm down."

"Easy, man."

Taggart would have none of it. "You bastard, what did you do to him?" Within seconds, he had Ellison by the shirt collar.

The Sentinel did not see the attack coming, his focus was on the sleeping young man in the room behind him. No attempt was made to defend himself as the bigger man slammed him into the wall.

Simon too, was slow to respond. He stepped between the two men as Rafe and Brown grabbed Joel from behind. "Stop it Joel, Jim didn't do anything to hurt Sandburg."

Taggart released the Sentinel abruptly, shoving him into the wall one final time. "No, he just stood by and let him self-destruct. Is that how you treat a friend, Ellison?"

"Joel, stop it!" Banks was worried; his tight knit unit was on the verge of unraveling. "You know Jim would never do that."

"Do I?"

Ellison leaned against the wall, his eyes closed. The doubt in his friends hurt almost as much as what had happened to his Guide.

Banks knew he had to get the situation under control. Fast. With a quick prayer that Ellison was right about what had happened, he spoke. "Sandburg's wounds were not self-inflicted. He was attacked, and we..all of us...have to find out why."

The captain's announcement was met by shocked silence as his words sank in. Rafe was the first to recover. "But why? Why would someone do that?"

Captain Banks looked over at Ellison, shocked to see him so unwilling to defend himself against the questions and the anger directed at him. "Possibly for revenge, right now I don't know."

Rafe paled at the image. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. Brown squeezed his partner's shoulder and gave voice to what Rafe was trying to say.

"You're saying that someone hates them so much that they wanted to kill Sandburg in a way that would destroy Ellison at the same time?" He paused, his forehead creased in thought. "Ellison might not be the target at all. Maybe the idea was to kill Sandburg and discredit him at the same time?"

Banks nodded. "Until we know, all the possibilities have to be considered. All right, this is what we're going to do. Grant and Martindale will guard Sandburg until the Uniforms arrive. When those units are in place, I want the two of you to go to the University. If someone is trying to kill or discredit Sandburg, and it doesn't have anything to do with the department, then that's the next likely place.

Ellison never looked up. "He was upset about something, but he wouldn't tell me what was wrong. Told me 'not to worry'. Damn." Frustrated, the Sentinel turned and punched the wall. "Damn, I should have made him tell me."

The two detectives nodded back at their commanding officer, already positioning themselves in front of the door to Sandburg's room. The devil himself would not be able to harm the young man, not on their shift.

"Brown and Rafe."

"Yes sir." They were already impatient. These two young partners looked up to Ellison and Sandburg as the best example of true partners. They had tried to emulate the pair in their own working relationship. This attack on Sandburg was an attack on everything they held sacred. Whoever was responsible was going down; this was an unspoken vow between them.

The intensity on Banks' face never wavered, but inside he softened slightly. He knew the awe that surrounded his favorite team. That awe, and the loyalty it inspired, was going to keep his unit together through this. "An anonymous call was made to 911. It was either our perp, or a witness who may have seen the perp. Either way, I want that caller found."

"Don't worry sir, he's going down." Brown's voice was almost a growl.

Visions of civil liberties danced in Simon's head. "The caller may have been a witness, don't forget that Brown. We don't 'take down' witnesses. Remember?"

"A witness that just let him bleed sir."

"Just remember that you can't help Sandburg if you're suspended." Banks glared at all the members of his team. "That goes for all of you."

"What about us, sir?" Megan stood there, quietly composed, awaiting orders.

"You and Taggart start pulling files. You know the drill. Current cases that they are working on. Cases that are going to trial soon where one of them is testifying. Go through all the old cases and look for possible revenge. Did someone just get out of prison? Did someone die in prison? Check out accomplices that didn't go down, or got out early. Family members, too. While you're at it, check on any witnesses that committed suicide on any of their cases. I'm sure there'll be more, but that'll get you started."

Megan's composure wilted slightly. Taggart nodded and began pushing her toward the elevator. "Don't worry sir," he stated, "if it's there, Megan and I will find it." As Megan continued on towards the elevator, Taggart hesitated, then turned to face Ellison.

"Jim...I don't...I'm so..."

Ellison pushed himself away from the wall that had been supporting him and reached out his hand. I know, Joel. You love him too."

He's like a son to me. "Are we okay?"

Ellison drew a deep breath, looking more like a lost little boy than a police detective. "Yeah, Joel, we're okay."

Taggart stared at the other man for a long moment. There was much left to say, but this was not the time for it. "If you or the kid need anything, you've got it. You know that, don't you?"

As Ellison nodded his head, Taggart turned and joined Megan at the elevator.

Jim walked to the end of the hall, and stared out the window, watching as the other detectives left the hospital. Banks stood behind him and waited.

"And me, sir?"

Simon mentally braced himself for this one. "Jim, I need you to go to the loft, see if you can pick up on anything the rest of us may miss."

The Sentinel spun around and faced his captain. He had come straight to the hospital with Simon when the call had come in from the black and white responding with the paramedics to that anonymous 911 call. He almost bled to death in our home, how can I face that? "No, I can't. Please Simon, I can't face it yet."

Banks had been expecting this, waiting for it. He reached out and grasped Jim's arm before he answered. "You won't be alone, I wouldn't let you do this alone. But we need to do this, for Blair's sake."

"Come on, Let's go." Simon began to walk towards the elevator, expecting Jim to follow. When he turned around to look, he saw Ellison instead heading back to Sandburg's room. You idiot, Banks. Of course he wants to check on his partner one more time

Without warning, Ellison began to run down the corridor. Grant saw him coming and swung the door open just as he reached it. Martindale followed Ellison into the room, realizing as he did, that the young man in the bed was caught up in a nightmare. Grant held the door open for the captain, then resumed his post at the doorway.

Banks knew that Jim had heard Sandburg's distress. He turned to gauge Martindale's reaction to the situation. Martindale hadn't heard anything until after Ellison had rushed to the room. Some quick thinking may be needed to explain this one. However, no questions were raised. Ellison's response was considered just a 'partner's thing' by both Martindale and Grant. Banks could see it in their faces. They, like Rafe and Brown, regarded the partnership between Ellison and Sandburg to be the finest example in the department.

Ellison was totally unaware of the silent discussion going on in back of him. "Easy Chief, it's all right. Easy there. Talk to me. Tell me what's happening."

Caught in the middle of a nightmare that he couldn't escape, Blair struggled to get free. "No...off me...get off me!"

Stepping back, a new wave of pain hit the older man's heart. After a moment, as Blair continued to struggle with an unseen foe, Ellison knew that he was caught in a flashback of some type, that he was not who his Guide was pushing away.

"What's happening buddy?"

"Off my face...get it off my face...can't breath..."

"What's on your face, Blair? Tell me what's happening."

"Sweet...smells sweet...sickening...get it off me!"

Ellison sat of the edge of the bed. This flashback could give them answers that Blair himself, could not. He brushed his hand across his young friend's face.

"It's off now. It's off. Tell me what's happening now."

"Oww."

Remembering what Sandburg had told them earlier gave the Sentinel some idea of how to proceed. "The bee sting, Blair? Tell me where it stung you."

"Back."

Mindful of the life-giving tubes, Jim gently rolled his partner onto his side. The hospital gown fell open as he brushed his hand over his Guide's back. The stroking lulled the young man back to a peaceful sleep. Ellison continued to rub Blair's back, using sight piggybacked onto touch, to find what he was looking for.

"There."

Simon leaned over the detective, straining to see what he had found. He focused at the spot on Sandburg's back that Ellison was pointing to. "Is that a puncture mark?"

"Yeah, it is." Ellison felt vindicated. Finally, some proof that his best friend had not tried to end his own life. Ellison knew he could handle anything except being wrong about that.

The gentle stroking and soft words lulled the young man back into a restful sleep. Jim carefully laid him back onto the bed and tucked him in, as he would a child. As contact was broken between Sentinel and Guide, Blair instinctively reached for his friend. Jim quickly grasped the reaching hand before any damage could be done to the injury already there. Still holding Blair's hand, he settled in to wait for the deep sleep he knew would come.

Simon Banks was a patient man. Three years of dealing with these two men had made him an expert on the subject. He waited until Ellison was fully satisfied that his partner was finally asleep before he spoke. "Come on, Jim. We need to get things started."

Ellison nodded and squeezed the smaller hand one last time before slowly standing up. He wasn't sure about this. Wasn't sure about facing the loft. Wasn't sure about leaving Blair's bedside. The other men in the room understood this. Martindale stepped forward to reassure him.

"Don't worry too much about him. He'll probably sleep for hours now. I promise, if he so much as moans, I'll call you. Okay?"

Breathing a sigh of relief, Banks turned an appreciative face towards Martindale. Knowing that Blair was safe and protected was the only way that Jim was going to leave his side.


Tuesday, 7:30pm

Not a word was spoken as Banks and Ellison drove to the loft. The captain glanced over repeatedly at his detective, waiting for any kind of a response, but none came. Ellison sat, slump shouldered, in the passenger seat of the police sedan. At first, Simon thought the Sentinel had zoned out, but a closer exam of the man proved that to be wrong, even to an untrained, temporary Guide. Ellison's hands were shaking as he pressed them against his denim-clad legs. Pulling into the loft parking, Simon reached out to the other man.

"Jim." A long moment passed before their eyes met. Simon drew in a deep breath as he was faced with the pain in Jim's eyes. "Jim, how do you want to handle this?"

"Handle this? How do I want to handle this? My God, Simon, I want to go back to this morning and never let him out of my sight. That's how I want to handle this, okay?" Ellison clamped his hand over his mouth and turned away, in an obvious and physical effort to keep his pain and torment inside. "I'm sorry, Simon. I'm so sorry. this is just so damn..."

"I know, Jim. This is killing me too."

"Let's just get this over with." Jim Ellison launched himself out of the car and towards the apartment building, hands clenched in tight fists at his sides. Banks hurried to keep up with him. At some point, the tightly wound man was going to shatter and Simon was determined to be there to pick up the pieces when it happened. He owed Sandburg that much.

Afraid of what would happen if he slowed down, Ellison took the stairs two at a time, not waiting for the elevator. He slid the key in the lock and swung the door open, taking a deep breath for strength as he did. Banks came around the corner just in time to see what was occurring. Knowing what odors would await the Sentinel, he cried out "Jim, Wait!"

The warning came too late. The horrible smell of blood crashed down, trapping the man as he staggered backwards. The bittersweet metallic scent swirled around his soul, so strong he could taste it, could feel the moisture of it in the air. The very essence of his Guide, spilled without the Sentinel to protect him. Trying to wrench himself away from the odors that were threatening his very sanity, he forced his eyes downward. There, on the floor in front of him, was a bloody shoeprint left by one of the medics who had fought to save his friend's life. Lost, Ellison slid down onto the floor, clutching his stomach. The bile rose but could not get past the pain in his chest, so there it stayed, burning the memory deep into his soul.

Banks reached the younger man as he hit the floor. Normal zones he understood. Sandburg had lectured and drilled him on the subject, since he was the only other one who knew what Ellison really was. This was no ordinary zone that the Sentinel was trapped in. Simon fought down his own fear as he saw the wild terror in Jim's face. Emotions had made the sights and smells in the loft more pronounced than he had ever faced. Fear, etched with the smell. Hopelessness, touched by the sight. Panic so close, it could be tasted. His mind filled in the rest. The feel of life, slipping away. The sound of it even, as it splattered on the cold hard floor. The sensations were swirling around him, drowning him, allowing him no visible means of escape, and his Guide was not here to save him.

"Jim, follow my voice!" The captain's voice betrayed his panic as he dragged the other man out into the hall, kicking the loft door closed behind them. Being out in the hall of a building like this was a risk, but Banks knew a few more seconds exposed to the graphic aftermath in the loft would shake the Sentinel's very sanity. Perhaps this had not been such a good idea after all.

"Jim, can you hear me? Come on Jim, Blair needs you." That did it. Jim's tear filled eyes looked up at Simon and slowly focused.

"I failed him."

"Jim, no..."

"Yes." He backed up slowly, until he reached the far wall. Jim pulled his knees up against his chest and stared at his captain, unaware of the tears spilling onto his face. "Don't you see? He protects me. My whole life, he's the only one who ever really protected me. Every time I need him, he's there. I don't know how he knows, he just does. Now, he needed me. I wasn't there, Simon. Just like always, when he really needs me, I wasn't there." A fist began to pound the floor in time with the words. "Lash... Alex. I wasn't there. I wasn't there. Damn.... Damn.... Damn...."

"You didn't know."

"I should have. I'm a Sentinel. He's my Guide. He's my friend."

Banks sat quietly and watched his best detective. He knew that reaching him right now was next to impossible, so he waited while Jim vented his anger and pain. Eventually the words ran out, and Simon grasped the bruised hand as he began to softly speak to Jim as he had heard Blair do so many times in the past.

"Easy, Jim, easy. It's okay, it's going to be okay. You didn't know. There was no way that you could have known someone was going to hurt him. You're only human, don't forget that. No matter how much we want to, we can't always protect the people we love. Sometimes we just have to settle for picking up the pieces and putting them back together." As Ellison turned his face away, Simon released his hand and squeezed his shoulder. "That's what we have to do now. He was victimized here and now he needs our help. To do that we have to find out who did this to him."

Ellison slowly turned back to face his friend, a pain filled smile touched his face as he spoke. "Reconstructing Sandburg, sir? A job that big, maybe we could qualify for federal assistance."

The joke was feeble, but it gave Banks an enormous sense of relief. Ellison was holding together. Barely, but for now it was good enough.

"Well, maybe state assistance. Less paperwork for Sandburg to do when he gets back on his feet." It was an unspoken given that Sandburg's ability to absorb much of Ellison's paperwork was widely recognized by all that worked around them.

"I've got to go back in there, don't I, sir?" Ellison's face was now dry and his eyes bored directly into Banks' soul.

Under such a powerful gaze, Simon visibly flinched. "No, Jim, I was wrong to force you to do this. I wasn't thinking straight...deep down I wanted..." The real reason he had forced Jim to face the loft sickened Simon now, but Ellison had bared his heart and soul to him, and now he deserved no less in return. "I'm sorry, Jim. I guess part of me wanted to punish you for not being here for him." It was Simon's turn to glance away. "I never thought of myself as being that cruel. Please forgive me."

A hand touched the older man's arm. Simon glanced down at the hand, then up at the face. He saw no anger or disgust, only understanding.

"I needed to face this, to get past it. Otherwise, they win." Jim braced himself against the wall and levered himself up.

Banks' actions mirrored his. "Now what, Jim?"

Ellison squared his shoulders and faced the closed door to the loft. "Now we try this again."

"Jim!"

"I know, Simon. But I have to do this for Sandburg. I can't let him down...again."

"Jim..."

"Please, Simon, help me."

Banks felt his own shoulders sag at that. "All right, what do you want me to do?"

Do what Blair would do, Simon. "Just help me stay focused, sir. I need to push past the blood and find what else is there. There's just so much blood in there, Simon. So much of his blood." Ellison's voice became a whisper and Banks had to strain to here the rest of it. "I can do this, I can do this." The mantra soothed the Sentinel as if the soul of his Guide was there with him, touching him, supporting him.

Remembering all the times he had seen Guide and Sentinel work together, Banks kept close as they re-entered the loft. "Stay focused, Jim. Go past the blood, find what else there is. What else doesn't belong?" Please let me be doing this right.

Ellison froze for a moment, then turned without a word and left the loft. Out in the hallway again, he crossed his arms against the wall and leaned his head against them.

I didn't do enough to help him, I put him through all this and I didn't help him enough. I'm sorry Blair, I couldn't help him the way you would have wanted me to. "Jim, I'm sorry. Are you all right?"

"Chloroform, I could smell chloroform, Simon." Jim's voice rose slightly as the realization hit him. I did it, Chief. I didn't let you down. "Whoever it was used chloroform on him and they smoke, Simon. I could smell cigarettes. Not a brand I recognized, but I'd know it if I smelled it again. There was something else, too. I could smell the sourdough bread that he bought today. It was real faint, but it was there."

The captain smiled broadly at his detective. Not only had they survived this, but useful information had been found. "Good. Blair would be real proud of you. Let's go back to the hospital and see how he's doing." While they waited for the elevator Banks took a good look at the man standing next to him. Haven't seen anybody that proud of himself since Daryl brought home his last report card. Well, he should be, he just walked through hell to help his friend and he made it out the other end alive.

Night was beginning to set in as Simon pulled the car out of the parking lot and cut through the alley in back. "Pull over!" Jim's voice was insistent and Simon slammed on the brakes.

"What's wrong?" Before the question was asked, the sounds of retching made the answer obvious. Jim leaned against the dumpster in the alley as his stomach won the battle it had been waging with his mind. Simon stayed back, giving the other man some privacy until it was over.

"There's a service station down the street. You can use the restroom to get cleaned up before we get back to the hospital." Jim just nodded his agreement, suddenly he was too exhausted to speak. The captain walked around to the passenger side of the car and opened the door, waiting for the other man. Ellison took a few steps, then stopped, staring at the dumpster.

"Simon, I need some gloves."

Banks pulled a pair of latex gloves out of his jacket pocket. "Here, Jim. What did you find?"

"How about some physical proof that someone else was at the loft with Sandburg?" Ellison pulled a white bakery bag out of the dumpster. Printed on the side of it was the name of Blair's favorite bread shop. "Here's Sandburg's sourdough bread. I'd be interested to see who else's fingerprints are on it."

"Why would someone go to the trouble of throwing away the bread?"

"Don't you see, Simon? Someone who was planning to kill himself would not go five miles out of his way to buy his roommate's favorite kind of bread for dinner. It really proves it. He didn't try to kill himself."

"You weren't sure. Everything you said at the hospital...you weren't sure until just now, were you?"

"I wanted to be."

A Cascade Police Department forensics van pulled up in front of the building. Ellison glanced over questioningly at his captain.

"I called them from the hospital. Stay here while I give this to them." Banks slipped on his own pair of gloves and took the loaf of bread from Ellison's hands. He walked over to the van, taking care to ignore the sound of flesh hitting the side of the dumpster.


Simon stood outside the restroom door as Jim washed his face and hands. Jim let the water soothe him as it ran onto his neck, let the taste of it overcome the taste in his mouth, let the smell of chlorine push away the smell of blood that still threatened to overwhelm him. Ellison pushed away from the sink. His senses were too full of his Guide's brush with death. He needed to replace that with his Guide's life. To see him. To hear his heartbeat. To touch the warmth of his skin. To smell his shampoo. To know that he was all right.

"Let's go." Ellison's demeanor was calm, but his eyes showed the returning fear.

"Jim, are you all right?"

"I need to see him, Simon."

Of the multitude of things that had happened that day, this one thing Banks understood most of all. "Yeah, me too." He squeezed Jim's shoulder one last time as they got in the car.

Ellison leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes. Questions were running through Simon's mind, but he kept quiet, understanding the other man's need for solitude.

As they exited the elevator on the third floor, Ellison's cell phone started to ring. He began to briskly walk down the hallway as he reached for it. Sentinel hearing picked up the ringing phone in stereo. The call to him was being placed from the nurse's station. He rounded the corner and ran into an uniformed officer he knew only by name.

The young officer grinned as he set the phone down, silencing the one in Ellison's hand. "Hey, great timing. He's just starting to wake up."

Ellison barely acknowledged his existence as he rushed into the room. "Thanks, Rick."

"Grant told me there'd be hell to pay if we didn't call the second he started to come around."

Simon stopped in front of the officer, "Well, it's a good thing you do what you're told." Captain Banks allowed himself a quick smile. "Otherwise, that would not have been a pretty picture."

Officer Rick Davis returned the captain's smile. Even the beat officers had heard, 'you don't mess with Ellison about his partner.'

Banks waited to get an updated report from the officers guarding the curly haired anthropologist. The care that was taken with this case pleased him. Every person entering this room had been checked, Sandburg's safety was secure.

Simon quietly entered the room, not wanting to disturb the occupants. His heart melted at the sight. Banks, you're getting to be a softie in your old age. Jim had discarded his coat and shoes and was laying on the edge of the bed, his arm over the younger man, protecting him in his sleep. Blair looked peaceful and secure nestled in next to the bigger man. His color was better and the transfusion line had been completely removed from his hand. One IV line was still in his upper arm, and it was capped. As Banks watched, sleepy blue eyes opened up to stare at him.

"Hey, Simon."

"Hey, yourself, Sandburg. How are you doing?"

"Just tired, sir." Blair tilted his head towards the form next to him. "Is he okay, Simon?"

"He is now, Blair. Go back to sleep, son."

"Okay."

Simon shook his head. That was too easy. Lost in thought he didn't hear the nurse come in. She touched his arm, then apologized for startling him. He nodded back to her, bracing for the standard, 'visiting hours are over' lecture he had heard from many of her co-workers over the years. Instead, she handed him a blanket, then raised the railing on the side of the bed.

"There, we can't have either of them falling out of bed, you know."

"You're not kicking us out?" Simon stared at the woman as she turned to answer him.

"I'm working a split shift. I was on duty when Mr. Sandburg arrived. I saw how gentle your friend was with him. Sometimes the touch of a friend can do more than all the medicine in the world." She took the blanket back from the captain and spread it over the two sleeping men, then slipped out without another word. Simon settled into one of the chairs, unwilling to walk away from his two friends just yet.

As the night eased into dawn, the men slept undisturbed. The nurse placed a blanket over the sleeping form in the chair. Every thirty minutes she quietly entered the room to check on the occupants, ever mindful not to disturb their slumber.


Wednesday, 6:45 am

A hand reached out and tentatively touched Simon's shoulder. "Sir?" He blinked several times before the face of a young woman come into focus.

"Yes? Yes, what is it?" Banks groaned as he straightened up in the chair.

"I'm Trish. I'll be Mr. Sandburg's nurse this morning. The night nurse told me not to disturb any of you, but a Captain Taggart called, and wanted you to return his call as soon as possible."

Large brown hands scrubbed the last of the sleep away. "Thank you. What time is it?"

"It's a little before 7:00am. You can use the phone at the nurse's station. There's coffee there, too."

A hint of amusement touched the tall man's face. "Do I look like I need it?"

The returned smirk was answer enough.

Simon Banks downed one cup of coffee and started on a second one before he dialed the station number. Over 18 hours without a cigar had left him desperate for one. With no chance in the foreseeable future for a cigar, he'd have to settle for coffee, and lots of it.

"Yeah, Joel what's up? It's okay, he's still asleep, so is Jim." Simon listened for a minute, then continued. "I'm sure Jim will understand about yesterday, but maybe you should tell him about David. It might help you both... At least think about it, Joel. Now tell me what's happening."

After the telephone was hung up, Banks turned to the officers guarding the hospital room door. "Tell Detective Ellison that I've gone to the station for a briefing on the investigation. He's to stay here in case Sandburg remembers anything else." The door across the hall opened, catching his attention. "Excuse me, Trish?"

She anticipated his question. "Don't worry, we'll take good care of them both. I've arranged for two breakfast trays to be brought up. They will be fine."

Knowing the situation was as well in hand as possible, Banks left for the station with only a brief "Call me if needed." before he walked to the elevator. When the elevator door opened Dr. Andrews stepped out, pleased that he had caught the captain before he had left the hospital.

"Captain Banks, I think that you will want to see this before you leave." In his hand was a toxicology report.

Banks hesitated before he reached for the folder. Despite the assurances yesterday, nagging doubts remained in his mind about what had happened to the young man. The doctor sensed his reluctance.

"You'll find it very interesting. I did. We found residual amounts of a rather rare and unusual anesthesia in his system. It is something that we don't use in this hospital. It's all in the report, but if you have any questions, please feel free to call me. I'll be here all day."

Simon's hand clutched a little tighter around the manila colored papers in his hand. Thank God. "Thank you, Doctor. I'm sure this will help us a great deal. More than you will ever know.


Wednesday, 7:30 am

The smell of stale coffee was evident before Banks even walked into Major Crimes. No one noticed his arrival at first. Not until Brown bumped into him while reading the police report in his hands. "Oooff, what the...oh, sorry sir, didn't see you there."

"Obviously." The captain shook his head and took a good look at his team. Bleary faces were the norm, and everyone was still in the clothes they were wearing yesterday. Everyone except Rafe, who always kept a spare suit in his locker. The standard joke around the station was that Rafe could come out of a two-week survival school, looking like a walking ad for GQ. Simon inwardly smiled. Nice to see some things never change.

Never letting go of his own file folder, Banks scrubbed his face with his free hand. "You guys look worse than I feel. We don't want to be mistaken for the bad guys here, so everyone take an hour to get cleaned up. Meet back here at 9:00am. I'll have Rhonda rustle up some food, it's going to be a long day people." Taking another look around the bullpen, he added to himself a very long day.

At ten minutes before the hour, a more presentable group of detectives was returning to the office. "All right, let's move this to the break room. We'll see what we've come up with so far." Simon stepped to the doorway, then stopped, face to face with a pale and tired looking Jim Ellison. Ellison seemed uneasy to be there, but the greetings he received were warm and friendly.

"Hey, man."

"Jim, how are you doing?"

"You okay, Ellison?"

Simon stood back and let the others greet Ellison first. He had seen how uncomfortable the Sentinel was, walking into the bullpen. He hoped the concern evident in their voices would convince Ellison he was not alone. The captain smiled to himself as Taggart reached out and squeezed Ellison's arm and nodded to him. Everyone wanted an update on the condition of their observer, but they waited for the captain to ask.

"Jim, I'm surprised to see you here. Has anything changed? Is he...?"

"There's no change, sir. He's doing all right. He just wasn't..." Ellison gave a wry smile, "...thrilled with breakfast. The idea of an algae shake didn't go over real well with the nursing staff either, so the compromise was that I'd get him some bagels and his herbal tea. It was also 'suggested' by one of the nurses that I shower and change while I was out." The officers who were downwind of the big man silently agreed.

Banks studied the younger man. "You haven't gone back to the loft for clothes." It was a statement, but Ellison could hear the unasked question in it.

A look of intense sorrow crossed the Sentinel's face. "I couldn't.. not yet, sir."

The captain knew what it had cost Jim to enter the loft the day before. He had only seen the blood, and only with normal vision. His barely whispered, "I know." was answered by a calming of the other man.

"I thought I'd just take a shower in the locker room, before I take some food back to him."

For the first time since Ellison's arrival, Taggart spoke up. "Rhonda made a breakfast run. Why don't you eat with us and hear what we've got so far. Then you can take a plate back to the hospital for him."

Simon let go of a breath he didn't even know he was holding Thank you, Joel. "That's settled then. Jim, we will see you in the break room in a few minutes."

A damp, but clean Ellison joined the rest of the team in the break room. Wearing a clean set of sweats, he sat down next to Simon and waited for the briefing to begin.

Rhonda had really outdone herself this time. Banks leaned back and took a sip of coffee - fresh coffee. The large table on the side of the room was covered with pastries, fresh fruit and several containers of juice. An extra coffee maker had been placed on the counter next to the regular one to keep up with the demand for it. A dry erase board had been moved in, along with two computer terminals. Rhonda smiled at the questioning glance from the captain. This was more than the snack fund could have handled. "My sister sent all this over."

Brown stopped mid-reach for a cream filled donut. "Your sister, you mean the caterer that got robbed a few weeks ago?"

"Yep, and Blair was real sweet to her. Even called the next day to make sure that she was all right. When she heard that he had been hurt, well, she wanted to help."

"That was nice of her." Brown continued to reach for the pastry, only to have it snagged away by Ellison.

"Those are Sandburg's favorites." Ellison began to fill a plate to take back with him.

"Mr. Health Food actually eats this kind of stuff?" Brown began to laugh. "He made me feel guilty for eating a hamburger last week, and he eats donuts. Go figure."

Ellison returned the smile. "Yeah, well, he doesn't eat like this very often, so I guess it's okay to splurge."

"All right people, let's get to it. Who's got the forensics report?"

"Here, sir." Rafe shuffled through his stack of papers, and pulled out the one in question. "Looks like the window in Sandburg's room was jimmied. No fingerprints, but they did find some dry mud on the fire escape. It looks like it came out of a boot tread, but there wasn't enough to tell for sure. The mud had a lot of clay in it, probably came from north of here, area around the national forest probably. Some mold spores were in the mud too. The forensics team didn't find any unidentified fingerprints anywhere, but they did find a small chemical spill near the front door. The lab won't be able to tell us anything about it until this afternoon. Oh, and that sourdough bread bag had Sandburg's fingerprints all over it."

"Chloroform. That stain is chloroform." Ellison sat up straight, challenging anyone to question it.

Banks remembered the smell the Sentinel had detected in the loft the night before. No one else could know how Ellison would have that knowledge. Covering for the other man, he spoke. "Good guess, Jim. That would make sense if they grabbed him at the door. Especially in light of the toxicology report."

All attention turned towards the captain, and the big man was right down to business. This was no time to tease his people. "Traces of an anesthesia were found in Sandburg's urine. It's a drug called 'Ketamine'. The doctors recognized it, but it's not used at the hospital because of the side effects it causes." Banks took a deep breath before continuing. "It can cause hallucinations and bizarre dreams. Some patients have even suffered amnesia from it. In some cases it can cause respiratory depression, enough to be dangerous. Sandburg was lucky, it slowed his breathing down enough to slow his heart. That's the main reason he didn't bleed to death before help got there."

Pale, stunned faces stared back at the captain. Megan stared at her coffee cup for a long time before asking what was on everyone's mind. "Is that why they used it, sir? Were they trying to keep him alive? Is this a simple case of assault, rather than attempted murder?"

"Simple!! Simple??" Ellison was up on his feet, prowling the break room. "Somebody broke in, waited for him, attacked him, drugged him, then...." Frustration showed through the stoic mask as an empty chair was shoved into the wall. "Damn it, nothing about this is simple! Nothing."

"Jim, I'm sorry, that's not how I meant it. The nature of the crime affects the profile of the perp. You know that, it's basic to any investigation. That's all I meant by it."

Ellison seemed to deflate, his anger spent. "I know, Megan. I'm sorry. It's just so hard, seeing him like that. He's so pale and weak - and quiet. I've never seen him like that before. They keep coming into his room and taking blood samples, like he has any to spare. The worst part is that some of the staff are still treating him as a suicide case." Jim made no effort to hide the pain he was feeling for his young friend. "They talk about it like he's not even there. All those residents and interns. It hurts Sandburg to have people think that of him."

"They aren't ignoring the fact that he was drugged." The captain's voice brought everyone's attention back to the matter at hand. "They are just doing their jobs. Now we have to pull ourselves together and do the same thing. Grant and Martindale, what did you find at the University?"

Before they could answer, a patrolman poked his head in the break room. "Sir, I'm on my way to the hospital for the next shift. Is there anything new that I should know?"

Simon nodded approvingly at the officer. He had seen him on several occasions in deep conversations with the young anthropologist. The officers chosen to handle guard duty were ones that Sandburg knew and would be comfortable with. "Everything is still the same as stated in the briefing earlier. His assailant is still unidentified and at large. Until an arrest is made, he is in danger. Stay alert, we don't want this person slipping on a white lab coat and waltzing in there."

"Do me a favor?" Ellison handed the officer the plate of pastries and fruit that Rhonda had finished preparing for him. "Take this to Sandburg and tell him I'll be there as soon as we're done here. If he needs anything, or if anything happens, I want you to call me immediately. Is that understood?"

"No problem, we'll take good care of him. Don't you worry about it."

"All right, let's get back to business." Banks turned back to Grant and Martindale.

The two men divided the papers between them. Martindale began the breakdown. "Sandburg's been under a lot of pressure at the University, from several sources. He's also been threatened.... death threats to be precise."

"WHAT!" Ellison was back on his feet. "Somebody threatened to kill him, why didn't he say something?"

Grant opened his mouth to answer the question.

"How long ago was he threatened?

This time Martindale tried to speak.

"Who threatened him?"

They looked at each other, then at the captain.

"What is the school doing about it?"

"Jim.. "

"Was it a student?"

"Detective..."

"Have you interrogated the suspect?"

"Ellison!"

"Sir?"

"If you'd be quiet for a minute they'd tell you. Sit down and shut up!"

Ellison returned to his seat and waited for the other detectives to continue. Simon was amazed at how quickly he had regained control, until he saw the tension in Ellison's jaw. You deserve an Oscar for this performance, my friend.

After a few nervous attempts, Martindale continued with his report. "The threat was made by a student by the name of Kelly Davidson. He's on the football team, a real 'dumb jock' if you get my drift. Sandburg reported him to the Dean for plagiarism. He copied an old term paper word for word. The guy was so dumb that he forgot to change the date on the paper. I don't think he's our perp. He doesn't have the brains to plan something like this."

When Martindale paused, Grant continued for him. "There is another factor in this. There's rumors that the coach would like to see Sandburg disappear, too. Davidson is the third player that Sandburg's put on academic probation."

"Sandburg is a good teacher." Jim's voice was quiet, but steady. "I've seen him work all night with a student that asked for help. But he won't take any guff from the ones that don't try, then expect him to look the other way. He demands effort from his students."

"Well, this one didn't want to put out the effort, just wanted the grade. This was his second offense, so he's been suspended until a review board meets next week. Nobody knows where he is, or at least if they do, they're not talking. When we tried to talk to the coach, he wanted a lawyer. We will be interviewing him, with his lawyer present, later on this afternoon."

The breakroom was deathly quiet for a moment before Ellison spoke up again. "There's more, isn't there?"

Grant looked at his partner, then the captain, before he answered. "Uh, yeah, there's more." He shifted around in his chair, obviously uncomfortable, before continuing. "He's getting a lot of heat from his advisors, about how long his dissertation is taking. Apparently one of his grants was pulled yesterday. To make it even worse for him, the registrars office messed up on some of his paperwork and it triggered his student loans payback."

Megan sat up, her lack of knowledge about the American education system evident. "What does that mean?

The answer came from Jim. "Blair has never had the money for college. What he couldn't get in grant and scholarship money came in the form of student loans. His bachelors, his masters and now going for his Ph.D. - that's a lot of student loan money. They don't have to be paid back until six months after you finish school or drop below half time. The idea being that by then you have a job and can afford to pay them back." He turned back to Grant and Martindale. "How bad is it?"

"It's bad." Martindale couldn't look his fellow officers in the eye. "We checked into his financial records. Sorry, Ellison, but it had to be done."

He nodded, "Yeah, I know. What did you find out?"

"He didn't find out about the registrars mistake until last week. He tried every avenue to get the problem handled, but the powers that be are too busy cracking down on student loan fraud to listen when there is a real problem."

"How bad?"

"As near as we can figure, the minimum monthly payment that they will accept is about $50.00 a month more than his take home pay is now. And the first payment is due at the end of the week, or it goes into default. He apparently got the final word on that yesterday too.

"Damn."

"There's more."

"What?"

"The Dean is pressuring him to increase his teaching load next term. He's suggesting that Blair's teaching fellowship may not be renewed if he doesn't.

Suddenly the cryptic conversation he had with his Guide the morning before was crystal clear. As was the hurt and the guilt he felt. The Guide had been in trouble, and for all his abilities, the Sentinel had failed to protect him.

"I knew that something was wrong. I should have pushed him harder. I should have done something."

"Jim."

The quiet voice of his captain broke Ellison out of his rant. Banks waited until eye contact was made before he continued. "Let's stay focused on the issues. Sandburg was attacked, he wasn't driven over the edge."

"There's something else, sir." Grant hesitated and glanced at his partner. Martindale shifted uncomfortably in his chair, not wanting to continue what his partner had started to say.

"Tell us." Banks' voice softened as he addressed the newest partners in the unit. Since they had the least amount of background in the case history of Major Crimes, they had been assigned what was supposed to have been the simplest part of the investigation. Banks chastised himself - nothing was ever simple with Sandburg.

Grant looked up at the captain for the briefest of seconds before returning his gaze to the tabletop he found so fascinating.

"We weren't the first to look into Sandburg's problems at the University. Someone else did a pretty thorough investigation more than a week ago. Before Sandburg even knew he had a problem. A second, quick check was made yesterday morning, less than six hours before he was attacked.

Brown shook his head. "Man, they covered all the angles. Set it up so it would look like Hairboy couldn't face losing his career." He swallowed the last of his coffee before continuing. "If it hadn't been for Ellison being so convinced otherwise, it would have worked, too."

His own cup empty, Taggart rose and snagged the fuller of the two coffee pots. He filled his own cup, then Brown's before topping off the rest of the cups on the table. The large brown face was contemplative as he moved around the table. Banks and the rest of Major Crimes waited for him to speak.

"How did they know? Did they just happen to want to go after Sandburg? They just happened to check into his position at the University? It just so happened that there was a problem that was so new that Sandburg didn't even know about it yet? And that problem just so happened to be caused by something out of Sandburg's control. I find it a little odd, don't you?"

"What are you suggesting, Joel?" Ellison leaned forward on his elbows and stared hard at the former Bomb Squad leader.

"What if Blair's attackers didn't just use the situation, but caused it? What if the entire thing was a set-up? If we didn't see the circumstances that could lead up to a suicide attempt, then we wouldn't have considered it.

Conner finally spoke up. "Why go through all this. If they wanted to kill Sandy, why the elaborate charade?"

Banks and Ellison shared a long glance, remembering the conversation they shared in Sandburg's hospital room the day before. The captain took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes before answering her questions. "When we know why they did this, we will be a lot closer to knowing who did this, Megan."

"Jim, weren't you working on that stolen cell phone number racket?"

"Yeah, Rafe we were. But we kicked it back to Bunko last week. Despite the Mayor's $2,800 phone bill, it wasn't a case for Major Crimes. What does that have to do with Sandburg?"

"Maybe nothing, but the call to 911 came in on a stolen cell phone number."

"Guess I better go and get that case back from Bunko."

Megan began to furiously scribble on the notepad in front of her. "Great, that case wasn't on our list of possibles. Another file to pull."

With a slow smile Taggart reached over and grasped the pen from the young woman's hand. "Conner, you've only been here a few months now. So let me clue you in. When it comes to the nutcases and psychos those two have attracted, this list doesn't even scratch the surface."

She turned towards Ellison, throwing her hands up in the air. "What do you two do, advertise?"

Banks leaned forward, blocking the glare coming from his best detective. "Let's look at the files you have pulled, Conner."

With that, Conner and Taggart began to lay file folders on the table in front of them. When the pile reached her shoulder, Megan turned back to Jim. "Actually, the girl in records was quite helpful. She knew exactly which files to include in the" Megan used her fingers to form quotation marks in the air, "crooks who are pissed at Jim Ellison group."

Taggart returned to the table. "Well, what can the man say? It's a gift."

Ellison snorted and shook his head, glad to be back in the good graces of someone who cared so much about his partner.

This is much better. Banks shifted in his chair and studied the interaction of his unit. The shock had worn off, and they were once again functioning at their normal high rate of efficiency. He refused to allow himself to think what would have happened to this group if Sandburg had not survived the attack.

Clearing his throat, he began to speak. "Let's have it. Who's on this week's hit parade?"

Joel plucked the notebook out of Megan's hands. "We actually had an interesting variety of cases as possible links here." Pointedly ignoring Megan's grumbling, he continued. "First off, cases of theirs that are going to trial. This is rather interesting."

Collectively, the group sat up, waiting for Taggart's big revelation. "Not a lunatic in the bunch."

"Joel!" Going this long without a cigar was beginning to wear on the captain's patience.

"Sorry sir, but it's true. Not one of these cases has any hint of complications. We've got some feelers out about family, associates, that sort of thing. But right now, nothing stands out.

"Some of their current cases have a little more promise, though."

"The heroin overdoses on the North side of town. It's possible the new supplier in town doesn't want Sandburg and me to get too close."

"Exactly."

Simon spoke up. "If this hadn't happened to Sandburg, you would have been giving your report on the investigation today. Bring us up to date on what you've got so far."

"Sure, Simon." Ellison pinched the bridge of his nose, before continuing. "An unknown supplier has brought in a more potent form of heroin into Cascade. We've had five deaths so far and over two dozen overdoses that caused permanent brain damage. One of the last deaths was a student that Blair knew. He took it kinda personally."

Simon hadn't heard about this connection to their observer. "Personal enough to do some investigating on his own? To get the attention of the wrong people?"

"He promised me he wouldn't. But if another student came to him and asked for help, well, you know Sandburg."

"That's what I'm afraid of."

Megan picked up another file off the tabletop. "What about the racketeering case you've been working on? Anything of interest there?"

Drinking his coffee, Ellison pondered the question. "I don't think so. Most of our leads have dried up on that one. The name we've got is Matt Anile' but we can't even prove he exists. We've got illegal gambling on sporting events, and rumors of extortion, but nothing concrete. One of our informants claims that someone in the DA's office is on the payroll, so... "

"Bribery?"

"Yeah, Rafe. We haven't tried to get any search warrants yet. Sandburg and I didn't want to tip our hand until we had something solid. We haven't gotten a single solitary piece of evidence that will hold up in court. In fact, even the rumors about the case dried up almost a month ago."

"So the heroin case is the more likely of the two?"

"Looks that way."

Joel leaned back in his chair and studied the faces across from him. "There was another death from that new heroin."

"Another one? Why wasn't I told about it?"

"Don't worry about it mate. I'm sure it had nothing to do with your case."

"Why don't you let me be the judge of that, Megan?"

"Jim. Megan didn't mean anything by it. We've been working on breaking up the new cathouse that Tina LeMat has set up. It took five weeks to get one of the girls to trust Megan, then she kills herself with an overdose."

This got Simon's attention. "Did she tell you anything? Anything we can use to nail LeMat, or put her out of business?

Megan shook her head sadly. "She was only 18. She just wanted to go home. I promised to pay for her trip back home. She never made the meeting. Joel and I found her dead in the alley behind the house. LeMat probably watched her die out there, and we can't do a damn thing about it.

"What else do we have here?" Simon's voice was beginning to betray the stress he was feeling. "There has to be something that we're missing here."

"Maybe, sir."

"Tell us what you've got, Joel."

"Jim, do you remember about six months ago, we were tracking down those TEC 9's and the silencers that surfaced on the black market?"

"Sure I do. We got the weapons before they hit the street, but the perps got away from us. The ringleader was a guy named Bruce Adamson. We suspected that he had his fingers in a lot more than just gun running. The last we heard, he was in Central America. What's his connection to Sandburg?"

"Remember his wife?"

"Julie, or Janie... something like that. For a while, I thought she was going to turn over on him, but no such luck. What about her? As far as I know, Sandburg never had contact with her."

"Her name was actually Janice, and three and a half weeks ago she was found in a motel room in Tacoma."

"Found?"

"Her wrists were slashed... just like Sandburg."

"My God."

"Yeah."

Megan spoke up, breaking the somber silence that had settled over the group. "The Tacoma PD are faxing us everything they have on it."

Brown turned to Megan. "How much of an investigation was there? I mean, they had no reason to suspect that it was anything but a typical suicide. Hell, for all we know, it was a typical suicide."

"Just what the hell makes a suicide 'typical'? If she took her own life, that is as tragic as if someone else killed her. Wouldn't you agree?" Taggart was standing over Brown, using his height to intimidate the other man.

"I didn't mean to imply that ..."

"Joel! This isn't helping." Banks glared at his old friend, willing him to control his anger and his memories. Satisfied that he would control himself, Simon turned his attention from Joel and back to Megan. "Did the Tacoma PD have some suspicions before our request?"

"Yes, they have always had some doubts about the case. The location of the razor that was used was too far away from the body for one thing. There were also some unexplained bruises on her arms. What really got their attention was the ME's report that the angle of the wound was wrong for it to be self-inflicted."

Simon watched his best detective very closely while he spoke. "Luckily, we didn't have to bring in our Medical Examiner on this one." He paused as a shudder passed through the other man, then continued.

"Jim, get the doctor's report on Sandburg's wounds and have Dan Wolf review it. See if he comes up with the same conclusion. Other than that, I want you to stay close to Sandburg. As this drug wears off, he may begin to remember more. Everyone else, keep working on what you've got in front of you."

Simon broke off as Rhonda came rushing in. "What's wrong?"

"There was a call from the hospital. Some intern is trying to move Blair to the psychiatric unit."

"What the hell..." Before the words had stopped echoing, Ellison was at the elevator doors. When they did not open immediately for him, the frustrated Sentinel charged down the stairs.

"Jim, let us know..." The captain's words echoed in the void left by Ellison

"All right people, we have some leads to follow. Let's get on it." The meeting broke up rather quickly as the detectives were anxious to track down whoever had dared to attack one of their own. As they passed, Banks quietly grasped Taggart's elbow.

"Joel, we need to talk." After the briefest of hesitations, Taggart followed Simon to his office.


Wednesday, 11:00

Simon Banks studied the man seated in front of his desk. Opening old wounds was not one of his favorite tasks, but there seemed to be no other choice. "When was the last time you visited his grave, Joel?"

An unreadable face, chiseled in onyx greeted the captain. "You know I haven't been there since the funeral, Simon. Why are you asking me this now?"

"How long has he been gone?"

"You know when it happened." He twisted in the chair, turning his face away from his old friend.

Simon saw the movement, and leaned back into Taggart's vision. "Refresh my memory, Joel."

"Damn you, Simon. All right, we'll play your little game. It's been 7 years, 4 months since it happened." Still not wanting to look Simon in the face, Joel turned back the other direction.

"Since what happened?" Banks shifted in his chair again, continuing the macabre dance of pain and denial between the two old friends.

Frustrated, Taggart stood up and leaned forward, making eye contact for the first time since the two of them had entered the office. "Why are you doing this to me, Simon?"

"Since what..."

"SINCE MY BOY KILLED HIMSELF!! There, are you happy now? I said it." Joel marched over to the window on the far side of Simon's office, refusing to look at his old friend behind the desk. "Its been 7 years, 4 months, and 14 days since my only son took my back-up .380, put it to his head and pulled the trigger. His coach called the house, Davy had never missed practice before. We were worried, went looking for him. His mother found him. Do you have any idea what that did to her? DO YOU? She's never been the same.... neither have I."

Banks stood quietly and walked to his friend, listening as the angry voice grew quieter and more resigned. "Do you know what the worst part of it is, Simon?" He continued on, not giving the other man time to answer. "I don't know why. He had everything to live for. So why didn't he want to live? Why'd he kill himself?"

"We're never going to know the answer to that, Joel." Simon gently laid his hand on the big shoulders in front of him, noting the slight trembling he felt there. "As much as it hurts you, as much as it hurts everyone who loved Davy, you are never going to get the answers to your questions. But I do know that he loved you, and that he would want you to move on. He did not do it to hurt you."

"If he loved me, then why did he do this to me? Why?"

"Whatever his reasons were, they weren't about you. That boy adored you. Never, ever, doubt that."

Joel reached up and squeezed the hand still on his shoulder. "Thank you, Simon. I think ... I think I needed to hear that.

"I'm glad I could help. Have you thought any more about talking to Jim. It might do you both a lot of good."

"Actually, yes. I thought if he was comfortable leaving Sandburg alone this evening, I'd invite him over to give King a run and stay for dinner."

"That sounds like a good idea. Giving the dog a run will clear his head, and you both will feel better after you talk everything through. Tell you what, I'll drop by for my visit about the same time that you get there, offer to sit with the kid while you two talk."

"Thanks, Simon."


An agitated voice and too fast of a heartbeat greeted the Sentinel as he extended his hearing from the lobby of the hospital. The soft pleading voice hurried him into the elevator and towards his Guide. "Please don't do this to me, I didn't hurt myself. Jim, where are you?"

"Here, Chief. I'm right here." Jim angrily pushed past the intern and the orderlies surrounding his partner's bed. Sitting on the edge of the mattress, he demanded to know what was going on.

"What are you doing to him? Where's Dr. Andrews, and just who in the hell are you?"

Even while seated, the detective was almost eye level with the object of his ire. Realizing that, he stood up to tower over the shorter man, slipping into his 'intimidate the suspect' mode.

"You're not his doctor, who gave you permission to make any decisions regarding his care?"

"Permission?" The unnamed man in the white lab coat stood even straighter as he looked up at the imposing man now in front of him. "I don't know who you are, but I'm Dr. Keily, and at this hospital, I don't need permission to treat Mr. Sandburg."

The badge flashed as cold and hard as the ice blue eyes locked on him. "Detective James Ellison, Major Crimes division. Mr. Sandburg is my partner. Just what kind of treatment are you prescribing for him, Dr. Keily?" Ellison's accent on his name made it sound more like a slur than a question. "Do you always prescribe a psychiatric evaluation for all the assault victims you treat?"

"Assault victim? Detective, I understand how difficult it must be for you to accept that your partner is unstable. I'm sure no one at your police department thinks any less of you for his problems. There is no reason to keep up this charade. In the long run you are just causing your friend more problems." Keily was on shaky ground, and too arrogant to know it. He reached out and laid a hand on Ellison's arm, as if to make his plea even more personal. "Let us help him."

The Ellison temper was legendary in the Cascade PD, but few had ever seen him this mad. The two officers assigned to guard Sandburg weren't going to miss a second of history in the making as they slipped into the doorway of the hospital room and waited for the show to start.

Ellison shook off the hand resting on his arm and stepped into Keily's personal space. An angry finger jabbed with every word. "You know nothing about the man in that bed. He is my partner and my best friend and one of the strongest and bravest people I have ever met."

By the time Ellison had finished this sentence, he had backed the arrogant man to the doorway of the hospital room. As Keily stepped back out of the room, his foot became entangled with the leg of one of the officers who were standing there. Somehow, neither man in the doorway managed to catch the doctor on his way down, although witnesses claimed that they did make 'some kind' of an effort to help him.

Ellison took advantage of the situation by standing over the fallen man to continue what he had to say to him. "If you had even bothered to read Mr. Sandburg's chart, you would know that there is medical and forensic evidence that shows his wounds were not self-inflicted." Jim stood, sentinel erect with his fists on his hips as he stared at the man who had dared to question his friend and guide even after the evidence had been found. "Pardon me for asking, but isn't that why you have charts? Most doctors I have ever met actually use the patient's charts to know what happened to them. They don't use their suspicions and their prejudices to arbitrarily assign judgment."

Dr. Andrews chose that moment to step off the elevator. He calmly walked over to the group and looked down at his colleague. "Dr. Keily, I must admit this is a different method than I use to talk to the families of my patients. Tell me, is it more effective to lay on the floor to discuss a patient's progress?"

The glare never left Ellison's face and Dr. Andrews kept a serious expression on his. The two uniformed officers tried, but could not stop the laughter they had held in since Keily had started backing out of the room.

Sputtering and swearing, Keily climbed to his feet and straightened his coat. "How dare you talk to me in such a manner? I'll have you banned from here, I'll... I'll..."

"You will do nothing of the kind, Dr. Keily. You're an intern, nothing more. Even having an uncle who's the Chief of Staff won't help you here. This patient is now off limits to you. Do you understand that?"

After waiting for someone to help him up, the red-faced man staggered to his feet and turned towards his superior. "This is not over, mark my words."

Finally letting his amusement show, Andrews responded to the retreating figure. "Oh, I think it is." Becoming more serious, he turned and entered the hospital room.

Blair Sandburg was still and quiet on the bed. Anyone who knew the man knew that this was not right. The officers assigned to guard him shifted uneasily and Ellison made no attempt to hide his worry as the doctor examined the young man. He sat on the far side of the bed and as soon as the doctor was finished checking Blair's vital signs and examining his wounds, Jim grasped the younger man's hands in his own and studied his friend's face. Pale and drawn, with dark smudges underneath the eyes, Blair seemed lost in his own world. Slowly, the ocean blue eyes focused on the concerned face above him.

"They won, didn't they?" The young man turned his face away.

Before Jim could interpret the cryptic question a page came over the intercom for Dr. Andrews. With a smile and a pat to Blair's shoulder he slipped out the door and closed it behind him, leaving the two men in privacy.

With his thumb and forefinger, Jim turned his friend's face back towards him. Blair still would not make eye contact with him, so the Sentinel waited for the words to finally come. When the words did come, they were heartbreaking in their simplicity.

"Everything's gone."

"No."

"Don't you see, with two slices of a blade they took everything away from me. My whole life, it's gone." He stared down at his heavily bandaged wrists. "They don't allow suicidal police observers to keep their status, and the university doesn't look too kindly on unstable teaching assistants. They might not even let me finish my doctorate."

Blair's voice became ragged and he turned away from Jim before continuing. "You won't need me anymore."

"What?" Ellison bit down a desire to shake some sense into his partner. Instead he grasped the shoulders of his friend and pulled Blair up into a sitting position, forcing him to look Jim in the eye. "You listen to me and you listen good, Blair Sandburg. I don't care what the department says, and I sure don't give a rat's ass about what the university thinks. I need you. Do you understand that? I need you. Hell, you're the only person to ever get close enough for me to need. Nobody is going to take you away from me. I won't let them. You got that?"

Quieting for a moment, the Sentinel leaned his forehead against that of his Guide's, drawing strength from the bond they shared before finishing the thoughts in his head. "I'd be there first, you know. In the psych ward, I'd be there first."

The power of that statement hit the younger man as he pulled back to study Jim. When he saw the haunted expression in his friend's face, Blair tried to lighten the mood a bit. "Hey, at least we'd still be room-mates. Do you know how much about basket weaving I've learned from all the tribes I've studied over the years?

Jim recognized his Guide's attempt to lighten the mood and played along with it. "Well Chief, at least you'd still be teaching. You'd have a captive audience, too." The smile was forced, and never quite reached his eyes.

Time slipped away unnoticed by either man until Jim felt Blair sway ever so slightly. This time the smile was genuine as he settled his friend back against the pillows. "Nap time, Buddy."

"Jim?"

This time Ellison was prepared for the question he knew was still on Blair's mind. "Don't worry about it right now. The people who are important know that you didn't do this. The rest of them, well, we'll be able to prove it to them when the time comes."

"Will we?"

"Has your Blessed Protector ever let you down?" The smile never wavered, but Blair saw the pain flicker in Jim's eyes. He reached out and caught Jim's hand before the other man could move away from the bed.

"You are, you're blaming yourself for this. Come on Jim, you're a Sentinel, not the all-seeing, all knowing Karnac. How could you have stopped it?"

Pondering the question, Ellison sat rubbing his face for a moment before speaking. "Yesterday morning, before you left I could tell you were upset. I should have stopped you, made you tell me what was wrong."

"What does that have to do with what happened? That's like saying that I was the one that... you're still not sure, are you? Part of you still thinks I tried to kill myself." Becoming agitated Blair tried to sit up in the bed. "I thought you believed me, man!"

"I did, I do believe you, Chief." Cursing himself, Jim reached out and caught the younger man before he fell over. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that. It's just.... I saw the panther after you left, I should have known you were in danger, that you needed me." This time it was the older man who turned his face away. "He was trying to warn me, and I ignored him. How many times will you get hurt because I won't accept the dreams, the visions? You keep trying to teach me to accept that side of who I am, and I keep letting you down. I'm sorry. Protecting the Guide is the first part of protecting the tribe and...."

Blair patted the older man's arm, trying to reassure him. "It's okay, Jim. I understand how hard it is for you to accept all of this. Just promise me that you'll keep trying."

The Sentinel didn't respond at first. He just pulled his human guide close and hugged him while he heard the roar of approval from his spirit guide. In his mind he saw the animal as it curled itself protectively around the foot of the bed. As the eyes of his spirit guide locked with his own, the Sentinel gave his answer. "I promise."

For the second time in less than an hour, Jim tucked his young friend into his bed. Blair raised an eyebrow and began to speak, but a raised finger and a stern "humor me" stilled the words on his lips.

Ellison sat on the edge of the bed as sleep finally came to Blair, smiling at the muttered comments about overprotective Sentinels and oversized, shedding cats.

Satisfied that his partner's sleep was sound, Ellison moved out into the hallway, quietly closing the door behind him. With a brief nod to the officers standing guard in the hall, he went in search of Dr. Andrews. Focusing his hearing, Jim walked past the nurse's station to stand outside a closed door at the end of the corridor.

As Dr. Andrews exited the room, he was startled to find the detective waiting for him, but he swallowed his questions, sensing the other man's anger. "Detective Ellison, my apologies for leaving so abruptly earlier."

Jim pinched the bridge of his nose, wincing at the headache that was beginning to form. "Blair's not your only patient, I understand that. I just don't want to see him go through that again."

"That should have never happened in the first place. I am sorry. Is he still upset, I could prescribe a mild sedative?" He gestured towards the small break room behind the nurse's station. "How about some coffee, my treat?" Without waiting for an answer he moved into the room.

After only a momentary pause, Ellison followed the doctor. When they were both seated at the round table he started to speak, only to be cut off by the other man. "How was he when you left him?"

Ellison absently stirred the cup in front of him. "We had a good talk, he's sleeping now. He'll feel a whole lot better when we can catch whoever is behind this. We both will."

Andrews swallowed his coffee while he fished a scrap of paper out of his pocket. "Maybe this will help. It's a list of all the pharmaceutical companies in the area that stock Ketamine. It might help you track where it came from."

A smile crossed the Sentinel's face as his hand closed on the list. "Yes, it should help us a lot. There is something else that you could do to help us, though."

The doctor set his coffee cup down on the table and leaned towards the detective. "Tell me how I can help you."

Jim drew in a deep breath, glad that he was dealing with a doctor who truly wanted to help his patient, and not the likes of Dr. Keily. "There was a murder out of town a few weeks ago and we feel that the person or persons responsible may have been the same that attacked Blair. The wounds are the same, slashed wrists. Our M.E. would like to look over your findings to see if he can find any hard evidence to help link the two cases together."

"Are you saying that you have a serial killer on your hands?" The doctor did nothing to hide his surprise and nervousness. "Could we have more victims coming in?"

The detective did his best to assure Andrews without giving away vital information about the case. "No. No serial killer. We think it may have something to do with another case we've been working on. I'm sorry, I can't tell you any more than that at the moment. Now about those records?"

"Of course, detective. I'll need Mr. Sandburg's authorization, though." He paused, obviously deep in thought. "In fact, you may want your medical examiner to come to the hospital this afternoon. We've scheduled surgery for this afternoon. I've arranged for a plastic surgeon to work with me to make the scars less noticeable. We put people back together here, but we're no experts on how they got injured in the first place. The medical examiner could sit in on the procedure, get a first hand look at the wounds when we open the area back up."

"Is all that really necessary? I mean we want the least amount of scarring, but to put him through a surgical procedure?" Jim couldn't hide the grimace at the thought of his friend being subjected to any more pain and trauma.

Understanding was evident on the kind doctor's face. "I'm afraid it really is necessary. He was too shocky and weak yesterday, or we would have done it then. Yesterday our main concern was establishing blood flow back to his hands and keeping him alive. Now we have to make sure that he will have full mobility in his hands."

All the fear that Jim Ellison experienced the day before came back, threatening to overwhelm him. "But he's moving his hands all right today."

The doctor hastened to reassure the big detective. "Yes, he has gross motor skills. What we are concerned about now are his fine motor skills. If one of the tendons in his wrists were damaged, or even if too much scar tissue builds up around them, it might have an affect. Maybe not now, but at some point down the road. The sooner we can correct the problems, the easier it will be on him. I will be the one to repair any tendon damage and Dr Yamamoto will be the plastic surgeon. He's a good man, we went to medical school together.

Jim forced down his fear and concentrated on what was being said to him. "This Dr. Yamamoto, do you trust him, I mean really trust him?"

It was a few minutes before the gray-haired man made eye contact with Ellison. Another minute before he spoke. When he did, his voice was quiet and sad. "In Denver, five years ago, my wife was badly injured in a car wreck. She was thrown through the windshield. After she was released from the hospital, I moved my practice here to Cascade so Dr. Yamamoto could be her surgeon. I have already trusted him with the most precious thing in my world. So yes, you can trust him with your partner.

At a loss for words, Ellison just nodded and waited as Andrews refilled the coffee cups. Sandburg was lucky to have as compassionate a doctor as Andrews, but there was still the matter of Dr. Keily, and how many of the staff would treat Blair in the same heartless manner.

Understanding the remaining concerns of the other man, Dr Andrews spoke first as he returned to the table with the coffee. "On behalf of the hospital I'd like to apologize for that scene earlier. I have no idea what Keily thought he was doing. I've already spoken to the Chief-of-Staff and related or not, he won't allow that type of behavior in his hospital."

"Is that right?" Try as he might, Jim could not quite keep the anger out of his voice. "Just what is being done about it?"

"Well, until the review board meets next week, let's just say he is on a rotation where his noteworthy bedside manner can be put to use."

Jim couldn't help but snort, "Yeah, right. Just where would that be, the morgue?"

"Well actually, yes." He waited until Jim finished choking on his coffee before continuing. "He's been a problem since he arrived, just has no people skill."

"Really?" the sarcasm was thick in the Sentinel's voice, and evident on his face.

Dr. Andrews couldn't hide the humor he was feeling. "Not even Keily can insult a corpse. Or at least if he does, they won't be complaining about it."

Jim felt himself relaxing, finally convinced that Blair was safe and well cared for in the hospital. "What time is the surgery scheduled for? He had a pretty big breakfast."

"Yes, I heard about the care package, actually I had part of it. We let him have the fruit and the tea, since they would digest easily enough. I'm afraid the rest of the food, well, we all enjoyed it."

"Don't tell anyone from the department. I had to practically fight to get him those donuts."

Laughing, the doctor stood as his pager went off. "Your secret is safe with me, detective. His surgery is set for 3:00pm. He should be back in his room by 6:30pm at the latest.

Ellison also stood. "Thank you for everything, doctor." When he was alone again he sagged back into the hard plastic chair. Allowing himself only a minute's weakness, Jim stood again and made the necessary phone calls to bring Cascade's Chief Medical Examiner to the hospital.


Wednesday, 2:30pm

Simon Banks softly pushed open the door, waiting for a moment to see if Jim was awake. Jim was slumped forward in his chair; one hand supporting his head, the other resting on Blair's upper arm. As Simon debated on whether to disturb him, Jim opened his eyes and nodded at his captain. He nodded back and set a bag on the nearby table. A moan from the bed captured the Sentinel's attention and Simon patiently waited for Jim to settle the injured young man back into a peaceful sleep. When that was done, Ellison motioned towards the door, then followed Banks out into the hallway.

"He seems kind of out of it Jim, is he okay?" Simon's attempt to ask the question casually brought a smile to Jim's face.

Sure you don't care about him, Simon. "Yeah, he's just groggy from the pre-op sedatives. More of his memory is coming back and the combination is making him pretty restless."

Simon perked up at this information. "He's remembering? That's great!"

As if to slow the captain down, Ellison gestured downward with his hands. "There's nothing that will help us yet. It's like he's getting 'flashes' of what happened, but he can't sort them out and make sense of them. We just have to hope he can remember what they were when he wakes up after the surgery. Jim hesitated as two orderlies pushed a gurney towards them.

Banks held the door open as the stretcher was maneuvered into the room. Ellison remained like a statue in the hall. The captain turned his attention back to Jim. Zoned? A soft cry of pain snapped the Sentinel's attention back as he rushed into the room and began to interrogate the two hapless men. Or maybe not.

Knowing what Jim was capable of doing to anyone he perceived as hurting his Guide, Simon moved to intercept the angry Sentinel. "Jim, let them do their job. It's time to move him up to surgery."

"They don't have to treat him like he's just some slab of meat." The anger of the last two days was just under the surface, and Jim was ready to let it out. Instead he exhaled noisily and turned back to the men. "He's been through a lot, be careful with him."

One of the men turned to Ellison. He was not as tall as Simon was, but taller than Jim with meticulously braided hair. Through his headset, Jim could hear Jamaican music. The cop's expression softened as he was answered. "No man. We be as gentle as a mama with her newborn babe. We heard what happened, that's the lowest attack I ever hear of. With all he be goin' through, any time he move, it gonna hurt. No way to stop it until he can work the stiffness outta his bones." His head shook as he spoke, the beads in his braids a colorful contrast to his ebony skin.

With a great deal of effort, Jim backed away and let them do their jobs. Intellectually, he knew they were being as careful as they could be, but his hands clenched tightly at his side with every moan. Jim and Simon followed the gurney as far as the elevator, where they were given a few moments to say good-by.

Simon bent over the young man who had eased his way into the tall captain's heart. Seeing how still he seemed to be, Simon better understood Jim's pain. "You be good for those doctors, you hear? Dan will be in there with you and if you cause any trouble, I'll know about it, Sandburg." Wanting to say more, but not trusting his voice, he stepped back to give Jim some room.

Jim stood quietly next to his partner. Instead of speaking to the sleeping figure, he brushed the hair back out of Blair's face, his jaw clenched. Simon was surprised and started to question him until he saw the wet brightness of Jim's eyes. Keeping his questions to himself, he stood closer and squeezed the other man's shoulders as the elevator whisked their friend away.

Ellison tracked the elevator up to the eighth floor, where it was met be a friendly nurse. He tried to extend his hearing to find the surgical team, but lost them when Simon shook his arm. "It won't do either one of you any good for you to stand here and listen to that. Dan promised me that if there was any kind of problem, he would come get us." He firmly steered the Sentinel back to the room. "Come on, I brought us some decent coffee."


Wednesday, 5:00pm

Dan Wolf walked into room 312 with a smile brightening his sturdy face. Before Ellison or Banks could ask, he began to speak. "It went great. There was less tendon and muscle damage than they were expecting, and the doctors were able to completely repair it. That plastic surgeon was something else. With the right follow up care, the scars will barely be visible."

Jim let out a breath he didn't know he was holding. "Thank God." He ran his hands through his hair and paced the small room with nervous energy. "He's gonna be all right." Stopping suddenly, he pivoted to face Dan again.

"What kind of follow up care will he need?"

"I'm sure the doctors will have more for you, but there are two big things that will help his skin to heal. Keep it out of the sun, even on a cloudy day. He doesn't need the UV's right now, and use vitamin E on the scars.

"Vitamin E?"

Wolf pulled off his surgical hat and rubbed at his face with it. "Yeah. Just cut open a capsule and rub the gel on the scar tissue. It'll make a big difference."

Simon quietly choked on his coffee as a vision of Sandburg, bundled up like a snow baby and dripping vitamin E, came to mind. As Dan moved across the room he slapped Simon on the back. The twinkle in his eye showed he had the same thought. Ellison was lost in thought and missed the exchange between the two men then he brightened. "No sun and lots of vitamin E. We can do that." His expression changed to surprise as Simon groaned at his statement, then to outright confusion as Simon answered him.

"Just don't let him ooze all over the bullpen."

"Sir?"

Wolf clapped him on the back. "Don't worry about it Jim. Just take care of your partner. I convinced the docs to let you sit with him, and..."

"Thanks, Dan." With that, Ellison was out the door, already focusing on the distant heartbeat of his Guide.

"...I'll go over my findings with Simon. Bye, Jim." With a wave to the retreating figure, he turned to Banks. "Gee, was it something I said?"


Without the slightest hesitation, Ellison headed straight for his partner's bed in the recovery unit, briefly acknowledging the guards now posted outside. Before he could reach it, his path was blocked by what he could only describe as a sturdy woman in hospital greens. "Sir, this is a restricted area."

"I'm Detective James Ellison, with the Cascade PD. This man is my partner and I have permission to be in here with him," he pulled out his badge and had it in the woman's face before he finished speaking, "and just who might you be?"

"My name is Peg, and you may see your partner when I've finished checking on him." She proceeded to examine the fresh bandages on Blair's arms and to check his vital signs, diligently recording each finding and stepping around Ellison at every move. Finally she had had enough. "Detective, this would be much quicker if I didn't have to walk around you."

Silently Ellison took a step backwards, his gaze never leaving his Guide's face. As soon as the nurse was finished, he sat down next to the bed and waited.

Oh Chief, nothing is ever easy with you is it? Sometimes I think I know you better than I know myself. Other times I don't have a clue what is going on inside that head of yours. You said that you knew what it was like to hurt so badly, you wanted to die. When was that, buddy? Dear God, please let it have been before we met. If you were hurting that bad and I didn't see it.... I don't think I could take it. Why didn't you ever tell me? Why couldn't you trust me enough to tell me?

His silent contemplation was interrupted by the return of Sandburg's nurse. "Hello Peg." She barely nodded at him, a sharp contrast to the gentle nurses that had been caring for Blair on the third floor, and that was unacceptable. "How often will you be checking his vital signs?"

She turned to look at him, clearly reading the challenge in his voice. "Every 15 minutes, until he is moved out of recovery."

Glancing at his watch, the detective commented "It's been 19 minutes."

After one of the quickest stays in the recovery room, Blair Sandburg was back in his own bed by 5:45pm.


Wednesday, 7:00pm

Joel Taggart had spent the better part of the afternoon trying to figure out just what he was going to say to Jim, with no real success. Deciding to 'wing it', he took a deep breath and entered the hospital room of their young friend. As was expected, Blair was sound asleep on the narrow bed, a new I.V. and a heart monitor evidence of his recent surgery. Simon glanced up and smiled at the visitor before turning his attention towards the quiet figure at the window.

"Jim, Joel's here."

For a moment there was no response, then Jim turned and greeted the other man. "Hey Joel, how's it going?" As had been the norm since Blair was admitted into the hospital, his smile was forced and Joel could see the pain hidden behind it.

Joel faltered when he looked at the still form asleep in the bed. Taking a deep breath, he returned the forced smile. "How are you tonight, Jim?"

Not even realizing the question, Ellison began to answer automatically. "The surgery went well. Both Dan and the doctors were pleased, but he probably won't wake up until morning."

Joel bit back a smile as he studied the other man. When did you get so predictable, Jim Ellison? "Jim, I know. I talked to Dan before I left the station. I was asking how you were."

"Me?" The question startled Jim, and he blinked, not quite knowing how to answer it. "Joel, I'm not the one who's in a hospital bed, recovering from surgery. I'm..."

"...hurting too." Joel finished the sentence for him. "Sandburg would throw a fit if he woke up and saw you now. You won't be able to do him much good if you don't take care of yourself. Come on, its time to take a break." To accentuate his point, Joel reached over and snagged Ellison's coat.

Jim held his panic in check, but his friends could see it in his eyes. "No, I can't leave him. What if he wakes up? What if he needs me and I'm not here for him? Stepping towards the bed, Jim shook his head and grabbed the bed rail. "I don't want him to wake up alone. Don't make me leave him, Simon."

Just that moment, the door reopened and admitted Rafe and Brown. Simon nodded briefly at them before turning back to Ellison. "He won't be alone. Maybe we've never made it clear, so let me say it now. Sandburg may be your partner, but he's our friend too. Blair calls you his 'Blessed Protector' and I know how much that means to you, but don't protect him so much that you cut him off from the rest of the people who care about him." Simon's voice became suspiciously rough and he rubbed at his eyes.

When Simon became quiet, Rafe spoke up. "Hey man, we're not here to make you leave or anything. We're here because we care. Did you know that Blair was the first person to shake my hand when I transferred into Major Crimes? There was a big case breaking and everybody was swamped, but he made sure I knew where everything was, that I could fit right in. He even brought me up to speed on the case so I wouldn't feel like the odd man out when you all were talking about the bust later. He was my first friend when I transferred in from patrol, and he'd be here if it was me in that bed."

Brown's low melodic voice followed that of his partner. "He'd be here if it were any of us, Jim. Please, man, let us return the favor."

Light blue eyes locked with dark brown ones as several seconds passed. Apparently satisfied with the sincerity of the words, Jim accepted the coat from Joel and nodded wordlessly. Before he reached the door, Jim turned around as if to speak. Anticipating his words, Simon spoke up.

"If there is any change, one of us will call you. I promise."

Ellison hesitated, then nodded again silently before Joel shepherded him out the door. A collective breath was held until the elevator was heard departing the floor.

"Man, I thought he'd never leave." The voice was weak and exhausted sounding.

Simon stared down at the bed in shock. "Sandburg? Blair, you're awake!"

"Yeah, been awake for a couple of minutes now, but I didn't want Jim to know."

A frown marred the captain's face, while Brown's broke into a wide grin. "If he knew you were awake, Joel'd never have gotten him out of here."

Simon was still frowning. "He didn't hear you." It was a statement, but Blair could hear the unspoken question behind it.

"Well, he was pretty exhausted, that always affects his focus." The answer was vague enough, but Simon could read the truth of it in Sandburg's tired smile. The smile broadened a bit as Blair continued. "It did him a lot of good to hear what you had to say to him. It did me good too."

The young man slipped quietly back to sleep, safe in the knowledge that he had three guardian angels watching over him, and one more with his Sentinel.


The ride back to Taggart's house was quiet. Jim seemed lost in thought and Joel did not want to disturb the other man's silent contemplation. When the car pulled up in front of a non-descript brown clapboard house, Jim frowned ever so slightly. Even though he had been here many times since Joel had taken in King, he had never paid much attention to the house itself. It wasn't that it was run down, in fact it was perfectly maintained. Perfect and cold. While the other houses in the neighborhood had flowers and weeds and toys in the yard, Joel's front yard was a solid lawn. It reminded Jim of a movie set - nice to look at, but no life behind it.

Following Joel into the house, Jim's frown turned into a smile as they were greeted by the sound of paws sliding on the hardwood floors. He braced himself automatically for the forty-plus pounds that would be sailing towards him any second. Dropping his jacket, Jim reached out and caught the airborne blur sailing towards him.

Joel just shook his head at the sight. The half-grown dog was well mannered when guests came over, but King didn't consider Jim a guest, he was a playmate. The big man started to scold King, but one look at his friend's face stopped the words from forming. For a split second he saw not a tired and hurting man, but a happy ten-year-old and his dog.

Jim couldn't help but laugh as he found himself with an armful of excited pup. It wasn't that today's greeting was any more vigorous, he just needed it more. A small corner of his brain was thinking 'yuck' as he was thoroughly licked from one end to the other. Between the wiggling and the wagging, he was getting thumped on both shoulders by a very strong tail.

To Joel, the last chuckle sounded suspiciously like a sob as Jim buried his face in the soft fur. Even the dog sensed the change, as he immediately settled down and nuzzled his face into the crook of Jim's neck. After a final squeeze, Ellison put the dog down and opened the hall closet to retrieve the running shoes he had left there.

While Jim pulled off his heavy work shoes King disappeared into the kitchen, tail wagging. More relaxed than he had been since this whole nightmare started, Jim slipped into the well-worn Nike's that had taken up permanent residence at Joel's since King had come home with him. In some ways King was more Jim's dog than Joel's. They had bonded the first night that Jim had come home and found his roommate with the litter of abandoned newborn puppies. The loft was no place for a dog, and Jim was eternally grateful that King had found a home with Joel rather than go to a pet store. The runs were now a part of his regular routine.

A soft thump, thump, thump brought Jim's attention back to the present. King was sitting at the front door, his leash hanging from his mouth. His head was slightly cocked as he studied Jim intently. "What's the matter, King? Am I too slow for you tonight?" The dog let out a small yip as he bounced towards the door, his feet in constant motion. So full of energy, just like Blair. A shadow of sadness passed over his features as he reached down for the leash. "Yesterday was our day to run, but I'll make it up to you."

"I'll have dinner ready for you when you get back." Joel's voice had a no nonsense air about it, but still Jim hesitated.

"I'm not sure I should be away from the hospital that long."

"Jim." Joel Taggart knew what buttons to push and when to push them. "Don't you dare do that to me. Don't you dare make me face Sandburg and admit to him that you were here, and I let you leave without feeding you."

A raised eyebrow was the only indication that Ellison found this thought amusing. "Are you telling me that you're afraid of my partner?"

"When I turned eighteen, I left for boot camp. While I was gone, my mother got a dog. It was one of those little things, all hair and lots of noise. You know the type."

"Yeah, Joel. I know the type."

"I didn't take it seriously, teased my mom about getting a real dog the next time. Teased the dog, too. I've still got the scars on my ankle to prove it. When I watch Sandburg sometimes I think of that dog. Does that make sense?"

Ellison thought for a moment before answering the question. The standing joke around the department was 'don't mess with Sandburg or you'll have to deal with Ellison', but the quieter comments seemed more serious. 'Don't mess with Ellison or you'll have to deal with Sandburg.' "Yeah Joel, that makes a lot of sense. Thanks." The silence that followed was one of comfort, before man and dog left for their run.

Forty-five minutes later the pounding of feet signaled their return as Jim and King thundered in the kitchen door, sliding to a stop at their regular spot at the counter. On the countertop was a bottle of drinking water, on the floor was a fresh bowl for King. The normalcy of this was quietly reassuring to the Sentinel.

The beeping of the microwave drew Jim's attention away from his water and towards Taggart who suddenly looked very guilty.

"Joel?"

"Um, yeah Jim?" Suddenly Joel Taggart, Bomb Squad Captain, looked like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "I was hoping to have this thawed out before you got back. It's probably sacrilege to be thawing Blair's ostrich chili in the microwave. If he finds out, he'll spend the next six weeks lecturing me about the evils of radiation and food."

Jim tried to keep his face straight and his voice droll. "I'm sure it would be an interesting lecture, Joel. Where did you get the chili?"

Suddenly, stirring the half-thawed chili became very interesting to the older man. Staring at the pot, Joel answered very softly, "The rest of the gang is over at the loft, cleaning. Been there since about - well, since Blair got out of surgery. We didn't want you to have to deal with it, and I thought you might like a 'home' cooked meal, so I grabbed this out of your freezer." The emphasis on the word 'home' was not missed by Jim and the softening of his features showed Joel that the gesture was noted and appreciated.

"I brought some clothes back with me, they're in the back bedroom. You've got time if you want to take a shower." Another beep and Taggart was back at breaking up the frozen chunks of chili.

Jim grabbed the water bottle and headed down the hallway. "Sounds good. Thanks, Joel. Just don't nuke that stuff to long. I don't want glow-in-the-dark ostrich for dinner." As he walked down the hall, Jim ducked to avoid a well-tossed potholder. Didn't need to see it coming, could hear the air moving. Have to remember to tell Blair about this in the morning.

Joel stared after him for a few seconds. "How does he do that?" Half expecting an answer, he looked down at King who was sitting next to his feet, the retrieved potholder already in his mouth. "Smart Alec dog." King just thumped his tail on the floor even harder.


Jim emerged from the bathroom wearing a comfortable pair of jeans and one of his favorite pullover sweaters just as Joel was setting out the food. It was a simple meal of the chili with crackers and a fresh green salad. In deference to his friend's exhaustion beer was conspicuously absent, replaced instead with tall glasses of milk.

Inhaling deeply, the Sentinel allowed not only the smells to penetrate his mind, but the memories they invoked. Happy, peaceful memories and sad, painful memories. They all had one thing in common, the deep and abiding friendship he shared with his Guide.

Joel handed Jim a bowl of the steaming chili before dishing up his own. Discovering how hungry he really was, Jim ate in silence, not noticing Joel's distraction. Finally, the worst of his hunger sated, Jim realized that Joel had not touched his food.

"Joel, what's wrong? Something's been bothering you since all this started. Something besides Sandburg."

Looking anywhere but at Ellison, Joel began to speak. "How long do you think I've lived here?"

The question startled the younger man. "I don't know, Joel." A more studied look at the room showed walls that could stand a fresh coat of paint, but Jim could not see any evidence of anything ever having been hung on the walls. It was beyond a simple decor, it was stark, empty, and naggingly familiar. It was the loft, before Sandburg moved in. Realization began to sink in.

"You've been here a while now, haven't you? But it still looks, well empty. It reminds me of the loft before Sandburg moved in. What's up, Joel?"

"It's empty. I live in a house because it is a better investment than renting. I haven't had a home in seven years." Taggart hesitated, stumbling over what he needed to say.

Ellison gently encouraged the other man. "What happened seven years ago?"

In answer, Taggart reached into his wallet and pulled out a smaller copy of the photo Megan had seen earlier. "This was my son, Davy. He was on every team at school, this picture was taken at the beginning of football season." Joel's voice caught as he handed the picture to Ellison.

Jim studied the worn photo. A younger version of Joel smiled back at him, helmet in hand. Dialing up his sight, the Sentinel saw the smile did not reach the young man's eyes. Forcing a smile himself, Jim handed the picture back and waited for Joel to tell him about the son he had never spoken of.

"Sharon nearly died when Davy was born. She was in the hospital almost a month, and it was a year before she had all her strength back. The doctors said it was too much of a risk for her to have anymore children, but we didn't care. We had Davy, and he was enough. He was a great kid, Jim. A father couldn't ask for a better son. A month after he turned 16, he didn't show up for practice. His mother found him..." Joel's eyes filled with tears as he fought for control.

Jim waited, understanding how much Taggart needed to stay in control. When he began to speak again, Jim needed to use his sentinel hearing to catch the words. "Davy had shot himself. He used my gun to take his own life, Jim." The older man began to speak faster, as if he could keep ahead of the pain. "My beautiful little boy was lying on the ground with my gun in his hand and half his head gone and his mother found him like that. When I got there she was just sitting on the ground, rocking him and singing his favorite lullaby. No one can know what that did to us."

At first, Jim didn't know what to say to him. This was much more Sandburg's department than his. Thinking back over the friendship that had developed between Taggart and Sandburg, Jim began to understand better what was happening. "Blair reminds you of Davy, doesn't he?"

"Davy was smart and quick-witted. He had such an incredible way of looking at the world, Jim. He could juggle ten things at once and keep on top of it all. At least, we thought he could."

A tragic, twisted circle formed in the Sentinel's mind. A life full and complete until fate stepped in and took it all away. A life empty and lonely until fate had given a wonderful gift. Two men who have never known happiness at the same time. Would Joel's next chance at happiness somehow be dependent on Jim's pain? Refusing to dwell on this thought, Jim tried to answer the other man.

"My God Joel, I can't imagine.... No, I guess I can imagine." I almost found Blair like that. "This must be bringing up some pretty bad memories for you." Ellison fell silent, remembering how bad it had been for him, and knowing how bad it could have been.

"Yeah, it did." Taggart finally looked up and made contact with the pain-filled eyes across the table from him. "I took it out on you. It wasn't right and it wasn't fair. I'm sorry."

There was no hesitation in Jim's answer. "But it was understandable." There was, however, a hesitation before Jim continued. "Joel, I'm probably the last person in the world to be saying this, but shouldn't you think about moving on, building a new life?"

Joel carried the dishes to the sink before he answered Ellison. His voice sounded resigned and defeated. "Jim, I had everything a man could ever want. Whatever I tried to replace it with would just come up short. Don't feel bad for me. I have a good job and even better friends. That's enough for me."

"Don't sell yourself short, Joel." Ellison felt uneasy at the thought of his friend so calmly giving up on the idea of finding happiness.

A small smile passed over the older man's face. "Hey, just look at it as my turn at the lonely life. You've already had your shift." Somehow, this just increased the Sentinel's concern.

"Why don't you feed King while I put these dishes in the dishwasher." Joel turned back towards the sink, effectively ending the conversation.


After another session of roughhousing with the dog, Jim dragged the new bag of dry dog food out of the garage and plunked it on the countertop. "Umph, is it my imagination, or do you buy a bigger bag of food every time."

"What do you expect, he's a lot bigger." With a small chuckle, Taggart leaned back and watched Ellison struggle with the chain-stitched bag. Suddenly he sat up, staring at the string Jim was preparing to pull. "That's it! That's why they went after Sandburg."

"Because of dog food?" The Sentinel was completely confused.

"No. Look at it, Jim." Taggart reached out and caught the end of the string he found so fascinating. "Look at the string, don't you see?"

"See what, Joel?" Ellison was worried along with confused. "What are you talking about?"

"It looks complicated, doesn't it? All those layers of the bag, and that bulky stitching that holds it all together. But when you pull on this one end, it all narrows down to just one thin string holding it all together."

Jim shook his head, still unsure of where Taggart was headed with this. "Joel, I still don't follow you."

"If somebody had attacked you or me, Megan, heck any of the cops in the unit, we'd have become obsessed with finding whoever did it. We would be focused on the case, not spend too much time at the hospital. Even if it had been Simon, we would have handled it by the book."

Joel continued, picking up speed. "But it wasn't one of us, Jim. It was Sandburg. We keep focusing on the fact that he's your partner, but look at us. We fell apart, all of us. He's the string that holds our unit together. Taking out Blair cripples the entire unit." Taggart nodded to himself, figuring it out as he spoke. "Maybe we're looking at the wrong cases. Maybe it's a case too big for one team to handle on its own. Maybe it's time to look at what the entire unit is working on." Megan's going to kill me for sure for this one.

Shocked by the words, Ellison stared at Taggart's hands while he pulled the string out of the bag top, one stitch at a time. "A pre-emptive strike, designed to do the most damage. Why didn't I see it before?"

"Maybe you were a bit distracted. After all, if I'm right, that was their plan." Both men fell silent as they thought about what they had realized.

An impatient whine brought the two men out of their contemplation. Joel laughed and poured a bowl of food for the hungry dog. "Yes, we're done with your food now. Here you go, King."

The approving roar of a big cat off in the distance was almost drowned out by the excited yipping of the half-grown dog at his feet, but the Sentinel heard it.


Thursday 7:00am

Files. Stacks of files on the tables. Stacks of files on the desks. More stacks on the floor. Stacks in every chair. Rafe walked in and after searching for a seat began to move the pile now occupying his chair.

"Touch those files and die."

"Good morning, Megan. Been here long?"

A dusty and bedraggled looking Megan Conner climbed to her feet from between the desks. "No, not long. Just forever. When we find whoever did this to Sandy, I'll...."

"Read him his rights and make sure he understands them. Isn't that right, Inspector?" Captain Banks stood in the doorway, looking much more rested than he did upon his arrival the previous morning. "We need to review any new findings before we get started this morning. Conner, would you mind moving these files into the break room." A glance at the face of the Aussie detective changed his mind. "On the other hand, let's just review them right here." Did she just growl at me? I've been listening to Ellison and his spirit animal mumbo-jumbo too long.

"Sir?" Rafe felt safer asking the question that had been on his mind, now that Captain Banks was between him and Megan. "What happened last night? I mean, why has the focus of the investigation changed to involve so many other cases?"

Simon allowed himself a small chuckle as he looked around the bullpen. It did look as if the records department had exploded in here. "I'll let Joel explain his theory when he gets here. He'll be in about 8:30am, after he drops off some breakfast at the hospital."

Brown walked in, another stack of files in his hand. "How's Hairboy today, anybody heard?"

Rhonda appeared with even more files. "Detective Ellison called about twenty minutes ago. He said that Blair slept well and seemed pretty comfortable this morning when they woke him up to check on him."

That's good, but we'll feel a lot better when he is home and driving Jim up the wall." A universal nod went through the group, agreeing with the captain. "Until Taggart gets here, lets keep reviewing those files. And Conner," Simon began to back up into his office as he spoke. "Are those dust bunnies in your hair an Australian fashion accessory? I don't think I've seen them before."

Before Megan could react, Banks was safely behind his office door. Despite herself, Conner couldn't help but smile as she ran her hands over her dusty hair.


Thursday 8:00am

Jim Ellison leaned against the corridor wall and sighed. It seemed like hours since the lab technician had chased him out of Sandburg's room. Accused me of hovering, imagine that. It wouldn't have hurt anything to let him sleep a while longer. Finally the lab tech left, blood sample in hand, and Ellison was able to return to his partner's side.

"Hey Buddy, that's a heck of a way to have to wake up. Are they done poking you for a while?" Jim pulled his chair back to Blair's bedside and settled in, smiling at his friend's sleepy expression.

"My new motto: sharp and pointed is my world. Seems like every time I open my eyes, somebody is coming after me with a needle." Blair chuckled at his own joke, then suddenly stilled. "Jim?"

Instantly alarmed, Ellison moved closer to his friend. "What is it? What's wrong, Blair?" Blair struggled to sit up, his eyes unfocused, as if not seeing his current surroundings. Jim steadied him, unsure of what was happening. "Are you remembering something? Come on Buddy, tell me what's happening in that head of yours."

"I saw him, Jim. I saw a guy standing over me with a needle in his hand, and it was at the loft. I saw him." Blair looked up at Jim, his face more animated than Ellison had seen in several days. "I saw him."

A smile that would light up even the gloomiest day in Cascade lit up the younger man's face, then was reflected in the face of his friend. "That's great, Chief. That is really great!"

"What's great, guys?" Joel Taggart stood in the doorway with several bakery bags in one hand and a tray of cups in the other.

Jim scrambled to his feet and reached for the cardboard tray before it buckled from the weight of three large coffees. Setting it down on the table next to the bed he answered Joel's question. "Blair remembered the guy who attacked him at the loft."

"Really? Man that is great!" Taggart bent over and squeezed the young man's shoulder. "Could you ID him if you saw him again? We could start pulling mug books and bringing them down for you to look at. Then we could..."

"Whoa, slow down Joel. He just started to remember. This is not the time to start shoving a bunch of mug shots at him. We don't want some hotshot defense lawyer claiming we influenced his identification by showing him any mug shots while he's under the influence of any medication." Ellison's voice was calm and steady. He seemed more in control of himself than he had at any time since this whole nightmare had started.

The calmness in Ellison's voice spread to his older friend. "You're right, Jim. I just want this guy caught."

Despite the steadiness of his voice, the pain showed in Jim's eyes. "Nobody wants this S.O.B. caught more than I do, Joel. But I won't risk him getting away and going after Sandburg again because of a mistake on our part.

Blair relaxed at the sound of his Sentinel once again in control. He reached out and touched Jim's arm before he spoke. "What about a sketch artist? I could work with the artist on what I remember, then you could compare the sketch with the mug shots down at the station."

Before either man could respond to the suggestion, a young woman in a lab coat walked into the room. "I'm sorry Mr. Sandburg, but there was an accident in the lab with your blood sample. I'm afraid that we'll need another one." She smiled sweetly and began to prepare a syringe.

"Um, well I kinda need as much of my blood as I can get right now. How am I suppose to recover from traumatic blood loss if you keep taking more of it? Um, Jim, how about a hand here? Jim?"

Ellison smiled and patted the young man's head. "Sorry Chief, but they really need to watch your blood chemistry right now. Joel and I will be right outside." The two men moved out into the hall to give the lab tech room to work.

To sentinel hearing the retort was as clear as a bell. "Yeah, well they should be able to watch it, they've got more of it than I do." Jim chuckled in spite of himself, then caught Taggart staring at him.

Grinning even wider, Ellison wiped at his face. "Sorry, Joel, he's beginning to get a little testy."

"And you're glad to see it."

"Damn straight."

"Me too." Joel smiled back at Ellison. "A grumpy Sandburg is a recovering Sandburg. I'll go call the station and get the sketch artist over here." Taggart moved to the nurse's station, nodding to the nurse at the desk before picking up the phone.

Sentinel eyes followed the dark form for a moment before hearing took over, turning his attention back to the room in front of him. Even the uniformed officer in front of the door could hear his Guide's complaints. "Ouch! Come on, it should be easy to find the vein. See where everyone else has done it?"

Jim couldn't help it. "Just think of him as a large dot-to-dot drawing." He didn't think his voice was loud enough to carry into the hospital room, but the officer at the doorway found his comment amusing.

"I heard that." Blair's voice floated through the heavy door.

I'm the one whose suppose to have the great hearing, Chief. The Sentinel had the good grace to look embarrassed, even though he was pleased to hear the humor back in his Guide's voice.

Joel returned to Jim's side just as the lab tech exited Sandburg's room. She blushed and turned away from them as she walked down the corridor. Not bothering to hide his grin, Ellison walked into the room. "Did you get her phone number, Sandburg?"

"Well, yeah."

Ellison laughed and looked like he was about to say something when Joel interceded. "I talked to Simon, and the sketch artist is on her way. Let's eat before these cinnamon rolls get cold."

Before Blair could reach for his, Jim had it out and was carefully cutting the pastry into bite size pieces. Much to his credit, the younger man did not say a word until Jim handed him his fork. Pointedly ignoring his partner, Sandburg turned to Taggart. "Joel, do me a favor, would you?"

Instantly concerned the older man moved closer to the bed. "Sure Blair, anything. Just name it, kid."

Blair's face showed a serious countenance, but the eyes couldn't hide the sparkle. "If he starts making airplane noises or wiping my face, I want you to smack him for me. Could you do that?"

"You got it." Taggart kept his face serious until he saw the napkin already in Jim's hand. Then he made no effort to contain his laughter.

Jim stared at Taggart, then at the paper napkin in his hand. "What?"

Joel and Blair just laughed harder. Eventually realization hit Ellison and he joined in.

Out in the corridor those who had been privy to the pain suffered by those in that room rejoiced at the sounds now emerging from it.


Thursday 11:30am

"All right, people" The voice of Captain Banks boomed out over the bullpen. "We should be getting the sketch of Sandburg's attacker any time now, and I want to be ready to compare it with a list of suspects. That means we need our list of suspects ready to go. Lets get a move on people."

Rafe moved to the board and pinned up another mug shot. Once they had heard Taggart's theory about the assault on Sandburg, the men and women of Major Crimes looked at their cases in a new light. Everyone, including Banks had been amazed at the overlap they had found. Many of the lower rank criminals had showed up in more than one of the cases that were being investigated by members of the Major Crimes unit. If nothing more came of Taggart's theory, everyone agreed that a regular group review of all open cases would be a good idea. None of the names being added to the ever growing list were major players who would attract a lot of attention, but one of them was more than he appeared to be. The entire unit was sure of that.

Any further comment was stopped by the arrival of Jim Ellison with a sketch in his hand. "Hey guys, here's the guy we're after. Lets match him up and nail him."

Simon took the paper from Ellison's hand. "Rhonda, let's get copies of this, pronto. Jim, what are you doing here? I thought you'd be with Sandburg all day."

"They're starting him on physical therapy, so he chased me out. Said I was 'hovering' if you can imagine that." Ellison seemed honestly surprised as he glanced around the room, looking for support.

Captain Banks had never seen his people work so hard at looking busy, so it was up to him to answer his best detective. To his credit, he did it with a straight face. "No Jim, I can't imagine that at all." And people wonder how I made captain at such a young age. "I'm going to handle Coach Hughes' interview, then we'll start putting all this together."

"I want to do it."

"What?" Banks seemed puzzled by the request Jim had made.

"Simon, let me interrogate him." Ellison was building up steam and Simon knew this was one idea he had to derail in a hurry.

"Oh no, absolutely not. This is an interview, not an interrogation and you are not going to be in there with him. No way in hell, Jim." Simon took a deep breath before playing his trump card. "You can do Sandburg more good listening from the observation room."

Ellison didn't say anything, but he nodded his acceptance to the taller man. Damn, you're good, Simon.


Coach Hughes sat in the interrogation room with his lawyer, waiting for his interview, not realizing he was under careful scrutiny from behind the two-way mirror. He leaned over and began complaining to the stuffy man seated next to him. "Is this going to take long? I need to be at the club, playing racquetball by 3:00pm."

His lawyer already seemed bored and disinterested. "I'm sure the world won't end if you're late for a game. If you look like you're in a hurry, you'll just make them more suspicious."

The words were clear and loud to the Sentinel, but even the others in the room could hear the conversation well enough so Jim just turned and raised an eyebrow at Simon and Chancellor Edwards. Before any of them could comment, the coach began to complain again.

"This happens to be a matter of life or death. The parking valet at the club told me that the head coach for the Broncos will be at the club this afternoon. How is he going to notice me if I'm stuck here talking to some petty detective about a pathetic TA that can't take a little heat? This is my future we're talking about."

Simon did not need sentinel senses to feel the heat of anger rising off the other man. It matched his own. Petty? I'll show him petty. Jim began to speak before Banks could even open his mouth. Unfortunately, he was speaking to the Chancellor, not to him.

"You let a jerk like that coach your athletes?"

Much to her credit, Chancellor Edwards did not take offence to either the question or the tone in Ellison's voice. "Coach Reynolds is on medical leave, recovering from a heart attack. I'm afraid the Boosters Club shoved Hughes onto us. It appears he sees us as a stepping stone on his way to a bigger pond. Too bad he doesn't realize the dangers of slipping and falling into the pond." She turned toward the two men, a smug smile on her face.

Ellison made no attempt to hide his grin or the admiration in his voice. "I like the way you think, lady."

Returning his smile, she turned to Captain Banks. "Thank you for letting me sit in on this. I realize it's highly unusual, but if anyone from the University was involved in what has happened, I want to know about it."

Simon acknowledged her words with a nod. "The department appreciates your willingness to assist in the investigation, madam. Now this 'petty detective' has an interview to conduct."

"Sounds like you're going to enjoy this, sir." Jim's comment caught the captain before he stepped out of the room.

His answer was only for Sentinel ears. "You bet your sweet ass I am."


Being 6' 4" had its advantages. Simon Banks used all of them when he entered the interrogation room. Dropping the file on the table, he leaned over and stared at the coach who shifted nervously in his chair.

"Let me introduce myself. I'm Captain Banks from the Major Crimes division. My apologies for not having someone more suitable here to conduct this investigation. I guess you'll have to settle for me." Even Simon could hear the gasp and low moan when the arrogant man realized that his prior rants had been heard. Some days I really love my job.

As Banks shifted into his full intimidation spiel, Jim let some of his attention shift to the woman next to him as she began to address him.

"You're Detective Ellison, aren't you? I'm sorry, we weren't formally introduced earlier. I'm Katherine Edwards, the chancellor at Rainier. "

Ellison hurried to shake the older woman's hand. "Yes ma'am, I'm Jim Ellison. Blair works with me here at the department. He's been a real asset to us."

Edwards inclined her head towards the glass. "Your captain spent 20 minutes on the phone telling me the same thing. Mr. Sandburg has proven himself to me already with his commitment to the truth and his desire to protect those who have been hurt. I want the truth just as much as you do, Detective Ellison."

Well, almost as much as I do. Jim let his thoughts drift back to the college kids that had committed murder to steal from their fathers. His anger flared briefly at the way Blair had been treated by the University, then softened as he reminded himself that the chancellor was there to help his friend.

The arrival of Henry Brown in the interrogation room brought all attention back to that small room. Henry smiled widely as he placed a file folder on the table in front of Simon. "I think you are going to find this highly educational, sir." He turned to leave the room, then turned back to the very nervous man seated in front of the captain. "When people find out about you, you won't even be able to coach pop warner ball."

All eyes, on both sides of the glass, were on the captain as he studied the report that Brown had brought to him. Eventually, he closed the file and set it on the table, smiling in a way that had made suspect's blood run cold since he was a beat cop. "Interesting side-line you have going. Tell me, doesn't the University frown on their coaches making illegal bets on their own games? And you usually bet against your own team. That must instill a great deal of confidence in your players."

"What? How? There is no way..." A kick under the table from his lawyer shut the babbling man up.

"You didn't think we'd find your bookie? I haven't given my men any raw meat in a few days. They're getting hungry." Banks paused a moment to lean forward, pleased to see Hughes shrink back. "Hungry detectives always find out the most, wouldn't you agree?" With that, Banks stood up and left the room.

"I'm screwed. What did they find out?" Hughes spun around and began to interrogate his lawyer. "What are you going to do? How are you going to fix this, Howard?"

"How my sister married an idiot, I'll never know. It's a little late to be asking my advice, Willie. I don't know what you've gotten yourself into, but you'd better hope they are in the mood to make a deal."

Banks quietly slipped into the observation room. Taking in the amused countenance of his best detective and the angry expression on the chancellor's face he remarked, "Now we let him stew."

The chancellor was clearly confused as well as angry. "We've had a decent season. Are you telling me that he was coaching them to lose? Why would he bet against them then?"

"He may have coached them to lose, but apparently he is really a lousy coach. Their best wins were when he had bet against them. He owes somebody, somewhere a lot of money." Banks sat down and leaned back in his chair. "He'll tell us who; we just have to let him worry about it for a while."

Edwards sat down in front of the captain, obviously upset. "Are you saying that Coach Hughes was the one who attacked Mr. Sandburg?"

Banks exchanged a glance with Ellison before he answered her. "He didn't commit the assault. I don't think he is capable of doing anything without a press agent in tow. But there is a very good chance that he is involved in some capacity. Pretty soon he will be begging to tell us all about it.

Letting the suspect sweat was a familiar game to Banks, one he played very well. Simon sat in the observation room with Ellison and the chancellor, drinking coffee and making small talk until the moment he was waiting for. The moment where he saw the subtle shift in the suspect's demeanor from arrogant to something very different. Halfway through his second cup of coffee he saw it. Without a word to the others, he slipped out of the observation room to continue his interrogation.

Still silent, Banks entered, and resumed his place at the table, picking up the folder and again reading what was in it. This time, Simon allowed himself to make small sounds of approval and began to make notes to himself while reading it. It didn't take long.

"All right, all right! I owed the wrong people money. They wanted some information and I figured Sandburg owed me!" The soon to be former coach of Rainier University began to pace around the room. His lawyer moved to intercede him.

Willie, perhaps we should..."

"Shut up Howard! You're just a damn tax attorney, so don't tell me what to do."

"Fine." Picking up his briefcase, Howard turned to his brother-in-law. "I'll tell my sister that you'll be late for dinner. When the IRS calls you in for an audit let me know. I'm sure I'll be waiting with bated breath." The door echoed as it slammed behind him.

"Are you waiving your right to a lawyer present?" Simon wasn't expecting an answer yet, but the question was required.

The rant never slowed down. "Who does he think he is? He's no better than Sandburg is. They're all the same. Don't they..."

"Are you waiving your right to a lawyer present?" Still following correct procedure, Banks asked again.

"Yeah, sure. Whatever." With a dismissive wave of his hand, Hughes continued. "I deserve so much more, don't you see? Nobody understands what I'm capable of, and nobody is going to see it while I'm stuck at a second-rate school. Along comes Sandburg, believing that educating these kids is more important than what they do out on that field. How naive can you get? These stupid kids were my ticket to the big league and he cut it off. Somebody wanted to hurt him and it would get him out of my hair at the same time. What's wrong with that?"

Simon banks kept his cool demeanor, but inside he was seething. "Well for starters, it makes you an accessory to attempted murder. How do you feel about coaching the prison football team." Banks leaned forward, imagining this man in prison, and let that image reflect in his face. "Sort of gives new meaning to the position 'tight-end', doesn't it? You'd better tell us everything you know and pray for a sympathetic judge."

"All they wanted was the password to get into the main frame. That's all I did, I didn't do anything wrong. They just wanted to see his financial aid status." Not quite so arrogant now, he began to cry.

Simon was not the least bit impressed. "Who are 'they', when did you meet them?"

"I got a phone call two weeks ago. They said if I gave them what they wanted, my debts would disappear, so I did. I never saw them, never heard any names. I don't know any more. It's not my fault."

"Hawkins!" Banks yelled as he stood, gathering papers. When the uniformed officer came in, Banks indicated the crying man. "Take him down to booking. We'll start with illegal gambling, racketeering, and accessory to attempted murder."

As Hawkins led him out of the interrogation room, Hughes came face to face with Chancellor Edwards as she left the observation room. Her voice was sickeningly sweet as she addressed him. "Coach Hughes when you make bail, please come see me in my office. We need to discuss your future at our little 'second rate' university." She smiled once more as she swept past him in the hall.

Both Ellison and Banks were pleased with the progress made by the investigation, and had a quick cup of coffee before returning to the task. While sipping at the strong black coffee, Jim's curiosity got the better of him and he reached for the notes Simon had been making during his interview of the coach. "What else did you find out, sir?" He picked up the paper and read: coffee, oregano, paper towels, video for Daryl...

"You cracked him with a shopping list?" Ellison made a small motion of genuflection. "I bow to the master, sir." After a short laugh, Ellison sobered. "This could be the break we've been looking for, Simon. Their set-up was pretty secure, but I think the university connection is their weak link. That's the angle we need to approach this from."

Banks thought for a bit, then agreed. "Alright, then what is our next step?"

"It's only a couple of weeks till finals. Kind of an odd time to be canceling an appointment with a teacher. Let's check on who and why. I'll call Sandburg and find out what he can tell me."

Banks looked over the rim of his cup. "You just want to check on the kid."

Ellison didn't answer, but he did blush as he picked up the phone.


Thursday 2:45pm

The rest of the Major Crimes team was already in place when Banks and Ellison entered the room. Taggart hung up the phone as he saw them. "That was Dan Wolf. He's on his was up with his findings."

"Good." Jim was ready to solve this case and eliminate any doubt as to what happened to his partner.

Dan Wolf stepped through the doors of Major Crimes and was immediately struck by the intensity he saw there. Banks looked up and greeted him with a curt nod. "Dan, glad you could make it. All right people, let's get started. Dan, lets hear what you've found."

Wolf stepped to the projector and flipped it on. Twin photos appeared, one from an autopsy, one from a too recent surgery. Ellison shuddered, but never looked away. Before the Chief Medical Examiner could begin, Simon interrupted him.

"Let's just have the short version, Dan. We don't quite need all the details." Banks looked a bit green, and when Wolf looked around the room, he was not the only one.

This is Blair we're talking about, not some unknown victim. "Sure, Simon. I understand how rough this one is. The wound pattern on both Sandburg and Janice Adamson are pretty consistent with each other. In both cases, the wound started at the mid-forearm and proceeded towards the wrist. We can determine this by the changes in the depth of the wound."

"We can also determine the position of the weapon by the angle of the cuts. If somebody were going to cut their right wrist, for example, they would be holding the blade in their left hand. Therefore, the angle of the wound would lean towards the thumb of the right hand, not the little finger." Dan waited, amused, while the detectives mimed the action and understood what he meant.

Rafe frowned, then spoke up. "Wouldn't the natural action be to cut from the wrist towards the elbow?"

"Yes it would." Dan was pleased to see the awareness spread through the room. "It is a natural motion to cut by pulling the knife, not pushing it. Also, we would expect the wound on the left arm to be a mirror image, since it should have been inflicted by the right hand. It's not. On both Sandburg and Adamson the wound pattern is the same between the left and right arm."

Ellison nodded, his voice surprisingly in control. "As if someone reached down and grabbed each arm and sliced it open. Do you think the same person was responsible for both sets of wounds?"

"I'm pretty sure of it." There was no doubt in the medical examiner's voice. "Even the differences in the physical evidence match the circumstances of the two attacks."

"Like the fingernail."

"Don't get ahead of me, Megan." Dan reached for a new folder to answer the questions he knew were coming.

"What fingernail? What is she talking about, Dan?" Ellison was immediately on edge.

"Slow down a minute, Jim. Besides the bruises on the Adamson woman and the drugs we found in Sandburg's system we found one other difference. Her wounds were inflicted with a straight razor. His own Swiss army knife caused his wounds. Since Blair always carries the knife in his pants pocket, we gave his clothes a better going over. In the left front pocket we found a broken fingernail sliver. It's not Sandburg's, so chances are it belongs to one of his assailants."

"Are you sure it's not Sandburg's?" Joel Taggart sat up straight as he asked.

The answer came from Megan. "It came off the hand of a smoker." She turned and looked directly at Ellison. "Even I could see the tar stains on it."

Banks shifted around uncomfortably and Ellison stared at the floor in response to her comment before he spoke. "There was the faint smell of cigarette smoke at the loft that first day."

Brown seemed uneasy and his weak joke only confirmed it. "Great, now we have a Cigarette Smoking Man. If Mulder shows up, I am out of here."

Megan smiled at Brown, then returned her gaze to Ellison. "Well, he'd be right at home."

"Come on, Brown. It's not that bad." Unwilling to look up at his fellow detectives, Ellison picked up the photos Dan had brought and began to study them. "Uh, Dan, did you take a look at this?" In his hand were photos of the bruises on Janice Adamson's arms.

"I saw them. Seemed a little odd to me too." He took the photos from Ellison and slid the first one into the projector. "This is the bruise pattern from her right arm."

The assorted officers studied the image. A hand shaped bruise was barely visible on the pale skin. Wolf continued, "Either they didn't think about leaving bruises, or they thought she would bleed too fast to make any bruises. Either way, it was enough of a clue to mark this as a suspicious death."

Simon picked up where Dan left off. "It was a mistake on the attacker's part, so for the second assault they used drugs to subdue their victim. They chloroformed Sandburg as he walked into the loft, then injected him with the Ketamine."

"Right, an unconscious man doesn't fight back. Sandburg's a real scrapper in a fight, it was the only way they could have gotten him." Taggart smiled at the memory of Sandburg taking out the terrorists that had taken the building hostage on his first day as an observer. "So what's so odd about the photos?"

"It's not that photo, it's this one." Dan slid the second photo into the projector, again putting twin images on the wall.

"They're not as defined as the other set of bruises." Rafe seemed puzzled by Ellison and Wolf's interest in the two photos.

"It's more than that, Rafe. Look." Ellison stood up and moved to where the photos were projected onto the wall. Understanding what Jim was going to show Dan moved the equipment until the projected image was approximately life size.

"Look at this." As he talked, Jim moved his body several times until he was sure of the positioning. "She was held from behind. You can see exactly where his hands were." Ellison reached out and lined his fingers up perfectly with the marks in the first photo.

"But there is something about the second photo?" Banks knew there was something Ellison could see that the rest of them could not.

"Look at the shape of the bruising." Wolf began to explain but Jim cut him off.

"It's more than that, Dan." Ellison again reached out and lined his fingers up with the faint bruises in the photo. "The other photo shows clearly that her assailant held her from behind. Assuming he held both arms at the same time, his hand would line up like this." The bruise caused by the attacker's thumb was easy to identify, but the Sentinel spent several minutes studying and experimenting to find the most likely placement for the rest of his fingers.

"A finger's missing." Ellison's statement startled everyone.

"How can you tell?"

"Look." Everyone squinted at the faint marks on the photographed skin. Ellison easily placed his fingers on the marks, one finger still in the air. "His index finger didn't leave a mark."

Conner leaned forward, obviously not yet convinced. "You think that because you can't see the bruise his index finger left, it isn't there."

Not understanding Megan's cryptic emphasis, Brown continued with his own interpretation. "The finger doesn't have to be missing. There could be some type of injury to explain why he didn't use all of his fingers. Heck, maybe she bit him."

"Whatever. It still is a piece of the puzzle."

"You're right, Jim. The more pieces of the puzzle we get, the more complete the picture. We've got at least two assailants. One who held her, possibly with an injured or deformed hand. One who slashed her wrists." Simon settled the argument before it even started. "What else do we have from the university angle?"

Grant spoke up to answer the question. "We checked on the kid who had the appointment with Sandburg and then cancelled it."

"Did he check out?"

"Nope."

Jim leaned across the table. "Tell me." He growled.

Not wanting to be on the receiving end of Ellison's ire, Grant wasted no time telling him what they had discovered. "His roommate paid him to make, then cancel the appointment. We've arranged to pick up the roommate for questioning. All we know about him right now is that his name is Brian Gibson and he's a computer science major. We should have him in custody in a few hours."

"All in one breath and without Ellison interrupting him. I'm impressed." Brown's words were whispered to his partner, but the Sentinel still heard.

Smiling at Brown's comment, Jim responded to Grant's findings. "He's a computer major? This could be how they changed Sandburg's records. I want to be there when he is questioned." He looked directly at Simon. "I'll behave, sir."

When pigs fly, Ellison. "I'm sure you would, Jim. However, this is more important for you to follow up on." He opened up the next file on the stack in front of him. "The lab finished its analysis of the mud found on the loft's fire escape."

"Have they been able to narrow down where the mud came from?"

"Yeah, Jim. They've been able to narrow it down to about a 20-acre area of the national forest in the same spot where Adamson had his operation. That makes the second connection between Adamson and Sandburg and I want it checked out."

Simon frowned at his empty coffee cup before continuing. "While Ellison and I are checking out Adamson's old camp I want Gibson picked up and I want a match found for that sketch. While you're at it, find me somebody with a missing finger. And make some fresh coffee." After slamming his cup down, Banks hurried to catch up with Ellison.

"Gee, he doesn't want much, does he?" The feminine voice was loud enough for a Sentinel to hear.


They were halfway to their destination before either of them spoke. "Jim, you know if there is somebody there, we will have to call for back-up and wait."

"I do remember standard procedure, sir." Jim turned away from the window to address his captain. "You don't have to worry about me anymore, Simon. I've got it under control."

Banks did not look totally convinced. "What changed?"

"Blair's physical recovery is going well. We've proven he didn't try to kill himself. When we get Gibson we will be able to take care of the problems at the university."

"What about his emotional recovery?"

"All Blair needs is time and to feel safe again. He's going to be okay, so we have plenty of time."

Banks began to understand. "And to feel safe again?"

Ellison settled back into the seat and thought for a minute before answering his captain. "When everyone involved is caught and the cases are airtight, then he'll feel safe. I'll play this one by the book, Simon. I won't take any chances where that is concerned."

With that, Simon knew he had his best detective back.

About three miles from Adamson's original base camp Jim had Banks stop the car. He stood on the road and listened before getting back in. Simon watched, expectantly.

"Well?"

"I heard heartbeats, lots of them."

Simon reached for his radio.

"But they were all 4-legged kinds."

Simon returned the radio. Smart-ass. "The kid deserves a raise for putting up with you."

"Uh, Simon, he doesn't get paid for putting up with me."

"Then he deserves a medal."

Watching the odometer, Banks stopped every half-mile for the Sentinel to check the area. No signs of life were found before they pulled the car into Adamson's old camp. Ellison stepped out of the car before it came to a complete stop, a look of intense concentration on his face. Banks threw the car into park and followed, pulling on a pair on latex gloves.

"What is it, Jim. What are you sensing?"

The Sentinel pushed through some heavy brush and stepped out into a second clearing. The ground was littered with cigarette butts and off to the side was a discarded tin cup.

"Same brand?"

"Yeah, Simon. That is the same brand I smelled in the loft." He turned to his captain, who was bagging evidence as he talked. "Adamson was behind it."

Standing up with both hands full of evidence bags, the captain cautioned his eager detective. "Let's make sure we have enough to nail him six ways to Sunday."

Ellison gave no indication he had heard his captain. He was already on his way to the only building still standing in the compound.

A quick scan of the building showed nothing amiss. A firm kick to the door sent it flying. The first glance at the interior stunned the Sentinel.

"What the hell?"

Banks set the gathered evidence outside the door. "What is it, Jim?" He skidded to a halt just behind the shorter man.

"What did you...sweet mother of God, what is it?"

Both men circled the room, unbelieving of what they saw. In this broken down shack, buried miles inside a national forest, was what could only be described as a bordello. An antique dresser was off to the side, covered with women's toiletry items. A king-sized bed was in the center, complete with satin sheets. What made the scene even more incongruous were the leather-lined cuffs at each corner of the large bed and the variety of unusual sex toys lined up on the shelf next to it.

Simon walked around the bed twice before he spoke. "I never figured Adamson for the kinky type. Clue me in here, Jim. Is he a transvestite who likes to torture women? What the hell is all of this Ellison?" He studied the many items. "Hell, Jim I don't even know what some of these things are."

Ellison thought back to his time in vice. "Simon, I don't think you want to know."

Jim studied the cuffs on the bed. He had studied and fought Adamson enough to recognize the scent of the man's sweat. "Actually, Simon, he likes to be on the receiving end of it."

"You mean he..?"

"Yeah."

"Yuck"

"Yeah."

Simon began his pacing again. "Is that why he had his wife killed? She didn't want to play anymore, and he wanted to keep his dirty little secret hidden."

Ellison surveyed the items on the dresser. "I don't think she was his playmate. How would you describe her? You saw her during the investigation, what did she look like, to you?"

"Skinny, bad complexion, bad teeth, hair that looked like a mop fingernails that were chewed." Banks walked over to Ellison and saw what had garnered his attention. "Not the kind of woman who would use imported Fr ench perfume, bright red nail polish, or $20.00 a bottle hand lotion. So he got rid of the wife and got a new playmate. How does that fit in the picture?"

"Another piece of the puzzle, Simon. Just another piece of the puzzle."

Captain Banks called in his request for a forensics unit to be dispatched to the former hideout of the gunrunner. After receiving an update from Brown, he moved to track down Ellison. He found him staring up into a tree.

"Jim, you okay?"

"Simon, do you know what the first crime scene was that I dragged Sandburg to?"

Banks had no clue what was going through Ellison's mind, so he waited for the other man to continue.

"We went out to where I had been staking out the Switchman, out to the blast site. I sent him up a tree to check out a bird's nest." Jim turned to Simon, shaking his head. "As scared as he is of heights, he never batted an eye. He just climbed that damn tree, and never said a word."

"Next time, are you going to let him climb that tree?"

"Sir?"

"When it's really important, Sandburg doesn't let his fears keep him down. What about you, are your fears going to keep him down?"

"Simon, I'm not afraid."

"Like hell you're not. I'm afraid, and I'm not his 'blessed protector'. When he's ready to take that risk are you going to let him?"

Jim shoved his hands into his pockets and began walking back to the car. "Do I have to like it?"

Simon patted him on the back as he passed. "No, Jim, you just have to let him. Come on, looks like we may have gotten a break in the case."

"Did you check on Sandburg?"

"Rafe sneaked in some Chinese food about an hour ago. He's doing fine."


Thursday 7:15pm

Taggart was standing outside interrogation room 3 when Banks and Ellison stepped off the elevator. Ellison immediately went to him. "What's going on, Joel? What do you have?"

"Oh, not much." The casual tone in his voice could not mask the sparkle in his eye. "Just a signed confession from the computer hacker, the name of the man Blair saw in the loft, and a possible ID on the 4-fingered sloth that helped him. That's all."

"Joel, I could kiss you!"

"Save it for Sandburg."

Ellison froze for a split second, then laughed. "Funny, Taggart, real funny. Let's see what you've got."

Taggart opened the door, motioning Ellison and Banks in, ahead of him. Rafe was seated at the table, across from a very unhappy young man.

"Hey, Jim. Find anything interesting in the woods?"

Ellison glanced at Simon, who actually blushed at the memory of what had been in the old building. "Yes, Rafe, I suppose you could say we did." Ignoring the choking sounds coming from the taller man, he continued. "Right now, I'm more interested in what you've got."

"Jim, this is Brian Gibson. His brother is a heroin addict who couldn't pay for his habit and owed money to the wrong people. His supplier promised to forgive all past debts for just one little favor."

Ellison cut in. "Let me guess. You hacked into the university's mainframe using an access code that they gave you. Then you proceeded to destroy a good man's life. Does that about cover it?"

"Almost. They wanted copies of everything in his file. About a week later they gave me a disk and told me to download it into his file. Another week after that, they wanted another copy of his file, and they needed him to go home at a certain time. That's as far as my involvement went."

"Brandon is my twin brother, and he was in trouble. I couldn't turn my back on him, he needed me. I didn't trust the people he was messed up with, so I made a copy of the disk before I gave it back to them. I gave it to the lady cop."

"You made a copy?"

"I broke through the protection they had set up. Piece of cake, really." The young man dropped his eyes back to the tabletop before speaking again. "Brandon's girlfriend was a student at Rainier, too.

"Was?"

Rafe answered for the young man, his voice low. "The student Blair was so upset about, the one that OD'd a few days ago." Gibson, again ready to tell his story interrupted him.

"I was scared, kept a pretty low profile. I didn't even hear about Becca until the day after Mr. Sandburg was hurt. I knew they had something to do with it, that somehow I had helped them do it."

"Why didn't you go to the police?"

"I had to take care of my brother first. I got him in a detox center out of state under a false name. They'll never find him. I came straight here from there. You've got to believe me."

"You're going to have to prove it to me, kid." The Sentinel was a man with a mission. "How many were there? Will you be willing to identify them for us?"

"I never saw one of them. He just talked to me over the phone. It was a weird voice, almost mechanical. The other one looked like a goon from a really bad gangster movie. Even had a finger that didn't work right."

"What!!" The yell was in stereo.

"Are you sure?"

"Which hand?"

Ellison seemed ready to spit nails. "I want this guy, Simon."

Simon seemed to agree. "Rafe, get this guy looking at mug books. I want a name for this man.

Rafe handed Gibson over to an uniformed officer before he sat down next to Banks and Ellison. "Guess it was the heroin case after all.

"I don't think so." Ellison began to pace, unconsciously mimicking his Guide. "I still think Joel's right. This is part of a bigger picture. We still need more pieces of the puzzle."

Simon Banks thought long and hard before speaking. "We know nothing about who runs this new heroin pipeline. What if Adamson has branched out?"

Rafe answered the captain. "Heroin doesn't strike me as Adamson's style."

For a bit, Simon didn't know how to reply to Rafe. "Lets just say that we've learned Adamson's style is a bit more varied than we gave him credit for."

The unit's youngest detective seemed confused. "You're saying that Adamson and the head of this new drug group could be one in the same."

Ellison snorted. "You got anyone better in mind?"

"Well, word on the street has always been that some guy named Matt Anile' is the major drug connection in Cascade.

"In the last 5 years, we've gone after him a dozen times. We can't even prove he exists." Banks threw his glasses on the table in disgust. "All right, what do we have so far."

Ten minutes later, Banks was repeating the question to his unit. "What do we have to piece this together with. As Sandburg would be telling us, this is the time to open our minds to any possibility.

Ellison started. "We have Adamson still using the mountain hideout. Only this time he's using it for some pretty kinky stuff. We can also link the suspects in Sandburg's attack to this location.

Brown added his work. "Jeff Goldman. He's the perp that Sandburg saw in the loft. The last known job that he had was as a driver for Tina LeMat. He also was seen by one of our snitches with Michael Zimmerman."

"Why does that name sound familiar?" Ellison studied Brown, trying to remember why he knew that name."

Brown gently prodded him. "Zimmerman, the bookie. As in bookie to the mob. Word on the street is that he handles a lot of work for the syndicate, and answers to Matt Anile'."

"Hughes was blackmailed because of gambling debts. Can we get Zimmerman's records?"

"Already in the works. In fact, here they come now." Brown turned to help Conner with the stack of papers she was struggling through the door with.

Ellison also jumped up to give the Australian detective a hand. Once on his feet he froze, staring at Megan.

"What? Do I have something caught in my teeth?"

"New perfume, Conner?"

Even Simon had to wrinkle up his nose. "Isn't that a bit strong, Inspector?"

"Very funny gentlemen. If you must know, a suspect threw a bottle of perfume at me today. We finally get the interview we want, but now I smell like some cheap floozy after some all-night romp."

Jim couldn't help but cough. "Interview with who, Ivana Trump?" Softly, more to himself he added, "I've smelled that before."

Megan grimaced before she responded. "It was Tina LeMat. Unfortunately all we learned was that she has expensive taste in perfume, good aim, and gets turned on by leather whips."

Ellison's expression was smug, and after a few seconds comprehension appeared on the face of the captain. "Oh my God."

It took almost twenty minutes to bring everyone up to date on what they had found out in the woods. It took only about twenty seconds for Conner to announce "I need a shower."

Jim sounded disgusted. "Okay, it looks like Tina LeMat is Adamson's new toy. The name, Matt Anile' keeps popping up. How are they connected?"

Taggart joined the group. "Did I hear you ask about Matt Anile'?"

"Yeah, Joel. You got something?"

Joel carefully laid a computer printout in front of Jim. "Just this printout of the drug companies in the area that sell Ketamine. Notice that number four's controlling stocks is owned by something called the Woodlands Investment Group." Taggart waited for the questions he knew would come.

"And who are they?" Ellison was the first to rise to the bait.

Taggart couldn't help the grin on his face. "They are actually one person, in fact one Matt Anile'. How's that for interesting tidbits?"

"Very interesting, Joel. Good job." Simon was pleased with the work and how it had been conducted.

Martindale opened the door and rushed in. "We've got it, sir. The kid found the mug shot." He dropped the information on the table, where Ellison eagerly picked it up. "The guy's name is Frank Goodwin. He is a two-bit hustler that we questioned in regards to the cell phone scam a few weeks back. We didn't have enough to hold him then. And get this, the guy had blood poisoning in his hand a few years back and the doctors had to fuse one of the joints in his finger solid because of the damage."

"YES! What do you want to bet that this guy works for Anile'?" Ellison was ready to close this case and throw away the key. "It's time we track down this elusive Mr. Matt Anile' and put him away."

"It can't be that simple, no way." Brown's voice was quiet, but cut through the excitement in the room.

"Finally it is that simple, Brown. Somebody has to have seen this guy. He can't be anonymous to the whole world." Ellison was on a roll.

Brown shook his head. "That's not what I mean. I play these word games with my sister's kids all the time. You know, what words can you make from another word, that sort of thing."

"So?"

"So, what words can you make from Matt Anile', or more precisely, what name can you make out of it?"

"Oh my God."

"No way."

"You've got to be kidding."

"Come on, man. You know I've never been good at your word games." Rafe's whine cut through the chatter in the room. "Would somebody tell me?"

Ellison smiled and nodded at Brown, giving him the go-ahead.

"Tina LeMat."


As was the usual case with the Major Crime unit, the arrest went off without a hitch. The search yielded enough information to link LeMat, AKA Anile', to multiple unsolved cases being investigated by the Cascade PD.

Even when the feds arrived and took LeMat into custody, there was no argument from the arresting officers. They had done what they had set out to do. Sandburg was safe, his reputation was restored, and he was being released from the hospital. Sometimes life was too good to miss a moment of it.

Feedback appreciated!

Continued in 'Little Boy Lost'


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