Well people, I wasn't sure if I was going to continue on in the vein of my first three, but this one invaded my thoughts and wouldn't stop until I surrendered and put it down into the computer. It has also given me an idea to continue on with another story but just moving to a locale that I have a little more knowledge.

There are references to my previous stories, so a suggestion is to at least read The Bond and Power Trip to understand them. I also have references to several TS episodes, too many to really list, so be warned.

A massive amount of thanks to Cindy Combs, Wolfpup and Beth Manz for the help and encouragement received to keep writing and put down what I think should be done. Cindy helps keep my feet on the ground by reminding me that not everyone will like or understand what I'm writing but do it if it feels right. She's also been great as a beta and for showing me stuff that I forgot to include. I also received good beta help from Beth, catching my many forgotten and misused commas. As for Wolfpup, she wheedles, begs, cajoles, and cracks the whip pretty good to get me to write. Thanks for giving me a home, Tonya.

The recognizable characters in the story are not mine but belong to Pet Fly Productions. No monetary benefits are received from this story. Just the gratification of being able to post it.

Rated PG-13 for a little language and some small violence.



"Duty, honor, country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn. The code which those words perpetuate embraces the highest moral law and will stand the test of any ethics or philosophies ever promulgated for the uplift of mankind. It's requirements are for the things that are right and its restraints are from the things that are wrong. The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training sacrifice. In battle, and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when He created man in His own image. No physical courage and no greater strength can take the place of the divine help which alone can sustain him. However hard the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and give his life for his country is the noblest development of mankind."
Gen. Douglas MacArthur

Monday Morning, Cascade P.D.

"Alright, people. Give me your attention," Captain Simon Banks called out, his voice rising easily above the conversations in the meeting room of the Cascade Police Department. "I know it's just after lunch but I want your full attention for just about 15 minutes. The government is starting a new program..."

A few rude noises emanated from the back of the room, causing the assembled group of detectives and uniformed police officers to start laughing. Trying to maintain his composure by not joining the laughter, the black captain glared at the area that the sounds had come. The room quieted down quickly.

"As I was saying, the government has started a new program, called Rapid Assessment, Initial Detection, that uses the National Guard as its main force to handle situations involving terrorist groups. State and federal agencies are being informed of the program and their involvement. Here to brief us is Major James McLin from the Colorado Army National Guard. Major?" Simon turned towards the military officer who had been standing quietly at the back of the room. The soldier unconsciously straightened his overcoat when his name had been spoken and then walked smartly to the front of the room.

McLin's appearance shouted to any onlooker that he was a career military soldier. His uniform was tailored to his body with sharp creases in the pants, his boots had high gloss shine on the boots, and his hair was cut in the severe military style. As he strode to the front of the room, his back was ramrod straight and the pride in who and what he was glowed from his face. He executed a sharp turn to face the group assembled before him. With his hands clasped comfortably behind his back, he spoke in a tone of voice that soon had his audience mesmerized.

"Thank you, sir. Good afternoon detectives, officers and police personnel. As Captain Banks stated, my name is Major Jim McLin and I'm currently assigned to the 19th Special Forces Group, Denver, as the commander of the new R.A.I.D. team. We are..."

Banks jerked forward and shifted away from the door he was leaning against when he felt the movement of the doorknob. Sliding through the door with no noise was Detective Jim Ellison, a contrite smile on his face to impart an apology to his captain.

"Sorry I'm late, sir. Traffic," he whispered and moved to an empty seat in the rear of the room. Looking up at the individual speaking, he froze. At the same time, the Army major noticed the new arrival to the room. A look of surprise appeared briefly on McLin's face, but quickly reverted back to one of a professional presenter wrapping up his pitch.

"I will be around for the next couple of days and speaking with many of you who have been identified as having skills that will be conducive to the operation in the event that we are activated. Also, if you have any questions, I'll be happy to meet with you. Thank you for your time."

Both Ellison and McLin stood staring at each other as the other people in the room, with the exception of Banks, exited. The two men's expressions were solemn, no hint of emotion betraying how each might be feeling or thinking. Nervously, Banks looked back and forth between the two men and then followed cautiously behind Ellison when he finally moved towards McLin.

"McLin," Ellison growled at the other after stopping to stand in front of him. He was taller than the other man, but not by much.

"Ellison," the Major answered back, his voice low and menacing. Both men stood like statues, eyes locked together for several breaths.

Banks was ready to step between the two men when they both broke into large smiles and grabbed each other in a brotherly hug, loud laughter filling the room.

"Mac, you old war dog!" Jim practically shouted, stepping back from the other. "How the hell are ya!"

"My God, J.J.! So, this is where you've been hiding since deserting the Army. You're a flat foot now?"

"That's detective, you grunt, and I didn't desert. Just took the opportunity to use my skills where they would be better appreciated. I do see that the Army has a sense of humor if you got promoted to major. How many butts did you have to kiss for that?"

"They know a quality soldier when they see one. Besides, getting promoted in the Guard is a little easier, and it'll be lieutenant colonel as soon as the promotion list gets signed by the Prez. You're looking good there, J.J."

The sound of a throat clearing interrupted the conversation and both men turned to face the maker of the noise. Banks stood there with his arms crossed over on his chest, an eyebrow raised at his detective. "I thought I was going to have to step in between you two and that had me worried for a moment. I take it that you're old friends?"

"Yes, sir," Ellison answered, placing his hand on the major's shoulder. "Mac and I met at OCS. In fact, if it hadn't been for him, I probably wouldn't have made it through to be commissioned. He gave me an...uh, attitude adjustment about the fairness of life."

"Someone actually gave 'you' an attitude adjustment? That's a story I'd like to hear as much as to why he's calling you J.J." The surprise was evident in the black captain's voice.

"It wasn't much really, Captain," McLin spoke up. The triumphant glint in his eyes belied the humble tone in his voice. "But they're both stories too long to tell without some, ~ahem~ liquid refreshment to keep the vocal cords lubricated."

"Well, I think I know of an appropriate place to continue this conversation. Jim, think your partner might want to join us?" Banks asked with a sly grin.

"Partner? Whoa, wait a minute. The great lone wolf Ellison has a partner?"

Ellison cleared his throat and looked straight into his captain's eyes to convey a warning. After several silent seconds, he turned back to McLin. "Yeah, he's an observer attached to the department and has been partnered with me for over three years now. People can and do change over the years, Mac."

"Well, you sure must have if you've had the same partner for that long. I'd like to meet this guy that can put up with you, J.J."

"He's supposed to be here this afternoon after he completed some meetings at his university. If you can't wait around, you can meet him tonight. I'll pick you up from your hotel and we can stop by my place for me to change. He should be there. Then, we can meet Simon at...what's the name of that pub you're frequenting now, sir?"

"The Brew Haus. Has some of the best micro brew beer that I've tasted in a long time. I'll meet you two there around 7 p.m." Glancing out the window of the conference room, Banks noticed his secretary standing near the door of his office talking to a woman in a business suit. "A captain's work is never done." With a sigh and quick smile, Banks turned and walked out the door.

"It has been a long time, J.J. When I heard about what had happened with the Peru mission...was that what changed your mind from being a career man?" McLin asked quietly.

Rubbing his forehead, Jim took a few seconds to answer. "It was...one of the reasons, Mac. Then there was the stuff I found out about the screwed up logistics for it and Colonel Oliver's involvement. But we can talk about that later along with why you're in the National Guard now. How long are you going to be in town?"

"For a few days, at least. I've got a couple of people from my team in Tacoma and Seattle doing some briefings. I told them that we would join back up in Seattle by Saturday and then fly home. So, that means you can play tour guide. That is if you can spare the time... ~cough~... for an old...~cough~... Army buddy." Turning away, McLin broke down into a violent coughing fit. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket to cover his mouth.

"Mac? You okay?" The worry was evident in Ellison's voice. His enhanced hearing allowed him to hear how deep the cough sounded in McLin's chest. He reached out a hand to help his friend, but the other just backed away and held out his hand to stop him.

"There's nothing...~cough~... wrong. It's just your damned weather around here. How can you handle it being wet all the time?"

"I grew up here. And I had 18 months living in a place that was worse. You sure you're okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. I just need to get back to my hotel and get some stuff down me that I picked up at the drug store. Since when did you turn into Florence Nightingale, J.J.?" McLin asked gruffly and walked around the detective for his briefcase that was setting by the door. "Must be from all the soft living you've been doing. I'm staying at the Radisson just a couple of blocks over. So, pick me up there when you get off. Room 342, okay?"

Walking swiftly, McLin reached the elevator just as the doors opened and walked on to it. He raised the hand holding the handkerchief in a wave. Before the doors shut, Ellison saw what looked to be reddish in color spotting the cloth. The doors closed completely before he could move towards them or zoom his sight onto the area. Dismissing any bad thoughts, Jim turned and moved towards his desk.

It had taken a careful balancing act to get everything into the building housing the Cascade P.D. The bag of bakery goods were in one hand, the paper tray holding two Starbuck coffees in the other, backpack was over the right shoulder and several odd sized books were held between the left arm and his chest to balance Blair Sandburg. He fully intended to make only one trip from his car to the front doors this morning. The way that the cold wind had cut through him when he had stopped at the bakery and coffee shop earlier convinced him that he was not going to spend any more time outside than he had to.

Luckily, a person had been leaving the building when he reached the door and Blair was able to hook his foot around the edge and swing it back open. His luck held when someone at the inner door held it open after exiting for him to enter. But the luck ended when he rounded the corner to the corridor that led to the elevators...and straight into the Army officer coming from the opposite direction.

The books dropped to the floor and the bag flew from the hand attached to the arm that was slammed into by the larger man in the uniform. With a quick grab, the coffee cups were prevented from following the other items and causing any damage to the parties involved.

"Ah, man. I'm sorry, mister," Blair apologized, glancing quickly at the uniform to see if he had caused any damage. "Are you alright? I didn't get anything on you, did I?"

After brushing his jacket as he checked it over carefully, the military officer gave the long-haired man in front of him a scowl. "You better not have," he mumbled darkly.

Blair froze at the look in the eyes that glared at him. There was anger, yes, but he also saw something else. It looked like a shadow or sickly darkness that seemed to hover in those eyes. Before he could say anything more, the major turned and walked out of the building. Blair rubbed his eyes quickly and watched the back of the man walking away from him. There seemed to be this 'shadow' following him.

I've got to get some rest. Starting to see things now, Blair thought to himself, squatting down to gather the stuff dropped.

"Hey, Sandburg. These belong to you?"

Looking up, Blair saw Detective Rafe holding his bag from the bakery. "Yeah, thanks Rafe. Jim would make me go back out to get more if I forgot his mid-afternoon doughnuts."

"I thought you broke Ellison from eating these things. Or are you paying some type of penance?" Rafe laughed as he helped the younger man gather the books and stand back up.

"Never bet against Jim Ellison with any type of sporting event. I think he has some type of psychic ability when it comes to picking winners."

"Which event?"


"The Superbowl?" Rafe exclaimed incredulously. Blair just grinned. Both men walked towards the elevator. "You bet against the Broncos? Why?"

"Stupidity, plain and simple. After that win against Minnesota, I thought for sure the Falcons could pull it off. Oh well, at least it was a good game. So, as payment, I'm not allowed to pick on Jim's eating habits for two weeks and supply these fat pills when he asks for them."

Pressing the button for the elevator, Rafe laughed out loud. "Sounds like you got off easy. Hey, I was wondering if you can help me with something."

"Sure man, anything as long as it doesn't involve me doing something that would piss my partner off."

"Heaven forbid!" Rafe gave a mock shocked look, causing Blair to chuckle, then straightened his face and lowered his voice to a more private tone. "No, I want to go back to the university starting this summer to work on a second degree and I was wondering if you could spend some time helping me work out the best program. I can meet you at your office later this week."

"Sure, man, but why at my office? We can do it here."

"Uh, no. I'd rather not," Rafe said nervously. Just then, the elevator doors opened allowing an elderly couple to exit. Looking around, the detective took hold of the grad student's arm and hurried him onto the now empty elevator. "Don't take this wrong, but I've always been interested in archeology and have wanted to go back and study it after I made detective. But..."

"But you're worried if the guys find out what you're taking, they'll start comparing you to me. Right?" Blair tried to keep a straight face but the discomfort and embarrassment on the others face was just too much. He started laughing, which caused Rafe to look more uncomfortable. "It's okay, man. I understand and it's not a problem. Would it be easier for you in the morning or afternoon?"

"How about Thursday afternoon?" The relief was evident in the detective's voice. Just then, the elevator stopped and the doors opened.

"I won't tell a soul," Blair whispered in a conspiratory tone and then laughed again as Rafe looked around the area outside the elevator for anyone listening before stepping out.

Handing back the bakery bag and carefully positioning the books he had been carrying into the others arms, Rafe patted Blair carefully on the shoulder. "Thanks, Blair. I really appreciate this. I owe you one." Then he walked down the hall towards the restroom.

Blair watched the detective for a few seconds and then continued forward through the doors leading into the squad room of the Major Crimes division of the Cascade P.D. Seeing his partner sitting in front of the computer at his desk, Blair made a beeline towards it.

"Two buttermilk doughnuts and one Columbian blend coffee." Blair announced to the man sitting at the desk in front of him. Carefully setting down the tray of coffees and then setting the books beside them, he reached into the bag and removed his two bagels. After setting them down onto the books, he rolled the bag back closed and set it next to the coffee tray.

"What happened to you, Chief? You have to bake these things yourself or what?" Ellison said with a smile and reached for the doughnut bag with one hand and one of the cups of coffee with the other.

"Sorry, Jim. I promised fresh and had to wait until the bakery pulled these out. And then I had a minor collision downstairs with this 'majorly' rude dude." Blair chortled at his pun but quickly straightened his face when Jim looked at him impatiently. "~ahem~ Now, since I've completed my task for today, I'm going over to my little chair in my corner and sit very quiet so I don't disturb your work." The mischievous twinkle in the younger man's eyes belied the humbleness of his words. Gathering up the books and bagels, Blair picked up the other cup of coffee and walked over to the desk he was allowed to call his.

"Knock it off, Sandburg. Humility doesn't become you," Ellison said and then took a large bite of the sugary confection he had pulled from the bag. Closing his eyes, he savored the flavors that seemed to explode in his mouth. Sometimes it really paid to have enhanced senses.

"You doing anything tonight, Chief?" Jim asked after he had taken a sip of the coffee the other had brought. Before Blair could answer, the telephone rang and Jim picked up the receiver. "Ellison. Detective Walton, thanks for returning my call."

Blair settled back into his chair with one of his books and a writing pad. It looked like his partner was probably going to on the phone for a while, if the large case file open in front of him meant anything. There might be enough time to get the outline of his next paper completed before he was asked to play 'gopher' for Jim again.

As it happened, Jim was never able to get back to Blair for an answer to his question. After hanging up the phone, he had to go down to forensics and then to a few other departments that took the rest of the day. By the time he got back to his desk, Blair was gone and had left a note explaining that he was going to pick up groceries before heading to the loft.

Checking his watch, Jim grabbed his coat from the rack by the door and headed for the elevator. He had plenty of time to pick up McLin and change at the loft before they would meet with Simon later. Jim had some misgiving about not being able to inform Blair that he was bringing McLin by, though the younger man had proven that he could hold his own with most confrontations. His friend from the Army would get quite a surprise when he met Ellison's partner and roommate. It was going to be interesting to watch the meeting.

852 Prospect, Early Evening

Jim Ellison was upstairs in his bedroom changing clothes when he heard, his hearing set at a normal level, the door knob rattle in the loft's front door. Earlier, he had been listening with his hearing turned up when Blair had pulled into the parking area of their building. He had almost laughed out loud when his friend starting talking to him from the lot as if he were by the car.

"I know you heard me drive up and can hear me now, Ellison. If it wouldn't trouble you too much, I could use a little help with the bags." When Blair didn't see any movement from the building's exterior door after a minute had passed, he started pulling the paper bags out of the trunk and loaded his arms. "If I find out you're not in the bathroom, taking a shower or on the phone with some seriously important person, Jim, you're going to have one very pissed off roommate this evening and I'm going to take great pleasure in devising a set of tests concerning your hearing."

Jim knew it would have looked very strange to his guest waiting in the living room if he had rushed down the stairs and out the door. So he continued to change his clothes, knowing that all would be explained to his partner as soon as he walked through the loft door.

After struggling to turn the doorknob without dropping the bags he carried, Blair pushed open the door with his foot. Carefully stepping through the doorway, he kicked the door shut and then staggered into the kitchen and placed the bags onto the counter.

"You know, Jim, you could have--" Blair started to say turning towards the living room, then he noticed the figure standing at the windows. "Oh, hello." The evening light streaming through the pane outlined the person's body, preventing Blair from seeing his face until the guy walked back towards the couch. It was the same guy he had bumped into at police headquarters, minus the uniform, but still maintaining the aura of a soldier. And the guy was looking at him like he was a green recruit on his first day in Army.

Unable to keep the surprise from showing on his face, Blair took a hesitant step backwards and glanced up towards his friend's room. When he saw Jim calmly walking down the stairs, tucking in his shirt, some of the apprehension disappeared and he relaxed slightly.

"Mac, meet my partner and roommate, Blair Sandburg." Jim paused and then smiled at the sharp look his old Army buddy gave him. "Chief, this is Jim McLin. We were in the Army together and he's now a major in the Colorado Army National Guard."

"We've met, sort of. He's the one I collided with that delayed your doughnuts earlier today. Again, I'm sorry about this afternoon." Blair reached his hand out towards the other man, a tremulous smile on his face.

For several long seconds, McLin stared at the long-haired, young man in front of him, his face impassive. Then, giving a smile that didn't seem to reach his eyes, he reached forward and took the offered hand and gave it a firm shake before releasing it. "J.J.'s partner, eh? Narcotics or vice?"

Blair fidgeted slightly and looked at his partner, who normally took over the conversation at this time. It never failed that people he was introduced to thought he was on the force and in one of those particular departments. Jim didn't look like he was too upset by the remark, so Blair decided to do the explaining.

"Neither, actually. I'm a graduate student at Rainier University doing my doctoral thesis on, uh, police as a closed society. I've been allowed to be partnered with Jim as an observer," Blair explained calmly.

McLin shifted back a step and clasped his hands behind his back. He gave a shaky laugh and looked at Ellison. "I see. Well, J.J., you finally got me this time."

"I wasn't trying, Mac. I told you that people change." Ellison looked calmly into McLin's face. When the other didn't answer, he turned to his roommate. "We're meeting Simon at The Brew Haus, Chief. You want to come along?"

"As much as I'd like to, I can't. Got a tutoring session tonight. Take a raincheck?" Blair answered, moving back towards the kitchen and starting to unpack the sacks.

"One of 'those' tutoring sessions?" Ellison raised an eyebrow in suggestion when he saw a bottle of wine pulled out of one sack and placed on the counter.

Blair held both of his hands up in a halting motion with a short laugh. "Not with this one, man. Her fianc‚ has black belts in about three different areas of the martial arts. I have no desire to experience what it would feel like to be a human punching bag. It's strictly school business so don't worry about making any noise when you come in."

"Never do, Chief. Let's get moving, Mac. We can't let Simon start without us." Grabbing his jacket off the hook beside the door, Ellison ushered the silent McLin out the door. As he walked down the hallway to the stairwell, he turned his hearing back towards the loft. There was the continued rustling of the paper sacks but he was able to hear Sandburg's voice clearly.

"Sometimes I wonder if it'll ever get to the point where we won't have to tap dance around our partnership, Jim. I know you've gotta be getting as tired as I am with the looks and remarks. ~sigh~ One track minds are such a drag."

You and me both, Chief, Ellison silently agreed with his friend.

The Brew Haus, Evening

Simon hadn't arrived yet, so Jim led the way to the back of the bar where he found an empty booth in the corner. As soon as they had settled, a waitress appeared with a basket of popcorn and took their order for a German beer that was on tap.

"Go ahead and ask, Mac. I've been hearing that thing you call a brain spinning wildly ever since we left my place." Jim held up a hand when Mac opened his mouth. "But first let me say a few things. No, I've not 'come out of the closet' cause I never was in one. Sandburg moved in with me after his place was blown up during a case. We found out that it worked better for both of us for him to just stay there and rent from me. Second, he's saved my butt more times than I want to count and I wouldn't trade him for any cop on the force. Lastly, I don't take too kindly to anyone who hassles him because of his appearance. I think you once told me that it was the man within that counted and not what he looked like to the world."

McLin looked carefully at the man sitting across from him. Ellison's face was passive but his eyes held a spark that seemed to shout 'don't go there.' "You always did seem to love to throw my words back into my face, J.J. But it's not how your 'partner' looks that threw me for a loop. Hell, you should see what we've been going after for recruits. They'd make Sandburg look like a prep school candidate. It's the fact that you actually have a partner and he's lasted how long?"

"Going on four years now. What do you mean 'lasted?'" Jim asked, but he knew what Mac meant. He just didn't want to think of all the times over the last four years that Blair had been in danger, hurt or nearly killed because he was Jim's partner. And he especially didn't want to think about last May.

"I mean lasted around you. Your record for keeping partners safe is pretty low. How about Barker at OCS, Hodges at the Ranger school at Benning, or Fuente over in Korea to name three? I think I'm the only one who didn't meet with some type of accident or get into some type of trouble around you." McLin picked up the beer that the waitress put in front of him and took a long drink.

"Now wait a minute. I'll accept Hodges and Fuente, but not Barker. He broke his ankle on the obstacle course. I had nothing "

"He broke his ankle after taking an obstacle that you warned him not to take. Though how you knew it wasn't safe is still a mystery."

"It wasn't secured and I did warn him about it. He chose to ignore me. It collapsed under his weight," Jim mumbled.

"Then Hodges ended up in the hospital after your jeep crashed during a joy ride. I think you set a record with the Benning MPs on that one."

"I told him that I could get it past its top speed. Just didn't expect the tire to blow." Jim grinned sheepishly at the memory. He had been wearing a seatbelt, but Hodges hadn't. When Jim had lost control of the jeep and it went into a ditch, he stayed securely in his seat. Hodges flew about 50 feet before he landed in a pile of brush. Unfortunately, the brush was full of poison sumac and Hodges had a bad reaction from the contact.

McLin laughed at the embarrassed look on Ellison's face. "We presented him with a set of wings for his flight. Remember? And I'll have to admit, Fuente got himself into that fight at that Korean bar. Just because the girl he was trying to defend wanted you and not him after it was all over, was not your fault. Those baby blues of yours could sure entice the women."

Jim laughed, relaxing over these memories of his past. The beer was flowing really smooth down his throat and he ordered two more when he noticed that both his and Mac's glasses were down to only a third full. After the waitress left, he saw Simon standing at the entrance and waved to catch his attention.

"I see I've fallen behind," Banks said, taking off his coat and catching the attention of the waitress. "Okay, what stories have I missed and are they worth repeating?"

"Oh, nothing too damaging to the 'detective's' ego, Captain. Yet," Mac jumped in, laughing at the contrite look on Jim's face. "I was just wondering how he's been able to keep a partner for over three years. I always thought that J.J. was some type of Jonah, bad luck charm."

"More than you know," Simon mumbled loud enough for only Jim to hear. More times than not, Sandburg always seemed to attract some type of trouble with the cases Ellison handled. At his detective's sharp look, he decided to change the subject. "What I'm curious about is why you call Jim 'J.J.'? As long as I've known him, Ellison has been able to shun any type of nickname."

"Do you want to tell your version or can I tell the truth?" Mac asked Jim.

"Go ahead, Mac. If I did, you'd be interrupting me every five minutes with some inane detail," Ellison answered and drained the last of his beer from the glass.

"Well you see now, sir, Officer Candidate School was one of those places that J.J. thought would be a walk through the park. He came in the first day with this monstrous chip on his shoulder and the attitude that he was going to be the distinguished graduate of the class."

"And I was, too," Jim broke in but quickly closed his mouth when Mac threw him a dirty look. Simon raised his eyebrow at the confident statement, but Jim just shook his head.

"Yeah, he was. He scored marksman on the firing range, had the fastest time on the obstacle course, and made it through the survival training with barely a scratch. Although I have to admit, it did take a lot of work on his part. Anyway, on the first day, the cadre of our class decided that there couldn't be two Jim's in their group. So, one of us had to be a Junior and Jimmy there decided it wasn't going to be him. I convinced him otherwise in the workout room." McLin looked at Jim and smirked.

"Yeah, he kicked my ass." Jim sighed and then laughed. "But that was the only battle you won. I was able to change Junior to J.J. Mac taught me a valuable lesson that day; don't ever give up the battle until it's proven to be lost. Kept me going more times than not."

"Especially in Peru?" Mac asked quietly. The smile left Jim's face and he stared into his drink. "When I heard about the crash, I used every marker I had to find out what happened. Even volunteered to be a part of the team to go in after you. But I was told there were no survivors and to quit askin' questions. Sorry about the loss of your team. Then, you pulled a Lazarus. I tried to contact you after they brought you back out of the area, but was told you were 'unavailable.' Not too long afterwards, you resigned your commission and disappeared."

"There's not much I can say. Most of the mission is still considered classified." Ellison took a large gulp of his beer, the blanks in his memory of the 18 months he had been 'lost' still bothered him. "I survived the crash but my team didn't. The locals had found me, patched me up, and accepted my help in securing their territory. After I was picked up, the debriefing wasn't pretty. Luckily, what had happened put me in the limelight. When I questioned the faulty logistics that had caused my team to get caught in the trouble there, enough people listened to me and did something about the ones involved. Afterwards, I guess I had had enough of being someone else's puppet. So I left...and became Simon's puppet."

Banks choked on the beer he was sipping. "Oh, funny, Jim. You know, sometimes I wonder if I'm actually the one in charge by the way you've acted with some of your cases."

Jim gave his superior a slap on the back and a friendly smile. "Do you really want to know? But enough about me, Mac, I thought you had plans to be a career man. You had your sights set on wearing eagles on your shoulders before they booted your butt out of the service. How'd you end up in the Army Guard?"

McLin drained his glass and motioned for the waitress that had just looked their way. "I need something a little stronger than this. How 'bout you guys? Feel like doing battle with Mr. Cuervo?" Simon shook his head. He had a few fuzzy memories about previous times of drinking shots of Jose Cuervo Tequila and had no desire to lose another evening to a drunken haze. Jim, however, had a sparkle in his eye that said he wanted the challenge.

"I'll take your keys, Ellison," Banks said holding his hand out to his detective. "There's no way I'm letting you keep them if you two are going to do shooters."

With a scowl on his face, Ellison pulled his keys out of his pants pocket and handed them to his boss. "I can handle my alcohol, Simon, and you know it. But if you insist--"

"We'll see when the end of the evening arrives. But for now, I'd rather stay on the side of prudence," Simon answered and pocketed the keys. McLin cleared his throat to get the other's attention back.

"Okay, switching to the National Guard. Well, J.J., I sorta acquired the same attitude that chased you out of the regulars but it had taken me a little longer. Since I was past the 10 year mark, I decided that I wanted to get my military retirement but have a little more control over where I lived and on what deployments I had to take. The Guard doesn't make you change your home address every two to three years and your commander-in-chief is the governor of your state unless activated for war." McLin stopped talking long enough to go through the ritual one did when drinking a shot of Tequila: lick salt sprinkled onto an area on the back of the hand, drink down the shot, then suck on a slice of lime. Ellison mimicked the procedure.

Watching the actions of the two men, Simon realized it was going to be a long evening and he was probably going to be the only one left coherent in the end. With a hearty chuckle, he waved down the waitress and made sure that his next and future drinks would be diet cola.

852 Prospect, After Midnight Tuesday Morning

Blair had been so engrossed with the paper that he was finally typing into his laptop that he didn't hear the off-key singing until it was right outside the door of the loft. He could tell that one voice belonged to Jim, having heard his roommate the rare times when he sang in the shower. The other voice was pitched higher and had an Irish lilt to it. Glancing at his watch, he was shocked that it read almost 2:00 a.m.

A fist banging on the door broke him out of his idleness and he moved quickly to answer the continuous hammering. When he unlocked and opened the door, he was met with the sight of his almost incoherent partner being propped up against the door jam by a less inebriated McLin.

"Jim?" was all he could say before the two men stumbled into the loft. Blair took a quick look down the hall to see if anyone else had been disturbed by the commotion and then quickly closed and locked the door.

"Blair, buddy!" Jim spoke in a loud but slurred voice, stumbling back towards his friend with his arms opened wide. "Yer, my bes' fren."

"My God! You're drunk!" Blair exclaimed with a startled laugh. Jim never got drunk. Then he was engulfed in a clumsy hug that almost knocked him over. "Jim, JIM! Easy, man. You're too heavy for me to carry."

"So-orry, Chief. I'm jus' so glad yer here. I tole Mac tha' yer the bes' par'ner I ever had." Ellison let go of the hug but kept his right arm around his shorter friend and swung them both around to face the couch where McLin was leaning. "Din I, Mac?"

"Thanks, Jim and you're my best friend, too. But I think we'd better get you up to your room before you decide to pass out. I can't carry you up there if you do and the floor isn't too comfortable to sleep on. Major, why don't you kick off your shoes and get comfortable on the couch. There's no reason to call a taxi," Blair said to the other man.

"Take your time, kid. I'm in better shape than J.J. Need a hand?" Mac asked, attempting to stand up straight but fell back against the couch.

"No, no, I can handle him. If you need to use it, the bathroom is back that way down the hall. Aspirins are located in the mirror cabinet." Blair pointed quickly down the hall and then caught hold of Jim to maneuver the larger man towards the stairs. "You reek, man. What'd you drink?"

"Shooters...an I can't smell a ting." Jim allowed himself to be manhandled to the stairs by his friend. When they reached the first step, he leaned down close to Blair's ear and spoke in a loud whisper. "Got th' dial turn'd down. All th' way. Jus' like you taught me, buddy."

Glancing nervously towards the visitor still in the living room, Blair quietly shooshed the larger man and took a firmer hold around his waist. "Okay, big guy, one step at a time and lean forward. That's it...left foot...and...right foot."

When finally he got his friend all the way up the stairs, after one scary moment when Jim tried to straighten up and almost leaned too far backwards, Blair manhandled him over to the bed and allowed him to flop across it sideways. Heaving a large sigh, and brushing his hair back away from his face, Blair looked at his friend.

"Man, you're really gonna be hurting tomorrow," he said softly and then moved closer to start preparing Jim for bed. He removed the older man's shoes and socks first and then pulled him back up into a sitting position, helping him take off his jacket and shirt. "Come on, Jim. Work with me here, man. Get yourself undressed the rest of the way and I'll go get you some aspirins." Blair waited until he saw Jim fumbling with his belt buckle and then moved back towards the stairs.

When he reached the bottom step, Blair didn't see McLin anywhere in the room. Looking down the hallway, he saw that the bathroom door was shut. Figuring that was where the other had headed, he shifted towards the kitchen knowing that Jim kept a spare bottle of aspirin there. Shaking two out of the bottle and filling up a glass of water, Blair paused when he thought he heard retching from the bathroom.

"You okay in there, Major McLin?" he called out. There wasn't any answer. Then the toilet flushed and the sink faucet was turned on. Shrugging his shoulders, Blair continued back up the stairs towards his drunken friend.

"Okay, big guy," Blair said kneeling down in front of Jim. The older man was slumped forward, elbows resting on his legs with his head hanging low and eyes shut. He had unbuckled his pants but apparently didn't try to stand and take them off. "Wake up and take these, Jim. They should help with the headache you'll be getting tomorrow."

"Already go' one," Jim mumbled and looked up at his friend with bleary eyes. Reaching forward, he took the offered pills and tossed them into his mouth. He grabbed the glass Blair was holding, gulped down all of the water, and then collapsed backwards across the bed.

"Ah, man," Blair sighed. Though it wasn't easy, he was able to shift the larger man around to lie properly on the bed and pulled his pants off. Then, finding the sleeping mask on the floor between the nightstand and the bed, Blair fit it carefully on Jim's head. Lastly, he grabbed one side of the coverlet Jim was laying on and folded it over the unconscious man's body. "I'll try to help you in the morning. Good night."

Going back down the stairs, Blair found McLin moving around the living room. He was looking at some of the his artifacts that Jim put back up when he moved Blair back in to the loft after his near death experience. Coming home from the hospital, Blair had been shocked to see everything back in place and the other members of Major Crimes waiting inside for him. It was a memorable homecoming that helped with the healing between him and Jim.

"I'll get you a pillow and some blankets, Major. The couch is actually pretty comfortable," Blair said and moved towards the bathroom and the linen closet.

When he came back, McLin hadn't moved except to turn around, lean against a wall with his arms crossed over his chest and watch the smaller man come back into the room. The intense look the man was giving him made Blair stop abruptly by the couch. "Is there something else you need?"

"I just don't understand how you two hooked up. J.J. told me that you're an observer, and his partner, but that you refuse to carry a weapon." Blair shifted nervously, holding the bedding in front of him like a shield. "You look like someone who's been living in a commune most of your life and yet your Captain spent part of the night bragging on how you've been a major contributor with solving many of J.J.'s cases."

"Is there somewhere that you're going with this? It's getting late and I'd like to get some sleep." As McLin had been speaking, Blair lost his nervousness and started getting angry at where he thought the other was going.

McLin stepped forward until he was standing in front of Blair, his voice becoming low and quiet. "When I met Jim Ellison that first day in OCS, I had seen a potential for greatness. If he stayed in the military, he would have easily made General in a minimum amount of time. But now he's changed his career direction, gone into police work and acting happy just being a detective. He doesn't seem to have any desire to make Lieutenant or Captain or Commissioner, in which he has the potential. I'm just wondering what's happening in his life to hamper the potential that is there."

Blair stared into the eyes of the man in front of him and didn't waiver at the intensity of the gaze staring back at him. The shadow he had thought he had seen in the man's eyes at the precinct was still there. "You know something? I've been accused of a lot of things in my life, but you're the first person who has ever brought up the idea that I'm doing something to keep Jim from doing what he wants to do. The fact is that you couldn't be more wrong. I suggest you talk to Jim first before you start making decisions on what he should be doing with himself. But watch out for the fallout. Here, make up the couch any way you want. I'm going to bed before I really take offense at what you're implying. Good night." Dropping the bedding on the couch, Blair moved around the major and walked stiffly to the door to shut off the lights and then head for his room.

His head throbbed like it was three sizes too big and his mouth felt like something old and hairy had died a violent death on his tongue. Rolling over onto his side, Ellison groaned. The cover over him felt like it was tearing at his skin, he could smell the overpowering odor of stale beer and tequila and the ticking of the clock in the living room sounded like a base drum in his ears. God, why did he try to drink the bar dry last night?

"Hey, Jim," Blair whispered from the doorway. As quiet as he was, Jim still flinched at the voice.

"Please, just shoot me and put me out of my misery," Jim groaned, rolling back flat and folding his arms over his head. A soft chuckle crashed past his ears.

"Can't do that, big guy. Too much paperwork and I'm finally on Simon's good side. Just listen to my voice, start your breathing and concentrate on the dials. I know it hurts, but you can do it."

By the increase in the volume of the voice, Jim could tell that Blair had moved further into the room and was by the bed now. Knowing his friend was trying to help him, Jim took a couple of deep breaths and struggled to bring down the sensitivity of his senses. It was working on smell, touch and hearing, and he couldn't taste the hairy carcass on his tongue anymore, but the throbbing in his head continued.

"Can't make the headache go away." The intensity of the pain could be heard in his voice.

"Okay, lets see if I can help you." Blair folded himself down onto the bed beside his friend and pulled the man's right arm towards him. When Jim tried to jerk it back, Blair held it firmly and started a gentle massage of his hand. "Relax, man. It's just a little reflexology, so let go and keep breathing. Follow mine, okay?"

The rubbing of his hand was hypnotic and Jim could hear the steady pattern of Blair's breathing. Matching it, he felt his body relaxing and the throbbing in his head fading. Floating along, Jim felt something like a trickle of electricity begin to flow into him. The sluggish, heavy feeling he normally got after a night on the town, which he definitely had been feeling this morning, was disappearing. Taking his free hand, Jim reached up and removed the sleeping mask from his eyes. Instead of experiencing the expected sharp pain from the light, he felt like he just woke up after a good sleep.

"What are you doing, Chief?" Jim asked quietly, realizing that the trickle of 'power' was coming from his friend. Looking over at Sandburg, Ellison could see that the other was deep into a meditative state and hadn't heard the question asked.

"Sandburg?" No response. The younger man continued to massage the hand he was holding, his eyes closed and his breathing slow and deep. Careful not to startle his friend, Jim sat up in his bed, slowly pulled his hand out of Blair's grasp and gently caught the other's hands before they fell into his lap. Blair still did not awaken, but Jim continued to feel the energy flowing into him.

Jesus, Sandburg. What the hell are you doing? Jim thought, looking carefully at his friend. Releasing the hands, Jim reached up and cupped Blair's face. "I'm not sure what you're doing but you can stop now, Chief. Come on...Turn it off and wake up...Blair!" Raising his voice slightly as he called the name, Jim also lightly patted Blair's cheek with one hand.

A shudder went through the younger man's frame as his breathing increased and his eyes fluttered open. First looking at his empty hands, Blair raised dazed, blue eyes to the man in front of him and gave him a shaky smile. His face pale in the morning light. "Hey. How're you feeling?"

"I'm fine, now. What do you think you were doing?" Jim tried to keep the sharpness out of his voice, but this had scared him.

"Um, I...uh, remember last year up at the burial site?" Blair started, unfolding his legs and moving off the bed. Stumbling slightly, he reached for the nightstand to steady himself. "Whoa, head rush. I didn't realize that..."

Grasping the arm Blair was holding out to steady himself, Jim pulled him back onto the bed. "Sit down before you fall down. Yes, I remember the burial site. That's not something that would be very easy to forget. Why?"

"I've been wanting to see if I could control it or if it had been some fluke. You know, when you said that you had felt that surge of power that cleared your mind? Well, I knew how bad you'd be hurting this morning and all. You know, you don't make a very pretty drunk, man. So, I just imagined the energy as this liquid in my hands and made it sorta flow into you. I guess I got so wrapped up in what I was doing that I forgot to stop. It worked?"

Jim gave his friend an exasperated sigh and rubbed a hand across his face. Blair had an expression on his face like he had just given his friend a special Christmas present. He hated having to jump on his case. "Yeah, Chief, it worked. But at what cost? You look like you've gone through one of those study marathons after spending the night before on stakeout with me."

"No, no, no, I'm fine." Blair waved off the concern and moved to stand up again. This time he was more successful, only swaying slightly. "Probably just need to get something to eat. You know, replenish my reserves. I'm still learning to be your Shaman, Jim, so you have to expect me to try stuff like this. I'll head down and grab some juice. You feel up to breakfast?" Moving carefully, he went over to the stairs and started down, holding tightly to the handrail.

"I'll take care of it," Jim offered and climbed out of his bed. Reaching for his bathrobe, he heard Blair mutter a soft 'oh, shit' and then there was a thump. When he rushed to the top of the stairs, Jim's eyes were met with the crumpled form of his friend at the bottom.

"Damn it, Chief!" Jim exclaimed and ran down the stairs. First checking to see that nothing was broken, Jim scooped the unconscious man into his arms and moved him over to the couch. There was a folded up blanket and pillow sitting at one end, attesting to the fact that McLin had spent the night in the loft but had already left.

After checking Blair's pulse, finding it slow but strong, Jim went into the kitchen and poured a half cup of coffee from the pot that had apparently been brewed earlier. After cooling it with water from the tap, he took a jar of honey that was kept in the fridge and poured a large dollop into the cup, stirring the mixture as he walked back to the couch. Blair was starting to wake up.

"Here. Drink this, Chief," Jim said, kneeling down by the couch and helping the other lift his head. He held the cup to Blair's lips and helped him drink.

Scrunching his face in a scowl, Blair sat up and tried to turn away from the cup. "Ugh...too sweet."

Jim moved the cup to follow the head. "It has to be. You fainted going down the stairs and need the energy. Now, either you drink it or I'll pour it down your throat. You scared the hell out of me, Chief."

Blair started to protest but stopped when he saw the determination in his partner's face. Taking control of the cup, he started to sip the sweetened coffee on his own.

"When did McLin leave?" Jim asked, moving to sit in the chair so he could keep watch on the other. Glancing at his watch, he was surprised to see that it was after 9 a.m.

"Early. I heard him get up and call for a taxi at about 6 a.m. Before I could get dressed, he was out the door." The flat tone of Blair's voice caused Jim to look sharply at his partner. But the other kept his eyes focused on the cup in his hands, his closed expression indicating that now was not the right time to talk about what was wrong.

With a sigh, Ellison stood up and walked into the kitchen. "Eggs, toast and juice okay for you, Chief? You can make your algae shake after you get something solid into your stomach."

"Sure, man. Thanks. And I'm sorry I scared you, Jim. But I--"

"I know, I know. You had to try. Just...let's not try that again until we can do it in a controlled situation. Okay? I think that preventing me from suffering with a hangover doesn't outweigh your safety. Besides, a good hangover is nature's way of reminding me that I can't do stupid things like I did last night anymore."

"Were you really doing shooters? What possessed you?" Swinging around on the couch to look at his roommate, Blair saw the older man shake his head and grimace.

"Telling stories with an old Army buddy and trying to prove to Simon that I could handle my liquor. He started drinking diet cola when we switched to the shots." Jim winced at the thought of having to get his keys back from his boss. Oh, well, the ribbing would be another reminder that he couldn't drink like a kid anymore. "Uh, did I get sick last night? I don't remember if I did or didn't."

"No, but you should have. It was the major. Why?"

"Just a lingering odor I'm picking up. Oh, I'm going to need a ride into work, Chief. Can you drop me off on the way to the University?"

"Yeah, no problem. You're lucky this is Tuesday. I don't have a class until noon and then it's office time. Can I try to get up, now? I'm feeling much better. Honest." Blair held up his right hand and used the cup to cross over his heart. At the stern look directed at him, Blair set the cup down on the coffee table and carefully stood up. He stayed near the couch until he was sure that there wasn't any residual dizziness and then, picking the cup back up, walked to the kitchen and sat at the table. "Ta da," he said with a smile.

Ellison just gave him a stare and turned his attention back to the stove.

Cascade P.D., Afternoon, Tuesday

With a cup of coffee in hand, Jim Ellison entered the spare office that had been set aside for Major McLin and his interviews with members of the police. Jim had seen his name on a schedule that Banks had passed around and noticed that it was the last one of the day despite the fact that it was set for 3 p.m.

"Hey, Mac," Jim said when he stepped into the room, his face displaying a look of polite innocence. "I'm sure I don't have any talents that your team could utilize. So, instead of wasting your 'valuable' time, I'll just leave and say we talked. Okay?"

That elicited a gruff laugh from the man in front of him. "Just sit your tail into the chair, Ellison. You're one of the few that I really don't need to talk to today. You're here just to satisfy the requirements that say I have to at least meet with you. How's your head doin?" The sly grin on Mac's face confirmed the suspicion that had been floating in his head.

"My head's fine. But I seem to remember seeing more shot glasses sitting in front of me last night than there were in front of you. If I didn't know better, I would say that you tried your damnedest to sandbag me. You wouldn't have done that to an old Army buddy, now would you?"

"Who me? Perish the thought. I think you're just getting too old to handle the night life."

"The day I get too old is the day that they stick me six feet under. But I know that you didn't come away from the night unscathed. Never knew you to puck your guts after a night out." Jim laughed at the look the other man gave him. "Why did you take off so early this morning? Sandburg said you were up and gone around dawn."

"I thought I had been quiet enough to not wake anyone. The kid heard me? He doesn't seem like the 'up before the crack of dawn' type." McLin sat back in his chair and looked at his friend carefully.

"Who, Sandburg? More times than not he's up before me and in his office before I'm able to pull myself outta bed. Then he meets me here or after hours to work a stakeout. Lord, I wish I had half the stamina that he has."

"I have a hard time believing that you haven't done a half day's work before the sun has risen. What happened to you, J.J.? I remember a guy who was sharp as a tack, too intelligent for his own good and on the fast track towards the Pentagon."

Ellison shrugged his shoulders and gave the other a lop-sided grin. "I found where I'm supposed to be and doing what I really enjoy doing. At times, I really feel like we're...I'm making a difference."

McLin caught the slip. "You and 'that kid' are making a difference. You're doing what you enjoy as just a detective? What about going for Captain or even higher"

"Leave it alone, Mac. I've made my choices and accepted what I'm supposed to be. You don't understand the situation." Jim's voice lowered and his face became still.

"What's there to understand? You're sitting stagnant and going nowhere when you have the ability to be someone that makes policy instead of just follows it." McLin didn't pay attention to the muscles in Ellison's jaw tighten, or the coldness that flowed over the blue eyes that glared at him. "You've hooked up with some new-age hippie who's probably been filling your head with that 'accepting who you are' crap instead of seeing that he's probably the one preventing you from advancing. God! I'm sure your old man is just having a great horse laugh with all this. You've become what you said he thought you would."

Jim's fist slammed down onto the table and his chair was knocked over when he stood up abruptly. But the voice that followed was calm, cold and deadly. "That's enough! I'm not that arrogant, hot-headed recruit you tried to mold to your image of what a soldier should be. Nor am I that 'rising star' you tried to catch a ride on to the big leagues. Hell, I know how hard you tried to get assigned to my group before the mission to Peru.

"And that mission wasn't a complete bust. It taught me a great deal about myself, my ability to survive and to go on instead of giving up and joining my men. But the main thing it taught me was that I didn't want to become one of those high ranking, desk-bound paper pushers who makes plans and issue orders without thinking how it effected the people involved. It's the people who are important and they need to be protected.

"As for Sandburg, keep your mouth shut about him 'cause I don't want to hear it. Four years ago, I wasn't a nice person to be around. Then I met this 'new-age hippie' who wasn't intimidated by my attitude and helped me become human again. As my unpaid partner, he's been kidnapped, shot, beaten more times than he'd like to remember and still stays by my side helping me do my job even after almost dying last year. He's always been the first to tell me not to give up just because I think I can't do something and he's as close to being a brother as my own. Furthermore, my father knows and understands what I'm doing. I know where my life is going now, Mac. Can you say the same?" With that, Jim walked to the door, opened it and stepped through without looking back.

Hargrove Hall, Late Morning, Wednesday

With his last student gone, Blair was finally able to close his office door and head for lunch. This morning had been strictly meetings with students from the class he was teaching this semester and they had gone well. It felt good to talk to people that were more concerned about the knowledge he had to give and the help he could provide than how he looked.

Just let it go. I should be used to people like McLin by now. Taking a deep breath and releasing it, Blair stood for a moment outside the door to his building, closed his eyes and raised his face to the sunshine that had briefly appeared. It wasn't going to last long, the rain clouds building to the west were promising a wet afternoon. When the rays faded away, he opened his eyes and continued down the steps and towards the parking lot. If he hurried, he would be able to beat Jim to the China House Restaurant.

Reaching his car, he wasn't paying attention to his surroundings and didn't notice the individual watching from across the lot. Climbing into the Volvo after tossing his backpack into the back seat, he inserted the key into the ignition and turned it. The engine tried to turn over but failed. He tried a couple more times, but the results were the same. With a heavy sigh, Blair pulled the hood release and climbed back out to check the engine. "You would have to do this to me today, wouldn't you?" he said to the machine in front of him.

"Some people say that talking to inanimate objects is crazy," a familiar voice said behind him. Startled, Blair swung around and unconsciously took a defensive stance. It was McLin, dressed in civilian clothes.

"Don't do that, man. You almost gave me a heart attack," Blair said, relaxing his stance. Turning back around to the car, he released the hood and raised it up to check the engine. His hand shook slightly as he removed the lid to the air filter compartment. It wasn't that the man scared him, but Blair didn't want another scene like Monday night. As if I was able to hold Jim back from anything. Yeah, right. "Jim's not here."

"I know. He's at the station. I was wanting to talk to you, if you don't mind." McLin stepped forward and leaned over the engine. Reaching in, he pushed on each of the spark plug caps and adjusted the distributor cap that appeared to be loose. Taking a pen out of his pocket, he tapped on the butterfly of the carburetor until it broke loose and opened. "These babies can be a little cranky if everything's not tightened down, can't they? They'll also get sticky if they're not kept clean." Taking the lid from Blair, he motioned him towards the driver side. "Try it now."

Moving back around to the door and sitting down, Blair turned the key again and the engine turned over immediately. Switching it off, he stood back up and closed the door. "Thanks. Engine repair hasn't been high on my list of things to learn. Though I really should with this thing."

Bringing the hood down and slamming it shut, McLin turned with a friendly expression on his face. "Been tinkering with cars since I was big enough to lean into them without standing on a box. Got real lucky in finding that sweetheart." He pointed to an older model car across the parking lot and started walking towards it.

"Oh, my God!" Blair exclaimed following after the man. "Where in the world did you find a '69 GTO in such great condition?" The midnight blue automobile looked in mint condition, the chrome hood scoop and wire rim wheels gleamed brightly even without any sun.

Running his hand along the rear fender and up the car's body until he reached the driver side door, McLin's eyes took on a dreamy look. "Always wanted a car like this. My older brother had one, but he wrecked it before he went into the Air Force. I got lucky and found this sweet lady in that used car lot up the road. Wanna take a short ride?"

Attempting to be polite, Blair stepped back away from the car with a smile that he wasn't really feeling. "Thanks, but I don't have time. I'm meeting Jim for lunch." He started to turn and walk back to his car when McLin reached a hand out.

"Wait, please. I want to apologize for the other night. I didn't mean to accuse you of anything with J.J. Guess the alcohol gave me a bad case of stupid mouth. But I really would like to talk with you. From what I've learned, you know more about J.J. than anyone and I'd like some background of what's happened to him over the years so I don't ask about anything that might upset him again. One thing that hasn't changed over the years is his temper." The man sounded sincere.

"Yeah, I've been on the receiving end a time or two. And don't worry about Monday night. I was tired."

Laying a hand on the door handle of the car, McLin looked at Blair with an expectant look. "Ride while we talk?"

Grinning broadly, Blair trotted around to the passenger side, climbed in to the vehicle and looked around the interior as he snapped on the seatbelt. "Roll bar, too? How's the engine?"

Turning the key in the ignition, the car roared to life then continued to rumble comfortably. "Any more questions?" McLin asked, a toothy grin flashed on his face. When his passenger shook his head 'no,' he shifted the car into gear and tore out of the parking lot, back tires smoking from the acceleration. Blair grabbed the door handle tightly, feeling no small amount of fear after hearing the sharp 'yee haa' that McLin shouted.

If the man could do anything, it was handle the classic auto like a stock car racer. Turns were taken tight, but controlled, the weaving in and out of traffic was smooth and professional and, before Blair knew it, they were on the highway and flying at a high rate of speed.

"If you're trying to show me that you can drive, man, you've succeeded. Wanna bring it back down outta warp?" Talking loud, Blair tried to make his tone light but the ride was making him nervous.

McLin shifted the car down to take a turn onto a little used frontage road then accelerated back up. "J.J. really tore into me yesterday about you, kid. Said that you've saved his butt several times since becoming his partner and also put yourself into danger just to watch his back." McLin didn't acknowledge that he had heard the younger man's request. "He also said something about you nearly dying. What happened? I saw a lot of pain in his face when he told me that."

"Why don't you ask Jim?"

"Come on, Sandburg. He acts like it was his fault. I have a lot of bad habits, but I'm not mean enough to dredge up old memories that might hurt him more."

Looking at the driver carefully, Blair decided that it wouldn't hurt to give the man just the bare bones. Besides, it helped him each time he was able to tell the story and not go into a panic. Taking a deep breath to center himself and, staring out windshield, Blair focused on the scenery ahead of them. "There was this bad case last year. A couple of vials of nerve gas were stolen by a thief that intended to sell them to the highest bidder, and Jim was starting to close in on her. So, to throw him off her trail, she drowned me in the fountain at the university. He was able to revive me and we stopped her."

McLin looked at his passenger sharply and then concentrated back onto the road. "She what?"

"Drowned me. I was dead, at least for a couple of minutes." There, that didn't hurt too much.

"Do you remember...I mean, did you see anything? What happened while you were dead?"

Blair's gaze became unfocused. He remembered the jungle, what it looked like, how hot it felt, how he had felt. He had made his choice then, one that changed his whole life. It was something that could never be explained to anyone other than Jim or Simon. "It wasn't what I had expected. Definitely not like the stories you hear about near death experiences, but I'm willing to wait another 50 or 60 years before I experience it again. Can we change the subject? I really don't like talking about it."

The vague answer seemed to anger McLin. Grasping the steering wheel tightly with his left hand, McLin shifted the car into another gear with his right and stomped on the gas pedal. The rear end of the vehicle fish-tailed enough to make Blair's stomach drop sharply and his heart to pound faster. Just as he opened his mouth to ask the other to slow down again, a loud bang came from the back of the car.

"Hang on!" McLin grabbed the steering wheel with both hands and tried to turn the car into the direction that it was skidding, but to no avail. Sliding off the edge of the road, the vehicle hit a bump, becoming airborne. The car rolled over once... twice...three full revolutions before landing back on the ground. It rolled once more before coming to stop, wobbling back and forth on its tires. A cloud of dust surrounded the car.

"Hhhuuuuuaaaahh!" McLin shouted the tradition Army battle cry, an exalted expression on his face. "Hell of a ride, eh kid?" Turning to his passenger, his smile faded. Blair was slumped in the seat, held up by his seatbelt, unconscious and leaning against the passenger side window.

Leaning over, McLin took hold of the younger man's head, leaned it back and turned it towards him. Blood flowed from a cut that stretched from the hairline on the right side of Blair's face, across his temple and up to his eyebrow. "Sandburg? Come on, kid. Wake up!"

With a low moan, Blair slowly opened his eyes and looked first at McLin and then around the car. "Oh, man. What happened?" He reached up to the area on his head where he felt a massive, throbbing. Before he could touch it, a piece of cloth was pressed onto the area.

"We blew a tire. How're you feeling there? Here, hold this on your head. Facial cuts always bleed heavy." McLin's voice was flooded with concern. Unbuckling his seatbelt, he turned further in his seat and started checking the injured man over. "Anything broken? How's your vision? I'll call for an ambulance. Sit tight."

Taking hold of McLin's hand, Blair stopped him as he reached for the cell phone in his pocket. "No, don't. Nothing's broke, I'm seeing fine but I have a headache that would drop a charging elephant. I really don't want to go to a hospital." Not again.

"No arguments. I've had...~cough~...enough training...~cough, cough~...to," McLin choked and then struggled to get the coughing fit under control.

Blair looked at him with dazed eyes, but would have sworn the man had wiped blood from his mouth after the coughing ended. "You're ill." A pained look flashed across McLin's face, but he didn't answer. Hearing a siren getting closer, he turned and looked out his window.

A police car pulled up near the damaged GTO and both officers jumped out and ran over. "Are you two all right?" the female officer asked, leaning into the car. Then she noticed who the passenger was. "Sandburg?"

Blair squinted at the woman. "Charlene? Hey, how are you doing? This is your area?"

"Excuse me, officer. He's got a pretty good cut on the side of his head. Can you give us a ride to the hospital? I don't think we should wait for an ambulance." McLin interrupted, taking charge of the situation. With a nod, Charlene's partner moved around to the passenger side and, after a few jerks, was able to get the door open.

Blair had already removed his seatbelt and swung his legs out to stand as soon as the door was opened. "Hey, no, I'm okay. Really. Can you just give me a ride home?" Then he stood up and tried to walk a couple of steps, which turned out to be the wrong thing to do. Because of his head injury, he was already feeling unbalanced. The loss of blood only added to the situation. When his vision started to gray, his knees gave out almost immediately and he would have crashed to the ground if the officer hadn't caught him.

"Give me a hand here, Char. We'll put him in the back and call Ellison and then Cascade General on the way in." Before Charlene could move, McLin was already around the car and helping her partner walk Blair to the squad car.

"Ellison's gonna be really pissed, kid," McLin mumbled. He wasn't looking forward to the meeting at the hospital. After helping Blair into the back seat, he climbed in behind and pulled the door closed. The squad car pulled quickly away, lights flashing and siren wailing.

McLin was wrong. Jim wasn't pissed, he was ballistic. When he slid his truck to a halt on the wet pavement near the doors to the emergency room, he paused a minute and tried to calm himself before going in. He knew that Blair was not that seriously injured by feeling along the bond they shared. Head wound, yes, and something wrong along the right shoulder area and ribcage. His friend was also calmer now, but that could be due to whatever painkillers had probably been administered.

Earlier, Jim hadn't really 'felt' anything was wrong until there had been the surge of fear, panic and then pain before it was cut off. He had been talking with Megan in the breakroom. Well, actually he had been arguing with her. The Australian inspector, on loan to the department, always seemed able to push his buttons over the most minor thing. She was leaving that afternoon for a week and Jim had just been ready to tell her to go find someone else to argue with because he was going to lunch. It was then that he had received the first indication that something was wrong with Blair. A twinge of fear. However, his irritation with the inspector distracted him and he didn't pay attention to it.

The second upsurge was much stronger and took him by surprise. Jim had been walking past Henri Brown's desk when it hit him. He jerked to a halt as the wave of fear and panic rushed through the bond. Brown had looked up and heard Ellison mumble what sounded like 'Sandburg.' Thinking he was ill, the black detective stood up and reached for the other's arm. At the touch, Ellison shook himself out of his 'trance'. Brown had asked him what was wrong, but he just shook his head and went over to his phone.

Jim tried calling the university first, but there wasn't any answer at Blair's office. Glancing at his watch, Jim realized that his partner had probably been on his way to meet him for lunch. The next number he dialed was Blair's cell phone. It rang at least 10 times before he hung up. What could he be doing to cause these feelings? What am I thinking? With Sandburg, he can be anywhere and have something happen. Closing his eyes, Ellison felt along the bond. It led off to the north of the university, not in the direction of the restaurant. Grabbing his coat, Ellison strode quickly out of the office.

He had been half way across town when the call had come to him over the radio. There had been an accident and Sandburg and McLin were being taking to the hospital. No other information was given but it wasn't needed. Ellison could tell that his friend was hurt but doing okay. Then, the anger at who he had been with him when the accident had happened started to build.

Despite trying to calm himself down in the truck, Jim could not stop from striding angrily into the emergency area. The place wasn't very busy, which was strange, but the lack of commotion also meant the scarcity of personnel to help him. Extending his hearing, he was able to find Blair's voice inside Treatment Room 3 trying to talk his way out of having to be admitted.

"I don't feel that bad and I'm not seeing double or anything. Come on, Doc. Cut me some slack here." Blair was saying with his most sincere voice.

"Mr. Sandburg. Standard procedure is that you stay over night when you've been unconscious from a head injury. Now, unless you can show me that you are married or have someone..." she started.

"No, I've never been married but that doesn't mean I don't want to one day," he interrupted. For a reply, Ellison just heard the doctor sigh. Relieved that his friend sounded okay, Jim decided to help the doctor out.

"You're still trying that tactic, Chief? I'm Detective Jim Ellison, doctor. His partner." Jim identified himself quickly when the nice looking but very business-like doctor became startled at his entrance. Moving towards the gurney where his partner sat, he took a quick visual assessment of Blair's condition. A white bandage covered the injury on the right side of his head but there was bruising that could be seen around the edges. Blair was also sitting with his left hand held protectively over his rib area on the right side underneath the sling that cradled his right arm.

"How is he, Doctor...?" Jim asked turning his attention to the doctor.

Blair rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to speak but was cut off by the physician. "Sherri Somers. Mr. Sandburg has a laceration on the right temple area that required a couple of stitches. I'm told he was unconscious for about a minute after the accident. There is also significant bruising behind the right deltoid muscle and hairline fractures in two ribs. All in all, being in a car that rolled several times, I'd say he's gotten off pretty lucky. I'd like to admit him for observation, but he's fighting me."

Ellison wanted to chuckle at the look of exasperation she gave his friend but that would only create problems. Instead, he just tried to give her a look of understanding. "He doesn't like hospitals very much, Doctor Somers. If you were to look at his record, you would understand. However, I was a medic in the Army and can keep watch over him if he has a concussion."

"Then, I wish you luck if you're going to take him with you, detective. I'll go finish up his chart and order the medications he'll need to take for pain and a muscle relaxant. He's already been given something that should have him pretty comfortable for the night. Please make sure he takes all of the medication." Giving Blair a stern look, she turned and walked out the door.

"Jim, I'm okay," were the first words out of Blair's mouth. He knew how his partner was going to react and could feel the anger the other was holding in. The Sentinel part of his friend was in full activation, checking him out with his senses even as he stepped closer and tilted Blair's head for a better look. "Do I pass inspection?"

Before Ellison could answer, McLin pushed the door open and stepped into the room. "Hey, kid. What'd th--" he started to say but was stopped when two hands grabbed the front of his shirt and took him back against the wall of the room with significant force. When he was able to look up at the owner of the hands, McLin understood what it was like to look into cold, deadly fury. The eyes that had him pinned blazed a shade of blue he had never seen before...nor did he ever want to see again.

"Why, Mac? What in the HELL do you think you're doing? I told you to leave him out of it."

"Jim, wait." Blair hopped off the bed and hurried over to grab the larger man's arm, trying to get his attention. "Jim...JIM! I'm all right. It was an accident, man."

McLin brought his hands up and grabbed Ellison's arms at a pressure point, making him release the shirt. Pushing back, he knocked Jim into Blair, who stumbled backwards into the bed and then fell to the floor. The sharp grunt and painful moan the action elicited from the injured man had the effect his words had been unable to do. Jim broke his attention from Mac and immediately went to help his friend.

McLin watched as the man who could kill him in fifteen different, painful ways, knelt down next to his partner, carefully gathered him into his arms and then helped him move to a nearby chair. Jim asked Blair if he had hurt anything else and then chuckled at the reply, which had been too low for McLin to hear. He also saw nothing sexual in the behavior, of which he had had a suspicion. It was different, more like something he had seen over in the Orient: concern by one who was charged with the guarding and protection of another of great importance. Was there something more between them?

"It's God's own truth, J.J. I went to see him and just talk. Get to know him. So, I asked him to take a ride in this classic car I had found. Yeah, we were going a pretty good clip down the road when the rear tire blew. Before I could stop it, we went off the edge of the road and flipped a few times. I swear I wasn't trying to hurt him. It was an accident." Mac took a step towards the pair but stop when Jim looked up at him, his expression unreadable. There was still some fire blazing in the eyes but Sandburg was whispering something that only Ellison could hear and the flames were slowly dying. The two men stared at each other for several long seconds.

"If you two are finished with the testosterone battle, I'd really like to go home now." Blair broke the silent conversation and placed a shaky hand on his friend's arm. "You gonna help me find my clothes or do I get to waltz outta here with my backside on display?"

"If you thought it would get you more sympathy or dates, I'm sure it would be your first choice of dress, Chief. I'll go check with the nurses. You gonna be okay here?" Jim asked, moving to the door. His attention was focused on McLin.

"Sure, man. I'll wait here with the Major. Just make sure you find my clothes instead of making time with the nurses." The statement was rewarded with an easy smile and Jim left.

The silence in the room was palatable. Blair sat in the chair and looked at the man in front of him, who was trying to look anywhere but at Blair. "What's going on with you?" The words were asked quietly. McLin looked sharply at the young man in front of him. "I've seen... something. It's in your eyes. You're not well, are you?"

The wisdom in the deep blue eyes belied the youth in the face. McLin knew he couldn't lie and get away with it. "My personal doctor found a malignant area in my lungs last year. Since then, it has spread like wildfire. The prognosis is that my remaining time will be short and painful, leading to a nasty death. It runs in my family. My next physical for the Guard is at the end of this month and they'll find out then. That'll cause them to give me an immediate medical retirement so that I can live my 'remaining time' as comfortable as possible."

"That's why the question about what had happened to me last year. You're wanting to know if there's something after death."

McLin nodded, his gazed locked onto a spot on the wall behind Blair. "When you make the choice to join the Army or Marines or whatever service, you know that you may be asked to lay your life on the line for your country. As a soldier, I've expected to die in some battle, though I've fought like hell not to have that happen too soon. And dying that way, it would have some meaning. But this isn't how I thought my life would end. I never expected it would be because of some fucking disease that runs in my family."

"So, you take chances whenever possible. Push the envelope. Hoping..."

McLin nodded, finally allowed the emotion he was feeling to show in his eyes. Blair could see that it was fear. "If I'm going to die, I want my death to have a purpose. Know that the sacrifice saved others or made a difference. I don't want to end up in some hospital choking on every breath I try to take. I watched an uncle do that for three years. He had been ready to die two years earlier. I don't want to go through that. I shouldn't have to." The last words were whispered. Squaring his shoulders, McLin turned to leave. "Don't tell J.J. I couldn't handle pity from him." With that, he walked out the door.

"Major? Wait!" Blair called to the retreating back. "Damn."

852 Prospect, Same Day, Evening

"Come on, Jim. I can walk on my own." The door to the loft was unlocked and pushed opened to admit the two men.

"Oh, really? You've just made it a habit to ricochet off the walls as you walk down a hallway now." The larger man of the pair had ahold of the smaller man's shoulders, guiding him through the door way and into the living room area.

A tired sigh emanated from the smaller man as he allowed himself to be guided to the couch and settled onto it. "Okay, so I'm a little woozy from the drugs they gave me. I can still function on my own."

"Whatever you say, Chief. Want a cup of tea?" Ellison walked into the kitchen area and started to assemble the items needed to brew a couple of cups. On the drive home, he had watched the affects of the pain medication change his friend from his usual, hyperactive frenzy to a quiet, subdued calm and that had been unsettling. A cup of green tea and something light to eat would help the younger man sleep better.

"That'd be great. Help shake off some of this fog in my head," Blair answered, kicking his shoes off so that he could swing his legs up and stretch out. Heaven help him if he tried to put his feet up with his shoes on.

When Jim returned to the couch, he had two steaming cups held through the handles with one hand and a box with the other. "Thought we'd try those new Girl Scout cookies you got conned into buying. The box says they're low fat, so I don't know how they'll taste."

"Ah, perfect, man. I've already had a few and they're good. Don't sneer at something just because it's supposed to be good for you," Blair said with a smile, knowing Jim only groused about the cookies to get a reaction from him. "Besides, I've seen the boxes you were 'conned' into buying in the freezer."

The two men sat for a few silent minutes, sipping at the hot drink and munching the cinnamon sugar treats. The quiet wasn't uncomfortable, but both were hesitant to bring up the subject that needed to be discussed. As usual, Blair was the first to breach the topic. "It 'was' an accident, Jim. I know he wasn't trying to scare me, hurt me or anything."

"I know, Chief. It was just Mac's way of doing things. He was always...innovative when it came to things about me," was the quiet reply. Blair knew Jim was going to say more so he just continued to sip at his cup of tea. He didn't have too long to wait.

Ellison put down his cup, stood up and moved to the windows before he began speaking. "You know how I was raised, what I went through with my father." Sandburg remained silent, knowing it was a rhetorical statement. "He had taught me to succeed at whatever I do, always be the best and never accept help with things I could do myself. That's how I entered OCS, Officer Candidate School, knowing that I was going to graduate at the top of the class and have my pick of whatever field I wanted to enter afterwards. Everyone in the class had accepted that that was the way it was going to be... except for McLin."

Officer Candidate School, Workout Room

"So, you're the puppy that thinks he can rule the kennel, eh Ellison?" McLin circled his opponent warily. The object of his attention had a couple of inches on him but he knew that it wasn't size that mattered. "Attitude isn't what makes a leader. It's having the strength and ability to knock down anyone that challenges you for that position, the knowledge on how to make them enjoy it when you do and still be willing to thank you afterwards."

McLin feinted to the left then grabbed Ellison's right arm that had swung towards him. He executed a sharp move that ended up with Jim on the mat and Mac on top trying to pin him.

"Is this the tactic you intend to use to win, McLin? Talk me to death? Come on, let's get this over with so I can get back and get my area set up for inspection. I don't feel like getting demerits just because you want to beat your chest." Jim shifted his body, bringing his knees up and catching Mac in the shoulder and head. It knocked the other off balance. Both rolled away and stood up quickly to once again face each other.

There were a couple more tosses by each man, but the other was able to prevent being trapped on the mat. "You've got potential, kid, but you need to learn to bury your pride, attitude and emotions. I can read your face like it was an open book and so will every person you try to command." McLin's face was passive. No emotion or intention could be read by his opponent. That prevented Jim from anticipating the spinning sidekick that caught him at the knees and knocked his legs out from underneath him. He landed on his back with the breath knocked out of him and McLin on top in firm control of the situation.

"It's no longer about you, Junior. What you were before you raised your right hand and became another cog in this military machine is gone. It all comes down to three words now: duty, honor and country. Accept it!" Jim tried several counter moves to break Mac's hold but nothing was working. Mac locked his gaze onto the face he held beneath him and waited until he had his full attention.

"Listen to me, Junior, and I'll make sure you get through this course with flying colors. You've got a massive chip on your shoulder that will blind you from seeing the opportunities that will stream before you. But listen to me and there'll be no place that you won't be able to go and I'll be right behind you." McLin easily held the struggling body down, allowing him to tire.

Finally realizing that he couldn't escape, Jim stopped struggling and looked back at the face above him. No promise, no threat, no nothing looked through the eyes staring at him. "One condition and it's all I'll ever ask."

"What's that, Junior?"

Relaxing his muscles, Jim gave his conqueror a shrewd smile. "That I can go by J.J. I won't accept Junior no matter how many times you beat me into this mat."

Releasing him, McLin quickly stood up and offered his hand to help Ellison up. "You've just learned your first lesson, J.J."

"Mac was right. It had nothing to do with me or how I felt about my father and Stephen. They faded in my memory and I never regretted it because the Army became my life and the soldiers I led became my family." Jim moved away from the window and came back over to the chair near his friend.

"And Mac?" Blair asked.

"Just like he said. Helped me see every opportunity that rose before me to move up the ranks and earn the accolades I needed to keep my career moving. At least until Peru. Then we got separated." Jim sighed and leaned back in the chair with his eyes closed. He remembered how he felt when Mac had shown up at his office with transfer papers. Jim had been working on the logistics for the Peru mission when Mac had entered quietly and collapsed in a chair near him. His face showed the shock that he felt and that was one of the few times Jim had ever seen his friend that way. When asked what was the matter, Mac just replied that he was being transferred.

"And Mac was sent to Germany. Our commander felt that our careers had been tied too close together and in order for us to become more well-rounded officers, we needed to stand on our own. Mac fought the transfer, appealed it up as far as he could but nothing worked. When my team for Peru was formed, he wasn't on it."

"He should be glad for that." Blair didn't complete the thought. It was all history now.

"Yeah, but I don't think you could convince him of that even now." Jim gave his friend a wry grin.

"So, what's going on with you two now?" Blair tried to stifle the yawn that was forcing its way out.

As Jim began relating the 'conversation' he and McLin had back at the precinct, Blair understood the Army major's attitude towards him in the loft the other night. Not knowing that Blair was now the one with the job of guiding Jim on his chosen path, Mac had thought the Observer was blocking him. But how could he know?

"You need to talk to him, Jim," Blair said with a yawn after Jim had finished talking. "It's not what you think."

"What are you talking about?"

"I can't tell you, man. He asked me not to at the hospital. It's something that you two have to discuss and work out." Another yawn escaped past his lips and Blair gave up. "Now, if you'll give me a hand up, I think I better get to bed before I fall asleep out here." Jim obliged, taking the hand offered and carefully pulled the smaller man to his feet. Blair shuffled off towards his room, swaying slightly but making it on his own.

Jim sat in the chair for a few hours more. He knew that he was going to have to speak to McLin in the morning and he wanted to be sure that his mind was straight with what he would say. It was midnight before he finally went up to bed. Listening from the bottom of the stair, Jim made sure that Blair was resting comfortably. Reassured by the slow, steady heartbeat coming from the back room, he continued up the stairs.

Major Crimes Division, Thursday, Mid Morning

The atmosphere within the office area of Major Crimes was charged, bustling, in chaos. A typical day for those who spent any amount of time around the area. Ellison was sitting in front of his computer with Sandburg hanging over his shoulder like a vulture surveying a kill. The other detectives around were trying to hide their merriment at the comments coming from the pair, but it wasn't easy.

"Jim, the Internet is not a den of corrupt and pornographic websites built only for people without a life. There's a lot of information out there if you would just learn how to search for it." Blair reached for the computer mouse sitting near the keyboard and had his hand slapped away.

"How, Chief? Every time I put a search out it comes back with no matches. Why are you doing this to me?" Jim slapped his hand against the side of the monitor as if to make it pay attention to him.

"Uh, well...~chuckle~... it could be that you're limiting yourself, man." Blair was trying not to laugh but the antics of his friend proved that some behavior was learned. Jim was beginning to treat the computer as if it was a living entity, same as he had been accused several times. "Okay, remember what I told you about search engines? You know, those programs..."

"...that take the topic you want and searches through the websites to find any hits. Yeah, I remember."

"Well, the main thing to do is not limit yourself to just one. Here, let me show you one that I use. It's called Dogpile and..."

Ellison leaned back to allow his friend access to the keyboard. "It's called what? Sounds like something found in a yard."

With an exasperated sigh, Blair typed in the appropriate web address and then hit the enter key. "It's a website that will use multiple search engines to give you your widest search. Come on, man. I know the cop part of you doesn't like to do this, but think outside of the box. Here, now type in the topic of your search and click on the fetch key."


"You should listen to him, J.J. It's these kids we're beating the bushes for anymore." The two men looked up and saw McLin standing in front of the desk. He was once again in uniform but the cock-sure attitude was missing. He looked like a schoolboy standing in front of the principle's desk. "I was getting ready to leave for Seattle and was hoping to talk to you before I left."

Blair stood up straight and looked carefully at the man in front of him. The shadow he had seen earlier in the week was now expanded out from the man's eyes. It was almost like a halo around his head. Taking the initiative, Blair decided to give the two an opportunity to talk. "Hey, look at the time. I've got to go, Jim. I've a meeting at noon and another right after that. I'll be late if I don't haul ass now. It was nice meeting you, Major."

McLin reached his hand out to the long-haired man. "It's Mac, Blair. And it was a pleasure meeting the man who has lasted this long being J.J.'s partner. Not an easy job I can tell."

Blair took the hand and shook it, smiling like he had just won first prize in a contest he never expected to win. "More than you know. See you at the loft tonight, man." Blair slapped his partner on the shoulder, took his jacket off his chair, and walked out of the bullpen.

"He can be a little obvious," Jim said politely, watching his friend walk away until he was out of sight. Then, he turned his attention to the man in front of him and waited. McLin didn't fidget but Jim could tell he was not comfortable. "Let's go for a cup of coffee."

McLin just nodded and followed Ellison towards the unit's breakroom. It was empty and there was a new pot of coffee sitting on the maker. A strange sight for the usually popular room. "You still drink it black?" Jim asked, reaching for two mugs.

"It's pretty hard to find a cow on the battlefield and the powered milk from an MRE is still bad enough to grow hair. What do you think?" Came the reply.

Ellison chuckled softly. How many times had he heard that phrase used back in the service? It had become a standard joke between the two men, something to break the tension when situations started to get too serious. Like now.

"You're acting like you've just stolen the General's jeep, Mac."

"You don't think I have a reason to be nervous? Pissing you off used to be like signing a death warrant. From what I've witnessed, you haven't changed all that much." The tone of the man's voice changed to one of regret. "I never wanted to do anything to lose your friendship, J.J."

"You haven't...yet," Jim said, looking at his friend carefully and seeing him relax slightly with his words.

McLin sighed and, grabbing a chair at a nearby table, sat down leaning forward with his arms resting on his knees and staring at the cup in his hands. "I'm sorry, Jim. When I first saw you on Monday, I had this wild thought that we would have an opportunity to work together again, partners like back in the service. Then I find out that you have a partner, whom you've been with almost four years, and who's closer to you in friendship that we ever were. Guess I was jealous that you've got the thing that I've never been able to find." The last words were spoke almost in a whisper.

Ellison remained quiet, allowing the other man to voice his feelings.

"I meant what I had said about his looks not being a problem. Yeah, I called him a 'new age hippie,' but I didn't mean it in a mean way."

"I called him a neo-hippie, witchdoctor, punk when we first met," Jim interrupted. He smiled at the look thrown at him by McLin. "It's a hard lesson to learn about making assumptions over how someone looks."

Mac snorted. "Never 'assume' anything. All it'll do is make an ass outa you and me. Anyway, I guess what I've been looking for the most is where I belong. When we were together, I thought it was with the Rangers in Special Forces. Then, when we got split up, the future didn't look so set in concrete anymore. Thinking you were killed in Peru hurt, J.J."

"The reports of my death--"

"Yeah, yeah, smartass. You were lucky that satellite picked up your wreckage, or you could still be running around the bush half naked."

Both men were silent for a couple of minutes. Ellison thought about what would have happened if it the crashed helicopter hadn't been located. Would he still be with the Chopec and acting as their Sentinel? He'd lost all track of time after he had healed and the eighteen months hadn't seemed that long. His life would be so different now.

McLin watched Ellison's face as the emotions from whatever memories he was experiencing flashed across it. At one point, a lost, haunted look appeared. It was the same one his face had worn in the picture on the cover of Time magazine after he had been rescued. But as quickly as it appeared, it was gone.

"Fate seems to have a strange way of taking all of our plans and making them useless," McLin finally said to break the silence. It also broke Ellison away from his thoughts and brought his attention back to the room.

Jim smiled and said, "Doesn't it? Where I am now isn't where I had expected to be eight years ago. But I'm not regretting the path my life is taking."

"Then I'm glad you've found...~cough~... your place...~cough~ in life." Grabbing a handkerchief out of his pocket, McLin quickly covered his mouth for the coughing spasm. It was a short one, so he just as quickly wiped across his mouth and tucked the cloth back into his jacket.

"What are you hiding from me, Mac?" Jim asked, concern evident in his voice. At the angry look that appeared on the other's face, he quickly held a hand up to stop any words. "And Sandburg hasn't told me anything, if that's what you're thinking. I thought I saw blood on your handkerchief after that fit on Monday. Then, you were sick to your stomach after drinking and have had coughing fits now that sound like your lungs are full. I'm not a doctor, but I can tell something is wrong. Give."

With a sigh, McLin straightened up in the chair. "I picked up a little lung ailment. Nothing to get nervous about but the lingering cough has been a problem. I...I wasn't supposed to take this trip, but I hate having quacks tell me how to live my life. Hell, J.J, I've caught worse things over in the Orient and they haven't killed me yet. Get me back to Colorado, and the dry, high altitude and clean, mountain air will clear it all up. Anything else you need to know, Florence?" Smiling at the concerned look Ellison continued to give him, he waved his hand to dismiss the incident. "So, where do we go from here?"

"How about lunch?" Jim could tell by the other's heartbeat that he wasn't getting the whole truth. Not wanting to get into another fight, especially since his friend was going to leave, he let the subject drop and turned to dump the rest of his coffee down the drain of the sink behind him. "I know this great Chinese place not too far from here. Service is a little slow but the food makes up for that."

"That would be great. Uh, mind if we have a couple of tag-a-longs? Two people from my team showed up at my hotel this morning. We were going to meet for lunch then drive to Seattle." McLin handed his empty cup to Ellison. "It'll show them that Special Forces officers can have a life after leaving the service and not end up in mental institutions."

The air clearer between the two men, they walked back to the bullpen to grab Jim's coat and then head for the elevator.

Hargrove Hall, Same Day, Afternoon

"So, you really think I can complete the program in three years?" Rafe asked Blair, the two exiting from the building housing the latter's office. He and the teaching fellow had spent the last hour and a half outlining the best way to complete a Master's degree program in the field of archeology.

"Sure, if you can take the amount of classes I outlined each semester. Of course, the wonderful world of police work does have the ability of destroying plans, you know," Blair answered. He made a show of adjusting the sling holding his right arm stable. The shoulder was barely hurting this morning and he had tried to get away from the loft without it. However, his roommate disagreed and eventually won the argument, convincing the grad student of its necessity.

Rafe laughed, understanding what the smaller man was saying. He'd know Sandburg for only a short time since joining Major Crimes. In that time, he had seen the observer put his life on the line several times for the department and his partner. Rafe had also heard the stories of what happened to the younger man before he had come on board in the section. And then he had been a witness to Blair's near death in the fountain here at the university. He could see it now as the two walked away from Hargrove Hall. How could so much happen to someone who was only supposed to 'observe' their police society was hard to believe, much less have personal knowledge.

"It's not the police work I'm worried about. Do you know what kind of hell I'll go through if H., your partner or the others at work learn what I'm doing? Not to put you down, Blair, 'cause I have as much problem with my 'GQ' image as you do with your...uh, well..."

"Either retro or New Age look would be considered PC. Take your pick, man. I've been called both as well as one or two other things that we won't go into."

"Yeah, right. Well, if they find out what I'm studying, let's just say that it goes against the grain." Rafe gave Sandburg an intense look.

"That's what has me wondering. Why archeology and not--"

"And not something that would be more fitting for someone like me?" At Blair's nod, Rafe's gaze softened and took on a distant look. "I had this uncle...on my mother's side. He was a museum curator back east and when I was young, I spent a few summers with him. He told me lots of stories about the different digs he went on in his younger days and I guess the passion he had for the subject rubbed off onto me. I knew that archeology wasn't what I wanted to do for a living, but it would be something nice to pursue in my off time. I just don't want to be ridiculed because of it. I have enough problems with being a junior detective."

Laughing again, Blair held up his free hand in surrender. "Don't worry, man. I'm the last person they'll learn your deep, dark secret from. That is until you make some fantastic discovery. Then I'll be crowing the loudest about how I mentored you with your program. What's the matter?" Blair noticed that the detective's attention was focused on a building across the parking lot they were passing.

"What's that building over there? The one with the bars on the windows on each floor except the top which only has vents. No, don't stare." Rafe gestured with his chin and then grabbed Blair's left arm and continued walking when the other stopped.

"Huh? It's the HAZ/MAT Research facility. Why? What did you see?"

"The same place that the university tends to keep dangerous and volatile material?" Once the two had neared a group of bushes, the detective pulled the grad student off of the sidewalk. His attention was on the building he had indicated earlier.

"You see something wrong? Ah, man, not again!" Blair exclaimed. "The building was getting some upgrades with the power this afternoon, so it's supposed to be fairly empty except for one or two of the scientists, maybe their grad students and a few security people." Pulling out his cell phone, he looked in the direction of the science building. All he saw was a group of people going through the doors.

Drawing his service revolver out of it's holder, Rafe checked the load. "Call the precinct and let them know that I've spotted five suspicious people entering the building, one for sure is packing a semi-automatic rifle. I saw him fumble with it before they went in." Then he took off across the parking lot, over the lawn and up the stairs of the building he had been watching. Standing beside the doorframe and out of sight of the glass doors, he leaned forward and peeked into them before pulling back. Then he heard a sound he instantly dreaded. "What do you think you're doing?"

Blair was crouched near the young detective, punching in the speed dial numbers for Jim's phone at the office. He had removed the sling and stuffed the cloth in his jacket pocket. "Backing you up, man. I know that you're not supposed to go in without it and if we wait for anyone to show up, the situation could get out of hand."

"No way, Sandburg. Anything happens to you and I have to explain it to your partner...just before he kills me. Besides, you're still recovering from injuries. You get back to your office and stay there." Rafe tried to sound angry and firm, but the adrenaline pumping through his body had taken the edge off it.

Blair wasn't listening. His partner didn't pick up his phone, so he tried another number.


"Simon. It's Blair. Listen, man, Rafe and I are at the university and he said to tell you we need some help. We had been talking at my office and were walking across the cam--"

"Sandburg, just spill it."

Rafe opened the door to the building and slid through the entrance. Blair looked through the glass and watched the other carefully scan the entrance area then move quietly towards a nearby wall and press his body against it. Blair had his attention brought back to the cell phone when he heard Banks yell his name again. "Sorry, man. Uh, remember the special building on the university here? The place that Alex had robbed last year? Right, the HAZ/MAT building. Well, we've got another group here and it looks like they're trying the same thing. Rafe said that it's five guys and he saw that one had a gun. We've got trouble here and need backup. Lots of it. Hey, gotta go. Rafe's headed in and he might need some help. Oh, hey, could you also call Jim? I'm gonna turn off my phone now. Thanks. See ya." Ending the conversation before the police captain could yell more, Blair closed up the phone, slid it back into his pocket and entered the building. He caught up with Rafe as the detective crept up to the stairwell door.

"Calvary's been called," Blair said softly. "I also noticed that the elevators are dead, stopped on the fifth floor. No movement."

"Thanks. Now go back outside and wait until the others show up," Rafe whispered, giving the younger man a stern look, then carefully opened the door. Stepping into the stairwell, he realized that Blair was following behind. "Sandburg..."

Blair shook his head, curly hair flying, and whispered, "I know this building and where everything is situated. First floor has nothing but offices, second has the classrooms and the next two have mainly labs. The special labs and vaults are on the fifth. See, you need me, man."

Silently groaning, Rafe just grabbed the other's arm and pulled him closer and then started up the stairs. Blair stayed close onto his heels.

"Damn! It's locked. What's this door doing locked?" Frustrated, Rafe carefully tried to turn the knob on the door that would have led to the fifth floor of the science building.

Leaning back against the wall, Blair closed his eyes and took a deep breath to calm the anxiety that had been building in his body the minute he stepped into the building. He was used to following his partner in situations like this and not having Jim around felt strange and a little scary. It wasn't that he didn't trust Rafe's police abilities, but he had grown dependent on the secure feeling he normally had with his Sentinel. A firm hand on his arm brought his attention back to his surroundings.

"Sandburg. I said why would they lock this door? Who'd have the keys?" Rafe asked quietly.

"The fifth floor is the special laboratories and storage vaults. The whole thing is kept secured," Blair answered, succeeding in speaking in a calm whisper despite the quaking he was experiencing inside. "They installed special doors after last year and you can only exit the floor here. The only ones who have the keys are the scientists and security. How were they able to get past the security on the elevators?"

Rafe just grimaced and searched around the stairwell for another way onto the floor. There wasn't any. "Probably with someone on the inside. Let's get security, then. Son of a bitch, this is wasting time!" Waving at his companion, the detective started back down the stairs. When they had reached the fourth floor, Blair suddenly stopped and tried the door onto the floor. It opened easily.

"Rafe, wait. I've got an idea." Blair moved onto the floor, Rafe following silently behind him. "They may have upgraded the security through all the conventional entrances to three, but I don't think they thought about one."

"What? Sandburg, where are you going?"

Opening a door that read Storage, Blair felt around for a light switch and flipped it to illuminate the room. Grabbing the detective, he pulled him into the room and closed the door behind them. "This floor has some of the laboratories used with the classes. There's not supposed to be any classes this afternoon because of some work being done so there shouldn't be anyone here except for those prepping for a lecture. They probably picked today for fewer witnesses."

"And hostages, thank God. What is supposed to be in here, a secret door or something?"

"Almost better, man. That." Blair pointed to the grate of the ventilation system near the ceiling of the room. It was just large enough for a small man to climb into. Grinning at Rafe, Blair moved towards one of the shelves near by and started shifting the supplies housed on them to the floor. With a sigh, Rafe joined him and helped cleared the shelves so they could move it into position.

Outside the Science Building

The '69 blue Ford belonging to Det. Jim Ellison screeched to a halt near the police vehicles blocking access to the area around the university science building. Following close behind, a four-door sedan was barely able to stop from slamming into the truck with its abrupt decrease in speed. Ellison leaped out of the truck cab and trotted over to where he saw his captain standing, surrounded by other Major Crimes detectives and some personnel in S.W.A.T clothing. He was followed closely by McLin.

"What's going on, Captain?" Jim asked, searching around the area for the one person he thought for sure would be waiting for him. He, McLin and two members from McLin's team had just finished their lunch and were talking when the phone call came. Banks had only told Jim about the possible situation, not who was involved.

Seeing the concern on his detective's face, Banks sighed. "He's not here, Jim."

Ellison looked sharply at his captain and then followed the other man's eyes to the building being watched. He cut off the angry words that wanted to stream out of his mouth and waited for the rest of the information.

"Sandburg called about 30 minutes ago saying that he and Rafe saw five suspicious people entering the building and one of them had a weapon. He turned off his phone and, as far as I know, they're both in there. According to security, the building is supposed to be fairly empty due to some systems upgrade happening today. They found that some of their systems have been over ridden and can't contact any of the people who are supposed to be working in the labs up on five. They thought that the interruptions were caused by the upgrade work and weren't concerned until we got here." Banks turned to the open back of the nearby S.W.A.T. van. There was a large schematic of the building's interior laid out.

"Damn it!" Ellison swore under his breath. "Why was Rafe here at the university in the first place?"

"He asked for the afternoon off and I gave it to him, Jim. What my detectives do on their time off I don't feel is any of my business. At least not until now." Banks knew that Ellison's question had been rhetorical but he needed to head off the anger towards Rafe before it festered. He could see that the detective beside him was trying to figure out where to lay the blame.

Jim had known something was going on with his partner, but it was all so nebulous. With little concentration, he felt along the bond to Blair: anxiety, slight fear and a little weariness was what he felt along with some discomfort from his previous injuries. The most important thing was that his friend was all right and apparently still running around the building free. Tilting his head slightly, Jim focused his hearing towards the building. He quickly located his partner and, by the echoes, it sounded like he was in some area surrounded by metal.

"No, if we go in that direction it'll lead right to one of the vaults and the openings there aren't big enough to crawl through." Blair's breathy whisper came through clearly. "Just go all the way to the end and turn right at the 'T' and we'll end up at the men's room."

Jim heard the grunted reply and figured that Rafe was there with his friend. Shifting his focus around, he heard other voices that weren't trying to be quiet. The intruders were threatening someone they had found in one of the labs in order to get cooperation. Apparently, the vaults hadn't been opened and one of the scientists there was trying to explain why he couldn't open them. He flinched at the sound of flesh striking flesh and the resulting cry of anguish.

"What's the situation, J.J.?" McLin was at his elbow, surveying the area with a calculated practice. Ellison stood silent. "J.J.? What's the matter?"

Noticing the scene, Banks moved up by Ellison and placed his hand on the others shoulder, giving it a strong squeeze. "Jim, do you see something?" He hoped that he had the ability to bring his detective's attention back, realizing that the man was listening for his partner. It worked.

Shaking himself slightly, Ellison turned his attention away from the building. "Sorry, I...uh...thought I had seen some movement on the second floor. Looks like whoever is in there isn't aware that they've been seen. Our people must be okay so far." Jim emphasized 'our' to alert Simon to the fact that he had found Blair and Rafe.

Seeing that Ellison's attention was back with the group, McLin stepped in and asked, "What did you say this place holds?"

"Anything from simple chemicals and compounds to teach students up to and including substances that are considered highly toxic and dangerous. Rainier often receives grants and research funding from the government. We're trying to get information as to what might be here at this time," Banks replied, understanding the reason for McLin's question.

"Christ, this sounds like a terrorist operation, something that my team would be called in to handle...if we were sure of the situation." McLin looked at Ellison and raised an eyebrow but the detective had turned back towards the building.

"Twice before, people have been able to break into the laboratories and steal hazardous stuff. The first time involved an ex-CIA agent who was able to get the Ebola virus. Security was upgraded after that." Banks took over the conversation when he noticed that Ellison was again focusing on the building. "The second time was last May and involved the theft of two canisters of VX gas. Apparently, the new security hadn't been good enough so they've tried some new procedures. We were lucky with both of those last times that we were able to recover the substances and catch the perps."

Stepping back from Ellison, McLin motioned to the Captain and spoke quietly, "That second incident was the one that involved J.J.'s partner, Sandburg?" At Banks nod, and by the way Ellison was acting, McLin understood what was going on. "Captain, let me get the people I left at the car. All three of us are trained to handle these types of incidents. Hell, that's why our group's been formed. We're willing to provide any assistance you need." As he spoke, he was unbuttoning his jacket and loosening his tie for removal.

"Thank you, Major. Any help will be appreciated." Once the man had left, Simon turned his attention back to Jim and grabbed his arm to get his attention. "Can you still hear them?"

"Yes, sir. Apparently, they crawled through the ventilation system to get up to the fifth floor. They're moving towards the men's room on the backside. Damn it, why did Rafe take him along?" Ellison's fist were clenched as he paced back and forth a few feet.

"Come on, Jim. You know that Rafe wouldn't have done anything to put Sandburg in danger unless the kid did some fast talking. And you know he could easily do that with anyone but you or me."

"I know. I just wish Sandburg hadn't turned off his cell phone."

"Well, I've got a bad feeling that this group is not just your ordinary, run of the mill, bunch of nutcases. From what I understand about the security that was installed, it would take some real pros or having one or more people on the inside. Security didn't know about anything happening until we arrived."

"How are you doing?" Rafe had noticed that Sandburg started clutching his right arm protectively as soon as they had crawled out of the vent into the deserted men's room. The younger man's face also looked pale and he was sweating. It hadn't been an easy crawl, trying to be as quiet as possible and yet maneuver through the tight areas.

"It's nothing, man," Blair answered and then tried to wave off the concern. "What do we do now?"

"I handcuff you to a pipe and keep you here safe if you don't tell me what is really wrong with you." Rafe's whispered threat caused Blair to look at him carefully. The young detective had never displayed this type of assertiveness before, but then the observer had only seen him working with Jim, Simon or Henri. The others were senior in rank and always in charge of the operations. This knowledge, or lack of what made the detective tick, was cause for nervousness.

"Uh, well, my shoulder's just a little tender with all the workout it's getting and my ribs aren't too happy, either. The doctor said they were minor injuries. You know how they can act up."

"Anything else?"

"Except for some nervousness, no. Honest, Rafe, I wasn't hurt that bad. Do you think Jim would have even let me out of the loft if I had anything remotely serious with my injuries? The guy can be the 'mother hen' from hell, if you know what I mean." Blair gave Rafe what he thought was one of his most convincing looks.

The other man looked at him carefully and then dropped his head with a heavy sigh. "I'm dead. Jim's going to kill me three ways from Sunday because of this...right after Simon chews me a new ass." Blair grinned to himself, knowing he had won this battle. Rafe sure was a lot easier to convince than Jim ever was.

"Okay, we'll do the standard sweep procedures and you stay right behind me. Right?"

"Sure, man...what's the standard sweep procedure?"

"Just stay behind me, Sandburg." Crouching near the door, Rafe quietly turned the knob, pulled the door open a couple of inches and listened. Not hearing any movement, he pulled the door the rest of the way opened and slid out of the room and into the hallway. Blair followed close behind.

Banks and Ellison were hovered over the building schematics with the leader of the S.W.A.T team and McLin. They were finalizing their plans when Brown came running up to the group.

"Problems, Captain. Either they've found out that we're here or they never had any plans of trying to leave the building by normal means." Out of breath, the black detective bent over to make it easier for his lungs to draw in air. He had been around on the backside of the building checking escape routes. "It looks like they are setting anti-personnel mines or something at the back doors and chaining them. There's no one at the front side, yet."

"That's it, Captain. We have to move now before they get the building sealed up," McLin spoke up, adjusting the kevlar vest that had been loaned to him. "Tech Sergeant Quintana here is my expert on communications and wiring. She can help you break into the comm and computer system of the building." The female Air Guard member, looking comfortable with the loaned combat gear she wore, smiled confidently at Banks. The Army Specialist standing beside her, geared the same way, gave her a comradely slap on the back. "Torres there is the pro on NBC, uh, chemicals and other volatile material. He's also an expert with EOD."

"Great, then we'll put Quintana with the S.W.A.T. group that's going to take the system down. That will cause the fifth floor to be locked down and the group will be trapped. Get tapped into the comm system and see if you can listen in through P.A.," Simon ordered, pointing to the group of black clad police standing to the side. "Taggart, you take Torres with you towards the back and see what you can do to disarm whatever they've planted at the back door. Brown, go with them."

"On it, Simon," Joel said, taking a firmer hold on his equipment bag. Looking at the two assigned to him, he motioned with his head to follow him and then trotted off.

"Mac and I will try to get in the front before they block it," Ellison said, looking towards the building. His enhanced eyesight told him that nothing had been done to the front doors, yet. "If we can't, then we'll find another way in."

"Like Panama?" The grin on Mac's face was almost fiendish. He checked the pistol that Jim had loaned him and then tucked it into his belt. The assault rifle he had slung over his shoulder felt more comfortable.

"It better not be," Jim shot back, remembering the situation. While the operation to break into a drug lord's compound and capture him alive had been a success, he had come out of it with a concussion and a scar that was effectively being covered by his hair. McLin had come out without a scratch, something that Ellison was still embarrassed about. He grimaced when he saw Banks looking at him with a raised eyebrow. Rubbing the bridge of his nose, Jim lowered his voice and said, "Let's just say that Panamanian women don't take too kindly with being rousted out of bed in the middle of the night in order for their patron to be arrested."

Banks laughed, enjoying the tension relieving emotion. In situations like these, having high spirits and a positive attitude could only help them. "Okay, and I'm with you to take your partner's place." Ellison looked at Banks face and could read in it what the captain was referring. With who was involved in this situation, Jim could easily end up in a zoneout trying to focus too hard. Simon had proven himself in the past of having some success in breaking the detrimental condition. "Commander, you know what you need to do with your people." The S.W.A.T. commander nodded and moved over to his group of officers.

"Let's move out, gentlemen. J.J., you're point," McLin said and placed his hand out, palm down. Jim placed his on top and, after a moment, Simon added his. Both Ellison and McLin gave the Army grunt of 'huah' as they lifted and the lowered the hands in a sharp movement that broke the handclasps apart.

Jim led the two men on an indirect route to the side of the research building, then behind the bushes lining the front and up to the stairs. Holding his hand up to stop the other two, he crawled underneath the railing at the edge and flattened himself against the wall by the door. With a careful movement, he leaned forward, glanced through glass of the door and leaned back. With his enhanced sight, he was able to see all the way down the hall. Nothing. Bringing his hearing online, he was able to hear what sounded like the elevator doors opening on one of the upper floors. He guessed the fifth. Motioning to the others, Ellison opened the door quickly and moved into the building. McLin then Banks followed behind, checking the doors to each of the offices they passed. All were locked

Trotting to the stairwell door, Jim snapped his fingers and pointed to the elevator as he passed to indicate that one of the cars was on the way down. That information made the other two men abandon their checking of the doors and catch up with the detective who had reached the door to the stairs and was holding it open. The three disappeared into the stairwell and closed the door just as the elevator reached the first floor.

"The fifth floor can't be accessed from the stairs without security, but I'm guessing that the intruders would have sealed off the access anyway or at least have them guarded. So, we'll go up to the fourth and try to use the same vent that Rafe and Sandburg took," Jim whispered then vaulted up the stairs.

"How does he know what the others used?" McLin quietly asked Banks. Simon just shook his head and followed his detective up the stairs.

Reaching the door to the fourth floor, Jim listened carefully. He could hear someone walking down the hall towards them. Looking at the other two, he raised one finger. Pointing to Mac, Jim leaned against the door and took hold of the knob. Passing his weapon to Banks, McLin stood opposite of his friend. Doing a countdown with his free hand, Jim got to number one and, stepping away from the door, opened it quickly.

The young man holding on to the door knob had a shocked look on his face as he was jerked into the stairwell. Before he could make a sound, McLin knocked his rifle towards Banks, who grabbed it tightly, and then punched the man out. Ellison caught the body before it hit the ground and pulled it completely into the area, allowing the door to close again. Using plastic cuffs, he tied the man up to the railing.

Moving back to the door, Jim listened again. No more people walking around on this floor, so he extended his hearing up to the next. He froze when he heard Rafe shout a warning to someone.

Blair was sure that anyone within 50 feet could hear his heart pounding. As he crept behind Rafe down the hall, he held his breath each time the detective had motioned him down and then took a quick look into a room they had arrived at. How many labs were there? He knew that as they had checked the five that were in this wing, their odds of finding the intruders increased with each empty room. Ahead was the intersection into a hall that, when you turned left, would stretch along the length of the building.

Swinging around the corner, Rafe tread carefully up to the first doorway and waited until Sandburg settled beside him. Leaning carefully around the doorsill, Rafe saw that this lab was set up different than the others. It had a short hallway inward and then you had to turn left. Motioning to Blair to stay put, Rafe crept into the hallway. Before he had made it two steps, a man holding a .45 pistol came around the corner.

"Freeze! Cascade P.D!"

The man didn't obey the order. Bringing his gun to bear, but not aiming, he pulled the trigger. Just before the bullet struck Rafe, he also fired. His bullet caught the man in a perfect heart shot, killing him. The man's bullet caught Rafe high in the chest, throwing him backwards into Sandburg, who had just come around the corner.

Blair wasn't prepared when Rafe came crashing back into him. Both men stumbled back across the hall and into the wall, Blair's back taking the full brunt of the collision against the hard surface, and the two slumped apart onto the floor. The ache in the shoulder, that Blair had been trying to ignore, flared into a sharp, stabbing pain that sent him wavering on the edge of consciousness. Forcing the blackness that threatened to wash over him away, he pulled himself up and turned to the still detective beside him.

"Rafe!" he said aloud, not caring who heard him. "Oh, no. Come on, man. Don't be dead." With a shaking hand, he reached for the other's throat. Relief flooded over him when he felt a pulse. Shifting the unconscious man around so that he lay flat, Blair saw the growing stain of blood on the jacket. He tried to press down onto the wound with his right hand while he searched the others pockets for a handkerchief, but the pain radiating from his shoulder prevented him from applying very much pressure. Finding what he was looking for, he took the cloth and pressed it down onto the wound with his left. Rafe groaned.

"It's okay. It's okay, Rafe. I'll get some help, man," Blair said frantically and fumbled for his cell phone with his free hand, ignoring the pain the action was causing. Pressing the speed buttons for Jim's cell phone, he felt cold steel being pressed into the back of his neck just as he heard the ominous click of a gun hammer being cocked.

"Hang it up," an angry voice said, "and move away from him."

Blair dropped the phone but kept his hand pressed against Rafe's chest. The injured detective's eyes were open and looking fearfully at something above the younger man's head. "He's bleeding. Let me take care of him." The answer he received was a sharp blow on the back of his head. The darkness returned and this time it swept him away.

Banks and McLin had seen Ellison freeze as he listened against the door. Simon was about to grab the detective when they heard the sound of two, muffled gun shots. McLin jerked at the noise and reached for the door but couldn't get to it. Jim was frozen there, his hand clutching the knob.

"Jim, JIM!" Simon growled loudly and grabbed the man's shoulders. Mac looked on, confused at the scene in front of him.

Jim had had his hearing locked on the situation on the floor above involving his partner. When had heard Rafe shout, fear coursed through him. Immediately after the sound of the two gun shots, he knew he heard Blair cry out in pain and was sure that he had been hurt somehow. Pain and terror had crashed through their bond, reverbing through him and then it was cut off. That was what caused him to zone.

"Christ, don't do this to me now, Ellison! What does Blair say?" Simon frantically looked into the blank staring eyes. Using brute strength, he was able to force Jim away from the door and back against a wall. "Come on, Jim. Hear me and come on back."

"What's wrong with him, Captain?" McLin asked, confusion evident in his voice

"You wouldn't believe it if I told you. Let's just say that this happens in situations that involve Sandburg and the kid is the one that really knows how to handle it." Simon watched the eyes of his friend as they slowly started focusing. When Jim blinked a couple of times and started to relax, Simon released the breath he didn't know he was holding and sagged in relief.

Giving the captain a suspicious look, McLin cracked open the door to the fourth floor and listened. Hearing nothing he said, "I'm going to check out the floor." He disappeared through the door and it shut behind him before Banks could say anything.

With a shake of his head, Jim was back aware of his surroundings and looking into the concerned eyes of his captain. He answered the silent question they were asking. "They're both alive. I think Sandburg has been injured and Rafe was shot. Blair was trying to take care of him when he was knocked out. It was just...a shock when all his emotions I was feeling just stopped."

"How bad do you think Rafe is?" Banks asked.

"I'm not sure but he must have been bleeding pretty good to scare Sandburg. He told Rafe not to be dead and had been trying to dial his cell phone when the terrorists found them." Ellison rubbed his face with his hands. It had been a while since he had experienced a zoneout and the incident always left him feeling disjointed for several minutes afterwards.

"Can you tell how many are upstairs?"

"Besides Rafe and Sandburg, I've picked out a group of about six people together in one room. They must be the hostages..." Jim paused and listened for a minute or two. "Our people have been placed with them and I figure that one of the people is probably a guard."


"Far end of the building. There are three others in another room closer to this end. How soon before we take control of the building?"

Banks adjusted the head set he wore into the building and then keyed the mic attached to his vest. "S.W.A.T. Commander this is Banks. Has the back door been cleaned and what's the ETA on the system?"

"We're ready in this end, Captain. The back's been neutralized and they're working on the front now. Give the word and your world goes dark."

"Have you been able to tap into the P.A. system?"

After a short pause, the reply came back, "Still need about another five minutes. ~light chuckle~ The sergeant says that this system is probably twice as old as what she's used to working and just as stubborn."

With a smile at Ellison, who was also listening, Banks gave the order, "Stand by until we get into position on five."

"Let's go find Mac and get up there," Ellison said and opened the door.

McLin was walking back in their direction. Following behind him was an older man in a lab coat leading a young woman clutching her purse to her chest. "Found them hiding in a class room. Guess our unconscious friend there hadn't looked too hard for them," he said with a satisfied grin.

Pointing to the stairs, Banks hustled the pair through the door. "Go down to the first floor and you'll meet some officers that'll get you out." Then he grabbed his radio mic and warned about the approaching civilians.

McLin stepped up to Ellison and looked at him shrewdly. The detective could see the questions the other wanted to ask but knew he could not give an answer. So, all McLin did say was, "You gonna be okay to continue?"

"Try and stop me," Jim answered with a growl. "Let's find the vent that'll lead us upstairs. The minute we take out the power, they're going to panic and I want to be in position." Leading the way, he started walking down the hallway.

Blair could hear what sounded like someone moaning in his ear and he wished they would stop it. His head was hurting enough. What'd he do, get into an accident, fall and hit his head, get Jim mad enough to hit him? When he decided to open his eyes, and saw an upside down and very worried face of a girl looking into his, memory flooded back. He had been trying to help a wounded Rafe and someone hit him with something very hard.

"Where are they?" he whispered to the face above him. The scared female looked up and over his legs. Blair followed her gaze. Not too far from them and leaning in the doorway, stood a man holding a rifle. He was paying attention to something outside of the room.

Slowly, and with assistance from the girl, Blair sat up. The movement caused his head to throb more and a wave of dizziness washed over him. He clutched his eyes shut and gritted his teeth against the nausea that threatened to take control. Holding his head and taking several deep breaths to steady himself, Blair opened his eyes again and looked around.

He was definitely in one of the laboratories. Spaced throughout the room were solid benches, the type that had cabinets for storage underneath the table tops with built in sinks. Instead of chairs, tall, backless stools surrounded each bench.

Behind him to the left and against one of the benches sat an older woman. She was holding on to a younger woman who was sniffling softly. Looking to the right, Blair saw Rafe. He didn't look like he was conscious. Farther over and against the wall was a younger man sitting beside a gray-haired man holding a bloody rag to his face. The young man was giving the gunman angry looks as he tended his injured professor. Rolling to his knees, Blair started to crawl to the wounded detective.

"Hey," the gunman said, bringing his weapon up and pointing it at Blair. "Where do you think you're going?"

Leaning back onto his knees, Blair looked at the man squarely in the face. With more calmness than he felt, he said, "I'm going to look after my friend. He's been shot." He kept his gaze on the gunman and several tense seconds ticked on by. Then, with a grunt, the gunman turned away and watched down the hallway again.

Blair sighed with relief and crawled over to Rafe. Reaching him, the Observer could see that the detective was conscious but in terrible pain that could easily be seen when he opened his eyes. His breath was rapid and shallow and a thin glaze of perspiration covered his face. The front of his coat showed a large bloody stain radiating from the upper left side of his chest.

"Hey, man. How're you doing?" Blair asked softly. With inordinate care, he opened Rafe's jacket and unbuttoned the shirt underneath. He then carefully lifted the edges of the material and looked at the wound. It was still seeping blood.

Seeing Sandburg lean over him gave Rafe an immense sense of relief. He tried to give the other a brave smile but it came out looking more like a grimace. "You... ~cough~...okay?"

"Nothing that an economy size bottle of aspirins wouldn't take care off," Blair said softly, carefully pulling the clothing back into place. He looked around the room to see if there was anything handy to help him treat his friend.

"Ho...how...b-b-bad is it?" Rafe grabbed Blair's arm, bringing the other's attention back to him. "Truth."

Blair considered using his skills of obsfucation, but the way Rafe was looking at him changed his mind. With a sigh he said, "It looks bad to me, but I don't know much about wounds. I've only seen a couple, and one was mine, but the bleeding has almost stopped. I guess that's good."

"At least it wasn't you," Rafe replied softly as his eyes fluttered shut.

Blair's heart jumped a couple of beats until he realized that the detective had only passed out. "Well, I guess this is also a good thing." Looking around to see if anyone was close, Blair started to talk in a low voice. "I know you're near, Jim. I can feel how angry you are, like you're standing beside me, so calm down. I'm not hurt, at least not like Rafe. He was shot in the chest, upper left side. The bleeding has slowed, but he's unconscious now. He was able to take out one bad guy. There's five other hostages here and one guy at the door holding a gun on us."

"Who are you talking to?" The girl he saw when he had come to had moved closer and heard him.

"Uh, just talking to myself. I'm Blair Sandburg."

"I know, I've seen you on campus. Lisa Carter," she said with a shaky smile.

"Have you seen how many of them there are?" What better and less conspicuous way to get information to Jim than by just asking questions?

"I think there are five others. Two were students already up here. They tried to get Professor Elias to open the vault in Lab Three, but he refused. They beat him." Lisa's voice trembled.

Taking her hand and giving it a squeeze, Blair asked the question he knew Jim and the others would be wanting. "What's kept in that vault?"

"It's not for my field but anyone who goes in there to work is required to wear the badges that test for radioactivity. I'm figuring something like plutonium."

"Oh, God," Blair whispered, thinking about what could be done with material like that if the men succeeded. "What lab is this one?"

"Nothing hazardous, just simple chemicals. Do...do you think someone will come? You know, to rescue us?" Lisa looked towards the gunman in the doorway, her lower lip trembling.

Giving the frightened girl's hand a squeeze and a confident smile, Blair dropped his voice to a conspiratory level and said, "I can guarantee it. But I think a diversion would help the situation more." Looking at the titles on some of the bottles sitting on the lab tables, an idea blossomed. "Lisa, I'm sure you remember your first year stuff, right?"

"Sure, but why?"

"Have you ever watched those old episodes of MacGyver?"

"I found another entrance into the vent system down the hall," McLin announced trotting up to Ellison and Banks. "It'll be tight but I think usable." They had found the room Rafe and Sandburg had used to access the ventilation but McLin had suggested trying to see if there was other ways to get up to the next floor. 'A good soldier never uses the first option presented to solve a problem' he said to the others when they were ready to climb up the shelves.

"You think we should split up?" Banks asked his detective.

"It's probably a good idea. We don't know where the others were caught and a reception party could be waiting for whoever pokes their head out first," Ellison answered. He had climbed to the top of the shelves and was sitting at the top...listening.

"If this was my operation..." McLin started and then looked at Banks.

"Yeah, I see what you mean. Okay, you two stay here and use this entrance. I'll go up the other one. If this one is a trap, you'll have backup. If not..." Simon checked the load in his revolver. It still had a few shots left in the magazine, but he decided to put a fresh, full one in.

"We'll have them between us and be in a better position to divert their attention away from the hostages. Great minds think alike, eh J.J.?" McLin gave the captain a feral grin and then looked at his friend. Ellison was still perched on the shelf, his head tilted as if listening to something. "J.J.? You hear something?"

Coming alert, Ellison jumped down from the shelf. "Uh, I thought I hear a voice but I must have been mistaken. Mac, could you check the hall and, uh, see if it's still clear?" It was clear to the Army major that the two detectives needed to speak together so he just nodded and trotted back out the door.

"I heard Sandburg and he knows we're near. Rafe's been shot in the chest but holding on and he said he wasn't hurt but I can tell he wasn't completely truthful. There are five other hostages and they're all together in one of the labs on that end. Rafe was also able to take out one of the bad guys but there's one guarding them and three others trying to break into one of the vaults," Jim said quickly.

"Any clue what they're after?" Simon asked, climbing to the top of the shelf.

"Something dangerous and radioactive. From what I can hear, they haven't gotten into the vault yet." Ellison stopped talking and listened again. "Damn it! We better get moving, Simon. Blair's going to do something as a diversion and I think he's going to try to be creative."

Mumbling a string of curses, Banks threw Ellison a dirty look and then disappeared out of the room and down the hall. He just missed running into McLin, who had been leaning against a wall near the door.

After Banks passed by him, McLin moved into the room and then positioned himself in front of the shelves and crossed his arms over his chest. When Ellison tried to move past him, McLin stepped into his path. "You want to tell me what's going on?" When Jim just stared at him, Mac took a deep breath and continued. "Something's up with you. Now, I may be just some dumb, old soldier but I'm not that dense to not notice it. You hear things people are saying at a distance as if they're in the same room, and how you've been able to see things that I would need binoculars for I don't know. But I do know that Sandburg is an important part of it and Banks is also involved. So give."

"Mac..." Jim started, the uneasy lie hovering on his lips, but Mac interrupted.

"Don't snow me, Ellison. If you've got some advantage that can help us here, clue me in so we can use it together."

Jim looked back down the hall for several long seconds, his personal conscience warring with his logical mind. Turning back, he looked carefully and realized that he saw a different McLin standing in front of him. This wasn't the man who had competed with him back in OCS, or followed him as his military career flourished until they had been forced to separate. This McLin looked at him like a soldier waiting for the orders to a mission he had been wanting his whole life. Jim knew he couldn't lie.

"Okay. I have a...a gift I guess you can call it, Mac. Something that has been with me since I was a child but had never fully developed until Peru. The only way to explain it is that my senses are very sensitive. All five of them. Sandburg has been the only one that has understood what they are all about, how to keep them under control, and how to use them right. The captain and now you are the only other people who know what I have. Can you guess why?" Jim glared at the man in front of him, but Mac stood his ground.

"What? You think I'm gonna blab this to the world? Call you a freak and run away screaming my head off?" McLin laughed comfortably and that allowed Ellison to relax slightly. "So, if you can hear at a pretty good clip, what's happenin' up there?" He pointed to the ceiling.

"There're still four gunman, one's holding Sandburg, Rafe and five other hostages in one of the rooms on that end of the hall. The other three are trying to break into a vault back this way. We need to get up there 'cause Sandburg is going to try to do something to create a distraction and I don't think it's going to be any thing simple." Giving his friend a shove to the side, Jim pulled the strap of his rifle over his head and positioned the weapon as comfortable on his back as possible. "Damn, this is going to be a tight fit."

"Jesus, what's he gonna to do? Set the building on fire?"

"No, he's going to try to use something he learned from a TV show."

"That science guy show the kids all watch?"

"Worse. MacGyver." With that, Ellison climbed up the shelves and pulled himself into the vent.

Blair knew when Jim was finally on the floor. In the back of his mind, he could almost hear the challenging scream of the black jaguar, his Sentinel's spirit animal. That knowledge gave him the courage to go through with the plan he had devised, even if it did sound strange...and dangerous.

Lisa Carter was no stranger to the chemicals that were kept available in this lab. She also knew that cleaning fluid was kept in the storage cabinets in each bench. With the right combination of ingredients, she was going to create a confusing smoke screen. If the timing worked, and it was enough of a surprise, he would be able to take out their guard and allow all of the others to escape. The objective? Get them to the bathroom and away through the ventilation.

It had taken some convincing, but he got the guard to allow him to check out the injured professor sitting with the young student. Blair was able to pass the plan along to them and get their assistance in getting Rafe out. Lisa had informed the other two hostages and it was now time for the next phase.

Handing the sling he had stuffed into his pocket earlier to Lisa, Blair stood and walked over to where the guard was standing at the door. Lisa stood up and slowly stepped back until she was against the lab bench. Seeing the two people moving, the gunman had instantly come alert and pointed his gun at Blair. His attention bounced back and forth between the two hostages.

Trying to project the appearance of being harmless, Blair raised his left hand in a position of surrender and slowed his pace. His right arm was hurting too much to make any unnecessary moves so he kept it at his side. "Hey, easy man. It's okay. I just need to ask you a favor." Blair pitched his voice to one of calm confidence, the same low tone he used with Jim. "Lisa needs to find some stuff to help my friend and Professor Elias. She knows where to get it on the shelves over there."

"Go sit down or I'll shoot you," the gunman threatened. He shifted back out the door a couple of steps to keep the distance between him and Blair.

"Whoa! I'm not doing anything so why would you shoot me? We need to help the injured men or they are going to die. And if they do, a murder rap is a more serious offense than what you've done so far." Blair continued to move forward another couple of steps. The gunman shifted another step back, which was just enough for Lisa to be out of his line of sight. Taking advantage of the situation, she picked up a beaker of liquid she had recognized, grabbed a small jar of sulfur powder and ducked down behind the lab table.

"Get back into the room," the man ordered and swung the butt end of the gun into Blair's midsection. The move surprised the grad student and he would have dropped to the floor if he hadn't been grabbed by his jacket and dragged back into the room.

Looking around, the man pulled Blair back upright and gave him a shake. "Where is she?"

"Who?" Blair gasped in pain, holding his stomach. He hadn't expected the man to hit him, at least not near his injured ribs. Trying to get his breath back was almost impossible unless he took a deep inhalation and that just hurt too much.

"The girl. Where is she? Tell me or I'll kill that man." Releasing Blair, the man pointed his rifle at Rafe.

Before Blair could move, Lisa stood up from behind the bench. "Wait, I'm here," she called out. "There's smoke coming from this cabinet here and I was trying to see what was causing it. We keep dangerous chemicals in here."

Suddenly, the man was able to see the smoke she was talking about. It was billowing around the bench from both sides. Moving quickly he came around one side of the bench, motioning to Lisa to move away. As she had said, the smoke was coming from the cabinet. The smell of whatever was burning began to fill the room, causing all of the occupants to start coughing.

Keeping an eye on the girl, who was still stepping back around the bench towards Rafe, he forgot to keep the other on Blair. Braced for the pain he knew it was going to cause, Blair held his breath, picked up one of the tall stools near the bench and swung it at the gunman. "Good night, asshole," he said quietly. The wooden stool caught the man squarely in the back and shattered, sending him crashing to the floor. Blair almost followed the man but was able to catch himself on the bench.

Just then, all the lights went out. Three seconds later, red security lights flared on. In the dimness, the occupants of the room could easily hear the different security devices activating. With an audible clang, metal bars snapped down through the vault door at the back of the room. Echoes of other safety measures could be heard throughout the floor.

"Come on, let's move!" Blair snapped at the stunned people. Pulling himself back up, he staggered over to Rafe. Unconsciously, he held onto one of the legs from the smashed stool.

The young man that had been sitting with the injured professor came over at Blair's signal and started to lift Rafe. The movement caused the detective to groan briefly before he sagged into unconsciousness.

Blair helped the student pick up his friend, sling him over his shoulders in a fireman's carry, and move out the door of the room. "Go down the hall to the right and into the men's room. The vent grating should still be down. There should be police waiting on the lower floor." Guiding the older woman and the girl she had been comforting, Blair pushed them out next with the professor close behind.

"What about you?" Lisa asked, coming up behind him.

Holding his side and trying not to cough, Blair caught her arm and shifted her ahead of him. "I'll just...~cough~...be a minute." What he didn't tell her was that he intended to cover their back trail and make sure the other three terrorists didn't try to recapture their hostages. In the darkened hall, he didn't see her frightened glance back at him before she turned and ran after the others. If he had, the fear he had been struggling to hold back might have broken loose. Now, where is your ever trusty Sentinel when you needed him, he thought briefly and then felt for the wall to guide him down the hall and towards the other terrorists.

Closing his eyes, Blair 'felt' for Jim. He was nearby but the sensations Blair was getting were strange. There wasn't any anger or fear, just a cold, intense feeling of concentration. Jim had to be in his Sentinel mode, which didn't bode well for the terrorists.

Trying to relax with the knowledge that his friend was near, Blair whispered a short prayer and then opened his eyes. He was startled to see a wolf, his wolf, sitting and watching him. Seeing that he had the man's attention, the animal stood and turned to trot down the hallway in the same direction the others had gone. When Blair didn't follow, the animal stopped and looked back.

I can't go that way. Jim's this way, he mentally spoke to his spirit guide. The animal whined, trying to project his concern to the human. Shaking head, Blair turned and looked down towards where he knew the rest of the bad guys were. I could use some help here, wolf, Blair thought to the animal. Understanding, the wolf moved past him and padded slowly down the hall, leading the way in the dim light.

Pulling his large frame out of the ventilation vent, Banks was just barely able to keep from crashing to the floor. He thought he had made a considerable amount of noise getting into the room as is. I'm getting way to old for this stuff, he thought, catching himself before he fell. Freezing in a crouch, he listened carefully to see if his 'graceful' entrance had been heard. Not hearing anything moving in his direction, he breathed a sigh of relief and keyed the radio mic. "Banks here. On the ground and set." Then he moved to the door and waited.

Jim stood by the door of the empty lab room listening down the hall as McLin silently dropped down from the vent. Listening carefully, he easily picked up Blair's voice. "Good night, asshole." Then there was the sound of something wooden being smashed. Jim couldn't help but grin at the tenacity of his friend. Reaching for the mic attached to his vest, having already heard that Simon was in place, he contacted the S.W.A.T. commander. "Ellison here. Take it down."

The words were barely out of his mouth when the floor went dark. An almost inaudible click was heard from the speakers embedded in the ceiling tiles. The people below could now hear everything going on. Ellison waited for the emergency lights to click on before kicking his enhanced sight online. Peeking out the door of the room, the hallway was a bright as day to him. Using hand signals, Jim motioned that they should head down the hall to the left and in the direction he could hear the terrorists. They were already starting to panic and one was moving down the hall in the direction of Blair and the others. Pointing down the hall, he held up one finger.

McLin gave him a nod and motioned that he would go check on the two. He pointed at Ellison, motioned down the hall and then gave him a thumbs up. Mac knew that the safety of the hostages, and especially his partner, was forefront in Ellison's mind and the moving terrorist could shift the advantage of the situation if he had hostages.

Flashing back with his fist in a pumping motion, Jim carefully opened the door and then shifted silently out of the room at a crouch. McLin started to follow but froze when he felt a cough building in his chest. Angrily, he clamped down on his throat muscles and struggled to stifle the noise. It was a fierce fight, but he was able to keep from making more that the most minimal noise. The effort left him gasping for air.

Moving towards the barely visible hall intersection at a crouch, Banks suddenly froze when he heard footsteps coming towards him. It sounded like several people and then he heard a muffled but pained moan. Standing up, he waited until the first person came around the corner and then called out softly, "Cascade P.D. Follow me." There was a couple of startled gasps and then silence. Simon led the way back to the bathroom.

"He's been shot," the young man carrying Rafe said as he carefully laid the injured man onto the linoleum floor.

"Is anyone else hurt?" Banks asked, feeling his detective's throat for a pulse. It was steady but rapid.

"They smacked around Professor Elias, but I don't think it's too bad. Professor?" The injured instructor, leaning against a wall, motioned that he was okay.

"Okay, I want you all to climb into the vent and get down to the next floor. Once there, head for the stairs. There will be officers waiting to get you out of the building." Looking over the group moving towards vent, Banks realized that there was someone missing. "Where's Sandburg?"

A young coed knelt down beside the wounded detective and used the sling she was still carrying to press against the wound in his chest. Being moved had started him bleeding again. "He said that he would be along in a few minutes. I think he went after the guys in the lab."

"Damn it!" Banks cursed. Keying the radio, he spoke quietly, "Jim, Blair's moving towards you."

The warning wasn't necessary. Ellison could hear the accelerated heart beat of his friend along with his ragged breathing, although Sandburg was trying to be quiet. He could also hear the footsteps of the single terrorist moving down the hallway in the direction of his friend. It was going to be a race to see who was going to reach whom first.

The shadow of a large, dark feline tickled the edge of his eyesight and he turned in that direction. Crouched along the wall ahead of him was a black jaguar. The green-yellow eyes stared at him, conveying the message that it was time for the Sentinel to take over from the cop. Jim gave the animal a slight nod and moved silently down the hall. Gracefully, the animal stood and moved to his side, pacing him.

McLin moved like a wraith up to the door leading to the room housing the last two terrorists. He listened to the men talk angrily to each other. Knowing that they had to be captured as quietly as possible, he moved into the room and used the sound of chambering a bullet into the breach of his weapon to get their attention.

The two men were standing near the still closed door of the laboratory vault. One was trying to unsuccessfully manipulate equipment that was still attached to the sealed door. The other man was turning to move back towards the door entrance. Both froze at the metallic sound that came from the entrance. McLin moved further into the room, his weapon raised and trained on the terrorists. Understanding the intent of the unvoiced message, the two men raised their hands in surrender.

Despite the emergency lights, Blair was almost blind as he crept down the hall. His rash action in taking out the terrorist had taken its toll on his ribs and he didn't even want to think about what was wrong with his arm. The main thing was that the bad guys were this way and he was the only one between them and the others he had helped get away. Blair was not going to let the bad guys win.

Feeling along the wall, Blair had just reached the open doorway of another room when he heard the tread of footsteps coming towards him. He froze for a minute and then thought he heard a low, warning growl at his feet. The sound caused the hair on the back of his neck to stand. Trusting the warning, Blair shifted through the door and pressed his body as thin as possible against the wall and clutched the stool leg in his left hand. He concentrated on calming his breathing.

Several tense minutes went by as he waited for whomever he had been warned about. Blair was in a shadow of the room, able to see out into the hall and pretty sure that he couldn't be seen by anyone who might glance in. Nervous, he was about to check on the hallway when a figure finally moved up to the door. The form was not much taller than him and definitely bulkier. It wasn't Jim. Raising the piece of wood slightly and holding his breath, he watched as the figure paused at his opening. Then it moved on and Blair relaxed, relieved that he hadn't been found.

His relief, however, was short lived. The man was traveling in the same direction that the others had gone and that wasn't acceptable. Clutching his weapon with a nervous grip, Blair quietly moved out of the room and started down the hall after his quarry. He hadn't traveled more that a step or two when he was suddenly enveloped by two, strong arms. A hand covered his mouth before he could make a sound. With little effort, he was dragged back into the room he had just exited.

In a moment of pure panic, Blair began to struggle frantically against the grip despite how much pain it caused. He tried to bring his piece of wood up, but couldn't find the leverage.

"It's me, Chief," Jim breathed in his ear. He felt his friend's body freeze in his grip and then collapse against him, heart beating at a thunderous rate. Jim removed his hand from the other's mouth but kept hold of the quaking body.

Blair's knees shook so hard that he was barely able to stand. As the adrenaline quickly fled from his body, pain receptors came back online and reminded him of the different areas of his body that were damaged. If Jim hadn't been still holding onto him, Blair was sure that he would be on the floor by now. So he just stood there, trying to absorb the strength of the man holding him up.

Jim knew Blair was injured, could feel it through their bond. The sensations were so strong that it almost felt like it was he who had been injured and was now scared. The sensations flooded his mind, overwhelming him and he couldn't shut them out. "Chief," Jim said, clenching his teeth to keep from moaning.

Blair heard the strained voice in his ear and, struggling to stand on his own, turned to look at his friend. Jim was standing against the wall, head back and eyes closed and panting for breath. While he still maintained contact with the smaller man, his left arm was wrapped around his ribs, similar to how Blair was holding his.

"Oh God, Jim! I'm sorry," Blair said in an anguished whisper. Taking a careful breath and concentrating hard, he pictured the feelings and emotions coming from him similar to water flowing from a faucet. Mentally, he turned the knob of the faucet to a closed position. The image was along the same idea of what he had taught to Jim about turning the dials down on his senses. It obviously worked. Jim relaxed and opened his eyes, his breathing calming down.

"I'm sorry, Jim. I never..." Blair started to apologize but was stopped by his friend again covering his mouth with a hand.

"S'okay, Chief. We'll talk about it later. Are you going to make it?" The words were barely audible. At Blair's nod, Jim eased him over to the wall next to him, leaned through the doorway and tuned his hearing towards the hall.

Back in the direction he had come, Jim could hear stealth-like movements coming towards them. Taking a careful sniff in that direction, he could tell that the person approaching was McLin. The Army major's scent was indescribable but very familiar to the Sentinel. Leaning out a little further, he saw the other. There was grunting sounds farther back up the hall, which meant that Mac was successful in his endeavor to take out the other two terrorists. That left just the one.

Turning to look the other way, Jim was met with the barrel of a rifle pointing at his face. He hadn't heard the man come back their way.

"Come out." The weapon jerked a couple of times towards the center of the hall. "Move!"

Putting his hand up behind him, Jim motioned for Blair to stay back in the darkened room. Hopefully, the man thought that Jim was the only one there. Then, raising his hands up in the 'surrender' position, Ellison moved slowly into the hall.

"Where's the other?" the man asked, glancing nervously at the room.

"I'm it, buddy. However, there are going to be a whole slew of police up here in about 5 minutes. You might as well give me the gun," Ellison spoke confidently, making his body relax like he meant what he was saying.

"Then they'll find your body waiting at the elevator. I'll make sure the other one is there to keep you company. You screwed up a simple operation that would have opened the eyes of Cascade to the danger they are in from the government."

"What were you going to do, something along the lines of Oklahoma City?" Jim spoke calmly, trying to keep the man's attention on him. He could hear McLin moving into position behind him. "Do you think anyone will listen to the message you're trying to send if anyone dies?"

"Maybe, if those that die are part of the government's machine." The man raised the gun and sighted down the barrel towards Jim's head.

"NO!" Blair shouted and came charging out of the doorway towards the gunman, wooden weapon held crossways in front of his body.

"Firing!" McLin yelled at the same time, coming up behind Ellison.

As if it was coordinated, Jim jumped into Blair's path and tackled him to the ground at the same time that McLin fired his weapon. McLin's bullet easily missed the moving detective and struck the terrorist in the face. Unfortunately, the gun he had been pointing at Ellison fired.

Blair wasn't sure why he was laying on the floor with the ceiling on top of him. The last thing he remembered was Jim standing in the hall, hands raised, and the terrorist getting ready to shoot him. Without thinking, Blair had charged forward to prevent his friend from being killed. But then, the ceiling fell in and hit him. He had also felt rather than heard his damaged ribs crack under the abuse. The pain's going to hit any moment, now.

Ellison raised his head carefully and looked towards the last place he had seen the terrorist standing. The man was lying flat on his back, arms thrown out wide, blood pooling under his head. Blair shifted slightly under him and then groaned at the pain the movement cause.

Jim moved off of his friend and keyed the radio mic, "This is Ellison. Area is secured. Get the power back on." Banks voice quickly followed over the radio, ordering a medical team for an officer down. Turning to Blair, he saw the young man moving and helped him roll over. "You okay, Chief?"

"Just the usual," Blair groaned, clutching at his side. "You?"

"I'm okay. Just stay quiet there. Mac?" Jim called and looked down the hall where the man had been. McLin was lying on his side near the wall unmoving. Ellison rushed to his Army buddy and gently shifted him around until he laid flat. The movement caused the injured man to groan softly and then cough, blood bubbling out of his mouth. Opening his eyes, McLin looked at Ellison with a dazed expression. When the lights in the hall flared on, he barely flinched.

Checking his friend over, Jim saw that the bullet fired by the terrorist had hit McLin squarely in the chest but had been stopped by the kevlar vest. He couldn't figure out why the man was coughing up blood. "Where are you hurt, Mac?" Jim asked softly, using his senses to check the other out. The heart rate was up, but that was expected from all that had happened, and temperature was slightly elevated. McLin's breathing was also labored, his lungs sounding like they were full of liquid.

"Everywhere, but...~cough~...I'll live. Where's that...~cough, cough~...damn mule that kicked me?" McLin reached up to wipe his mouth. Looking at the bloody fingers, he sighed and then looked up at his friend. "It's not from... anything that happened here."

Despite Jim's warning about being still, Blair moved over and knelt by McLin's head. Noticing the observer, his eyes sent a questioning look. Blair shook his head in the negative; he hadn't told Jim anything about the illness. "But you should," he said softly.

Jim looked sharply at Blair. The young man just shifted over to lean against the wall. Blair closed his eyes to help him concentrate on controlling his breathing to help ease his pain. But he also did it so that he gave the appearance of not listening into the conversation the other two had to have.

"The one thing I don't...~cough~...want from you is pity, J.J." McLin started, locking his gaze onto the blue pair of eyes staring down at him. "I don't know how long it's going to take but what I have will kill me and it won't be fun."

"There's no treatment?" Jim asked, shock evident in his expression.

"Sure, if I wanted to extend the amount of time I spend in pain and sick and without my hair. No guarantees that any of it will work and the odds are low that I'd last beyond a couple of years."

"Doesn't sound like the Ranger I used to know, who used to quote the creed with me before each mission."

"I'm not a quitter, J.J. But I learned about trying to fight losing battles. Probably would have been better if I had gone with you to Peru." McLin gave a short chuckle, which caused him to cough again.

"Are you sure you checked into everything? There's been some pretty amazing discoveries lately."

"They're still going to make me retire, J.J. It's S.O.P. What can an old war dog like me do outside of the service? I'd rather go out on top and with my dignity."

"We'll discuss this later. Medics will be here shortly. Ready to sit up and get checked over?" Ellison took his friend's hand. Nodding, McLin allowed the detective to pull him up and lean him next to Sandburg against the wall. "I'm going to check on Simon and the others. You two stay here and play nice." Patting McLin on the shoulder, Ellison stood up and trotted down the hall.

Tearing at the straps holding the kevlar vest in place, McLin slowly pulled the breast plate away and rubbed at the area of his chest that was bruising from the force of the bullet strike. Looking over, he saw that Sandburg was panting quick, little breaths with his left arm wrapped around his chest. The right lay limply onto the floor. "You doing okay there, kid?" he asked. "Sandburg?"

"Huh? What's wrong, Mac?" Blair jerked back to awareness, grimacing at the pain the movement caused. He looked over at the man next to him and then around the hall. "Where's Jim?"

"Down the hall checking on the others. Help'll be here soon. We sure are a pair, aren't we?"

"This is...old hat for me," Blair groaned, leaning his head back against the wall and gritting his teeth against the waves of agony that started moving across his chest. It felt like there was a band of barbed wire surrounding his chest and it was getting tighter by the moment. "Lay down..." he finally said and slowly leaned over on to his left side.

"Sandburg? Aw, shit...J.J!" McLin shouted down the hallway. The words were barely out of his mouth when he saw the man running back towards them.

"Chief? What's the matter? I'm not feeling anything!" Ellison quickly dropped down beside his partner, checking for a pulse. He also 'felt' for their bond. It was there, but he couldn't feel that anything was wrong. Seeing Sandburg was laboring to breathe, Jim eased him over onto his back then looked up at McLin.

"He was talking with me and then it looked like someone shut off his air supply. You can't tell?" McLin asked, remembering the conversation he had overheard between Ellison and Banks outside of the storage room on the second floor.

Jim didn't answer but started checking Blair over. He could feel that the right shoulder was damaged, dislocated, which was causing heat and swelling around the area. Then he opened Blair's coat and, carefully moving his hand down the right side of the rib cage, found the cause of the problem. Despite the gentleness of his touch, Blair tried to jerk away and moaned in pain.

"Broken ribs for sure, but I can't tell if he's punctured a lung. Blair, you've shut me out and I can't tell how bad you're hurt. Come on, buddy. Let me back in," Jim said to his young friend as he carefully gathered him into his arms, hoping the contact would help reestablish the connection.

"Give me your radio. I'll find out what's taking the medics so long," McLin said, taking the headset off of Ellison and pulling the radio out of its holder. Standing up slowly, he started walking in the direction of the elevators.

Jim gently brushed back the damp long, curly hair that had obscured Blair's face. He could see how much pain the young man was in but still couldn't feel anything along their bond. "Relax, Chief. I've got you. Take slow, shallow breaths for me. Can you hear me?"

Blair tried to do as Jim asked but he couldn't seem to concentrate. Opening his eyes, he looked up into concerned blue ones staring down into his. "Hurts..." he panted. "Can't get..."

"I know, buddy. But, you need to open back up to me so that I can help you. Okay? Please, Blair. Let me in." The pleading sound in Jim's voice finally made it through the haze of pain clouding his mind. Acquiescing, Blair let go of the barrier he mentally used to block Jim out.

The first thing that came through was a wave of pain. But this time, Jim was ready for it. Using it like a beacon, he honed into the different areas of his friend that were injured. Besides the ribs and shoulder, he could also tell that there was a painful area in the back of Blair's head. Moving his hand gently, Jim felt around the area and found a lump. Must be from when he was knocked out. He could tell that the area wasn't lacerated and that was one good part of his friend's injuries. The other was that none of the others were life threatening.

Pulling back from his exploration, Jim saw that Blair was still struggling to breathe. Underlying the pain and radiating across the bond was exhaustion. The adrenaline that had kept him going despite all the injuries sustained was depleted and the resulting exhaustion had Blair too tired to even get his breathing under control.

"Take it easy, Chief. Just listen to my voice and breathe with me. Take a slow breath in...not too deep, and let it out. Again buddy...breathe in...and...let it out." Jim spoke low, using the same technique that Blair had used on him so many times before. He also started to gently massage Blair's head along the temple area.

Listening and following the guidance of his friend, Blair was finally able to draw in precious oxygen and ease the panic that had been building. Relaxing in the security of Jim's arms, and succumbing to the hypnotic strokes of the hand on his head, he allowed his consciousness to retreat into a dark area that had been hovering nearby.

Cascade Hospital, Friday, Early Morning

It had been a real struggle to get his shirt on without someone helping, but Blair was determined to get dressed just as soon as he had been left alone by the morning nurses. They had come in before dawn to take his temperature and all the other vital statistics they said they had needed without any apology for waking him. But that was okay, since it gave him the opportunity to be ready to leave just as soon as Jim arrived.

Blair didn't remember being moved onto the gurney after the paramedics had arrived or the ambulance ride to the hospital. And everything that had been done to him after arriving at the hospital was a blur. The only thing that was crystal clear in his memory was the presence of his best friend through it all. When Jim had to leave the room, Blair could still feel him nearby, projecting himself through their bond to give the injured man reassurance that he was there. It was the last thing he felt as they gave him the sedative before starting to repair his injuries.

Now, trying to get dressed while being able to move only one arm easily, was a challenge but he didn't want to wait for someone to come and help him. He had told Jim to go home some time during the night. It was right after the night nurses had woke him to administer something to help him sleep. Now, he wished that Jim had ignored his request and stayed like he usually did. That he didn't stay had given Blair the reassurance that his injuries were not that serious.

Once the shirt was on and buttoned over his bandaged chest, the pants went on easier. It was when he was trying to get his shoes on that Blair was ready to admit defeat. He was struggling to bend carefully over when the door to his room opened.

"Do anything to damage those ribs again and Dr. Somers will make you stay another night, Chief," Jim said, entering the room and frowning at the sight before him. "You couldn't have waited for someone to help?"

"Frankly, Jim, I'm surprised that the hospital was able to keep him as long as they did," Simon said, entering the room after his detective. "How did you manage it, Sandburg?"

"Hey, Jim, Simon. Believe me, if I could've gone home with Jim last night, I would have. Uh, big guy? Do you think you can help me here?" Blair looked up and gave his friend a look of helpless expectancy as he pointed to his feet. "If I don't time my escape right, they'll make me stay and eat that stuff they call breakfast. Have you ever tried to down strained pettyjohns? Not a nice thing to give the sick, man."

With a sigh of exasperation, Ellison knelt down and helped slide on and tie his friend's tennis shoes. "If you're not going to eat here, I guess that means we can stop by the bakery for breakfast. You're still buying, remember?"

"No problem. I'll be happy to buy you a dozen donuts if that means I can get out of here now." Blair touched Jim's shoulder to make him look up. "How's Rafe? No one will tell me. He's all right, isn't he?" He relaxed when Jim smiled easily at the question.

"He's resting comfortably up in the surgical wing with Brown sitting by his bed. I got a feeling that he'll be getting questioned about why he thought he could take on those terrorists with only you as his back up just as soon as he wakes up." Finishing tying the shoelaces, Jim stood up and glared at his partner. Seeing that Blair had a distinctively guilty look on his face, Jim asked the question that had been on his mind since the start of the whole university situation. "What I want to know is what he was doing there with you in the first place."

"What? I can't make friends with the other detectives? What do I have to do, ask permission from you if we just want to get together for, uh, guy talk or something? Geez, Jim. Give me a break. I'm surprised you're not up there now trying to get the poor man to talk." Blair stood up and moved carefully to gather his personal belongings. He had tried to sound indignant about the questioning in order to keep his promise to Rafe, but it seemed to sound more like a whine. Jim just gave him a passive look. He could tell that he was getting a half-truth by the spike in Blair's heartbeat.

"No, H. volunteered to be there and I think he's trying to make us believe that it'll help Rafe if someone is with him when he wakes. It seems to help you. But, frankly, I really think it's so that he can protect Rafe from the captain's and my wrath. You, on the other hand, are grounded until we can get it straight about what your duties as an observer and my partner are."

"Gee, dad. Don't you think you're being a little harsh with the kid?" A voice said from the doorway. Turning around, Jim found McLin leaning against the door jam, once again in full uniform. He had been concentrating on his partner so strongly that he didn't hear the other man approach.

"Well, I better go check on how my errant detective is doing." Banks had made an immediate assessment of the situation and decided that he didn't need to be involved in whatever was going to happen between Ellison and McLin. "Major, it was a pleasure meeting you and thank you again for all the assistance you and your people were able to give." Shaking the major's hand, he exited the room.

"How're you doing, Sandburg?" McLin asked, genuine concern in his voice.

"I'll live, but I think the recovery time will be a little painful. How are you doing, man?" Blair sat down on the side of the bed, shooting his partner an annoyed look before turning his attention to the uniformed man.

McLin rubbed the center of his chest and said, "Got a pretty bruise, but it was worth it. Just stopped by to say good-bye and...take good care of J.J., kid. I know you'll do that without me saying it but I wanted you to know that I understand everything now."

Shocked, Blair turned from the Major and looked at his partner. Jim was standing with his hands tucked into his back pockets and staring at his shoes. "You...understand what? I-I'm not sure what you're talking about," Blair stammered.

McLin smiled and waved his hand in a dismissing manner. "Don't worry about it. Who'd believe a wild tale about a cop having super senses from an old soldier like me anyway? Just keep up the good work, okay? J.J., it was great to see you again. If you're ever in around Denver, make sure you stop by and see me. I'll show you what real work is. See ya, guys."

Just as McLin turned to leave, Ellison snapped to attention and lifted his right arm into a salute. "Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger, fully knowing the hazards of my chosen profession, I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor and high esprit de corps of the Rangers." McLin froze and turned back to the room, his face still.

Jim continued. "Acknowledging the fact that a Ranger is a more elite soldier who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea, or air, I accept the fact that as a Ranger my country expects me to move further, faster, and fight harder than any other soldier."

Coming to attention, McLin saluted back and joined Ellison in reciting the Ranger creed. "Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong, and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be, one hundred percent and then some.

"Gallantly I will show the world that I am a specially selected and well trained soldier. My courtesy to superior officers, neatness of dress, and care of equipment shall set the example for others to follow.

"Energetically I will meet the enemies of my country. I shall defeat them on the field of battle for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.

"Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission, though I be the lone survivor." Finished, both men snapped their arms back down to their side and just stood looking at each other. The silence in the room was almost deafening.

Ellison was the first to speak. "To give up would go against every thing we were ever taught... everything you taught me, Mac."

"Damn you," McLin said quietly, his shoulders sagging in defeat. "You win, J.J. I'll fight this thing."

"You don't have to be alone," Blair spoke up, standing shakily and moving near Jim. The larger man gently placed his hand onto the uninjured shoulder to provide support.

"I can take some time to be with you, if you want," Jim said.

"We," Blair corrected him.

McLin looked at the pair standing before him. Looking as different as night and day, they acted like they were two parts of a whole. Straightening up, he smiled and reached a hand towards Blair. Shaking it carefully he said, "I'd like that. Thank you."

Then he turned to Jim. "Thanks, buddy. I'll be expecting you to show up. With the kid, you hear me? I've got a place up in the mountains and if the treatments don't work, well, I'd want you both to be there in the end." He reached out his arm to shake Jim's hand. Taking the offered limb, Jim pulled the man forward and gave him a hug.

McLin stiffened at first, then relaxed and returned the sentiment. Breaking away and stepping back, he gave the pair in front of him a wide smile, did a sharp 'about face' movement and strode out of the room.

Jim turned to Blair, seeing that the smaller man was now starting to tremble visibly. "Chief, sit back down until I can get a wheelchair."

Blair opened his mouth to protest but stopped when Jim gave him his patented 'I'll win this argument' look. Giving up, he allowed the other to move him to the bed. "Just make sure you don't start making time with the nurses, man. It's almost breakfast time and I'll blow this joint without you if you're not back in less than two."

Walking out the door, Jim spoke over his shoulder, "Why would I waste time, Chief. You're the one that has to buy breakfast and I'm hungry for something very unhealthy."

The comforting sound of Blair's laughter followed him down the hall.

~ finis ~

Comments? Questions? Positive critiques are welcome.

The R.A.I.D. team is a real component of Air and Army National Guard personnel. They are a dedicated group of people who are anxious to use all the training the military has given and is giving them to protect our cities.

If you want more information on Army Rangers, there is a good amount of information on the Fort Benning website. I enjoyed the research. Hope you enjoyed the reading.

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